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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “Planet of the Dead”

(tons of spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! and no comments from party poopers — this is a love fest only / previous: Episode 1: “The Next Doctor”)
I see, after going through the comments posted this past week, that lots of you have been clamoring for just this very post. (I deleted some of those comments, especially in threads unrelated to Doctor Who, but that doesn’t mean I don’t hear your pain.) Why the delay? I really did have every intention of getting this posted a week ago. But apart from the usual tired bullshit that even I get tired of hearing myself spout about how there’s not enough hours in the day and I really would devote myself 24/7 to writing about the stuff I’m obsessed with (Doctor Who, movies, etc.) if there weren’t other necessary work to be done, there’s this:

I’ve found it tough to sit down and think too much about “Planet of the Dead” because I’m so freakin’ disappointed by it.

I mean, I’m so disappointed that I’m gonna have to ignore my own imprecations posted above to those who refuse to join the lovefest. I’m gonna be a party pooper myself… but only because Russell Davies and Gareth Roberts, who wrote this episode, beat us to it.

I’m extremely forgiving as a Doctor Who fan: there’s a lot of crap I can put up with because I don’t even see it as long as I’m getting to spend time with the Doctor. And there’s a lot of implausibility I can put up with as long as the Doctor is behaving in a way that doesn’t violate his own selfness. But those kinds of absurdities cannot be ignored when they do occur, and basic plot plausibility cannot be ignored when it seems to come out of the laziness of the writers. The fudging of some scientific principles, say, can be overlooked if they’re fudged in aid of telling a cracking yarn. But ridiculous things that make no sense and contribute to the telling a not-cracking yarn as if by design? I call bullshit on those things.

Like, right from the get-go, this:

This is “security”? Do those guards stand there every night like that? With no one actually looking at the damn thing they’re guarding? This seems absolutely contrived to allow for just the sort of theft that occurs. Are these guys deaf as well as utterly lacking in peripheral vision?

And yes, it’s very Indy-in-the-South-American-temple, Christina’s switchout of the cup for the waving Chinese cat statue. But come on! Why does she act surprised that the alarms go off? She was clearly intending to taunt the guards with the Chinese kitty — she had to know they were going to catch on sooner rather than later. And why does she take the mask off while she’s still in the museum? Hasn’t she heard of security cameras? This is supposed to be London, for pete’s sake — the most CCTVed city in the world — so even if the museum, for some bizarre reason, isn’t covered inside by CCTV, the second she steps onto the street, she’s going to be caught on multiple cameras that the police will go to first thing. Either she doesn’t mind being caught on camera because she likes to taunt the authorities, in which case she wouldn’t have worn a mask in the first place, or she doesn’t want to be seen, in which case she wouldn’t have removed the mask until she was well away.

The frustrating thing is that there’s no reason at all — not even in a stupid plot-convenience way required to move the story forward — for her to behave as she does. It’s just sloppy, sloppy writing.

Still, I was in a forgiving enough mood, because I figured: Okay, cool, she doesn’t realize that she’s stolen something that’s actually an alien artifact, or a piece of antique time technology, or something neat-o and impressive and wibbly wobbly, timey whimey that the Doctor will be totally fascinated in, too. (And I was also all, Damn! because I thought this was gonna mirror a fan fiction story I wrote almost 20 years ago, and I’d already figured — in a half-joking, half-not way — that Russell Davies had read my fanfic years ago, so often does he seem to echo things I wrote. I’ve posted that story, “The Locksley Dagger,” over at my portfolio site, for your enjoyment. It’s about a stolen museum object that’s a piece of antique time technology the theft of which the Doctor is called in to investigate.)

And sure enough, my suspicions appeared to have been confirmed when Christina, in her bizarre escape attempt, hops onto a London bus, demonstrates utter cluelessness about how to pay for the ride, and appears to draw the Doctor right to her, for he hops onto the bus and plops himself right down next to her. Aha! Maybe she’s an alien too! (You can always spot the aliens: they get mixed up about the money and about how to pay for mass transit.) But at a minimum, I could see, even if she’s human, what she stole is clearly setting off the Doctor’s gadget that goes ding when there’s stuff.

But no. That’s not it at all. Christina’s presence on the bus is a complete coincidence with the Doctor’s presence there. And the Doctor’s presence there makes no sense whatsoever. Why does he get on the bus? He’s tracking something with his little dish, but he has no reason at all to expect that the bus will be heading in the direction he also needs to go in to track the something. Why does he sit down next to her? (Apart from the obvious and usual reason, which is that he just really likes pretty girls.) No reason at all… and it looks particularly strange, even for the Doctor, with the bus mostly empty.

And then, it’s completely ridiculous that the police could not stop that bus. They could have easily overtaken it — they’re in police cars, for pete’s sake: they tend to be able to go fast enough to overtake a lumbering double-decker bus. It’s not as if the cops think Christina is dangerous, that she might take hostages or something is she’s cornered. So why don’t they corner her? Why don’t they get the dispatcher to tell the driver to stop? It’s almost like the cops don’t want to catch the bus or Christina.

