The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone

It was only a matter of time before Steven Moffat started filling his new series with his own characters and villains. This two-part story brings back both River Song and the Weeping Angels, each for their second appearance, and starts introducing facets of his ongoing story arc – headless monks, military clerics, the dimensional ‘crack’, a prophecy of an explosion that will cause it (coinciding with the original air date of the finale) and hints about River possibly killing the Doctor in the future. All very intriguing and, I dare say, rather baffling right now. Thankfully, the episodes have the good sense not to dwell on this, instead focusing on the threat of the Angels.

The crack features prominently in part 2, explaining some of Amy's missing memories, but we still don't learn why it's specifically following her.

The crack features prominently in part 2, explaining some of Amy’s missing memories, but we still don’t learn why it’s specifically following her.

This is only their second appearance, but already these perfect adversaries have been practically ruined. The bit I’m referring to is in Flesh and Stone, where we actually see the Angels moving. Yes, seeing them turn their heads like that is creepy, but the whole point of the Weeping Angels is that you can NEVER see them move. If you theoretically could, they wouldn’t look like statues, because they only exist as statues when they are observed. Moreover, the idea that they would have to be consciously aware of somebody watching them is rather less satisfying a concept than observation itself determining their quantum state. It’s as if “don’t blink” wasn’t scary enough, so now “don’t look” had to be awkwardly added in. The scene is ultimately unnecessary to the plot, and if we absolutely had to see them move, they could have done so in between flashes of light like before rather than in full view.

"Agh, not the coat, not the coat!"

“Agh, not the coat, not the coat!”

The other modification to the Angels is that their captured image holds their essence, which can come to life. This is a somewhat implausible concept, because what constitutes an “image”? Would a pencil sketch of an angel come to life? What about a painting? Or a polaroid? Would it contain the soul of the Angel that was copied? And, if so, what if you drew or painted a generic one rather than a specific one? However, the scene where Amy is watching the looped Angel video gradually change every time she looks away is, hands down, one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen on Doctor Who. It’s magnificent. There’s something about these Weeping Angels that instills such a genuine fear and horror, even when they are humanised somewhat. In this two-parter, their powers are broader. They can absorb energy, get inside your head, regrow their bodies… they are unpredictable, thereby raising the tension.

The fuzzy video makes it even better. Creep factor 10.

The fuzzy video makes it even better. Creep factor 10.

Both episodes are have a cracking pace to them. It’s more action-packed than Blink, but it’s interspersed with quiet, tension-building moments. The direction is wonderful, making use of light and dark in innovative ways. The ‘Aliens’ inspiration is obvious. The sets and visuals are impressive, although the clerics’ military garb is decidedly modern-day for what is supposed to be the far future. The plot has enough shocking twists to stay interesting and frightening all the way through. Grievances aside, it’s a terrific double-bill.

The sudden realisation that they're surrounded entirely by regenerating Angel statues, each and every one turning to face them, is masterfully done.

The sudden realisation that they’re surrounded entirely by regenerating Angel statues, each and every one turning to face them, is masterfully done.

River has changed, though. Perhaps that’s to be expected, as she is younger and more impulsive, but this is where her irritating phase begins. From the opening scene, it’s clear she’s been turned into a sort of sexy secret agent type, with quips and one-liners and an abundance of confidence. “Hello, sweetie” was a nod back to her first appearance, but it’s starting to grate already. River and the Doctor act like an old married couple, which Amy finds very amusing. Both of them like to talk, and talk very fast. More annoying, however, is the Doctor’s “you shouldn’t mess with me” posturing, while Murray Gold blasts out his bombastic Eleventh Doctor theme, which I find very tiresome. No offence to Matt Smith, who I think is fantastic, but I am looking forward to a more subdued Doctor taking over. Someone without verbal diarrhoea, preferably.

Revelation: the Tardis only makes that fwooorrping noise because the Doctor has been leaving the brake on for the past 900 years.

Revelation: the Tardis only makes that fwooorrping noise because the Doctor hs been leaving the brake on for the past 900 years.

