Doctor Who

Saturday, April 11, 2009 by

The following is a transcript from a media studies conference in April 2019. It was held at the University of Surrey as part of a weekend of discussions and seminars with the umbrella title: Trends in 21st Century Family Entertainment. This particular session was timed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the transmission of the episode of Doctor Who, Planet of the Dead.

CHAIRMAN: Can I begin by welcoming you all to this question-and-answer session, and to thank the members of the panel for agreeing to join us so bright and early. I trust that, if we’re not all quite awake at the moment, we certainly will be by the end!

[polite laughter from the audience]

CHAIR: Sitting on my left is Richard Pugh, who was an assistant commissioning editor in the BBC Drama department when Planet of the Dead was made.

RICHARD PUGH: Good morning.

CHAIR: And on my right is Michelle Ryan, who played Lady Christina in the episode, and who can currently, if I’ve got this correct, be seen in the cinema in Pirates of the Caribbean: Warriors of the Deep.

[knowing chuckles from the audience]


CHAIR: I’d like to begin by asking Richard to explain the background to the episode, specifically the thinking behind a one-off episode at Easter, a strategy that had not previously been tried with Doctor Who and was never attempted again.

RP: Well, I…

CHAIR: I’m sorry, I do believe we already have a question from the floor.

QUESTIONER 1: It’s not a question. Doctor Who had been on at Easter before.

RP: Yes, but surely as part of an ongoing series?


CHAIR: Richard, the background?

RP: To what?

CHAIR: Planet of the Dead.

RP: Well, I’m not sure there’s much to say. It was agreed that there would be a number of one-off episodes of Doctor Who during 2009, and that one would be at Easter.

CHAIR: Agreed by whom?

RP: I’m sorry?

CHAIR: Who decided to schedule a one-off episode for the Easter weekend?

RP: I can’t quite remember. The BBC is a big place!

CHAIR: You were working in the Drama department at the time, so presumably you were involved in the decision?

RP: I don’t think so.

CHAIR: Who was?

RP: In the BBC?

CHAIR: They made the programme!

RP: You know I really don’t recall.

CHAIR: Are you sure?

RP: Er…

CHAIR: You see, I’m just trying to establish responsibility.

RP: Of course.

CHAIR: Were you responsible?

RP: No.

CHAIR: Who was?

RP: You know I really don’t recall.

CHAIR: I see. In that case, perhaps you can tell us a little about the process involved in commissioning and producing the episode.

RP: Well, it was all pretty standard stuff, really.

CHAIR: Go on…

RP: Signing contracts, checking the budget, that sort of thing. I’m sure you don’t want to hear a lot of boring stuff about the BBC accounts!

CHAIR: No, true, I’d rather hear about the production of this episode.

RP: Everything came in on time and on budget. It was all very painless.

CHAIR: I see…

RP: And it was a joy to be involved in Doctor Who. It really was. I’d always watched it when I was growing up!

CHAIR: What you’re saying is actually quite interesting. You’re implying you didn’t really have any involvement in the actual creation, the production, of the episode at all. And yet you were at the BBC Drama department.

RP: That’s correct.

CHAIR: Who commissioned and produced Doctor Who.

RP: Well, it was made by BBC Wales.

CHAIR: But commissioned by your department.

RP: Ex-department.

CHAIR: Don’t you think, in retrospect, the BBC Drama department should have been having more direct input into Doctor Who? At this stage in the programme’s history?

RP: I’m not sure what you mean.

CHAIR: I mean, actually supervising its production, to the extent of signing off scripts, vetting ideas, offering notes during filming and editing…

RP: Well, all of that is…

CHAIR: Is standard procedure in commissioning departments.

RP: But not on Doctor Who.

CHAIR: Exactly.

RP: Er…

CHAIR: Oh, a question from the floor.

QUESTIONER 2: I’d like to ask Michelle, why do you think the Doctor, who is a character driven above all else by morals, should, in this episode, become best friends with a thief and then arrange for her to escape punishment?

MR: I’m sorry, I…

QUESTIONER 2: I just don’t see how it sets a good example to viewers, that’s all. Especially families. A credible example, rather.

CHAIR: Maybe Richard can elaborate?

RP: I wasn’t party to decisions about storylines…

CHAIR: Of course, I forgot.

RP: But I’m sure the Doctor always does what he believes to be right. He’s one of the good guys, after all!

QUESTIONER 2: But I don’t think this episode showed that he is. After watching it again the other day, I wasn’t sure what he was: good, bad, anything.

CHAIR: Richard, to what extent was the BBC concerned by aspects such as characterisation at this point in Doctor Who‘s history?

RP: Well, Doctor Who was one of the BBC’s flagship programmes. We all took great interest in its success.

CHAIR: I’m sure you did. But at this particular point in its history?

RP: So?

CHAIR: A critical moment.

RP: In what way?

CHAIR: Well, the next actor to play Doctor Who had been announced. I would have thought everybody at the BBC would be concerned that those remaining episodes starring David Tennant were not overshadowed by this news, and the expectation of things to come. That they were just as fresh and exciting as previous ones. That everyone involved was still at the peak of their game.

