Newsarama Note: Before jumping into the brand new episode that aired this weekend in the UK, we thought it'd be nice to have a catch-up on what happened last in The Doctor's world. Stay tuned for regular POST GAME coverage of The Doctor's new adventures as they air over the coming months!
Recently awarded two world records from Guinness (one for most successful Sci-Fi series, one for longest-running Sci-Fi series), Doctor Who has had an amazing adventure through time, both on screen and in the real world. Premiering in 1963, he's survived monsters, horrors, aliens, actors leaving the show and eventually being put "on haitus" back in 1989. The show returned in 2005 and has experienced a renewed success in its native Britain as well as across the world. With the last few episodes of David Tennant's run about to begin, and new Who Matt Smith set to begin in the Spring of 2010, the good people of Newsarama thought it a good idea to add coverage of the series to the list of Sci-Fi shows they're running reviews and analyses of. So as an appetizer for the last few specials, I thought I'd start things off with the first of this year's specials. Part one of the story that will provide the topper to not only David Tennant's run, but that of Russell T Davies, the man who is promarily responsible for getting Doctor Who back on the air.
OK, spoiler alerts set to stun, flaps up, on with the show.
PLANET OF THE DEAD
Written by Russell T. Davies and Gareth Roberts
In a prologue pre-title sequence, we see a cat-burglar robbing what must surely be a valuable old chalice (possibly from a palace) in traditional Mission Impossible/Pink Panther style by rapelling down from the roof of a Cardiff museum. Replacing the goblet with a Japanese Beckoning Cat, one of the guards turns around just a moment too soon, and the alarms sound before she's made her safe egress. Outside, a man who is implied to be her accomplice has already been grabbed by the police, and she leaves him behind like an empty soda can. Making her way through the busy streets, Detective Inspector McMillan hot on her trail, she escapes via a well-placed city bus. She pays for her trip with a pair of diamond earrings (apparently pocket change is a handrance in her line of work) and sits down, tryint to keep out of site. One more passenger hops on the bus before it leaves; The Doctor, happily choomping on a chocolate egg and chatting up the mysterious thief. Is he on her trail as well? All will be revealed, but for now it's go grams and roll the credits.
After the credits, D.I. McMillan has spied our burglar on the bus and has set off in chase. The Doctor is happily chatting away, not noticing that she's not noticing. Something in his pocket starts pinging; not a cell phone, but one of his slapdash devices designed to go "ping" when something sciencey happens, and boy is it pinging now.
The bus heads into a tunnel, police in pursuit...and never comes out. The Doctor's detector flares out, overloaded from detecting all the dimensional anomalies in the area, and the entire bus, passengers and all, vanishes. The police are bamboozled by the disappearance but not as much as the people on the bus, who are teleported across the universe to a mysterious planet sheathed in sand. They exit the bus onto the dunes, with nothing in site but sand. The bus is in shambles, the top half crushed in and deformed. But there is SOMEthing out there, because at an unknown location, an alien hand taps a monitor as it watches the strange visitors.
Everyone's amazed and dumbfounded by the events, but one middle-aged black lady, seated with her husband, is almost transfixed in fear. She insists she can hear voices calling out to her, and could begin to hear them while they were still on earth. She claims the voices are "the dead" and that they are crying. Quite a thing to learn as one is trapped on another planet.
As The Doctor and the catburglar (whose name we learn is Christina) talk, the passangers on the bus start to recover from their initial shock and do what humans do - try and find someone to blame. One young fellow remember The Doctor's device, and wonders if he's to blame for all this. He explains that he boarded the bus to track "a little hole in the fabric of reality" which suddenly grew bigger, so big that they drove straight through it. He shows them the hole by pitching a rock at it; the air shimmers like the rock was thrown into water. The rippling effect is also seen by the police watching the tunnel for the mysterious bus. The bus driver assumes all they have to do is walk back through the stargate and go home - alas, it's not that easy. He is all but vaporized, and arrives back on earth nothing but a mass of dessicated bones and an ID badge. The police, seeing that, realize they're out of the league and call in UNIT (Unified Intelligence Taskforce) who are far more trained to handle things like this.