#BAH BAH BAH, BAH BAH BA-BUH!!# Thinly veiled threat. Pause for drama. Bang.

#BAH BAH BAH, BAH BAH BA-BUH!!# Thinly veiled threat. Pause for drama. Bang.

There’s a curious scene in part 2 where the Doctor leaves Amy (with her eyes closed) and then appears to return to tell her something important. I can’t remember at the time whether I twigged the relevance of this scene, but you can see he’s wearing the jacket that he supposedly dropped earlier, and it turns out to be rather important and clever. Amidst all the other cleverness with the magic crack and vanishing clerics, it’s easy to miss. Most likely, it just washed over me as another jarring tone shift that Doctor Who likes to throw in from time to time. Like, for instance, Amy kissing the Doctor on the night before her wedding. Yeah… awkward!

The eleventh Doctor's response of "eurgh, but you're human" shows how different he is from the romantic tenth. Amy, however, ought to know better.

The eleventh Doctor’s response of “eurgh, but you’re human” shows how different he is from the romantic tenth. Amy, however, ought to know better.

Advertisements

Victory of the Daleks

The Daleks have always been a not-so-subtle allegory for Nazi Germany, the “master race” wanting to purify the species and take control of everything, so it was inevitable that they’d feature in an actual WWII episode eventually. Winston Churchill’s war room has supposedly built these new weapons, which Professor Bracewell calls “Ironsides”, but obviously the Daleks have their own plans and their loyal servant routine is just a facade. While the Doctor spends much of the episode trying to persuade Churchill that the Daleks are remorseless creatures with an ulterior motive, I was reminded of the rather excellent Power of the Daleks, in which much the same thing happens. Unfortunately, this episode doesn’t handle it so effectively and the story is pretty much nonsense.

The Doctor, Amy and a not entirely convincing Churchill.

The Doctor, Amy and a not entirely convincing Churchill.

So, the last of the last of the last (really, this time!) of the Daleks, having slipped back through time, have found a special Dalek-growing device that will reboot the entire race, but they’re not pure enough to activate it, so they need to construct an implausible scenario where the Doctor will inadvertently confirm the Daleks’ identity to the Progenator Device, by building an android scientist (Bracewell) and infiltrating the London war room during the blitz. Ooooo—kay. After their plan actually works, they attack London indirectly by turning its lights on during a blackout, but we then learn they could have blown the Earth up with the bomb inside Robo-Bracewell anyway, so what was the point of that? And I don’t care how advanced he is, there’s no way he could have built spaceworthy Spitfires and trained pilots to fly them in ten minutes. That’s just ridiculous.

The bomb is deactivated using the power of love. Sigh.

The bomb is deactivated using the power of love. Sigh.

The episode does have its strengths, however. When the Daleks are playing their role as slaves, they’re arguably more menacing than when they’re being up-front and honest. They certainly get the Doctor nervous. Servant Daleks asking people if they want tea in loud Dalek voices, and, later, the Doctor bluffing his way onto their ship using a jammy dodger, are examples of the British humour that permeates the show in its more whimsical moments. It’s also interesting that the Daleks actually sort of win this time. Finally, there’s the added mystery about the crack, which now appears to have removed memories of the previous Dalek invasions from Amy’s mind, or possibly erased the events themselves. Intriguing.

"WE ARE THE NEW DALEKS. PLEASE TAKE US TO THE CHECKOUT. LIMIT ONE PER CUSTOMER."

“WE ARE THE NEW DALEKS. PLEASE TAKE US TO THE CHECKOUT. LIMIT ONE PER CUSTOMER.”

Ultimately, though, the plot is flimsy, purely a setup for the new Daleks (who were wasted on a mediocre adventure game released around the same time) and, presumably, an excuse to sell a colourful range of toys. Shameless!

The Beast Below

The Doctor takes Amy into space, the 29th century, where solar flares have forced humanity to vacate the Earth and travel the stars in massive ark ships the size of cities. It’s a quaint little setup in which the whole of the UK (minus Scotland, guffaw!) gets its own ship, its many decks separated into counties and the tenth Queen Elizabeth ruling over it all. But, naturally, bad stuff is happening and the Doctor has to fix it.

