Sunday, April 20, 2008

Doctor Who - Partners in Crime

There's always a palpable buzz of excitement these days when a new series of Doctor Who gets underway. That's lovely ... it takes me back to the days of yore when I knew next to nothing about the show ... I remember the voice-over after The Ark In Space telling us that the Sontarans were back next week and me having no idea what they were ... also I remember the voice over at the end of Genesis of the Daleks saying that the next story was called Revenge of the Cybermen ... oooh ... Cybermen.

How times change.

But I digress. This year, for the first time in many, many years, I was not at home for the debut episode. I usually make a point of being in to the extent of not attending the now-traditional first night party. But this year I had already committed to a Doctor Who event up in Darwen that day and so I was going to be watching it for the first time in the company of a load of other fans. The last time I remember doing this was for episode one of Remembrance of the Daleks (I had some Who friends over), and before that is was the first episode of The Trial of a Time Lord (which was at a big convention).

So I watched the episode for the first time with a large group ... and it was great. The show hit the ground running ... but then watching it back, and thinking about it a little and it somehow seems less great.

Of all of the season openers so far, I think Smith and Jones is perhaps the best. It doesn't take itself too seriously, but in that case the humour didn't overstay its welcome, which is a little more than Partners in Crime managed.

We open with Adipose Industries, one of the Bad Companies which seem to grow up on Earth overnight. Both the Doctor and Donna are independently investigating it, and I found the opening to be very reminiscent of Rose and Smith and Jones, introducing the new companion first and then filling in the gaps later on. It was fairly amusing how the Doctor and Donna kept just missing each other, but after a while the joke wore a little thin.

Of course in charge of Adipose is the Evil Miss Foster - well she has to be evil doesn't she. But she seemed to be the only person in charge ... and why on earth did she have two gun-happy thugs to order about? Didn't they think what was going on was in the least bit strange? Anyway, Donna and the Doctor both get hold of a list of all the clients - apparently 1 million customers in the Greater London area alone! And all this fitted on something like 3 or 4 sheets of A4 paper ... wow.

So our partners in crime visit some of the people taking the Adipose pills ... and we start to see what's going on - they're changing into cute little fat-creatures who mew and wave a lot. Strangely Stacey Campbell (as Donna calls her) is credited as Stacey Harris in the end credits. But now that the questions have started ... what was all that about the pendant? Something to do with the humans touching it and it being linked to them and then if they opened it then it started them converting completely into Adipose? No idea what all that was about ...

But then Miss Foster sends operatives to collect the Adipose - in a van with a siren blaring on the top! Very secretive. But now we meet the rest of Donna's family, a nagging mum and a grandpa who used to narrate the Wombles on telly. Brilliant! In fact Bernard Cribbins as old Wilfred Mott was brilliant. Far better than the mum who seemed a little one dimensional here.

But now we get a pile of 'how Donna has changed' guff, and the music soars and the whole thing starts to become a soap opera all over again. I'm sorry, but Donna hasn't really changed. She's still annoying for all the damping down and major surgery they have done on her character to make her even remotely likable. She's watchable in this story, less so in others ... maybe I need to give her more time.

Back to the plot, the Doctor and Donna head back to Adipose and finally get to meet each other again. I was taken by the silent theatrics here ... but the whole plot and expository information which Miss Foster was imparting to the journalist girl is faded out ... and we can see what is most important here is the Doctor and Donna. Yes it made me smile at the time, but it is a bit annoying none the less. Miss Foster's reaction is great though ...

But now we're into the episode's 'big chase' and this time it's up and down a building in a window washer's lift and the stairs ... all very nice to look at and to give those nice people at The Mill something to get their CGI teeth into, but it added nothing to the plot. Miss Foster is given a sonic pen so that Character Options have something new to sell as a toy later on in the year, and the whole thing ends predictably with a face off wherein we learn that Miss Foster is actually Matron Kafelia of the five straight and classen bindi nursery fleet - intergalactic class (I have invented the spelling there as I have no idea!), and she's nanny to all these little fat-created Adiposian children.

So we're into endgame now, and the Doctor uses his own sonic device, plus the gold lockets (maybe this is what they were for ...) to stop the Matron from activating parthenogenesis and killing a million Londoners dead. Instead only about 10 thousand Adipose are 'born' and take to the streets ...

Interestingly, the Adiposian message the Doctor picks up is not in English ... obviously the TARDIS' translation circuits are temporarily on the blink ... and then we're into ET territory with a very impressive spaceship appearing in the skies and the little Adipose being transported up to it, all waving cutely. They really are insufferably cute!

So Matron thinks she is going to but instead falls to her death ... wave bye bye to Supernanny everyone.

