Doctor Who #793: Partners in Crime

"No one's going to come along with a magic wand and make your life all better."
TECHNICAL SPECS: All stories between this one and Journey's End are in the Series 4 DVD set. First aired Apr.5 2008.

IN THIS ONE... Donna Noble returns and joins the Doctor on his adventures, starting with this one about cute living fat.

REVIEW: RTD's scripts can be a little too comedic at times, and this story certainly fits the bill, but at least Catherine Tate has the chops for it. Unlike Rose and Martha who were built for romance, Donna was built for comedy. All the banter we like and none of the sappy subplots we're tired of. From the first notes of music, we know we're in a bouncy, fun comedy, or perhaps straight-up farce since the Doctor and Donna spend the first act comically missing each other while working on the same case. The scene where they finally meet each other again, mouthing words through panes of glass while, amusingly, the villains look on, is a gem. The script keeps taking these funny turns whenever it can, like the Doctor's anguish over not being able to save London for lack of a second pendant, and Donna calmly giving him the one she stole; or the very idea that Donna is keeping her bags in her mom's car and basically invites herself aboard the TARDIS. But she's a person, not just a caricature, one that realizes she made a mistake by turning down the Doctor's original invitation. Her mother is on her back to do something with her life, and Bernard Cribbins' Wilf, one of the rare bright spots in Voyage of the Damned, is revealed to be her sweet, supporting grandfather. She's resourceful and resilient, but also easily annoyed and overbearing. A great partner for the lonesome Doctor, pointlessly talking to himself in the TARDIS and guilt-ridden over having destroyed the lives of his last two companions. The leads are great, and great together.

The plot, however, is the pits. What does Davies have against people with weight problems anyway? Either they've been converted into suits for farting aliens, or here become the victims of a diet fad that makes their fat "walk away" (and set off alarms) as the cutest little alien monsters ever. It's all a little bit silly and certainly can't withstand scrutiny. I won't play the nitpicker's game here, but start asking questions about the details of this plot, and you'll soon find the plot holes; my help isn't required. It's like RTD's recycled Invasion of the Bane, the Sarah Jane Adventures pilot, and that didn't have a very good plot either. We have an alien plot that puts a dangerous product on the market, a product that contains alien DNA; a smug blond woman at the head of the company (Foster might as well be Wormwood when she's standing in front of orange bubbles); the appearance of a non-screwdriver sonic weapon (I find it rather annoying that a non-Time Lord is using that tech); and even a strident, disbelieving almost-companion (Penny the journalist plays the part of the new companion, tossed aside when Donna shows up, just like Kelsey was meant to be a cast member, but didn't make it to series). Make the comedy come from the characters, by all means, but when the monsters are insufferably cute (they do make nice plush toys though) and the villain hangs in the air like Wile E. Coyote before falling to her death, it's the world that's a cartoon, and that'd not good. If you're making it for little kids who would respond to the Adipose, then don't also give us a taxi cab sliding into a group of them, with popping sounds where they get squished.

Each series has had its meme - Bad Wolf, Torchwood, Vote Saxon - so by now the production knows we'll be looking for the next one. Well take your pick. Partners in Crime's script is filled with memes to watch for. The bees and planets disappearing; the theme of parthenogenesis; cars with the ATMOS system sticker; and of course, the ghostly return of Rose, a character we were promised would never return. She narrowly misses the Doctor, just as Donna had earlier, but while I did get goosebumps hearing the Doomsday theme again, I'm in no real hurry to see her back with the Doctor. This should have been Donna's triumphant return. Well, it's still that, but Rose's reappearance detracts from what's really important. The next day, we should have been at the water cooler talking about Donna, NOT Rose.

VERSIONS: Originally, the character playing Wilf's role in the story and Donna's life would have been her father Geoff, played by Howard Attfield, from The Runaway Bride, but he became too ill during the shoot to continue, and would later pass away. The scenes at the top of the hill with him are on the DVD, along with deleted scenes - Donna walking out of her house and convincing Stacey to let her in - and an alternate (and inferior) take of the scene in the alley where Donna invites herself aboard the TARDIS, with whooping pub noises in the background and bad lighting.

SECOND OPINIONS: My original review, The Fantastically Coincidental Miss Donna Noble, explores a theory about destiny in the Whoniverse, specifically but not exclusively surrounding the Doctor meeting Donna twice, especially given her eventual importance to his survival.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The plot is silliness and nonsense, so it's a good thing the two leads are so strong as an adventure-comedy team.