Starship UK. Caution: may contain Surrey.

Starship UK. Caution: may contain Surrey.

I had, perhaps naively, expected all of Steven Moffat’s scripts to be as good as his efforts in past seasons, but that was never going to happen. The Beast Below is no classic, but it’s got Moffat’s signature traits, including bags of imagination, creepy mechanical men and characters receiving forgotten messages from themselves. Despite the story taking place in an out-of-this-world setting, it feels close to home, familiar and relatable (children going to school and London Underground signs around the deck lifts). In terms of writing, it’s pretty sharp, and the two new leads slot effortlessly into their roles, but some of the friction when they disagree comes across a little forced at this early a stage. Then there’s the odd cringeworthy moment, like when Liz 10 says that she “rules”. Groan.

"I'm the bloody queen, mate!"

“I’m the bloody queen, mate!”

On a broader note, why is it so unbelievable that a ship could float by itself through space without an engine? I’m no physicist, but without anything to cause drag, couldn’t any mass continue through space on just inertia? The trick with the glasses of water is clever in itself, but it often feels like the Doctor leaps to conclusions (and knows everything about everything) and happens upon the answers straight away just to show off how clever he is. Everyone also makes huge assumptions about what would happen if the Star Whale were set free, even the Doctor, to the point of killing it! Nobody considers that it might not actually doom the UK population, except for Amy because, again, it needs to show how clever she is. I get that it’s supposed to show the Doctor can make mistakes and needs somebody with him, but it’s contrived.

Trapped inside the Star Whale's mouth, the Doctor instigates a gag reflex.

Trapped inside the Star Whale’s mouth, the Doctor instigates a gag reflex.

The Beast Below has all the right ingredients but doesn’t quite know what to do with them. Once revealed that the oppressed nation is a self-imposed necessary evil, the creepy mannequins don’t make much sense anymore (and half-human robot mannequins make even less sense; why throw that in?). The central theme of exploitation and the “greater good” is perfectly fine but leaves too many questions. The strengths of the episode are in its individual ideas and the drama that emerges as a result. It’s a solid effort nevertheless.

Was anybody else bothered by the way the clearly two-faced 'Smilers' actually had about four faces?

Was anybody else bothered by the way the clearly two-faced ‘Smilers’ actually had about four faces?

Meanwhile, that mysterious crack is following Amy, and the Doctor gets a call from Winston Churchill…

The Eleventh Hour

A new showrunner, a new Doctor, a new companion, a new Tardis, new logo, new titles and a whole new story arc, The Eleventh Hour wipes the slate clean and says “time for something new”. It’s one of the freshest and most confident season openers since Spearhead from Space saw Jon Pertwee tumbling out of the Tardis in colour.

"I was in the swimming pool." "You said you were in the library." "So was the swimming pool."

“I was in the swimming pool.” “You said you were in the library.” “So was the swimming pool.”

I’ve moaned about introductory episodes being set on Earth during some sort of invasion, and while The Eleventh Hour is no exception, this is an example of when it can work really well. As the title suggests, the Doctor is up against the clock and has to stop the Atraxi ships from incinerating the Earth while stuck in a small English village (with a closed post office), without his Tardis or sonic screwdriver, and he only has twenty minutes. Not the sort of thing you want to have to do on your first day.

The Doctor tells the Atraxi to bugger off.

The Doctor tells the Atraxi to bugger off.

There’s so much new stuff to cram into this episode, it’s a testament to Steven Moffat’s efficient plotting that it all fits and makes sense. New girl Amy Pond has to be introduced twice, once as a little girl and again twelve years later (her character somewhat mirroring the other ‘girl who waited’ from The Girl in the Fireplace), introduce Rory, the boyfriend competing with Amy’s obsession over her ‘imaginary’ friend, the Doctor has to find his feet, eat fishfingers and custard, investigate the mysterious crack in the Universe that has manifested itself as a crack Amelia’s bedroom wall, explain dimensional barriers, perception filters, Prisoner Zero escaping and then convince a scientific consortium to help him reprogram every clock in the world using a mobile phone. It’s just insane.

