by Catriona Mills

Live-Blogging Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead

Posted 31 May 2009 in by Catriona

So little Doctor Who this time around—it feels as though I’ve hardly done any live-blogging at all this year!

This live-blogging brought to you by my adorable house socks with the grey, pink, and red stripes and crocheted T-straps. And also by the overly full glass of wine with which Nick just provided me.

Blame any subsequent spelling errors and typos on that overly full glass of wine.

I’m now watching a news programme about an animal sanctuary and remembering the time when I was stalked by that emu. And bitten by a Shetland pony. And bitten by a goose. And then I segued into other embarrassments, like the time I got my head stuck between those two bollards on a boat.

I really need to keep my brain under better control, frankly.

And now I’m wondering in a bewildered fashion, why I don’t live in lovely cold, rainy, snowy Hobart. Why?

Now, should I live-blog Torchwood? Depending on how late it’s on, of course? What say you, people who would, after all, have to read my subsequent output?

Here we are—aerial shot of London. Wow, “aerial” is a difficult word to type. And we’re in the interior of the kind of museum that just doesn’t exist in Australia, alas.

Four men—who look more like private security guards than policemen, and they are armed—are taking their places around a fancy golden goblet, which is further protected by those red laser thingies.

But, it doesn’t matter, because here’s Tom Cruise! No, wait, it’s Indiana Jones! Well, now I just don’t know what we’re paying homage to here.

Oh, wait: the thief is not only a woman, but also chooses to take her balaclava off before she actually leaves the museum—a museum that, based on what we just saw, actually takes security fairly seriously. That’s clever. When she also says “Sorry, lover” to the man who was waiting in her getaway car, I lose all sympathy for her.

Now she’s bribing a bus driver to let her on, with her diamond earrings. But here comes the Doctor, complete with a half-eaten Eater egg, which he offers her with a cheerful “Happy Easter!”

Doctor, complete strangers offering me half-masticated food on public transport rarely end up being lifelong friends. Thought I’d let you know.

Now the police have seen our thief on a bus, because, despite being on the run, she’s decided to sit in a window seat.

But, apparently, we have “excitation”—the Doctor is “picking up something very strange” on his jerry-rigged device with a tiny little satellite dish. And the bus is heading into a tunnel—sealed off at both ends, while our thief clutches a half-eaten Easter egg, and the Doctor claims to be looking for rhondium particles. The thief wonders if he can find her a “way out,” while a woman at the back of the bus asks if her husband can hear “the voices.”

And apparently the voices are screaming as the bus is catapulted through some expensive special effects.

The police report that the bus has vanished, much to the skepticism of the police officer who looks like Reg Hollis.

But it has—via a lovely, sun-spangled close-up of the Doctor, we find the bus, torn to pieces, on a desert landscape.

(This bit of the episode filmed on location on Tatooine. Nick tells me that that’s the reason the bus is damaged in this shot: it was damaged in transit in the shipping container, so they wrote it into the script.)

According to the woman on the bus, they’re surrounded by the dead. She can hear their voices all around them, and so can we, thanks to the wonders of extradiegetic sound.

Our thief puts on sunglasses, claiming to be ready for every eventuality. The Doctor, not to be outdone, turns his glasses into sunglasses with the sonic screwdriver. He thinks there’s something odd about the sand, but the passengers want to know where they are and why.

DOCTOR: Oh, humans on buses—always blaming me.

The Doctor shows them the hole in reality through which they travelled, and the bus driver—so desperate to get home that he doesn’t even listen to the Doctor—leaps through, and is skeletonised.

The police officer insists that they’re out of their depth, as they see the skeleton fall through onto a London street.

POLICE OFFICER: We’re out of our depth. We need expert assistance.
NICK: We need Burnside!

Well, it’s good either way.

In the interim, Christina (I may as well give her her name) has appointed herself as leader—it’s hard to tell whether the Doctor is impressed or irritated.

Probably both?

Does a good leader “utilise” her strengths? Or does she just “use” them? I leave it to you to decide.

LOU (Talking about Carmen’s gifts): We do the lottery every week.
CHRISTINA: You don’t look like millionaires.
ME: You know, Christina? You’re rocking those pants, but you’re really starting to get on my nerves, you know.

