Unpopular Opinion: Series Four
Guest contributor Will Brown shares another take on the 2008 series.
In my previous article, The Waters of Mars: the Best of the Specials, I briefly stated that I thought the fourth series was mediocre. Series Four is often cited as one of the stronger ones, however I feel that it has several different flaws of varying severity that weaken it as a whole. I wish to assert that I do not hate it, or even dislike it; I just find it rather middling and consider it my least favourite full series of the revival.
The Various Arcs
The story arc is significant in determining the quality of a series as a collective whole, but I dislike the build-up and pay-off of most of the Series Four’s story threads. First of all, I feel that they are forced into the script throughout, and the ‘lost planets’ or ‘bees disappearing’ are just raised in general conversation for no reason. This would not be such a problem, except I find that the story grinds to a screeching halt when this happens.
The entirety of the ‘bees disappearing’ thread just adds up to nothing in the end, in the most stupid of ways. As it turns out, they were in fact returning home, as they were alien. Yes. Most bees are alien. The fact that they say this with the upmost seriousness is quite ridiculous, and it appears to me as though they just ran out of ideas.
I probably prefer the ‘lost planets’ arc, but it is heavily flawed in its eventual conclusion. In The Stolen Earth 27 planets had been snatched; 3 of these had been taken from various points, and the other 24 at the exact same moment, which is a pretty brainless move from the Daleks. The removal of these first three suggests that they were to remain inconspicuous, but the others contradict this notion entirely.
Perhaps the most important plot thread of 2008 was the ‘Rose returning’ arc, and I must admit that, even as a detractor of Rose, I quite like the foundations throughout the run, particularly her involvement in Turn Left. When she does eventually return to our universe though, she contributes nothing to the plot of The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. Rose only receives the metacrisis Doctor duplicate, but more on the problems of that turn-of-events later.
General Story Quality
This is my largest gripe with the series; very few of the stories stand out, most being lost in a great sea of mediocrity.
To begin this section on a high note, there are two of my favourite stories of the modern series. Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead is an out-and-out classic, having tension and emotional moments intermixed with a fantasy feel. The following episode, Midnight, has suspense in droves due to its nature as a psychological thriller. Both have great supporting casts to their advantage, although they use them in very different ways towards a similar level of success.
Now to the majority of the stories; the ‘meh’ ones. The opener, Partners in Crime, feels hugely formulaic in its structure, and only really serves to re-introduce Donna, now as a companion. The Fires of Pompeii is sometimes hailed as a classic, however I find it to be oddly uninvolving up until the memorable climax. Planet of the Ood definitely has a lot of potential, but the anti-slavery message is too heavy-handed and black-and-white. It also wastes Tim McInnerny as the moustache-twirling Mr Halpen.
Things improve slightly for the first two-parter, The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, due to the clever ideas and plots, even though it horribly misuses the Sontarans. The Unicorn and the Wasp is a rather enjoyable farce, despite the exposition-heavy ending which I dislike. Turn Left shows promise in my opinion, but it slowly devolves into the same formula, although it incorporates Rose well and has Bohemian Rhapsody in it.
Finally, as well as two classics, there are two stories held in low regard by myself. The Doctor’s Daughter has a bland and boring concept with a twist that adds nothing, and Martha has no real presence whatsoever. Then we have The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, which is over-stuffed with way too many characters, so much so that Rose, the epicentre of the arc, has nothing to do at all and the Daleks are used in a tiringly repetitive fashion. The metacrisis sub-plot is incredibly convoluted, and handing him to Rose harms all involved; Rose looks dumb, barely telling one man from another; metacrisis Ten looks as though he has no free will or independence; Ten looks disrespectful of the pair, turning them away casually. However, Donna’s exit is very touching, despite the poor foundation it is built upon, and it was truly tragic way for her to depart the series.
The TARDIS Team
My thoughts on the two main characters, the Tenth Doctor and Donna, are actually more positive than you might expect. I have said before that I do not like this incarnation, and a huge part of this is his previous relationships with companions. I felt he was smug with Rose and cruel to Martha, but I love the chemistry David Tennant and Catherine Tate have on-screen. It is just two friends travelling the universe and having enormous fun in the process. It really is a wondrous thing to see unfold, and I think it improves the stories to some degree. Add to this the refreshing choice to have a purely platonic relationship, and there is one of the greatest bonds between Doctor and companion in the show’s history, at least in my humble opinion.
Donna is also really good on her own I find. Her feisty nature was incredibly amusing, even if it did go a little too far in some cases, and I also admire how she questioned the Doctor at certain points, most notably in The Fires of Pompeii. She could also be rather bright, such as in The Doctor’s Daughter when she pieces the whole mystery together. That being said, Donna is down-to-Earth in that she decides to revisit her family in The Sontaran Stratagem yet ultimately decides to leave.
As a whole, my thoughts on Series Four are in the middle, because, whilst it provided an entertaining companion in the form of Donna Noble and a brilliant on-screen dynamic, the main bulk of stories are not particularly noteworthy with a few exceptions, both positive and negative, as well as the disappointing threads of the story arc. Not a bad series, by any means, but not a good one either.