NuWho 10th Anniversary: What Is Your Most Underrated Specials Story?

This year, Doctor Who has been back on our screen ten whole years. It feels like yesterday that the TARDIS materialised once more; suitably, it also feels like forever.

So join us as we celebrate a decade with the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctors. Let’s find out which serials are our favourites, and shine a light on the underrated ones too. Watch us run.

And then vote on your favourites. At the end of the year, we’ll find out which serials showcase our beloved show at the height of its game.

Donna became the most important woman in the universe – and then it was all snatched away from her, and from us. But at least we can relive her adventures whenever we want. You know our favourites of the 2008/9 Specials, but what’s the most underrated serial…?

Tony Jones: Planet of the Dead

10th Tenth Doctor Planet of the Dead

It can’t be argued that 2009 was a funny year for Doctor Who and produced some intriguing and popular episodes that perhaps produced a reaction of So What? For me it is Planet of the Dead we should turn to when we want to look at how 2009 might have been had we been treated to a full season of stories rather than a few specials.

Yes, Planet of the Dead gives us a clue as to the final end of the Tenth Doctor, with the mysterious clue of he will knock four times and its link to David Tennant’s final scenes prior to regeneration. And yes, Planet of the Dead is interesting, as in some ways, it is a Gareth Roberts’s book The Highest Science brought to screen though as he explains in the interviews on the Big Finish audio for the adaption of the latter, the remnants of his original story are actually few.

I think it’s interesting to imagine what could, or should have happened had Planet of the Dead been a two-part introduction to a new series. Most obvious is Michelle Ryan’s companion in all but fact, Lady Christina de Souza. The on-screen chemistry between the characters was strong, and in some ways she could even be seen as an update of the Andrew Cartmel character of Raine Creevy who would have appeared with the Seventh Doctor had the show not taken a brief break for a few years.

I’d also argue (though less obvious at the time) we have another new companion in this story as well. Take the UNIT scientist Malcolm Taylor played by Lee Evans. Is this not just the fan favourite Osgood as played by Ingrid Oliver? It’s not a big leap to change gender and there we have two new companions for the Doctor. We can imagine the arc now: Osgood follows the Doctor around puppy-like for a few episodes but as his behaviour grows more reckless, she rejects him, betrays him, then finally accepts him as a person not as someone to worship. Meanwhile Lady Christina flirts outrageously, upsets River Song, turns out to be working for the Master and in the end gives her life to save the day.

That, to me, is the story of Planet of the Dead – the doorway to the series we never had.

Jeremy Remy: Planet of the Dead

Malcolm Taylor Lee Evans

If I’m honest, I had a hard time with the 2009 Specials. They failed to maintain a connection between plots, relied a bit too much on gimmicks, and had too many one-time companions for my taste. In the end, the interim season felt like a dragged out and unfortunate way to conclude the Tenth Doctor era, and Planet of the Dead may have the most marks against it: it was finished at the last minute (just five days before airing), the CGI is somehow both overdone and underdeveloped, most of the characters are one-dimensional, the acting is over-the-top, and then there’s the condemnable choice to film on location in Dubai.

All this said, I have to admit there are virtues to be found in Planet of the Dead. David Tennant – fresh off his stint as Hamlet with the Royal Shakespeare Company – plays the Doctor with a determination and dedication as fresh as some of his earliest episodes. Arguably the most outrageous character, Malcom, is a predecessor to Osgood, who would later help shift the presentation of UNIT from a punchline back to a professional organization with the Doctor more employee than legend. The episode itself is a clear mark of success as the 200th Doctor Who story. It is also the first episode to be filmed in high definition, changing the way all future episodes of the show have been filmed and allowing for development of Doctor Who on Blu-ray and the possibility of presenting the 50th anniversary in cinemas. And, while it may not live up to the standards we expect from Doctor Who today, it was nominated for a 2010 Hugo Award.

In the end, the episode has its weaknesses, but it succeeds in introducing a new era of Doctor Who.

