Planet of The Dead

Another superb review of the latest episode of The Doctor from Peter Grehan…

In Planet of the Dead we see the Doctor marooned, once again, inside a bus that is stuck in the middle of a hostile alien environment. The Writers, Russell T Davies and Gareth Roberts acknowledge this vague similarity in plots by having the Doctor ask why he is always being blamed for the cause of problems on buses for humans.

In this story however we see a group of humans being dramatically and unexpectantly ripped from a relatively safe and familiar environment into an alien desert that is devoid of life. The desert is the great threatening void of science fiction that requires a personification. In this case the alien ‘Swarm’ that devours whole planets; plants, animals, water and minerals and leave lifeless deserts in their place.

Partly inspired by Pitch Black, this story actually goes one step better in that it creates a mechanism to explain how such a life form could sustain itself after it had consumed everything. The Swarm in Planet of The Dead has a means of creating a wormhole to move onto their next meal, in this case planet Earth.

This creates an interesting transposition. What starts off as a simple ‘let’s get back home’ story rapidly turns into the whole of planet Earth being threatened. The Doctor acts as scout and observer for Unit scientist Professor Malcolm Taylor to work on closing the wormhole.

But the real transposition comes in the removal of what cultural geographer Yi-Fu Tuan calls ‘Home Space’. Tuan argues that space can be divided up into three main categories, ‘Homeplace,’ in this the interior of the bus, Home Space, for this story London and Earth as a whole and Alien Space which is the alien desert the bus passengers find themselves in. ‘Home Space’ and ‘Alien Space’ have become transposed. ‘Alien Space’ is now just outside ‘Homeplace’, while ‘Home Space’ is many light-years away.

I rather liked the Tritovore, the anthropomorphic fly species that provide the joke that the only thing can find in a desert are flies, even if they are highly intelligent, highly moral star traveling flies. I can forgive the creation of yet another alien species of humans with animal heads on for the sake of this clever joke, but was a pity they had to be killed off so gratuitously rather than be helped to escape the way the Doctor has helped fellow shipwrecked travelers in the past like the Rills in Galaxy 4.

This was a very entertaining episode and I look forward to the next special.


    David Whitehouse

    April 12, 2009

    I’m not sure if it was because of the desert in this episode or what, but it strongly reminded me of an episode I saw when I was a child in the 1980’s. I can’t for the life of me remember what it is called. All I can remember is that there was a black cat walking around and if it crossed your path you would be transported to another world which was just a desert world. There were giant cat warriors riding horses.

    Anyone know the episode I’m talking about? I’d really like to see it again.

    I’d also like to see the episode with the liquorice allsorts man – Berty – does anyone remember that? It used to scare the hell out of me when I was a kid!!!

    Peter Grehan

    April 12, 2009

    The cat story was called ‘Survival’ and was the last ever Clasic Doctor Who story (not including the Paul McGann special).

    I think the other story you’re thinking of was called ‘The Happiness Patrol’.

    Both stories were seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) stories. Hope this helps you track them down David.

    Cardiff student

    April 12, 2009

    Ive really got back into doctor who of late and this is such a great episode, I was too young for the origionals back in the 80’s, well that and being born in a different country, but I certainly wil look out for them, and nice to know where the inspiration comes from in these episodes.

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