Wednesday, July 21, 2010

2010 Hugo nominee, Dramatic Pres. Short: Doctor Who: "Planet of the Dead" Written by Russell T Davies & Gareth Roberts; Directed by James Strong

The Doctor Who Easter special. I mentioned last time that as a recent convert I have been watching some of the classic Dr. Who, and this special does work harder to evoke some of the feel of the old series than anything else since the revival began in 2005. There’s the winding, meandering plot (very common in the padded serials of the old series), there’s an appearance by the Doctor’s old partners UNIT, and there’s even a crazy zooming shot of a revealed alien.

In other words, it’s camp, which is often the show’s strength, and sometimes its weakness. For instance, the companion this go-round is a thrill-seeking cat burglar named Lady Cristina D’Souza (played by bionic woman Michelle Ryan). I like the idea of a morally ambiguous companion for the Doctor, but the thief idea gives writer Russell T. Davies license to do multiple descent-by-wire caper scenes that are…well…”super-cheesy” is the technical reviewers’ term. Making her an aristocrat doesn’t add to the plausibility.

The Doctor happens to be riding Lady Christina’s getaway bus, gets involved in a police chase, and then the whole bus is transported to a desert planet. As they try to get the bus back through the dimensional gateway, they meet some aliens with giant insect heads and learn that the whole Earth is threatened! The Doctor manages to call in his old friends from the alien-fighting UNIT, but must race against time to get the bus and its passengers back before UNIT closes the gateway.

The episode is probably a little too ambitious for its budget effects-wise, and the cg looks pretty bad (more vintage Who – too bad the sets don’t wobble!) I don’t mind so much, but when you add all of the little contrivances and pulp moments together, it’s just not great. It’s a fun way to spend an hour, especially if you’re a Doctor Who fan, but I’m sure there were hours of television more worthy of this nomination slot **cough**Fringe**cough** **cough**Caprica**cough**, and I’d be scandalized if it actually won. It was kind of hard to get through a second time.

Grade: C+

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