Timestamp #206: Planet of the Dead

Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead
(Easter Special, 2009)

 

When stingrays attack!

At the International Gallery, a group of armed guards is hard at work protecting a golden goblet. They fire up a fancy security system as they lock up for the night, but the lasers around the perimeter don’t account for an assault from above. A masked figure Mission: Impossibles her way down, exchanges the artifact for a waving Maneki Neko, and runs out. Her accomplice is captured, so she boards a double-decker bus and bribes the driver to help her get away. The Doctor boards right after, sits beside her, and wishes her a happy Easter.

The Doctor muses about various Easters throughout time, including the original event, before a device that detects rhondium particles chirps in his pocket. As the bus traverses a tunnel and a passenger hears screaming voices, the bus leaves Earth and arrives in a vast desert.

The driver declares the bus immobile. True enough, because it’s a wreck. The thief, Christina de Souza, gets to know the Doctor as he analyzes the sand and doesn’t like what he tastes. The passengers blame him for their predicament, but he shows them the wormhole that they passed through. Unfortunately, the wormhole doesn’t allow them to pass through without the bus surrounding them. The driver tries to rush through, but he’s immediately reduced to a skeleton on the other side. The police on Earth immediately call for UNIT to assist.

Christina takes charge of the situation and facilitates introductions all around – Nathan, a young adult with slicked up hair; Barclay, about the same age and the one who confronted the Doctor about their situation; Angela Whittaker, an older blond woman; Louis, who goes by the nickname “Lou”; and his wife, Carmen – before handing the science bits to the Doctor. Carmen has low-level psychic abilities and can hear voices all around them. She also feels death coming.

The Doctor calms the passengers in order to focus them on surviving. He promises to get them all home. They set to work on preparing the bus, including the tools in Christina’s amazing backpack. She’s prepared for everything. While the passengers work on the bus, the Doctor and Christina scout the area. They verbally spar and spot a storm on the horizon. The Doctor borrows a mobile and rigs it to contact UNIT.

UNIT arrives and officer-in-charge Captain Erisa Magambo takes command of the tunnel. She takes the call from the Doctor and makes contact with UNIT’s scientific advisor, one Malcolm Taylor, who completely fanboys out before setting to analyzing the disturbance. The Doctor sends a picture of the storm back to Earth, which Christina says contains sparkling like metal. She also spots an insectile creature that takes them to its crashed ship by gunpoint.

The beings onboard identify themselves as the Tritovores and blame them for crashing their ship. When the Doctor explains that they’re in the same predicament, the Tritovores decide to trust him. In return, the Doctor restores their shipboard power and launches a probe. The sand planet is San Helios, located in the Scorpion Nebula, and the aliens had been on their way to trade with the inhabitants. Unfortunately, the city has been destroyed. All of it, including the 100 billion inhabitants, have been reduced to sand, and Carmen keeps hearing them die over and again.

Malcolm Taylor calls again with news that the wormhole is expanding. The Doctor also gets bad news from Nathan: The bus is out of fuel. Capping the unfortunate circumstances, the probe relays images of the storm. It is full of stingray-like creatures that stripped San Helios and have set their appetites on Earth.

The Doctor deduces that the stingrays, which are made of metal, travel fast enough to rip open the wormhole and travel from place to place. Christina, who is enamored by the Doctor and his alien nature, points the Time Lord to the Tritovores and their ship. The Doctor develops a plan to use the ship to move the bus. While the Doctor tries patching wires throughout the ship, Christina uses her rogue’s rig to dive into the shaft after a much-needed crystal.

While Christina retrieves the crystal, the Doctor muses about her nature (and similarities to Donna Noble) and the stolen goblet (the Cup of Athelstan) in her pack. The Doctor doesn’t approve of her thievery at first but admits that he stole his ship, the TARDIS, to begin his travels. As Christina retrieves the crystal, she awakens a stingray living in the ship’s ventilation system. She successfully evades it, but the rest start tearing apart the ship.

The Doctor and Christina run back to the bus with the storm in pursuit. When they get back, the Doctor orders everybody back to their seats as he discards the crystal and attaches the clamps surrounding it to the bus. He calls Malcolm, requesting a means to close the wormhole, but is stymied by the interface of the bus and crystal systems. They use the goblet, worth 18 million pounds, to bridge the technology. Destructively, to Christina’s chagrin.

On Earth, Captain Magambo orders Malcolm to close the wormhole to save Earth. In the desert, the Doctor gets the bus airborne with the anti-gravity clamps and rockets away from the stingrays. The bus returns home followed by three of the stingrays. Magambo orders her troops to open fire as Malcolm (with the Dcotor’s help) closes the portal.

The UNIT troops and their explosive solutions make short work of the three stingrays. Meanwhile, the Doctor sets the bus down at the tunnel’s exit and gets a kiss from Christina for his efforts. Malcolm meets the Doctor and fanboys all over the place while Christina is taken away. The Doctor recommends Nathan and Barclay for UNIT service and Magambo shows his the TARDIS, retrieved from the gardens at Buckingham Palace.

Christina asks the Doctor if she can travel with him, but he rejects her. She has to face the consequences of her actions and he’s not ready to lose another companion. Never again, in fact. While Christina is taken away, Carmen leaves him with some parting words: His song is ending, it is returning through the dark, and he will knock four times.

Carmen takes her leave and the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to free Christina. While she runs for the bus and flies away, the Doctor departs in the TARDIS.

 

This tale does wonders for the Doctor’s character development while providing an entertaining and riveting story. The revelation that he stole the TARDIS appears in the revival era for the first time – it had been previously mentioned in The War GamesFrontier in Space, and Logopolis – and does him well on the road to accepting Lady Christina. Of course, he still isn’t over Donna’s tragic departure, so there’s no way that she’s joining him on the TARDIS. Just like Mr. Copper in Voyage of the Damned, the Doctor rejected her.

Christina is a character that I wouldn’t mind returning to the show, particularly given her chemistry with the Doctor. A criminal and a member of the British aristocracy, she would be a fun addition to the show.

The revival era continues linking back to its heritage, this time with the K1 Robot, Quatermass, and UNIT’s general lack of luck with bullets against aliens.

This episode was a major milestone in the franchise, marking not only the 200th storyline but the first to be filmed for high definition. It was also the first to film in a Middle Eastern country.

Finally, the path is laid at the Doctor’s feet for his own demise. The end is coming.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

Keeping in mind that the Timestamps Project is following the franchise chronologically at this point…

 

UP NEXT – Torchwood: Children of Earth – Day One

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

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