CBC’s treatment of the property is a story in extremes. It started off well – an April 5, 2005 debut, strong publicity, co-production credit and a generally enjoyable set of stories starring Christopher Eccleston. The 2004-05 NHL lockout destroyed a dependable revenue stream, so CBC had to hype something.
By the end of season four, CBC was mangling the hell out of season finale “Journey’s End.” Prior to this, CBC had shunted second-season Christmas special “The Runaway Bride” to a midnight time slot the night of the third-season premiere.
Granted, Doctor Who‘s fourth season had good stories counteracted by an annoying companion in Donna Noble (Catherine Tate.) You still had a great Doctor in David Tennant, whose run winds down with “Planet of the Dead” (SPACE: July 25, 9:00 PM ET), the first of four 2009 specials.
I look at “Planet of the Dead” like I do “Stones of Blood.” “Planet of the Dead” is familiar enough to be enjoyable, but it’s second-rate. Alien variants of Earth animals (flies, stingrays) are appropriated as aliens. UNIT plies its trade, mostly shooting at things and acting militant.
Lady Christina de Souza (Michelle Ryan) is this episode’s companion, a cat burglar and walking archetype. UNIT scientist Malcolm Taylor (a very annoying Lee Evans) literally screams Doctor fanboy, a Whizz Kid for the new generation. Carmen (Ellen Thomas), a black woman with psychic powers, acts portentous as she furthers the plot along. The use of Dubai as a backdrop reminds me of the eighteen thousand times a quarry stood in for an “alien world.”
David Tennant looks like he’s going through his usual frenzied motions. Michelle Ryan is watchable as a companion, which means very little as she’s the one-shot guest star of the moment. Not one moment of “Planet of the Dead” is new or clever, the first 2009 special acting as filler. The heavy stuff will be saved for Christmas, what with The Doctor dying and all.
Don’t get me wrong, “Planet of the Dead” is fun. If there’s one thing to say about Russell T. Davies, his episodes can be as fun as Terrance Dicks’. Sadly, Davies has fallen into the Futurama trap of choosing an underwhelming story at a time when the specials should feel, well, special. Time will tell if upcoming special “Waters of Mars” becomes the Doctor Who equivalent of Beast with a Billion Backs.
If new Doctor Who half-asses its ersatz fifth season by spinning its wheels and heavily referencing itself, then the best-ever case will have been made for giving Steven Moffat the show at the end of 2009. There’s no excuse for “Planet of the Dead” to be Doctor Who at its laziest.
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