TARDIS File 04-01: Partners In Crime

TARDIS File 04-01: Partners In Crime

The Big Idea: Donna Noble has been searching for the Doctor since meeting him in The Runaway Bride and finally finds him investigating an alien plot—to reproduce through a human weight loss product

What’s So Great…

  • The genius of the first fifteen minutes where the Doctor and Donna never actually meet but almost just. The scene with their heads popping up in the sea of cubicles at different times is great farce
  • But what must be one of the laugh-out-loud brilliant scenes of the season is the Doctor and Donna’s wordless exchange when they finally do meet, capped off when it’s revealed that Miss Foster is watching them have this increasingly elaborate—and totally incomprehensible—conversation
  • The scene where Donna stays in the same position as her mother Sylvia moves around the room ranting about Donna over what we presume to be a long time says everything about the mother and daughter’s relationship.
  • Sarah Lancashire is wonderful as the villainous Ms. Foster
  • And then there’s the moment when the blonde woman turns around…

Some Quick Bits of Trivia: The vagaracies of CBC’s programming schedule means we’ve skipped the Christmas special Voyage of the Damned (you can find out elsewhere what happened. Suffice it to say the Doctor got through the experience with the Titanic) which means the significance of Bernard Cribbins’ casting is lost on those tuning in from CBC: Cribbins played a newsstand vendor in Voyage of the Damned and his character there is revealed now to be Donna’s grandfather. Sad circumstances necessitated this: Howard Atfield, who played Donna’s father in The Runaway Bride, was scheduled to come back (and did rehearse and filmed some scenes) but Atfield was clearly ailing from the cancer that he would die from in late 2007 (the episode is dedicated to his memory). Rather than recast, they replaced Donna’s father with her grandfather, Wilf. As the producers had a great time working with Cribbins on Voyage they arranged for him to play the role.

The scene with Billie Piper as Rose was shot during the making of Turn Left later this season. The secrecy around Rose’s appearance in the episode was immense: she was referred to as “Bin Girl” in the script and the scene was cut from the pre-broadcast press screening so it would be a surprise at broadcast

Things to Geek Out About…

  • Rose! Rose! ROSE!!! Need we say more? If you were wondering what could top the Daleks, Cybermen and the Master—yeah, well, it’s that.
  • Do you need anything else? It’s Rose!

Not to Complain But… The Doctor and Donna save the day playing with something that looks like an alien vending machine. And with the Adipose one has the sense that they’re having perhaps too much fun with the idea of a race of cute aliens that come from fat that threaten to kill thousands. It should be macabre but it’s played for laughs and everything seems off kilter as a result

All Things Considered… As season premieres go for new Doctor Who, it seems the odd-numbered seasons introduce a completely new companion with a fast paced journey into terror. The even-numbered seasons do a frothy romp with a wafer-thin plot using characters that have already been established. Once you get past that, Partners In Crime is great fun for two reasons: the first is that it’s a full-on farce (more on that later). The second is that it’s a great showcase for what we might get from Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble.

While there were tantalizing hints of further depth, Donna in The Runaway Bride was deliberately written to be as loud and abrasive as possible. She had to be, she was filling the role of a reluctant companion in a big TV movie shown at Christmas. The clever trick Russell T Davies has done is establish that Donna now wants to be the Doctor’s companion. This allows us to see other sides to Donna: we see her lonely, lost and desperate and yet determined. We see her exuberant when she finds the Doctor and we see her horrified when the Adipose’s plot is revealed. Partners In Crime reveals that Donna not only has a set of mighty lungs—though she can still shout with the best of them!—there beats a large heart in her as well.

Catherine Tate is delightful to watch as she captures all these facets. Her scenes with Bernard Cribbins in particular show us that she can nail these quiet, personal scenes at the heart of new Doctor Who. And, rest assured, neither Russell T Davies nor Tate have changed the core spikiness that gave Tate such fun chemistry with David Tennant. Donna’s frankness makes a nice dynamic with a Doctor more used to greater (though not unquestioning) devotion from his companions. It’s a fascinating departure that promises to make for an intriguing season and in some ways should have happened much sooner.

The story’s chief strength is as a farce. From the Doctor and Donna’s missed opportunities to meet to the laugh-out-loud hilarity of their first conversation to the running gag with the reporter to the scene where Donna finally gets to join the TARDIS (a scene that is the complete antithesis of the way the Doctor wooed Martha on board a year ago), the story is great fun and great pains are made to ensure that if anything that can get a laugh it generally does. The downside of this—and making the Adipose moomin-esquely cute—is that there’s not a lot of jeopardy. Autons slaughtering people in the streets, that’s scary; Judoon tromping along the moon’s surface, that’s menacing; Adipose being created from fat people and wobbling up the street, that’s_really silly. Dementedly silly, admittedly. Brilliantly silly, in fact. But silly nonetheless. But that’s okay, because the Doctor and Donna are going to be great.

Line of the week: “you’re not mating with me, sunshine!”

Index of TARDIS Files

TARDIS File prepared by Graeme Burk

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