Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead
BBC Worldwide // Unrated // $19.89 // July 28, 2009
Review by John Sinnott | posted July 26, 2009
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
E - M A I L
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
 
The Episode:
 
Since the series was restarted in 2005, Doctor Who has earned a lot of critical and popular praise.  After four complete seasons the show is taking a bit of a break.  Instead of broadcasting weekly adventures in 2009 Doctor Who is going to have four 'specials' instead.  In a rather odd move (especially for those of us who are following the series as it is being released on DVD) the BBC decided to skip releasing the 2008 Christmas special and jumped to the first 2009 appearance of the Doctor, Doctor Who:  Planet of the Dead.  Luckily there is no continuity that is missed by skipping the Christmas Special (which will be released in September 2009) and this adventure plays out as a nice, if rather light, stand alone episode.
 


While tracking a time/space wormhole anomaly, The Doctor (David Tennant) gets aboard a London bus and sits next to Lady Christina de Souza (Michelle Ryan).  Lady Souza is a bit nervous since she's a jewel thief and has just finished snatching a priceless artifact from a museum, and the police are hot on her tail.  (Her getaway driver having been discovered by the cops she's left to improvise.) 
 
Things are going normally until the bus enters a tunnel where a wormhole has appeared.  The entire bus, being chased by the police, gets transported to a desert planet.  The police seal off the tunnel, and send for UNIT.
 
Meanwhile on the other end of the warp the Doctor and the other people on the bus discover that they can't simply walk through the hole in space... not unless they want to get incinerated.  The only thing that saved them the first time through was the shell of the bus absorbing the brunt of the force, but now it won't start.  Things get a bit more desperate when it's discovered that a swarm of ravenous omnivores are headed their way, and after they eat the bus and it's occupants they'll head towards Earth.
 


After the end of season four, which was great but weighty, it's nice to take a break with a lighter episode (even though it does involve the possible destruction of the Earth...)   When the Doctor gets on the bus, handing out Easter egg chocolate and talking to Christina as if she's a long lost friend, its clear that this is going to be a fun romp, and that's what the show turns out to be.  It's not meant to be taken very seriously, and that's not a bad thing. 
 
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the show was the UNIT scientific officer back on Earth.  He's played for laughs, but the astonishment and joy he gets talking with the Doctor, a legend at UNIT by this time, is infectious.  The fact that he's not a bumbling idiot but actually knows what he's doing was a good choice too.
 
As far as the Doctor's assistant for this adventure goes, the character of Christina is nice.  She's plucky and very competent, and definitely not the helpless companion from the old series.  Having said that, Michelle Ryan plays her as being a bit too cocky and that drains Christina of any charm she might have had.  Half way through I was hoping she wouldn't end up travelling with the Doctor because she's a bit of an ass.
 


As mentioned earlier, this is a lighter show that's not supposed to be taken too seriously.  If it is, it quickly falls apart.  That seems to be the case with a lot of the programs that Russell T Davies pens.  The show seems to succeed in spite of Davies rather than because of him.  This script has several plot holes that, while they didn't bother me too much, could make this a less than average episode for some viewers.  The biggest head scratcher involves why UNIT didn't send anything else through the wormhole.  If a city bus can make the trip one-way certainly an armored tank could have gone in and returned safely.  The origin of the wormhole was pretty stupid too, not to mention the amazing coincidence of others being on the planet just at the right place and time.  Though it didn't happen with me, I can certainly see some fans throwing their hands up in frustration. 
 
The Blu-ray Disc:

          
Video:
 
This is the first Doctor Who adventure to be filmed and released in HD, and I was a bit disappointed that it was only average in appearance for a Blu-ray disc.  While the VC-1 encoded 1080i (why not 1080p?) image did look good, there was some minor aliasing in a few scenes, especially noticeable at the beginning during the museum robbery.  There was also a little banding, but nothing too significant.  The colors were generally bright and the level of detail was good, especially when someone let sand slip through their fingers... the individual grains could be seen clearly.  The image never really 'popped' though, and the CGI monsters didn't meld with the background in a convincing way.  It always looked like they were superimposed on the image rather than being a part of it.  Still, it's not a bad Blu-ray image, just not a stellar one.
 
Audio:
 
The show comes with a DTS HD audio track that suited the show well.  There wasn't a lot of aural action in this adventure, but what little there was sounded engulfing and forceful.  I was a little disappointed at the fire-fight at the end, some of the bigger guns didn't have the *umph* I was hoping for, but that's a minor concern.  The dialog was crisp and clear and well placed in the soundstage.
 
Extras:
 
The only extra is a full length (thanks BBC!) episode of Docotr Who Confidential that looks at the filming of the show on location in Dubai.  What happened to the bus during the transport to Dubai was especially interesting.   Well worth watching.
 
Final Thoughts:
 
This wasn't the best episode of Doctor Who ever, but it was still fun and worth watching.  I though the humor worked well and the story was generally exciting, there were a few holes that will leave some viewers disappointed that the show wasn't scripted a bit tighter.  Still, I recommend this disc especially for people who, like me, are disappointed that we're not getting a full season worth of Doctor Who in 2009.
 
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.


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