The long goodbye begins with the last series of episodes that David Tennant will be filling the shoes of the Doctor. This time he finds himself thrown through a wormhole with an aristocratic cat burglar and his sneakers filled with the sand of the planet of San Helios.
Lady Christina de Souza (Michelle Ryan) is an aristocrat who steals priceless artifacts to relieve her boredom. She’s just stolen a chalice belonging to King Athelstan from a London museum and is trying to make her getaway. Her driver is captured by the police so she hops on a London double-decker bus to make a less-than-stellar escape.
The Doctor (David Tennant) also hops onto the bus with a homemade electronic device tracking some strange emanations. Those odd blips turn out to be a wormhole in which the bus passes through to the desert planet of San Helios. The police had been in a low speed chase of the bus and witness it passing through the wormhole.
Since this isn’t of this world, they call UNIT (Unified Intelligence Taskforce) in to investigate. They arrive under the command of Captain Erisa Magambo (Noma Dumezweni) with scientific advisor Malcolm Taylor (Lee Evans).
The Doctor finds himself and bus passengers Lady Christina, Angela (Victoria Alcock), Barclay (Daniel Kaluuya), Nathan (David Ames), and elderly couple Lou (Reginald Tsiboe) and Carmen (Ellen Thomas) trapped on the sandy, desert planet. They soon discover when the bus driver (Keith Parry) tries to go back through the wormhole and is reduced to a skeleton that the bus protected them on their journey and if they’re to return to Earth that they’ll need to get the damaged vehicle running again.
Carmen, a low level psychic, begins to hear the voices of the dead as the once tropical San Helios had been reduced to a barren wasteland by an unknown force. Some crashed aliens, called Tritovores and looking like flies (“Help me!”), only confirm that something deadly is afoot on San Helios and the Doctor has to scramble to get them off of San Helios before the ravenous destructors eat them and move on to devour Earth.
Planet of the Dead is billed as the 200th episode of the long-running series, though that could be put up to fan speculation as if it’s really episode 200. In any event, the bus number is 200 to honor the milestone. Planet of the Dead also marks another first for the series as now Doctor Who joins Torchwood in being shot in high definition.
Though there are some nice milestones occurring, Planet of the Dead does have some lulls in the proceedings and feels like an average episode. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fun sci-fi romp.
Actually Russell T. Davies comments that its Tennant’s last bit of fun before the other series specials since they will be darker in tone as his Timelord begins his final journey. Tennant decided to call it quits and instead of going on for a full series it was decided to have his Doctor go out with a series of special episodes.
Planet of the Dead is dubbed the “Easter special” since it aired during that particular holiday and does have some fleeting references to Easter. I’m taking Tennant’s leaving with mixed emotions as I’ve come to enjoy his Doctor and am really not too sure about the next chap stepping into the Timelord’s shoes.
However, the beginning of the end is a fun ride with some standout acting from Tennant, Ryan, Dumezweni, and funnyman Lee Evans as a mad scientist (who can’t love him when he makes a Quatermass reference?). The production actually got to go on location to Dubai to film the desert sequence and that location shooting adds some nice, though barren, scenery to the episode.
Davies also foreshadows with a baseball bat once again as the psychic Carmen tells the Doctor his end is coming and cryptically says “he” is coming and will knock four times. I did love it when the bus became airborne (ala Harry Potter). The good does outweigh the bad (Love and Monsters is one I still hate) and I found it a fine, rousing episode for Tennant’s Doctor though a middling one.
Planet of the Dead is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The only special feature included is the episode of “Doctor Who Confidential” (56 minutes) detailing the filming of the episode.
Tennant’s Doctor is not long for the world, but it’s grand to see him saving the Earth once again. Planet of the Dead is not the worst Who episode I’ve seen but it really didn’t make it toward the top of them either. However, it does have some great bits and bobs and I did enjoy it.