Carmen explains that something is coming for them on the wind, something shining. Pushed by the Doctor, she says it’s death. At this, naturally, the passengers start panicking, and the Doctor talks them down, as he always does.

This is so new series Doctor Who—this elevation of humanity above all the other wonders in the universe. I’m not deriding that, just offering it as a reflection.

NICK: The Doctor does idolise the quotidian, even though he doesn’t really want to be part of it.

Nick puts it better than I do.

And here’s UNIT! Hurray, UNIT! Someone call Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.

The Doctor and Christina have two male passengers digging down to help release the tires from the sand, so they can lay a trail of old seats, to try and drive the bus back through the wormhole. The engine is clogged with sand, but thankfully they have a nice boy who knows a little about engines.

The Doctor and Christina trek across the sands, to explore the planet.

DOCTOR: We make quite a couple.
CHRISTINA: We don’t make any kind of couple, thank you very much.
ME: Well, Donna did it better.

And there’s a mysterious hand, and an odd clicking noise.

CHRISTINA: It’s Christina De Souza. Lady Christina De Souza, to be exact.
DOCTOR: That’s good, because I’m a Lord.
CHRISTINA: Really? Of where?
DOCTOR: Oh, it’s quite a big estate.

They see what looks like a sandstorm, and leg it back to the bus, where the Doctor co-opts a passenger’s mobile and rings UNIT, who are just so pleased to hear from him.

CAPTAIN MAGAMBO: May I say, sir, it’s an honour.
DOCTOR: Did you just salute me?

The Doctor is taken to speak to UNIT’s scientific adviser, which means he’s essentially speaking to the man currently occupying the position originally created for the Doctor in the 1970s.

Of course, this scientific adviser—as well as being slightly improbably Welsh—is a massive Doctor fanboy. So, the Doctor is dealing with an intelligent man who can’t stop gushing over everything that the Doctor says.

DOCTOR: And, Malcolm? You’re my new best friend.
MALCOLM: And you’re mine, too, sir. You’re . . . he’s gone. He’s gone.

And we see than hand pointing and the voice clicking, again.

(A vignette, from last time we watched this:
FRIEND A: Can’t he do anything but point at that screen and make that noise?
FRIEND B: Well, it’s obviously a point-and-click interface.)

Carmen says whatever’s coming on the wind “devours,” and the Doctor and Christina see what looks like metal in the coming storm.

CHRISTINA: That’s how I like it—extreme.
ME: Christina, you’re really annoying me, again.

The Tritavores are essentially giant flies, by the way. I don’t think I’ve made that clear at any point. This episode is made up of a variety of tiny little scenes, and it’s difficult to keep them straight.

Apparently, the Tritavores’ ship was knocked out of orbit, but the Doctor gets the power back online, allowing him to send out a probe to see what’s in the storm. They’re on the planet of Sanhelios—and I may well have spelt that wrong.

The planet had a population of 100 billion, with whom the Tritavores hoped to trade. They show the Doctor and Christina an image of Sanhelios City—with tall buildings and wide spaces and hover cars.

CHRISTINA: You look human.
DOCTOR: You look Time Lord.
ME: Oh, lord—don’t kiss her! Stop kissing people!

Thankfully, they’re distracted by the fact that, apparently, Sanhelios City stood where they are now only one year ago—the entire planet has been turned to sand in a year.

Of course, Christina is mostly worried at this stage that she has “dead people” in her hair. I’m just going to leave that comment there.

The Doctor, talking to UNIT about the increasing size of the wormhole, gets a call from Nathan on the bus, telling him that in their attempts to get the bus up and running again, they’ve used up all the petrol.

But the Doctor is distracted by the fact that the probe has reached the storm—and it’s not a storm. It’s a swarm, of creatures who look like stingrays, but with razor-sharp teeth and metallic exoskeletons. The Doctor works out that they fly in formation around the planet, faster and faster, until the wormhole is large enough for them to move through and onto the next planet.

The storm is about twenty minutes away, according to the Doctor’s reckoning.

Christina works out that the main question is why the Tritavores crashed in the first place. They don’t know—the Doctor thinks, though, that they can use the crystal-based propulsion system of the Tritavore ship to move the bus throught the wormhole.

