First thing to note, is that the beginning of New Who Vol. 4 came off the back of two important developments:
1) That series three had been the strongest so far. In fact, we’re continually baffled that more people don’t seem to think this. Series three was INCREDIBLE. It started with the strongest season opener yet (‘Smith and Jones’), had Russell T Davies’ most startlingly imaginative writing since the re-boot (notably ‘Gridlock’), the best hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck moment yet (Derek Jacobi’s reawakening as The Master in ‘Utopia’), and of course it had ‘Blink’- the single best piece of television this country has produced in ten years. Okay, we acknowledge that there were weaker moments (the Dalek two-parter springs to mind) and a slightly below-par finale, but the good out-weighed the bad by a long way. And we’ve not even mentioned how perfect John Simm was. The bar was set pretty high.
2) That, against all odds, the second series of Torchwood –winding up just as the Doctor Who starter pistol went off- was really, really good. Characters who previously had all the pathos of burnt sticks were suddenly living, breathing people, who we cared about after all. The finale had some genuinely brilliant moments. The bar just went up a bit.
As a result, when ‘Partners in Crime’ made its early-tea-time debut it had a lot to live up to. More than it could justifiably deliver, really. And though the witty script was actually one of the more original RTD efforts yet delivered, the episode itself just didn’t pull its weight. Things were looking up with a trip to Pompei for episode 2, with career-best CGI (those Lava monsters probably cost the entire budget of series one), with some decent scares and a solid Doctor Who story. Between the two episodes we get the general feel for the series: quirky and silly on the one side, weepy and emotive on the other, with Catherine Tate’s Donna acting both as a comic foil and moral compass for David Tennant’s ever active Doctor. We’re suspecting the whimsy has peaked with the recent ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’, with a slide towards hankie-and-sofa-cushion territory to come as the series progresses.
There has been plenty to enjoy. Catherine Tate has been a pleasant surprise, though –Kylie aside- still the least effective of the New Who companions. When she TONES DOWN THE SHOUTING she proves a much more subtle and affecting actress than the evidence of ‘The Runaway Bride’ would have suggested, and she and Tennant play off each other well as a double act. Occasionally she grates, and sometimes feels a little surplus to requirements (‘The Doctors Daughter’ could have done fine without her). CGI has been pretty exemplary (the Vespiform morph in ‘The Unicorn…’ aside), and there have been a handful of really stand out moments: Martha’s clone in ‘The Sontaron Strategy’, Georgia Moffat’s energetic freshness in (‘…Daughter’), Captain Darling.
Despite this though, and despite a lack of genuinely poor pieces, the whole doesn’t feel like it hangs together. It’s difficult to put your finger on, but as yet series four of Doctor Who feels less than the sum of its parts. There’s still time, and certainly the series as a whole is probably neck-and-necking with series 2. We have great hopes for the next 6 episodes, and with RTD moving on after the next round of specials his self-penned final 4 episodes, featuring Rose, Daleks and something mysterious that blocks out the stars are oozing with potential.
We’re hard not to predict what’s going to happen, although it’s fairly safe to say that Donna’s journey to the end of the series probably won’t be an easy one. We’ll actually be rather surprised if she survives…not to mention a little disappointed. Not because we dislike Donna, but because the new series has not yet had the courage to murder it’s companions, always a good way of delivering a thrill in the original series. We don’t count Kylie, we didn’t have much really invested in her. The companion-fest in the season finale (Donna, Martha, Rose, Captain Jack, Sarah Jane and Ianto and Gwen from Torchwood allegedly) might prove a bit of an over load. It’ll be interesting to see how RTD handles Davros (almost certainly on his way back), and whether he resists the temptation to bring back The Master after that teaser with the ring at the close of S4 in some sort of Dalek/Master face-off.
What's To Come: