Planet of the Dead
Planet of the Dead was the first of the specials that aired throughout 2009. It was also notable as being the first Doctor Who Easter special.
Planet of the Dead also featured guest star Michelle Ryan as Lady Christina de Souza, who acted as the companion for the episode, continuing the practice of pairing a guest actor with the Doctor during a special.
Planet of the Dead was also notable for introducing the “he will knock four times” and “something is returning” arcs, something that would come up again in the following story, The Waters of Mars and ultimately conclude in the two-part serial The End of Time.
From a production point of view, Planet of the Dead was the first episode of the revived series of Doctor Who to be written by two people, Russell T Davies and Gareth Roberts.
The most notable point about Planet of the Dead was that it was the two-hundredth Doctor Who story, and as such, the bus featured in the episode was named the 200 to connote the celebration.
At roughly the same time as the premiere of the 200th story, Doctor Who Magazine featured a list of the most-favorite stories as voted by the fans since the first adventure, An Unearthly Child, was broadcast. Planet of the Dead clocked in at #99.
Planet of the Dead was also the first episode to be filmed and broadcast in high-definition. From this episode onward, the series would remain in HD format.
As the night shift of the International Gallery museum commences, armed guards are at work protecting a highly-coveted golden goblet. One guard types out a security code to unlock a security system level. He turns to the side, raising a four-sided barricade of laser alarm sensors around the cup. It might seem foolproof, but the one thing the guards haven’t counted on is a sleuth attempt to pilfer the cup from above…
While their backs are turned, a round panel is quietly pried loose from the domed ceiling of the museum. On the rooftop is a woman in a black clothes and a ski mask. She peers down and assesses the security detail. The woman lowers herself from the roof, flawlessly infiltrates the museum without setting off the alarms, and replaces the cup with a mechanical Maneki Neko; when the guards finally turn around at the sound of her releasing her winch on the roof, she waves at them in a mocking fashion. As the alarms go off, she dashes out of the museum and unmasks; she is Lady Christina de Souza, an expert thief. Christina runs out to the street to see someone being arrested, and she says, “Sorry, lover” to her presumed accomplice, getting away with the prize while he takes the fall.
She then takes a back route onto the main road, where she frantically looks for a way out as police move in searching for her, although unaware of her presence. She runs onto a 200 bus to Victoria, where she exchanges her diamond earrings for a bus ride. Soon afterwards, the Tenth Doctor comes onto the bus, and uses a psychic paper on the Oyster card scanner. He then sits down opposite Lady Christina.
After enjoying a chocolate Easter egg and engaging in some small talk with Christina, he receives an alert from the rhondium sensor in his pocket that the particles he’s been looking for have been detected. As he fiddles with the sensor, he gets inquisitive looks from a young man sitting parallel to him.
The police are still after Christina, since they know she has stolen the cup. Christina is visibly frightened by the sound of the wailing sirens, giving the Doctor reason to wonder if she’s hiding something. It looks like the vehicle is about to be pulled over, but whilst chasing the bus through a tunnel, the police witness it disappear in front of their eyes; startled, they set up a perimeter around the area. Meanwhile, the bus passes through a ripple in space and a bright, blinding light flashes out. The passengers scream as the bus is put through the wringer; the metal frame buckles, causing ts windows burst into shards of flying glass, and everyone ducks down in their rows. After the bus takes a hard landing back onto solid ground, the Doctor’s jaw is agape at the sight of a completely different environment. Rather than tarmac, street lamps, and dark, rainy nighttime skies, it is now daytime, with sand as far the eye can see in every direction. They have been spat out into a world covered in desert with three suns. The bus has been wrecked in the process of landing, with smoke hissing from its engine and parts of its double-decker roof sheared apart. The bus driver proclaims it unmovable.
The Doctor tells the passengers that the bus has passed through a wormhole into a different world, proving this to them by throwing a handful of sand into the space behind the bus. The sand causes a rippling effect in the air. The same man who eyeballed the rhondium detector points a finger at the Doctor and demands to know if he used it to make the bus end up in the desert. Annoyed for receiving immediate blame from a human on a bus and having dealt with the animosity of the Midnight incident, the Doctor doesn’t keep to himself again. Instead, he comes clean and says he was tracking a hole in reality that suddenly grew big and the bus drove into it. He elaborates that the other end of the wormhole was in the tunnel on Earth. Among the passengers is Carmen, who has been hearing mysterious voices since Christina got on. The bus driver announces his desire to return to Earth, and promptly runs through the wormhole, accompanied by the Doctor’s, “No, don’t!”. The other passengers of the bus witness the driver’s skin and tissues incinerating, before he disappears into the wormhole with the same rippling effect as the sand.
