Wednesday, 22 April 2009
I was reminded on Twitter yesterday that I hadn't posted any thoughts post-"Planet of the Dead", the first Easter special in "Doctor Who" history. Well, some may have noted I rather gave up doing formal reviews since around season three in 2007, but here goes ...
My overview was that it didn't quite gel together, but it was a rollicking good adventure and it's a tribute to the team it got made at all. The fact was there was less then three months from the start of filming until broadcast, and that's before the damaged bus and desert sandstorm crises.
Anyhow, the bits I liked:
The location filming in Dubai. Although actually a minimal part of the finished episode (the bus interiors were all in studio) this really added to the epic feel. Kudos to director James Strong for making the best of the desert landscapes in a tight schedule.
References to the recession - the first to do so, possibly the first able to. Christina's family fortunes had gone down with the Icelandic banks, and young Nathan has just lost his job. Can anyone see Tegan mentioning the 80s recession?
Michelle Ryan. I had some doubts about casting Ryan as what is, basically the co-lead. Any doubts were banished and then some by her performance here in a well-written character. Special credit for her carrying out all those stunts - both the character and actress are game girls! Were Lady Christina to return I'd have no problems.
Carmel and her second-sight. It's not something that's really explained (is she channelling the universe, in all dimensions and times?), and probably the better for it, but this was the heart of the story for me. All through the episode Carmel is giving extra insight, culminating in the tantalizing warning to the Doctor that 'your song is nearly over', eerily echoing a similar message from the Ood last year. Again, great performance from Ellen Thomas.
Capt Magambo pulls a gun on Malcolm. With one move we see how different this UNIT is from the cuddly days of the 70s, as the Captain seems quite willing to shoot a colleague at near point blank range for the greater good, yet we can sympathise with both their positions under great pressure.
The swarm. Fucking terrifying! Great CGI creation, a sort of flying metallic piranha/stingray thing that literally lives to eat. Possibly a bit similar in some respects to the Vashta Nerada, but very effective at giving me the requisite scares, especially when skulking around the Tritovore ship. Another contender for a return ?
The flying bus. Brought out my inner-10 year old, so not much more analysis needed.
In two minds about:
Malcolm. Or should I say Malcolm as played by Lee Evans. There were some rumours circulating that the role was originally earmarked for Martin Clunes, and Evans certainly confirmed he was signed at very short notice. However, if the slapstick scene in the van was in the original script it's probably better suited to Lee Evans. It just jarred in tone for me with the ongoing tension - you just wanted to give him a slap! I'm certain though that 'the kids' loved this and the character and they are an important part of the audience if you want to consider long-term. I did giggle at his however-many Malcolms-to-the-Bernard scale though.
The Tritovore. Sorry, as previously stated, from the neck-down these were a poor design. In the finished programme I warmed to them a little, but not much. Enough to be sad when they were killed by the swarm.
The pre-publicity. Not strictly a part of the episode, but very important in pre-perception. I was disappointed by season three and four's trickle of pre-broadcast photos for specific episodes. Even then they appeared to be generic shots, not photographed anywhere near the location - the Doctor and companion shots all looked like they'd been done in the same studio on the same day, just changing the hair and costumes where necessary, then photoshopping in an episode specific background. It got to be very boring, especially as there were rarely 'new' photos added after the episode had broadcast (as had happened in the first two series)
For "Planet of the Dead" the BBC did the opposite - everything came out in advance. Can anyone name me one feature of the episode that hadn't had its photo taken and published about a fortnight before? Even the swarm was in the BBC trailer. I think this helped dampen my anticipation, as I couldn't see what more could be in the finished story. I was right. Please BBC, go back to the correct balance that was struck in 2005 and 2006 - don't starve or swamp us. I think DWM would welcome that too - they didn't appear to have any photo exclusives for PotD.
I didn't like:
As said, it somehow didn't all quite gel together, but I can't tell you why.