So it's all over bar the Doctor getting Donna to hop aboard the TARDIS as his new companion - the earlier scene of him talking to himself and then stopping as he realised that there was no-one there to listen was very nice indeed. So Donna gets all Catherine Tate on him when he says, quite clearly, that he needs 'a mate' and thinks he said 'to mate' ... sheesh ... I thought this sort of humour went out with Russ Abbot (look it up). So she dashes off to leave her car keys for her mum in a bin, and asks a random blonde woman to tell her mum which bin to look in before she skips off to the Doctor. The blonde woman turns round




Bloomin heck. The room went silent but for an audible gasp from the audience. That haunting closure music from Doomsday played ... and Rose turned and walked away, vanishing into the ether with a ripple.

Wow. Singularly the best moment I can remember from Who in a long, long time ... and so totally unexpected. It is just such a shame, that four years on, the show is still running under the spectre of Billie Piper's Rose ...

So Donna joins the Doctor and they wave goodbye to old Wilf on his hilltop ... a lovely scene and very reminiscent of the scene in the original Dalek film where Cribbins played a policeman called Tom, and at the end the TARDIS crew wave farewell to him while standing in the TARDIS doorway ... it would be nice to think that this was a deliberate homage, except that Cribbins was a late replacement for the original actor playing Donna's father (Howard Attfield) ... so maybe this scene was always meant to be there and just added an unintentional layer once Cribbins was cast, or maybe it was added in after Cribbins was cast ...

Overall ... a bit too light hearted. A bit too silly in the opening. The monsters were just daft and engineered to be merchandised ... the characters all a little too over the top ... and the whole thing felt like a remake of Invasion of the Bane from The Sarah Jane Adventures ... same sort of set up, same sort of evil mastermind in charge. It all felt so familiar and I think it drew too much on common archetypes and tropes, not doing enough that was new.

Catherine Tate did well as Donna, but she didn't really grow on me, and David Tennant's Doctor seems to be swinging between manic and intense at an alarming rate ... I hope it all calms down a little as we progress.

Next week ... volcanos, strange Sisterhood-like women, monsters made of fire and rock and the destruction of Pompeii. Never let it be said that Doctor Who doesn't set itself with a challenge ...


Anonymous said...

To be honest, this episode left
me with a "meh" feeling.The plot
was full of holes (when the Doctor
and Donna were hanging off the
building, why didn't the
villainess' goons just shoot
them?). I hated the silly
"gurning thru the window"
scene, and I find Tate
unconvincing as an actress.
I half-suspect the only
reason Tate was brought
back was to spite the
show's online critics RTD is
ALWAYS going on about
in interviews.

I agree with your comments
about the Adipose-RTD's DW is now
resembling those 80s cartoons
(He-man,Transformers,Care Bears)
whose main function was to sell
toys to kids rather than be
good TV. Every episode now
seems to emphasis flashy
special effects, the
casting of light entertainment
figures rather than actors,
and endless self-aware
pop-culture references.

The truth is, I gave up
watching Doctor Who after "Last of
the Time Lords" (shudder).
I missed the Xmas special
(seems I was lucky) and
after PIC I don't think
I'll be watching RTD's
Who again, except for the Moffatt two-parter.

To be brutally honest,I
think RTD is the show's
biggest liability-he has
too much control over
all the show's aspects
(Cornell pointed out
he re-writes all the
scripts extentsively) and
I think the show badly needs a
new showrunner, someone
who understands good TV and
is from outside
"Who" fandom (David Renwick
or Matthew Graham would
be excellent).

Anonymous said...

I really liked this episode. The miming through the windows scene was brilliant, and it amused me that when Miss Foster fell, she didn't actually start to fall until she looked down, like in Road Runner. Although it seems to me that there really was no real reason to have Miss Foster as evil, she could have just continued to only collect the babies when people shed them as fat, so she could have been helping people lose weight and made all the babies, rather than going homicidal, which I think would have been nicer, to have a villain not really being a villain.

(I would post my name as Matthew, but the javascripty thing doesn't work as I'm using a proxy in China, so it's Matthew.)

Anonymous said...

I'm in total agreement with you David.

"PiC" was light on incident let alone true drama. I am not particularly Tatephobic but I do wish RTD had written a very different character for her as Donna is one of those loud knownothings who torment everyone on public transport.

The adipose are cute but do resemble John Prescott clones. But the Nanny really was a lame opponent. (I'm sad enough to listen to the commentaries on BBC 3 & CT does speculate that there will be adipose pillowcases in stores by this December.)

I feel the series needs to get far more serious, the following story, shows that Who CAN challenge & entertain.

RTD can write good stories like "Utopia" but I feel his input isn't always for the good in terms of storylining a series. Compare Who to "Heroes" & you will see that threading Bad Wolf, Torchwood or Y.A.N.A throughtout a series doesn't cut it nowadays.