Given my reaction to Donna in The Runaway Bride you can imagine how excited I wasn’t to see her returning for a full season (plus, still a little sore at Martha effectively being dumped). Nevertheless, I assumed they’d retool her character somewhat so I went in with an open mind. Three years in and by now we’d all have a fairly good idea of what new Who could deliver: good, bad, mediocre. Consequently this is probably the first season I went into with measured expectations. Ultimately, while I never completely warmed to Donna I enjoyed the journey that Davies and Tate took her on for this season, enough so that the end of her story comes across like a needless gut punch.
As my scores suggest, this is a season that builds slowly to some cracking episodes, but ends up being submerged by RTD’s attempts to deliver the finale to end all finales. This is also where the bombast begins to grate, with the unnecessary addition of snare drums to the opening theme just one example of efforts to prove that more is more (note: having just given the theme another listen it’s not nearly as grating as I remember, but at the time …. *shakes fist*).
- Partners In Crime: the first half of this episode show RTD at the top of his game as the Doctor and Donna, investigating the same mystery, continue to miss each other at every turn. Meanwhile the series has rarely been funnier than the scene where they finally catch sight of one another.
- The Fires Of Pompeii: hmm, Peter Capaldi. He sure looks familiar…
- Planet Of The Ood: a moving examination of slavery and racism and a chance for Tate to show that she really can act.
- The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky: I loved Chris Ryan’s turn as a Sontaran in this, but ultimately don’t find this particularly special. The ‘are you my mummy?’ gag was a nice throwback.
- The Doctor’s Daughter: an episode that I feel should have done more than it did, but I imagine I’d enjoy perfectly well if/when I go back for a second viewing. Still not sure why Steven Moffat asked for Jenny to be saved at the end and then never used her. Perhaps he’d originally had her in mind for part of the River Song arc.
- The Unicorn & The Wasp: another perfectly decent episode that I enjoyed at the time, but have never (yet) felt the need to go back and watch again.
- Silence In The Library/Forest Of The Dead: not quite a Moffat classic, but another unique and terrifying monster, and a hearty dash of timey-wimeyness with the Doctor encountering a future companion who remembers him from adventures he’s not had yet. I still wonder how this story would have played out had Tennant stayed on: would it have been the same story we ended up seeing?
- Midnight: I love single location stories so this was always going to be a winner for me. At this point in the series who could have expected that RTD would have turned in something that so sharply challenged the conventions of the Who narrative? A small story that earns an epic spot in the show. A relatively rare example of the show working in the absence of the companion: I really wish this had been one of the specials.
- Turn Left: and another unmitigated classic from RTD that boldly presents a chilling vision of what the last two years would have been like without the Doctor around. As with Blink it’s remarkable how well the show can work without the Doctor (perhaps because the series is about what the Doctor *does* rather than about *him*?).
- The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End: and, oh dear. It so very nearly works, but ends up collapsing under the weight of its own ambition – and, like many stories, the lack of a truly solid idea to capitalize on a set of gripping foundations. The final nail on the coffin of this story, for me, is the scene of the TARDIS crew giddily towing the Earth back to its proper place in the universe. I’ll gladly give the show plenty of leeway for the sake of an entertaining story, but: science!
- The Next Doctor: an excellent first half, an excellent ‘other’ Doctor and a brilliant villainess. All thrown away at the end. Nothing can quite conquer the ludicrousness of a giant steampunk Cyberman crashing through Victorian London (though, it sounds awesome when you write it). However, the worst part for me is another example of RTD’s tendency to throw away his characters when he’s done with them: Jackson starts the story as a brave and resourceful as the Doctor typically is, with the real Doctor even telling him that those are his own qualities coming to the fore; however, by the end of the story he’s given nothing to do other than fail to save the day so the ‘real’ Doctor can finish the job.
|Partners in Crime||3|
|The Fires of Pompeii||3|
|Planet of the Ood||3|
|The Sontaran Stratagem (1)||3|
|The Poison Sky (2)||3|
|The Doctor’s Daughter||3|
|The Unicorn and the Wasp||3|
|Silence in the Library (1)||4|
|Forest of the Dead (2)||4|
|Turn Left (1)||5|
|The Stolen Earth (2)||4|
|Journey’s End (3)||2|
|The Next Doctor||2|