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Busman's Holiday: An Advance Review of BBC America's "Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead"

While it's only been a month or so since the last Doctor Who special aired in the States, this weekend's David Tennant and Michelle Ryan-starring installment appeared on UK screens after a wait of a few months back at Easter following "The Next Doctor," the Doctor Who Christmas special. Here, it's set to air on Sunday evening on BBC America and--for the first time for Doctor Who--will also be available in high-definition.

The first of final four specials featuring David Tennant as the Doctor, Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead, written by Russell T. Davies and Gareth Roberts and directed by James Strong, features the Doctor trapped on an alien world without the TARDIS as he must figure out how to get himself and his unwitting traveling companions back to Earth.

I had the chance to watch the sexy, scary, and fun "Planet of the Dead" a while back and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it both as a Doctor Who installment and as one of David Tennant's final performances as the Doctor. While the previous outing, "The Next Doctor," was a lightweight trifle, "Planet of the Dead" begins to set the stage for Tennant's swan song on the series.

There's an element of danger and risk that was somewhat lacking in Christmas' "The Next Doctor," but there's a very potent mix of those elements at play here as the Doctor, teaming up with aristocratic jewel thief Lady Christine de Souza (Michelle Ryan), must find a way back to Earth after he and everyone aboard a double-decker bus take a wrong turn through a wormhole and end up on an alien planet covered in sand. Their pairing is both exciting and cheeky and Ryan turns out a winning performance as thrill-seeker Lady Christina, a heady mix of sexiness, sophistication, and sass.

Both Lady Christina and the Doctor are running from things; for her it's a last-ditch effort to avoid arrest but for him it's something deeper. The Doctor is running from himself, from his past, and from the fact that tragedy seems to befall anyone who steps into the TARDIS with him. There's the youthful glee we normally associate with Tennant's Tenth Doctor but it's tempered by sadness here, by a sense of loss over Donna, Martha, and Rose. He's open to adventure but he's still closed off from forming any bonds. Yet Christina manages to get under his skin so much so that I almost wish we could get another season of David Tennant as the Doctor with Michelle Ryan's Lady Christina as his companion.

What follows after they meet-cute on a Brixton-bound bus is a traditional Doctor Who adventure (in the very best sense of the words) in which the Doctor must beat the odds and save the day. But just when you think it's all sunshine and roses, there's a specter at the feast, courtesy of the bus' psychic passenger Carmen (Ellen Thomas). Her words to the Doctor at the very end of "Planet of the Dead" not only rattle the Doctor in a way we haven't seen before but also beautifully set up the darkness ahead.

Just what lies ahead for the Doctor remains to be seen but with only three more Tennant specials left before he turns over the role to Matt Smith, it looks to be quite an epic ride.

Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead Preview: "I Think We've Gone a Little Further than Brixton"

Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead airs Sunday evening at 8 pm ET/PT on BBC America.


Jon88 said…
BBC America is *theoretically* available in HD, but does anyone actually have the BBCA-HD channel in their cable or satellite system? I asked that question to an international group of very involved TV people (the TV or Not TV list) and received only negative replies.
Bella Spruce said…
I can't wait to see David Tennant and Michelle Ryan together. They're both terrific, charismatic actors and I'm sure that sparks will fly!
Faith Cooper said…
I have now the pleasure of watching this tv series through the fourth episode and can say that I think the new series is a delight!
AZMuffy said…
Regarding Jon Delfin's post about BBC America HD: I've also never seen it on any of my area (Southern Arizona) cable or satellite feeds.
Apparently, the best one can do is wait for SyFy [I hate the new spelling] to broadcast it. SyFy does seem to get The Doctor episodes fairly quickly. I saw the holiday ep w/Kylie Minogue on SyFy long before BBC America aired it.

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