- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
- Video Codec: VC-1
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: English DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1
- Subtitles: English SDH
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Discs: 1
- Studio: BBC Warner
- Release Date: July 28, 2009
- List Price: $19.89
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Soon, David Tennant will be retiring as The Doctor in the BBC’s hit sci-fi drama Doctor Who and turning the role over to another leading man. To see him out, the creators have opted out of a final season and instead will be giving loyal viewers a series of four hour-long specials to air through 2009 and early 2010.
The first in the series is Planet of the Dead, which pairs The Doctor (David Tennant) with The Lady Christina de Souza (Michelle Ryan) as his one-off companion. The ritzy jewel thief finds herself fleeing the authorities on a double-decker bus in London that accidentally travels through a wormhole to a distant desert planet known as San Helios. There, The Doctor, Christina, and a group of passengers must try to make their way home and save the Earth from a swarm of metallic, flying, stingray-like aliens that opened the wormhole with their body chemistry.
As a “special” Planet of the Dead barely qualifies as an above average episode from a regular season of Doctor Who. There’s not much to look at either; the show’s creators decided to film much of the show on location in the desert of Dubai, so most of what you’ll see are sand dunes and a wrecked double-decker. The big reveal of the mystery that The Doctor and Christina must solve also lands with a thud and holds none of the suspense of even the thinnest of story arcs from a regular Who season.
The chemistry between The Doctor and Christina is rather enjoyable, however, which makes it disappointing that this is most likely Ryan’s only appearance as The Doctor’s companion. She may be the most energetic companion to grace the revival of the series since Billie Piper.
Planet of the Dead is the first episode of Doctor Who to be shot in high definition following the success of the series’ high definition spin off Torchwood. Sadly, Planet of the Dead does not look as good as Torchwood does in high definition. It has the same 1080i/60 VC-1 encoding and flesh tones are natural, but Planet of the Dead suffers from high instances of video noise in dark scenes and somewhat soft detail. There are no compression artifacts to speak of and processing issues are also nonexistent, but Doctor Who’s first high definition outing still leaves something to be desired.
Planet of the Dead is provided with an English DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 audio mix that is relatively lively for a television show. Dialogue is clear in the center channel and there is occasional front-to-back panning of sound effects. The scene near the end where the alien creatures start swarming, there is a lot of motion and panning of sounds throughout the soundfield with decent low frequency extension. Perhaps the higher frequencies aren’t quite as smooth as they would have been had the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio variety been used, but the mix is very good nonetheless.
Planet of the Dead’s supplements consist solely of a making-of featurette entitled Planet of the Dead Confidential (1.78:1; 1080i/60). It provides a detailed behind-the-scenes look at the on-location shooting in Dubai, interview segments with David Tennant, Michelle Ryan, and the show’s producers, as well insight into some of the logistical problems the team faced. One interesting tidbit that can be gleaned is the issue with the double-decker bus that was shipped to Dubai for filming being accidentally smashed at the port, which required Russell T. Davies to rewrite the script.
The Definitive Word
Although Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead is an enjoyable episode of this long-running series, in the overall landscape of the Doctor Who franchise it is one of the weakest episodes. The bare bones Blu-ray release average picture quality mean that only fervid Doctor Who fans should purchase this. Everyone else can either rent it or catch it on television and leave it at that.