Sunday, 15 June 2014
Partners in Crime written by Russell T Davies and directed by James Strong
This story in a nutshell: Donna’s back but first she has to help the Doctor dispose of some little fat people…
Mockney Dude: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again but series four is where it's all at with David Tennant and whilst he gave some outstanding performances during his second year in the role and this is the point where the character really hits its peak. He feels effortlessly comfortable with anything that they throw at him and his chemistry with Catherine Tate is picked up exactly where it left off. To be honest he doesn’t do a great deal for the first half of this episode (it's really all about Donna) but whenever Tennant is on the screen he crackles with energy and humour, even if he only investigating behind the scenes. There is a real acknowledgement that the Doctor is hottie (I wouldn't argue with that) these days as the Adipose Industries worker tries to give him her number. The image of the Doctor standing alone at the console with nobody to impress says everything about his need for a companion without uttering a word. Beautiful characterisation delivered because Davies knows to omit dialogue. Nice to see somebody commenting on the fact that the Doctor never seems to change his clothes. When Donna was trying to look for the Doctor she thought to look for trouble and then he’ll turn up. An imminently sensible approach. Despite her efforts to kill him, the Doctor is just as concerned about trying to save Miss Foster’s life as he is to save the people who had been wibbled into Adipose creatures. The Doctor picking up Donna’s bags to welcome her into the Ship really makes my heart melt, he just wants a mate and he can see that in Donna. We need to see why Donna longs to travel with the Doctor, we need him to be at his most charismatic and engaging and Tennant does not disappoint for a second. At this stage, I am well and truly in love with him.
Tempestuous Temp: So many of us were tentative about Catherine Tate returning to the role of Donna Noble. I was on fence but saw enough to potential in The Runaway Bride to be elaborated on and I knew that as a comic actress (and one I greatly admired) that she was going to be up to the dramatic opportunities ahead (I think comedy is the hardest form of acting that you can get right). Little did I know that in the course of a season the character of Donna Noble would go on to become not only one of my favourite companions of all time, but second only to Sarah Jane Smith. Davies is a smart writer and knows that he has to present a more intelligent, resourceful and subtle Donna instantly. Watching her effortlessly infiltrate Adipose Industries in the first half of Partners in Crime is a massive development from the comic foil from her debut, you know the one who screamed 'Santa's a robot!' and swung away from the monsters and smacked into the wall. As presented here, Donna is still recognisable as the hothead the Doctor desperately tried to get down the aisle but she has clearly been changed by her experiences with him. I never thought that Davies would be able to recreate the family magic that came with the Tyler's in seasons one and two (the audience bonded with Rose, Jackie and Mickey in a big way) but somehow he has managed to trump that accomplishment with the devastatingly realistic (Donna and her mum) and heart-warming (Donna and her granddad) Noble trio A lost woman trying to find her way in life, a grieving mother who has just lost her husband and a grandfather who dreams of visiting the stars. All three wonderful characters get to show some real emotion and solidarity over their year and a half in the show and played by Catherine Tate, Jacqueline King and Bernard Cribbins you have these roles being brought to life by some exceptional talent. I regularly revisit series four (still my favourite season of NuWho by a margin) and not just because of the gripping stories but because the regulars were at their absolute height. Donna's warm relationship with her grandfather allows Davies to melt your heart in the way that only he can but somehow it never comes across as cloying or overly sentimental like it could at times with the trials and tribulations of Rose. Donna's acerbic chemistry with her mother is a familiar story - if only mothers and daughters could stop fighting each other and realise what a great team they make the better the world would be. The scene where Sylvia lays into Donna for letting her life slip away unfulfilled (in that horrible, sarcastic way that mothers have that really gets under your skin) puts our sympathies firmly with Donna and you can see where all that unrestrained anger comes from. Sitting on tarpaulin on a moonlit allotment and looking up at the stars with her Granddad breaks my heart, it is such a lovely, intimate moment and the sort that Doctor Who doesn’t normally have time for and the performances are so in tune they just sing. I could watch Tate and Cribbins together all day long. Donna verges from screaming and cursing at the Doctor for always putting her life in danger