There’s one reason why I adore this story, and that’s Lady Christina de Souza. She’s amazing. I just can’t help being absolutely taken with her every time I watch this episode, making an otherwise mediocre episode hugely enjoyable and highly rewatchable. I’m actually serious; Michelle Ryan is the only reason I like this episode. She’s the difference between this episode being a poor story and a good story. Lady Christina was a self-confident, outgoing, sexy, feisty, assertive aristocrat, and her partnership with the Tenth Doctor made for wonderfully entertaining viewing. An atypical companion, not conforming to the traditional “ask questions, help out and look pretty” archetype (apart from the looking pretty bit), she was very much comfortable being in control and telling the Doctor what to do. She was very much the Doctor’s equal, not his subservient assistant, and she wasn’t content to let the Doctor tell her what to do and presume to be her superior. She’s a Lady, after all — she expects to be treated with respect.
She was feisty, asserting her personality by teasing and playfully flirting with the Doctor, as well as telling him her mind when she wanted to. She had an attitude and a spunk that made her an extraordinary woman: she was seemingly unfazed by finding herself on an alien world, meeting two walking flies and entering an alien craft… she seemed to regard everything with a kind of lordly, haughty disdain that set her apart from the usual breathless young girls the Doctor takes with him. She was sexy and she knew it. “Your body heat is raising the temperature,” said the Doctor. “I tend to have that effect.” Oh, girly. I have to say, this is the first companion I’ve genuinely crushed on. It was infatuation at first sight, I’m not ashamed to admit. A lot like Patrick Troughton, she seems to make every scene she’s in sparkle, which is quite a feat as this story was substantially tedious and unexciting. I thought Lady Christina and the Tenth Doctor made a ripping pair, and I would have absolutely loved to have seen at least a series of them together. I regard it as a great shame that Lady Christina couldn’t have been a proper companion; her character was just too brilliant to be a one-off. In truth, even from this one story, I would say that I like her more than any of the proper revival companions, apart from Amy.
As I said, Lady Christina is the only thing that makes this episode as watchable and enjoyable as it is. Try to imagine this story without her. Pretty boring, right? It’s a simplistic and uninspiring plot that basically consists of the Doctor going to collect some clamps from a crashed spaceship, with the entirely unexciting twist of his having to do it before those stingray things get there before him (which, of course, you know he’s going to do). For a so-called “specials” year, I think fans would be justified in being underwhelmed. The only thing that really redeems the plot is the setting: the desert world was aesthetically impressive, realised beautifully in high definition, this episode being the first shot in HD. That said, although it’s emphatically true that the plot was tedious and didn’t contain enough substantive content to fill out the full sixty minutes, the sixty-minute format allowed for a slowing down of pace and the inclusion of some quality, quieter little scenes such as the Doctor’s reassuring “pep talk” to the passengers on the bus after they’d come through the wormhole and found themselves on an alien planet, or the adorable dialogue between the Doctor and Lady Christina. You wouldn’t get any of that in a whirlwind 45-minute adventure. To an extent that makes me wonder if 60 minutes is a better standard length for individual episodes.
Some final thoughts: Malcolm, played by Lee Evans, was a hilariously wonderful character. He was sure written well. Everything he said just made me grin from ear to ear. Or maybe everything just sounds funnier in a Welsh accent. Nevertheless, I loved his childlike wonder when he was told the Doctor wanted to speak to him. I loved his grovelling hero-worship of the Doctor. I absolutely adored that he named a scientific unit of measure after himself. Gosh, Steven Moffat missed a trick in not bringing Malcolm back alongside his revamped UNIT. Malcolm was the only good thing about RTD’s UNIT. Although I said I’d love to have seen Lady Christina travel with the Doctor, and I was wounded when the Doctor refused to take Christina with him, I thought that moment was nevertheless very poignant and powerful. “People have travelled with me and I’ve lost them. Lost them all. Never again.” Under all that gaiety and exuberance, the Doctor is obviously in a lot of emotional pain over losing Donna and the others. Perhaps what Davros said to him in Journey’s End rang a bit too painfully true. Finally, that warning premonition of Carmen’s — “he will knock four times” — was chilling. Excellent foreshadowing of Tennant’s swan song.
As I said, this story was substantially tedious, and would have been perfectly mediocre if not for the infatuating presence of Michelle Ryan. I could watch David Tennant and Michelle Ryan as the Doctor and Lady Christina all day. I could watch them sitting in those sands just talking, flirting, laughing all day and I’d still be entertained. Somehow, they made the insubstantial plot enjoyable, and a mediocre script watchable, and rewatchable. That’s why I’m giving this story such high marks that, without Ryan, it wouldn’t come close to deserving.