The Tritavores conveniently have personal communicators that fit human ears. That’s useful.

While the Doctor is trying to open panels, Christina is preparing to head down the shaft in much the same way as she stole the gold cup from the museum in the beginning.

CHRISTINA: The aristocracy survives for a reason. We’re ready for anything.
ME: No, you bloody don’t! You survived because you usually had enormous amounts of money and invariably had a level of political and social influence unavailable to anyone who wasn’t born into an established family. Right, that’s it, Christina: I wash my hands of you.

The Doctor, meanwhile, goes through her bag and finds the cup, which he identifies as a cup given to the first king of England by the king of the Welsh, and accuses Christina of being a thief.

CHRISTINA: Daddy lost everything. Invested in the Icelandic banks.
DOCTOR: No, no, no—if you need money, you rob a bank.
ME: Or, you could, you know, get a job!

Meanwhile, Christina finds the creature who caused the ship to crash, which is awoken from its dormant state by her body heat (yes, she makes that joke)—I will admit, the way she hits the security-system button in passing is pretty nifty.

She still annoys me.

But she gets the crystal and its housing—they try to convince the Tritavores to come with them, but one is eaten by another creature (they must have hit part of the swarm, which is what caused the ship to crash), and the other tries to save his friend.

The Doctor and Christina leg it, with Carmen urging them to run.

The Doctor says he doesn’t need the crystal—Christina, in a nice bit of character continuity, seems overly distracted when he tosses the shiny thing over his shoulder—he needs the clamps, which he attaches to the wheels.

He tells Malcolm to find a way to close the wormhole: Malcolm has an idea, but Magambo mobilises her troops, since the Doctor says “something” may come through after them.

DOCTOR: Ah, it’s not compatible! Bus—spaceship, spaceship—bus.

He needs something malleable and ductile that will allows the two systems to talk to one another. The Doctor talks Christina into handing over the coronation cup; telling the Doctor that it’s worth eighteen million pounds, she tells him to be careful. He agrees, but immediately pounds it out of shape.

Meanwhile, Malcolm tells Magambo that he knows how to close the wormhole, and she tells him to do it immediately, before the Doctor returns—even drawing her gn on him and calling him “soldier” when he refuses.

The Doctor, meanwhile, has anti-gravity clamps on the wheels and flies the bus up into the air—with the storm right behind them, he flies the bus right through the wormhole, back through the expensive special effects, and right out into London.

When a soldier reports that the bus is back, Magambo takes her gun off Malcolm, who is refusing to close the wormhole. But several of the creatures follow the flying bus through the wormhole, and the Doctor rings Malcolm, telling him to close the wormhole immediately.

But Malcolm’s machines explode—with the Doctor’s assistance, he gets the system that he has devised working, and the wormhole closes just as the creatures on Sanhelios reach it.

On Earth, UNIT are having quite good luck with what looks like anti-aircraft artillery, which makes sense.

Magambo’s also firing her pistol into the air; I have to admire her spirit, but I doubt that will do much.

Oh, and here’s the snogging portion of the Doctor Who special.

NICK: He has the good grace to look surprised when people snog him, though.
ME: Not always.

DOCTOR: Welcome home, the mighty 200!

Of course, all the passengers are going to be screened and then taken for debriefing. (While the Doctor is being enthusiastically embraced by Malcolm, who insists, “I love you!” over and over again.) So, so much for the Doctor’s promise that they’ll be home for chops, and girlfriends, and sitting at home watching television.

He also tries to send Nathan and Barclay off to work for UNIT, which apparently bothered a lot of people—the Doctor is not normally in favour of the military, so why is he drafting these two boys?

And the Doctor is reunited with the TARDIS.

MAGAMBO: Found in the gardens of Buckingham Palace.
DOCTOR: Oh, she doesn’t mind!

Christina wants to travel with the Doctor (which I originally wrote as “marry the Doctor”—there’s a Freudian slip, for you). But he refuses. She says she only steals for the adventure: “It’s not about the money!” (Honestly, Christina? I’d have more sympathy with you if it were for the money.) But he still refuses—he hasn’t quite got over the loss of his last companions.

