Saturday, April 11, 2009

Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead

Cut to the Chase Meridian : can't say I enjoyed this.

Planet of the Dead is a story that very much relies on the audience falling for the Doctor's one-off companion, Christina (Michelle Ryan). If you didn't fall for this cat-woman homage, there really wasn't much else in the episode to engage you. The other characters (who as usual for RTD, felt authentically British) were relegated to the bus leaving us with Christina and the Doctor - oh and some flies. Hate to sound stuffed with snark, but the flies carried more charm than Christina. Really - they were great!

Cards on the table - I hate sounding like a grumbler, but (and there's always a 'but') can we have a female character that doesn't have to constantly compete with the Doctor for the audience's attention? It seems each companion has to spar with the Doctor to prove they are made of equal awesomez as the 900-year-old Time Lord. When one goes, the next has to come and fill those same shoes. Having the occasional companion look the Doctor in the eye is super - having companions occasionally do this makes that moment stand out more, but it seems each companion or major female guest star has to find a way to do just this. So by the time Christina appears ready to prove how she's not going to be ordered around by a very competent and rather superior being, she's sort of lost the dramatic edge.

I suppose we should blame society and our churlish, sexist social regime that we have to constantly reminds ourselves exists no more by adding aggressive or challenging female role model to buck past trends (which on consideration, isn't exactly a bad thing). It's just in way, this ideology limits the female character types to fulfil the companion role. I mean, men can be charming like Captain Jack, or eccentric like Malcolm (Lee Evans), UNIT's scientific advisor, or just excitable like Adam (Dalek) without having to prove to the Doctor - and through the Doctor, the audience - that they are valid, contemporary role models. In a way, it seems lead female characters are pigeon holed as bolshy and confrontation to prove they are no longer being pigeon holed as weak and submissive. Is there no middle ground?

In fact, I think this episode would have been far better with just the Doctor and the bus load of Ordinary. Yes, the Ordinary were far more likeable, believable and enjoyable to watch than Christina. We had a spectrum of London types and they were all very well played. They rooted the audience in the dilemma very well indeed - unlike Christina's character who was a boob laden pastiche on Bond and Thomas Crown - who just dragged you away from the tension. She was too unbelievable.

What? Unbelievable for a man travelling around time in a police box? Yes, sir - unbelievable. One oddity is something an audience can invest in. We can accept a Doctor, or a James Bond or a Batman. But when they have an equally unbelievable sidekick, who is just as amazing, it starts to become a little farcical.

Strong sidekicks aren't always a 'no' of course - in the right context they can be beneficial to a story in my humble ungodly opinion, but I think the desperation required to sustain the situation in this particular tale required the supporting cast to be believable - and that includes the companion.

I'm sure many people loved this Special - which is great. I'm not here to berate RTD's production (or personal talent) as crikey, they don't half get enough flack from fandom as it is. I just feel I have to be honest and say this didn't fulfil my Doctor Who criteria. But given I'm neither The Family or The Kids - the two key demographics for this story, I'm not the stat type to take priority. I'm just saying as a member of the audience, I found it slow, predictable and, thanks to Ryan's character, slightly cringe worthy. It's a ghastly thing to say when people have worked so hard and I don't mean to smear any of the cast and crew's talent, but it just didn't work for me. Heck, I found Lee Evans Malcolm enjoyable - and he's a gent whose on-screen presence normally drives me to the ceiling (as did his father, Norman Wisdom). I didn't enjoy the lame robbery opening (can we not put Mission: Impossible behind us now?), the barren middle bit (barren for those of us neither lusting or loving Christina and the Doctor's dynamic) or the triumphant ending (that felt smug and superfluous). Though I have to say the portents of things to come were very exciting - matched with a wonderful shot of brooding Tennant.

So a little disappointed. I'm a big fan of the New Who productions, so if you are just reading this blog on a random web-surf, don't mistake me as someone who generally whine about the show (yet persists in watching it so they can whine some more). Loved the last season so perhaps I just don't do Easter Specials! And for the first time, I have to say I really didn't enjoy Gold's soundtrack - dear lord, I've fallen right off the Who bandwagon this time. Someone hoist me back up.

Well. Thirty minutes and its Red Dwarf. Let's see if the night continues this trend. I hope not!

EDIT: Who writer Lawrence Miles has far more to say on this topic and more candidly. Have to say I find myself agreeing with his points and feeling utterly awful for doing so.