This crack will follow the Doctor through time and space for a while.

This crack will follow the Doctor through time and space for a while.

The script is full of wonderful one-liners and witty banter, the plot has some great misdirection (who Amy is, what ‘the human residence’ means) and clever ideas like the man barking like his dog because he didn’t know which voice was which. There’s a good mix of creepy and whimsical; I loved all the creepy stuff with the extra room in the house and the door in the corner of your eye, but it’s just one of many ideas that whoosh by too fast.

Amy comes face-to-face with Prisoner Zero's true form.

Amy comes face-to-face with Prisoner Zero’s true form.

Matt Smith makes a terrific first impression. Inevitably, the manic style of the Tenth Doctor has taken grip now, so there’s no change there, but the mannerisms are more alien and weird. The eleventh Doctor doesn’t quite understand human customs or good manners. He’s more of a fairy tale character here. His weirdness is amplified due to being newly regenerated, but to be honest, he doesn’t change much going forward.

"You're Scottish, fry something." The Doctor finally discovers his craving for fishfingers and custard.

“You’re Scottish, fry something.” The Doctor finally discovers his craving for fishfingers and custard.

While I think this is an incredibly strong opening, there are some less favourable elements creeping in. Murray Gold’s music is bombastic and overbearing, and “that theme” that he keeps reusing starts here. This is also the start of the Doctor’s “don’t mess with me, look what I did to all my other enemies” phase, when he becomes increasingly arrogant. No, perhaps it started earlier with David Tennant, but it’s blossomed into its own thing now and will continue to get worse. Finally, while I enjoy mysteries and story arcs, I seem to recall the Crack™ doesn’t get a satisfactory resolution. In fact, its appearance in this story (as a gateway to a prison dimension?) doesn’t correlate with what we later learn about it. Much of the story arc is incredibly convoluted as far as I can recall, but I’ll re-appraise that properly at a later date.

The End of Time

So, this is it. After three and a bit seasons and five Christmas specials, David Tennant’s turn as the tenth Time Lord reaches its dramatic conclusion. It’s Russell T Davies’ second chance to write the ultimate conclusion to end all conclusions, to wrap up the most popular incarnation of the character and to end his time on this show, and I’m pleased to say that he does a better job of it than the season 4 finale. Although a chimpanzee with a typewriter would have done a better job of that, so it’s not saying much.

The Ood elder tells the Doctor of his prophecy.

The Ood elder tells the Doctor of his prophecy.

And it’s my second chance to watch this two-and-a-quarter hour double bill, of which I have only the vaguest memories, mostly of the Master dressed like a scruffy hoodie with a glowing transparent skull and Timothy motherflipping Dalton turning up with his posse of Time Lords and spitting a lot. I had somehow erased the memories of the Master turning the entire human race into clones of himself (including a bad lookalike of President Obama) and the whole thing again with the drum rhythm, knocking four times, and the sound of a Time Lord heartbeat (ooh, nice touch, I’d almost think this was planned all along). There is a wonderful moment when, finally, after all the bluffs, the prophecy of the Doctor’s death (he will knock four times) turns out to be Wilf knocking on the glass door of the radiation chamber, asking to be let out, and a calm realisation spreads over the Doctor’s face. If I take away anything good from this episode, it will be that moment. It’s lovely.

Tap-tap-tap-tap, and it all makes sense.

Tap-tap-tap-tap, and it all makes sense.

Bernard Cribbins does a fantastic job as Wilfred, even if he does look like he’s on the verge of tears in every scene (or maybe because of that!). Wilf is essential in keeping this story grounded in human drama while insane things are happening around them. His scenes with the Doctor where they do nothing but talk to each other in a café are some of the best. The rest of the story concerns itself with big but flimsy ideas like destiny, prophecies and, yet again, the death of the entire human race and the end of the existence of time as we know it. Because, obviously, you can’t have a finale without something ridiculous happening. I don’t know why Russell T Davies has to write so many stories involving “everybody in the world”, because it immediately loses its believability if you stop to think about it for two seconds. Every single person on the planet turning into a copy of the Master would wreak absolute havoc. Planes would fall out of the sky, cars would crash in the street, people of different sizes, like children, could be crushed to death in seats and harnesses, and what about pregnant women? Are there mini-Masters inside Masters, or did all the foetuses die? I feel like I’ve said this a hundred times now, but you cannot do such big events like this without thinking about the consequences.

