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Friday, April 25, 2008
Doctor Who: Partners in Crime
I do my best to temper my fannish enthusiasm for Doctor Who with a reasonable step back in an attempt to view it objectively. But, even when doing so, I'm inclined to call the fourth season opener, "Partners In Crime," one of the best episodes of the new series, and one of the better Who episodes overall. The new series of Who has always had its own, distinctive voice, and in this episode that voice now feels both matured and self-confident enough in itself to play around with the expected format. New Who has done comedic episodes before, but it's never felt as if the comedy was as integrated into the script as it is here. This is a Who that is willing to laugh with the audience a little bit more.
A lot of this is down to the very sharp interactions between Catherine Tate and David Tennant as returning companion Donna Noble and the Doctor. Donna is a more mature companion than either Rose or Martha, and she retains the wide-eyed sense of joy and thrill at exploring space and time that is necessary in a companion, but without the hero-worship of the Doctor, or worse, the goo-goo eyes, that Rose and Martha, more often than was probably necessary to get the point across, frequently exhibited. It's also telling that, unlike Rose and Martha, who in their introductory episodes were presented as running away from their old lives, in this Donna is quite consciously choosing to run towards something. It's a very subtle distinction, but it's an important one. Rose and Martha entered the TARDIS almost entirely on whims, at highly emotional moments. Donna is seeking it out, actively pursuing a new way of life.
Tennant is also remarkable in this, and he's not often praised for the quality of his acting, as he inhabits the character of the Doctor so easily and effortlessly. It's already very hard to think of the character, to my mind, without thinking of his portrayal. But he does a terrific job here of emphasizing the loneliness of the Doctor, his separation from the rest of the world, and his desperate need, not to have someone to be clever at, but to have someone to share the universe with. And as strong as his performances with Billie Piper and Freema Agyeman, his performance with Catherine Tate is I think even stronger. They play off each other in a rapid-fire manner, and Tennant is frequently placed in the uncharacteristic role of the straight man. In terms of character development, it's also worth noting that the Doctor has matured enough, after 900 years or so, to recognize when he has been in the wrong, with both his past actions and in his treatment of his companions, particularly Martha.
The plot is fairly low-stakes by Who standards. There is no big, menacing threat that endangers the whole world; instead, the "evil" is infinitely more banal, an exploitation of human weakness for alien ends that, were it not for the amoral practicality of the Doctor's opponent wouldn't even be that big a deal, as even the Doctor reluctantly acknowledges. That this plot leads to the creation of what are, easily, the most irresistibly cuddly alien monsters the show has ever seen, leading to one of the most sublimely ridiculous "aliens march on London" sequences ever shown.
Plot Threads To Watch For Missing bees Missing planets ATMOS The girl in the jacket