to beaming from ear to ear and begging like a puppy for him to take her with him and every emotion between these extremes is sold beautifully by Tate. She has missed the thrill and the danger of travelling with him. As she did in The Runaway Bride when she asked the Doctor to stop murdering the Racnoss' children, like she would do in The Fires of Pompeii when she begs him to rescue somebody from the hell of Vesuvius eruption, Donna acts as the Doctor's conscience and reminds him of the cost of his adventures. ‘Easier said than done’ Donna says when the Doctor asks about her travelling the world and it is a very honest answer to something a lot of people say they are going to do (I gave up counting the amount of friends I have that want to go ‘travelling’) but never get around to it. Travelling the world is nothing like being with the Doctor and she feels she was mad to turn down his offer to take her with him. You can tell that Donna is going to be good for him when the Doctor starts panicking that he has too many problems to juggle and she cuts through all that bluster and asks him calmly what it is that he needs. Bless her, she looks so pained when it sounds like he doesn't want her along. She's not proud, Donna admits that she packed ages ago waiting for that little blue box to whisk her away. Her gift to her Grandfather, waving him off in the flying police box and proving that extraterrestrials really do exist, and his rapturous reaction is one of my favourite endings to any Doctor Who story. Has a companion leaving with the Doctor ever felt this glorious? Just writing about it leaves a daft grin on my face.
Sparkling Dialogue: Nobody writes witty dialogue quite like Davies in NuWho...
‘If cynicism burnt up calories we’d all be as thin as rakes!’
‘What sort of country do you think this is?’ ‘Oh it’s a beautifully fat country.’
‘And I’ve been eating like normal!’ – that is a very important line that gets to the nub of our obsession with losing weight – we want a quick fix that will allow us to binge ‘like normal.’
‘She fancied me’ 'Mad Martha that one. Blind Martha. Charity Martha.’
‘I’m waving at fat!’
‘Planet of the Hats! I’m ready!’
The Good Stuff: Shamelessly contemporary, stylish and going for the entertainment jugular from the off, Partners in Crime opens with a gloriously daft and pacy double infiltration into Adipose Industries by the Doctor and Donna. They are destined to meet even if the episode doesn't know it yet. I love how Davies parodies the number of excessive weight loss programmes there are out there. For a society that has fallen in love with any number of fad diets and reality shows showing how it should be done this episode is remarkably relevant. If people are often a quick fix (ala gastric bands) then they will take it. Never mind the psychological implications, if you can make the fat just walk away our lazy, consumerist society will lap it up. I lost seven and a half stone the hard way and if I could have done that in a fraction of the time and with far less effort I would have snatched it up. Steven Moffat has a certain mould when it comes to writing female characters, whether they are villainous or not. Wise cracking, gun toting, attitude laden plot ciphers. They often come across as wish fulfilment rather than characters and whoever first mentioned an element of sexism (whilst making them appear to be emancipated) hit the nail on the head. I don't want to start suggesting that your sexuality alters the way that you writer for a particular gender (but I think I'm going to...) but Davies seems to have more respect for women than that, writing them as real people, imbued with humour and quirks and flaws. I love the fact that Miss Foster is a villain only insofar as she wants to help to birth a whole race of children. Her only crime is that she doesn't care how that is achieved. Sarah Lancashire understands precisely how a female villain needs to be played in Doctor Who - in a slightly heightened way but not so over the top that it is going to turn people over. I love her calm confidence and awesome one-liners and I feel she was too good a character to bump off at the end. A huge round of applause for Murray Gold’s whose music for this episode is one of my favourites. He gets the tone of the episode perfectly and the bubbly, energetic score skips the viewer from one scene to the next. Where there is so little interaction between the Doctor and companion in the first half of the episode the music has to pitch the tone of the comedy to the audience without it coming across as smug or self indulgent. Bravo. If you are going steal source material you may as well go for the best and the delightful scenes of the Doctor and Donna missing each other during their investigations feels remarkably like a similar gag that Dennis Spooner aced in The Romans. James Strong’s direction is incredible and he cuts from angle to angle in each scene briskly to give this an episode a classy and inventive visual look. Watch the scene where Roger tells the Doctor about being woken up by his burglar alarm and notice how many seamless cuts are made and how Strong tells the audience