I’ve been thinking recently about “Planet of the Dead”. It’s not a very highly-regarded episode of Doctor Who, and in my mind, it’s easily the weakest of the four specials after series 4. It was a good-enough adventure, but nothing remarkable. It’s probably best known for featuring Michelle Ryan as the companion-of-the-day, Lady Christina de Souza.
The thing that’s interesting to me about “Planet of the Dead” is that I didn’t like Lady Christina. In case you don’t remember the episode, it starts with her breaking into a museum to steal an artifact, a golden goblet that once belonged to an ancient British king (I don’t remember which one, and I’m too lazy to go look it up). During her escape, she boards a bus and in few moments, the Doctor sits next to her, offering her a chocolate orange. The bus then travels through a wormhole and lands on a desert planet, and she and the Doctor work together to get the bus back to Earth.
I remember very clearly that she immediately rubbed me the wrong way, and it upset me when the Doctor considered taking her on as a companion. At the time, the two reasons why were because she was clearly amoral, selfish, and greedy and because her interest in traveling with the Doctor stemmed from her boredom with her life – it wasn’t that she wanted to see the universe or do good things or wanted to become a better person. I couldn’t see why the Doctor found her interesting at all, except that she intrigued him because she was capable, used to taking charge, and carried with her all kinds of useful implements. I was very happy when he turned her down. (I didn’t pick up on the reason why he turned her down until my second viewing of the episode. I have to admit that I didn’t really get the overarching theme of the four specials until I saw them again, despite the fact that it’s what made them good; sometimes I can be really dense.)
Now I wonder whether or not my initial judgment of her was too harsh. She might have been interested in joining the Doctor because she was bored with her life, but she wasn’t the first prospective companion to join the Doctor for that reason: the most prominent was Rose. Of course, Rose stayed with the Doctor for very different reasons, but her initial reason was because her life was stagnant, and I didn’t dislike her for that. (I will note that I don’t like Rose, but for very different reasons.) Another is Peri, who found herself on the TARDIS by accident and chose to stay there because she didn’t have much of a life she wanted to go back to. But again, I didn’t dislike Peri when she first appeared, and she developed into a great friend for the Doctor.
Lady Christina’s amorality, selfishness, and greed is probably the greater reason for my not liking her, but again, there are other companions who have these traits. Turlough joins the TARDIS crew initially with the express purpose of assassinating the Doctor, and later is put into situations in which he’s tempted and has to overcome his desire for certain things, both physical and emotional, and again, I don’t dislike him. In fact, I find him to be a fascinating character, because of the things he goes through and how he grows from his experiences.
And because of all of this, I wonder if I dislike Lady Christina simply because we only got to see a very small, unflattering glimpse of her, and that she might have been a wonderful companion if the Doctor had taken her along and brought out her good characteristics, like he’d done for his previous companions? Or, perhaps, I would have enjoyed her story more if she’d turned out like Adam, the only time we’ve ever seen a failed companion. Adam wasn’t a sympathetic character, but his story was great. I guess we’ll never know, but it does make me yearn to see how things would have turned out if she’d been given a chance.