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DW: Planet of the Dead

I am quickly piggybacking on an unsecured broadband connection to post this. There's someone round here whose broadband network is called "getyerown". Bless 'em

I think I watched the Doctor Who Easter special in the best possible way: with two boys under the age of ten and a very large glass of wine. (I just wrote "glass of win" which would also be true. Fairtrade Chilean red wine is gorgeous).

It was beaten in the ratings by that contradiction in terms, Britain's Got Talent, which featured a boy blowing up a hot water bottle until it exploded, as "entertainment". Never let it be said that the United Kingdom lacks high culture. Never let it be said that we shouldn't string up Simon Cowell by his shrivelled manbits and spank him until he promises to *stop it*.

Anyway, Planet of the Dead.

Firstly the verdict of the small boys: they loved it and their littler sister was terrified, which they also loved. They laughed at the proper bits and said "woah" at the bus and the metal stingrays, and wanted to be Lee Evans or David Tennant.

When the psychic said the darkness was coming, they didn't say "what, again?" or wish that next time someone would say "the milkman is coming" just for a bit of variety. They caught the allusions to Donna and to The Stolen Earth and were delighted at their own cleverness. This was all as it should be and a reminder that cynical thirtysomethings are not the primary audience for this show.

As for me: well, it was fun and it trundled along nicely but there wasn't really any there there, was there?

As usual in RTD's scripts, you got the sense that any second bits were going to start flying off in every direction. Complaining about the science in Doctor Who is a bit like complaining about your dreams not making sense, however there were moments in this to make even a nine-year-old roll his eyes. The direction was oddly paced, in as much as there was a lot of waiting around with buses (and shouting "for goodness sake, SHUT THE WORMHOLE!") but it looked beautiful and had some funny lines, and it's probably the last adventure we're going to get before it goes all dark and nonsensical at the end of the year, so I'll take it at face value.

Gareth Roberts obviously based the plot on one of the best parts of his 1990s novel The Highest Science, in which a bunch of disparate commuters on the 8.12 train end up being dragged to an alien planet by a 'Fortean flicker', which is in turn sought out by the seventh Doctor. A race of super-intelligent and warlike tortoises get in the way and there ensues one of the bleakest not-endings of any of the New Adventures. I remember liking that a lot.

In this case it was the number 200 bus, and the commuters on it. You can tell Russell T Davies does not live in London or else he might have taken the opportunity to smack the crap out of a bendy bus instead for the sheer pleasure of twatting one of the bastard things.

The commuters themselves are disparate and only just differentiated, but, unlike in Midnight, we see the better side of humanity. No one was gratuitously venal or stupid, except perhaps the bus driver. I groaned at the psychic woman and her husband -- so the psychic ability can tell her lottery numbers, that the planet's sands are MADE OF PEOPLE! OMG!, that the Doctor's song is ending, but they can't tell her not to get on the one bloody bus that's going to end up on an alien planet? -- however, there were some lovely character touches in their happy marriage.

The finest characters were reserved for Unit. I loved the scientist, who named units of measurement after himself and Quatermass -- Lee Evans did a good job of keeping him juuuuuust this side of caricature, while remaining funny. I just wish he had had a little more to do.

Captain Magambo of Unit, who was just brilliant in her calm and her command, did point a gun at him but I thought the actress played it as though she was intensely reluctant to lose the Doctor but was at a loss and this was a last resort she scarcely believed in herself.

And now for Lady Christina Da Souza, who made me want to join freaking Class War. What a smug git.

Why is it that when it's some fit bird with cut glass vowels who is off tea-leafing it's somehow a grand jape and she is an admirable rogue, yet when it's some shell-suited hoodie who goes off all light-fingered in Marks & Sparks, we're supposed to be all judgmental and start flinging Asbos around left, right and centre?

