04 – 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

An Agatha Christie mystery where Agatha is one of the characters! That is the basic plot idea here. And the show is just like an Agatha Christie mystery, with a varied cast of characters, all of whom are hiding secrets. And none of them have an alibi for the initial murder, which is great for a Christie mystery. But being Doctor Who, the secret one of them is hiding is that this person is an alien who can shape shift and is also a giant wasp. Along the way they offer a Doctor Who explanation of Christie’s mysterious disappearance in 1926. This disappearance did in fact happen, and has never been explained, and never will be, so it is fair game here. I loved this episode because I am a fan of Christie both in print and on the screen. I’ve seen all of the series on PBS Mystery, many of the films, etc. and love the classic English mysteries: Christie, Sayers, Chesterton, etc. If you are too, you will love this episode as much as I did.


Silence in the Library

The Doctor and Donna land in the biggest library in the universe, so large that it takes up an entire planet. The Doctor has been called there by a message that showed up on this psychic paper. But there is something very odd: there are no people in this library. The Doctor does a scan, and finds two “humanoid” lifeforms, which would be him and Donna, but then widens the search and finds a million million lifeforms of all kinds. But it is still silent. Who are those other lifeforms. Then they are warned about shadows. Lights start going out, and they run for their lives, finally crashing into another room, where there is a young girl, but then she is gone. Very mysterious.

And to add to the mystery, a group of people in space suits comes in, and in the group is a woman who goes up to the Doctor and says “Hello, sweetie!” That is of course the archaeologist River Song, and it becomes clear that she knows the Doctor very well, but he has no idea who she is. As she puts it “He hasn’t met me yet.” Well, when you do Time Travel things can get a bit confusing. And it was River Song who sent him the message, and she remarks that he always comes when she calls him. Then the Doctor tries to send Donna back to the TARDIS to protest her, but she disappears.

And an interesting note is that the woman who dies first, Evangelista, is Elon Musk’s two-time ex-wife.


Forest of the Dead

The adventure in the Library continues. The deadly enemy is identified as the Vashta Nerada, who are swarms that get you when you are in shadow, and can strip the flesh from your bones instantly. One by one they seem to get members of the group, so it gets whittled down. Donna, meanwhile, had been saved into a simulation in the hard drive at the heart of the Library, and it runs out the young girl is also on the hard drive, and experiencing everything in a the library as either dreams or TV shows. The Doctor finally is able to negotiate with the Vashta Nerada, and find that the forest they used to live in was cut down and made into the books of the Library, so now they claim it as their own. The Doctor gets a one day’s grace period in which he can try to get back all of the people in the computer, but the answer is to take an action that will kill him.

This two-part story is definitely good, but the most important thing it does is introduce River Song. She is a major character, and shows up again in Matt Smith’s and Peter Capaldi’s eras. In fact, in this story she references things that happen in other Doctor Who stories that we will see later. This works because Steven Moffat wrote this two-parter, and then became the show runner for the Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi runs, so he could make it happen. And when you see the ending, just remember that with time travel the sequence of events and causality is no longer operative, which is why most physicists insist time travel can never happen. Except in a story, of course.



We are used to the Doctor taking charge and telling people what to do. And when he does, he saves the day and folks live happily ever after. But what if they refuse to listen? What if they start to think the Doctor is the real problem? In this claustrophobic study of paranoia we get to find out. An interesting point here is that the same take-charge approach that worked in the previous two-parter absolutely fails spectacularly here. There is some great acting in this episode, including from the son of Patrick Troughton, who was the Second Doctor. Catherine Tate barely appears in this episode at all, perhaps she needed some time off, but that is OK. She is quite busy in the preceding and following episodes. In this episode, Lesley Sharp really hands in the top performance, as a woman possessed.

This is a fantastic episode with a villain we never really meet or see but which the Doctor is powerless to stop. In the end, it is one of the others who saves the day, and it is the one person who is never named. There Is a reason why many people consider series 4 to be the peak of the revived Doctor Who, and this episode is part of it, and it comes right after the two-parter that introduced River song. Fantastic!


