Top of the Docs: Series 4 (2008)

Oh lord, that nails-on-chalkboard companion was coming back!  Would we be able to stomach a whole season of Donna Noble after that performance as a one-off companion in The Runaway Bride?  And how could this companion compare to Martha Jones, who already managed to be a rival to the great Rose?  Time to find out!

series 4

Partners In Crime

RP: 7 – The Adipose are cute comedy monsters, Donna is very funny, and her best friends relationship with the Doctor starts to develop nicely here, a refreshing change from the love / unrequited love stories with Rose and Martha. In amongst the comedy there are also some more serious moments that work very well, particularly Donna’s broken relationship with her mother. An unremarkable but solid opener.

ML: 3 – This episode has a fantastic amount of humor that works really well but is in all other respects pretty horrid.  It’s at the upper end of below average because of the talent evident in the acting between Donna and the Doctor, but that’s it.  The story is so grossly out of character for the Doctor that he is actually more an enemy to humanity than a friend.  Why was this invasion a bad one?  Why would the Doctor be against it?  This invasion was a win-win for both the “villain” and humanity!  (The process just needed tweaking!)

The Fires of Pompeii

RP: 8 – I learnt Latin by reading about Caecilius, our fictional-historical celebrity here, so I’ve got to love this one. A very dramatic and emotional episode, with a strong emphasis on the Doctor’s need for a moral compass companion. It’s just a shame the stone arm thing was a bit silly, and has the usual problem of the actor’s real arm being obviously hidden.

ML:  9 – Donna is coming a long way as a companion in no time at all.  The comedy of the episode (Spartacus), the prophesy, Capaldi & Karen Gillan’s cameo and that amazing moment where the heroes realize they are responsible for the destruction of Pompeii all bring this episode very high.  I can’t even let the idiotic names of the villains bring the score down because Doctor Who has been doing that for decades.

Planet of the Ood

RP: 2 – I get what this episode is trying to do, but I think it does it in a very nasty way. Halpen’s transformation crosses the line visually of what is acceptable for a family audience. Also, because we obviously have to side with the oppressed, as viewers, that takes us to a place where we are supposed to approve of some really horrible consequences for the humans, so it’s as far as you can get from a pleasant viewing experience. Too hard hitting for Doctor Who’s usual target audience.

ML: 5 – I’m very middle of the road here.  I love the Ood and love seeing a really despicable character get his just comeuppance.  I utterly adore the music in this episode too.  Nothing really brings the episode down too much for me, but nothing raises it that high either.  It’s about as average as you can get.

The Sontaran Strategem/The Poison Sky

RP: 5 – The Sontarans are a bit of a caricature here, as is the irritating Luke, and you really need to suspend your disbelief a few times. But the return of Martha works well, and never overshadows Donna’s ongoing story. Pretty basic stuff – nothing too groundbreaking or exciting here, just mildly entertaining.

ML: 4 – Like Planet of the Ood, this is another middle of the road getting some good classic villains back but making them look silly at the same time.  Their dependency on that annoying Luke character was senseless and the Doctor’s attitude toward Colonel Mace is deplorable.  The Doctor doesn’t have to like the military to recognize a sign of respect does he?  However, it was nice seeing Martha back!

The Doctor’s Daughter

RP: 7 – I don’t know why Martha was brought back just to be tortured, sidelined and then leave again, and the whole premise of the story takes a lot of believing, but Tennant and Moffett do a great job of selling the awkward father/daughter relationship and the angry Doctor is quite a moment.

ML:  8 – The episode itself is a fairly weak one probably deserving a below average score with the companions separated and a non-too-memorable alien race and a run of the mill bad guy.  However, it scores beautifully with the relationship that forms between the Doctor and Jenny, complete with hints for a future and Martha’s relationship with the “monster” of the episode enhances the story greatly.  (I love when the “monsters” are not the bad guys!)  Then there’s the moment the Doctor tells the audience to be better people and not become slave to rage.  Great message!  Shoots the episode into an above average score.

The Unicorn and the Wasp

RP: 8 – A very silly story, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a huge amount of fun to watch. The Christie book references are sometimes contrived, and bizarrely the really important references come from the game Cluedo instead, but it’s a nice character study of Christie, and it’s all quite joyful in its weirdness.

ML: 6 – This is a tough one to score.  If I’m being honest, nothing about this makes for a good episode of Doctor Who, but it would be a fun Saturday afternoon movie so it warrants at least an average score.  Then I think: put it at the upper end of average because it is a fun romp through the game of Clue with Agatha Christie and some really funny moments.  But alas, I can’t put this one in an above average category because what has it done to deserve it?

Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead

RP: 9 – Really creepy, exciting, emotional and finally bittersweet. Also the product of a really, really clever writer’s mind, and that shows. Catherine Tate plays Donna’s confusion and tragedy brilliantly, and River Song is of course instantly fabulous. Eve Newton also deserves a lot of credit for her performance as CAL. It’s rare to see such a talented child performance this side of the pond.

