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Cult Review

Dr Who: 'Planet Of The Dead' - The Verdict

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Dr Who: 'Planet Of The Dead' - The Verdict
Released on Saturday, Apr 11 2009

As hollow as a big chocolate Easter egg, 'Planet Of The Dead' is a major disappointment from the Doctor Who camp. Lacking in the enthralling drama and compelling characterisation that has been the lynchpin of the Russell T Davies era, it says a great deal that some of the more credible dialogue comes from the mouths of creatures who can only communicate via clicks.

The pairing of David Tennant's Doctor and Michelle Ryan's Lady Christina fails to convince, with the romantic tension between the pair feeling forced. In particular, the innuendo-filled quips from Christina quickly become an earsore, especially as they're delivered with such gratingly clipped tones. Ryan's a decent enough actress, but is utterly unconvincing in the role. The script hardly helps her, with the only interesting exchange between the pair taking place when The Doctor refuses to let the eager thief join him in his travels.

This is symptomatic of the episode as a whole, leaving the best material for the end. Like the battered London bus, the plot seems trapped in the sand for the first 45 minutes and in dire need of a kickstart. There is no real sense of jeopardy or peril to the dull passengers on board the bus, despite the psychic woman's mutterings and the frying of the driver. Regular shots of an unseen Tritovore observing the humans on a monitor attempt to build tension, but fail to make any impact - rather like the first appearance of these fly-faced creatures. Not even Jeff Goldblum emerging from one of the masks would redeem proceedings.

A dramatic jolt finally arrives with the double whammy that the flying beasts are Earthbound and UNIT Captain Magambo (played impressively by Noma Dumezweni) wants the wormhole closed before The Doctor and the humans can return. From then on, the magnificently surreal imagery of the flying bus whizzing around and swatting off the stingray-like foes takes full advantage of the British iconography and provides an energetic burst of crowdpleasing material. Ken Livingstone must be up in arms that a bendy bus wasn't used.

As the over-eager scientist Malcolm, Lee Evans is superbly cast and exploits his physical and verbal quirks to fine effect. His exchanges with The Doctor can't paper over the cracks in the poorly structured plot, but they do provide occasional rays of sunshine. The fact that Malcolm names a unit of measurement after himself is both inspired and hilarious!

Although the UNIT personnel fare well and director James Strong incorporates some eye-catching visual flourishes throughout, 'Planet Of The Dead' feels too lifeless for much of the hour. The irritating and ill-conceived presence of Lady Christina certainly doesn't help, while the sandy terrains of Dubai aren't fully exploited by the incident-lacking narrative. Whoever is coming to knock four times had better hurry up...

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