"Look, ma, I'm the president!"

“Look, ma, I’m the president!”

Timothy Dalton is fantastic. Having previously appeared in Hot Fuzz, he was obviously deemed a good fit for the role of the villain again. He exudes charisma and presence both as the narrator to the events of part 1 and as the president of the Time Lords. This is the first time we see Gallifrey and the high council since the 1980s and the scale of these scenes is a vast improvement, beautifully captured by the VFX team without appearing overly “greenscreen-y”. The Time Lords have always been corrupt, but the time war has sent them over the edge of evilness. I was surprised to hear the council talking about the Doctor’s search for “the Moment” that will end their existence. I hadn’t realised the events of ‘The Day of the Doctor’ had been so explicitly foreshadowed. Side note: The Doctor travels a lot before coming to see the Ood at the start of the episode, during which time he marries Queen Liz!

The Time Lords, and Gallifrey, return. Briefly.

The Time Lords, and Gallifrey, return. Briefly.

It’s a shame the Master is a little wasted here, turned into a rampaging monster that wants to eat people. This would have been a good opportunity to cast a different actor and do a whole new take on the character, rather than bringing back John Simm. There’s a good chance this will happen in the upcoming series, given his fate at the end. As for the Doctor’s fate, the radiation chamber is as contrived a setup as you can imagine, leading to the most drawn-out death scene ever. There’s literally fifteen minutes of screen time after the accident in which every major character the tenth Doctor has ever met is bid farewell. To say it’s indulgent is putting it mildly. I suppose I can’t really blame Russell T Davies for wanting to add these scenes; this is just as much a finale for him as a writer as it is for the tenth Doctor as a character, but I must say, the way the Doctor clings onto his life is like a petulant child. He’s been through at least nine regenerations by this point, he knows the drill. He should have had more dignified last words than “I don’t want to go.”

I don't understand why Martha and Mickey are suddenly married. Wasn't she already engaged to somebody else?

I don’t understand why Martha and Mickey are suddenly married. Wasn’t she already engaged to somebody else?

While I enjoyed parts of this finale and felt it was quite cleverly wrapped up, there’s a lot that doesn’t work so well or doesn’t make sense if you think about it too much. The high stakes are implausible – why would a device capable of transforming the population of an entire planet (it’s basically a weapon of mass destruction) be so casually discarded, with only a pair of bumbling alien scientists to come and salvage it? The Doctor falling from their ship and crashing through a glass ceiling, and surviving with just a few scratches, is possibly the most ridiculous thing he’s ever done. He’s not superman!

The Doctor's explosive regeneration wrecks the Tardis.

The Doctor’s explosive regeneration wrecks the Tardis.

As this is the end of the tenth Doctor’s run, I will briefly comment on the character and David Tennant’s portrayal. I think David Tennant defined the character almost as much as Tom Baker did. Not just because he was really popular and stayed on for so long; he’s a fantastic actor, whether he’s doing his comedy thing, his angry shouty thing or his quiet solemn thing. You only have to watch episodes like The Family of Blood to see the sort of range he’s capable of. His style and characteristics became synonymous with Doctor Who. He’s a tough act to follow.

The tenth Doctor is more human-like than many of the others, excepting Paul McGann as the eighth. Like him, he’s got a romantic side but actually (more or less) falls in love, which is a first. It’s not a trait I particularly care for as I feel the Doctor should be more alien and weird (something Matt Smith nails). The Doctor has always been a caring character (that’s basically what he does) but, with Ten, this empathy is more explicit, leading to more instances of him being visibly rattled, distraught or affected by events. Like Nine, his cheerful comedy routine is just to cover up his true feelings.

