Sci-fi wins and fails of 2009 – Star Trek and Doctor Who Planet of the Dead

I’M a bit behind with my science fiction wins and fails of 2009 series of posts what with Christmas getting in the way and all that, but here is my latest offering.

Today’s win is Star Trek and the fail is Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead

Star Trek

I went to see JJ Abrams‘ thrillfest as soon as it came out and was blown away by the amount of excitement he packed into every shot.
The reboot of the Enterprise crew coming together was handled with verve, skill and perfect casting too, with Chris Pine living upto Shatner as Captain Kirk and everyone else fitting into place around him. (Although I would like to see more of Doctor McCoy in the next film – Karl Urban was great)
The effects were jaw dropping and seeing Leonard Nimoy as Spock again was very emotional (once you ignore the enormous coincidence of how new Kirk come to meet him).
Alot of Abrams’ TV work has passed me by, but on the big screen his greatest strength is how he paces his films, managing to fit in quieter, character moments at the same time as making you feel like the film is absolutely flying by.
He did the same thing on Mission Impossible 3 which was my favourite of the series and I look forward to seeing him keep it up as this series develops.
Special mention must go to the team behind the remastered original series of Star Trek, currently showing on the CBS Action channel in the UK. If you haven’t seen them, they take the original episodes and carefully fold in modern day special effects for things like phaser blasts, the Enterprise in space, shuttles taking off and so on.
The result is fantastic, with the great stories that explain why Star Trek is still going strong still very much to the fore and now backed up by great visuals too. Check them out.

Doctor Who Planet of the Dead

It takes alot for me to lash out at the Who, but this special made me do it. In fact special is probably overstating the case – it should have been called a lame and a below average because this was very much Doctor Who coasting in neutral.
Basically the Doctor is on a bus that travels through a wormhole to an alien desert on another world. That world had been destroyed by a race of stingray like monsters who want to visit and consume Earth next.
That leaves the Doctor and people on the bus in a race against time to return before they are eaten and then seal the wormhole for good.
It sounds like it should be exciting and it was also filmed in Dubai’s vast desert, but for all the use they made of it, the show may as well have been filmed on Southport beach.
It was just too by the numbers – an attractive and dynamic companion, an ethnically representative group of people sharing the adventure (one of whom had psychic powers, natch), unconvincing fly aliens.
Although the stingray aliens were meant to be this unstoppable force, you never got any sense of danger and while Tennant is always watchable, you need more than this to make a Doctor Who special.
I wonder if one of the reasons for its lack of impact was in part Russell T Davies’s writing style. He works using what he calls the maybe, a hotchpotch of bubbling ideas in his head which makes for some fantastically creative and exciting episodes.
But perhaps because he knows things about characters or creatures or worlds in the maybe that never make it to the screen for budgetary or story reasons, we can’t share the same level of excitement and impact that he originally conceived?
Just a thought, and Davies more than made up for this with his work on Who before and since then, but the Planet of the Dead was a missed opportunity.
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