Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead (US - BD)
Gabe rides a bus through space and time to a dusty planet with The Doctor...
After a slight miscalculation in an otherwise successful robbery, cat-like thief Christina (Michelle Ryan) hops aboard a double-decker city bus to make her less than stylish escape. As the bus is about to leave one more passenger hops aboard—it’s the Doctor (David Tennant), and he’s looking for temporal rifts (or something). The bus driver, paid off by Christina, leads the cops on a chase, and drives right into a dimensional portal, and onto a desert planet. Trapped, Christina, the Doctor, and the rest of the passengers begin looking for a way back to London. Meanwhile, an alien species watches their every move, and some kind of desert storm rockets towards them.
Plot-wise Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead isn’t very impressive, and generally feels like just another episode. And not only another episode, but another episode in a series that has been around for several decades. Not to say Doctor Who has overstayed its welcome yet, but there are definitely better, and more theatrical episodes throughout the David Tennant and Christopher Eccleston versions of the series. Like Star Wars, Doctor Who gets away with some of its larger plot holes and unoriginal moments simply because it’s generally referential nature. Doctor Who thrives on what the audience knows about classic genre storytelling, in the same way standalone episodes of X-Files, Supernatural, or even Futurama do. Planet of the Dead starts with the basic classic plot kicker of protagonists trapped somewhere desolate with a broken vehicle, a trope that probably traces back to Flight of the Phoenix, but which has seen regular use throughout Star Trek, and in films like Pitch Black (the monster designs in PotD are also similar to those of David Twohy’s picture) and Enemy Mine. I personally found myself ahead of the story throughout, but still generally enjoying the experience.
Unlike Star Wars, however, the whole of the various Doctor Who series also succeed thanks to a potently cheeky sense of humour. Along with the less serialized nature of each episode, this keeps me coming back to the series above more ‘high-brow’ sci-fi television like Battlestar Galatica, which is so dead serious it almost hurts (I am working on a review of the last half of Battlestar’s final season, but am trying to watch all the previous stuff so that fans won’t yell at me). Planet of the Dead is generally more satisfying than its predecessor, The Next Doctor, which was emotionally endearing, but only sporadically charming or funny. Tennant pulls some fantastic faces, lets loose some great one-liners, and has some palpable chemistry with episode co-star (a pseudo-companion) Michelle Ryan. Correct me if I’m wrong (I know you will), but from what I see here, based on my limited knowledge of the series, these two have more sexual tension sputtering between them than perhaps any other Doctor/Companion pairing. We’re not talking the ‘oh my God let’s do it on the floor’ brand of tension found on Torchwood, it’s more like the ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge’ brand featured in classic screwball comedy.
Apparently this is the first time Doctor Who has been shot in high definition, and the results are rather smashing. The overall transfer suffers some of the usual made for BBC cheapness, which is part of the charm, of course. There isn’t a lot of compression noise, and grain is quite minimal, save a few darker shots, and some of the digital creatures. There’s obviously a bigger budget at work here than was used for the hi-def episodes of Torchwood. Colours are cleaner, brighter, and fuller, and the overall transfer is more consistent than that DV series. Most unfortunately for the production, all the effort of filming in Dubai is somewhat wasted because even in hi-def the desert looks like a digital back-drop. It’s a pretty and richly coloured backdrop, but it really doesn’t look like a real desert.
Planet of the Dead comes fitted with a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 track, which is flawless in terms of clarity, but not very impressive in scope. I suppose that a really aggressive five channel assault might up the production values a tad, but too much noise probably wouldn’t feel like Doctor Who. Aural highlights include the nerve wracking racket of the flying steel stingrays, which whip about the channels with affecting frequency, and the flying double-decker bus, which bolsters the LFE with whirring motor sounds, and leads to a few cool directional effects.
The only extra on the disc is a ‘Doctor Who Confidential’ (57:00, HD) featurette, which covers the general making of process. Focus leans towards location shooting and production design. The desert itself was shot in war torn Dubai, and a full sized double-decker was sent to the site. Even if the bus hadn’t been damaged in transit this seems like a risky proposition (though the damage to the bus was written into the story, which likely saved them the money they got back from transit insurance. The filming of the opening heist sequence and the subsequent escape are then covered with more of a look at the actual filming process, and focus on the new pseudo-companion, Christina. Things wrap up with glances at the process of filming the interiors of the bus, the hell of the Dubai desert, making fly-man prosthetics and digital stingrays, and working with Lee Evans.
Planet of the Dead is a fine episode of the new Doctor Who series, but viewers shouldn’t expect a real ‘movie’ out of the sixty minute exercise. All the important stuff is here for fans—the comedy, the charming characters, the great use of a low budget—but the storyline isn’t exactly inspiring, and despite a last minute glance into the future of the franchise, the whole exercise is pretty stand alone in nature. I’m hoping the BBC has a set planned for release after all the movies have aired, but if they don’t fans could do a whole lot worse with the first ever high definition episode of the series on Blu-ray.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 28th July 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Extras: Doctor Who: Confidential
Easter Egg: No
Director: James Strong
Cast: David Tennant, Michelle Ryan
Genre: Adventure, Comedy and Sci-Fi
Length: 60 minutes
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