Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Saga Of Donna Noble: Doctor Who Season 4!

The Good: Performances, Character development, Concept of the season's arc
The Bad: Execution of the season's arc is fraught with technical problems, A couple of throwaway episodes
The Basics: David Tennant’s tenure as The Doctor comes to an end when he pairs with Donna Noble and encounters two old adversaries who force him to reunite all his allies to thwart.

As fans look back on the modern Doctor Who, it is likely to be seen as a turning point in the show when David Tennant and Russell T. Davies left the series. Given how well Tennant has been aging and the huge narrative gaps at the end of the fourth season of Doctor Who (which was Tennant and Davies's last), perhaps the solution to making Doctor Who great again is to make more seasons with Tennant's Doctor as the protagonist. And the fourth season of Doctor Who has some true moments of greatness; the season has some clever concepts and ambitious ideas that replay far better than some of the earlier - and certainly the subsequent - seasons.

Part of what makes the fourth season of Doctor Who so good is that the initial impression of the new Companion quickly fades and is replaced with an understanding that Donna Noble has a lot going for her. Following "Last Of The Time Lords" (reviewed here!), The Doctor was in need of a new Companion. The fourth season of Doctor Who quickly pairs The Doctor with Donna Noble who was introduced in the third season episode "The Runaway Bride" (reviewed here!) and actually returns Martha Jones to the narrative for significant chunks of the season. As well, Billie Piper's Rose Tyler appears intermittently throughout the season, until she bursts back from the alternate universe at the season's climax to take her place alongside The Doctor's other Companions and allies. The season then includes an extensive denouement of specials that forces David Tennant to end his tenure as The Doctor.

And, for the most part, the season works.

After a solo adventure to rescue Earth from a falling space Titanic, The Doctor finds himself investigating a new company that is promising sudden, extreme weight loss throughout London. In the process of exposing the alien Adipose using fat humans as reproductive incubators, The Doctor reunites with Donna Noble. Following her first encounter with The Doctor, Noble became obsessed with fringe phenomenon and she has been looking for him ever since. She invites herself along with The Doctor and she begins to advocate for him to intervene on some of their adventures to Pompeii and the Ood homeworld. Donna Noble is horrified by how people act, enslaving the Ood and when The Doctor has to be argued into rescuing a single Roman family.

Called back to Earth, Donna and The Doctor combat the Sontarans. Throughout their adventures, Rose Tyler appears on the periphery and The Doctor and Donna hear tales of planets that have gone missing. Tyler warns of the oncoming Darkness; the stars are going out and planets are disappearing as part of the machinations of an enemy of The Doctor. In combating that threat, The Doctor loses all of his allies and spends some time wandering the galaxy through space and time on his own . . . until The Master is resurrected and attacks Earth in a way that forces him to focus his resolve on saving his beloved planet. The Doctor rushes into his final conflict with The Master having received prophecies of his impending doom and must choose to intervene to save Earth or save himself!

The dual joys of the fourth season of Doctor Who are catching the blink-and-you-miss-them cameos of Rose Tyler for the early episodes and seeing David Tennant and Catherine Tate working together as The Doctor and Donna Noble. Rose Tyler has been trapped in an alternate universe for years and when she pops up at the climax of "Partners In Crime," viewers had a reasonable burst of expectations and theories. The result is a pretty awesome pay-off that sparked more fanfic than one could imagine.

Unfortunately, the execution that yields the awesome result is more or less preposterous. The idea of planets being abducted is a cool one; the idea that humans would ever notice (let alone long before it is too late) is utterly ridiculous. Rose Tyler warns of the Darkness, that the stars are going out. Stars being destroyed anywhere in our galaxy would take years - decades to centuries - to be noticeable on Earth in any quantity or pattern. In other words, if some evil were growing out from a central point, destroying stars as they went, by the time the light reached us to let us know of its existence, odds are that the star destroyer would be right behind.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is a lot of delight to be had in the interactions between David Tennant and Catherine Tate. Tennant and Tate had a working relationship before Doctor Who and their knowledge of how to play off one another to get some of the best performances out of each other comes through. Tate initially plays Donna Noble as loud and brash, but she quickly evolves the character into someone who is an engaged, intelligent conspiracy theorist with a clear sense of compassion. Noble's initial loud and crass nature transitions organically into a sense out outrage; Tate makes that transition smooth and compelling.

The season transitions near the end into specials that bridge the effective climax with the end of David Tennant's tenure on Doctor Who. Unfortunately, immediately before the Tennant finales, The Doctor undergoes an incredible character transition that saps the life out of the earliest episodes of Matt Smith's incarnation of The Doctor by the way subsequent showrunner Steven Moffat fails to follow-up or follow through on the new direction. It is the Doctor Who character equivalent of the White Walkers appearing at the climax of the second season of Game Of Thrones, appearing to be on the doorstep of the northern territories, but then taking until the fifth season to actually arrive. Sadly, with Moffat, the final vision of Davies's incarnation of Tennant's Doctor does not materialize.

That, however, is not a problem of the fourth season. Instead, the season has an incredible mix of cool concepts and characters - "Silence In The Library"/"Forest Of The Dead" introduces River Song in a clever and compelling way - and remakes some awesome ideas in the Doctor Who universe ("Turn Left"). The resurgence of Martha Jones for "The Sontaran Stratagem" through "The Doctor's Daughter" is fun and outside a couple of throwaways - most notably "Midnight" - the season is compelling and goes in an interesting direction. And, it is refreshing to have a season where the Companion is not gushing over The Doctor and where The Doctor is not the moral absolute some want him to be.

For more information on this season, be sure to check out the episodes encompassed in it. They are individually reviewed at:
"Voyage Of The Damned"
"Partners In Crime"
"The Fires Of Pompeii"
"Planet Of The Ood"
"The Sontaran Stratagem"
"The Poison Sky"
"The Doctor's Daughter"
"The Unicorn And The Wasp"
"Silence In The Library"
"Forest Of The Dead"
"Turn Left"
"The Stolen Earth"
"Journey's End"
(Specials - Effectively Season 4, Part 2)
"The Next Doctor"
"Planet Of The Dead"
"The Waters Of Mars"
"The End Of Time: Part One"
"The End Of Time: Part Two"


For other movie and television reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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