Meanwhile on Earth, where the police are watching the wormhole, the driver’s blackened skeleton steps out, halts, and then tumbles to the ground. Unnerved, the police declare an emergency Code One, calling UNIT to the scene. Captain Erisa Magambo commands the operation and she tells her soldiers to fire at anything that comes through the wormhole.
After watching the bus driver’s death, the Doctor sums up that the metal of the bus protected them from the same fate as the driver when they passed through the wormhole (like a Faraday cage, as Christina states). Everyone returns to the bus so the group can make sense of the situation. Christina takes charge, introduces herself and the Doctor, then everyone introduces themselves: Nathan, a young adult with slicked up hair, Barclay, about the same age and the one who confronted the Doctor, Angela Whittaker, an older blond woman, Louis, who goes by the nickname “Lou,” and his wife, Carmen. Christina notices the Doctor is the brainpower of the bunch and has him fill the rest of the group in on what has happened.
The Doctor explains to the passengers of the bus that they went through the wormhole by accident, but Carmen tells him with surprising knowledge that it was a doorway put there for a reason. Her husband Lou notes she has had a gift of foresight since she was a girl which has helped them make small wins on the lottery. The Doctor deems Carmen a low-level psychic, and theorizes the alien sun has amplified her abilities. He asks her if she can see anything. She foretells, “Something is coming, riding on the wind and shining.” When asked what she means, she answers, “Death. Death is coming.”
Her words send Angela into complete hysterics, Nathan panics no one will find them, Barclay begins to get rebellious, and both Christina and Lou are drowned out by the uproar. The Doctor quells the clamoring bus and regains control, but Angela is still sobbing heavily. He instinctively grips her by the arms to get her attention and asks where she was heading to take her mind off the peril. She replies she was going home to her family, Mike and Suzanne; thinking about them calms her and abolishes her panicky state. The Doctor moves on to Barclay, who has a love interest named Tina; Nathan’s dealing with unemployment; and Carmen and Lou talk about whose turn it is to cook. The Doctor asks Christina where she was going; she is the only person in the bus with something to hide. She tells him she was going far away, not giving away her thievery. Having defused the tension in the bus, the Doctor reminds the group to focus on those pleasant thoughts so the fear doesn’t set in again, then informs them the planet outside is “nothing compared to all those things waiting for you” on Earth. He promises to get them all home.
Back on Earth, the highway tunnel has been shut down as Detective Macmillan and the police officers wait to intercept Lady Christina. They find themselves joined by a fleet of UNIT soldiers and weapon-toting armored vehicles, and have to deal with the troops forcibly interfering with their line of work. Captain Magambo establishes a strategic hold on the highway. The detective tries to remain in control, but a soldier holds him back as a firing squad readies themselves to open fire if anything hostile emerges through the wormhole.
Nathan and Barclay dismantle part of the bus’s upholstered seats and bring them to the Doctor, who wants to wedge them beneath the wheels of the bus like duckboards. This will give the wheels enough traction to throw the bus in reverse and back through the wormhole. Using experience from trips to the Kalahari, Christina has them air out the tires slightly to improve it further by giving the bus extra grip, as its weight is more distributed. When Barclay is distressed over how deep the wheels will run, Christina produces a fold-up spade from her rucksack to begin digging them out, then a small axe for Nathan to unearth the seats more quickly. This piques the Doctor’s curiosity, but he is distracted when Angela asks for a key to get the bus running. The Doctor informs her the bus doesn’t use keys, just a master switch and stop and go buttons. She follows his instructions and attempts to start the bus. The engine cranks and coughs, but fails to get going. Christina and the Doctor pop open the 200’s hood to find it gummed up with sand. Christina asks if anyone has experience with mechanics, and Barclay states he does. He is assigned the task of stripping the air filter. The Doctor wanders off, causing Christina to chase after him. Unbeknownst to them, they are being watched from a monitor by a creature with insectoid hands.
