Lady Christina de Souza: The Companion Who Never Was
Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull looks back on the Planet of the Dead character.
Planet of the Dead doesn’t get a lot of love. I’ll admit it isn’t the best thing to come out of the 2009 specials but, in my honest opinion, it’s considerably better than the rather subpar Christmas special that preceded it. The reasons Planet of the Dead doesn’t get a lot of love is because it’s largely straightforward with few twists; essentially, nothing special. I’ll agree that it’s one of Russell T Davies’ weaker scripts but there are some excellent ideas in there. The concept of a commonplace bus transported to an alien planet had a lot of potential and the production team wrung as much as they could out of the idea (i.e. the overseas filming). There wasn’t all that much that could be done with UNIT back on Earth and so the action was confined to Malcolm Taylor’s portable laboratory. Then there’s Lady Christina de Souza who, I feel, was a wonderful character. Michelle Ryan might not have given her all but the idea was what draws me to Planet of the Dead time and time again.
“Hello. I’m so terribly sorry. That card paying device thing. That’s a Lobster card, am I right?”
From her first scene it was clear Christina was a bit of an oddball. A companion that steals? Heavens above, this is a turn up for the books. I liked Christina from the off because she was, well, different. She wasn’t someone like Rose, Martha and Donna before her (all fantastic, wonderfully three-dimensional characters), who wished for something more out of her life, who wanted adrenaline and the thrill of running down corridors away from monsters because she had it – or the closest thing to it. Her thieving was, as the Doctor so puts it, a “lifestyle”.
Now, we get onto the above quote. She was in London, in the heart of London, in the biggest, most frequented city in the United Kingdom and she didn’t know what an Oyster card was. There will most likely be some readers sitting back, scratching their heads so I’ll explain: almost every second person you will encounter in London will have an Oyster card (a smartcard that works on almost all modes of public transport, most commonly the Underground), possibly less. It’s the currency of a Londoner and a commuter and the fact that Christina didn’t even know the name of it (you might have heard of it but not possess one) beggars belief. Which asks the question, what has Christina been doing that means she’s so out of date? Her background is rarely touched on throughout Planet of the Dead leading us to…
“Daddy lost everything. Invested his fortune in the Icelandic banks.”
Was Christina joking? I like to think she was. Given that she was formally titled a lady, it seems she was a minor member of the aristocracy and so numbed by boredom she decided to steal – and she wasn’t very good at it, though. (Who takes their balaclava off while still in the establishment you have just robbed?) It’s an interesting back-story to a regrettably fleeting companion. But she could be fibbing as she seemed to be a congenital liar. So, did Lady Christina de Souza’s father really invest in Icelandic banks? Was she really a lady? The lines are blurred.
The case of Donna Noble.
Donna Noble in The Runaway Bride was bolshy, loud-mouthed and a bit irritating – like Christina; there’s no denying the burglar had some aggravating moments. The Runaway Bride Donna wasn’t a good companion and by the sixty minute mark a lot of us wanted her out. Then there’s Donna Noble in Partners in Crime. A resourceful, playful, cheeky companion that was a vast improvement on the last time she appeared in the show. From the Series 4 opener onwards she grew as a character, which made her exit all the more tragic. If we imagine Christina in Planet of the Dead as Donna in The Runaway Bride then consider the potential, imagine what she could be with time and some good scripts. Donna went from being one of the worst companions to the best in about fourteen episodes. We could see Christina’s origins, why she really turned to crime, her family, her “lover” (at the beginning, shortly after purloining the golden wrapping paper-coated Cup of Athelstan, she leaves her accomplice, a man, for the police) and the de Souza homestead.
In February, an e-book entitled Keeping Up with the Joneses was released and it starred the Tenth Doctor during the 2009 specials (we fans like to determine when a story is set and I consider the events of Keeping Up with the Joneses to take place between Planet of the Dead and The Waters of Mars because there’s undetermined amount of time between the two – and an undetermined amount of adventures). It’s light, engrossing stuff and I don’t want to give away any of the surprises so I’ll only cover it briefly. The Tenth Doctor finds a whole town has materialized inside his TARDIS and there’s a young woman, a widow called Christina de Souza living there. She’s not a lady and she has no idea who the Doctor is.
The upshot of Keeping Up with the Joneses is that the Christina in it is not the same one as the burglar in Planet of the Dead and the KUTJ Christina merely has the image of the POTD woman (who KUTJ Christina really is, well, I won’t say). Nick Harkaway, the author of said e-book, chose the character’s likeness because – and I paraphrase – she had a lot of potential as a companion and from what I can gather cites the same reasons as myself.
Christina has also appeared in other forms such as the comic, The Eye of Ashaya in which it is revealed that her escapades on Earth were incredibly well publicized – so much that when she encountered the Eleventh Doctor, his companion Rory Williams identified her by sight.
Christina was an excellent idea. Not one well executed, but still a really good idea in my view. There are plenty arguments against my case: she’s a thief, Michelle Ryan isn’t the best actress about and she was almost a bit too smug for certain people’s liking – so this is just one side of a debate but personally Christina was pregnant with potential; a great, revolutionary companion waiting to happen.