The Fantastically Coincidental Miss Donna Noble

(Spoilers for Partners in Crime and the whole of Series 4 on the horizon. Part review, part essay, I'm taking a slightly more annotative route on these as well given that I know how it all ends.)Partners in Crime is all about near misses, and though the Doctor and Donna's antics are played for laughs, we're supposed to remember the farcical coincidences of this episode all the way through the end. He's met Donna before in The Runaway Bride (indeed, she was teleported directly into the TARDIS), and he meets her again (she HAS been looking for him, to be fair, but it took forever for it to happen to Sarah Jane and she basically used the same technique). He met her grandfather by coincidence at Christmas (though Bernard Cribbins' character wasn't yet that at the time). She parks her car right next to where the TARDIS would land seconds later.

Is there destiny in the Whoniverse? Well, there are fixed points in history that must happen, but can yet be derailed, so it looks like there isn't. But in a few timey-wimey cases, we've seen effect precede cause, which happens a lot in Series 4. If there's any truth to the TARDIS "choosing" its crew (a theory proposed in the About Time series of reference books), it does so instinctively as required by the "web of time". It is a machine out of time, but in tune with the spacetime vortex. It may need companions to take care of its pilot (the Doctor), and it may just have the foresight to know just how and when such companions will become important.
However, throughout the new series, we've seen (and will see) the TARDIS unusually drawn to Time Lord minds, which probably interface best with it - a function of the "fast return switch" of old? In Utopia the year before, the TARDIS hurling itself to the end of the universe was blamed on Captain Jack's "fixedness", but he's been aboard since with no problems. Instead, isn't it more likely that it was drawn there by the Master? In that episode, it essentially CAUSES the Master to be reborn.

Later in this series, in The Doctor's Daughter, it will make an uncontrolled jump to once again create a Time Lord (or something akin to it) in Jenny. Is it deliberately trying to recreate (or reawaken) the Time Lord race? Is it doing so as some kind of failsafe, or simply trying to fulfill the Doctor's unconscious bidding? Its relationship to Donna is much the same since, as we know, she'll share a Time Lord consciousness in Journey's End. All timelines seem to wrap around her, back from that point, and certainly, the TARDIS must be aware of that. Consider also that the TARDIS would have been destroyed in Journey's End if Donna had not been aboard. Self-preservation from a machine? (The TARDIS may also have had a similar relationship with Rose "Bad Wolf" Tyler.)

Of course, when watched without the benefit of hindsight, Partners in Crime's first act is a perfectly timed comedy as the two regulars keep narrowly missing each other, culminating in Donna's wonderful miming through windows. And what can I say about Catherine Tate? Everyone was skeptical, remembering her loud and obnoxious comedy skit persona and the similarly irritating first half of The Runaway Bride. But by the end of that Christmas special, we saw a different side to Donna, and a very effective and affecting one at that. This is the Donna we get in the Series opener, and she only gets better from here. Full props as well to her great family, her mom Sylvia who's always down on her, and her always touching grandfather Wilfred (who I only later recognized as Tom from the second Dalek movie).
As a threat, the Adipose - alien babies made from weight watchers' fat - are ridiculous. Your mileage may vary enormously. On the one hand, they may be the cutest - and thus to some, STUPIDEST - Doctor Who monster in history (have they forgotten the plush Yeti?). On the other, they fit such a story terribly well. Part of Doctor Who's appeal is that it can switch tonal gears so easily. In a comedy, why not a comedy monster? (Take a look at Miss Foster's delay before actually dropping to the ground in the climax - it verges on a Roadrunner cartoon.) In other words, I'm fine with it. My biggest beef is actually that this story scans a heck of a lot like the Bubble Shock story from Sarah Jane Adventures' pilot, especially their virtually identical head villains, Miss Foster and Mrs. Wormwood.
Those orange bubbles certainly don't help. Be that has it may, Partners in Crime is a light-hearted beginning that shows a lot of promise for the Doctor-Donna pairing, with a forgettable plot that nevertheless leaves you with unforgettable comic performances.

Things to watch out for
Donna's Destiny: Well, if my above theory is correct, why the near misses then? What's preventing destiny from asserting itself? If destiny is really only the TARDIS' machinations, then imagine a timeline in which it DOESN'T need Donna. The Doctor investigates trouble, but Donna was never given the mental push (the TARDIS gets into your head, can it choose to open your mind?) to look for him. He would still have been guided to a serviceable companion. After all, that's his immediate need. The poor, poor lonely Doctor...
I'm talking about Penny, the young journalist whose feistiness gets her in trouble. She's also at all the same spots the Doctor is, and in a Donna-less world, would no doubt have been rescued by the Doctor, taken along on this adventure, and been influenced positively. As it is, she is ignored and winds up angrily calling the Doctor "mad". As further evidence, there was once a companion called Penny on the drawing board, and Russell T Davies had fun lending this character that name.
Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey: Sylvia's friend Suzette has something on her back... oh, it's an adipose. False alarm.
They call it foreshadowing: Cars are already equipped with ATMOS (The Sontaran Stratagem).
Are you my mommy?: Heading towards Journey's End, Series 4 has an unusual number of transformations. Here, people are turned into adipose children by parthenogenesis (coincidentally how "Doctor Blue" is born). Donna has a Catherine Tate moment when she think the Doctor said he wanted to mate (he just wants a mate), but again, it's a kind of Doctor Blue reference.
Where's my planet?: The Adiposian breeding planet, Adipose 3, has been mysteriously lost, which is why Miss Foster is using Earth as a surrogate.
The bees' knees: "So I looked everywhere, you name it - UFOs, sightings, crop circles, sea monsters. I looked, I found them all. Like that stuff about the bees disappearing, I thought, I bet he's connected." He's not. Not quite yet.
Dusty Rose: Speaking of near misses... She's back from the alternate universe, and though she crosses paths with Donna, she doesn't know enough to follow her to the Doctor. Damn, that Doomsday music gives me the shivers.
The reference section: The Doctor asks to see an Adipose taker's cat flap, which might seen like a nod to a scene in Rose, but he replies to "I'm not really a cat person" with "No, I've met Cat People", which might be the humanoid cats from the year 5 billion.
But did you know the 7th Doctor adventure Survival was initially titled Catflap and featured teleporting Cheetah People?

