Doctor Who - Planet of the Dead Review

The Episode

Few characters will experience such a long drawn out demise as David Tennant's Doctor. Since the actor's own announcement of his departure, over a year will pass before he explodes into golden pixels that dissipate into his replacement Matt Smith. It's a long journey to his final destination with a few stops left, and here we join on him on the number 200 bus with the Easter special.

Planet of The Dead is a prime example of how Russell T Davies has re-invented this kiddies favourite. Where classic Who off-planet stories were shot in dried up reservoirs and disused quarries, RTD and folks get a jolly off to Dubai. Similarly, the once sexless Doctor gets a snog and his own sexiness played up through the reflection of ennobled cat burglar Michelle Ryan, and where once creaky sets and dodgy mattes provided the fantasy, now digital effects have the same role.
As the man who updated the Timelord and restored him from cult memory to the heart of primetime, RTD has been pelted with cak for his efforts. Some of this has been down to simple homophobia, and some of this has been quite reasonable criticism of his writing for the show. When RTD has written for the series, dialogue has become strangely uniform with the Doctor's own voice, the electronic screwdriver has become the escape route of choice, and there has been lots of running down funkily lit corridors to replace proper dramatic tension.

Yet, RTD has been responsible for re-animating the Doctor and for a cracking programme which has been missed in this year of specials. Several of this decade's best TV moments have been from RTD's reinvention - superb whole episodes like Midnight and Utopia, and the managing of story arcs through whole series to satisfying, if sometimes overblown, conclusions. I am a grown man, mostly, but I couldn't help a tear when Rose and the Doctor were parted and this has not been the only time RTD has got to me. When it is time for him and Tennant to leave, they will have every right to quote Christopher Ecclestone's words "You were fantastic, absolutely fantastic, and do you know what? So was I".

Planet of The Dead is co-written with Gareth Roberts, and whilst not a great episode, it is entertaining fare with fun aliens of the men in rubber suits variety, eccentric scientist of the Lee Evans type and crowd pleasing Tardis free thrills. The plot involves the Doctor on board a double decker bus with Ryan's gentlewoman thief, a psychic chops loving pensioner and a couple of likely lads. The bus is shot through a wormhole onto another planet where the local inhabitants cannibalise everything. So will the Doctor get the good people back to Earth, will UNIT help or hinder him, and is the good lady Christina the Doctor's next companion?
The hour long format works better than the normal shorter episode duration and allows a little dramatic air to breathe and some space to explore the otherworldly location. The emphasis is on action though, and what action we get is very definitely escapist and family friendly. There is some sexual tension and Ryan gives Tennant the kind of look that you may find yourself very envious of throughout, some intriguing clues about the coming episodes crop up, and it all works well enough.

It is a romp and you won't be moved or scared much by the episode. The humour is broad and silly with Evans trying hard with his smallish role, and the net result of affairs is unsurprising. Planet of the Dead is as bright and breezy as you can get, and this leaves it seeming a little superficial.

Transfer and Sound

Well this is all rather skimpy. A single stereo audio option is offered where 5.1 has been part of the package before, and, whilst it's perfectly fine, surely this kind of episode would really benefit from a surround option. There's hard of hearing subs but a rather small package is not made any heavier by such weak audio options.
The transfer is perfectly fine - sharp, shades offer up plenty of robust blacks and variation, and colours are understandably warm. Edge enhancement is no issue, and yes there is very little to find fault with.

Discs and Special Features

So how does one single hour long episode with a single stereo audio option justify a dual layer release then? Is there a commentary? Is there a teaser for what's to come? Or is there a slightly longer version of the Doctor Who confidential that you most likely have already seen?

The confidential featurette is almost as long as the episode itself and covers the publicised problems with the Bus getting totaled at the docks in Dubai. There is appreciation of Evans and Ryan from cast and crew, with Ryan coming over as a class act who did most of her own stunts here whilst Ryan larks around like a PG Tips chimp. RTD contributes loads about the challenge of re-writing because of the bus problems, the director weighs in on the weather problems, and there's plenty here for fans if they want it. Still as the sole extra, it does feel as if not much effort has been put in to pimping this package with everything having already been broadcast some time ago.


I imagine a boxset of specials will come out at a later date as this is an underwhelming release which I can see few older Whovians buying now.

7 out of 10
7 out of 10
6 out of 10
3 out of 10


out of 10

Latest Articles