Partners In Crime

Ah, Series 4. I’m nowhere near as familiar with this series as I am with the previous three. For one reason or another, Who became a slightly smaller part of my life around this time – since the last series, I’d left uni, moved in with my partner and started full-time work, plus my Who-loving friends had moved out of the flat we watched most of Series 3 in, and scattered across the country. Also, I was less than enthusiastic about the announcement of the new companion, having hated Donna in The Runaway Bride and developed a strong aversion to Catherine Tate, whose piss poor sketch show was ubiquitous at this point.

When the series arrived, I found myself disliking the majority of the episodes – my memory is that it didn’t pick up until really close to the end – and as such I didn’t rewatch it on DVD nearly as much as the first three series. As always, I’ll be doing my best to approach these viewings with an open mind, and re-evaluate as I go, which should be aided by the fact that most of the details are long forgotten.

Turns out I quite like how Donna is written in this episode. I’m always intrigued as to how one-off encounters with The Doctor change people, and having Donna turn into a freelance alien investigator – like a pound shop Sarah Jane Smith – is a neat idea. I assumed at first that she was doing this because she’d been inspired by The Doctor to improve herself and live the best life she could, but the reveal that she was just doing it to try and hunt him down works just as well.

So yeah, I like how she’s written, just not necessarily how she’s performed. It’s been dialled down a notch or two since the previous Christmas, and it’s clear that Catherine Tate is a fine actress, but I just don’t get on with her as a comedy performer, with her exaggerated mannerisms and the all-pervasive am-I-bovvered tone of voice. She’s actually great in the smaller, more dramatic moments, but every time there’s a joke, no matter the quality of the writing, her delivery is always the same – shrill, over the top and way too big. It’s like nails down a blackboard for me.

The miming reunion scene isn’t as bad as I’d remembered – I don’t think the wah-wah comedy music helps, but the moment when they realise Sarah Lancashire is watching them is very good. On the other hand, “you want to mate?!” is absolutely piss-poor. It’s a rubbish joke and I’m not sure it even needed to be said – just show us that the new Doctor-companion dynamic is different over the course of the first few episodes, you don’t need to treat it like a mission statement.

Comedy was at the heart of this episode – it’s present in every episode, but the balance was definitely tipped here. It’s a bold choice for a series opener, and obviously good to mix it up after four years, but I’m not sure it paid off. The Adipose are a great visual effect, but ultimately forgettable as a Who alien, were it not for the subsequent raft of merchandise. The lack of a scary enemy made it hard to feel like much was at stake, and I found the digs about Britain being a nation of fatties a bit distasteful. And I’m not on board with Sarah Lancashire pausing mid-air to make a face, like she’s Wile E Coyote.

On the plus side, and it’s a very big plus, Cribbins continues to be utterly adorable. It’s almost worth having Donna in every episode just so we get to see Wilfred every now and then. He’s the perfect grandfather figure, and his reaction to seeing Donna in the TARDIS was a moment of pure joy.

Lastly, there is soooo much foreshadowing in this episode. You’ve got the Adipose planet being lost, an “Atmos” sticker in the window of a taxi, and a reference to the bees going missing. And then, of course, BLOODY ROSE. Despite the knowledge of what’s to come, hearing that music again sent shivers down my spine, even now. It’s a great moment.

RATING: 7

The Runaway Bride

* YAY, IT’S DOCTOR WHO. There’s nothing to make you appreciate the sight of the TARDIS and the sound of the theme tune like a solid fortnight of Torchwood. Even though it’s an episode that I don’t particularly care for, this was a timely treat, and a welcome reminder of why I’m bothering to do this in the first place.

* Why isn’t Wilfred Mott at his own granddaughter’s wedding, then? I can only assume that he dislikes Donna Noble as much as I do. As I said at the time of her initial surprise appearance, my aim is to reassess her fairly. My second first impression is that she was a bit of a hindrance to an otherwise exciting plot. Her constant negativity and aggression slowed the pace considerably; The Doctor couldn’t get anything done because she kept interrupting him to do her school girl character.

* She did get better as the episode went on – as soon as Donna began to trust The Doctor and co-operate with him, she mellowed and became much easier to empathise with. That said, I was initially quite pleased that Lance betrayed her in such a cruel way. It felt like she probably deserved it.

* I’d forgotten that the Robot Santas and Killer Christmas Trees made a second appearance. But then as soon as they appeared, I remembered the dodgy modified X Box controller that comes with them. I quite enjoyed the motorway chase with the TARDIS – nonsense, but it’s fun and it’s Christmas. Plus it resonates with me, having once been in a car that accidentally turned onto the M4 at Chiswick Roundabout. It took us an extra half an hour to get home. As for the TARDIS flying straight up into the air at the end? Nah, not for me. A bit of a step too far, after the wise-cracking giant red spider had been teetering on the edge of silliness beforehand.

* Love Don’t Roam! Excellent.

* I remember being very excited about the “Gallifrey” mention at the time, even though I was nowhere near as up on my Classic Who as I obviously am now. It was part of what seemed like a conscious effort to drip-feed the mythology into the new series bit by bit, with the flow increasing as the production gained in confidence. It’s good that we’re now at a point where New Who is creating its own legacy, but those days of speculating about who or what would come back next were happy days indeed.

* The Doctor’s subsequent victory is a little bit grim, thanks to the Racnoss’s anguished cries for her children. It’s kind of a bit genocidey, but it was the justifiable type of genocide. I remember being a little bothered by it at the time because it felt like The Doctor was acting out of character just so that Donna got the opportunity to pull him back from the brink, but I no longer agree with my foolish past self. I think Donna’s right when she says that he needs someone to look out for him, and it’s perhaps future occasions when he’s travelling alone that have changed my mind. Timey-wimey.

RATING: 7