Sunday, 23 June 2013

Doctor Who (Series Four)

After series three of Doctor Who there was a special 70 minute Christmas episode called Voyage of the Damned (that was shown in 2007) and then a fourth series that was shown in 2008. Catherine Tate, who had previously appeared in the 2006 Christmas special The Runaway Bride, would return to the show as the Doctor's new companion Donna Noble.

Series four is the beginning of the end for the Russell T Davies era. It would be RTD's last full-length series as the Doctor Who showrunner and it would also be the final full-length series for David Tennant. After series four Tennant starred in a few "one-off" specials that were shown throughout 2009 and is now coming back for the show's 50th anniversary episode. I am so excited about this! Anyway, series four is my favourite of the RTD era. My favourite episodes from his era are actually Human Nature/Family of Blood and Blink - which are both from series three - but I love series four for its overall consistency. It's still flawed of course. The series finale The Stolen Earth/Journey's End is a complete mess. There's far too much going on, most of the guest actors get barely anything to do, and Donna's exit from the show makes me furious. The Doctor's Daughter is rubbish as well. Jenny is an extremely bland character and Martha's story is dreadful. Why did this story have to be her last proper adventure on the show?! There aren't that many bad episodes in series four though and it also features my favourite companion from the RTD era. I love the 10th Doctor's relationship with Donna! It's so fun and well-written and Tennant and Tate have such great chemistry between them. They make for a fantastic partnership! There are some terrific episodes in series four as well. The Unicorn and the Wasp is great fun. The Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead is brilliant and it has the introduction of River Song, who would later becomes a very important character under the Steven Moffat era. Midnight is very tense and scary. The Fires of Pompeii is very emotional and Catherine Tate delivers a fantastic performance in Turn Left.

The Doctor
 I don't think I really need to mention that David Tennant is a fantastic actor and Doctor by now do I? Well, he is. Series four is Tennant's last full-length series on the show and he gives fantastic performances in each episode. His best performances in this series are probably in The Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead and Midnight. The 10th Doctor also spends far less time pining after Rose in series four than he did in series three. I think he only mentions her twice: once in Voyage of the Damned and once in Partners in Crime. I love the Doctor's relationship with Donna. It's so fun and well-written and the Doctor is never as insensitive towards Donna as he sometimes was with Martha. I love Tennant and Tate's chemistry too! Although David Tennant did have chemistry with Billie Piper and Freema Agyeman, he and Catherine Tate had an amazing chemistry! You can really tell that they loved working with each other and the pair of them would later act together in a production of Much Ado About Nothing (which they were both brilliant in!)

The Companion
It might seem funny to think about now but when it was announced that Donna Noble would be coming back to the show as the Doctor's full-time companion it caused much controversy. Catherine Tate's casting was highly controversial and many fans were making dire predictions that she would destroy the show. This was down to several reasons. Firstly, because many fans had been hoping that Sally Sparrow from Blink would come back as the Doctor's new companion. They were very disappointed that this didn't happen. Many fans also questioned Catherine Tate's acting ability. At the time Tate was still better known as a sketch-show actress and many thought she wouldn't be able to handle the show's more dramatic scenes. Many fans had also hated Tate's character. Donna Noble had been very annoying, shouty and obnoxious in The Runaway Bride and many fans couldn't bear the thought of seeing more of her. But by the end of series four many fans who had been vehemently opposed to Donna Noble/Catherine Tate had become big fans.