And then, the Doctor tells everyone on the bus to “hold on tight.” He knows what’s going to happen! Why doesn’t he tell the driver to stop? The driver probably wouldn’t listen, but when has that ever stopped the Doctor from telling people to do things he knows need doing?

This is all so preposterous on a storytelling level that it makes me want to scream. The Doctor, the cops, Christina… all are behaving in ways that make no sense at all. Instead of being clever enough to work around the way that real museums and real thieves and real cops and, ahem, real Time Lords work, Davies and Roberts just pretended they didn’t need to be concerned about plausibility. Instead of crafting a scenario that worked with reality, they invented their own ridiculous detours. (See, for contrast, “Partners in Crime,” which is fun and fantastical but instead of ignoring the way a real corporate cube farm operates, it played with the weaknesses in that real system to shove an entertaining story through those cracks.)

But that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is how Davies and Roberts treat the Doctor… and if they’re not gonna at least be fair to the Doctor, what’s the point of any of it? (And I don’t mean that have to be nice to the Doctor — I mean they have to be true to him as a character.) It’s as if everything that Davies has made the Doctor about these last four years went out the window (or down a wormhole) here. The Doctor with his ordinary-life porn of chops-and-gravy and watching telly… Davies has been making sure the Doctor has been harping on this stuff for ages, from at least “Father’s Day,” where he’d talked about never having the kind of life that’s about waiting for a cab at 2am. And he — Davies — is not doing anything with it precisely where this psychosis of the Doctor’s could all be coming to a head, in these last few episodes with Tennant as the Doctor.

Look: Davies has already established — in “Turn Left” — that a Doctor without a human companion to hold his worst impulses in check is a dead Doctor, or a Doctor who fucks up spectacularly. And here we have a Doctor who is specifically pushing away all prolonged contact with humans, at the same time he continues — at least on one level that he may not even recognize — to long for that contact, to long for a life that human contact might provide. And I call this a psychosis because the Doctor isn’t human, and what he wants is the functional equivalent of a human who longs to live life like a dog, or a gorilla, or a dolphin. Surely his own people would consider the Doctor as mentally ill as they would consider the Master. That’s something that I’ve always had in the back of my head as I wrote my fanfic — that no matter what we think of the Doctor, other Gallifreyans would consider him seriously deranged, and in a deeply disturbing way that they’d find icky (“He does what with those primitive apes? Ugh!”) — and it’s one of the things that made me half-kid myself that Davies must have read my fanfic, because that same idea does appear to be woven into Davies’ Doctor. As, indeed, it still is here.

But if Davies were going to follow through on that — and not do so is such a copout — then the Doctor would here promise to save all these people and get them back to their wonderful ordinary lives and then end up getting them all killed in the process. All except Christina, perhaps, so that when he rejects her in the end, it would actually make some freakin’ sense. All through this episode he’s completely intrigued by her, by everything about her: her calmness, her take-chargedness, her enthusiasm, her love of adventure, even her nonviolent criminality. (As he notes, he’s a thief too.) And Tennant plays it to the hilt:

He’s all “We make quite a couple” and “We were made for each other” (and despite her “We don’t make any sort of couple, thank you very much,” you know she sees it right away, too). And you cannot tell me that this exchange:

“You’re an alien?” –Christina
“Yeah, but you don’t have to kiss me either.” –the Doctor
“You look human.” –Christina
“You look Time Lord.” –the Doctor

ain’t his way of saying, “I’m not that alien,” or perhaps: “You’re an alien to me, but I don’t care, so why should you?”

(That was the exchange, by the way, that sounds very much like something I wrote for the latest installment of my ongoing fanfic story, though the context is somewhat different. Which clearly indicates that not only has Davies read my old fanfic, he’s got a tap into my computer to read the new stuff while I’m still in the process of writing it.)

You might say, “Well, because the Doctor wrapped up this situation cleanly and with no one getting hurt, he figures he really doesn’t need a human companion around to temper him, and that’s why he rejects Christina when she asks to come travel with him in the TARDIS.” But the problem with that is that the Doctor doesn’t know he needs a human around: it’s Russell Davies who knows that. The Doctor is not self-aware enough to reason with himself like this. All he knows is that he’s feeling a push-and-pull: he wants company, but he doesn’t want to get hurt again when they leave him (however they leave him). But to have been so drawn to Christina and then turn her away — especially after the ordinary-life porn he indulged in earlier — does not make any sense for the Doctor. He needed some powerful, immediate, in-his-face reason to reject Christina, which he would have had if all these humans who were relying on him had died, preferrably in awful ways. Ooo, and how about if he’d made a choice to save Christina over them, and then was wracked with guilt over that so that he couldn’t bear to face her again?

It’s as if Davies has given up on that dark, complicated Doctor he reinvented, and that dark, complicated Doctor Who, and is only interested in making a kiddie show. I can’t imagine why, but what other explanation can there be?

Random thoughts on “Planet of the Dead”:

• Oh, of course the psychic paper works to fake out the Oyster-card reader! And it never has to be topped up, either!

(But wait! Does this mean that the bus is slightly sentient itself? Cuz wouldn’t it have to be to be faked out by psychic paper…?)

• Didja see this ad on the bus?

