I honestly feel as if it’s high time that Doctor Who stop operating under any presumption that it’s a children’s program. Every time that I read on the internet that Doctor Who is considered family entertainment in its native U.K., one of two thoughts spring to my head. Either British children are the most emotionally scarred kids on the planet (for Doctor Who can be outright terrifying) or the Brits just have much higher expectations on the kind of philosophical and ethical questions that their children can handle. While the official seaosn premiere (not the Christmas special) represented the sort of mind-numbing mediocrity that the laziest Doctor Who episodes can achieve, both “The Fires of Pompeii” and “The Planet of the Ood” found the Doctor (and his current companion Donna Noble) facing the sort of unenviable ethical dilemmas that would seem more the purview of an Alan Moore graphic novel than any thing that American audiences would call children’s television. I’m three episodes into the fourth season (and David Tennant’s last) and it’s four episodes if you count the Christmas special; while I’m still not particularly fond of Catherine Tate as Donna Noble, the last two episodes of this disc really give me hope that this season will manage to maintain at least some of the high quality that I came to expect thanks to Season 3.
On this three episode disc, the Doctor and Donna Noble are finally re-united after parting ways at the end of last year’s Christmas special. In the interim between her last adventure with the Doctor, Donna has realized that she truly missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime to travel with the Doctor and she’s been desperately searching for him ever since. Taking on an investigatory role similar to Sarah Jane Smith, Donna has been searching for all signs of aliens and monsters in the hopes of running into the Doctor. Her wish comes true when she bumps into the Doctor as she and the Doctor are both investigating a pharmaceutical company that has invented a revolutionary diet pill. Obviously, it’s too good to be true and the pills actually turn your fat cells into living fat beings (yeah, I’m not making that up) and the company is on the verge of killing every single customer by evacuating all of the fat cells at once. After the Doctor and Donna save the day, the Doctor agrees to allow Donna to be his companion as long as there’s no chance of the romantic entanglements that ruined his time with Martha. Donna is offended by the notion of being attracted to an alien, and thus their adventures begin. Next, they travel to ancient Pompeii the day before the volcano explodes. The Doctor discovers an alien species that is intent on taking over the world and the only way to destroy them is to cause the Pompeii explosion himself. Ipso facto, the Doctor had to kill 20,000 people to save the rest of human history. Lastly, the Doctor and Donna go to the home planet of the Ood, the squid-like telepathic creatures from Season 2. The Doctor discovers the origins of their servile nature and unwittingly helps to lead a slave revolution that results in the freeing of the Ood from their human overlords.
First, it’s the premier disc of a new Companion (or at least her debut as a full-time companion) so let’s get into the things I like and I (mostly) don’t like about her. While it’s certainly refreshing to have a companion that doesn’t have a puppy-love unrequited relationship with the Doctor, there’s also no definable dynamic to her friendship with the Doctor. Rose and both inceptions of the Doctor that she traveled with had a mutually unspoken sexual attraction. The chemistry between her and David was just sizzling and it gave the show a very “will they or won’t they” feel (they never did). Their chemistry was so solid that it would define the dynamic between Martha and the Doctor. Martha very obviously had feelings for the Doctor, but she would never be noticed in the light of his love for Rose, and it lent their whole relationship a tragic inevitability where Martha finally stood up for herself and left. I don’t know if Donna has had the chance to lay out any specific landscape for her relationship with the Doctor. At this point, all she really is is perhaps “nagging shrew”. She’s definitely feisty and not afraid to stand up for herself. But, Rose and Martha also had those traits and they had them in a far less annoying package. The only thing that Catherine Tate currently does better than Billie Piper or Freema Agyeman is that she handles some of the dramatic stuff better than they did which is shocking since Catherine Tate is normally a comedienne. I understand that it’s early in the season and she hasn’t had time to define herself. I didn’t love Rose Tyler instantly, but hopes still aren’t spectacularly high for Donna.
“Partners in Crime” was a very lackluster way to begin the season. Sometimes this show can be too cheesy for its own good, and it’s not able to pull off the Joss Whedon-esque tongue in cheek humor to make that okay. While there was one brilliant moment where the Doctor and Donna first see each other through separate door-windows as they spy on the evil pharmaceutical company that had me laughing my ass off, the rest of the episode just reminded me too much of a Slitheen centric episode from Season 1 like “Boomtown” or “Aliens in London”. I definitely appreciated the philosophizing on display in “Fires of Pompeii.” I mentioned Alan Moore earlier because the Doctor essentially made the same decision as Ozymandias in Watchmen. He wiped out an entire city so that humanity could survive (although the Doctor had significantly less choice in the matter than Ozymandias who was only guessing that humanity would destroy itself). Also, future companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillian) was in the episode as one of the soothsayers. However, the real star of the disc was “Planet of the Ood.” It was an action packed and ethically ambiguous episode where our former conceptions of the Ood as happy slave like children was turned on its head as we found out they were just slaves in the traditional forced sense. Humans were painted at their most bastardly. And the Doctor was at the center of a Nat Turner-esque slave rebellion. I love how this show took two episodes in a row to really make its audience think and present the Doctor in a more complex light than his traditional hero mold.
One of my friends whose opinion I value highly tells me that my concerns about this season will evaporate. While he too isn’t a fan of Donna Noble, he assured me that this season is full of great episodes and that Tennant’s departure is worth every second of emotion you’ve put into his rendition of the Doctor. I’m going to give the series the benefit of the doubt then. While this disc certainly wasn’t disappointing (and “Planet of the Ood” was fantastic), Season 3 left very large shoes to fill and I hope Russel T. Davies (on his last season as series head) can make it all come together. According to the previews for the next episode, Martha is back. Obviously, that has me excited. Rose remains my favorite companion but Martha is the one I’m most undeniably attracted to (she was a good character as well. She just didn’t have enough time to develop). I have two episodes left of Studio 60 to review before I finish that series. I’m thinking of watching my first anime series in ages to replace it. I believe I’m going to finally start watching Neon Genesis Evangelion and then perhaps start the entirety of Seinfeld when Neon‘s short run comes to an end. We shall see.
Final Score: B+