all they need to know about the Adipose by pulling away from the cat flap. And that’s not even an important moment. I love the Adipose with a passion bordering on insanity and broke my rule to never waste my money on the Doctor Who figures section of the merchandise (which has never appealed to me in the slightest) because I simply had to own one of these little cuties. Stop complaining that they aren't frightening (although the idea of bursting into a gang of Adipose like microwaving a bag of popcorn is uncomfortable) and enjoy the fact that something a little different is being attempted. There are plenty of scary monsters coming up in series four (the crusty stone Sybilline leader, Halpen ripping his face off, the Vashta Nerada, the conceptual nasty from Midnight, Davros) so allow Davies to lull you into a false sense of security with these all-skipping, all-dancing lumps of animated fat. Somehow funny, adorable and rather sinister, they are a boundary pushing triumph. My friend with the least amount of imagination hated this episode (she has only ever enjoyed one episode - it's her husband that makes her continually endure the show) especially because of the Adipose which is a screaming endorsement for me. Cleverly the episode makes us think that Donna has been rumbled and milks the scene where she is hiding in the toilet for all the tension it is worth. Few scenes have made me laugh more than the improvised miming comedy between Tennant and Tate. Insanely over the top and exploiting the comedy talents of both actors, it's the first of many top notch moments between this pair during the season. The Doctor and Donna trying smash into the building makes me crack up too. The effects work of the Adipose invading the street is incredibly sophisticated (I laugh until a little bit of pee comes out when the one goes sliding down the taxi). Doctor Who has conditioned us that aliens on the street should frighten the life out of us so we react with unnerving disquiet as these adorable blobs skip merrily towards their spaceship. That's the best spaceship I have seen since Daleks Invasion Earth 2150AD and for similar reasons; two sections rotating in different directions. This ship has the added bonus of looking like a floating city and has a top notch sound effect to go with it. Penny with the chair stuck to her ass is brilliant. The companion that never was. Rose's appearance at the end of the episode must qualify as the most successful twist in Doctor Who. Whether you loved it or hated it...nobody saw it coming.
The Bad Stuff: Donna really does hang from the cable car for a long time, doesn’t she? It's hardly the most implausible notion in this adventure but I think even the robust of athletes would have fallen to their doom while Donna clings on for the length of a bible whilst the Doctor arses about trying to save her. Is there anything the sonic screwdriver can’t do these days? We've hardly reached the nadir of the Doctor's trusty sonic device - come Smith's era it is being waved about ad nauseum as though it is a part of his body but it does seem to be a get-out clause for every problem because there simply isn't the time to plot in anything more astute. Miss Foster deserved more than a comedy death (although her double take does make me chuckle).
The Shallow Bit: There's something about a man with a gun - Miss Foster's younger security guard is quite the hottie. Donna is beautiful, there is always something attractive about a smart, independent woman.
Result: An insanely weird and wonderful season debut which to my mind is the strongest of the Russell T Davies seasons. There are too many moments to enjoy; The Doctor and Donna infiltrating Adipose Industries at the same time and never crossing paths, Donna and her Granddad up the hill, the silent miming through the window, the vertiginous cable car sequence, Adipose babies waddling along the street in their masses and the Wilf's glorious reaction to Donna living the dream that gives you massive cuddle before the credits. Watching this makes me yearn for the days when Davies was suffusing the show with gorgeous characterisation of this kind and it doesn’t matter who this episode focuses on they are all impeccably written and performed. He has struck gold with the Noble's and living up to that astute aphorism of Barry Letts', that you should have a set of regulars who you cannot take your eyes off of even when the story isn't all that interesting. When you marry those characters with a great narrative (Turn Left) you have television gold. James Strong’s direction makes this potentially ropey (but quick witted and paced) plot come alive in unexpected ways and imbues the whole episode with a thrill of energy that keeps you glued. I will always remember my excitement when this was first broadcast and how it shoved two fingers in the faces of unhappy fans who were scared that Catherine Tate’s involvement would sink the show. She’s superb and remains one of my favourite ever companions. I love Partners in Crime, comfort Doctor Who made with an abundance of talent. I have a giant cuddly Adipose on my bed and I don’t care who knows it: 9/10