It's not as though she steals from higher motives. She's not robbing the rich to feed the poor or to expose international villainy. She's just a bloody thief and a terrible smartarse to boot. How is she any different to some young idiot who goes twocking for the fun of it? Being an arsehole is not okay just because you've got a Rt Hon in front of your name or because Daddy was a sheep rustler who got lucky and made a pile in the seventeenth century and two generations after that you're landed gentry.

(I loathe that stereotype. I can only abide Hustle because they are usually scamming scammers. And Leverage, as far as I can see, is just Hustle with O-levels.)

Furthermore, I do not get Michelle Ryan. She is beautiful and I don't think she's a terrible actress. I can't point to anything she does, suck in my breath through my teeth and mutter "dodgy", as I occasionally did with Freema Agyeman or, even more occasionally, Billlie Piper. But in the end, I believed the character of Martha and was moved by her and empathised with her, the odd wobbly moment aside.

For some reason, when I see Michelle Ryan, all I think is "there's Michelle Ryan playing Nimue", "there's Michelle Ryan playing a nurse", "there's Michelle Ryan playing Lara Croft with the serial numbers filed off". I never believe anything she plays -- and it really isn't for any reason I can point to. It's not as though she's technically wobbly. It's not as though the dialogue was bad or the chemistry was not there. I just didn't really believe it.

In the end Planet of the Dead was nothing more than a grab bag of cliches from all over the place -- from Indiana Jones to the Knight Bus in Harry Potter -- but it was affectionately done with a sense of humour, so picking holes in it is always going to feel a bit like kicking kittens.

And now to the trailer for the next episode, which has Lindsay Duncan in it. Is it terrible of me that when I saw that she was blonde, and wearing olive green combat pants and a green T-shirt, I wanted her to be Jenny grown older? Just for the sheer shits and giggles of watching it all kick off online?

I think it probably is. However, the episode looks delightfully scary and Phil Ford had a nice touch with the episodes of SJA I saw, so I look forward to it.

I am also spoilered up for the last few episodes before Teh Moff takes over. This sent me into such paroxysms of wildly uninformed Do. NOT. WANT! that I have vowed not to be spoiled again. Don't want to know, still less to care, so no more spoilers.

Well, until I get the internet back properly in June anyway.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 12th, 2009 11:38 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I caught the Lara Croft vibe off De Souza too. My problem with Davies is that its obvious that he pretty much has stars in his eyes when it comes to the Doctor and has changed him into a hero and legend.

Admirable, but the Doctor is more of a mystery wanderer who comes and goes as he pleases. It's good for him to be thanked once and while, but ultimately, its just him and his TARDIS, pursuing a lonely task as a universe's gaurdian.

And in my opinion, that's how it should be.

Waiting for Stephen Moffat, now.
Apr. 12th, 2009 11:44 pm (UTC)
I could do without the hero and legend bit, and even more I could do without the endless emo, yes.

There are things I love about RTD's writing -- his command of those small, jagged intimate scenes and family dynamics -- and things I love about Moff -- oh *Lord* the man can plot well -- and If you could combine both of them and eliminate about three faults each, you'd have the ideal writer.

The trouble is that both of them don't necessarily recognise the things they are not good at. Davies, in particular, seems to think he is good at epic plotting. Oh Russell... not so much.
Apr. 12th, 2009 11:52 pm (UTC)
Agreed. When RTD is on his game, he's brillant.

Moffat's best strength is his ability to poke at the hindbrain with the Stick of Primal Fear. The Empty Child, the Shadows in the Library, etc, which is why I'm eagerly awaiting his takeover.

The real question is going to be how Matt Smith plays the Doctor. I've seen pics of his costume. It looks good, albeit a bit Ecceletson.
Apr. 13th, 2009 01:16 am (UTC)
I was also very annoyed about the class thing, especially after all we've been through with these issues in New Who. And ditto about Michelle Ryan -- she didn't sell me on the character at all. I've never seen her before, so it's not like I had any specific expectations going in.

But you're so right about the target demographic. My two ten-year-old boys just loved it and were very disappointed that Christina won't be sticking around.