Carmen says that the Doctor’s song is ending—“it is returning. It is returning through the dark. And then. Oh, but then. Doctor, he will knock four times.”

But the Doctor—looking more than a little disturbed by this—doesn’t want Christina arrested: he unlocks her handcuffs with the sonic screwdriver, and she flies off in the bus.

The police officer tries to arrest the Doctor for aiding and abetting, and the Doctor says, “Right, I’ll just step into this police box and arrest myself.”

And with a last quip, he and Christina fly off in opposite directions.

There’s no trailer for “The Waters of Mars,” but keep an eye out for it—truly, truly creepy-looking episode.

And that’s Doctor Who until, I think, November. See you then for the next live-blogging extravaganza!

Share your thoughts [16]


Wendy wrote at May 31, 10:41 am

November??? I can’t wait that long…..yes please liveblog Torchwood.

Did anyone say Speed? or was that just me?


Catriona wrote at May 31, 10:56 am

Actually, it might be longer than that. I think it’s November in the U.K.

It was a little Speed in Space, wasn’t it?

I have to say, I really don’t think this episode improved with re-watching. It’s a funny one, and the scenery is gorgeous, and I found the tension towards the end really unbearable the first time I watched it.

But Lady Christina just annoys me more and more. And, to be fair, the character did my head in the first time I watched it. So I never have had any sympathy for her.

You can do “aristocracy exploiting their power and privilege to screw the government” in a way that’s fun and engaging—Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel comes to mind. But stealing for “the kicks” (despite knowing exactly how much what you steal is worth, so don’t tell me it’s all for the fun of it) just because Daddy lost all his money in bad investments? Sorry, I’m not going to have much sympathy with that.

Though, as Nick points out, the Doctor is fairly resistant to getting a real job, as well. Except for that time in the 1970s as UNIT’s scientific adviser.


Wendy wrote at May 31, 11:06 am

i just didn’t find her very interesting or engaging and didn’t really like that the doctor helped her escape. i enjoyed the humour in the episode and liked lee evans as malcolm, but didn’t really find much tension even at the end. the desert scenery was stunning and nice contrast to the english scenes.

and yes Nick – where is Burnside when you really need him?


Catriona wrote at May 31, 11:14 am

Ah, Burnside. Back when The Bill was worth watching. I think he actually ended up bent, didn’t he? (Or, well, more bent than that time he was directly responsible for an imformant having his kneecaps broken.) And then he got a short-lived spin-off.

Ah, Burnside. And Tosh. And Ted Roach. And Viv Martella. And Andrew Monroe. Where are you when we need you?


Wendy wrote at May 31, 11:21 am

yes the bill has been hopeless for some time now. unwatchable in fact. the good old days. i loved the burnside and co era.


Tim wrote at Jun 1, 10:26 am

This viewing reminded me how tired I am of Davies’s writing/producing tics and how much I’m looking forward to having the chance to get tired of Moffat’s tics instead.


Catriona wrote at Jun 1, 11:29 am

That’s very general, Tim.

It’s not my favourite. And I think I’ve made a point (if not here, then in person after various viewings) that there are aspects of Davies’s writing that frustrate me. Much as I have a love/meh-not-so-much relationship with Paul Cornell’s writing: “Father’s Day” was far too sentimental for me, but I loved “Human Nature”/“Family of Blood.”

But Russell T. Davies has written episodes that I enjoyed immensely, and I think I’ll always be grateful to him for bringing Doctor Who back to television for me. (Which he did just for me, obviously.)


Tim wrote at Jun 1, 01:03 pm

> That’s very general, Tim.

I suppose it is.


Catriona wrote at Jun 1, 01:11 pm

Well, so is that. So at least we’re building a theme here.



Tim wrote at Jun 2, 01:07 am



Drew wrote at Jun 2, 06:58 pm

Very weak episode overall I felt. I didn’t like Malcolm or Christina, was annoyed that she was allowed to escape while the bus driver died – for taking a bribe perhaps? but maybe I read too much into that.
Fly masks + overalls doesn’t equal alien, or at least a very credible alien though I can accept that this was possibly a homage to early Who. I would have liked the flies to have been saved though and returned home at the end: instantly recognisable red-shirts add zero tension to a story so killing them is pointless, saving them instead would have been more original.


