Saturday, April 11, 2009

Saving Ryan's Privates: Operation Desert Storm

So, Planet of the Dead, eh? Described by both Russell and David during last week's publicity splurge as "a bit of romp." And, yes, I can definitely see what they meant. Rather good fun, that. Not, perhaps, a Premier League Doctor Who episode (it didn't have the depth of some of Moffat's or Cornell's efforts, for instance. Or of The Next Doctor for that matter). Top end of the Championship, let's call it, that's hardly damning it with faint praise! There were lots of plus points - a nice, tight (almost claustrophobic) script with plenty of Rusty and dear old Gareth Roberts' trademark witty one-liners. (I did enjoy, in particular, 'One hundred Malcolms make a Bernard!') Some finely constructed characters and a series of rather nice performances from the actors playing them. No obvious clunkers in there. I reject, totally, the accusation made in other reviews that, in some way, these were 'insulting working class archetypes.' Not that Doctor Who hasn't been shy of exactly that form of dramatic construction in the past. The production team certainly managed to squeeze every single possible penny's worth out of the expense of going location filming in the desert in Dubai. Smashing direction by the usually reliable James Strong, I thought. I especially admired those two cleverly shot Entrapment/Mission: Impossible parody sequences, though they still can't really do a convincing battle on the show, especially if we have the modern equivalent of the 70s 'U.N.I.T's seven man army.' I guess that's something we're simply going to have to live with. Decent effects, of course, but then you expect nothing less these days from the guys at The Mill. David was splendid though, again, that's hardly a surprise. God, even Lee Evans (whom I normally cannot stand in anything) was rather good in a kind-of minimalist way in his supporting role as a Jerry Lewis-style U.N.I.T. boffin. However, I feel that no review would be complete without the following: I am compelled to write, dear blog reader, in considerable praise of Michelle Ryan's bottom. Best bit of the episode, that. Particularly the wholly gratuitous up-the-gravity-shaft-shot. You know the one I mean (and, if you don't, there's a picture below). God bless whomsoever it was that invented stretchpants. And widescreen TV for that matter. What can I say? I'm a man of very simple tastes. I mean, very simple.
There were odd little bits and pieces that didn't work but, overall, the episode seemed ultimately greater than the sum of its parts. There's always a risk, of course, in diving in with a review of something within moments of watching it and then, regretting at lesiure having spoken too soon. Both in terms of overpraising a text or, indeed, the opposite. I've been guilty of both in the past - I'm sure most of us have at one time or another - but, I believe this one will stand up as a decent example of late-period Tennant in the years come. Russell said in Doctor Who Confidential that he regards this as something of a last chance for David's Doctor to 'have a bit of fun' before all the deadly serious stuff to come in his last three episodes. The trailer for the next (Autumn) special, The Waters of Mars, looks outstanding. And then there was that masterful little dialogue hint just before the end about what happens after that. So, yes, to sum up: They've pulled another marginally flawed gem out of the onion bag. Lightweight? Yeah, possibly but that's not, necessarily, the worst sin in the world. Funny? Oh yeah. Exciting? No flies on those boys in that department. And popular ...? That, we'll find out tomorrow.

[Edited to Add: Eight-and-a-half million and a forty per cent audience share. Mark that down as popular too!]


Graeme said...

"they still can't really do a convincing battle on the show, especially if we have the modern equivalent of the 70s 'U.N.I.T's seven man army."

You do know that, according to Julie, those extras though are on-loan real soldiers (just like in "The Invasion") rather than Havoc ? !

Keith Topping said...

Aye, I did spot that quote. The point wasn't so much their gun-handling abilities, though, as it was the VERY SMALL NUMBER of them holding back the tides of alien nastiness!