Newest Review: ... era anyone?), but the Adipose Fat Babies rival them all. Utterly stupid and consisting of some really poor special effects they are obviou... more
Doctor Who - Series 4 Vol. 1 (DVD)
Member Name: SWSt
Doctor Who - Series 4 Vol. 1 (DVD)
Advantages: Two good episodes (for very different reasons)
Disadvantages: Series opener once again weak, Tate can be annoying
Ever since Rose Tyler left the Tardis, The Doctor has struggled to find a companion of equal stature. Martha Jones came and went, leaving little impact behind. Various people have filled in for in for Christmas specials and it's here - in the shape of Catherine Tate's loudmouth, Donna Noble- that the new companion is found.
Tate was rather annoying in her earlier outing and, whilst she undoubtedly had more chemistry with David Tennant than Martha ever had, her tendency to deliver all dialogue at a shout made her very hard on the ear-drums.
My initial reaction to the news that she was to take up residence in the Tardis was one of trepidation, and certainly, there are times when she is deeply annoying and has a tendency to try shout, overact and generally try and dominate the episode. Yet, whilst she will never be amongst my favourite companions, there are at least a couple of episodes here in which she shows some promise.
Partners in Crime
What is it with Doctor Who and series openers? Almost without exception, the opening episodes of each of the four series to date have been amongst the weakest; Partners in Crime does nothing to break that trend. Investigating a new miracle slimming pill, the Doctor bumps into Donna - last seen in The Runaway Bride and things start to get complicated.
The main problem with this episode is that it really is rather silly. Doctor Who has had some stupid enemies over the year ("Bertie Bassett" from The Happiness Patrol in the Sylvester McCoy era anyone?), but the Adipose Fat Babies rival them all. Utterly stupid and consisting of some really poor special effects they are obviously meant to be cute, but just end up being annoying and silly. Sarah Lancashire tries her hardest as the sinister Miss Foster, but the whole episode lacks any sense of menace or danger.
Still, it's not a dead loss and, whilst Catherine Tate can be annoying, she is very good at visual comedy. There are some great early scenes where The Doctor and Donna (each unaware of the other's presence) keep narrowly missing each other, which brings an element of fun to the episode. The star scene comes mid-way through, however, when the Doctor and Donna (on opposite sides of a building) suddenly register the other's presence and hold a heavily mimed and sign-language dependent conversation across a room full of bad guys. It sounds rubbish, but it's well acted and choreographed by Tennant and Tate, very funny and easily the highlight of an otherwise weak episode.
The Fires of Pompeii
Hooray! Series 4 gets going with a much faster-paced episode, containing a strong plot, good characters and plenty of emotional moments. The Doctor and Donna land in Pompeii the day before Vesuvius erupts and destroys the city. Initially unwilling to get involved, the Doctor reluctantly finds himself drawn in when he detects alien interference which is turning some of its inhabitants into beings made of living stone.
This is the kind of episode which Doctor Who has always done well and Fires of Pompeii would not be out of place in the old-style Doctor Who. The story line is well-paced, with lots of mysterious goings-on and a gradual building of tension and danger. Whilst The Doctor and Donna are still feeling their way into the new relationship, Tennant and Tate appear a little more comfortable with each other, and Tate does not dominate this episode the way she tried to do in the previous one. There are some genuinely emotional moments which demonstrate the hard choices the lonely Doctor often has to face; whilst once again, it is his companion who reminds him that even an all-powerful Time Lord sometimes has to show a little compassion and humanity.
Fires of Pompeii also features some genuinely impressive special effects and it's clear that a lot of the series' budget was spent on this one episode. The rock and lava alien enemies are extremely well animated and convincing (although sadly, they appear all too rarely), whilst the apocalyptic volcanic explosion is impressive and scarily realistic.
Fires of Pompeii combines all the things Doctor Who does so well - character development, humour, danger and a good, strong plot in one exciting adventure.
Planet of the Ood
A modern day Doctor Who alien appears here is a story which is strong without ever being spectacular. The Doctor re-encounters The Ood (last seen in The Satan Pit), who have now been enslaved by mankind.
As well as providing quite a bit of excitement, this episode raises some large moral questions about slavery and the business practices of large corporations who have an eye for nothing other than profit. In true Doctor Who fashion, these elements are carefully meshed in with the overall plot, rather than being big, obvious themes, but this is an episode which will certainly make you think.
In addition to the morality, there is a large dollop of emotion and it's hard not to sympathise with the plight of the Ood and the tragic circumstances in which they find themselves. There's also a very interesting and clever ending which poses (and answers) the question: what is the worst thing that you can do to an enemy who despises your very existence...
There is slight weakness because you know at heart that the Ood are essentially a downtrodden but good race and so (despite their deadly tendencies in this episode) it's hard to accept them as being any sort of real threat. As such, the episode can sometimes lack that crucial feeling of menace and tension. In fairness, though, Planet of the Ood is intended as one of the more emotionally intense episodes, rather than one filled with danger. It also contains some interesting pointers to some of the key plotlines which are to follow in Series 4.
Overall these three episodes mark a reasonable (if slightly underwhelming) start to Series 4. Partners in Crime is easily the weakest episode on the disk, but the action and excitement of The Fires of Pompeii and the emotional elements of Planet of the Ood make up for this. Series 4 shaped up to be one of the best of the re-booted series and this is a good solid (if unspectacular) start.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2011
Summary: A reasonable start to Tennant's last full series
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