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Doctor Who 4.1: Partners in Crime

I’m glad to say that I was not one of those who were wary when it was announced Catherine Tate would rejoin the TARDIS for a full series as the new companion. While her character, Donna, had many shrewish moments in the 2006 Christmas Special, come the end of the episode Tate demonstrated insight and depth that I wanted to see more of.

Now, after a year with Freema Agyeman’s Martha at David Tennant’s side, we get to see what life could entail with Donna in her stead. If the first episode of this new series is any indication, the words ‘roller coaster’ spring to mind.

Head writer Russell T Davies is now a past master at the “companion introduction” episode. With Rose and Martha alike, he used the episode (and the female characters) as a way of also introducing the Doctor to new audiences. Now, though, we are all familiar with Tennant in the role, so there was a lot more space for characterisation, comedy and significantly more plot than in previous series openers.

In the time since we last saw Donna, at first it seems as if she’s turned into a copy of the Doctor, investigating mysterious happenings and sinister companies — a comparison reinforced in the deftly comic opening scenes, with the two leads’ investigations into the malevolent Adipose corporation mirroring one another (and, in a more understated way, Donna’s costume, smart suit and trench coat, echoing her mentor’s). Later, once they have reunited, she tells the Doctor that she was really only doing it in the hope of finding him — although I couldn’t help noticing that she’s really rather good at it.

Without wishing to disrespect misses Piper or Agyeman, it feels as if David Tennant finally has a partner who is approaching an equal, whether character-to-character, or as an actor. Tate is of course known for her comedic talents, and they are used to good effect here. She clearly has the dramatic acting chops to stand up to Tennant, though — and scenes such as those with Donna’s mother, Sylvia (Jacqueline King) more than make up for the occasional strident scene.

Sarah Lancashire puts in an effective turn as the week’s guest villain, although the set-up — alien woman poses as head of a corporation, selling products to an unsuspecting populace as a means of alien infiltration — initially seems uncommonly similar to the very first episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures. The concept of the Adipose creatures, though — small, almost cuddly entities made almost entirely of human fat — is original, and not a little twisted. Sadly, I don’t think they’re quite as creepy as I think we’re supposed to imagine they are, and while the sight of hundreds of the things waddling slowly down the street is certainly a technical accomplishment (achieved using similar CGI software that helped design the war scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies), there’s precious little in the way of threat from them.

Which leaves the sense of real danger — that at any time, a million people in London might find their whole selves turned into fatty creatures — in the hands of three actors, writhing on the floor. They don’t quite manage to pull it off; luckily a spaceship that seems to come straight from the celluloid of ET or Close Encounters of the Third Kind soon arrives to distract us with its pretty lights and stuff.

In the great tradition of panto villains, Lancashire’s Miss Foster ends up as the victim of her own scheme. Her role as Supernanny to the Adipose over now that mummy and daddy have arrived, she is dropped from a great height in a scene which owes more than a little to Chuck Jones and Wile E. Coyote — the momentary pause in mid-air, gravity only kicking in when the character looks down. It’s a nice little touch in an episode which is full of them.

Speaking of which, every series of Doctor Who has had an ongoing theme, from wolves to Torchwood and Mister Saxon. Here, it looks as if there’s something larger going on, as Rose Tyler appears at the end of the episode, only to vanish in front of our eyes. As well as setting up the mystery, it also ties the end of the episode up with its start — the idea that the Doctor is always around the corner from something, or someone, of interest.

Why did Rose vanish? Why was she there in the first place? What happened to a whole species of insect?* And exactly how many hats does Donna have? These questions (well, perhaps not the last one) may well prove pertinent in the weeks to come.

From next week onwards, Mark Wright will review each episode here on TV Today. Next week: Titter ye not, as the Doctor and Donna head up Pompeii way — and it’s Volcano Day…

* Assuming Donna meant insects, that is. She could have meant the letter. They do seem in short supply around here…

19 Comments

I think Catherine Tate is badly miscast as part of this show. She is too old, too hefty, too suburban, not good looking enough. She drags it down market and brings with her a stale wind of the mundane, which she simply is unable to transcend. Her coy staring up at the stars 'waiting for the doctor, even if I have to wait a 100 years' was pure cringey kitsch. "annie - the musical" was brought to mind. I expected her to stand up and belt one out like a ginger Ethel Merman. Over acting in the worst way, though, because Catherine Tate just lacks Style. And her attempt at running was a breathtakingly hide behind the sofa moment. She cant even run convincingly. I'm utterly unsold on the tall slim energetic Dr, being partnered by a Matronly looking woman whose eyes are too close together. It's just awful.

A very well written piece that is descriptive and factual... however I will keep what you have have not included quiet for a little longer.

I will return to read more

I hid behind the couch. Her acting and the plot were so embarising.

Given the double handicap of a Russell T Davies script and Catherine Tate's 'acting', this first episode was never going to shine, but even so this was pretty dire stuff. A crap 'monster', Tennant's gurning, a script that seems to have been written by a child, and to cap it all the bizarre decision to cast an actress to play Donna's mother who looks at least 10 years younger than Catherine Tate.

I thought this episode was terrific, and I love Donna. I was doubtful when I first heard that Catherine Tate had been cast in the new series, but now I agree with Scott that she's a more effective actress than her two predecessors, much better able to act against David Tennant. I like Donna's more "grown-up" persona and I think the dynamic between her and the Doctor is going to be much more interesting than was the case with Rose and Martha, much as I liked them both.

Well I loved it. And it scared me a little bit, at least now I don't have to hide behind the sofa, like I did when Dr Who first started.

