Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead (Spoilers)

And so the first of the 2009 Tennant specials is with us. And before I say anything else, let me make one thing clear: this is a lot better than the Christmas special! There is some frustrating sentimentality (this was co-written by RTD after all), but quite a strong plot and a resumption of continuity, at least to close. It’s hardly pushing the franchise into original territory (I’m expecting Steven Moffat to make inroads on that next year), but it was quirky, Tennant was on good form and Michelle Ryan was surprisingly effective as Lady Christina de Souza.

Be real for a moment and realise an episode co-written by outgoing showrunner Russell T Davies was never going to have many surprises in store. But the disappearance of a London bus through a wormhole into a long destroyed planet is still highly entertaining. Much of this is down to the chemistry between Tennant and Michelle (‘Bionic Woman’) Ryan, and she’s very watchable. Her lovable thief Lady Christina is more than a match for The Doctor – an intelligent, physical heroine despite herself, and enjoyably immoral in contrast with her more immediate predecessors. Hers and Tennant’s chemistry thankfully papers over some cringingly bad scripting and overcomes some terrible casting. Whoever thought Lee Evans was suitable for any role, let alone the mad professor who figures out how to get The Doctor & co home, should be shot. The romp in getting them home is worth it though, and the threat of the alien swarm is well developed. Is there the edge from ‘Silence in the Library‘ or ‘Forest of the Dead‘? Of course not, but that’s not RTD’s strength. It’s a nicely seasonal heroic rescue story, and the finale where Carmen tells him ‘your song is ending’ is delightfully cryptic. ‘It is returning through the dark’ she says – what exactly? Presumably the threat which leads to Ten’s death, but what? With a companion it would feel less of a worry, but with the character now fully alone it’s alarming. ‘He will knock four times’ eh? The Master? The clock is ticking…

I’ll miss Ten when he leaves. David Tennant and Russell T Davies have between them managed to ingrain this incarnation of the character into the national consciousness, and in this era of minimal audience attention that’s no mean achievement. Ten enjoys exploration and humanity so much, he’s almost a throwback to the utopianism which Star Trek has just allegedly thrown off. His inspirational nature is a wonderful, upbeat counterweight to the darkness regularly on our screens, particularly from America, and this special thankfully had little of the smarminess of the Christmas special. The Doctor’s pleased at his success in saving people, but then finds he’s soon to die. I wonder how much more of that subplot will come out in ‘Waters of Mars’…

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