As far as I can see on the not-HD download I watched, the ad is for a book called Ocean Something by E.R. Butler, and I can’t read the rest of the ad copy at all. But of course other fans are on it. A forum poster at Digital Spy notes that the book is Ocean of Noise and that the sales copy reads:

the debut novel by E R Butler offers a window into a world that is as dark as it is enlightening

There’s no such book in real life, but another commenter notices that “Ocean of Noise” is an anagram of “An Ice Foe Soon” (the Brits love anagrams), and seeing as how we’re promised “The Waters of Mars” next, that must mean the Ice Warriors (enemies of the Doctor’s of old, from the original series) are returning.

I will note that “Ocean of Noise” could be considered a very apt description for the fan hubbub that erupts online immediately after a new episode of Doctor Who airs.

• Barkley and Nathan have this little exchange after they land in the alien desert:

“It’s like that night when all them planets were up in the sky.” –Barkley
“But it was the Earth that moved back then, wasn’t it?” –Nathan

So obviously people did take notice of the fact that the freakin’ planet moved in space, but it hasn’t changed life on Earth noticable? I think it should have. I think it should have shaken up people so much that cultural earthquakes should be happening, not just random asides. (Maybe the Icelandic banks collapsed and Nathan lost his job because of economic upheaval caused by the enormous paradigm shift that occurred when the Earth moved in space because of alien influence and no one could deny it.) But that’s just me.

• “The collapse of the Icelandic banks” does sound like something out of science fiction, doesn’t it?

• Nice, the Doctor using the sonic screwdriver to turn his brainy specs into shades. I bet that little toy has all sorts of interesting uses we haven’t seen yet…

• The UNIT phone menu? Very funny.

• Why in the Five Galaxies would the “internal coms” on the bug guys’ ship be perfectly designed to work with humanoid heads?

• Dr. Malcolm Taylor, the scientific advisor, makes reference to Quatermass, which is a classic British sci-fi thing (a remake of which David Tennant starred in recently, which I plan to review soonish). But this kind of thing always reminds me that the geeks of Malcolm’s world — and Malcolm is most certainly a geek — don’t have a Doctor Who to geek out over, because of course Malcolm’s world is a slight alternate universe of ours in which the Doctor is real and not a fictional character. So what is the Doctor Who of Malcolm’s world? Is it a Quatermass series?

• What a copout, killing the bug guys! That was too easy, and too cheap. They could have come back to Earth — wouldn’t Magambo and Malcolm have loved that!

• The flying bus is very… I dunno. It’s on the tip of my brain. I want to say “very Douglas Adams” except there was no flying bus in Douglas Adams (or was there, and I’m blanking on it?). But I think he would approve:

• What Doctor Who needs more of? Smooching:

• It’s nice that the Doctor put Magambo onto the “two lads” who are “good in a crisis.” I like to think that UNIT troops would be the elite of the elite, and maybe they are, but maybe there’s room for those the Doctor recommends too.

• Oh, I’d be Malcolm: I love you I love you I love you:

• “Your song is endin’, sir. It is returnin’; it is returnin’ tru da dark… He will knock four times.” Ah, so that was the whole point of the psychic lady: so she could intone some ominous and menacing hints about the Doctor’s impending demise. I refuse to engage in speculation about this, because that’s exactly what Russell Davies wants us to do, and I’m mad at him right now.

• Great quotes:

“The funny thing is, I don’t usually do Easter. I can never find it. It’s always that different time. Although… I remember the original. Between you and me, what really happened was–” –the Doctor (and there’s Russell Davies’ atheism rearing its head again: hoorah!)

“Oh, humans on buses, always blaming me.” –the Doctor (at least they nodded to “Midnight,” which this bears too many thematic similarities to)

(next: The Sarah Jane Adventures: “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith”)


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
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  • RogerBW

    To hark back to the first Christmas Special of the renewed series: “Doesn’t he look tired?”

    Apparently these specials were made as part of the same filming block as the last series, and both here and in the latest Christmas one I think it showed both in Tennant’s face and in Davies’ direction.

  • MaryAnn

    This was shot in February, *after* Tennant wrapped *Hamlet,* so it’s relatively recent. That’s why there were no coming attractions for it at the end of “The Next Doctor” — this hadn’t been shot yet.

    I’m sure Tennant was exhausted after *Hamlet* and his back surgery, though, so that could explain his looking tired.

    Davies didn’t direct this: James Strong did. But the direction isn’t the problem: the writing is.

  • Les Carr

    I’d go along with disappointed, but I’m less mad. Is disappointing Doctor better than no Doctor? I think it is.

    Perhaps the Doctor is on the bus because the wormhole starts off inside the bus (we know it is growing, so at some point it must be tiny).

    Christina has trouble with paying because she is posh – very much like Mary Tyler Moore in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

    If you want your snark vented, I can recommend the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre Company’s take on “Planet of the Dead” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZvbMA6xtjQ

  • Roger, I believe they started filming this episode January 19, 2009. I think they filmed the bits in the “alien spacecraft” (i.e. disused steel mill) during the big (to England) snowstorm in February that pretty much shut down the country. David had just had back surgery five weeks previously, which in general takes six weeks to recover from and he had jumped back into the last week of Hamlet only about 3 weeks post-surgery, so that could account for a certain tiredness, although I have to say I didn’t see it. I did think he walked a bit peculiarly in the sand, and wondered if he were favoring his back.