Donna's character is fleshed out brilliantly in series four and she's never, ever as annoying as she was in The Runaway Bride. Donna is a deeply insecure woman who suffers from a crippling lack of self-confidence (this is more than likely down to her having such an awful mother). She attempts to cover this up by being abrasive and sarcastic. But Donna's character is toned down considerably in series four and she's nowhere near as OTT as she was in The Runaway Bride. You find out that she's really a kind, brave, compassionate and funny woman. And her relationship with the 10th Doctor is a joy to watch. Unlike Rose and Martha, Donna has absolutely no romantic interest in the Doctor. Oh, she has a huge amount of love and respect for the Doctor of course but only in the platonic sense. What they have is pure friendship and it makes for a much better dynamic. They're just friends having fun and - again! - Tennant and Tate have brilliant chemistry between them. Donna is also much more willing to question and challenge the Doctor's decisions than Rose and Martha were when they were travelling with him but she never does it in an obnoxious way. Donna never lets the Doctor treat her like he treated Martha in series three either. Back in series three the Doctor often had this attitude with Martha:

But this is what would have probably happened if the Doctor had treated Donna in the same way!

Catherine Tate is also given plenty of material to show that she's more than just a sketch-show actress. She never gives a bad performance in series four and in many of her episodes she's absolutely fantastic. When you watch her acting her heart out in episodes like The Fires of Pompeii and Turn Left it makes you want to laugh at those who said she wasn't a good enough actress to play the show's companion. As you can probably tell I'm a huge fan of Donna and I love her. I love all of the New Who companions - with the exception of Rose - but Donna is probably my favourite because she's a great character and I love her relationship with Ten so much. Her exit from the show makes me want to cry because it was so awful but I won't comment on that now : (

Recurring Characters
In series four we get to see quite a bit of the Donna's family in the episodes that are set in the modern-day, just like we did with Rose and Martha's families when they were still travelling with the Doctor. In series four we see Donna's mother Sylvia Noble and her grandfather Wilfred "Wilf" Mott. Sylvia is an awful character and I hated her! Sylvia thinks Donna is completely useless and she constantly puts her down. She's horrible to Donna and in Turn Left she even tells her that she's been a disappointment. Rose and Martha may have had annoying mothers but at least they were clearly loving and affectionate towards their daughters! Hang on a minute, how come all of the companion's mothers were so whiny and annoying in the RTD era? OK, Jackie was alright by the end but just remember how annoying she was back in series one! Someone's got issues! However Wilf is as loveable as Sylvia is irritating. He's an allotment holder, has a keen interest in astronomy, and has always wanted to travel to the stars. When Donna gets to do this he couldn't be more thrilled because she's living the dream for both of them. Wilf is full of warmth and charm and is brilliantly acted by Bernard Cribbins. Interestingly, Cribbins also played a companion of the Doctor's in the Peter Cushing films from the 1960s (which aren't canon).

We also get the return of former Doctor Who companions in series four. Rose and Martha are the ones we see the most of. We get brief glimpses of Rose in Partners in Crime, The Poison Sky and Midnight before she comes back properly in Turn Left and sticks around for the series finale The Stolen Earth/Journey's End. Martha shows up in The Sontaran Strategem/The Poison Sky, gets one last adventure with the Doctor and Donna in The Doctor's Daughter, and is then brought back for The Stolen Earth/Journey's End. We get even more former companions in the series finale. Sarah Jane Smith, Captain Jack Harkness and Mickey Smith all make appearances. Jack's Torchwood buddies Gwen and Ianto show up and we also see Sarah Jane's son Luke. This finale is a big multi-companion story and is the only time Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures all crossed over. We even get to see some recurring characters in this story. We see Donna's family, Rose and Martha's mothers, and Harriet Jones. Now seeing all of these characters in one story probably sounds like an amazing idea but these episodes are really hugely disappointing. There's just far too many characters and in the end no-one gets the screentime they deserve. The characters - and the actors themselves - are wasted. Even Rose and Martha are let down. Rose doesn't get a huge amount to do in the series finale and it's obvious that the only reason RTD brought her back was so he could give her a happy ending with the Doctor. Er, sort of. I'll get to that in the episode review! Martha's appearances in the Sontaran two-parter and The Doctor's Daughter are also pointless and Freema Agyeman gets very poor material. These episodes make Martha look weak and helpless - the exact opposite of what she was in series three. It's very disappointing.