The Doctor explains that the bus kept them safe through the trip, and even then was severly damaged. The door is only a few yards behind the bus, but considering their conveyance is trapped in sand it might as well be miles away. Christina reasons that they'd best get started at the task at hand, and immediately appoints herself leader before the Doctor can even volunteer. She herds everyone back into the bus and begins to analyse the situation with an efficiency and calm that put the Briddier to shame. It's becoming more apparent by the moment to The Doctor that this is no ordinary lady. She makes sure that everyone (including the audience) knows everyone's names. Nathan and Barclay are two young fellows, Angela Whittaker is a lady in her 40's, Carmen is the lady who can hear the dead crying, comforted by her husband Louis. As the Doctor tries to explain that their trip through the wormhole was an wrong place wrong time, Carmen interrupts, saying it was no accident. The Doctor is curious as to how she knows that; Lou explains that she's had a gift ever since she was a little girl. She's not good enough to win the grand prize in the National Lottery, but it's good enough that they win ten pounds week in week out. She can sense that "something" is coming, "riding on the wind and shining", something she can only identify as "death". Not exactly the kind of thing that her fellow passengers want to hear in their situation, and things get emotional quickly. The Doctor brings everybody around by asking them to remember what they were on their way to do when they got on the bus, be it seeing their family, off for a dance or just having Tea. Chrstina merely says she planned to go "So far away". The Doctor tells them to hold on to those things, and remember them, because he promises to get them home.
Back on Earth, UNIT has arrived at the situation, and the CO, Captain Erisa Magambo, takes control quuickly, including telling the policemen that they're no longer needed. McMillan tries to explain that there's a criminal on the bus, but is hastily shooed away. Back on the desert planet, the team are taking the seats out of the bus and trying to lay them down for traction. Christina pulls a collapsible shovel from her bag of tricks and tell Barclay to start diggin the tires out. The bus' engine is clogged with sand, and while they try to clean it, The Doctor heads over the dune to scout about, Christina vow ig to not let him out of sight. They chat a bit about how they both seem to have secret and mysteries to hide. Christina reveals one secret - her full name is Lady Christina DeSousa; The Doctor whimsically counters that he's "a Lord...of quite a big estate". As the Doctor presses on with a traditional "Allons-y" (let's go), when she replies in fluent French, he replies "We were MADE for each other!" Off in the distance, there a massive storm heading towards them. The Doctor doesn't like the look of it, and heads back to the bus. Barclay has a cellphone, and once The Doctor upgrades it to Universal Roaming, makes a call back to Earth, to UNIT...eventually.
The call is routed to Capt. Magambo, who can barely believe she's talking to The Doctor. She finds herself saluting him over the phone, much to his embarassment. Information is quickly exchanged and they call in the current UNIT Scientific Advisor, Dr. Malcolm Taylor (Lee Evans), who's even more gobsmacked to be talking to The Doctor. Malcolm explains that he's measured the wormhole is experiencing a measurement of 15 "Malcolms", he own term for a unit of dimensional disturbance. "It never did Mr. Watt any harm" to name a unit after himself, he explains. While Malcolm runs a scan on the wormhole from earthside, The Doctor and Christina head off to explore in the direction of the storm. As they do, the mysterious aliens who've been observing them since the bus landed make their appearance. A fly-headed creature wearing work coveralls and carrying a gun in his claw. The Doctor speaks to him in his language, and they're taken to the alien ship. Christina assumes they're responsible for bringing the bus here, but indeed, the aliens' (the Tritovores) ship crashed as well, and they assume it's the passengers of "The 200" (the bus' ID number, which they assume is the "ship's" name) who brought their ship down. The Doctor clears up the misunderstanding and the Tritovores assist with some backstory. The planet they're on is called San Helios, and it's supposed to have a population of one hundred billion. They look at footage of a thriving culture and towering cities, photos from only a year ago. That culture, indeed the entire planet, has been reduced to nothing in a year.
