No sooner has the final shattering conclusion of Torchwood er... concluded, then suddenly in a myriad mess of orange and red, the TARDIS spins into the vortex contained in the pupil of an open eye; an army of Sontarans; the burning translator of an Ood clearing to show a squad of Daleks lost in flames; a familiar face reflected in the blue eye stalk of a Dalek; a long-coated figure fleeing a spewing fireball; a Sontaran firing his rifle, an Ood roaring, and the Doctor standing alone in the dark:
He's out there, burning through time, facing a thousand dangers beyond the stars and never giving up. He looks like a man, but he's a legend and his name... is the Doctor.
[Kaldor City Analysis: "Translation: There are thousands of evil alien devil-worshiping bastards out there, waiting to get us. The Doctor is a stern and strong male authority figure who will come to protect us, and tell us what to do. Xenophobic, patriarchal, bordering on the fascist." I hope they slit their wrists before the series is out.]
Well, not the sort of ad I was expecting to herald the new series. The others were cheerful travelogues - "Dya wanna come with me?" "Come on then!" "I hope this box is big enough for both of us!" - but this is positively grim. A kind of, 'unavoidable catastrophe heading straight for you so start running' kind of vibe. Has any other season of Doctor Who been presented as something to fear rather than something to watch? There's also a distinct lack of any footage from the series, any clue to the stories, which seems interesting as Season 4 has to be the most spoiled of the lot. Big spoilers. But you won't find them here.
I have to admit to a distinct lack of blood-racing excitement when Voyage of the Damned trailer for the series eschewed the traditional Who theme for the rising drum and horns crescendo most memorable from when Yana opened the watch. The fact it was an OLD companion and the most spectacular things we were sold was a feral Ood, Min from Jekyll acting even more smug and clueless than before, and a close up of a Sontaran, ending with a rather embarassed vicar. The previous ones ended with what seemed be the Doctor being dragged before a Cybermen, or blown off his feet to land at the base of Dalek Sec. "Same old, same old" seemed to be what was promised with the trailer. Torchwood had better trailers. I tell you, the spoilers are what got me excited, cause there's nothing there to impress. It's a DWAD style montage of other stuff done perfectly well or better elsewhere, and this new trailer seems to be something that would out-grim Planet of Lies!
So. As we begin our last proper series until 2010, when the Lenny Henry Doctor arrives to fight the evil Thatchos and her Cyber legions, I think to myself, "Yes, I know this sort of confirmed future is a better deal than Doctor Who has ever, ever had before, no exceptions, not even Tom Baker had this kind of long term guarantee, but RTD is talking out of the wrong hole when he thinks anyone WANTS regular hiatiuses. Hiatii. Whatever."
DOCTOR WHO: PARTNERS IN CRIME
Oh, child of mine, you're such a killer!
You had me up all night but I could not get a look in!
You gave me the pale face, on and on!
Well those big fat guys, and I wonder what's goin' on?
Oh, baby you, got me in the shape I'm in!
Oh, baby you, got me in the shape I'm in!
Oh, baby you, got me in the shape I'm in!
Given the back-breaking and mind-blowing schedule RTD inflicts upon himself, it's not particularly surprising that his better episodes are ones with a point to them. Is it any coincidence that his weakest opening episode was New Earth, which DIDN'T introduce anything new to the show and its major story arc potential - the Face of Boe's dying words - was taken elsewhere. When he's got a clear purpose to a plot, he can do wonders, but when he leaves himself too much space to work with, you end up with a godawful mess.
Thus, a story that has to introduce Donna as a companion is scuppered because the audience know who she is, and she knows who the Doctor is. And so the opening episode of Season Four takes an unusual twist of being farce. That's not an insult, just the best description I can think of - the Doctor and Donna are in the same building, same room, with the same mission talking to the same people, yet, keep missing each other and don't realize the other is even involved. I can only think of one other story that attempted that (bar a one-off sight gag in Paradise Towers) was The Romans where the Doctor, Ian and Barbara all have individuals adventures, never realizing the others are often just feet away. Now, while this is interesting, and a novel way to take the plot, it reaches the point where the Doctor and Donna seem to be doing a dance routine where they pop up like moles or meercats alternately... I can imagine the Tenth Doctor being that itchy-footed and figety he might engage in such pointless gymnastics, and maybe Donna... but at the same time in the same room? It goes on JUST too long, maybe about three seconds?, but it stops being funny and becomes wearying. I have a feeling that this sequence - which isn't as funny as the chase in Love and Monsters, because this time we're supposed to have a reliable narrator - was adlibbed, since the script gives a very good reason for both the Doctor and Donna to have their heads down at the exact same time. Definitely this sequence should have been a DVD extra. I daresay even new viewers wouldn't have been impressed. The fact that they only register each other's presence 23 minutes into the story - a Classic Series cliffhanger - suggests, as I still argue, splitting these stories in two could be a good move. It worked for The Sarah Jane Adventures, didn't it?