Favourite episodes:
  • The Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead (written by Steven Moffat)
  • The Fires of Pompeii (written by James Moran)
  • Midnight (written by Russell T Davis)
  • The Unicorn and the Wasp (written by Gareth Roberts)
Least Favourite episodes:
  • The Doctor's Daughter (written by Stephen Greenhorn)
  • The Stolen Earth/Journey's End (written by Russell T Davies)
Favourite Guest Stars:
  • Alex Kingston in The Silence of the Library/Forest of the Dead
  • Fenella Woolger in The Unicorn and the Wasp
  • Lesley Sharp and Colin Morgan in Midnight
  • Phil Davis in The Fires of Pompeii

Timecrash (written by Steven Moffat).
Timecrash is a mini-episode and was written for the 2007 Children in Need special by Steven Moffat. It's set in-between the Doctor's final goodbye to Martha in The Last of the Time Lords and the beginning of The Voyage of the Damned. I love this mini-episode! All of the charity specials that Doctor Who has done so far have been of decent quality but this is by far the best! Even though this mini-episode is only 7 1/2 minutes long it's still very entertaining, lovely and charming. There are some nice references to the classic series but there aren't so many that newer fans would be confused and alienated. Timecrash is brilliantly-written by Moffat and it even manages to have a plot: the 5th and 10th Doctors meet, they bicker a bit, solve a problem together, and have a touching farewell scene. It's great to see David Tennant acting alongside the man who would become his father-in-law too. Both Tennant and Davison are excellent in this mini-episode. You can really sense their mutual respect and admiration for each other but they never break character. Tennant delivers the "You were my Doctor" line with complete sincerity, and I love his Doctor's joy and enthusiasm when he sees his younger self. Davison is clearly older and heavier than he was back in the 1980s but he's still definitely the Doctor and slips right back into character again. Moffat also provide a quick explanation for why his appearance has changed. I love Davison's Doctor. Admittedly the only Davison story I've seen is The Caves of Androzani but on the strength of that serial alone I love him. It's an amazing serial and is often voted the greatest Doctor Who story of all time. Watch it and you'll understand why! Timecrash was also directed by Graeme Harper, the very same man who directed Caves of Androzani.

This mini-episode gives me very high hopes for David Tennant and Matt Smith's scenes together in the upcoming 50th anniversary and I'm ridiculously excited at seeing the two of them act alongside each other. One thing that I do find funny about this multiple-Doctor story though is that the Doctor calls himself "Doctor" and doesn't use his real name. OK, I know the Doctor's real name is a closely-guarded secret and must never ever be revealed and all that but surely it's OK for the Doctor to use it on himself?! Unless he's worried about the TARDIS overhearing?

The episodes of series four summarised:

0. Voyage of the Damned (written by Russell T Davies) - the 2007 Christmas special. Kylie Minogue stars as Astrid and she can't act. The story is boring and the angel villains are repetitive (did RTD think we'd forget Blink?) We get more The-Doctor-is-Jesus metaphors and an Evil Capitalist villain. But David Tennant is still great, some of the guest stars are good, and there are some nice special effects.
1. Partners in Crime (written by Russell T Davies) - the series four opener. It's not as good a series opener as last year's Smith and Jones. There's another Evil Capitalist villain. The storyline and the cute and cuddly Adipose are more suited to The Sarah Jane Adventures than Doctor Who. But overall it's still an OK episode. Donna's return is handled really well and her mime scene with the Doctor is hilarious. It's a classic scene and you can already see Tennant and Tate's chemistry. 
2. The Fires of Pompeii (written by James Moran). The first brilliant episode of the series. It has very high production values with amazing sets and costumes - the episode was actually filmed in Italy. It has a great script with the right blend of comedy and emotion. Catherine Tate is fantastic and Tennant is excellent as well. Phil Davis is very creepy and Karen Gillan makes her first appearance on the show. She has a minor role as a soothsayer. Two years later she would play the 11th Doctor's companion Amy Pond. I love this episode.
3. Planet of the Ood (written by Keith Temple). An OK episode - not terrible but not very interesting either. There's yet another Evil Capitalist villain. But it's nice to see the Ood again and Catherine Tate is excellent.
4-5. The Sontaran Strategem/The Poison Sky (written by Helen Raynor). A triple whammy. The Classic Who villains the Sontarans return, UNIT returns, and we see Martha Jones again. It's a  really fun two-parter and a big improvement on the Dalek two-parter from series three, which Raynor also wrote. Donna and Martha get on really well which is nice. Tennant is brilliant. The Doctor says "Are you my mummy?" - which is hilarious and was apparently improvised by Tennant! The only downsides are that Martha doesn't get much to do and the actor playing Rattigan has a pretty ropey American accent. 
6. The Doctor's Daughter (written by Stephen Greenhorn). It's rubbish! Georgia Moffet is good but Jenny is an extremely bland character. The Hath are crap aliens. It's another pointless episode for Martha - she gets captured in less than 5 minutes and does nothing for the whole episode. Martha/Freema Agyeman deserves much better material than this! Donna gets some good lines and Tennant's acting in Jenny's "death" scene is great -  but it's still not enough to save the episode. 
7. The Unicorn and the Wasp (written by Gareth Roberts). It's really funny and entertaining until the last 10 minutes. The Doctor's charades scene with Donna is hilarious. It really shows off Tennant and Tate's chemistry and their comedy skills. Fenella Woolger is brilliant as Agatha Christie (apparently Tennant suggested her for the role). Felicity Jones and Christopher Benjamin (from Talons of Weng Chiang) are also in this episode and are very good. The Doctor's flashbacking scene is pointless though and the episode loses its way in last 10 minutes. The attempt to explain why a giant alien killer wasp is killing people in the manner of an Agatha Christie story is very silly. The episode would have been better as a pure historical story with no alien at all - like those serials from the William Hartnell era.
8-9. The Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead (written by Steven Moffat). Amazing!  I love it! My favourite story of series four and Moffat does it again! This story is suspenseful, big, imaginative, creepy, moving, funny, sad, clever and thought-provoking. It's got great dialogue. It;'s full of fascinating hints about the future of the show. The mystery about Charlotte is really well-maintained. I love the idea of a planet-sized library. The Vashta Nerada are fantastic villains. It's also a huge gamechanger story - we get our first appearance of River Song who would become a very important character in the Steven Moffat era. Alex Kingston is also brilliant. Tennant and Tate are both brilliant and it's a great episode for their characters. Josh Dallas from Once Upon a Time even shows up as a head on a robot!
10. Midnight (written by Russell T Davies). A companion-lite episode with Donna being barely in it. It's a very dark, scary and tense episode. Lesley Sharp is genuinely very creepy. This episode also features Colin Morgan of Merlin fame and David Troughton (son of 2nd Doctor Patrick Troughton). Midnight is brilliant but very hard to watch. The scenes where the passengers all turn on the Doctor and try to kill him are genuinely upsetting and make for uncomfortable viewing. 
11. Turn Left (written by Russell T Davies). The Doctor-lite episode of series four. It's nowhere near as brilliant as Blink but much better than Love & Monsters. Apparently this episode was inspired by the Buffy episode The Wish. It has a very dark story as well. Catherine Tate is fantastic in it. Bernard Cribbins and Billie Piper are both very good as well. 
12-13. The Stolen Earth/Journey's End (written by Russell T Davies). The series finale and a big Doctor Who/Torchwood/The Sarah Jane Adventures crossover story. It's rubbish! The Daleks show up yet again only this time with Davros (RTD running out of ideas?) It has pointless celebrity cameos from Paul O'Grady and Richard Dawkins. There's far too much going on with the story - this story brings back all of the RTD companions and some recurring characters but most of them get barely anything to do. They're there just for the sake of it. The characters and the actors themselves are wasted. No-one gets the screentime they deserve. Rose also gets very jealous and bitchy towards Martha when she finds out Martha was a companion of the Doctor's. *Shut up, Rose! The Doctor had over 30 companions before you and one of them was his own granddaughter! You are not special!* Rose also kisses the human Doctor in front of THE Doctor, which clearly upsets the Doctor. Donna becoming part Time Lord is ridiculous. It's a deux ex machina and a cheap way to magically solve everything. Donna's fate is awful and she loses all of her memories of the Doctor. I HATE this! The scene where Donna realises what's about to happen to her is heartbreaking. She then goes back to the annoying woman she was from The Runaway Bride - and she goes back to her old unfulfilling life and a mother who thinks she's completely useless. RTD should have had Donna die a glorious, heroic death saving the universe instead! What point is Davros trying to make about the Doctor's companions? Yes Martha's plan to blow up Earth is a bit mental but she and all the companions were willing to sacrifice themselves if it meant stopping the Daleks and saving the universe. Why is this a bad thing? The Doctor would do it himself! Why is it a bad thing that the human Doctor kills the Daleks? The Doctor already did it himself in the Time War! The only saving graces of this finale are the German Daleks and the acting. But overall it's a massive disappointment.


