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New Who: The Story Thus Far – Series 4 (Episodes 6-13)

John Hussey continues his series analysing the revival, this time with Series 4.

‘The Doctor’s Daughter’

the-docs-daughter-promoSeries Four continued after the mini cliff-hanger with the TARDIS taking the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), Donna (Catherine Tate) and an unwitting Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) to an unknown destination. This led to the Tenth Doctor being forced into using a progenation machine on the planet Messaline which resulted in him creating an offspring in the form of Jenny (Georgia Moffett). The story revolves around the Tenth Doctor coming face to face once again with the reality of the Last Great Time War’s aftermath at his hands. All of his family and friends perished after the usage of the Moment and now the Tenth Doctor was presented with a half-child and cruelly had to deal with his loss and emptiness his lost loved ones left behind within his broken hearts.

‘The Doctor’s Daughter’ really gave Donna a lot to show for herself as she uncovered the meaning of the number codes throughout the base. Using her skills as a temp she realised the numbers stood for the date in which the different sections were finished and this indicated the war between humanity and the Hath had been going for a mere week. The progenation machines had in fact been breeding generation after generation of soldiers who all simply passed on the legacy of the war and lost track of time. The meaning behind the Source, something both sides thought was a weapon to bring their enemies’ defeat, was revealed to be a terraforming device. The tragic ending saw Jenny shot by General Cobb (Nigel Terry), leaving the Tenth Doctor once again alone with the pain of loss. It was a tense moment to see the Doctor actually contemplating shooting his enemy in a peak of rage, but ultimately choosing the high ground and proving himself better by not firing. This in many ways was a clear sign the Last Great Time War still hung heavy on his shoulders and pushed his emotions in the ongoing plotline. The two species finally gained their alliance and the war came to an end. Martha was kept amongst the sidelines (resulting in the tragic death of Peck) and ending the story with her second return home. Unbeknownst to the Doctor, Jenny had in fact survived and took off to explore the galaxy.

‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’

The Unicorn and the Wasp‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’ was a fun story playing on the concepts of classic murder mysteries. There was even a mockery of the game Cluedo thrown in just for the laughs. The continuous idea of using historical figures pulled in Agatha Christie (Fenella Woolgar) to solve a plot that resembled one of her own stories. I’d never have guessed upon first viewing of this bizarre plot that the Vespiform was a vicar in disguise and that the Unicorn was in fact a thief (with her being a woman for extra shock value). It was an enjoyable watch, positioned as a stand-alone-story within Series Four which acted to showcase the continuous banter and friendship of the Tenth Doctor and Donna. One can never forget the fun watching Donna trying to solve the Tenth Doctor’s charades and then giving him one hell of a shock in order to grant him ingredients to the antidote to his poisoning. Doctor Who + murder-mystery = bonkers (in a good way).

‘Silence of the Library/Forest of the Dead’

silence-riverThe most important part to Series Four was the introduction of River Song (Alex Kingston) who later became a major character to both the Doctor and the show. During the original airing of ‘Silence of the Library/Forest of the Dead’ fans were left in confusion as to who this strange woman was. It was interesting how Steven Moffat introduced his wonderful character by having her know more about the Time Lord than he did. It left the Doctor completely stunned and somewhat uncomfortable. The chemistry River showcased indicated straight away that there was something important about her character and that she meant something of importance to the Doctor within his established future (something he wasn’t aware of yet but was obviously past history for River). This awkward introduction was the establishment that the two of them didn’t always meet in the right order and River’s diary was the key to syncing up their different and complicated time-streams.

It also became clear that this was in fact the Doctor’s first encounter with River and it would become her last (until the events of ‘The Name of the Doctor’). The tragic part about this love story was seeing River’s heartbreak knowing her beloved Doctor didn’t recognise her and that the Doctor from the future knew all along that her death would come. Though she didn’t fully die as the Doctor saved her to the Library’s databanks due to his unwillingness to escape endings, a fact he hates almost above else (as brought across strongly in ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’). River also let across earlier that she knew the Doctor’s name which ensured the Tenth Doctor believed her words and he finally started to trust her. It was the beginning to their long and complicated relationship.

