New Who Openers In Perspective: Partners in Crime
Connor Johnston continues the series looking at past New Who openers with Series 4′s.
“The fat just walks away”
Russell T Davies once said that: “The marvellous thing about ‘Doctor Who’ is that it tells stories that no one else can tell”; and more so to almost any other episode in my eyes – “Partners in Crime” is definitely a story undeniably unique to Doctor Who. We opens Series 4 with this weird and wonderful romp of a tale that interestingly chooses to plant its main focus on the character’s dynamic rather than the individual episode plot itself – not that it is in any way ignored or not given enough justice. “Partners in Crime” focuses with great emphasis on the theme of friendship. Using its comedic romp-y tone it tells the second introductory chapter in the story of one of the greatest TARDIS teams of all time by reacquainting us with a lonely Time Lord and a Sassy Temp from Chiswick determined to be find the Doctor once more, even if it means braving the villainous Miss Foster and her marching newborn “army” of vaguely humanoid blobs of fat. NOTHING bar Doctor Who could ever attempt anything close to that brief – Yet somehow it manages to do just that, and successfully too – delivering an exciting hilarious and iconic story enjoyed by many still today, after almost 6 year since it was first broadcast. This is “Partners in Crime” in perspective.
“Ohh, fascinating. Seems to be a bio-flip digital stitch, specifically for…”
The Doctor we are reacquainted with during ‘Partners in Crime’ is essentially a very lonely one – emphasized by the heartbreaking scene where he realizes he is truly alone in the TARDIS and in the universe. From the Doctor’s point of view “Partners” opens after the events of “Last of the Time Lords” and “Voyage of the Damned” – between having had Martha leave him, the only other living Time Lord die in his arms and losing Astrid on the Titanic Star cruiser, the Doctor has been left almost broken in the face of all these fatalities. It takes “Partners in Crime” to dig the Time Lord out of the gutter, thrusting him into the adventure and excitement that is so iconic in the Tenth Doctor’s era and perfectly executed in this episode. After over 2 years and almost 3 whole series’ in the titular role, David Tennant doesn’t fail at all to bring a new found energy and refreshed nature to the character through his investigations at Adipose Industries and new found relationship with a certain Miss. Noble….. And no, I don’t mean Sylvia.
“Cos he’s still out there, somewhere. And I’ll find him gramps, even if I have to wait a hundred years. I’ll find him.…”
I could very easily write for hundreds and thousands of words expressing my love for Donna Noble (And have actually – see here), but for me easily her most importance appearance is “Partners in Crime”. In her first appearance, “The Runaway Bride”, she is without doubt an incredibly enjoyable character – but to really sell her as a full time companion we needed to also get a deeper insight to Donna as a person rather than an attraction – something I feel personally “The Runaway Bride” struggled with. Luckily, “Partners” is perfect in showcasing and previewing the range of her character we would bear witness to throughout the series. It’s no secret that Catherine Tate is the Queen of Comedy, and there were countless moments throughout the episode where we are treated to several hysterical fits – but what really sells Donna initially are the moments like the beautiful slow paced and mellow scene in the garden watching the stars with her Grandfather Wilfred Mott. We learn more about how Donna’s mind works and what she’s missing in life – delving past the sassy, tough exterior to a more honest, sensitive character we meet many more times as the series progresses. A part played flawlessly and quite surprisingly impressing by Tate.
“I’m waving at fat…”
The “threat” of Partners in Crime is a difficult thing to define. Yes, the Adipose are technically the monster of the episode, but cuddly toddler aliens made of human fat are never ever going to come across as threatening – and for God knows what reason: it just worked! There’s something quite refreshing about the difference in tone for this episode as opposed to other adventures – having monsters that you’d rather cuddle up next to you on the sofa then scream and run away from is so bizarre and different, it really is invigorating! Of course there needs to be some tension in the episode – and it this tension isn’t derived for the fact that these adorable little stress toys can end up killing millions of people (at time’s I think I’d rather the Adipose), then it comes from the “step-in villain” Miss Foster played by Sarah Lancashire. It’s no secret that Lancashire was not the first choice for the role after Alex Kingston (who later returned as the iconic and reoccurring role of Professor River Song later in Series 4) had to turn down the part due to other filming commitments, but she definitely did incredible justice to the role presenting an undoubtedly intimidating intergalactic Super-nanny making for a good foil to the Doctor, before meeting her end in an appropriately comical manner.
