Written by : Russell T. Davies and Gareth Roberts
Directed by : James Strong
Produced by : Tracie Simpson
Starring : David Tennant
Guest Starring : Michelle Ryan, Lee Evans, Nona Dumezweni, Paul Kasey, Ruari Mears, Victoria Alcock, David Ames, Glenn Doherty, Adam James, Daniel Kaluuya, James Layton, Keith Parry, Ellen Thomas and Reginald Tsiboe.
International Jewel Thief Lady Christina da Souza has just stolen the priceless Cup of Athelson from a museum. Unfortunately for her, things go a bit pearshaped and to avoid capture by the Police she hops onto the on the #200 bus to Victoria. The Doctor is tracking a rogue space-time wormhole and follows her onto the bus. As the old Bristol VR double-decker bus is being perused by police through a tunnel, the bus vanishes through the wormhole. The police are completely baffled and call for assistance from UNIT.
The bus arrives on a desert world that is completely devoid of all life. Miles and miles of empty sand that have formed into a sea of impressive dunes. Traveling through the wormhole has mangled the vehicle completely, fortunately the engine is still running and the axles are still in tact. The problem is that the axles of the nine and a half ton bus are deeply embedded in the sand, and without the protection of the bus, anyone passing through the wormhole will be fried.
The Doctor and Lady Christina go to explore their surroundings and are captured by two surviving Tritivore merchants who’s ship has crashed into the desert. When their ship left their home-world to travel to Sehelios, the planet was a heavily populated with a high tech civilisation built on a lush and verdant ecology. Something had reduced Sehelios to an empty desert in just one year. The Doctor and the Tritivores discover that the swarm of semi-metalic flying creatures that is approaching the bus and the crashed ship are responsible for the destruction of this world, and they are now generating a wormhole that will take the Swarm to Earth…
This was Doctor Who‘s first ever venture into the Vistas of High Definition television, and it featured the most ambitious foreign location shoot since The Two Doctors back in 1985. Was it worth the effort. Oh yes! Most definitely. Even on my increasingly decrepit SD television, the whole thing looked amazing. The scenes on the desert world could only possibly have been achieved in Dubai, or somewhere with a genuine arid sand dune environment. (Although there are still a couple of idiots on the Doctor Who Forum who think the same effect could be achieved on Aberafan beach with CGI augmentation.) The emptiness of the ravaged world was breath-taking.
The story was co-written by Russell T. Davies and Gareth Roberts. Elements of Roberts 1984 novel The Highest Science are plainly visible. The Highest Science was one of the very few entries in the Virgin New Adventures Doctor Who series of novels that is worth reading because it is one of the few book in that series that actually works as a Doctor Who story.. In that novel a carriage from a commuter train heading to London is transported down a wormhole, and the passengers face an implacable foe on an inhospitable world. In Planet of the Deadus, but the rag-tag group of survivors remain. It is a shame that the militaristic and xenophobic cyborg turtles, the Chelonians that featured in that novel still seems to be beyond the limits of a BBC television budget.
The threat in this story is a swarm of ravenous metallic flying sharks that hop from planet to planet via wormholes they generate as it flies around a planet, devouring everything in sight. The Doctor calls the swarm “A force of Nature” but for me there is nothing natural about them. This Species just screams to me some sort of biological doomsday weapon that has destroyed its creators and gone feral. I cannot see evolution, no matter how screwed up the creature’s home-world might be, ever producing anything that destructive. Evolution favours the fittest, who pass their advantage on to the next generation and the Swarm leaves absolutely nothing behind to nurture the next generation, so cannot survive for long enough to develop their bizarre method of moving onto their next target naturally.
Another thing I cannot see evolution producing is a race like the Tritivores. Heads and digestive systems like houseflies and humanoid bodies, nope never in a billion years. If they had that shaped head and guts, the creatures should have had fly shaped bodies with six legs and wings. Which leads me to the biggest gripe about this story. If the ship was crewed by insects, why did it have a communication system that fitted so neatly into a humanoid ear. It just does not make any sense. I honestly do not see the narrative necessity for the Tritivore survivors on the planet either. The Doctor could have gained all the information he needed about the situation from the equipment on the ship. It seems that the Tritivores were either there simply to give Character Options something they can market as an action figure, or as a way to bulk up a standard 45 minute script to the required 60 minutes. .
After the events of Journey’s End, The Doctor is once again flying solo, terrified of the effect he has on his companions’ lives. In this story he is teamed up with Lady Christina da Souza, an upper class thrills junky who does really stupid things, like stealing a priceless artefact from a heavily guarded museum, just for kicks. Christina was played by Michelle Ryan who recently starred in the ill fated remake of The Bionic Woman in the US, but who is best remembered in the UK playing Zoë Slater from the soap opera EastEnders. Her character is so utterly annoying, automatically assuming that she is the born leader because she is an aristocrat and everyone should follow her instructions implicitly. And yet despite all her airs and graces, she is still a criminal who flouts the authority of others without a second thought. I was so glad that in the end, the Police caught up with her, and really annoyed at the Doctor for helping her to escape. I suspect that had this been the start of a normal series of Doctor Who, then Christina would have run into the TARDIS and spent the next few years of her life (one series on TV) doing the cosmic equivalent of Community Service with The Doctor to pay society back for her past crimes.
The people on the bus showed the better side of Human Nature in a crisis. A vast improvement on the unpleasant Daily Mail reading mob who featured in last year’s story Midnight who showed the nasty side of Human Nature in a crisis. On their own, they were a bit wishy-washy but as a team, that quickly bonded under difficult circumstances, they proved to be unbeatable. My favourite character was Carmen, the mild psychic woman who had her powers enhanced by the proximity of the wormhole. Her occasional pronouncement added just the right amount of creepiness to the proceedings. Her final warning to The Doctor underlines the fact that he is soon to regenerate, although he has no idea about this yet. It certainly ramps up the excitement level for the remaining specials.
It is nice to see that UNIT is making a more regular appearance in the series. I hope that when Steven Moffatt takes over full production of the series, he will continue to use the new UNIT command structure that Russell T. Davies has introduced. In this story we saw a squadron under the command of the no nonsense Captain Magambo, who first appeared in the alternate time-line of last year’s story Turn Left. Although the decision to leave The Doctor and the bus stranded on the wrong side of the wormhole was a little bit short-sighted, It is a good thing that the civilian scientific advisor, refuses to follow the order. Magambo gets one of the best lines for a member of UNIT ever, when she comments “at last, guns that work.”.
And on the subject of Dr Malcolm Taylor, as portrayed by comedian Lee Evans, why did he have to speak with such a clichéd Pontypandy Welsh accent? I expected better from BBC Wales, and from an actor whose family originated in South Wales, who was born just across the Bristol Channel in Avonmouth and knows exactly what a real Welsh Accent is supposed to sound like. Apart from that, I thought Malcolm was a great addition to the series, doing exactly the same job that The Doctor himself did for UNIT back in the 1970′s, with a similar blasé attitudes to military authority.
Despite its faults, I enjoyed this story, but for me there was nothing really special about it. Yes it was nice to see the series finally entering the age of High Definition filming and broadcast, but it struck me as being a bit pedestrian. A good story to start a regular series with, but nothing above and beyond that.
3 out of 5