Retrospective: Series 4 & Specials (2008-09)

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As we countdown to Series 7, guest contributor David Selby continues his retrospective, this time looking at Series 4 and the 2009 specials.

Note: Christmas specials and mini-episodes will have their own separate article.

The coming soon trailers for Series 4 had me more excited than I’d ever been before for Doctor Who, and as the days drew closer I became more curious to see what gems Russell T. Davies had come up with this time.

Just before the showing of Series 4, I discovered the BBC Doctor Who website, so this was the first year I got to see clips and previews of the episodes before they were shown. This made me look forward to the episodes more than ever…

Partners in Crime

Many regular visitors will know that I feel strongly that Partners in Crime was an underrated episode (all down to my previous article, The Case for Partners in Crime), yet I would say that whilst being entertaining, it still wasn’t quite up to the same standard as other openers such as The Eleventh Hour or Smith and Jones. I still enjoyed it though, and it definitely isn’t my least favourite opener.

The Fires of Pompeii

The Fires of Pompeii is an excellent historical episode. For the first time ever we see the Doctor leave many innocent people dying purely because of his beliefs of how time works. Here we realise that Donna was right; the Doctor does need someone to stop him. This is when I realised that Donna was to be one of the Doctor’s most compassionate companions.

Planet of the Ood

The two-parter of The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit raised many questions about the Ood. Who are they? Why do they want to serve? Why are they working for the human race? It was nice to finally see a story explaining the origins of the Ood, which were harsh and in many ways devastating, as even though I was only 9 when I saw this, I was overwhelmed by how humanity could be so cruel. Sometimes humans are the best monsters in the show. A great episode, and once again Donna had a chance to shine right from the start, thinking about the morals even before the Doctor: “Don’t the Ood get any say in this?”

The Sontaran Stratagem

So once again, Helen Raynor wrote another two-parter which was badly received by many fans. But why? I found this to be enjoyable, we got to find out what happened to Donna’s predecessor, Martha Jones, and after three series we finally got a proper UNIT story. My only complaint would be that the Sontarans are mimicked a lot, and they seem to have gone from being a feared race of warriors in the classics to being potato-heads with serious little-man syndrome. But perhaps that is an example of the fact that the way we see monsters has evolved…

The Poison Sky

The Poison Sky was a very strong episode and provided an exciting and faultless resolution to The Sontaran Stratagem. If you think badly of this two-parter I’d recommend watching it again.

The Doctor’s Daughter

Another episode which I seem to have enjoyed more than others; whilst the Doctor’s daughter wasn’t quite his daughter in the way we were expecting, Jenny was still a very entertaining and at times amusing character, challenging the Doctor in ways which he couldn’t give an answer. However, I don’t think there’s much chance of her ever coming back. It’s been a long time since The Doctor’s Daughter and we haven’t heard anything yet.

The Unicorn and the Wasp

“It’s a murder, a mystery, and Agatha Christie.”
“So? Happens to me all the time.”

Yes, Gareth Roberts delivered another historical gem with the Unicorn and the Wasp. I thoroughly enjoyed this murder mystery (and for once I didn’t guess the murderer) and Robert’s usual quips about famous literature were just the icing on the cake. He sure knows his history; I’d like to see more of these in the future.

Silence in the Library

Silence in the Library had high expectations. Whilst at the time I had no idea of writers, after The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, The Girl in the Fireplace and Blink, Steven Moffat had a lot to live up to – and yet he failed to disappoint with this excellent first part to a story which became the start of one of the show’s biggest plotlines. It’s such a shame I was away the first time it was shown because I’d imagine it would have been really scary on the night it was shown. Still, at least we have iPlayer.

Forest of the Dead

This was by far my favourite episode for the River Song plot; it raised many questions but created within the audience a trust in River Song, despite the fact we didn’t even know who she was. Along with this, the story of Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead was resolved perfectly.


Whilst I enjoyed the first half of Midnight (“Is that chicken or beef?” “I think it’s both…”) I have to admit that I would like to have seen a little more from the second half. But what I did enjoy was the mystery of the Midnight creature and the idea of it possessing people, which raised many questions – and I, like many others, have my own little theory…

Turn Left

I just love Turn Left so much. In fact, it earned a place of number 2 on my top 5 episodes! Despite the fact that I wasn’t as keen on Rose’s character this time round (what happened to her voice?), Turn Left posed a question which had been going round in my head for a while, what if the Doctor was never around to save us? I enjoyed seeing all the alien invasions from the point of a normal person, and the resolution was great, especially the way that Donna had to sacrifice herself.

The Stolen Earth

This is (tied with The Sound of Drums) my favourite penultimate episode; it has everything that fits the requirements: old enemies, drama, tragedy, action and a great cliff-hanger. Oh, I know what’s coming in the comments now: “Why did all the companions need to come back?” I’ll tell you why. To prove a point: Harriet Jones once said to the Doctor that one day he wouldn’t be there and that someone else would have to save the world. That someone else turned out to be all of the Doctor’s companions, without whom the Doctor would never have found earth. That, and the fact it just made the story better.

Journey’s End

Whilst I enjoyed the episode as it explored some dark themes, it has to be said that this is probably the weakest Russell T. Davies final. Once again we were told that a companion was going to die when that didn’t at all happen (Mr T. Davies, you need to seriously research what ‘dead’ means), and an intriguing and dark storyline about Donna was built up with a slightly silly resolution. And the Daleks – a mighty race who have come close to destroying reality itself – are stopped at the flick of a switch. Really? And then the Doctor’s soul being revealed was a bit misleading, they’d already covered most of that in Boom Town! But with all this aside, this was still a fairly good episode with an absolutely heart-breaking resolution. Poor Donna! (Sob, sob)

And now on to the 2009 specials.

Planet of the Dead

Planet of the Dead was, in my view, a slightly better version of the second half of Midnight. You had a number of ‘ordinary’ people breaking down in a vehicle and becoming stranded in a dangerous and unfamiliar situation. The reason I say it is more successful is because they actually got outside, and developed a Doctor/companion relationship whilst utilising the set which they had paid for. However, I must admit that I was glad to see that the Lady Christina was not to be the new companion. She lacked the morals of a companion and was a little irritating at times, and… she was a thief. End of. The BBC shouldn’t exactly go around promoting burglary on a Saturday night program which is popular with… children. Yes, exactly.

The Waters of Mars

OK, I’ll get it out now. The Waters of Mars is by far my favourite ever episode of Doctor Who. For once the Doctor was left on his own and became quite a terrifying character. Also, having a longer running time did wonders for this episode, you got to have a climatic and heart-breaking ending and still have a build-up beforehand. I would probably call this episode “adult drama”, due to the dark themes explored in this episode, but I was only 10 when I saw this and I still was left shocked by Adelaide’s surprise suicide at the end of the episode.

The End of Time

Well for a start, many regular commenters will know that I love The End of Time because it has my favourite Doctor Who character in it: The Master – and I did love it. The episode actually gave me tears for the first time ever on a television program as I watched the Doctor helplessly suffer at the hands of his best friend. Despite this though, a little more Master would have made the episodes more to my liking, and I’ve always said that if you are going to bring back the Time Lords, you need to do it properly. Still though, The End of Time Part 2 remains one of my favourite episodes. As for the mysterious lady though, I’m glad it was left a mystery, on screen. Some things are better left to our imagination.

So, overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Series 4 and the specials, which did the Tenth Doctor and the Russell T. Davies era justice.

Note: Christmas specials and mini-episodes will have their own separate article.