PLANET OF THE DEAD
We tried not to let this annoy us. No, we did. Honestly, we really, really tried. Several times we paused and visualised fluffy Easter bunnies hopping through fields in the hope that the irritation would drain away and we could come back to it with open minds.
But we lost. Grr.
They set the tone right from the beginning. Super-fancy teaser, with the museum and the heist and all - but it sent our collective blood pressure through the roof right from the off. A museum with a military-style security squad. Four people to protect one item. And the world's stupidest laser system.
But that was nothing (fluffy bunnies fluffy bunnies). What was supremely irritating was the tired beyond belief Mission Impossible ripoff. They made that movie in 1996. We've seen it. You've seen it. Everybody's bloody seen it. So why waste tons of money and effort to do it yet again? Riffing on something, a fun allusion with a twist on the original, is great. Xeroxing it is another matter altogether.
This wasn't a good omen. Not at all. And it didn't get any better.
We know we said we liked smart, gung ho companions. But be careful what you wish for. Remind us - why are we supposed to like this character again? She's a thief, and not in any Robin Hood-type way, either. She does it for the giggles. Lovely. What's more, she takes something sitting in a museum, where all the ordinary people so beloved of Russell T Davies can enjoy it, to sell it to some bastard private collector who's not too fussed about where it comes from and as a result it'll never see the light of day again. Cheers. She's not particularly charming on a personal level, either: when her boyfriend's run in by the five-o, she never gives him another thought. And worst of all, she relentlessly radiates smug.
Yes, she's smart. Yes, she's adventurous. So what? They can draw the parallels between her and the Doctor all they like: they're still wrong. The Doctor helps people: she, in every way possible, helps herself.
So we've got no reason to like her. But that doesn't mean we hate her either: that would require her to have an actual character beyond Lara Croft ripoff. Instead, she struggles to make it to two-dimensional. And she's not the only one, either. Fast forward onto the bus, and who have we got? Two interchangeable boys, Victoria Alcock thrown away in a role that's mainly just snivelling, and a Magical Negro and someone to listen to her being mystical. (We really wish they hadn't done that.) Let's face it, as far as the story is concerned they're (brace yourself, we're going to say it) passengers. They're not needed and they're not real. And a bunch of characters you don't give a stuff about add up to one giant shrug.
Still, that doesn't stop them trying to tug our heartstrings in the chops and gravy scene. And of everything in this episode that annoyed us, this was the emperor of annoyitude. Yes, we know they're scared and the Doctor is trying to comfort them. Nevertheless, this scene sums up for us the worst aspect of new Who. They spend a ton of money location shooting in Tunisia, sorry Dubai. And what happens when they get there? Is anyone excited by the fact that they're on an alien planet? Where's the awe? Where's the wonder? Do they even want to have a look round?
Nuh-uh. They want to go home. Another planet. Imagine that. And all they want to do is pull the sheets up over their heads and think about gravy. They rub it in all the way, too. "Three suns, wormhole, an alien sand - that planet is nothing." For God's sake. We know they don't want to startle the horses by giving away that this is actually science fiction, but that's bloody ridiculous. If SF needs to be denigrated that much, why are they making it at all? We wouldn't mind so much if it was clearly just a verbal tranquilizer, but let's face it, even the Doctor's not all that interested. And we can't even stay on the new planet (new planet!) for five minutes without constantly being dragged back down to Earth. Pah.
And so it trundles on. A bright spot is the only character in here who seems real, the UNIT Captain, but that flame's quickly extinguished by Lee Evans's wearisome fannying about, ostensibly as a mad scientist but actually taking the piss out of Who fans. Zzzz.
Then whatever traction the story's generated fizzles away when they bring in the Tritovores. Triteovores. See what they did there? With the fly heads and the overalls and the rayguns and all, it's more extracting of the piss. Fine as far as it goes, but the trouble with satire is that it's very distancing, and bringing it in while still keeping a story genuinely involving is about as hard a task in scriptwriting as it gets. Sadly, it's well beyond what this script manages to achieve.
So snigger snigger Fifties aliens, then they belatedly try to inject the awe, wonder etc that was missing before by Christina realising they're on another planet, but it's too late now. The Doctor has a revelation about exactly why the sand tastes nasty, but considering that the episode is titled Planet Of The Dead and we'd been muttering "Soylent Green is people" ever since the Doctor spat the sand out we were less than stunned.