In rapid succession, The Doctor gets more bad news - Malcolm calls back to let him know that the wormhole is growing quickly - almost four miles wide now. Nathan calls from the bus to tell him that in their attempts to turn over the engine, they're out of gas. And the Tritovore's probe has reached the storm, and revealed it's not a storm, but a swarm. Countless flying manta-like beings, circling the planet like locusts, devouring all in their way. They eat the planet bare, then start cycling around, the sheer mass of them ripping a hole open in space, leading them to another planet, and this time, it's Earth.
The Tritovore ship crashed coming into orbit of San Helios when their drive failed. The Crystal matrix and its housing that powers the ship is intact, and at the bottom of an access shaft. The Doctor races off to find a way to access the matrix, and Christina puts her own plan into operation. Why he's fiddling with wires and asking of anything's happening, she's setting up the cable gear she used to grab the goblet back on Earth, and heads down for the direct approach. As she decends, she whimsically calls the Doctor "Spaceman", cause him to recall the last person to call him that, Donna Noble. As they chat, he looks in her backpack, and finds the goblet, which he identifies as being from the court of King Athelstan in 920 A.D. He realizes that she's stolen it, tho she claims to have "liberated" it. He claims to disapprove, but has to admit that he stole the TARDIS. As they chat, and just as she's reached the crystal, there's a shrieking noise in the ship. They realize that the reason the ship crashed was because one of the space-locusts smashed into them, and it's laying dormant at the bottom of that access shaft. Chrstina grabs the crystal and its housing, but not without waking up the creature. She races back up the wire as fast as she can do, beast ot on her tail.
They ask the Tritovore captain to some with them, but he refuses to leave his post. The Doctor makes the reasonable argument "A captain can leave his ship, if there's a bus standing by". There's a couple more flying beasties among the wreckage of the ship, and in a trice the aliens are killed by the...other, meaner, hungrier aliens. The Doctor and Christina take off running, heading back to The 200. Only moments ahead of the swarm, The Doctor reveals that it's not the crystal that he neededm but the gravity clamps that hold it in place. He affixes them to the tires of the bus and connects the control housing to the dashboard. The clamp controls to the dashboard isn't taking; he needs some sort of malleable conductive metal that he can use...and Christina thinks of it as he does, and, balking briefly, hands over the goblet.
The Wormhole is huge, and back on Earth Malcolm has figured out how to close it. The Doctor says he's on his way back, but Captain Magambo doesn't want to take the chance, and tells Malcolm to close it now, which would trap The Doctor on the other size. Malcolm refuses, and Magambo pulls her pistol.
The clamps are working, The Doctor fires up the controls...and the bus rises into the air. Making a wide turn, he steers it thorugh the now massive wormhole. They appear on the other side intact, and Malcolm closes the hole...almost in time. Three of the swarm make their way through, but are made short work of by the UNIT troops. The bus lands safely and the passengers are happy to be home. The Doctor gets to meet Magambo and Malcom in person, and he suggests that Nathan and Barclay might make wonderful recruits for UNIT. Lady Christina races up to The Doctor, anxious to join him in his adventures...and he refuses. Not because he doesn't want to, but becasue he never wants to "lose" another friend. D.I. McMillan finally takes DeSousa into custody, and she appears crestfallen.
Lou and Carmen wish The Doctor well, but Carmen takes it one step further. She says to him, "Your song is ending. It is returning through the dark. He will knock four times." This prophecy clearly shakes him, but he recovers quickly. Watching Lady Catherine being led off by police, he slips out his sonic screwdriver and pops her cuffs open. Hands free, she easily escapes from the police, leaps onto The Might 200, and takes off with it. Spinning around to thank him, she says to The Doctor, "We could have been so good together" to which he replies, "We were." She takes off, and so does The Doctor.