Now, this is just one moment out of the episode, and if I were to judge Partners In Crime on this I might as well judge Nightmare of Eden on the "my everything", and that would make me no better than those Williams-haters I enjoy beating the shit out of.
The plot is not, have some had dubbed, a ripoff/homage/remake of Slow Decay. True, there are some similarities, but you might as well accuse Terror of the Autons for being a rip off of The Abominable Snowmen (both after all feature old acquaintences of the Doctor helping a disembodied intelligence use robotic bodies to create an invasion plan under the cover of a respected organization). There are echoes of Invasion of the Bane, Slow Decay and Meat, with a stern blonde widow bitch running an organization of weightloss drugs that patently involve injesting alien material, but they are echoes and there are enough differences to let it go. After all, how many alien menaces used religions, power stations or chemical plants to conquer Earth? Attacking via the food chain is logical, but once again I think that RTD (never a slender man) has some kind of axe to grind over fat people. Either they're corpses containing aliens, gullible dupes containing aliens, or likeable idiots with "DEAD MEAT" tatooed on their foreheads. Still, you want to be relevent to the now generation, discuss obesity.
But I have to say the old "the whole alien base is actually a transmitter of energy as part of their plan" is now more officially overused than quarries. The London Eye, Cardiff waterfall, Torchwood House, Alexandra Palace, Battersea Powerstation, Canary Wharf, Thames Water Base, Albion Hospital, The Globe Theatre, Empire State Building, Suffolk Cathedral... it's gotten OLD Russell. And, seriously, this Shadow Proclamation gig being the universe's Geneva Convention I might have bought except for the fact no such thing existed in the classic series, even by another name. Even The Amargeddon Convention doesn't fit! Still, like I said, you can't judge a whole story from a rather annoying line of dialogue.
And on obesity, I agree with Mad Larry though, having a non-supermodel-proportioned companion would be nice. And I don't think Donna counts. Mind you, that mole on her chin is REALLY distracting for some reason. And does she have some urinary problems or something, judging her mild obsession with lavatories?
Speaking of Donna, despite getting her own origin story, she has to suffer Penny's backstory as well - and RTD, cheeky bastard, even has Penny in the same episode, where she shows off what a better adventurer she is than Donna! The guy's intertextuality knows no bounds! - as we see Donna's vow to walk in the dust and make something of her life has left her somewhere between Sarah Jane Smith and Rose Tyler: living at home with her disgusting and abusive mother, but trying to do her own Scooby Do style adventures as she eagerly waits for the Doctor to return. Like Katie Ryan, Sylvia Noble is so utterly horid and rude she can only be there to ensure that Donna always looks nicer and compassionate in comparison. Mind you, like Mr Copper, Wilf seems far more interesting companion than the blatantly obvious candidate being flung down our throats.
Nevertheless, the Doctor and Donna do work quite well in this episode and more than a little remind me of Bernad Black and Manny Bianco respectively, especially in the very amusing bit where they try to mime/mouth a conversation through a window, which is right out of The Lockout, as the Doctor's TARDIS telepathic circuits and knowledge of five billion languages are unable to make any sense of Donna's charades. Donna picks up the banter quickly, too, and her enthusiasm for these death-defying scapes (which remind similarly of Bottom: Hole, the one in the Ferris Wheel) fits badly with the woman who walked away in horror. Mind you, she HAD had a bad day what with the love of her life betraying her and all that.
The Doctor hasn't changed much, but when even Donna can tell he's not coping as well as he was when they parted company - it seems that the Master and Astrid dying, Jack abandoning him and all has really got to him. As he quietly admits, Martha was the best thing that could have happened to him, "And I destroyed her life, so she's gone now. And she fancied me." Indeed, having his godhood finally thrown back into his face has killed off his confidence, leading to Davison-style panic and helplessness when it looks like everything is going to end in a bloodbath. His palpable lack of enthusiasm to Donna joining up is not that she won't shut up or that he finds her irritating, but he doesn't trust himself to stop Donna's life being completely screwed up. What this portends for the rest of the series I dunno, but it's good that they haven't auto-reset the Doctor as happy-go-lucky. Maybe I've been watching Torchwood too much lately, but it's sometimes easy to forget other shows don't have such difficulty in remembering how their characters develop.
The Adipose continue the "look cute but utterly deadly" tradition of the new series, with cute little blobby baby things that look like they're out of an ad for 'good bacteria', and their happy little baby noises and expressions bely the fact they kill people. Which is surely the point of Doctor Who? I remember the Meep and that acid-spitting dinosaur from Jurassic Park, so in concept I have no truck (and I winced as they were accidentally run over at points). As to what they look like, well, their simple design means they look more fake than Myffanwy the Pterodactyle, despite the fact a lot more money and care has been put into the Adipose. Their oddly-shaped top lips however, look like a badly-moulded plastic toy. But it seems deliberately put there, maybe to MAKE them look fake? All in all, I was more alarmed when Venus was shown to be a pale blue planet. I always assumed it was an orange-pink one, still, why should I complain? Suns are bright blue, not orange-red balls of fire, and only look that way through Earth's atmosphere. Outside it, different story alltogether. But do we diss 42 on this ground?