The Vastra Nerada proved to be another of Steven Moffat’s brilliant designs. The idea of Piranha-like creatures living within the shadows waiting for you is quite chilling and gave the story the edge and atmosphere it needed. Sadly the part I hated most about the plot was Donna’s scenes in the alternative world within the databanks. Due to not fully liking her character I found them distracting and detracted from the main action I was quite frankly more bothered about. Overall, it was a good plot and led towards one of the best eras of Doctor Who so far. The story also foreshadowed Donna’s fate within ‘The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End’.

‘Midnight’

Sky-Silvestry-midnightThe next two instalments of Series Four were interesting in the sense that they were both ‘Lite-episodes’. ‘Midnight’ saw the Tenth Doctor having an adventure on his own whilst ‘Turn Left’ acted as a ‘Doctor-Lite-Episode’ like with previous adventures ‘Love & Monsters’ and ‘Blink’. ‘Midnight’ was without a doubt the better of the two Series Four episodes and showcased a real breakthrough within storytelling (and it was also without a doubt one of RTD’s best stories). Like with ‘The Deadly Assassin’ from the Fourth Doctor’s era, we were shown the dark scenarios the Doctor could get into without a companion either to stop him or to aid him because on his own he was vulnerable to both temptation and danger.

Once again it was shown that humanity could truly be the greatest monsters of them all. The tense storyline really did bring about all that is dark within our species and showcased that fear and the unknown will break us apart and reduce us to such a primal state to the point of being irrational. This left the Tenth Doctor more than vulnerable as his fellow passengers grew ever more hysterical from the presence of the Midnight Entity possessing Sky Silvestry (Lesley Sharp). The entity was completely unseen throughout the entire episode, giving the story that extra edge of terror as even we the viewer couldn’t see what the Doctor was facing. ‘Midnight’ got to the point that even the Tenth Doctor was overpowered by his passengers and he displayed genuine fear as he knew he had lost control and was completely open for attack. The story got even more tense when the Tenth Doctor had his voice stolen by the Midnight Entity with the passengers made to believe that he was now the enemy and was nearly thrown out of the vehicle into the X-Tonic radiation outside. It was certainly a close-call for the Doctor and one of the most terrifying adventures to date. ‘Midnight’ also had the third cameo by Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) as she appeared briefly on one of the broken television screens (unknown to the Tenth Doctor). It also gave another indication to the ‘stolen planets story-arc’ with the mentioning of the lost Moon of Poosh.

‘Turn Left’

turn-left-donna‘Turn Left’ saw an opportunity by Russell T Davies to show us what would happen if the Doctor wasn’t around to save us: answer; everything would fall into the pits of hell. It was a clever idea to tackle but unfortunately it wasn’t done to its fullest. It fell apart firstly by placing the companion centre stage. That’s all fine and dandy but I’m not the biggest fan of companions getting all the glory in a story and the Doctor being pushed to the sideline even though he is meant to be the main character we follow each and every week of a series (thise happened a little too much in Russell’s era). Donna wasn’t one of my favourite companions and ‘Turn Left’ began the turning point of her character that led into inconsistent writing which made her character go from a more confident Donna who had done so much, to a Donna who doubted herself without any true meaning. The concentration was too much on Donna rather than the consequences of doomed Earth itself. Donna’s character was made to be far too important for reasons that weren’t all that great.

The nice spin on the episode was the death of all the companions who had aided the Tenth Doctor along with their little gangs (i.e. Luke, Clyde, Maria, Gwen and Ianto). The problems with ‘Turn Left’ are the major plot-holes. With the absence of the Tenth Doctor all of the major modern-day disasters are explained and dealt with but what about major points within the past? Who prevented the Carrionites from taking over Shakespearean England? Who erupted Mount Vesuvius to destroy the Pyroviles and finally who saved Agatha Christie from the Vespiform? Also I seem to recall in ‘Voyage of the Damned’ that the idea of the Titanic crashing into the Earth was to destroy it as part of Mr. Capricorn’s (George Costigan) mad money-making scheme and yet in ‘Turn Left’ it merely destroyed London instead. This I never understood. And finally the major continuity error is the fact the Daleks master plan of destroying reality still occurs despite the fact the Tenth Doctor was never around in 1950s New York to prevent the Final Experiment, thereby causing Dalek Caan to become the last Dalek and use Emergency Temporal Shift to go crash through the Time Lock to save Davros. ‘Turn Left’ was an mediocre episode in my eyes and could’ve been a lot better if it hadn’t been so Donna-central and the plot-holes were tightened up to a more believable degree. The main point of the episode I suppose is the return of Rose Tyler, which had been hinted at throughout Series Four, in order for the relevance of the series finale.