CHARACTERS AND CONCEPTS from the episode -
If there's one thing that this new run of Doctor Who has done, it's create a wide array of wonderful female characters. Rose, Martha and even blustery Donna Noble are a far cry from the mewling worrywarts he's usually had with him. They're far closer to the strong individuality of Liz Shaw, whose time with the Lord was far too short. The writers got a wonderful barb in when she left - she's quoted as saying that "All the Doctor needs is someone to pass him test-tubes and tell him how brilliant he is". Well no more - 21st century characters question The Doctor, doubt him (for a while anyway) and on occasion, show him up.
Not just with his companions, this is also true of characters only appearing in single episodes. In a combination of sparkling writing and tremendous casting, more characters have appeared fully formed and capable of attracting the attentions of fans. From the capable Elton Pope to the resourceful Sally Sparrow and her limited DVD collection, DW has been creating characters that are like Hot fudge sundaes - their arrival bring us pleasure and their departure only leave us hungry for more. Add Lady Christina Sousa to that honored list. She's prepared, inventive, charming and fills oput a catsuit like no one since Emma Peel. Even her opposite number on the Metropolitan Force, D.I. McMillan arises fully formed, with the implied backstory of a long cat and mouse chase handled with only a few well-chosen lines. Like so many of the characters from this run, seeing either return would be a delight to all.
Even the new members of UNIT have been well fleshed out and interesting in the new series. It was quite a joy to see Noma Dumezweni return as Capt. Erisa Magambo. She first appeared in the parallel timeline of last season's "Turn Left", and while it was assumed there was a Mogambo in the proper timeline, it's a pleasure to see her appear. Interestingly, in neither appearance had Captain Mogambo ever met The Doctor, only heard about him via the UNIT files. And Dr. Taylor, UNIT's new Scientific Advisor is a hoot and a half. Check out his ID photo on his badge - even THAT's funny.
ALONE AGAIN, UN-NATURALLY - Until this season, the Doctor has spent very little time alone on screen. Tom Baker's "The Deadly Assassin" (as opposed to?) was the first episode where The Doctor was without a companion, and it didn't happen again until last season's "Midnight". It's happeing more this mini-season; after the events with Donna Noble, he's loath to open up the TARDIS to another person. But try as he might, he can't stop meddling, saving lives and all that.
"HUMANS ON BUSES, ALWAYS BLAMING ME..." - Last season's "Midnight" and this episode bear a number of parallels - The Doctor is alone, he boards a random conveyance to see what happens, and as soon as he sits down, he can't help but chat people up. The monster in this episode is not defeated, per se, merely escaped from and avoided. Luckily, as opposed to Midnight, everyone listens to him (save for the poor driver) and he keeps his promise to get everyone home safe.
"DON'T BE RIDICULOUS, THAT'S QUATERMASS" - 100 Malcolms equals a Bernard, named after the noted scientists and head of the British Experimental Rocket Group, Bernard Quatermass. Not nearly as well known in the US, Quatermass was the star of a number of Science Fiction BBC-TV serials in the 50's. He really laid the groundwork for The Doctor, and most other British science fiction. Of the film adaptations of the stories, the one best known in the US was the Hammer production Quatermass and the Pit, released here as Five Million Years to Earth. The first serial was performed live on BBC's channel four in 2005, with the cast including League of Gentlemen alumnus Mark Gatiss...and one David Tennant. David's name had already been rumored as the next Doctor (and had in fact been offered the role secretly while the show was in rehearsals) so his appearance added to the interest the show drew.
"YOUR SONG IS ENDING" - Carmen's warning was heard before in Planet of the Ood; "Your song must end soon". While most assumed that was a reference to Professor River Song, it appears there's more to it.
BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS - Trivia and production details
TIME AND HIGH DEFINITION IN SPACE - This is the first Doctor Who episode to be filmed in HD. They've been hesitant to make the jump to HD, not the least of which because of the extra time and expense of making the special effects look good in the higher resolution. Also, according to Producer Julie Gardner, you can't do slow-motion effects in HD, "Which was not a problem in this episode", she cannily comments. Many effects and scenes in the next episode "Waters of mars" had to be filmed in 35MM in order to get effects like explosions to look realistic. Also, there had been talk that the current TARDIS set would look somewhat lacking in HD, which only adds weight to the rumor that a redesign for the interior is in the cards.