Manette said...

Sooo I watched through Series Four and looks like I'm going to make another lengthy comment here :D

Steven Moffat's episode (well, the two of them) was once again among the best in the bunch, it just baffles me how he can do that EVERY TIME. I loved the library setting and can't wait to see more of River Song! Midnight was another great one, very different than Davies' usual style of writing, which was great! And David Tennant's face when the other passengers really start to haul him out – one of the best pieces of acting I've ever seen. I loved the setting of The Fires of Pompeii and the "can't save Pompeii" dilemma is done really tragically and well, I actually CRIED when Pompeii was destroyed! It would've been a perfect episode if I could have liked the villains, but for some reason I couldn't.

The series finale was, like the previous ones, just trying to be too big, I think. Like you said, there were so many characters in it that most of them barely got anything to do. And I just can't get over how weird it was that Rose got a Doctor-clone souvenir from the Doctor!

As for Donna, I honestly don't know what exactly I think. Tate and Tennant have AMAZING chemistry together, there's absolutely no doubt of that, and the Doctor and Donna have some really, really great moments. But for some reason, as a whole I don't find Donna's time as a companion as memorable as I'd like, even though I really liked the way her character developed and was such a welcome change from the crush-on-the-Doctor companions! It really bugs me that I can't like Donna more! So, Martha remains my favourite companion so far. Martha Jones = super. :)

Hannah said...

Your Doctor Who comments have been so in-depth and awesome that I wanted to take the time to answer them properly :)

Hehe, you're going to have to wait till S5 to see a bad Moffat episode ("Beast Below") and even that episode isn't BAD bad. It's just not up to his usual fantastic standard.

Yay! I love River. Glad you loved her as well :)

Midnight is great but I have to be in the right mood to appreciate it properly. If I'm in a bad mood that episode leaves me feeling depressed! Silence in the Library is my absolute favourite S4 story.

Yeah... I suppose the villains in Fires of Pompeii could have been better but I don't think they're bad villains and they don't lessen the episode for me. It's a great story, very emotional.

I also think that the Sontaran story in S4 is quite underrated and I really like The Unicorn and the Wasp until the final 10 minutes.

I don't like ANY of the RTD series finales. Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways is the best of the bunch but I'm still not a huge fan of that story. They try WAY too hard to be as epic and grand as possible. And I hate the finale of S4 because of what happened to Donna. It makes me so angry! Donna's character development was wonderful in S4 and her character deserved so much better than what she got. It genuinely upsets me :(

Fair enough. I do love Martha as a character but she isn't my favourite companion. I think that has a lot to do with how Ten treats her. As much as I love Ten he comes across as downright callous towards Martha at times and it annoys me. I prefer Ten with Donna because there was more give-and-take in their relationship if that makes sense. But like I say, I love all of the New Who companions! Well, apart from Rose :)