As for the main villainess, RTD provides us with another female villain (last count: 12 - Cassandra, Margaret Slitheen, Queen Victoria, the Wire, Chloe, Yvonne Hartman, The Empress of the Rachnoss, Florance, Lilith, Lady Thaw, Mother of Mine, Lucy Saxon, not to mention Jackie, Sylvia and Harriet Jones) and she's played by Rose from Rose and Malony - you know, the emotionally-distorted blonde obsessive with a boyfriend called Mickey who was sick of her boring everyday life - as, well, Servalan. But, I hasten to add, this is Season One Servalan, where she was utterly polite and composed, which made her ironically seem more psychotic than when she was releasing super weapons and murdering people with crystals stuffed up her sleeves. Miss Foster's idly-amused manner, giving the impression her mind's on something else probably R-rated, makes it a pity that it's obvious for the first scene she won't survive the episode to become a regular villain. A pity, especially when she proves able to outmaneuver the Doctor in ways unseen since Professor Yana or Will Scarlett, yet never even hinting she's heard of the git before facing him, let alone planned her operation with obvious Doctor-insurance like deadlock seals, her own sonic screwdriver and incorruptible henchmen.
Also, a note on "people's credulity of aliens". Well, Donna finds it surprising at how Wilf firmly believes in alien life, but she's probably impressed anyone in her family is that open-minded. Certainly, when a whacking great alien spaceship arrives, the crowds react much as they do in Smith & Jones or Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - despair. However, recently seeing the "last" Goodies episode (according to the ABC), U-friend or UFO?, the giant Close-Encounters-type ship making trombone-type noises seems almost a homage... and that episode had R2D2 doing his best Nick Briggs impersonation with a sink plunger! Where does it all end?!
And will every episode now be dedicated to someone who's died? Imagine An Unearthly Child fading from the shadow over the TARDIS to IN MEMORY OF JFK, CS LEWIS AND AULDUS HUXLEY, or Rose with DEDICATED RESPECTFULLY TO POPE JEAN-PAUL II?
No, all in all, Partners In Crime is a good episode. Despite my expectations, RTD has focussed on the plot and come up with an interesting, simple idea for a story with plenty of humor in it. I find it funny, and humor is subjective, but it's several light years ahead for the "contempt of comedy" perpetrated by Torchwood: Something Borrowed, even with its partrurient theme of alien gestation. Even the bit where the Doctor does his "one last chance" speil works because DT's playing as a man depressed because he KNOWS he just KNOWS he's wasting his breath with all this talk, and he's not going to be allowed to show mercy. The final scene with the Doctor, Wilf and Donna brings a smile to my face and the fact there's a bit of 'flying TARDIS' garnared the whole episode being slated by The Times amazes me. Of ALL the things you pick on. That's like damning Caves of Androzani because the gun runners sell bullets and nothing cool and futuristic!
No, this is easy-on-the-brain stuff to ease starting off the new year. What seems to piss off fans first and foremost, as RTD predicted, is that the dark suidical nihilism of The Family of Blood through to Voyage of the Damned (Time Crash not included) has not been maintained. Presumably if millions were left dead and grieving, if Donna was now a suicidal drug addict and the Doctor sobbing bitterly instead of joking around, they'd love it.
Well, screw them.
I've got 45 minutes of interesting characters, novel approach to the plot, genuinely funny comedy and an intriguing twist at an ending. Which is what I wanted. And a surprising arc scene which, it has to be said, stunned me into silence. It's not quite Darla at the end of Angel: Hearthrob, but... whoa. That's... I would never have thought of doing that. Even in an abstract, 3d-thought manner. If I were to YOA2K+8 this, none of them would be able to think of a thing to say about it.
And I've no idea why people complain about the theme tune. OK, they might not like it, but it's exactly like the one we had in Voyage of the Damned.
NEXT TIME: "It's Volcano Day!"
Steve Lyons' The Fires of Vulcan with monsters! Ron Mallet's The Final Days with a coherent plot and characters! It's Malony from Rose and Malony, just after we saw ROSE from Rose and Malony - what is this, a conspiracy?!? The Ancient Romans realizing they're fucked when a certain blue box arrives, not because Mt Vesuvius is giving up ominous rumbles! Will a certain Time Agent appear? Will the Seventh Doctor and Mel be involved or even alluded to! Will that ugly bug-eyed pratt who played the guy the Vicar of Dibley lusted over for ten years die in the lava? Can I wait a whole week or will I have to download Ashes to Ashes instead?