Any version of the Doctor (yes, even Tom Baker) wears thin over time. As I was rewatching his first season, I found him extremely likeable, but as time goes on, the character picks up annoying little habits (“weeeelllll…”), catchphrases (“allons-y!”) or traits that begin to grate (“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”). A lot of this is down to the writing, of course. I would have liked to see more of the tenth Doctor under the new writing team (when he reappears in the 50th anniversary special, he’s actually excellent). The Tenth Doctor is merciful, even to his greatest enemies, always looking for a solution other than killing, and he is fascinated by human culture to the point of coming across like an excitable space tourist.

Anyway, I’m not going to put David Tennant in ranking order with all the others, because I haven’t bothered doing those for the new series – the style of the programme is too different to compare them fairly with the old serials – but I will say that I like him more than I liked Christopher Eccleston.

Here’s my pick of favourite episodes from the past three seasons. Thanks for reading, and here’s to the next Doctor!

The Girl in the Fireplace.
A scary, sweet and clever adventure that crosses time and space.

The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit
Excellent visual design and another scary story in an impossible situation.

Human Nature / The Family of Blood
A tragic love story and David Tennant’s best performance.

Blink
The best Doctor Who episode doesn’t star the Doctor. Ingenious and frightening.

Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead
Moffat crams more out-of-this-world ideas and scares into this two-parter.

Turn Left
A wonderful “what-if” tale where the Doctor never saved the world.

The Waters of Mars

It’s 2059, on the day that the first ever human colony on Mars will mysteriously explode, taking all hands and explanations with it. This “autumn special” gets back to basics, providing a solid, scary, self-contained story of survival. One small group of humans, isolated and helpless; one alien virus spreading through the water supply and turning the crew into hideous monsters; and one rogue Time Lord, unbound by the rules of his people and determined to change a fixed point in history, whatever the cost.

Pretty.

Pretty.

In its quest to make everyday things scary, Doctor Who now turns to water, as precious a resource as any on the surface of Mars. One drop will turn you into one of the freakiest creatures I’ve seen on this show, brought to life by a combination of excellent make-up, zombie-like performances and great camera direction, with the transformations often happening out of focus in the background. As a horror story, The Waters of Mars is fairly typical, as its cast of international astronauts are offed one by one. They are a likable bunch this time, and the Doctor has an infectious enthusiasm for their mission – before realising that he needs to leave, quickly.

Terrifying!

Terrifying!

Water wins eventually.

Water wins eventually.

This is another example of seemingly arbitrary rules governing what the Doctor can and can’t change. In The Fires of Pompeii, he simply says that some points are fixed and some are in flux, but doesn’t say why. Here, it’s strongly implied that the rules are laid down by the Time Lords, presumably because they can scan the effects of every action in spacetime and determine which ones are favourable. Earth’s future of space exploration would fall under “very important”. It’s not that the Doctor physically cannot help, it’s that he isn’t allowed to. When he finally decides he’s going to save some of the colonists anyway, he oversteps his authority. For a moment, the power he has over time corrupts him and he nearly becomes a monster. It’s a good bit of development for the character, and it reinforces his need for a travelling companion, someone to keep him grounded. There will be consequences.

Captain Brooke and her team of implausibly attractive astronauts aboard Bowie Base One.

Captain Brooke and her team of implausibly attractive astronauts aboard Bowie Base One.

All of that makes some lovely drama but there’s a problem. The captain, Brooke, is too willing to go along with the rules, too quick to judge the Doctor on something that she shouldn’t even understand. It’s not believable that she would choose to take her own life because someone has told her what her fate is. It’s not a human response to accept the inevitability of fate – we prefer the future to be unwritten. It almost seemed like her decision to take her own life was being controlled by time itself, as a (admittedly nonsensical) course correction process, but I don’t like that idea.

The Doctor returns for a dramatic rescue.

The Doctor returns for a dramatic rescue.