Drew Boynton: Planet of the Dead

Easter 10th Tenth Doctor Planet of the Dead

You can never go wrong with a Doctor Who story that has either the word “Planet” or “Dead” in the title.  Well, OK… maybe you can. But 2009’s special of the day, Planet of the Dead, is full of cool stuff:  Michelle Ryan, coming off a failed shot at big-time USA stardom in the remake of Bionic Woman, is cool and calculating as a thief who ends of being the Doctor’s companion for a few hours on a desert planet. Comedian Lee Evans is so completely uncool that he’s almost cool as a UNIT scientist who is sort of an over-the-top cheesy forerunner of Osgood. There are a couple of pretty cool-looking housefly-inspired aliens, although most of the budget must have went to their heads (caretaker coveralls, guys? Sheesh).

Planet of the Dead gets my “Most Underrated” vote, though, because of its setting. The episode was famously filmed in the desert of Dubai, and the sandy setting is one of Doctor Who‘s best. The juxtaposition of having a big red London bus sitting smack-dab in the middle of this bright yellow landscape is a really cool idea that must have come to Russell T. Davies after a long night of too much coffee and a friend’s vacation slideshow.

Honestly, in the end, Planet of the Dead doesn’t really come together, but it is a bold and silly try at doing something cool and different, which makes it worthy of an “Underrated” watch on DVD.

Philip Bates: The Next Doctor

The Next Doctor - 10th Tenth Doctor Cybermen

Even I’m surprised I’ve gone for The Next Doctor! My money was on Planet of the Dead, seen as it features beautiful scenery, a mostly-fine plot, Tritovores, and truly wonderful direction.

But The Next Doctor is surprisingly good on a rewatch. Not great – certainly not. But I’ve always a soft spot for Christmas specials. And Cybermen! I love the Cybermen. That’s really the problem with The Next Doctor: one of the Doctor’s best-known and much-loved enemies are undermined completely by the ‘stronger will’ of a pitiful human. And then they blew up because Ms. Hartigan screamed! How disappointing.

But we’re also given breathtaking scenes of the Cybermen’s march through a snowy graveyard, while a vision in red waits over a coffin. It’s a surprise that director, Andy Goddard has never been invited back – yet – but his sole contribution so far looks amazing. He does a particularly great job at livening up the typically-dour Victorian setting. Infostamps displaying the Doctor’s many faces help this, mind. The factory sets towards the end are fairly uninspiring, but hey, you can’t have it all.

And no, I’m not a huge fan of the so-called CyberKing (or the Shades for that matter), but only because people would definitely remember a great big dreadnaught hulking over London. Fortunately, Steven Moffat cleared up this omission in Flesh and Stone, and so cleverly too. Nonetheless, the shots of the Doctor sending it to disintegrate in the Time Vortex are fantastic.

The heart, of course, is David Morrissey, who displays the breathless excitement and heartbreaking loss of both being the Doctor and Jackson Lake perfectly. It’s a mystery seemingly over within half an hour, but his performance sticks in the mind, as do his interactions with the ever-excellent David Tennant. The next Doctor, as we now know, was fortunately the exceptional Matt Smith, but I wouldn’t actually mind if Morrissey still turned out to be a future face of the Time Lord. For that one brief Christmas in 2008, he did superbly.

Katie Gribble: Planet of the Dead

Planet of the Dead 200 Bus

Out of the Specials, Planet of the Dead has never reached the top of any polls for viewer favourite. However, there is a particular group of people who are not recognised enough, mainly because their narrative is secondary to the main action with the Doctor and the Lady Christina. This group is the supporting cast. Namely the characters on the bus who are dragged into the Doctor Who universe, whether they wanted it or not. Lou and Carmen, Nathan, Barclay, and Angela are all taken on a journey to a far flung world, when all they really want to do is get home. They are the epitome of a very human trait; the weary travellers wanting to go home. The scene which shows this beautifully begins when Christina makes everybody on the bus introduce themselves.

You have Angela going home to Mike and Suzanne. Barclay going to see poor Tina. Nathan who lost his job last week and was staying in to watch television. Then Louis and Carmen off home for Lou to cook chops for dinner. And of course, Christina who is going so very far away.

What is so wonderful about this scene, these characters and what Doctor Who can do is highlight how the everyday, how the normal human way of life can be so extraordinary.

James Lomond: Planet of the Dead

Tritovores Planet of the Dead

Planet of the Dead wasn’t great, but it had so much that was pitch-perfect Doctor Who it seems strange that it hasn’t got a better reputation. That could be due to a number of things – a slightly loose plot and a few over-camp or overacted performances spring to mind. But the idea of a group of people thrown together by chance, stuck on the far side of an otherworldly portal with mystery and danger lurking in an alien landscape while UNIT (hurrah!) frets back on Earth is a perfect Pertwee set-up.

There are some wonderful images and conceits – a skeleton emerging from nowhere as the driver makes a break for it, and the glorious sight of a red London bus taking to the air and transporting its passengers through a worm hole and even the stingray-like creatures that create such space-time anomalies by flying around a planet at extreme speeds en mass to seek out another planet to drain is a brilliant idea for a species and its behaviour. This was the first NuWho to appear in HD and good use was made of the location work in Dubai. My main gripe, other than the occasional CBBC flavour, was that now we’ve had a flying London bus in this special, we’re unlikely to ever see the Transtemporal Adventuress, Iris Wildthyme, appear in her TARDIS disguised as the number 22 to Putney Common. While she is both a deliberate parody of the Doctor on the part of her creator and on the part of the character herself, there’s something a bit fantastic about flying buses and I can’t blame NuWho for pilfering the idea.

So pity poor Planet of the Dead. It’s got a lot that misses the mark but a lot more to love. Just imagine it with the Third Doctor and Jo…

Alex Skerratt: Planet of the Dead

Planet of the Dead 10th Tenth Doctor

I feel a bit sorry for Planet of the Dead. It’s no masterpiece, but it has a lot going for it. The location work in Dubai is stunning, and Lee Evans gives a wonderfully comedic performance as Malcolm Taylor, UNIT’s science man! Moreover, there are some truly sinister elements, such as the sudden, almost throwaway death of the bus driver, and the gross Tritovores, and the eerie prophecies of the chops n’ gravy lady. Then there’s the cliffhanger… Well, if you can call it a cliffhanger. “He will knock four times…” Such an intriguing, and now iconic, line… Yes, this story is no stinker. 6 Malcolms from me!

Well, that was nearly unanimous! That’s what we think. Now it’s your turn! Vote below for the most underrated serial of these four storylines, and we’ll find out the overall winner later this year…

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22 Responses

  1. Dr. Moo says:

    The Next Doctor. Not excellent by any stretch of the imagination but it’s still loads of fun which is important for the Christams Special especially after the depressing end to the previous story. Just ignore the Cyberking and Cybershades and you’ll find a daft premise being pulled off successfully due to strong performances from all involved.

  2. John McJohnson says:

    Planet of the Dead and The End of Time are not underrated at all, they’re just complete garbage at best. The Waters of Mars isn’t underrated either as it is nothing short of beautiful perfection. So by default the middle-of-the-road The Next Doctor is my most underrated. It’s just a bit of fun but unlike PotD it does bear repeat viewings.

    • Edward Delingford says:

      Agree. TEOT is simply an embarrasment on all fronts; from the ludicrous plot, messianic and bombastic tone, Tennant’s self absorbed acting at its most cringeworthy, endless self congratulatory ending and mawkish and artificial attempts to wring the heartstrings, ending up with the reviled whining of Tennant as he finally leaves the role.. Thankfully we at least get a few minutes of Matt to get some of the bile from the throat. Planet is simply dull and lazily written. Neither could be under rated when they are both at the bottom end of most Best Of lists. Waters is perhaps a tad over rated but watchable, so logic only leaves Next Doctor, a harmless and instantly forgettable bit of Christmas fluff similar to the much better Widow, but neither is a world beater.

