New Who: The Story Thus Far – Series 4 (Specials, Episodes 1-5)

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

series4

‘Time Crash’

time-crash-davison-tennantNovember 2007 saw nice little treat for Classic Who fans with the reappearance of the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) for the fun-filled Children In Need special, ‘Time Crash’. Set directly after the events of ‘Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords,’ the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) finds his TARDIS colliding with his fifth incarnation’s and the two of them must figure out a way of solving the problem. Like all multi-Doctor stories prior to this, it contained a nice amount of banter between the different Doctors, with the Tenth Doctor resorting to cheap jokes about his previous self’s methods of engagement, while the Fifth Doctor insults his future self’s childish behaviour. The Fifth Doctor even went as far as believing the Tenth Doctor was a fan from LINDA (first established in ‘Love & Monsters’). Steven Moffat devised the ingenious solution of the Tenth Doctor preventing the two TARDISes causing a black hole the size of Belgium (very under dramatic as the Fifth Doctor pointed out) due to him simply remembering what the Fifth Doctor saw him do. Timey-Wimey and extremely clever, it concluded with a hint of nostalgia. The Tenth Doctor said farewell to the Fifth Doctor with admiration and the we were thrown into the deep end as the Titanic crashed into the TARDIS once again. Needless to say this wouldn’t be the last time Moffat would conduct a brilliant extravaganza containing multiple Doctors.

‘Voyage of the Damned’

tennant-doctor-kylie-voyageAfter seeing the cliff-hanger of the Titanic colliding with the TARDIS twice, it was nice to finally see the resolution in ‘Voyage of the Damned’. With a quick rewind of time, the Titanic reversed out of the TARDIS and landed the Tenth Doctor onboard a spacecraft replica hovering above Earth on Christmas Eve. This adventure continued the tradition of giving the Doctor a one-off companion, this time Astrid Peth (Kylie Minogue). Forming as a space waitress seeking to see the stars she easily caught the Tenth Doctor’s eyes and became an instant friend.

The Christmas Special was extremely dark and depicted a terrible scandal that would cost the lives of millions if not stopped. The scandal itself from Max Capricorn (George Costigan) made him a vile enemy, one of the worst Doctor Who has produced. His shared lust for vengeance over money caused the lives of nearly everyone onboard the Titanic and nearly everyone on Earth below. The Tenth Doctor was disgusted by him and was near enough speechless by the end of the story.

‘Voyage of the Damned’ had its fair share of casualities and more importantly surprise deaths. The group of friends accompanying the Tenth Doctor was what made the adventure that more tragic, gritty and fierce. The story took the lives of Foon (Debbie Chazen) and Morvin Van Hoff (Clive Rowe) along with Bannakaffalatta (Jimmy Vee). The biggest shock factor was the death of Astrid Peth, the first companion to die since Adric in ‘Earthshock’. Her fate was sadly obvious to me once she asked to be the new companion and the Tenth Doctor accepted. It was a tragic moment seeing the Tenth Doctor struggle to bring her back and faced with the reality that he isn’t above the laws of life, death and loss; three problems the Tenth Doctor constantly battled against and slowly brought about his downfall. Unfortunately Rickston Slade (Gray O’Brien) survived in the end when all the good people perished. At least Mr. Cooper (Clive Swift) and Midshipman Alonso Frame (Russell Tovey) got happy endings. The ending was devastating and still stands as a long tragic road for the Doctor and one of his darkest Christmas adventures. ‘Voyage of the Damned’ brought about the introduction of Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins) who would become a new central character within the next episode.

‘Partners in Crime’

Partners in CrimeSeries Four kicked off in full with ‘Partners In Crime’ which brought about the re-introduction of Donna Noble (Catherine Tate). After declining the Tenth Doctor’s offer of travelling with him the first time, Donna tried to find the Time Lord again, regretting her previous decision. I will be honest in saying that Donna’s character divides me, I just can’t make up my mind about her. One minute I like her and the next I don’t. The one thing that bugged me about her character the most was her attitude problem and what came across as disrespect towards the Tenth Doctor from time to time. Though what I loved most about Donna was her emotional side which gave her so much depth beyond her comedy routines and attitude. In some ways I would’ve preferred a brand new companion coming onboard, but I’m glad her character improved from what we received in ‘The Runaway Bride’ which would’ve only served best as a one-off thing.