ML:  10 – Another of Moffat’s yearly victories, this time making shadows scary in a way we’ve never seen before.  “Hey, who turned out the lights” never sounded so frightening.  River is a magnificent addition to the Doctor Who mythos.  The mystery of the story is resolved beautifully too.  One of those must-see episodes.

Midnight

RP: 10 – I think this is a very strong candidate for the best episode of Doctor Who ever made. Tennant’s performance is just extraordinary. A remarkable examination of the whole spectrum of human nature, which pulls the rug out from under our feet on more than one occasion. As always, the unseen threat is more frightening than any monster costume or special effect could ever be.

ML:  10 – Another must-see for entirely different reasons.  This episode is scary without ever showing us a monster.  On top of that, it’s very claustrophobic taking place almost entirely within a small shuttle.  The big threat is a slow burn where one person copies everyone around her.  A stunning performance by Leslie Sharp as Sky.  One of the best episodes ever made!

Turn Left

RP: 10 – Another amazing episode. This is how you do a continuity-heavy episode and make it all matter, without alienating any of the viewers. Absolutely stunning performance from Catherine Tate, with her life going down a very dark path indeed as the world falls apart. The human drama is a bit of an odd fit with Rose and her magic mirrors, but it somehow works.

ML: 9 – I struggled between a 9 (top end of above average) and 10 (superb) but in the end feel it needs a 9 for the lack of the title character.  It takes us on a journey into a dark place where the Doctor died and we see what happens when he’s not around.  The episode is carried by Catherine Tate as Donna Noble and Billie Piper as Rose.  This is a scary episode in the vein of a “what if” that deserves to be seen.  The music is astoundingly good in this one as well.  Plus, love the tie-in with The Sarah Jane Adventures with the Trickster!  For the record, I do struggle with this rating and wonder if it should be a 10 because it manages to be amazing without the Doctor, but I’ll let the rating stand since Roger has given it a 10.  (The take-away is that we both think this is an amazing episode!)

The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End

RP: 10 – This is how you do an even more continuity-heavy episode without alienating any viewers. RTD manages to work with a near-impossible number of guest characters while giving all of them something really important to do. It’s a glorious celebration of his era and feels like it should have been an anniversary story. Some elements of it are quite mad, but who cares.

ML:  10 – So this episode has to get a 10 for a massive number of reasons even though the first half was a little lackluster. Davros is back and he’s better than ever.  His voice is absolutely dripping with menace.  The Doctor’s hand finally has a part to play.  The ending with the TARDIS pulling the Earth to that glorious piece of music (the Ood’s Song of Freedom) and a TARDIS full of friends makes this a magnificently happy moment.  Sadly, Donna’s end is utterly tragic and heartbreaking but it makes for some superb drama.  I’ve often said, I’d rather a story start weak and end strong than the reverse.  The Stolen Earth is fun, but Journey’s End is amazing and makes up for anything lacking in the first half.

Catherine Tate ended up being more than capable as the companion for the season and ends up with an incredible story arc.  It’s really her arc that is thrown into stark contrast at the end of the episode that makes us aware of it. When she regresses to who she was at the start, it’s amazing how much of her journey we’ve taken with her.  Great having the Sontarans back and Davros is a classic that never gets old, despite how tired I am of Dalek stories.  Overall, we’ve had four incredible seasons of the new Doctor Who.  Where could we possibly go from here?    ML

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2 Responses to Top of the Docs: Series 4 (2008)

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Good points about Partners In Crime, which I enjoyed chiefly for the reuniting of the Doctor and Donna. The confusing moralities of some Dr. Who stories, certainly where the Doctor’s morality may be most questionable, are at least not so much forced on audiences as most other TV shows and films. Fires Of Pompeii would remind us of how the Doctor can be vulnerable enough to be more prone to so-called ‘greater good’ choices that seem blatantly unfair. So Donna’s return can help Series 4 appeal to audience the most so far. Because she reminds us all how important it is, certainly for the preferably greatest good, to question everything. This made her departure and forced memory wipe one of the saddest moments ever in Dr. Who. Where we would all go from here would indeed prove most challenging.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. scifimike70 says:

    Having the five pivotal Dr. Who villains return in the same order they first appeared in the classic series: Daleks, Cybermen, the Master, Sontarans and Davros, had benefited how methodically RTD could give them the best impacts. With Davros now facing so many of the Doctor’s companions as his most profound attempt to break down the Doctor, even with flamboyant Whoniversal humour such as Jack’s line: “I can’t tell you what I’m thinking right now!”, Sarah’s reencounter with Davros most naturally addresses how deprived classic series fans must have felt by the lack of this impact with Romana 2, Tegan, Turlough, Peri and Ace. For the fourth actor to play Davros, Julian Bleach’s signature is all the more rewarding.

    Liked by 2 people

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