New Who in Conversation: Partners in Crime (S04E01)

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We’re also joined today by guest viewer Lynne M. Thomas, co-editor of the Hugo-winning book Chicks Dig Time Lords and co-creator of the new Doctor Who podcast Verity! Lynne gives Tansy a run for her money when it comes to Doctor Who expertise and we welcome her to our review!

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

DoctorDonna “Partners in Crime” – Season four, episode one 
The Doctor – David Tennant
Donna Noble – Catherine Tate

DAVID:
So, obviously the big news with this episode is the return of Donna, and I for one was thrilled. I really enjoyed her character in this episode, more so than in “The Runaway Bride”, to be honest. She seemed to have a bit more depth to her this time around, and I quite liked the idea of her as the enterprising journalist, sneaking around and gathering information.

TEHANI:
I love Donna so much! She’s brash and ditzy but really smart and deeply passionate and grounded, under the ditz and show! I’ve rewatched this episode a bunch of times though, and still keep seeing Donna’s desperate search for aliens as just that – a bit desperate, as if she’s realised what she let go when she chose not to go with the Doctor, and will do anything to get it back. Not from a romantic or lost (potential) love point of view or anything, but it’s just, well, desperate! It’s one of the sour notes of this episode for me, but there’s so much else I loved :) Particularly – DONNA’S BACK!

LYNNE:
I love this episode like pie. The dynamic between the Doctor and Donna, particularly in the scenes where they are miming across the room at each other, reminds me of the best screwball comedies from the 30s and 40s.

Both Tennant and Tate’s performances are pitch perfect, down to Tennant’s obvious discomfort with the young lady at Adipose Industries giving him her phone number, and Tate’s acting the first time she claps eyes on an adipose for herself, which is a splendid mix of disbelief, triumph, and moderated fear because the things are so darned cute. All of which she is likely doing as she reacts to a tennis ball on a stick off camera.

DonnaDAVID:
To me, Donna comes across as very single minded and determined when she has set a goal, and this is comes across really well in this episode. The only thing that I struggled with was that in between seeing her in “The Runaway Bride” and in this episode I have been watching her in The Office – a very different role!

But, yes, Tate has an incredible talent for physical comedy (all comedy, really), and the scene’s with her and Tennant are hilarious. Sometimes RTD’s scripts try for comedy and fall a little short, but in the two T’s he has the perfect tools for the job.

TANSY:
Ooh I have been meaning to watch that season of The Office, purely for her. Does it matter I haven’t watched the previous seasons?

DAVID:
It would certainly help, but I still think you’d enjoy them. Perhaps just read the Wikipedia entries for the earlier seasons to get a feel for the characters? I’d happily recommend watching it all though, it’s one of the few adaptations of a British show where I think the US version is superior. Scandalous, I know!

TANSY:
I think I like “The Runaway Bride” a lot more retrospectively, after this season, than I did originally, and Catherine Tate really nails Donna’s wonderfulness as a companion in “Partners in Crime.” I like that she has become a more interesting and driven person because of her experience back then, but so much of it has come from within. Over and over we get the idea that the Doctor inspires personal growth in the people he affects, but they do it on their own once they have parted from him.

DAVID:
Perhaps this is merely my interpretation, but it was nice to see that her motivation for trying to locate the Doctor did not come from infatuation with him, but of a desire for adventure and wanting to escape from her day to day life. I am not sure that I could have coped with another “everyone who travels with the Doctor falls for him and puts the rest of their life on hold” storyline. It was very refreshing that she hadn’t been simply moping around waiting for him to turn up, but instead took a very active role in going out and trying to find him. It’s already set up a much better dynamic, and while Martha was (of the companions so far) the most able to hold her own with the Doctor intellectually, you get the feeling that Donna is going to be much better at maintaining her independence and not letting the Doctor’s personality dominate her too much. I am looking forward to seeing how their relationship plays out.

TANSY:
I agree with all of this! Addressing romantic ideas around the Doctor was something I think the new series had to do, as it was something lacking in the old days, but it’s so refreshing to see them leave it behind for once. Donna’s quest to find the Doctor is about far more than just wanting to be with him – she wants the adventure, and to escape her mundane life.

TEHANI:
I like that you have interpreted her quest to find the Doctor more positively than me. I must be getting curmudgeonly in my old age!

wilfTANSY:
Of course we don’t just get Donna in this story, we also get Wilf, last seen selling newspapers in the face of a London Christmas apocalypse! Bringing back that quirky Bernard Cribbins character as Donna’s granddad is one of the cleverest production decisions RTD ever made – certainly in the top 10 – and it adds so much to the story. It makes me happy that she doesn’t just have her negative, putting-down mother as a family influence, but also this magical, stars-in-eyes grandfather, the one who encourages her to dream.

TEHANI:
Wilf is fabulous, and I agree with you about how cool it was that RTD wrote him in as Donna’s granddad. Gee, I hope we see more of him *nudge nudge wink wink* No spoilers David!

I don’t think you can overstate how important Wilf really is to Donna’s own character – without him, and his starry eyes, she might not have been able to take that leap of faith to seek out the Doctor, to yearn for adventure. Wilf is a brilliant role model for her, and her character wouldn’t make as much sense without him, I reckon.

DAVID:
I would go so far as to say that Wilf and Donna’s relationship is the healthiest one we have seen so far amongst the companion’s families.