    Anyway–on to my thoughts–firstly, Michelle Ryan was a huge disappointment. She apparently only has one expression–a sort of simpering smirk–which she can only vary slightly in intensity. Even when she’s sadly (I guess it was sadly–it would have been if I’d asked it) asking why she can’t come with the doctor, the smirk is there, just a bit toned down. Can’t see her as anything but a spoiled little rich girl who thinks she’s all that because she goes around stealing stuff. No time for the character at all, and the actress did nothing to endear her to me or make her at all three-D.

    I have to note that I think this is the first time in the history of the program that a writer has included references to excrement and sweat. Good to know people in the Whoniverse aren’t all that different from us. Although, to rant just a bit more about Christina, when she complained about the smell of terrified people sweating in a tin can stuck in a desert, it did make me want to smack that annoying smirk off her face more than usual. The Doctor’s embarrassed reference to things that come out of people’s behinds of course sets me off wondering about Time Lord physiology yet again–but I’ll leave that alone for now.

    Hated hated hated the stereotypical psychic woman. Good God. Everything from the accent to her demographics was such a stereotype I thought I’d fallen through a wormhole into a Disney film somehow. Argh! Lazy lazy writer. Shame on you, RTD. If you wanted to freak me out/scare me/make me even more depressed than I already am at David’s impending departure from the series (a task well beyond even you) you really needed to do it in an original and interesting way. Generic psychic lady wasn’t it.

    Have to admit to loving the flying bus, logical or not. Seeing the Doctor piloting it was just great fun.

    And of course…the Doctor. As dreadful as aspects of the episode were, I’ll still watch it over and buy the DVD, just because of the Doctor. The tongue action when he tastes the dead world in the sand–OMG, priceless. The “yes ma’am” when The Annoying Smirker goes into bogus take charge mode–adorable. It’s just so good to see him again, I’ll take the bad.

    One question though–why does he always look so gobsmacked when he gets kissed? Think about it–not the times he’s faux-kissed people–but when Cassandra/Rose kissed him, when the Girl in the Fireplace kissed him, and now when smirky Christina planted one on him–he looks stunned. My theory is that Time Lords don’t kiss. It’s just not part of their repertoire as a way of showing/experiencing intimacy. They probably would have been horrified at a species that locks lips and exchanges bodily fluids as part of their intimacy rituals. And as MAJ says, they probably thought the Doctor was utterly bonkers to associate with such a species. And while he has had a long time to get used to us and our ways, and he does like us, and we’re pretty much all he has left at this point (we do look SO much like Time Lords!), he’s still carrying around his cultural taboos, some of which are stronger than others. At least–that’s what’s going in my fanfic! (See link attached to my screen name.)

  • RogerBW

    Fair enough, I miscalled the production history. If it wasn’t being done in a huge rush, RTD has even less excuse for the sloppy writing.

    On watching this I didn’t even realise it was the famous Dubai episode (as MAJ mentioned here a while ago) until someone else pointed it out. I assumed it was just CG sand, same as they use all the time.

    I’m one of the few people who liked Michelle Ryan in Bionic Woman, and even I thought she didn’t do a good job here.

    More Captain Magambo! We need grown-up characters…

  • MaryAnn

    I think the Doctor always looks surprised when he gets kissed because he simply has no idea how appealing we humans find him. Despite all the evidence to the contrary he has encountered firsthand. :->

    Christina has trouble with paying because she is posh

    It’s easy to imagine that she’s never ridden a bus before. It’s not so easy to imagine that she’s never encountered the concept of an Oyster card before — you can’t go *anywhere* in London without encountering ads for them. And the way she goes about trying to weasel out of paying simply doesn’t sound like something anyone would attempt. She should have looked at the card reader with a bit of panic and jumped right to trying to pay with the diamond earrings.

  • Poly in London

    I never thought that Christina’s cluelessness about paying the bus fair was real. I thought she was playing it dim to the driver so that she could get away with it.

  • JSW

    As for the ending, what’s there to speculate about? There’s only one well-known villain in Doctor Who associated with four knocks (or rather, four drum-beats.)

  • Rob

    See, I actually completely disagree on this one. I thought the episode, from start to finish, was a complete and utter delight. I liked that the plot was relatively small scale. I liked how it blended a darker tone with a more bouncy, funny one (her face-off with the creature, for example, was genuinely suspenseful). I loved Malcolm. I loved the flying bus. I loved the Doctor and Christine’s chemistry. I loved the reference to Donna. I loved the more sympathetic portrayal of UNIT characters than in the past appearances in New Who. I found the last special to be a tad bit overblown but this one nailed it perfectly for me. In the end, it was over too quickly and more than whetted my appetite for the next set. What I’m most surprised about is that I have quite a bunch of very nitpicky fellow Doctor Who fans as friends and they all loved it. This post, and the responses, are the only negative reactions I’ve seen to in anywhere. The last special was the exact opposite. This blog was the only place I saw anything positive about it.