RP: We never had that much of a hands-on role in the programme.

CHAIR: But you had done. Not you personally, but…

RP: No, I think you’ll find…

CHAIR: I think you’ll find that to begin with, Mal Young, head of BBC Drama, was an executive producer on Doctor Who.

RP: Yes, but he left.

CHAIR: And wasn’t replaced. Or rather, his role on Doctor Who was not filled with a replacement.

RP: Look, I really don’t see what…

CHAIR: With the greatest respect, what I’m trying to establish is the exact degree to which supervision of Doctor Who had passed out of the BBC’s control and was, at that point in its history, being left entirely to the own devices of writers and producers working exclusively on the programme. With, in the case of this episode in particular, certain…consequences.

RP: Just what do you mean?

CHAIR: Another question from the audience.

QUESTIONER 3: Hello. I’d like to ask Richard, why was so much of this episode a rehash of a previous one? Characters from mixed backgrounds stuck on a bus facing an unknown alien enemy. That was the plot of an episode from the previous series.

QUESTIONER 4: And someone speaking in tongues, saying stuff like “They are coming”. That had all been done before.

CHAIR: One question at a time please.

QUESTIONER 3: I remember watching the episode with my two young children, and even they noticed how much of it was the same.

RP: I don’t think there should be a law against repeating a good idea…

QUESTIONER 3: But that’s the point. It wasn’t a good idea this time round, because it was a rehash of something that’d been on 12 months before. It was like they couldn’t be bloody bothered.

CHAIR: Was that something that concerned you at the time, Richard?

RP: I’m sure any worries we might have had about repetition would have been passed on to the production team.

QUESTIONER 4: I have a question for Michelle. Why was the bus that was damaged when it landed on the alien planet suddenly seem to be completely good as new when it was flying in the air at the end of the episode?

MR: I’m sorry, I…

CHAIR: If I may, I’d like to return to the matter of David Tennant’s characterisation of the Doctor at this point in the programme’s history. It didn’t worry you that he might become a bit demob happy? Not commit himself fully? Not, to be frank, to be very bothered?

[a still is displayed from the episode]

RP: Er, well what you’ve got there is David showing just one side of the Doctor’s personality.

CHAIR: Precisely. Just the one side. And no other. For much of this episode!

RP: I didn’t realise this was going to be quite so much of an interrogation…

CHAIR: Not an interrogation, Richard, just a question and answer session. We ask the questions and you…

RP: I’m giving you all the answers I can. It’s just a shame they don’t seem to be the ones you want to hear.

[murmurs from audience]

CHAIR: On the contrary; we’d be overjoyed to hear any answers you have to give us. They’ve been in short supply so far…

RP: Look, I…

CHAIR: I see there’s another question from the floor.

QUESTIONER 5: I have a question for Michelle.

CHAIR: Good.

QUESTIONER 5: Michelle, did you choose to play your character as somebody with all the charisma of a tent-peg, or is that merely your default acting style?

MR: I’m sorry, I…

CHAIR: No abusive questions, please.

QUESTIONER 5: I’m just saying what I felt.

CHAIR: Well, you certainly didn’t get many good lines.

QUESTIONER 4: Nobody got many good lines. Who has conversations about “chops and gravy” in real life?!

[audience applauds]

RP: But Doctor Who isn’t about real life.

CHAIR: Isn’t it? I thought the very core of this episode was about real characters from real life. If not, what were all those clunking references to the recession doing there? Icelandic banks, somebody losing their job?


QUESTIONER 6: I have a question. What was the deal with the break-in at the start? Was it a homage to The Return of the Pink Panther?

[more audience laughter]

RP: You tell me. You seem to know more about the episode than I.

CHAIR: Which is a shame, seeing as you were in the BBC Drama department at the time of its production.

RP: Look, I’ve already told you…

QUESTIONER 6: And the music: whose idea was it to try and ape Raiders Of The Lost Ark?

CHAIR: I thought it was more like One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing, to be honest.

QUESTIONER 4: And what about the flying pancakes with metal teeth?

RP: What about them?

QUESTIONER 4: If, as claimed in the episode, they generate their worm-holes by flying faster and faster round a planet, how do they ever work up enough speed to create a massive hole, as surely they’ll all pass through it the moment it starts to appear?

RP: I’m stumped.

QUESTIONER 5: And if things like London buses can pass through the hole in the other direction, why didn’t other things from Earth end up disappearing and landing on the alien planet?

CHAIR: Richard?

RP: I really have no idea.

CHAIR: These things didn’t occur to you at the time?

RP: As I’ve already explained, we didn’t have anything to do with the storyline…

CHAIR: Do you regret that you didn’t?

RP: In what way?

CHAIR: I’m asking if you’ll apologise for…

RP: For what?

QUESTIONER 2: I have another question for Michelle. Why were the policeman in the episode portrayed in such a lazy, clich├ęd fashion, as being hopeless, clumsy oafs?