“You’re not mating with me, sunshine!”
As Donna Noble jumped on board the TARDIS for the first time for a full time companionship, she came after 2 companions that both had a substantial love interest in the Doctor as part of their main plots. Wanting to offer a clear differentiation between Rose, Martha and Donna the decision was made that Donna and Ten’s relationship would be a very different: They would be best mates. From the first few interactions during “Partners in Crime” it was clear that the connection Donna and the Doctor had was instant. They fit together like puzzle pieces; travelling the universe and defeating bad guys together as a team, always moving forward and “Onwards” to new horizons hand in hand. The opening sequence particularly is special as it somehow stresses the duo’s perfect dynamic before they even meet by showing how in sync the two are. The first moment they meet (which the audience knew for certain was imminent) there is spark between the two – an explosion of electricity that maintains the excitement of the episode until its conclusion. What makes the couple even more genuine is the fact that they are both exactly what the other person needs in this moment in time: The Doctor; sad, lonely craving a best friend. Donna; lacking self-confidence, direction, motivation and the belief that in any way she is special. To the Doctor, Donna is life and excitement – and most of all the best friend he’s always needed, and to Donna, the Doctor is her saving grace – over the series validating her own belief in herself and reminding her how important she is individually in the universe. Their relationship was supportive, equal and with both parties having such a deep respect and admiration for one another that the duo just worked – fitting together in every way… like some sort of ‘DoctorDonna’.
“Good Morning, Adipose Industries”
One thing often ignored while looking at “Partners” is the excellent level of production elements – headed by James Strong’s incredible directing. The opening scenes particularly reflect the romp like energy of the episode, making for some hilarious sequences of the Doctor and Donna just missing each other over and over again. Another highlight being the incredibly funny mime conversation between the two (a performance improvised by Ms. Tate on the day of filming) which was executed perfectly! This marries flawlessly with the exciting score of Murray Gold – He starts off with the retooled, rocked up opening theme for the show then immediately moves into Donna’s quirky theme: “A Noble Girl About Town” which explores jazzy variations on the previous versions of her theme from “The Runaway Bride”. The score fits very well to the episode, since it is essentially such a light-hearted and slightly cheesy (in a good way) plot. “Life among the Distant Stars” is also from the opener and includes quite a sharp difference the tone from the rest of the episode’s score. The beautiful track starts as a quiet, reflective piano with a tinge of sadness and yearning, ending with a full-fledged orchestra – mirroring the progression of the episode’s plot perfectly.
“But we’ll get there one day. In a hundred years’ time we’ll be striding out amongst the stars. Jiggling about with all those aliens. Just you wait.”
The conclusion to Partners in Crime is not an overly clever one, (in extreme cases it could even be considered a “Deus Ex Machina”), the main villain doesn’t come across as really too much of a threat (despite the fact they have the potential to kill thousands of people), and the overall tone of the episode is a little ‘cheesy and rompy’ – but one must stress that “Partners in Crime” was never meant as a serious episode – the focus and aim of the episode is based primarily on building a dynamic between the Doctor and his new companion as well as refreshing and reinvigorating the atmosphere of the show – and in that respect it succeeds tenfold! Partners in Crime is an incredibly fun episode, riddled with weird and wonderful idea’s and a stunning direction and score; the episode will in my eyes forever be a classic – not for the clever resolution or the spine tingling monsters – but for the introduction and immediate development of what is easily one of the best TARDIS teams the Whoniverse will ever know. It served as the perfect bookend to a perfect series as we watched these two mates begin their journey on top of a building in Central London, before traveling to every corner of the universe – a trip of a lifetime! A trip one could never in a million years forget! …. Unless … you know *cough*.
Throughout this series of In Perspective articles we are going to provide a rating for the episode to allow for some comparisons and to see what elements are actually important to making a good opener. The following ratings were produced by taking the individual ratings of five contributors (David Selby, Jack Hudson, Lewis Hurst, Simon Mitchell and Tomas Edwards). These ratings were then averaged to provide a number which should be relatively free of individual bias. The results are as follows:
- Episode Rating: 8.1/10
- Effectiveness as an Opener: 8.2/10
- Monster Rating: 6.8/10
- Character Rating: 8.6/10
This gives the episode a total score of 31.7/40 So far this leaves the Episode One ‘Leader-board’ looking like this:
- Smith and Jones: 34.9/40
- Rose: 34/40
- Partners in Crime 31.7/40
- New Earth: 28.4/40