  • jakob1978

    Dr. Malcolm Taylor, the scientific advisor, makes reference to Quatermass, which is a classic British sci-fi thing (a remake of which David Tennant starred in recently, which I plan to review soonish). But this kind of thing always reminds me that the geeks of Malcolm’s world — and Malcolm is most certainly a geek — don’t have a Doctor Who to geek out over, because of course Malcolm’s world is a slight alternate universe of ours in which the Doctor is real and not a fictional character. So what is the Doctor Who of Malcolm’s world? Is it a Quatermass series?

    In the New Adventure series of books, there was a very good book by Mark Gattis called Nightshade, in which the “doctor who” substitute series that everyone watched was called “Professor Nightshade” (in the book the actor who portrayed him starts getting haunted by other fictional characters). The book is available to read as an E-Book on the BBC Doctor Who site

    There have been persistant rumours over the past couple of years that this book may be adapted at some point for the TV series (including one barmy one which would have you believe Tom Baker was being lined up to play Professor Nightshade…i think that would just be too wierd)

  • Matt

    Agree completely – this was easily the most sloppily-written episode of the new series. But I’m willing to put this down as an aberration and am still sure that RTD will pull out something quite spectacular for David Tennant’s final episodes – this little exchange from the commentary (via Wikipedia) definitely makes me very hopeful:

    DT: Really, from this moment on, the Doctor’s card is marked. Because when we come back in “The Waters of Mars”, it’s all become a little bit darker.
    Julie Gardner: And as we know, David, he really does knock four times.
    DT: Yeah, absolutely, and if you think you’ve figured out what that means, you’re wrong!
    Gardner: But when you do figure it out, it’s a sad day.

  • eric-jon rössel waugh

    What perplexes me is why everyone poo-poohs Davies for this episode, when everything wrong with it is a Gareth Roberts hallmark.

    In all his scripts to date — except perhaps Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?, which Davies claims to have written — Gareth Roberts essentially rehashes bits from earlier Davies scripts, without any of the thematic or character context.

    For small nothing episodes like The Shakespeare Code and The Unicorn and the Wasp, it’s fine. You can write them off as pointless and breezy and know there’s something more interesting coming next week. But a cut-and-paste list of tropes doesn’t work for a big-budget spectacular. Not for the only episode shown in an eleven-month window.

  • eric-jon rössel waugh

    The thing that Gareth Roberts seems unable to ask himself, as a writer, is “Why?”

    “Why am I doing this? What do I hope to achieve?”
    “Why does he do that?”
    “Why does she do that?”
    “Why did I put this in there? Does it serve a purpose?”

    Go back through everything he’s written for the show, with a clipboard. Two columns: elements he’s lifted wholecloth from earlier episodes, without the context that gave them meaning in the first place; and original elements that serve no obvious purpose.

    Inappropriate enthusiasm on someone’s part (“Good old Jay-Kay!” “You know why you’re the best writer ever? Because you’ve been hurt, so you know how people feel!” “It’s the Doctor! Oh God, hold me! You’re my best friend now, Doctor! Heavens, I’ve got the vapors!”) goes on a third page.

  • Ken

    • The flying bus is very… I dunno. It’s on the tip of my brain. I want to say “very Douglas Adams” except there was no flying bus in Douglas Adams (or was there, and I’m blanking on it?).

    I think you want to say “very Harry Potter”

  • Dave C

    I’m with Rob on this one: I adored this episode. A great sense of energy and fun, as if Davies & Co. shook off the “where do we go now?” clumsiness of “The Next Doctor” and decided to go for pure silly adventure. Loved, loved, loved it.

    (And the guards stand that way because that’s how they always stand in capers. Of course!)

    In the New Adventure series of books, there was a very good book by Mark Gattis called Nightshade, in which the “doctor who” substitute series that everyone watched was called “Professor Nightshade”

    I wonder if that’s connected to the joke in “Remembrance of the Daleks” involving the premiere of a “Professor…” show.

  • Keith

    As I mentioned in the other thread that preceded airing of the episode, I thought the episode was “fun,” but was left feeling quite disappointed by the end. I didn’t want to be very hard on it, especially before other readers had gotten to express their opinions. I enjoyed a lot of the cute touches, like the Doctor first getting on the bus, tinting his glasses, and just watching DT being the Doctor. However, like eating any lite confection, it’s rather tasty while your eating it, but leaves you feeling empty soon after you finish. This is how I felt after watching Planet of the Dead.

    I’m not sure what I’d rather them be doing with these specials (other than having a full season instead), but with the great work they’ve done over the last four years I expect more/better. Going back and looking at some of the previous Christmas specials gets me wondering why they can’t be more like those.

    I guess a big issue is being stuck in story arc limbo. We’re used to these season long story arcs, but between having wrapped up the previous arcs so thoroughly, and not wanting to tip their hand to the “new direction” they plan to go with the new Doctor, we are left these one hour, mostly self-contained episodes. They don’t have time to get too involved, so they are mostly going for lite and fun. For us hungry Dr. Who fans, we gobble them up like a couple of bon-bons, but are left unfulfilled. Hopefully the last two will be more, uh, nourishing. At least when we get to the last one, we’ll know the new full season won’t be all that far off. For now we’ll just have to deal with it being a lean year for the Whoverse. *sigh*

  • jackie

    It was all a bit of fun. Clearly you’ve never sat on a nearly empty bus where somebody who looks utterly deranged decides to ignore all of the empty seats and sit next to you and attempts to chat. It’s a surpsingly common experience in British Cities, and her pained reaction was spot on too. Never mind that she’s trying to escape from the police, she’s copped for the nutter on the bus!

    Of course, it’s also fun to assume that the rubbish (but superficially impressive) security was a deliberate ruse in order to catch her, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to resist.

    Personally, given the fact that interstaller trade has normally revolved around expensive, rare minerals I rather like the notion of highly civilised flies trading in more, er down to earth output.

  • Jackie said:

    Clearly you’ve never sat on a nearly empty bus where somebody who looks utterly deranged decides to ignore all of the empty seats and sit next to you and attempts to chat. It’s a surpsingly common experience in British Cities,

    Jackie, if you’re telling me there’s a chance someone who looks like David Tennant will plop himself down next to me on a bus in London and attempt to chat, I’m on the next plane over! LOL! I’ll be the bus-riding-est US tourist you ever saw!

  • VT

    I totally agree. I, for one, will be pretending that this episode didn’t happen. So ready for Moffat.

  • Jeff Moore

    I watched this episode as I have every episode of this recent incarnation of Doctor Who: through not only rose colored glasses, but through rose colored glasses worn by a child … a child who loves Doctor Who … a child who was me 30 years ago. Watching Doctor Who does this to me. It’s not a choice that I make; it’s the “travel through time” TARDIS power this show has. It makes me young and innocent and hopeful and all those things I used to be …. just for an hour.

    So I love reading this blog, because I am on board for the “love fest.” And yet, I have found this journey to the days of my youth has become a bumpier one of late. I tried to surrender myself to the magic of Doctor Who as I watched this episode, but lately the magic has been betraying itself. I know how the tricks are done … the magician has lost his wonder … his mystery. I now make conscious calculated choices to ignore flaws, to dismiss problems. I see the smoke and mirrors and the wires and I pretend that I don’t; I pretend that I still believe it is magic. When I was a kid watching Tom Baker fight that trash-bag monster on the planet with no metal (can’t remember the name … used to know them all) … I didn’t see a trash-bag monster, I saw an alien ambassador trapped in a pit. (Creature from the Pit! That was it!) The wires were there … but I didn’t see them, because the magic was stronger.

    Lately, the magic hasn’t been strong enough to hide the flaws in my very favorite show. Is this a testament to my age and the fact that I am not a kid anymore? I don’t think so. This new show can create magic for me … I can still journey to that little kid place, but Doctor Who works because it takes me there and I follow. It does not work when I make the trek alone in hopes of finding the Doctor there waiting for me when I arrive. (He almost never is.)

    I went there alone this time. I dismissed the unbelievable elements that MAJ identifies above (and I too made note of each and every one … they were glaring, the wires not hidden … the smoke too thin.) because I was supposed to. It was my responsibility as a Doctor Who fan to ignore the flaws. When Christina was left behind, it felt so very wrong, so very out of character for both of them, and yet, I accepted it without question because I knew that this was how the story was supposed to end. For now, RTD wants the Doctor alone so the status quo can be maintained, and so I do not question an ending that serves RTD’s status quo. In the same way that one accepted that every episode of “Gilligians Island” would leave those characters stranded on their little island, I accepted this. Such was the “feeling” this episode gave me. That nothing that happened really mattered.

    It was fluff. Nobody learned anything. Nobody grew or changed or evolved in any significant way. Good Science Fiction isn’t about the believable representation of futuristic science and fantastic elements; it is about how characters impacted by the fantastic are changed by their experience. Show me good, believable character evolution and I can forgive almost anything. My imagination is an incredibly flexible muscle.

    I love my Doctor Who. But I wonder if RTD has given up on us. I used to defend Davies’ writing. Someone would point out that RTD scripts were weaker than those of other writers contributing to the show. I would counter with the defense that Davies had a much greater volume of material to contribute than these other writers in a shorter scope of time. It was a valid defense. Yet, it would seem that given the current schedule for this year, and the fact that this is RTD’s chance to pay Doctor Who his fondest fair well … it would seem that we would be treated with the very best that RTD has to offer. We have seen RTD at his best. This is not it. With only four shows this year, and with the exodus of a man whom I can only assume loves Doctor Who as much as we do, was it wrong to expect so so much more?

    Just my random thoughts …

    Regards,

    Jeff Moore

  • Wow, Jeff, that was beautiful. I came back to mention that I loved the Doctor speaking Tritovore (wish they’d given us a closeup on David for that), but couldn’t just slap such a trivial comment on without acknowledging your well-written and heartfelt post. You speak for many of us. Thanks.

  • Gee

    If you read RTD’s book The Writer’s Tale, you will see he is a chronic procrastinator. He bemoans the fact that he’s trained himself to write under pressure by working ever closer to deadlines, so that’s the only way he can write now (or so he fears.)He wishes he could get out of that habit because of the massive pressures he puts on himself. So, even though from the outside it looks like he’s had lots of time, he may have been pushing it just too close to the limit for sufficient re-writes, or perhaps he has been putting more effort into the final three and misjudged how long he needed?