Catriona wrote at Jun 2, 08:40 pm

The bus driver felt more like a red shirt to me than the Tritovores (ha! I knew I’d spelt that wrong!) did, but I see your point. They didn’t really build up the Tritovores as individuals, either—so I didn’t care very deeply when they died.

The same with the bus driver. Now, I’ve heard someone say before that the bus driver’s death was linked to his accepting a bribe, but I can’t remember if it was you, Drew, or if there’s someone else out there who agrees with you on this one. I didn’t note the bribe angle to his death, I admit—what struck me was the fact that he’s talking directly with the Doctor, but not listening to a word he says, and that’s why he dies.

People dying because they didn’t listen to the Doctor has always been a Doctor Who plot device, but it felt a little haphazard here.

I didn’t mind Malcolm, but Christina I actively disliked—the first time I’ve actually disliked a companion in the new series, I think. (Yes, Rose frustrated me at times, but I didn’t actively dislike her.)

When I was searching the Wikipedia page just now to find out if I had spelt “Tritovores” wrong, I saw that they claim “The consensus among critics was that it was enjoyable as a whole but that it was only an average script.”

That seems about right to me.


richard wrote at Jun 2, 10:46 pm

I can ditto in on a lot of that – although I dismissed a lot of the things you actively dislike about Christina as merely weak, cliched character sketching: thief? check; aristocrat: check; independently ruthless with a heart of gold? che- well…, a cup of gold – does that count? They did kinda forget to sketch the bit where we warm to her, but clearly we were meant to: the Doctor does, after all.

I really, really didn’t like Malcolm at all, but I think having the comic relief charcter in an almost totally separate plotline is weak, so it might have been that.

The thing that really annoyed me, however, is: this is meant to be special. They shelved a whole potential series of DW for a handful of specials and, as much as this looked pretty (and the Tatooine budget must’ve set them back a bit), it just didn’t seem that special.

Anyways, maybe they’ll make amends in Waters of Mars… Hang on: weren’t there Pyramids there last time?

Knock, knock, knock, knock.
Who’s there..?


Catriona wrote at Jun 3, 07:28 am

Yes, she didn’t even really prove to have a heart of gold, did she? That’s why she annoyed me when she bitched at Lou and Carmen about them not looking like millionaires.

(Plus, I still splutter a little over her insistence that the aristocracy are good at change. Hee!)

I have to agree wholeheartedly with you here, Richard. I haven’t been blown away by the specials. I liked “The Next Doctor”—I liked David Morrissey, particularly—but then it went wonky at the end. (How did the Cyber King manage to fit in the Thames?) And this one was fun in parts, but not spectacular.

I was worried when they said they’d shift to five specials to accommodate David Tennant’s schedule, and, so far, the specials are confirming my worry.

But I’m pinning my hopes on “Waters of Mars.” The Cloister Bell! That should signal old-school creepy. And the trailer looked brilliant. I wish they’d shown it after the episode.

(If anyone hasn’t seen it yet, the trailer is here.)

And if Sutekh shows up, I think my head might just explode.


Tim wrote at Jun 5, 02:00 am

> People dying because they didn’t listen to the Doctor has always been a Doctor Who plot device, but it felt a little haphazard here.

The Doctor didn’t make much of an effort there, did he? It looked to me like he could have stopped the driver from walking through the hole.


Catriona wrote at Jun 5, 02:48 am

I’d have to have another look: part of the problem with live-blogging is that I actually see very little of the programme, because I’m too busy typing. I can’t, at this moment, visualise how the Doctor and the bus driver were standing in relation to one another.

On the other hand, the Doctor had just said (and I’m paraphrasing here, but he was about this explicit) that while the bus made it through safely, they themselves would die if they tried it.

I can imagine, faced with someone leaping for the wormhole after you’ve just said “That will kill you,” your first reaction would be frozen shock.

Mostly, I agree with you, though. The bus driver’s death felt a little like that line from Galaxy Quest: the bus driver was the one who died (if not before the opening credits, at least early on) to show that the situation was serious.

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