Next Monday: Volcano Day

15 comments:

snell said...

In Journey's End it's revealed that Dalek Caan was "manipulating the timelines for ages. Getting Donna Noble to the right place at the right time." Perhaps he was working in concert with the Tardis, as he says "This would always have happened. I only helped."

It's interesting, because while I worship what Russell Davies has done shepherding the new series, I've never been the biggest fan of the scripts he's actually written himself, at least in the early series. They always seemed somehow a little too far to the comedy side for my tastes, a little too self-indulgent, and often not as tightly written and coherent as they should be, often producing some of the weaker stories (especially in Series 1). Partners in Crime pretty much pushes that to the limit for me. No matter how much clever foreshadowing their is to the season finale, those damned adipose babies push it to the border of panto...

Siskoid said...

We'll get to Dalek Caan in due course, but I think you're misinterpreting his role. He saw it coming, it would have happened anyway, and he helped it along. That's all we really know.

Perhaps the timeline bending around Donna helped make these events a focus for him, but I don't think he actually has anything to do with the Donna getting aboard the TARDIS. That would be giving him powers that are hard to justify. He did his part in getting the Daleks into position, but Donna is all TARDIS IMO.

I totally feel what you're saying about RTD. Takes a particular frame of mind. He's still able to surprise me with stuff like Midnight though. Why can't his writing always be that lean?

snell said...

Yes, all was forgiven with Midnight...but of course you'll get to that later.

The "Getting Donna Noble to the right place at the right time" is a direct quote from the Doctor. As to whether that's getting Donna on board the TARDIS in the first place, or making sure she's on board for the biological metacrisis, who can say? Caan, after all, "saw Time," which sounds similar to what happened to Rose when she merged with the Vortex and manipulated time and space...

Siskoid said...

I'll certainly look at those scenes more closely when I get to them!!

Jayunderscorezero said...

I must be mad. Midnight was the only episode of series four that I actually switched off about halfway in.

Siskoid said...

I'll reveal why it was one of the good bits in a few weeks :)

The Mutt said...

Hey Siskoid, what do you think of Primeval?

Siskoid said...

You tell me!

I like a lot of Brit-TV, but I don't have ready access to it. It's on my radar though... is it worth investing in?

The Mutt said...

I watched the first two seasons. Got them from Netflix.

I think it's terrific. Great effects, cool story and an engaging cast. Each episode leaves you dying to know what happens next.

Plus, the show features three women who are as different as a peach, a steak and a donut, but each equally as delicious.

Highly recommended.

Jeff R. said...

Transformation this season has a fairly specific sub-motif: it is almost always about becoming something less than what you were, or dying but leaving behind something similar, but also signficantly lesser, than yourself. (Obviously in service of foreshadowing the ending, and establishes a continuuum that helps in selling it as a fulfillment of Caan's prophecy of death.) Astrid is the first example, obviously, leaving a weak echo to see the stars. Here we have the literal version, with millions losing body mass...

Siskoid said...

Mutt: I guess you've convinced me!

Jeff: Depends on how you look at it. Your fat becomes a number of alien babies. A despicable business man becomes a peace loving Ood. A child becomes a massive computer. A bee becomes a man (though vice-versa). Gloop becomes Martha. A blood sample becomes a semi-Timelord or a race of Daleks. And of course, Donna's becoming.

I think there are examples of both good and bad (turning to stone, for example).

Jeff R. said...

Hm. We also have the Free Ood being lobotomized, but remaining as functional slaves (and even functional, if diminished Ood when the big brain is freed), people being killed in reality but remaining as echoes in their spacesuit circuitry in the Library (or as more-complete but still not utterly whole digital Ghosts in it's computer), Agatha Christie losing the memory of her greatest adventure, the Colonists all being killed but continuing as battle-locked clones. And the loss of voices in Midnight, as well. It may be a separate Motif from the transformations you list, but it's there, and it's a kind of hollowing-out made literal by the Adipose (although, of course, even moreso in Davros).

Like I said, I think it's point is to sell counting Donna's fate as 'the Death of a Companion'. They form a continuum, these things. It's tough to deny that Astrid died, or the various Vashtunerada victims, but if you can count what happened to River as death then Donna is easier...

Pippy said...

My thought about the adipose was maybe they took on forms that were appealing to their hosts so they wouldn't be so likely to be squished by their surrogate parent.

Siskoid said...

Isn't that what ALL babies do?

Anonymous said...

Well human babies look a lot more like the slitheen than they do like the adipose but which do you think looks cuter (clue:not the ones with the flatulence problem) ?

 

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