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27 February 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 788: Planet of the Dead

Dear diary,

The ‘gap year’ of Doctor Who in 2009 felt like the worst thing in the world at the time, didn’t it? We’d become so accustomed to having a full thirteen-week run from around Easter that the thought of only having a few episodes scattered across the year (and, really, months apart, with only this episode at Easter and then nothing more until November!) was devastating. It did mean, however, that when the weekend of this episode approached it felt all that more special. It wasn’t just the start of a new run of Who, it was the only island of Who, and it needed to be savoured. It made it, as the name suggested, a special episode.

Which then made it all the more disappointing when the end credits rolled and I sort of went away thinking ‘eh’. I don’t think I’d thought it was bad, just that it hadn’t been great either, and when there’s not another episode along seven days later which might be more to your tastes, that makes it stick out even more as being a bit of a let down. I’d planned to give it another watch, once all the anticipation had died down and we were back into the longest drought of Who for several years, but I just never really found the enthusiasm for it. Over the years, this has sat in my head as just a bit of a ‘nothing’ episode - not great, but not awful either.

Today, though, I have to admit that it hasn’t captured me at all. There was a period (from about the time Christina jumped into the… um… I don’t know, ‘hole in the spaceship’ to the bus flying back through the wormhole where I completely tuned out. I was looking at the episode, and although I picked up on a few bits, it wasn’t really going in. I was going to skip back and re-watch those minutes over again, but just as with last time, I couldn’t really summon up the enthusiasm.

I’m not even entirely sure why that’s a problem here, because there’s plenty to keep you both engaged and entertained. There’s UNIT, for a start. Gorgeous locations in the desert (more on which in a moment). Plenty of threat. Some rather nice aliens in the form of the stingrays, and a nice idea behind what those creatures are and how they operate… and yet. something falls completely flat for me, and while all the right pieces are on the table, they’re just not moving in the right direction for me.

I’ll get onto the things I liked about this one in a moment, because contrary to the way I sound above I didn’t hate the episode, and there are some rather good bits, but first I’ll have to single out something which really let the episode down for me - and it’s Michelle Ryan. Something about her performance just comes across as wrong to my mind, almost like she’s focussing so hard on maintaining the right voice for the character that she’s forgetting to do more than blandly deliver some of the lines. I try to not criticise people’s acting skills if I can avoid it (and she’s a million miles away from the worst performance in Doctor Who which is still to come in a few week’s time), but she felt so out of place with the rest of the cast here that I simply couldn’t avoid it.

In contrast, you’ve got Lee Evans’ turn as UNIT’s Scientific Advisor Malcolm. I have to admit that I’ve never really been a fan of Evans’ comedy shows (I think it’s that old thing of so many people telling me how funny he is means that I simply can’t see it), so I wasn’t particularly thrilled when he was announced as one of the guest characters for the episode, but I can’t help but absolutely love him. The performance, the character… oh, everything. I’d love to see him pop up again at some point - I think he’d play nicely off Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, who would probably serve as a great counterbalance to Malcolm’s enthusiasm.

And then there’s the Dubai filming in the desert! It does look good, doesn’t it? There was a moment, when the camera pulled back from the doors of the bus to show the landscape of this world when I half pondered how beautiful it looked, and half wondered if it could have simply been done in the UK with some lovely matte painting (I've already praised the way the production team do those recently, and I think I’m right in saying that this shot has been beefed up with one?), but then later on when you get to watch the Doctor and Christina exploring the sand dunes, you really get a sense of why the programme went so far for these vistas, because they are gorgeous. 

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