The Doctor questions Christina about her toting a backpack that she refuses to let out of her sight, which has an axe and spade inside by happenstance. That along with her fear of sirens has him wondering what she’s running from. She initially refuses to answer his questions, instead calling herself and the Doctor “two equal mysteries.” After a bit more conversation, however, Lady Christina de Souza announces her full title to him, and they shake hands. In response to her claim of nobility, the Doctor says he is a Lord of a “big estate”. Growing savvy, Christina notices the Doctor seems unusually acclimated to the out of the ordinary. He pulls her attention off the subject and exclaims, “Allons-y!” Christina impresses him with some articulate knowledge of the French language herself; “Oui mais pas si nous allons vers un cauchemar.” As they continue walking in the desert, they see what appears to be storm clouds approaching. Christina fears it could be a deadly sandstorm, but the Doctor thinks it is something worse. “It’s a storm — who says it’s sand?” he notes mysteriously.
The Doctor and Christina rush back to the bus as Carmen begins to have distressing visions. He borrows Barclay’s cell phone, pulling out his sonic screwdriver and turning it into a superphone. The Doctor then attempts to call someone on Earth. Unsure of the number, he dials Pizza Geronimo by accident. Redialing the correct number, he’s connected to UNIT’s automated phone system. Angela gives him a tip to hold “0”; it overrides the machine, which allows one to speak with a real person. Through the helpline, the Doctor gets in touch with UNIT at the tunnel. Speaking to Captain Magambo, the Doctor informs her of the crisis, tells her he is stranded without his TARDIS. Magambo connects him with UNIT’s scientific adviser, Malcolm Taylor, who is beyond elated to know he’s speaking to the one person he’s always wanted to meet. Malcolm describes an ingenious process of measuring the wormhole by creating a reflection of its energy readings, which prompts the Doctor to request a capacity scan so he can get a full idea of what the wormhole is like. He deems Malcolm his “new best friend” and hangs up for the time being.
The group sets back to digging the bus wheels out from the sand in order to enable them to move it back through the wormhole. The Doctor and Christina set off to explore the area. They find that the storm from earlier has grown closer. The Doctor takes a snapshot of the storm on Barclay’s phone to send to Malcolm for further analysis. From what he and Christina can tell, it looks like a massive sandstorm sweeping across the planet towards them, glinting in the sun as if made from metal. On the bus, Carmen shudders as her visions tell her these things are a storm that devours. At the same time on the dunes, the Doctor and Christina are found and captured by a fly-like alien who holds them at gunpoint with a blaster.
The Doctor and Christina are escorted to the alien’s crashed ship, where another alien is waiting. One points a blaster at them and blames the Doctor for their crashed ship. The Doctor soon explains to the two aliens, who identify themselves as Tritovores, that they mean them no harm. He assures them that “the 200”, which is how the aliens refer to the bus due to its route number, is trapped on the planet just as they are. The Tritovores in turn become more friendly; the telepathic translation devices they use enable them to know the Doctor is not lying. The Doctor then asks them to send a probe out to investigate the sandstorm seen earlier. When told that the ship is without power, he promptly fixes the ship’s power to launch it with a well-placed kick. He and Christina learn they are in the Scorpion Nebula on the planet San Helios. The aliens explain that they had been on their way to trade with the people of San Helios when their ship had crashed. They show a hologram depicting San Helios as a thriving environment with advanced cities. Christina notices the Doctor treats the visual of the amazing city like he’s used to such things, then asks about his title of lordship. He reveals he comes from a race of Time Lords. Christina suggests they should seek out the city in San Helios for help; the Doctor isn’t so sure it will be that simple. The Tritovores give the Doctor information that the entire planet became a desert last year, with all 100 billion inhabitants suddenly vanishing along with the city, wildlife, oceans, and mountains. Everything has been reduced to sand, including the inhabitants. The idea of having “dead people” in her hair repulses Christina, whose hair has sand caught in it. She quickly attempts to stroke it out.
The Doctor receives a phone call from Malcolm and Magambo. The wormhole has grown to four miles in length and is heading outward. Neither Malcolm nor the Doctor can understand what could make it grow on its own. Magambo has ordered all aircraft above London grounded to keep others from falling in. She wants him to answer if the wormhole could be dangerous to the planet, but Barclay’s phone picks up a call waiting. The Doctor cuts off his conversation, knowing the answer would cause more trouble.
