BBC America, in continuing its big week of sci-fi to help usher in their brand new HD feed, will be premiering the next Doctor Who special, Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead, this Sunday night at 8:00pm. The second of the final five appearances by David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor (unless, of course, the rumored movie occurs) finds the Time Lord on a mysterious alien planet as the double-decker bus he was traveling on manages to make its way through a wormhole.
Along for the ride this time around as the Doctor's companion is Lady Christina de Souza, who is played by Michelle Ryan (Bionic Woman) in a far better role than her unfortunate turn as Jaime Sommers (not her fault, but it must be noted that the series wasn't a good one). As explained by Ryan in the press materials, "Christina is a mysterious, adventure-seeking aristocrat and she is very much a loner, she's off in her own little world. And she's very daring and exciting and smart and sassy. She's a cool character." Lady Christina also happens to be a jewel thief who has just managed to pull off an incredibly daring robbery. It is actually in her attempt to escape the police that she finds herself on the same bus as the Doctor.
Things in Who-land are never quite as easy as they ought to be – after all, it wouldn't be much of an episode if they could just turn the bus around and drive right through the wormhole – and the bus finds itself stuck in sand in a massive desert on an alien planet. Oh, and a sandstorm which isn't a sandstorm but actually a bunch of metal exoskeleton animals which take whole vibrant planets (like the one the Doctor is on) and turn them into a desert wasteland just happen to be on their way to the bus, the wormhole, and Earth. And then there are the insect aliens, the Tritovores. Are they good? Are they evil? Or are they just dung-eaters?
The story makes for a perfectly good Doctor Who episode, but this is supposed to be a "special" and I'm just not sure how special it is. To be sure, it's approximately 15 minutes longer than a regular episode, and some of the views of the desert certainly indicate more money spent making the special (they did actually go to a desert to film parts of it), but it fails to really get the audience's pulse-racing as has happened in any of the season finales for the new series. The scale of production here is certainly larger, but the story is not.
In speaking of the deserts, Tennant states, "We got some incredible shots, I mean I think you'll notice it on screen that we went a long way, and that the director and the camera particularly made it count." Perhaps most important, Tennant adds to that sentiment, "I think it'll look like an alien planet in a way that nothing we've ever done before has ever quite managed… it's an extraordinary sight, just miles of sand and the blue skies…" He is quite right, the desert shots that Planet of the Dead contain are spectacular and they do give the planet far more of a realistic feel than is often the case in a Who episode.
As an episode, certainly this is a good one; outside of the landscape, the repartee between the Doctor and Christina is fantastic, the two actors play off each other wonderfully and are great to watch onscreen together. What with the possible destruction of the Earth and every living thing on it, the stakes are high enough here as well, but for those people out there looking for something truly special or looking for something more than an episode there's not a lot extra here.
Again, it's not bad, it's a good episode, it's a beautifully shot, well-acted, nicely developed episode, and with the beautifulness of it, it is a great addition to BBC America's first week with an HD feed. However, those people out there yearning for more from Doctor Who in this year without a full season may find themselves still yearning when the end credits roll.
Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead premieres July 26 at 8:00pm on BBC America.