HERE COME THE DRUMS - While the titles sequence has not changed (yet), the theme song has, ever so slightly - it's been made a bit louder, more bombastic, almost military in tone. The multi-note background themes are brought up quite a bit, giving the theme a much more driving sound to it. It's a subtle change, but comparing it to last season's theme, I find it to be an improvement.
THE BODY OF THE BUS GOES CRUSH, CRUSH, CRUSH - The BBC transported a real London Double-Decker bus to Dubai for the desert scenes, but an accident with a crane and a shipping container during transport caused major damage to the top tier. They patched it up as well as they could, but they also patched up the script, explaining the chassis was severely damaged during the trip to San Helios.
In a similar bit of last-minute script fixing, the steel mill they used for the Tritovore's ship was freezing cold; it was actually snowing the day they were filming, and the mill had no heat and openholes in the walls and roof - it was actually snowing ONTO the set at points. They added in a couple lines explaing that the heat-conductive metal of the ship made the interior quite cold.
DOWN AND DOWN WE GO - Russell T. Davies (RTD) has spoken about his propensity for writing "vertical" action sequences. Rather than a standard scene of people being chased down a corridor, moving from left to right or vice-versa across the TV screen, he likes doing scenes where the action is up-and-down, to give things a bit of a spin. We get another one of those in Lady Christina's descent down the access hatch to retrieve the gravity clamps. They're a nice change, and gives the director and cinematographer a chance to have a bit of fun.
GUEST STAR REPORT
In the few years since its return, top-tier talent has gravitated to the show both behind and before the camera, partly from its increased notoriety, partly by the stars being long-time Whovians themselves. Like Batman was here in the 60's, Doctor Who has become "The Show" on which to make an appearance in the UK. A staggering array of actors have made appearances on the show, many popular mainly in Britain, many world-famous. This section will feature the guest stars of the episode, and remind you where you've seen them before.
Genre fans will have no problem recognizing Michele Ryan, who, before she appeared here as Lady Christina, was the titular character in NBC's short-lived Bionic Woman remake. But as is common on the new Doctor Who series, she's worked with the creative team before as well - she played Katherine Reimer in incoming showrunner Steven Moffat's 21st centure take on the R.L. Stevenson classic, Jekyll. She also was a regular in the perennial British soap opera Eastenders and played Nimue in the recent Merlin mini-series.
Here in the US, Lee Evans (Dr. Malcolm Taylor) has made a few appearances in films like Mouse Hunt and Something About Mary, but in the UK he's almost a national treasure. A stand-up comic for years, he's made numerous TV and film appearances in the UK, including a rare serious turn as a serial killer in the movie "Freeze Frame". Lee often refers to a character named "Malcolm" in his stand-up act, an odd duck who never seems to hold the same job for long. Likely the name of UNIT's new Scientific Advisor was named Malcom as a bit of an in-joke.
In a sort of "advance-guest spot", Daniel Kaluuya (Barclay) went on to play Michael "Tea-Leaf" Fry in the comedy mini-series Psychoville, the latest series from "The League of Gentlemen" members Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton. The LoG have had a long connection to Who - fellow Member Mark Gatiss has written for the new series and appeared in The Lazarus Experiment, as well as having written and appeared in numerous Big Finish audio plays. Steve Pemberton played Strackman Lux in last season's breathtaking Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. Reece Shearsmith made one of his first pro acting appearances in P.R.O.B.E. - a semi-professional series of films produced by BBV in the style of Doctor Who. They also featured Caroline John as her Who character Liz Shaw, and Gatiss also had a hand in writing a few adventures.
NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO - Some...Thing is wrong on Mars. The clip for The Waters of Mars is filled with the insistent peal of The Cloister Bell, the TARDIS' major alert system, last heard in the Peter Davison-guested Time crash, but more importantly, first heard in Logopolis, Tom Baker's last appearance as The Doctor.
See you on December 19th.