I have to admit that as series four of the new Doctor Who approached, I was having a hard time mustering up the same level of enthusiasm I had four years ago when we got “Rose” or two years ago for “New Earth” or even last year with “Smith and Jones.” Based on the limited information I heard about the upcoming season, I found myself intrigued by the return of the Sontarans and curious about the new two-parter by Hugo-winner Steven Moffat.
But beyond that, I just wasn’t feeling it this year. And a large part of that came down to a casting choice made by the production team.
I just couldn’t find a lot positive about the return of Donna as played by Catherine Tate. I have nothing against Tate and I’m not familiar with any of her other work. But based on last year’s “The Runaway Bride” I was finding it hard to really get enthusiastic about an entire season of travels through time and space with Donna and the Doctor.
Warning: SPOILERS after the jump
So as I sat down to watch this year’s season premiere, I tried to put my biases aside and give the episode a fair chance to win me over or lose me completely. I even tried to be open-minded about Tate on the show, hoping that maybe the set-reports of she and David Tennant working well together would prove to be true. Maybe given an entire series to explore the character of Donna and not just a one-off, action-oriented Christmas special maybe, just maybe Donna would win me over.
So far, it hasn’t happened. But I will admit I like where they seem to be steering the Doctor/Donna dynamic, so far. From what we hear in the last five or so minutes of the story, it looks like this Doctor/companion team will be a throw-back to the kind of working dynamic some of the best teams had–that of being best friends having adventures together in time and space. If Russell T. Davies and the writers can pull that off this year and stick to that promise, I’ll feel a lot better about this season.
As for “Partners in Crime” itself, I find the story pretty much your standard Russell T. Davies hit or miss type of script. There were moments when the story absolutely clicked and worked well and there were others when it felt like it was trying too hard or setting up weak punchlines and chances for Tennant and Tate to show off their comedic skills.
The Doctor and Donna are separately investigating a new company called Adipose Industries. Adipose is introducing a new miracle drug that causes rapid weight-loss with few apparent side-effects and is run by the mysterious Ms. Foster. As their parallel courses unfold, we find the Doctor feeling a bit lonely, missing a friend to explore space and time with as well as explain the intricacies of the plot. Donna’s life since she turned down the Doctor’s office to travel hasn’t turned out roses either. She lost her job, lives with her mother and her only apparent bright spot is time spent with her grandfather who is a stargazer. Donna is on a quest to somehow find the Doctor and take him up on the offer he extended earlier.
Eventually, the two cross paths and discover what’s really going on at Adipose and just how people are losing weight so quickly and easily.
For the first half of the story, it was hard to get engaged by the story. For one thing, it’s getting a bit repetitive that each season we have to become embroiled in some family drama by the companion. And Donna’s mother comes off as a whinier version of Jackie (Rose’s Mom) and that’s never a good thing. The other part is that the script is far too convinced of its owner cleverness and spends a lot of time being cute with jokes on how the Doctor and Donna just barely miss each other.
However, once the two cross paths, the script begins to pick up a bit. We discover that Adipose is really creating new aliens that are fat-based. The side-effects are minimal, removing only the fat unless the harvesting is sped up and then entire bodies can be converted into small, one-pound creatures. The Adipose are digitally rendered and meant to be kind of cute…and I guess I’ve watched too much Torchwood because I expected there to be some kind of nasty side to them. Unfortunately, there’s not. And there’s not really any major threat of alien invasion or conquest of Earth here. Yes, people can die if the process gets out of control, but it never seems like that big a threat. It seems a bit more like Davies taking shots at the British population’s problem with obesity and fad-diets more than a fully-fleshed out alien storyline.
Of course, the real purpose of the story is to bring Donna back and establish her character again in the hearts and minds of the audience. As I said earlier, the script won me over with the dynamic between the two in the later stages as the Doctor admits he wants a friend to travel the universe with. It does have a flinch-worthy joke with the Doctor saying he wants “a mate” (aka a buddy) and Donna hearing he wants “to mate.” Hilarity ensues…or at least it’s supposed to ensue.
When the story finishes, I found myself feeling a bit better about series four and hopeful for where things could go this year.
Oh and there’s a nice surprise at the episode’s end. But I won’t SPOIL it. It’s more fun to experience it for yourself.
In the end, “Partners in Crime” is the weakest season premiere the new series has given us. It has its moments and when its on, it’s on. But when it’s missing, it’s missing badly.