The McGuffin resolution. Though tempered by the slightly less predictable trashing of a priceless artifact, RTD is once more relying on a deux-ex-machina to save the situation. It was one too many times for me.
And normally, that would be it. But then there was the trailer for the next special, revealed as "The Waters of Mars" (hands up anyone who hasn't yet heard some sad loon tell you this is an anagram of "The Master Wars" ... or something) and this takes me into the wider future, so you may want to avoid the speculation/rumours/photographic evidence/official release information or, as generally lumped together - spoilers. They follow after this screenshot from the WoM trailer...
Like most people who've commented, I'm very impressed with the 30 seconds we saw which looked like a really claustrophobic and creepy episode. Hence I must also interject the thought, in response to official/RTD claims that this will air 'November-ish', that isn't it obvious people will check their calendars and notice which day of the week Hallowe'en is on this year?
Anyway, what was hinted at in the trailer and has since been expounded upon by "The Sun", is that the creature/baddie are 'hydrants' who skoosh water from their hands in a rather fatal looking way. The trailer also infers that the Doctor and cohorts are about to be flooded and drowned as 'water always wins'. We also know that Lindsay Duncan is companion Adelaide (who sadly only keeps her 'oldest companion ever' record until the next special) and that guest star Peter O'Brien is touted as a baddie, who may even be the glowing eyed 'hydrant' in the trailer. It's still not 100% that the story is set on Mars, but I think it's highly likely.
Interestingly, those Swansea location pics we saw of Tennant and Duncan with a Wall-E type robot in snowy surroundings, would appear to be from the close of the episode and on a festive Earth - neatly linking to the two-part finale. I saw some YouTube recordings from the same shoot and a further two characters we see in the WoM screenshot follow out of the TARDIS to join the Doctor and Adelaide. I can't be sure which guy it is (though it's not Peter O'Brien) but the girl is dressed in red. The girl appears a little spooked and runs off, followed by the guy. Adelaide herself appears to go towards a Victorian terraced house and enters alone. Around the time of this location filming there were also pictures taken of Ood Sigma on set and reports of a MASSIVE TARDIS explosion that was rather hard to keep wraps on. It has been assumed these were for "Waters of Mars" but I wouldn't be too sure.
So to the finale itself, currently still filming. The title "Beautiful Chaos" has been quoted, but I'd still expect two titles, and this has been used before on an audio adventure featuring the Mandragora Helix. What does seem to be irrefutable is who have been seen on set, in character. We definitely have Donna, Wilf, Sylvia, Sarah-Jane and Luke (who the Doctor meets for the first time) but other returning 'regulars' have been rumoured. There's also been the flurry of excitement over someone who appeared to be a blonded John Simm on location. Having seen the one piece of photographic evidence for this, I'd say it's a non-starter and people are trying to make the facts fit their fantasies a bit too much. Also definitely on board as guest cast are Jessica Hynes (as 'Verity Newman' successfully flogging John Smith's Journal of Impossible Things ... hmmmm), David Harewood, Barry Howard, Karl Collins and June Whitfield (re-united with Bernard Cribbens for probably the umpteenth time!
Locations include a night shoot last week at Wookey Hole (as used for Voga in "Revenge of the Cybermen") and Cardiff city centre tarted up for the third time as a Christmassy Oxford Street, complete with tree and Sally Army Band (the pics below were taken earlier this week - notice Euros Lyn and Edward Thomas in the second one)
(Courtesy of Combom's blog)
Lastly, to my own speculations. I actually don't think the knocking four times is the Master, that's just too obvious for even the most junior of fanboys. I think the foe is bigger than that and Carmen's predictions took me back to those tricksy ones made by The Beast in "The Satan Pit'. My guess is he's coming through the darkness for revenge on the Doctor. I also predict a very unusual/radical regeneration, possibly one that people will see as denying them one ...
I think each 'knock' may be the death/murder of a loved one, perhaps with the Doctor himself as the fourth.
Health warning - I actually KNOW nothing, just in case this gets repeated as fact.