In a way, I'm grateful that there are only four Doctor Who specials throughout 2009 instead of a full season. Part of it is my feeling that Season 4 was merely OK, but nothing to write home about - but it also means that a lot more care can be taken with the writing of four "special" episodes...and since this is the countdown towards David Tennant's end as the Doctor, it seems appropriate to begin making these mini-events.
With Planet of the Dead making its premiere Easter weekend (and does anyone know if it was televised at the same time as Red Dwarf: Back to Earth?), it would be easy to dismiss it. I'm glad to say that it's not a flat-out classic...but it's a pretty enjoyable episode in and of itself.
Much of it is due to the chemistry between David Tennant and Michelle Ryan, who seems to be having a lot more fun than when she was starring in her last genre series. There's a great, almost breezy chemistry which dominates the episode (which really, plot-wise, is rather simple - but that's meant as a compliment). It's kind of what early Series Two hinted at with the Doctor and Rose - a kind of ease with each other bordering on the romantic. In fact, it's almost shocking when, towards the end, we see a flash of the shell-shocked Ninth Doctor, not wanting to get connected.
(And the episode makes it clear that, to quote another Series 4 episode, the Doctor's song will soon be over. However, there's a small clue that hints....it may be more than we expect).
I'm also glad that this is, in many ways, also a U.N.I.T. episode - I heartily admit, I am a U.N.I.T. fanboy, so having a healthy amount of guns and ammo is a good thing..in fact, I secretly hope that this episode is setting up a good situation for Moffatt to take advantage of in a later season. However, this also leads to my minor quibble....
...and that's the character of Malcolm Taylor, aka the "loving portrait of Doctor Who fandom".
Granted, I'm being a little oversensitive on this - I quite enjoyed Lee Evans playing a guy attempting to live up to the Doctor's shadow. But to make him a slightly overfawning...well, geek? It just didn't sit well with me. Not enough to make me dislike the episode...just enough to make it annoying.
However, this was, in my opinion, one of the best new Who episodes to date. I'm glad that it's not part of a season, sandwiched between episodes. It seems as if having time between episodes is giving Davies (with, this time round, help from Gareth Roberts) a chance to do a little bit stronger writing.
Although I wish we had more Who, I would rather have better quality Who on a semi-regular basis...and I thoroughly enjoyed this episode.
Very Highly Recommended.