Then we see the swarm - and the stingray things, with their metal exoskeletons and their life cycles, really are cool. Shame, though, that they're accompanied by the biggest load of bollocks since cold fusion. They create a wormhole because they whizz so fast around the planet? Hahahahaha! They're a hundred miles away and will be there in twenty minutes: that means they're moving at a speed of about 300 miles or 480 kilometres an hour. The planet, on the other hand, which (gosh!) looks about the size of Earth and (gosh!) has Earth-level gravity, is therefore orbiting probably about the speed of Earth, which is around a hundred thousand kilometres an hour. If it were speed wot did it, there'd be a Swiss cheese of wormholes round every orbiting body. We don't mind a bit of handwaving and liberty-taking, but that's a howler of cosmic proportions.
And, of course, they're heading for Earth. Because in new Who, if it doesn't affect your chops and gravy it doesn't matter. The old series was sometimes guilty of that too, but there were also lots of stories where somebody else's planet was considered plenty worth caring about.
Then lots of derring do and see, that's why we had a Mission Impossible scene at the beginning, then Murray shifts into high gear and many stupid things happen, including the Captain holding a gun to Malcolm's head for about three hours and a wretchedly CGIed Chitty Chitty Bang Bus scene that made us nostalgic for a Corgi model on a stick. (And why did the Doctor waste so much time on a vertical climb with the swarm nibbling his bumpers?) Poor old UNIT get a surprise visit from the stingrays the Doctor forgot to mention, but lucky for the cannon fodder the stingrays don't find them as toothsome as the flies were and therefore merely swoop about. Which is even more surprising since the UNIT guys are holding big lumps of tasty metal, but what else could they do without making the Doctor look like a total bastard? (He doesn't tell the Captain what's going on, presumably because he wants to save the people on the bus from being marooned in the sandtrap, but by not doing so he's actually putting not just the UNIT people but the entire Earth at risk.) And then Christina kisses the Doctor, because that's what you do these days and as a result it has about as much emotional resonance as a pat on the hand. At this point Murray shifts into Indiana Jones knockoff territory, and it is horrible.
Then it's the serious bit. After an hour's worth of pushing Christina at us as a worthy match for the Doctor and a truckload of insistence that they're a team, he says no. Possibly, this was meant to be a shock, but it wasn't one, because didn't he say he was never going to travel with anyone again? Implying Christina was worth making an exception for soils the memory of the blessed Rose, and we can't have that. Then Carmen pops up again for some more doomy prophecies and cryptic references, like we don't already know what's happening at the end of the season.
Impending death, however, has an anaesthetising effect on the Doctor's conscience, and if there's some little trinket you particularly like at your local museum, we suggest you go and have another look now since the Doctor has freed Christina to swipe it. And just when you thought you'd finally seen the last of the flying bus...
This all probably sounds like we were positive cauldrons of rage. Actually, no. We were periodically annoyed, like we said, but the sad part is that there's very little in here to make you feel much at all. It's so tired, so retreaded, so lacking in any conviction, passion or spark of originality, that overall the best we can muster is a shrug. It's not car-crash bad. It's just not very good.
Wrapped in gold, but hollow. Too much will make you sick. Happy Easter.
MORAL: Bugger global warming. Take the car.
TIME LORD SONIC SCREWDRIVER BLAH BLAH BLAH
We didn't mention the Doctor, and that's because he's entirely unremarkable. Nothing wrong with his performance, but David Tennant can do this stuff in his sleep by now, and there's nothing new in this episode.
You know how fast traffic moves in central London, right? And how buses move even slower than that? So how come the police never get anywhere near it despite them zooming along with the sirens on and the bus just trundling away as usual? And about that: they're in the middle of a police chase! How come nobody on the bus - even the driver - notices? (Thanks to Gareth Rafferty for pointing this out.)
The bus came through the wormhole. That's still there - we can see it when the Doctor throws sand at it from the other side. So how does the police guy manage to come out of the tunnel without going through the wormhole?
MY THREE SUNS
San Helios? San is the Mandarin word for three, Helios is the Greek god of the sun. So Three Suns. Brimming over with imagination.
THE SHADOW KNOWS
If there are three suns, why have they got one shadow?
THE DIRECTOR'S CUT
Wouldn't there have been more petrol than that if the bus was in the middle of its route? And why would they have kept turning the engine when the Doctor wasn't there? Unless they were planning to leave without him? Ooh, yes, we like that idea. Treachery! The baseness of humankind! The gritty clawing at survival! Oh, we're supposed to stick to their script?
Hang on a minute. Wasn't the Doctor all anguished and remorseful when Davros told him he made all his companions into soldiers? So what's he doing pushing those two guys into UNIT - an organisation he doesn't even like? We're sure it seemed magically topical to make the Doctor a one-man Jobcentre, but consistency much?