Donna’s mother, Sylvia Noble (Jacqueline King), still has little faith in her daughter and uses every chance to express her disappointment which made her come across as a very harsh and uncaring character (unlike the previous mothers of companions). It’s fair to say her character didn’t bring much to the storyline. Wilfred Mott on the other hand, now established as Donna’s grandfather, created a nice heart-warming character that people could relate to and love. All he wanted was for Donna to be happy and to achieve her dreams, something he supported throughout his time on the show. Miss Foster (Sarah Lancashire) proved to be a good villain to kick off the new series but was certainly not the best of the best. For an introduction episode it wasn’t half bad though. She was a cunning woman and kept the Tenth Doctor on his toes. The whole Adipose idea was sweet, until of course they reduced their victims (to no fault of their own) to multiple new offspring.

Overall ‘Partners In Crime’ wasn’t all that good and It could’ve been a hell of a lot better. I truly loved Russell T Davies’s era (as with all the eras of Doctor Who) but it did suffer with flaws I find weaken my enjoyment of it when looking at it overall. One of my biggest faults with it is what I call the ‘restart button’ which had each series go back to basic settings within story and quality before rising up as it went on, ending with a massive explosive finale and Christmas Special before toning back down again. I hated this and would’ve preferred it if the show stayed at a constant level of excitement and quality instead of lowering it for the sake of rebooting the show for a new year. The highlight of this episode has to go to the re-meeting of the Tenth Doctor and Donna which is hilarious. It’s fair to say they became the best of friends throughout Series Four. The other highlight was the glimpse of Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) which left us all confused as well as excited along with the first indication of the ‘stolen planet’s arc’ which began with the loss of the Adipose’s breeding planet.

‘The Fires of Pompeii’

capaldi-tennant-fires‘The Fires of Pompeii’ got Series Four along the right tracks with a massive, explosive story full of heartache and dilemma. It gave Donna plenty to work with on her first outing in the TARDIS by challenging the Tenth Doctor’s wisdom upon history and fixed points in time. The Time Lord knew he couldn’t interfere with the laws of time (something that slowly became a torture to the Tenth Doctor) but Donna’s human nature wished to do something about it and prevent the massacre of Pompeii.

The story foreshadowed greater events through both Lucius Petrus Dextrus (Phil Davis) and Caecilia Evelina (Francesca Fowler) using their psychic abilities to read the Tenth Doctor and Donna’s minds. We were told about something being on Donna’s back (an indication to the Time Beetle within ‘Turn Left’) along with the mentioning of Rose’s return and the secrets locked away in the Medusa Cascade (an indication to the events of ‘The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End’). There was speculation over the Doctor’s name and its meaning. We also had another hint to the ‘lost planet’s arc’ with the inclusion of the Pyroviles home-world Pyrovillia.

The Pyroviles proved to be a formidable foe and faced the Tenth Doctor with his greatest dilemma that resulted in him having to cause the destruction of Pompeii for the sake of saving the Earth. It was a heart-breaking sequence to watch. The Tenth Doctor tried to face it in a harsh tone by comparing the situation to the loss of Gallifrey during the Last Great Time War. Donna was still deeply devastated by the situation (a dark adventure to start her off on) and grew to understand the Doctor a little more. At least the Tenth Doctor returned and saved someone from the chaos Mount Vesuvius released. ‘The Fires of Pompeii’ saw the first appearance of both Karen Gillan and Peter Capaldi who would both go on to receive iconic and important roles within the mythology of the show.

‘Planet of the Ood’

Klineman-Halpen-planet-oodThe next episode ‘Planet of the Ood’ showcased Series Four’s dark tone and serious plot ideas. We’ve had the idea of dieting going wrong, then a dilemma creating a terrible fixed point in Earth’s history, and now the Tenth Doctor and Donna’s chemistry was challenged by the notion of slavery. The Ood’s had previously encountered the Tenth Doctor in ‘The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit’ and now they took centre stage to deliver their saddening truth. It was painful to watch their suffering, formulating a truly tragic tale that both the Tenth Doctor and Donna couldn’t bare to watch.

