Series Four – David Tennant

Voyage of the Damned

This was the 2007 Christmas special, the third such of the Russell T. Davies era (the first was The Christmas Invasion, and the second was The Runaway Bride), and the show plays off of that because when a group visits London on Christmas they find it deserted, and a newsvendor (Bernard Cribbins, who we will see again in the 2008 season) explains that everyone has left London because dangerous alien activity always seems to happen there on Christmas. And of course it will happen again this year. Kylie Minogue is the big name guest star here, and essentially is a one-off companion for the Doctor. The plot is not at all air-tight, but is essentially a sci-fi play off of The Poseidon Adventure.

I think the main take-away here is something that is not exactly emphasized, but is in a way the theme of the Tenth Doctor, David Tennant. If you remember the famous scene at the end of The Doctor Dances, when Eccleston is so full of joy that at last, everyone lives. Well, this episode is the opposite. One by one, most of the likable characters get killed off (except one), and each one demonstrates the inability of the Doctor to control events. Some die by accident, some by sacrificing themselves for the good of all, but there is nothing the Doctor can do. The least likable character, a wealthy, highly-entitled investor, lives. And Copper then foreshadows a lot when he points out that if the Doctor could decide who lives and who dies, that would make him a monster, wouldn’t it?

Tennant’s Doctor is a really a tragic figure. He loses the people he loves. Rose is in another universe, essentially unreachable. Martha chooses to leave him. The only other Time Lord in existence, The Master, chooses to die just to spite the Doctor’s wish for at least one other person of his race to live. This Doctor is still clearly haunted by the Time War, and is a sad and lonely man. I think this is the main theme of the Tenth Doctor.


Partners in Crime

This is where Donna Noble, played by Catherine Tate, returns. She was first introduced in The Runaway Bride, where she seemed to be a one-off Christmas Special companion, much like Kylie Minogue was last Christmas. But sometimes characters appear in a one-off role, and something sparks more attention. There is an interesting echo here of School Reunion, because again we have the Doctor and a former companion independently investigating the same odd occurence, each unaware of the other. But here it is played for comedy. Bernard Cribbins returns, and this time he is the grandfather of Donna Noble. Originally there was supposed to be a father for Donna who appeared in The Runaway Bride and who would fulfill the functions needed in this story, but that actor took ill and died. Rather than try to cast another actor as Donna’s father, they decided to bring in Bernard Cribbins. Of course, Cribbins not only appeared in Voyage of the Damned, but as a much younger man appeared in the Peter Cushing movie Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. In fact, people we’ve seen before and people we will see again is the theme of the entire season, as we will see. This story is not going on anyone’s list of the classic top stories, but it is a perfectly fine story with a lot of humor. And apparently the Doctor is not the only one with a sonic device. And watch to the very end for the appearance of a previous companion.


The Fires of Pompeii

Later on in Doctor Who we will see (The Doctor’s Wife) that sometimes the TARDIS takes the Doctor where he is needed, rather than where he wants to go, though it is never made explicit how this is accomplished. Here is the relevant dialogue:

The Doctor: You didn’t always take me where I wanted to go.

Idris (inhabited by the Tardis): No, but I always took you where you needed to go.

The Doctor: You did!

The Doctor’s Wife

This is an example, since the Doctor was trying to go to ancient Rome, and instead is diverted to Pompeii the day before the volcano erupts. And it is up to him to make sure things turn out all right. As I said before, people we have seen before and people we will see again are a theme this season, and we have two examples in this episode. Caecilius is played by Peter Capaldi, who will return as the 12th Doctor, and Karen Gillan plays the soothsayer, and she will be the first companion to the 11th Doctor, Matt Smith. This is a good episode, where the Doctor learns that Donna was right, and in the process learns to temper the rules with a little mercy.


Planet of the Ood

This is an excellent episode, despite a few niggles (As Council of Geeks points out, you cannot change species from drinking something). We first met the Ood in The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, where they were presented as servants, and no one seemed to pry into it. Now we see that the truth is more sinister. They are being bred as a slave race used to help build the human empire over three galaxies. And apparently most humans pay no attention to this, and even the Doctor admits he paid little attention when he first met them, and even left them to die when he escaped. Now he has to pay attention, but it is really Donna who is the voice of conscience again, just as she was in The Fires of Pompeii, and even back in The Runaway Bride. The chemistry between Donna and the Doctor is simply wonderful and this is why for many of use she is still the best companion the Doctor has ever had. As to the story, you have to see the parallels with our own history. The Doctor even makes this explicit when he asks Donna “Who made your clothes?” The Human Empire was built on slavery, just like the United States was built on slavery, and parallel is pretty specific. We see in the cold opening that you can buy an Ood for 50 credits, which sure sounds like chattel slavery to me. The main villain explicitly puts the Ood in the category of livestock, and aims to stop the revolt by killing all of the Ood in the facility, so that he can start over, which is very similar to the way slave owners in the Southern States handled their slaves. The message seems to be that if you think you’re better than that, maybe think again.