  3. WarDoctor says:

    I’m not able to vote for my choice, the obscure entry to the specials year the animated episode Dreamland starring Georgia Moffett as the companion with the wonderful David Warner as well. The length of a regular 45min episode but animated for some reason. Well worth a watch, even if the animation is a little shoddy. The most well kept secret of NuWho.

  4. Mrs F says:

    My most underrated is The Next Doctor. But can I draw attention to my second place? It is The End of Time.
    While I don’t think The End of Time is any good it does have some good stuff in there to make it worthwhile. Bernard Cribbens is the most obvious but there’s also our first glimpse of the Time War, we learn why the War Doctor had to take The Moment, Matt Smith, James Bond playing Rassilon… No sane person can ever claim it’s even a slightly good story but there are some good bits in there.

  5. Individual of Doom says:

    The Waters of Mars is surrounded by two of the worst stories ever put to film. For that reason I think it’s often unfairly overlooked and is why I consider it to be underrated.

  6. Doc7 says:

    I don’t really like most of these but Waters is great. I think Next is good goofy fun however, it’s the sort of episode you watch if you’ve got a spare hour and want something entertaining but not too challenging.

  7. Planet of the Deaf says:

    On the grounds that WoM is a highly regarded episode (and deservedly) while TEOT to me is overrated, that leaves a choice of two.
    Next Doctor has some great interactions between the Doctor and Jackson, a really interesting character, but the cyberman stuff is a bit duff
    POTD is a reasonable story, it’s certainly shows ambition from a production point of view, and I quite liked Lady Christina as a potential Companion, as someone who was rich, confident and morally dubious she would have made a nice contrast.
    POTD it is, as when I was hunting around for a user name elsewhere for my Who stuff, I ended up basing my username on it!

  8. Ranger says:

    I’ve gone for Planet of the Dead. If you ignore ‘er from EastEnders, there are some goodish performances and an interesting idea struggling to get out. Pity about Lee Evans, stunt casting on the level with Ken Dodd and just makes it more naff.

    • Dr. Moo says:

      And there I was thinking Lee Evans was the only thing in that episode to make it worth revisiting! His character even got namedropped in the fiftieth.

      • Ranger says:

        Complete caricature. Osgood much better and believable

        • Edward Delingford says:

          Agree. Osgood takes the ‘best’ bits out of what they were trying to achieve in Malcolm and make them much better. A much better sketched out character and I am hoping we get to see more of her in series 9 as promised. Lee Evans like a lot of RTD stunt casting (Kylie! Peter Kaye! Sharon Osbourne!) failed miserably.

        • Castellan Spandrel says:

          Malcolm is more like Sgt. Osgood from the Daemons, in the sense of taking instructions from the Doctor and appearing a bit of a twit.

  9. Castellan Spandrel says:

    End of Time, all the way.

    It’s like a drunk in the form of a Doctor Who story, one minute crying into its beer, the next dancing badly to crap disco and then telling you you’re its best mate as it tries to hug you to death. It’s all over the place: messy, self-indulgent, lopsided, flatulent (EDIT: outstays its welcome, like this post), with so much in it that I find it more interesting and rewatchable than the superior but far more sober and straightforward Waters of Mars.

    I love this story, unabashedly. I like the Master becoming everybody, even though it’s nonsense; that gloating face on every man, woman and child is a truly disturbing image, like something from an Aphex Twin video. An Ood in front of a traffic light – pure Doctor Who. Who can resist a teary Sarah Jane? I love Wilf and the return of the Time Lords, with one of the most imposing of the modern Who villains in the form of Timothy Dalton. The ‘knocks’ at the end ( I say ‘the end’, I mean of course about half an hour before the end!) is superbly played out. I even like the sodding Vinvocci! Most of all, I admire it for daring to go into darker territory during the baubled, cheery cold-turkey Yuletide hinterland.

    The widely criticised ‘I don’t wanna go.’ What would you prefer – for the 10th Doctor to wander off into the distance with a cap on his head and a carrier bag, singing ‘Bring me Sunshine’? It”s clearly delineated earlier on, when the Doctor meets Will in the caff, that each regeneration is a death for the Doctor. It matters to him. For that reason, I prefer this regeneration to the Eccleston one with the rubbish jokes about Barcelona and dogs wi’ no noses.

    I can’t pretend EoT is in any way perfect. I still don’t get the opening scene in the church or the relevance of the Ood to anything, nor why Donna fails to hear the very loud TARDIS engines outside her house. I can do without some of the Doctor’s catch-ups, which seem to go on forever; by the time he got to Joan Redfern’s (great?) grand-daughter I was struggling, while Sarah Jane and Wilf at the church are very affecting. But it’s much better than the perceived fan wisdom has it. It’s a ragbag, an overstuffed Xmas stocking. With Matt Smith inside it when you get to the end as a bonus!

    Planet of the Dead is poor, though. Pointless overseas location filming, weak story with only Lee Evans offering much in the way of fun, though the monsters escaping to present day London and getting zapped by UNIT is decent Bank Holiday fare. There’s also the dodgy notion at the end that the police are bad for trying to arrest a thief. Hmm.

  10. TimeChaser says:

    I don’t feel any are underrated. I think they all get rated pretty accurately: The Next Doctor is OK, Planet of the Dead is a fluffy waste of time, The Water of Mars is genius, and The End of Time drags on too long and indulges in too much maudlin emotion.

  11. Mihaela Pestritu says:

    Bit at a crossroad here,for several reasons.First,because no matter what the title says,I`m tempted to go for my favorite anyway,and that`s The End Of Time.Second,because if I was to really go with underrated,I should probably pick Planet of the Dead.Because I thought it was awesome,spicy,and I wished Michelle Ryan as a steady companion for Tennant,almost as much as I did Kylie Minogue.If you have any questions as to why,please refer to the pictures above,or rewatch the episode.That`s almost too much brilliance to put together.The charisma of that couple alone gives me the shivers.And I hardly ever hear it mentioned.

    But in the end,I`m gonna have to go with The End Of time.If for no other reason,then simply for all the -injust,in my opinion- bashing,that episode has received.”Too much drama”,”too long of a goodbye”,”an unreasonably sad Doctor”,etc,etc.Well,damn it,I thought it was bloody perfect!The script was rich,the plot kept me stuck to my chair and begging for more,and I just can`t imagine why a good writer wouldn`t fully take advantage of Tennant`s natural talent for drama,in order to make your heart bleed down to the last drop.Well,he can enjoy mine.That good-bye was so much more than a reincarnation,it was the end of an era,and damn you RTD,you made sure everybody understood that.And well,Tennant was the most alive Doctor out there -please don`t even bother telling me I didn`t see Baker,I`ve seen them all,several times.It only made sense he`d be the one to punch the air the hardest when he came out.To me at least,if not to anybody else.

    Just in case I didn`t make myself crystal clear yet,let me tell you this.I have rewatched Doctor Who episodes waaay too many times.So much in fact,that Hartnell`s Marco Polo became one of my favorites.And all 7 episodes of it are lost!Meaning I have thoroughly enjoyed a remix made of hand-coloured pictures and horrible soundtrack.And yet,there`s only one point where I linger,instead of moving on.And that`s 2-3 episodes before The End Of Time.I know what`s coming,and I just can`t…it sometimes takes me half a year.I`m afraid I may have ignored poor Matt Smith a bit too much,for that reason alone.Can`t say I deeply regret it though,I really couldn`t fancy the guy,no matter what.But yeah….The End of Time was damn straight amazing,for yours truly.I wouldn`t want to change the smallest thing.And so it gets my vote…

    • Ranger says:

      Yes, a fellow fan of End! I was beginning to think I was all alone. I wonder if like/dislike of End falls along gender lines? Is End just too emotional for most men? Or is this stereotyping men too much? After all I have a father who loves chick-flicks and a mother who hates them…

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