Oh, and regarding the hero-worship of the Doctor, I absolutely cringed when he got a round of applause and declarations of love from the scientist. That was just so over the top.

Edited at 2009-04-13 01:17 am (UTC)
Apr. 13th, 2009 02:00 am (UTC)
I had to endure a lot of Michelle in Eastenders because she got mixed up with the Dens, and I was impressed that she'd improved so much!

Christina seemed more like a Moffat character than a RTD one: smug, bossy posh gel who thinks she's funnier than she is. I gather Gareth Roberts is a Romana fan, and he was probably trying to recreate that dynamic.
Apr. 13th, 2009 03:22 am (UTC)
I gather Gareth Roberts is a Romana fan, and he was probably trying to recreate that dynamic.

You make that sound like a bad thing.
Apr. 13th, 2009 04:01 am (UTC)
Do I? Spose I do. I enjoy both Romanas, but I think that like Four, or Three, or Steed and Mrs Peel, they're of their time, and should stay there. Excluding Tom Baker because of his amazingly prescient impression of Boris Johnson (I'm serious in that Tom is parodying aristos, like a Teddy Boy playing Bertie Wooster, and it's impressive in its timelessness even if it sets my teeth on edge in the Bob Holmes stories), I find abrasive aristos more endurable in period pieces that feel more distanced from the brutal reality of abrasive aristos taking over the country and staging hilarious chav hunts and reducing the rest of us to serfdom after the next election.
Apr. 13th, 2009 10:55 am (UTC)
You can tell Russell T Davies does not live in London or else he might have taken the opportunity to smack the crap out of a bendy bus instead for the sheer pleasure of twatting one of the bastard things.

You'd never have got a bendy bus back out of the sand and flying. They didn't have enough clamps for all those wheels, for one thing.

Of course, if they'd gone the bendy bus route, the dockers in Dubai wouldn't have been able to swat the top deck of the bus in such spectacular fashion while unloading it...

I liked the UNIT dilemma. Closing the wormhole before the Doctor got through would have been the sensible thing to do. A dozen lives versus billions and turning the Earth into the ultimate seaside resort: no contest. Other than that, there was more romp than plot,

The next special did look nicely scary from the trailer. But I'm unspoiled for everything through to the handover to Matt Smith and Steven Moffatt, and I plan to stay that way if humanly possible.
Apr. 13th, 2009 01:26 pm (UTC)
This is probably one of those instances where the American audience is not getting the whole picture. I quite loved Christina, and every American friend of mine seems to have done as well, but none of us seemed to take to heart the fact that she was aristocracy -- we all just handwaved it as an irrelevant, though potentially cool, fact.

It strikes me that we aren't seeing her the way a Brit would, at all.

I don't in general mind thieves as characters because I don't invest the concept of property with any seriousness at all. Probably because I'm a stinking red. But I have felt the way you're feeling when it comes to the "cool!"/"woobie!" murderers in fandom, like Krycek and Spike, so I understand your frustration.
Apr. 14th, 2009 08:36 am (UTC)
Your sensible review has made me feel bad for my immature glee at the appearance of a dangly thing used for theft. Twice! The kid in me loves dangly things.

And the worst thing is I know you're right. Posh people deserve asbos too. But there was a dangly thing! With green LED lights on it. It was coooooool!!!!

But her planning was exceedingly poor. She doesn't deserve the superthief tag.
1. I would have brought a disguise in the bag of holding, one judicial application of a hoodie and she'd have been able to just stroll away (wasn't that what Mr Brown always said? You walk away, never run, walk away, round the corner and then walk back and have a nice chat with the officers, they're too thick to do anything but chase the running man.)
2. I know it was useful later as a plot device, but why the spade... Did she really think she'd need it? If running features in your escape plan you want the lightest bag of holding possible.
3. Her escape route was badly planned. No alterate route out? I think not.
4. No handcuff key concealed on her person?
5. Left her driver to the fuzz? Loyalty is everything in the superthief game. Bad aristocracy. No cookie.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )