Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Easter Bus Goes to the Desert

Ten years ago this month, Doctor Who aired its one and only Easter special, the Tenth Doctor story Planet of the Dead. Generally, and rightly, considered the weakest of the series of specials that concluded Ten's run, it still has plenty of good qualities.

A wormhole transports a London bus unexpectedly to another planet. The group of passengers, which includes the Doctor (David Tennant), a noblewoman thief called Lady Christina de Souza (Michelle Ryan), and an assortment of ordinary people must pull together and figure out how to get back home.

The shooting location in Dubai offers some impressive visuals, particularly since the production crew opted to transport an actual London bus to the location. The vehicle was severely damaged in transport but the crew decided to work the damage into the story, an idea that pays off really well.

Generally what hampers the episode is its weak supporting cast. Daniel Kaluuya as one of the bus passengers already exhibits the blandness he would later bring to bear in Get Out but, more importantly, there's almost no chemistry between the Doctor and Christina. Michelle Ryan seems to be forcing a smile on her face for the whole episode, as though being on Doctor Who is something she must grin and bear and get over with.

The exception is Lee Evans as UNIT scientific advisor Malcolm Taylor. He effectively conveys his giddy adoration for the Doctor and it's fun seeing him get to speak to his idol. He seems to have a lot in common with his successor, Osgood. I can't remember if that's ever mentioned. "Planet of the Dead" introduces yet another UNIT staff we never see again before Kate Stewart and Osgood finally return the military organisation to some kind of consistent recognisability. But no-one's ever come close to replacing the Brigadier.

Aside from a couple lines from the Doctor at the beginning, the episode has nothing especially to do with Easter--arguably it's more of a Good Friday special. It's good seeing Tennant again, though. I love how good he is at creating the sense of having two simultaneous thought processes--there's the blustering and joking fellow, setting everyone at ease with genuine enthusiasm, but there's also always the quiet, deeply worried genius. He's always captivating.

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