Still, otherwise, The Waters of Mars is pretty good. Had this been the year’s Christmas special, as originally conceived (see the snow at the end), it would be comfortably the best Christmas special so far. Mars is a good setting, significantly nicer looking than the last time it was shown in Doctor Who, and the habitat interiors have a pleasing aesthetic, futuristic but believable. The short time the characters appear is long enough to like them. The rocket-propelled robot racer was silly and there’s still too much sonic screwdrivering, but on the whole this was enjoyable, creepy and dramatic. The Doctor even name-drops the Ice Warriors at one point – now there’s a blast from the past!

Planet of the Dead

The Doctor, now a lonely wanderer, winds up back in London on the trail of a wormhole, hops on a number 200 bus (this is the 200th serial, sort of) with an assortment of characters, including a cat burglar on the run, and accidentally gets transported to an alien planet. I guess they just wanted a reason to show a London bus in the middle of a desert, and to be fair, it is a strikingly memorable image.

Last stop, San Helios. Or is it Tatooine?

Last stop, San Helios. Or is it Tatooine?

What I find partially refreshing about this episode is the simplicity of the characters’ predicament. There’s no contrived reason for being trapped on the alien planet – they simply can’t pass back through the wormhole alive unless they’re protected by a metal container, and the bus is stuck in the sand, mere metres away from it. It takes a bit of good old-fashioned ingenuity to get them back rather than a wave of the magic screwdriver or a neutron polarity reversal or whatever. I like that.

#Stingraaaaay... stingray! Da-da-daa-daa-daa-daa!#

#Stingraaaaay… stingray! Da-da-daa-daa-daa-daa!#

There’s also no “bad guys” in this episode. The threat they face is a biological force of nature, a swarm of metal-coated stingray aliens, flying from planet to planet, consuming it as part of their natural life cycle. There’s no menace, just survival instinct. The marooned fly-like aliens, the Tritovores, are friendly as well, despite their appearances (animals as aliens again, really?). With no villain, then, this becomes a simple story of survival, but one with a more jovial tone than perhaps it ought to. The music is more whimsical than usual and the presence of Lee Evans as the scientist bloke is for comic relief, but I quite like his character (more than his stand-up routines, anyway).

UNIT's latest scientific advisor, Malcolm Taylor, speaks to his hero.

UNIT’s latest scientific advisor, Malcolm Taylor, speaks to his hero.

Michelle Ryan plays the Lady Christina, a rich thrill-seeker who just robbed a museum of a very valuable gold chalice, just for fun. Goodness knows, Doctor Who needs better female characters, but is this the answer? Christina is, much like the Doctor, overly-confident, authoritative and clever, but she’s barely passable as a human being and seems to be having far too much fun in every scene. She’s easy on the eyes, for sure, but what is her drive, her motivation? Who is she, other than “sassy, smart-talking, sexy thief”? The other bus passengers aren’t exactly three-dimensional either, which is unusual for a Russell T Davies story, and the Doctor doesn’t seem to care very much when the bus driver gets himself fried. The prophetic old woman is pulled from the Big Book of Clichés, teasingly informing the Doctor that his time is coming to an end. Apparently, psychic power in humans is nothing to worry about.

Formal request: Could everybody please stop kissing the Doctor? Thanks.

Formal request: Could everybody please stop kissing the Doctor? Thanks.

On the whole, I found enough to enjoy here. The big concept science fiction premise is appealingly simple and the imagery is excellent. There are, however, a few too many silly moments that take me right out of it. The incompetent security guards who stand with their backs to the chalice that they’re supposedly guarding, with no protection on top, is one thing, but then the police later are similarly dumb, keeping their police car door unlocked on the inside! It’s farcical!

With no Tardis to translate, the Doctor talks to the Tritovores with clicks and squeaks, until they use their own device.

With no Tardis to translate, the Doctor talks to the Tritovores with clicks and squeaks, until they use their own device.

Planet of the Dead is the first ever episode of Doctor Who to be made and shown in high definition. The location shooting in Dubai looks great. Some of the special effects do look a bit iffy, particularly the stingrays and some shots of the flying bus, but on the whole it’s a good looking production.