Turn Left

In Midnight we had an episode that featured the Doctor but virtually no Donna. This episode flips that around and the Doctor scarcely appears for more than a couple of minutes, and it is all Donna. There are a lot of unexplained things in this episode. They start off in an alley in what seems to be some future China, and then Donna gets talked into having her fortune told by a woman who seems very mysterious, and manages to change Donna’s timeline by getting her to turn right instead of left at a key moment. The result is that she never meets the Doctor. This obviously changes her whole story, but it also turns out that it changes the Doctor’s story, and even the fate of the Universe. Catherine Tate is brilliant in this performance. She insists that she is a nobody, that she doesn’t matter, but in fact she matters a lot, and when the chips are down, she does what is necessary. This episode also sets up the final conclusion of the season in The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End.

One interesting intersection comes when we consider that Donna was introduced in The Runaway Bride, and at the end of that story tells the Doctor that he needs someone to keep him in line. Then in Fires of Pompeii it is Donna that makes him go back and rescue the Roman family. This whole story revolves around the line “You are the most important person in the universe.” It shows that the companions are not just there to ask “What’s this, Doctor?” They are important in themselves, and in how they affect the Doctor. It is not just what the world would be like without the Doctor, it is equally what the world would be like without the Doctor’s companions. This is yet another brilliant story in what might be the best single season of Doctor Who ever.

At the end we find that this is linked to a being known as the Trickster, who will meet the Doctor again in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, part of the series The Sarah Jane Adventures, a spin-off of Doctor Who.


The Stolen Earth

The title of the episode gives away the main plot point here. After Rose has given Donna the message “Bad Wolf” to deliver to the Doctor, her says it may mean the end of the universe. So they rush back in the TARDIS, but it looks like a lovely, peaceful day in London. But not for long. They go back in the TARDIS, and are then violently shaken. They open the TARDIS door and they are in space. But when the Doctor checks the instruments, he finds that the TARDIS didn’t move, the Earth did. And he can’t find where it is. On Earth, meanwhile, the Daleks invade. Torchwood is watching, Martha Jones is active in UNIT, Sarah Jane Smith is watching this, and Rose arrives and joins Donna’s family. Then Harriet Jones, Former Prime Minister, activates a subwave communicator, and they figure out a way to punch through the barrier set up by the Daleks and reach the Doctor, and he can then get to Earth. So basically it is a reunion of most of the main characters from David Tennant’s run.

This was a fun romp and it was nice to see all of the characters gathered together. And the cliffhanger is great. The Doctor gets shot by a Dalek and begins to regenerate.


Journey’s End

Based on comments by the director, Graeme Harper, this can be seen as third episode of a three-part story arc, beginning with Turn Left. And since he directed all three, I guess he would know. But mostly it is the second part of this particular story following The Stolen Earth.

The Doctor manages to transfer most of his regeneration energy into his severed hand (from his first story, The Christmas Invasion), so he doesn’t change, he just gets healed. The Daleks transport the TARDIS to their headquarters, The Crucible. The Doctor is is caged and helpless, and Davros orders the TARDIS to be destroyed with Donna inside. But Donna touches the hand full of the regeneration energy, and then the hand itself regenerates into an apparent duplicate of the Doctor, called the Meta-crisis Doctor. Donna gets zapped by Davros, which doesn’t kill her, but does activate her as “Doctor-Donna”, which was fortold by the Ood in Planet of the Ood. She then goes into hyperdrive activating switches and blowing up Daleks everywhere.

The Doctor then uses the TARDIS to return everyone. Mickey decides to stay in this universe and walks off with Capt. Jack. Rose is returned to her universe with the Meta-Crisis Doctor, who we now know is not a complete duplicate of the Doctor. He only has one heart, and will live a normal lifespan and die. Donna, however, begins to show signs of a mental breakdown due to having all of the Time Lord stuff in her human brain, which can’t hold it. So the Doctor wipes her memory of everything she experienced with him, and tells Wilf and Sylvia that is she ever remembers it will kill her. This comes back in the 60th Anniversary special The Star Beast as a major plot point.

An excellent end to what may well be the best single season of Doctor Who.


Review of 2008 Season

Review of Donna Noble

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