MR: I’m sorry, I…

CHAIR: At least somebody is.

[long pause]

CHAIR: Perhaps it’s best that we take a short break…

RP: I really don’t see what the point would be in my returning.

[he starts to leave]

CHAIR: Michelle, I wonder if you would…

RP: I don’t see the point in either of us returning, to be honest.


RP: Goodbye.

CHAIR: In which case, er, in which case I should thank both our guests for their participation in this session…

RP: Don’t bother.

[they both leave; the audience begins to disperse]

CHAIR: And I’ve, er, and I’ve been asked to remind you all that the next panel, titled ‘We’ll Have A Gay Old Time: Sexuality and Gender in The Flintstones‘, has been postponed until this afternoon, due to the speaker being locked out of his house…by a giant pet dinosaur.

[Note: Following her role in Doctor Who in 2009, Michelle Ryan was cast as the lead in the TV biopic Jade: Catch A Falling Star. After a few years spent "taking a break from the business", she returned to the screen in 2017 appearing opposite Michael Sheen in No 10: Cameron's Den. Doctor Who was cancelled by the BBC in 2012 due to falling ratings.]


10 Responses to “Doctor Who”

  1. h,T on April 13th, 2009 8:08 pm

    The questioners and chair seem ahh.
    *highly unpleasent*

  2. Applemask on April 13th, 2009 9:19 pm

    Whine whine whine.

  3. Simon Underwood on April 13th, 2009 9:39 pm

    Well, I for one would have spoken up in favour of the programme at that conference. Good fun, no emotional heavy lifting (leave it for the series) and no edging-on-slightly-retarded comic relief (casting a sideways look at the Queen in Voyage of the Damned)

    And if you know where I can buy tent-pegs like that, let me know, because Michelle Ryan put in a great performance (see any hint of Zoe Slater in there? Nope, me either) and to even suggest in a humourous article she could be cast as Jade Goody is slightly in the realm of…well, retarded Doctor Who comic relief.

  4. Nick H on April 13th, 2009 11:35 pm

    To be fair, with the exception of Lee Evans, the episode was a bit bobbins. Definite ‘going through the motions’ quality about it. Also anything remotely associated with Gareth Roberts is going to be poor. There’s one word I use to describe his contributions to Doctor Who: trite.

    And beleive me, I have no axe to grind over the revivial unlike some quarters (*cough* tvcream), but at this rate, Matt Smith and Steven Moffatt can’t come soon enough…

  5. Iain Griffiths on April 14th, 2009 7:29 pm

    Good grief, that was really horrid, none of the questioners wanted to ask questions you could actually answer, but just vent spleen. Kudos to the BBC for releasing that, I’d have been in 2 minds about it . I can see why RTD isn’t too concerned by ‘the fans’ if that’s how they act when given a chance to ask questions direct to a panel.

    For me it was a bit lightweight, not terribly interesting apart from the odd bit here and there – a bit more Flight of The Phoenix was needed I thought to make it more interesting. Michelle was OK , seeing as she was given nothing more than Lara Croft to play, Lee Evans overplayed his role a bit but was OK , but liked the Bernard units. Did feel a bit of a Photofit episode , bits of one episode cut and pasted with others . It was fine , nothing more than that.

  6. David Pascoe on April 14th, 2009 10:45 pm

    If I was to be charitable, I would say that Russell T Davies was being demob-happy in this episode but I hated it. For the first time since it came back, it made a concession to a guest star’s past with Lee Evans’s gurning and overacting, Michelle Ryan was very “Meh” and lo and behold we see the Doctor getting snogged again. I know it’s the 21st Century but it still jars.

    On the plus side, it was good to see an alien planet again and “The Waters of Mars” looks very exciting. However, this was a non-event.

  7. Applemask on April 16th, 2009 3:28 pm

    The only reason anyone could honestly dislike this episode was by actively trying to.

  8. Steve on April 21st, 2009 8:06 pm

    Firstly, I get the terrible impression that come of the commenters on here think that the fictional conference that makes up the review *really* took place! Check the opening paragraph, folks.

    Anyhoo, fact is – yes, it was a bit “by the numbers”, and yes, the Doctor helping a criminal to escape goes against everything he is meant to stand for. Yes, the characterisation was lazy, yes, everything in it has been done before, and better, in other Doctor Who episodes.

    But as a piece of no-brain-required entertainment on a Saturday night? Absolutely fine.

  9. Billy Hicks on April 24th, 2009 7:44 am

    Did none of the questioners note that the bus itself was clearly a very old one made some time in the 1970s, the like of which hasn’t been seen on London streets for many years? It bothered me for the entire episode, that and the numberplate changing depending on when the bus was CGI and when it was real.

    I’ll get my coat.

  10. Dave Ross on June 21st, 2009 10:52 pm

    I found the Lee Evans character in this story cringe-making, especially his obsequious worship of the Doctor (“I love you”). The woman in charge of UNIT was another odd one – one moment she’s condemning the Doctor to a certain death by closing off his means of escape, the next she’s fulsomely welcoming him back. Bizarre.