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while I see some of the comments as valid not all are, the actress playing tates mum did look at least twenty years older!! place glasses on head and look at the re run.
The little fat babies looked nothing like tribbles no fur however I will concede the Night garden somewhat !!Their heads Iggle piggle springs to mind.
However don't forget it's a childrens/family show, and not an adult orientated show. I was at some point expecting tate to say this herself about all the rubbish comments, but I will say it for her " AM I BOVVERED" ....no I think not, she will grow into the part given a chance, and will I think be an asset to the series.We are so used to her comedy sketches some people will see that as a yard stick and see little glimpses of her comedy in the character in DR Who.
After all Billie Piper when she started was so wooden I expected her legs to burst into flames when she ran away from the Autons singing one of her songs

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John Orrett = when you've learnt to spell 'embarrassing' maybe your comment could be taken seriously.

It was a perfectly charming episode and very suitable as a first outing for series four, not forgetting it IS a family and children's show.

Catherine Tate was splendid, and it is about time The Doctor had an adult Companion instead of another young nondescript.
Tate is an accomplished actress. If you do not recognize that, you are missing a lot.

I fully agree with Guss Guss in all he said. At last a person who knows what he are taking about!

I am looking forward to a great season of Doctor Who!

I thought it was absoloutly FANTASTIC i love Catherine Tate as Donna. As soon as i found out she will be in the show i knew she would be amazingly funny. She brings so much more comedy and energy to the show than Rose and Martha did. I like the way they have portraid Donna's character, she is the only companion since the show returned in 2005 that actually does not have any romantic interest in the doctor, she gets that hes an alien, however a very handsome alien. This way there can be more comedy, as Donna is an equal to the doctor and more mature than Rose and Martha were. DAVID TENNANT, well what can i say hes fab, hes the best doctor ever! so energetic and incredibly sexy.

ps: Does anyone a part from me get the slight feeling that Rose could return as a bad guy ? that would suprise everyone.

No it is a FAMILY show and a FAMILY show only, FAMILY shows are called FAMILY shows because they are aimed at a BROAD audience like strictly come dancing and the two ronnies.

Love the B avoidance in the review. Made completely unnecessary extra work for yourself just for the gag, but it worked. I admire the effort.

Nice gimmick - pity it meant leaving out Bernard Cribbins ;-)

I think it's very sad that a lot of the negative comments about Donna concentrate on her age & size - is that all the Doctor's companion means to you - a bit of eye candy - to say nothing of how it reflects how women on TV are obviously still viewed. Wake up - normal people come in all ages & size 16 is the national average. Let's see this reflected more on TV.

I found Catharine Tate a lot less "Lauren & Nan" than in "Runaway Bride". I think it will take some time to forget she is "Catharine Tate" and get used to Donna but I like the idea of a different style companion .

The episode was fun & it was meant to be. What's the better we see litlle "fat" babies in the shops for Christmas ?

I disagree with everything emma gard said in the first comment. I think Tate is gorgeous and a fine actress. The episode was excellent, with a tight script and some good comic moments. Her character is a good foil for the Doctor and has much potential.

I totally disagree with the comment that say's Catherine Tate is, and I quote "miscast", "too old, too hefty, too suburban, not good looking enough". Quite frankly, I think you need your eyes testing because I though she was Brilliant as Donna Noble!. Finally a companion that is in fact an adult and doesn't have a stupid school girl crush on The Doctor (Although he is quite sexy). I think she brings a whole new side to the doctors companions in the fact that she will challenge him and stand up to him as an equal, not become all awe struck everytime he looks at her.
Overall I think Tate gave a fantastic performance as Donna Noble and I will be looking forward to see her character unfold and develope as the series goes on.

Insects? Not any old insect. Bees! Vanishing bees! I thought it was a great touch to work that in. She'd seen the claim that bees were vanishing on a conspiracy theory web site that also mentioned Adipose Industries. But there really is a problem with vanishing bees (diminishing bee population). Mobile phones and viruses have been blamed, but perhaps it is aliens. It's a nicely off-hand exchange. The Doctor suddenly interrupts her later rambling with something like "what do you mean the bees are vanishing?", which I hope means it turns up later as plot (I believe they are related to ... wasps).

Oh. I thought the opening, and Tate were good too.

I think the episode is a good one
to start off the season
then the much more dramatic episodes
should follow. All this negativity
about Catherine Tate is just silly
It always bothers dr who fans where the companions
Come From

she has been on such and such show and she was this

and that and would be no good for drwho because she has a certian trait or style or trademark
Bonnie langford all over again. If the girl on the testcard
was right for the job why not
Yes Catherine Tate is more grown up than the previous two
companions but all of the actress up till now in the new series have done well for the time they were in the show
And i hope she does well for Dr who until someone else
takes over.

LOL! Tate did the job, and she did it well. I like that they toned her down a bit from the Bride episode, but I think she's a nice break from the previous companions.

As far as Rose and Martha, falling in love with the doctor; who wouldn't fall in love with this doctor? He's powerful, charming, humorous and exciting to be around. He has a time machine!!! (grin) Maybe it has something to do with Tennant; he is, after all, incredibly good looking compared to the lot of Doctors before him. I could notice the "hotness" level move up a few decibels after Tennant took over the role. When the 11th guy, Matt Smith, gets the job next year, I think some of this sexual tension could fade away. He looks more weirder than Tennant or Eccleston. Perhaps the companions will be less awestruck and get more down to business.

It makes you think how appearances really make you think differently about a person. Shallow, huh?

here we are 2 years later, this episode is still in reruns. I'm no fan of Tate, but this is the best episode she was ever in.

I never did understand her family, nobody seemed age appropriate.

Yes, all the companions are supposed to be eye candy. No, that isn't Donna. It wasn't Martha either. I wonder if Sienna Miller is busy ?

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