Switching over to the second caller, the Doctor picks up Nathan on the other end, using another mobile phone. Their attempts to get the bus dislodged from the sand have exhausted all the petrol, putting them back at square one, and Nathan wonders if the Doctor can hold true to his promise in spite of the marooned bus. The Doctor does not answer. He leaves the call hanging at the sound of beeping from the Tritovore ship’s controls. The probe has reached the storm.
The camera on the probe is transmitting unsettling footage. It shows that the “storm” is a swarm of billions of carnivorous stingray-like aliens with metal exoskeletons before the transmission is cut off by the probe being eaten by one of the alien stingrays. The Doctor then analyses the alien physique by the data they get and theorizes that they must be creating the wormhole effect. Their velocity as a pack is reaching a speed that creates static buildup with enough energy to pierce open the fabric of space. When asked why they don’t burn up upon passing through, the Doctor replies that any metal they eat gets extruded into their bones. It has made them immune to the effects of the wormhole because their exoskeletons have transformed into metal. They’ve been using the portals to jump through space and prey on anything they find edible. Another, scarier realization dawns on him — all of San Helios has been devoured by these predators. What remains of it, including the dead, makes up the sand of the deserts.
The Tritovores and the Doctor plan to get away from the planet before the swarm hits their area, and need to get the crystal power source that makes the Tritovorian ship fly. The Doctor and the two aliens try to bring up the source manually, but the entire system is unresponsive, lacking power. Christina, in the meantime, prepares her cat burgling equipment, and lines down the shaft with her winch. The Doctor stops her just in time before she is electrocuted by a security grid. After disabling it, she makes her way slowly down the shaft. While curiously flipping the top of her rucksack, the Doctor tells Christina about himself. He talks about how he can travel through time and space in his blue box and some of the places he’s been, including the Court of King Athelstan in 924 AD… but he didn’t remember her being there. At this, he pulls the Cup of Athelstan out of her bag.
He realizes that she’s a thief, and she says she prefers to say she “liberated” it. The Doctor doesn’t approve of her lifestyle of thievery, but levels with her, admitting he stole the TARDIS from his own people. While Christina lowers down the gravity well, a screech rings out from below. The Doctor remembers they never found out why the Tritovores crashed, until he’s informed they have an open-vent system. Much like birds being sucked into an airplane, he suspects a stingray got pulled into the ship. As he feared, when Christina reaches the bottom of the shaft to get the crystal and its holding brackets, she sees a sleeping stingray behind some metal poles; it quickly stirs from its resting place. The Doctor tells her that it had been dormant from the cold, but the temperature is being raised by her body heat and is waking it up. She replies she has that effect on men, but the Doctor isn’t laughing; he urges her to hurry and, once she has the fixture in hand, brings her back up. The alien stingray which was down in the shaft next to Christina gives chase, but it gets fried in the security grid after she turns it back on whilst ascending. As they run away with the Tritovores out of the ship, the Doctor offers them a means of escape on the 200. Before they accept, a deafening roar booms through the ship. The Doctor wonders if the Tritovores collided with more than one stingray, and speculates that it could be munching through the metal sleeve-covered infrastructure of the ship. One of the Tritovores gets ready to escape the ship, but the other goes back to shut down the controls. Another stingray bursts in from above and knocks him over, then gulps him down its jaws. The other, in rage, prepares to fire its weapon at the Stingray, but before he can, he is eaten as well.
The Doctor and Christina run to the bus. Once there, the Doctor pitches the crystal into the sand because he doesn’t need it since it only worked to power the alien ship’s components, not an Earth-built bus. Christina protests she risked her life for it, but the Doctor corrects her: she risked her life for the clamps it was mounted on. The Doctor attaches 4 Tritovorian anti-gravity clamps onto the wheels, and uses the 5th to interface the bus steering wheel with the Tritovorian technology. The Doctor calls Malcolm, telling him that they need to prepare to close the wormhole. Malcolm figures out a way to do it and starts on the process immediately.
Integrating the 5th anti-gravity clamp to the bus’s steering proves difficult, as the two technologies are incompatible alone; he needs something soft, malleable, non-corrosive and able to conduct electricity, suggesting gold, to act as an interface. Reluctantly, Christina hands the Doctor the Cup of Athelstan along with a hammer upon request. She asks him to “be careful with it” as it is a millennia-old artifact worth 18 million pounds. He promises to do so, then smashes it to bits so it fits between the bus wheel and the anti-gravity clamp controller. In response, Christina says, “I hate you”.
