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"Something, something is coming. Riding of the wind and
Doctor Who makes its first appearance on Blu-ray. Hurray!
Facts of the Case
Almost out of the museum an alarm goes off, and the Lady Christina de Souza (Michelle Ryan, Bionic Woman) is about to be caught stealing a valuable piece of art. But she makes out of the building only to find her lone means of escaping is to hop on a passing double-decker bus. Just as she sits down, the Doctor (David Tennant, Cassanova) plops down next to her and offers her some Easter chocolate. Soon enough some gizmo in the Doctor's pocket begins making noise. It turns out he's trying to track down some weird energy reading, and before you can say "weird energy reading" the bus drives straight through a wormhole and ends up in the middle of the desert.
But it's not a desert on Earth. The bus, the Doctor, Christina, and the other passengers find themselves on another planet apparently devoid of life. It's now up to the Doctor to figure out the mystery of the dead planet, find a way to get everyone back to Earth, and close the expanding wormhole before it threatens to destroy Earth.
David Tennant is leaving us as the Tenth Doctor. In this, his final year, the powers-that-be have made accommodations to fit David's outside schedule and interests. As such, his last season won't be a normal season with 12 one-hour episodes. Instead, we'll get the usual Christmas special and four more one-hour specials. As there's so little Who available this year, I have high expectations for each and every minute. With that said, I must admit I find Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead to be a bit of a disappointment. It's not that it's a bad episode; it's just that it isn't anything special. As part of a regular season, I'd be perfectly happy and content with this latest adventure. But when you have so few hours to view, thus meaning so much more attention can and should be paid to them at the creative end, I have to ask, "Is that it?" This is the best we can come up with when you only have to produce a handful of hours of programming? It just falls a bit flat, leaving you even a bit sadder knowing that the minutes are ticking away.
But now let me backpedal and put that into a larger context. Upon receiving this Blu-ray disc a few days ago, it was not the first time I had seen this story—even though the US premiere on BBC America isn't for a few more days (which is all in the past by the time you read this). I admit I watched "The Next Doctor" and "Planet of the Dead" online several months back, and that's when I was disappointed. I wanted it to be grandiose, yet it didn't live up to my expectations; neither story did, in all truth, but "Dead" more so. Now having watched both again, while neither is among the best episodes in the great Whovian pantheon, they aren't really all that bad either. I simply expected too much in this diminished season. If you scale it back and watch the episode as just another story, it's a simple, effective, and mildly enjoyable romp.
It is a romp. "Planet of the Dead," contrary to its gloomy nomenclature, is Tennant's last chance to have fun with the role. The show's creator (or re-creator) Russell T. Davies has said it all goes downhill from here. So, here's his last chance to just have a wee bit of fun—in the middle of a desert—before he regenerates into someone with even crazier hair.
All is not a loss as there is a huge saving grace in the episode, and she goes by the name of Michelle Ryan. I kept looking at her and looking at her because not only is she extremely attractive, but also I was trying to place from where I recognized her. Finally I did the IMDb research and realized it was from that awful Bionic Woman remake. But I forgive her for that blunder. In this role, she's wonderfully sexy, smart, savvy, sophisticated, and a great foil for the Doctor. She would make a phenomenal companion, but it wasn't meant to be this time around. And it is a shame as her strong character was yet another refreshing change of pace, yet still in line with the rediscovered strong females in the new series.
When I first read that "Planet of the Dead" was coming to Blu-ray, the initial specs were frightening. It was for a barebones disc with, of all things, a mono audio track! I was instantly appalled, but I should have known better. Who in their right mind would release something with those awful specs on Blu, especially when it's their first appearance on the medium? I was happy to see that the disc isn't that barbaric and comes with a 1080i video (my first non-1080p Blu), a DTS-HD 5.1 audio track, and a 60-minute making-of feature. Yay, it isn't barebones! As for the video, I was surprised to discover after-the-fact that it was 1080i; and I have to say I really couldn't see a big difference (versus 1080p). Now, first and foremost, this is not a top-of-the-line Blu. It does not have the "wow" moments nor do you get that thorough, deep feeling of dimensionality. Overall it's a very solid picture that has rich, accurate colors, deep blacks, and a nice level of detail for a BBC show. The desert scenes look best, and you can almost count the grains of sand. But I did note during the museum robbery a moment of aliasing and shimmering. On the audio front, as with the video, it's not a particularly robust mix. Dialogue is clean and free of defect, surrounds are used well enough for panning and atmosphere, but the bass doesn't get much work. (Take a note of how wimpy the guns sound at the end.) Included with the story is that making-of feature. Any Doctor Who regular will recognize the "Confidential" name and formula. As it runs as long as the episode, it reveals a lot of detail into the making of the story. It's nicely done and definitely worth a viewing.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I don't have any other quibbles about the disc or the story, but I did notice something odd. In perusing the packaging I took a look at the spine—and who really looks at the spine that closely? On it is the requisite picture of David Tennant, yet it has a circle/slash on it—as in "no smoking" or, cinematically, the ghost in the Ghostbusters logo. Why did they negate David?
This one is a particularly tough call. While not my favorite episode, it is the first Who on Blu, and in that regard it's a decent release. It's not perfect, but we want to support this release to ensure more Blu Who. Yet on top of that, we all know that this final season of Tennant's will come out in some type of box set. Will that all be Blu or just DVD? I'm going to mulligan. I leave it up to you to decide how to go. It's not an especially expensive release, but it is small with the potential of future "bigness" on the horizon.
Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead is hereby found guilty of getting sand
in its shoes.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
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