‘Planet of the Ood’ was a clear example that humanity can be in truth be the biggest monsters of them all and their ill treatment of the Ood really did bring our negative energy and cruelty right to our front doors. Klineman Halpen (Tim McInnerny) was a dirty money-making businessman with Kess (Roger Griffiths) being a ruthless soldier who wanted nothing more than to inflict cruelty upon the Ood and showcase his supposed superiority. Solana Mercurio (Ayesha Dharker) on the other-hand was just a naive idiot who couldn’t see past the reality around her and ended up getting herself killed (quite rightly so). These three villains got what they truly deserved (Halpen the most by becoming an Ood – the creature he despised so much).

I just love the ending of ‘Planet of the Ood’ for the simple reason the Ood got what they wanted – peace. They finally got the gift of being able to sing to each other and join hands in harmony, something deprived from them for many long years. The story foreshadowed the events of ‘The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End’ concerning the strange connection between the Tenth Doctor and Donna. Also, it even went as far as foreshadowing the Tenth Doctor’s approaching end (something that wasn’t as clear upon first viewing as David Tennant hadn’t announced he was leaving at that point).

‘The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky’

sontaran-head-strategemMartha Jones (Freema Agyeman) made a triumphant return in ‘The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky’ which had her now a fully qualified doctor working for U.N.I.T. (Unified Intelligence Taskforce). The story also brought about the return of the Sontarans, an enemy who hadn’t been seen since 1985’s ‘The Two Doctors’. General Staal (Christopher Ryan) of the Tenth Sontaran Battle-Fleet led a massive stratagem to turn Earth into a new breeding ground for the mass clone empire in order to aid their never-ending war with the Rutans. It was an interesting idea to place the Sontarans within due to their brute and warlike nature. The idea of them being sly and stealthy even had the Tenth Doctor question their actions.

Donna demonstrated the fundamental nature of Russell T Davies’ companions in which they needed to go home and see their families. This idea was nice and all but didn’t really do much after seeing the companion do this time after time after time. It got boring and made the show too much like a soap opera and didn’t really give it much depth beyond your usual 21st century rubbish television. I myself preferred it when companions within the Classic era didn’t have family backgrounds and merely joined and left the TARDIS as they pleased, making for more interesting stories than having one’s family join in on the curiosity and danger. I’m just glad that Steven Moffat went against this approach for the majority of his reign (so far).

The inclusion of U.N.I.T. I have a few problems with as I felt they were given too much stick by the Tenth Doctor in this story. He became a bit of a hypocrite due to the fact that he hasn’t fully changed and his dark nature still remains to bring justice upon those select few who had gone too far, or simply pushed the Time Lord to the point of him acting accordingly. His reaction to Colonel Mace (Rupert Holliday-Evans) was just rude and didn’t seem like the Doctor’s typical association with the organisation. Yes, within his third incarnation he would often express his hatred of the military mind but never too much with their methods of using weaponry as he often would aid them in this respect. What I’m saying is it didn’t quite gel for me.

Overall, ‘The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky’ proved to be a great comeback for the Sontarans, but the chemistry between the Tenth Doctor and U.N.I.T. was just downright bad and spoilt it for me (a person who is truly fond of U.N.I.T. having being a fan of the Third Doctor’s era). At least the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) got a mention. Shame he was destined to spend the rest of his days trapped in Peru (apart from his final appearance in The Sarah Jane Adventures story ‘Enemy of the Bane’).

My Verdict so far:

  • ‘Time Crash’ – 10/10
  • ‘Voyage of the Damned’ – 10/10
  • ‘Partners in Crime’ – 4/10
  • ‘The Fires of Pompeii’ – 10/10
  • Planet of the Ood’ – 10/10
  • ‘The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky’ – 8/10

 Join us for part 2 tomorrow.

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