    I don’t think Planet of the Dead was helped by Christina as a companion. With no depth to her character, or nuanced changes in how she acted, we didn’t get those satisfying nuggets of emotional heart that compensate for plotting problems. She also suffered from being a massive Mary Sue, which set my teeth on edge.

  • Jackie

    Jackie, if you’re telling me there’s a chance someone who looks like David Tennant will plop himself down next to me on a bus in London and attempt to chat, I’m on the next plane over! LOL! I’ll be the bus-riding-est US tourist you ever saw!

    Sadly, most do not look like David Tennant. Well, they might, but the funny thing is that when the nutter plonks himself next to you, the one thing that you don’t do is look properly. It might encourage them.
    Many years back the comedian Jaspar Carrot did a really funny sketch on copping the nutter on the bus.

  • Gee said, re Christina: “She also suffered from being a massive Mary Sue, which set my teeth on edge.”

    Are you saying she’s a stand-in for RTD or Gareth Roberts or have I misunderstood the concept of the “Mary Sue” all these years?

  • Gee

    Ah, Weimlady – you are thinking of a ‘self-insert’ which may, or may not, also be a Mary Sue. Mary Sue is flawless, can do no wrong and is exceptionally gifted. I think there is some blurring of the two ideas, but I see them as distinct, perhaps because my self insert would not be flawless etc… I know my faults and limitations all too well!

  • Never ran into that definition of a Mary Sue, Gee. In fact, my experience of them is that they are usually anything but flawless, as I thought they were, indeed, self-inserts, and usually inserted by people with low self esteem, therefore meaning that they were clueless, ungainly, talentless and/or not too bright, and yet the hero loves them unconditionally anyway, seeing through the unappealing facade to the true gem-like beauty beneath.

    Wish fulfillments, in other words. But then, I suppose that a wish fulfillment could make the self-insert flawless and exceptionally gifted too.

    I’m sure my limited understanding of the concept is due to the fact that I don’t generally read fanfiction with non-canon characters because they are usually, “The Adventures of Me and the Doctor (or whomever)” and I don’t much care what the writer would do if she were lucky enough to go travelling in the TARDIS.

  • Gee

    TV Tropes has an entry on Mary Sues, and says it isn’t a consistently used term, but it indeed refers to the wish fulfilment aspect you mentioned.

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MarySue

    Now I have a most alarming image in my head of Gareth Roberts dreaming of abseiling from the roof clad in form fitting black leather!!

  • Thanks for the link. Interesting! As is the image of Gareth Roberts abseiling in form-fitting black leather. Would honestly rather see DT doing that than either MR or GR. :) He doesn’t even have to abseil–the form-fitting black leather would be enough to make me happy!

  • I’ve found it tough to sit down and think too much about “Planet of the Dead” because I’m so freakin’ disappointed by it.

    Now I’m confused because I’m usually the one who is tempted to make all sorts of snarky comments about the more poorly-written episodes of this series and MaryAnn is usually the one who defends them. This time out I appeared to have mellowed. Not that I think this was that great an episode but still.

    And yes, it’s very Indy-in-the-South-American-temple…

    I kept thinking of the Pink Panther movies myself. Especially Return of the Pink Panther

    And I call this a psychosis because the Doctor isn’t human, and what he wants is the functional equivalent of a human who longs to live life like a dog, or a gorilla, or a dolphin.

    Actually I keep thinking of the Doctor as being the extraterrestrial equivalent of those Brits who use to “go native” and start mixing with their colonial subjects. After all, they were often considered eccentric too and anyway, it is a British show.

    But if you wish to compare yourself to a dog or a gorilla or a dolphin…

    Then again I wasn’t all that fond of the “catching buses at 2 am” monologue from “Father’s Day” because as nicely written as it was, it just didn’t make any sense in the context of the actual episode. Especially since it implied that the Doctor was a jerk who was only helping those people because they told him a nice story and not because they deserved his rescue from a situation that he and Rose had created.

  • MaryAnn

    Clearly you’ve never sat on a nearly empty bus where somebody who looks utterly deranged decides to ignore all of the empty seats and sit next to you and attempts to chat. It’s a surpsingly common experience in British Cities, and her pained reaction was spot on too.

    That happens on NYC buses and subways, too, but the problem here is that the Doctor is *not* a nutter.

    When Christina was left behind, it felt so very wrong, so very out of character for both of them, and yet, I accepted it without question because I knew that this was how the story was supposed to end. For now, RTD wants the Doctor alone so the status quo can be maintained, and so I do not question an ending that serves RTD’s status quo.

    I do not question RTD’s need to maintain a certain status quo, either. I do firmly believe, however, that this same status quo could have been maintained in a more believable way.

    But thanks very much for your random thoughts, Jeff. I feel much the same way.

    But if you wish to compare yourself to a dog or a gorilla or a dolphin…

    Hey, I don’t *like* it, but there can be little doubt that the Doctor’s people — if not the Doctor himself — would see humans this way. If we’re going to be as honest and realistic about this as we can be…

  • Jackie

    That happens on NYC buses and subways, too, but the problem here is that the Doctor is *not* a nutter.