AdiposeTEHANI:
I love the comedy elements of this episode. Not, actually, the silly weight loss aspect, with the Super Nanny villain and the cute but icky-in-a-way Adipose fat babies, but the character byplay between Donna and the Doctor – they absolutely shine together. It’s so NICE to see the Doctor with a companion just that little bit older, with a bit more life experience (no matter how narrow that experience is, she’s still more mature than Rose or Martha) to work from, and to see how he has a real, adult friendship with her. A lot of it, in this episode at least, played for laughs, which it delightful.

DAVID:
RTD loves his fat jokes, doesn’t he? I’ve mentioned before that I am not a huge fan of him as a writer (it’s all relative though, it’s in comparison to people like Moffat and Cornell that he suffers, taken on his own he is obviously hugely talented), and a big part of that is that there is a clumsy and immature element to his humour and when he tries to evoke emotion. But, the banter in this is excellent, and the chemistry between Tate and Tennant is superb!

TennantLYNNE:
I’m going out on a limb to state that this may be an underrated classic episode. It doesn’t get nearly as much credit because it’s a “funny” episode rather than a “serious” one, and because the adipose are such cutesy monsters. But it should. It’s a tightly constructed and exceedingly well-directed entry episode into one of the most consistently strong seasons of Doctor Who. The whole first half of near misses with the Doctor and Donna, trying their best to get on with it while just missing each other on the same mission? That is brilliant farce. We see their respective worlds and approaches to problem-solving laid out before they collide. The dialogue sparkles, is sly and self-referential without being too arch. I will also allow that I really enjoy watching David Tennant run around in his swooshy coat. *ahem*

TANSY:
I agree that comedy often means a story gets taken less seriously – and this is a brilliant new entry or re-entry point for a new season. I like that Donna is effectively re-auditioning for the role by getting to show that she is actually awesome even without the Doctor around to lead the way – which is a bit of a contrast to how fandom often remembers her, as being somehow lesser, then becoming great as a companion, and then … oops, no spoilers for later in the season.

She was great ALL ALONG, thank you very much. She just didn’t realise it.

DAVID:
As already mentioned, Wilf is a great addition and his relationship with Donna is quite lovely. There is actually a very interesting dynamic with Donna’s family in general, as we’ve seen with her mother. I think Tansy said in a previous blog entry that the way New Who treats the family background of companions is much more involved than might have been in the past, and we have definitely seen a few different types of families so far. How Martha interacts with her family, or Rose with her mother, have been completely different and I think this has been handled rather well.

imagesLYNNE:
Mrs. Foster, played by Sarah Lancashire, who is absolutely spot-on, plays a perfectly arch villain without being too over the top. She knows what she is there to do, and she does so with ruthless, gleeful efficiency.

There are other important character and plot-arch moments jammed in here, too, though. Tennant’s Doctor has figured out that he really shouldn’t go it alone, and he has also figured out that the dynamic he had with Martha wasn’t healthy for either of them.

TANSY:
So many good character bits. The scene at the end, with them negotiating Donna’s transition into the TARDIS, is awkward and adorable. He gets a wonderful expression on his face when he admits “I’d love it” about having her aboard. It’s good for him that Donna made him work for it – in fact, Donna is good for him all around, I think. Tennant’s Doctor has always teetered on the precipice of being indulgent (which is part of why he polarises fans, I think – some want to smother him with a pillow while others just want to feed him ice cream. Some want to do both! All of these are valid responses) and Donna won’t let him puff up too much with his own self-importance. Well, she will, but only so she can gently mock him afterwards.

TEHANI:
I think this is what I love so much about the Donna/Doctor dynamic – Ten NEEDED someone like her to balance him and ground him, and Donna does it beautifully.

DonnaDoctorTANSY:
How much do I love their relationship? It reminds me of the Tom Baker years, where the companion was specifically coded as the Doctor’s Best Friend. I hadn’t thought of it this way before, but that interpretation of the companion’s role has been a big part of New Who, regardless of whether there was also romantic intent going on. Donna is however MY FAVOURITE AND MY BEST.

It’s really hard to talk more about this right now without skipping ahead. So I will keep my mouth shut. Any final windy-uppy thoughts on this episode?

DAVID:
Only that it is amazing how the chemistry between Ten and Donna drives this episode and stops you from caring about some of its shortcomings. It makes me really excited at the thought of seeing more of their travels!

LYNNE:
This episode begins one of my favorite runs of the new series, and I just love everyone to bits in it. It’s a lovely change of tone, lightening things up after all of the doom and gloom and the Master destroying our lives stuff the previous season. It feels fresh, and lovely, and makes me happy to be a fan. Also, Wilf rocks.

TEHANI:
It’s a little bit of silliness with a lot of heart and a great deal of fun, and shows us a lot of what we can expect from the season. Seconding the Donna and Wilf love :)

TANSY:
This season is one of my favourites, too. Donna got better and better, the show was comfortable enough with itself to start playing against its own formula, and we got some nods to past (and recent) nostalgia too … but all that is yet to come!

We’ve already reviewed:

“Rose”, S01E01

“Dalek”, S01E06

“Father’s Day”, S01E08

“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10

“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13

Season One Report Card – DavidTansyTehani

“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special

“New Earth”, S02E01

“School Reunion”, S02E03

“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04

“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06

“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13

Season Two Report Card – DavidTansyTehani

“The Runaway Bride”, 2006 Christmas Special

“Smith and Jones”, S03E01

“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/E03

“Human Nature/The Family of Blood”, S03E08/E09

“Blink”, SO3E10 (with special guest reviewer Joanne Anderton)

Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords (S03E12/13/14)

Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)

Season Three Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani

Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)

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