‘The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End’

davros-stolen-earth-palmSeries Four came to a climatic conclusion with ‘The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End’ which was jam-packed with so much action, drama and suspense to the point were surely it would be considered the best finale of all times? In my opinion that would be utterly incorrect. The major issue with this finale is too much happens. It is a massive cluster of mental ideas crammed together into one giant mess. To some degree ‘The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End’ reads like a fan-fiction story seen on the internet. It brings back old characters, joins together the spin-off shows and respective characters, has tons of Daleks, resurrects Davros and joins all these points together for a pointless plotline. It really didn’t come across too well.

Russell T Davies’ problem was he didn’t think too much out of the box and so kept repeating himself in storytelling for finales and story-arcs. The usage of Daleks every series was another point that became tiresome and extremely boring and unimaginative. They came back from being apparently extinct and then miraculously became apparently extinct again. Same old, same old. Davros didn’t get nearly enough screen-time he deserved and was wasted in the long run. The only redeeming factor of his appearance was shock value and his ultimate speech about the Doctor creating an army of murderers through his companions and causing the death of the innocent he encounters due to his dangerous lifestyle. Harriet Jones (Penelope Wilton) was the latest victim to pay the price as her minor return saw her give her otwn life to bring the Tenth Doctor to the Medusa Cascade to help Earth and his friends stop the Daleks.

The Daleks masterplan was way too far-fetched for my liking. I know the Daleks hate everything in the universe but would they really go to the length of destroying everything within every single universe? Plus this goes back to the plothole I mentioned in ‘Turn Left’ about the foreshadowing of the Daleks’ Reality Bomb. As someone once said in the comment section – if the Reality Bomb transmits to every single parallel universe then surely at some point a reality would be met with an alternative scenario in which the Reality Bomb isn’t stopped and would therefore cause the end of everything?

The inclusion of all the different characters wasn’t very clever and just created a fan-fiction style mash-up and it made the story too cramped. But episode length isn’t everything and Steven Moffat has proved on countless occasions that a great story can be told in a short time-span. Russell’s god-complex seemed to grow out of control at this point and it showed with the inclusion of all his characters and ideas in one massive story. I for one would’ve preferred Torchwood not being included as I’ve found over time that its nature just contradicts the overall story of Doctor Who and with this inclusion it basically means we are forced to consider it canon whether we like to or not.

Donna-Noble-Journeys-EndThe thing I hated most was the utter destruction of Donna’s character. Anything redeeming in her went out of the window when she became a super human merged with a Time Lord mind through the means of a Meta-Crisis. The creation of another Tenth Doctor was just madness and didn’t really make sense nor bring anything to the plot other than giving an excuse to send Rose Tyler back to the parallel world at the end of the story. Seeing Donna defeat the Daleks in such a humiliating fashion made me cringe and really feel bad for them. It could’ve been handled better. Also the revelation about Donna’s strange connection with the Tenth Doctor was really bad.

The idea of Dalek Caan having a radical character shift was just completely hypocritical to his last appearance (i.e. him hating Dalek Sec for believing the Daleks ways were wrong). Then creating a scenario where it can destroy every last Dalek (after time allows it to see the Daleks for what they are) by manipulating Donna (making her character far too important through stupidity) was just bad writing. Almost a massive cop-out to what was an already average finale. I will admit Donna’s exit was truly shocking and completely sad having all of her memories taken away and turned back into her former useless self, leaving the Tenth Doctor completely destroyed by her loss. ‘The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End’ tied up what little story-arc there was in Series Four by explaining the stolen planets were a part of the Daleks grand master plan of creating the Reality Bomb and Rose was returning because of the Reality Bomb (and her undying urge to be with the Tenth Doctor). The only important plot points from this story is the revelation of the Tenth Doctor using up a regeneration (which would become important within ‘The Time of the Doctor’) and his slow decent into despair after wiping Donna’s memories.

My Verdict

  • ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’ – 9/10
  • ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’ – 10/10
  • ‘Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead’ – 8/10
  • ‘Midnight’ – 10/10
  • ‘Turn Left’ – 3/10
  • ‘The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End’ – 4/10

 Continues tomorrow with the remaining Tennant specials.

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