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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Doctor Who's' David Tennant will save the day (again) before exiting

In 'Planet of the Dead' this Sunday, he'll battle flying rays with a new sidekick, Michelle Ryan.

July 25, 2009|MARY McNAMARA | TELEVISION CRITIC

The curse of being extraordinary, according to the BBC anyway, is the isolation. Whether you're a vampire ("Being Human"), an immortal "fixed point in the universe" ("Torchwood") or a Time Lord ("Doctor Who"), your path is inevitably a solitary one.

No one knows this better than fans of "Doctor Who," who, like their hero, have endured painful partings from many companions during the show's more than 30 years. Now, of course, an even more wrenching shift is afoot: As everyone reading this may already know, David Tennant, the beloved 10th and current Doctor, is leaving the show, with a parting gift of four final episodes that will lead to the debut of Matt Smith in the title role next year.

The first of these special episodes, "Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead," which premieres Sunday, offers not even a moment in which to shed a tear for the absence of Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), who left the Doctor last year, deepening his resolve to never share his heart or police box with another.

No, we are plunged headlong into the middle of it with a shapely thief in black spandex (Michelle Ryan) stealing a priceless gold goblet. As she attempts to make her getaway on a London bus, she is quickly joined by a gadget-fiddling Doctor in standard piercing-gaze ADD-chat mood. Just as the bus is about to be stopped by the British version of SWAT, it slips through a wormhole and winds up in the middle of a desert in a galaxy far, far away.

Ryan's thief turns out to be adventuresome Lady Christina. Soon they and the other bus riders realize they are not alone: A swarm of voracious metallic and airborne sting rays have already reduced the previous inhabitants -- human-sized fly-men -- to dust and now they've got the bus, and the wormhole, in their sights. Can the Doctor again save the world?

Ryan, who bombed as the revamped "Bionic Woman," is a terrific foil, and Tennant is in rare form. If his crooked smile seems even more wistful than usual, well, no one knows more about the perils the loneliness of heroism than the Doctor.

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mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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'Doctor Who'

Where: BBC America

When: 5 and 8 p.m. Sunday

Rating: Not rated

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