The Sontaran Strategem

This is a fun episode, the first part of a two-part story, that brings back a lot of old, familiar friends. First, Martha Jones calls the Doctor on the phone she left with him at the end of the last season when she left the TARDIS to pursue her own path. She said then that if she called he’d better answer it, and he does. This is possibly an example of Chekhov’s Gun in action, but the setup was there, and possibly they planned in advance to use it. Second, we have the return of UNIT. This mainstay of the Third Doctor’s time was rebranded slightly. It was originally the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, but the United Nations finally objected, and the BBC decided that it would now be the Unified Intelligence Taskforce. There is even a reference to the Brigadier when the Doctor, who is dealing with a Colonel, mentions that he wishes he had the Brigadier, but the Colonel says too bad, he is stuck in Peru. And of course, we have the return of the Sontarans, who we have not seen since Colin Baker’s tenure, in the story The Two Doctors in 1985.

Some nice touches include the change in Martha, who has grown in maturity since her adventure in The Last of the Time Lords. She is now a full-fledged Doctor, and working for UNIT. And of course she was in Torchwood in between. And the meeting of Martha and Donna is pretty sweet as well. They become friends, and MArtha tells Donna to make sure she tells her family what is going on. As Martha relates, in her case she kept it all hidden and nearly killed her family because of that, as shown in the last season, so of course Donna decides to pay her family a visit. One other thing I just loved is that when they are searching the ATMOS factory, Donna makes the key discovery by going to the Personnel office and finding that no employee has taken a sick day for that last year. Donna explains that the HR office is always where the good stuff is to be found, and that she knows this from her years as “Super-Temp”. And the young actor who plays Luke Rattigan is fantastic in portraying a character who is smugly convinced of his own superiority and does not value anyone else. Sounds like some of the Tech Billionaires we have known, and boy do you want to punch him in the face.


The Poison Sky

This conclusion to the story of the Sontarans is satisfying. We know that the version of Martha running around is actually a Sontaran clone, but does anyone else? There are hints that the Doctor knows, if you look closely. He gives her some sideways glances, and moves away from her when he needs to talk to Donna on the phone. Later he says he knew right away. And we mentioned that in the first part we could see Martha’s growth, and in this we continues to see Donna’s growth. She has already come a long way from the character we first met in The Runaway Bride. We learn that the Sontarans enlisted Luke as their local asset by promising that he and his select companions would be given a new planet to settle on, but who would trust a Sontaran promise? Apparently Luke would, but it runs out his “selected companions”, who are students he selected for the Rattigan Academy, are smarter than he is, and walk out when he reveals his plan. Just as well, there was no planet.

Donna’s mother Sylvia has a nice scene at the start when she uses an axe to break the car window and save Wilf. She is still disapproving of Donna running around with the Doctor, but Wilf is still supportive. Russell T. Davies said that he wanted to have a case of a positive, supporting family member for once, and Wilf is it. A sign of Donna’s growth is that getting the TARDIS back from the Sontaran ship relies on Donna who is all alone on the ship, and only has the Doctor on the phone to help her. She shows the truth of the saying that courage is not being unafraid, it is being afraid and doing what you need to do anyway. The growth in Donna will prove to be a key arc to the whole season. And even Luke Rattigan manages to redeem himself in the end. All in all, this two-part story will never rank with the all-time great stories, but it is definitely a good story and you should feel satisfied watching it.


The Doctor’s Daughter

Unfortunately every series of Doctor Who seems to have a story that is sub-par, and this is the one for Series Four. The concept of daughter-via-cloning is not a bad one in itself, but it makes 3 shows in a row about cloning, which is overdoing it. And apparently the cloning technology in use here, unlike the Sontaran technology, produces clones that come out fully dressed and with eye-liner and mascara applied. But OK, this is a family show, so I guess fully clothed is a requirement (though they got around that with careful camera angles in The Sontaran Strategem). And starting with the Doctor’s DNA you get someone with the skills of an Olympic gymnast, despite the fact that the Doctor never had any of those skills. The main theme of this episode is the Doctor’s continuing aversion to guns and violence, and that is not a bad theme. Violence should always be the last resort, not the first, and we see more about how the Time War affected the Doctor. All of that is good. But suspension of disbelief becomes very difficult if not impossible when Donna reveals the plot twist of how long the war between the Humans and the Hath has been going on, and hand-waving about the length of generations doesn’t solve the problem. The episode has a number of good moments, but to my mind the plotting problems let it down.


The Unicorn and the Wasp


Silence in the Library


Forest of the Dead




Turn Left


The Stolen Earth


Journey’s End


Review of 2008 Season

Review of Donna Noble

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