No Dead Cert
Friday May 1, 2009 in doctor who | television
I’ve held off talking about the latest Doctor Who special for a while. In fact I wasn’t planning to mention it at all. Like a bad dream, I thought it might just fade away and be forgotten. Whilst my enthusiasm for the show is legendary, Ive never been too enamoured with the annual Christmas specials. I’ve found that they reveal the worst side of Russel T. Davies’ writing, and tend to drop the imaginative and subtle aspects of the programme in favour of something simplistic and far too overblown. I’ve never come away from a Doctor Who Christmas special without a headache.
So I was a touch disappointed when it was announced that there would be no 2009 series. In its place would be a series of specials. The dreaded word fills me with horror. It’s more scary than a basement full of Weeping Angels. 2009 would be a year without a decent story arc, no chance for The Doctor to build a rapport with his companion and, most disturbingly, no Steven Moffat episodes. Just Russel T. Davies chucking the BBC’s money around and producing not particularly sophisticated TV.
There’s a really good review of Planet of the Dead by Jack that sums up a lot of what was wrong about it. For me, the episode is just the worst example of what I’m calling special syndrome. The main premise of the story was The Doctor and Michelle Ryan (from Eastenders) on a number 200 London bus that ends up on a sort of desert planet. The number 200 was significant because it marked the 200th Who story. Hardly worth the effort and I’m sure many viewers, even those that cared, wouldn’t have been that bothered. I would have personally preferred them to have waited another 20 adventures so they could pay tribute to the 220 that I used to catch from White City to Tooting Broadway (or do it 11 earlier and salute the 189 from Earlsfield to Wimbledon). No matter.
I found Planet of the Dead doomed from the start. As uninspiring, perhaps, as a desert world. The idea of The Doctor being stranded with a group of fellow passsengers was brilliantly explored in last year’s Midnight. As well as featuring hardly any special effects at all, the episode posed the interesting question about what would happen if the Doctor’s authority was questioned in a crisis situation. If, rather than saving the day as always, he was perceived as a threat. Unfortunately Davies has closed this chapter on the Doctor’s vulnerability and Planet of the Dead had him saving the day again, with Lee Evans and Michelle Ryan (from Eastenders) helping him.
The effects were certainly impressive, but I don’t find that enough if – and this was the case – the story is lazy and David Tennant is on autopilot. I’m also finding the reintroduction of UNIT slightly uncomfortable. Maybe it gives me weird flashbacks of being a small child, where soldiers were always on the news as well as following The Doctor around. Soldiers were just everywhere in those days. The new theme, where the modern Doctor is also uncomfortable with the military presence, hasn’t been handled as well as it could. Like his 70s predecessors, when Davies wants the military to fire at some aliens he just calls in UNIT.
Probably the worst aspect of the specials is the lack of continuity that works well in Doctor Who. Ryan played the latest in a stream of one off companions, that have included Kylie Minogue, that we don’t really get to know enough to care about. And neither, I suspect, does The Doc – which leaves the drama of the series somewhat lacking.
Davies and Tennant have two (or three?) more chances to get this right before they hand over to Moffat and Smith. Planet of the Dead hinted at a revival of the your song must end soon prophecy, something that may link to the demise of the 10th Doc. Let’s just hope they make it good…