    She discovers that, but he’s ticking all of the initial boxes which would get somebody mentally categorised as the nutter on the bus:

    Slightly deranged, overenthusiastic look – check.
    Mad hair – check.
    Offers food or drink to a total stranger – check.
    Sits next to somebody when there’s loads of empty seats – check.
    Starts chatting happily without any hint at him being encouraged to do so – check.
    Odd conversation, such as he normally can’t find Easter – check.

    And that’s before he pulls out a strange and disturbingly slightly phallic item from his pocket and starts chatting about wormholes in space.

  • MaryAnn

    She discovers that, but he’s ticking all of the initial boxes which would get somebody mentally categorised as the nutter on the bus:

    Yes, but *he* knows he’s not a nutter. Real nutters aren’t so self-aware.

    It still doesn’t answer the question of why he, being of sound mind, acts like a nutter anyway.

  • PaulW

    Just saw something on a blog stating that Gillian Anderson might appear as the Rani for the Eleventh Doctor’s coming-out party.

  • Matthew

    Yes, there are some small things about this episode that don’t immediately make sense. Are there any plot holes you could drive a bus through? (Er, barring the intentional one.) Not so much.

    I’m saddened that a site that generally seems willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Doctor Who should suddenly turn a corner into the realms of “this detail didn’t ring true, and it tainted the entire episode for me, shark well and truly jumped, RTD has ruined the show forever and ever and ever etc etc”. You waited for THIS episode to get all nitpicky? Really? It’s a lighthearted romp, the last chance we have for one before Tennant’s era turns into a funeral procession and then, more than likely, the Moff brings on a five year reign of Hinchcliffian darkness and terror.

    Sure, the security precautions at the museum are ridiculous; sure, Christina reentering the museum after making a getaway through the roof, taking off her mask for no reason and trying to escape on a doubledecker that she has no fare for despite being the sort of lady who packs a folding SHOVEL just in case of emergencies makes no superficial sense. This is Doctor Who, you fill in the gaps with your own possible explanations for what’s going on. I’d rather just hurry on to the hopefully interesting alien planet than spend a few minutes on definitely boring shots demonstrating why the police cars weren’t able to overtake the bus in time, thanks.

  • Dave

    But to have been so drawn to Christina and then turn her away — especially after the ordinary-life porn he indulged in earlier — does not make any sense for the Doctor. He needed some powerful, immediate, in-his-face reason to reject Christina, which he would have had if all these humans who were relying on him had died, preferrably in awful ways.

    In a sense, they are…

    Donna — the Donna who saved the universe, is deader than Ike Clanton. Sure, her body isn’t done moving, but the Doctor’s Donna is dead.

    Jack Harkness? Jack has become something so *wrong* that even the Doctor has a bit of trouble dealing with him, which is saying something.

    They may not be dropping dead and rotting, but they certainly being broken in ways that not even the Doctor can fix…

  • Joanne

    I finally saw this last night and – perhaps because I’d had to wait so long – enjoyed it thoroughly. It wasn’t a deep and meaningful episode, but it was a good old fashioned DW romp. I agree it had plot holes, but as usual Tennant was excellent, I liked the friendly fly-aliens, the supporting cast weren’t bad, and UNIT were wonderful. The phone call with Malcolm had me laughing out loud. It was nice that the bus passengers all survived.

    Re why the Doctor got on the bus – I figured it was because it was going in the right direction for his gadget, and it was easier than walking?

  • Saladinho

    Okay: I haven’t even finished reading this post yet, but thank you thank you thank you! I’ve just finished watching Planet of the Dead (recorded it last night), and I’ve stopped at the point in your blog where the bus goes into the wormhole, and you’ve expressed all of my frustrations with the story so far, perfectly.

    Reading on…

  • Anne-Kari

    I whole-heartedly agree with MAJ on this one. Sloppy, lazy writing – kind of shockingly bad. And I too am willing to forgive a whole lot. I don’t know what the hell happened here.

  • Jeff Moore

    Although, I do agree, I watched the show again and being already aware of the short comings this time through I was able to put on my Doctor Who love glasses this time and just enjoy the ride. I enjoyed it 100 times more this time then when it first aired. I say give yourself a few months and then watch again just for fun. I think it actually gets better. And it’s Doctor Who, so I gotta love it!

    Jeff

  • Pat

    As for me, I hated Malcolm’s character. He was nearly as smart as the doctor. He was willing to die to save the the doctor’s life. But he was portrayed as a fool, and his meeting with the doctor seemed to be a meeting between an aristocrat and a serf — or, same thing, between a tired, overstressed celebrity and an idiotically overenthusiastic fan. No dignity for the fan. No equality at all. My expectation is that the stress of his ever-growing and unwanted fame will, in the next special, cause the doctor to begin imbibing unfortunate quantities of drugs and alcohol in dangerous combinations, causing him to overdose in the last special and then regenerate into someone young enough to physically handle substance abuse. Because where else could they be going with all that awful clapping and overpraising and gushing the doctor clearly can’t stand? They better be going somewhere or I’m going to be seriously annoyed.

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