Once Malcolm is ready to close the wormhole, Captain Magambo orders him to close it to protect the Earth, despite the fact the Doctor and the passengers of Bus 200 are still trapped on the other side. Morally outraged at the idea of abandoning the Doctor who has saved humanity countless times before, Malcolm refuses to follow her order so they can allow the Doctor to get back to Earth. Drawing her gun on him, Magambo once again orders him to close the wormhole in the hopes of intimidating him. In spite of his fear, Malcolm passionately refuses to close the wormhole, surprising even Magambo.
Their argument buys the Doctor precious time. He is able to make the bus lift out of the sand and into the air, flying back through the wormhole to Earth. However, the swarm is hard upon its heels. The tense stand-off between Captain Magambo and Malcolm is defused when a soldier tells her the bus is safely through, but they are not out of danger. Three of the stingrays have followed the bus through the wormhole; furthermore, if they don’t close the wormhole in time, the entire swarm will come through and devastate Earth.
As the Doctor flies the bus across London, he attempts to dodge the stingrays whilst helping Malcolm overcome some technological difficulties via mobile phone. With just seconds to spare, Malcolm is able to close the wormhole just ahead of the main swarm while UNIT soldiers kill two of the stingrays in a small battle. The Doctor is able to send the third stingray to its death with some fancy evasive maneuvers in the sky, knocking it away. After he manages this, Christina passionately kisses the Doctor, taking back her earlier comment of “hating him”.
The bus lands back on the spot where it vanished, and the passengers are released and taken to be examined by UNIT. The Doctor meets Malcolm, who embraces him in a hug and exclaims, “I love you!” four times, to the Doctor’s bemusement. Magambo gives the Doctor a salute even though he doesn’t want one, trusting him that the creatures will not return. The Doctor replies they will generate more doorways; it is part of their natural life cycle and something they can’t help, but he’ll try to nudge them onto uninhabited worlds. He also puts in a good word for Nathan, who needs a new job, and Barclay, who is good with engines, saying they’re good to have in a crisis if Magambo would bring them on to UNIT as privates. Magambo then informs the Doctor that they found the TARDIS at Buckingham Palace, revealing it in the back of a military truck. They part on friendly terms.
Christina, meanwhile, is being searched by UNIT soldiers, but she breaks off and runs to the Doctor. D.I Macmillan immediately moves in to capture her at last, but Christina hopes the Doctor will help her escape in the TARDIS. Additionally, she wants to come with him for adventure and excitement, telling him that is why she steals. Despite the fact that he had earlier proclaimed them to be “the perfect team”, he says no. When she asks him why, he replies sadly, “People have traveled with me, and I’ve lost them. Lost them all. Never again.” He looks on silently as D.I Macmillan proudly arrives to confront Christina with the charge of suspicion of theft. The police promptly arrest her and take her away, leaving the unperturbed Doctor by himself.
The Doctor, about to enter the TARDIS, is told by Carmen to take care of himself; the Doctor, full of joy, tells her the same. However, she replies, “No, but you be careful, because your song is ending, sir!” When the bemused Doctor asks what she means by this, Carmen replies, “It is returning. It is returning through the dark, and then Doctor…oh but then… he will knock four times.” The implication of this prophecy leaves the Doctor very unnerved.
After Carmen leaves, the Doctor decides to take pity on Christina, who is now handcuffed and being put in a police car. The Doctor points his sonic screwdriver at her handcuffs and frees her hands. Christina gets in the police car on one side and gets out on the other. She heads for the bus, chased by the police, and closes the doors after she gets on it. Macmillan furiously orders her to open them, but the Doctor advises him to step back. The inspector charges him with aiding and abetting; the Doctor feigns remorse and heads over to the TARDIS, saying, “I’ll just step inside this police box and arrest myself.” The bus takes off, flying over the inspector’s head and hovering over the TARDIS; the door opens as the others watch. Smiling down at the Doctor, Christina happily tells him, “We could have been so good together”, revealing no hard feelings over her rejection. The Doctor merely smiles back and replies, “Christina, we were.” Christina flies off into the night, the other passengers cheering her off, and the Doctor merely watching; the Doctor then heads into the TARDIS.
The Tenth Doctor
Christina de Souza