When I heard that they’d cast Catherine Tate to be the full-time companion for what would turn out to be David Tennant’s last full season as the Doctor, I was quite surprised.
Had you told me she was going to be the companion a couple of years earlier, I’d have worried; it would have seemed like hotshot, gimmicky casting.
But I liked her performance as Donna Noble in the Runaway Bride. Yes, she was over the top at the start, but as the story progressed we saw there was more to her than just playing the loud, brash chav.
It is fair to say though that she’d have to be toned down further if she was going to be taken seriously as a regular.
So let’s see how that panned out in the first story of the season, Partners in Crime
Doctor Who – Partners in Crime Review: What’s This One About?
A dieting pill results in human body fat being turned into creatures called Adipose, as the Earth is unwittingly being used as a breeding colony.
Donna Noble – in a bid to find the Doctor – has been investigating all sorts of weird situations that he might be involved in, and this time, she lucks out.
Thoughts – Refreshingly Different
Before I get onto the subject of Donna, I’ll address the overall tone of Partners in Crime as a story.
And I have to say I like it a lot.
For a start, having “monsters” who are actually cute and harmless creatures made of human fat is a refreshing shift from the norm.
You’d imagine that for many writers, the easiest thing to do would have them be evil fat creatures who eat kittens and babies and plan on destroying the world.
But they aren’t.
Developed properly, the Adipose themselves offer absolutely no threat to anyone and – as the Doctor points out – if it wasn’t for the potential risks and the fact that it’s illegal to do what Adipose Industries are doing, it would actually be beneficial for them to keep doing it.
The CGI for the creatures is commendable as well.
In place of the Adipose being the villains, we instead have Sarah Lancashire as the Foster Mother.
Within the context of this episode – which is undeniably light-hearted – she makes for a good foil to the Doctor, and meets her end in an appropriately comical manner.
So as a plot, I feel Partners in Crime is worthy of praise.
But What About Donna?
The main thing this story achieves though is the aforementioned reintroduction of Donna Noble.
And once again, I was very impressed.
What they’ve done is toned her down.
Sure, there’s still the odd moment where she’s the old shouty Donna from Runaway Bride; I mean, there’d have to be, wouldn’t there? Otherwise it would be casting the same actress to play a different part.
But by restricting the shouty stuff to the bits like where she says “You’re not mating with me, Spaceman”, it smooths the transition out between what she was and what she will become.
And even those over the top bits have a place because they are important to the narrative.
The new Donna is a more realistic and emotional person. The scenes with her mother and grandfather paint the picture of a genuine person rather than a written-for-TV caricature.
Moreover, she’s presented as someone with initiative and brains, which is slightly different to what we saw before.
So on the whole, it’s a job well done by RTD and Catherine Tate.
Partners in Crime also has one of my favourite scenes from Modern Who; the one where the Doctor and Donna finally meet again.
Up to that point in the story there have been plenty of cleverly written and just-on-the-right-side-of-contrived scenes where they just miss each other, so the scene where they did meet had to be worth the wait.
And it was.
The idea that the two of them have a conversation simply by mouthing the words is original, and it allowed Tate to show off some of her comic skills without being over the top.
It’s a genuinely funny moment, as you can clearly make out what the two of them are saying to each other – up to a point – and their reactions and expressions tell the story.
And to cap it all off, the way that it’s done in the middle of a serious moment where a journalist’s life is under threat is even better. The way they are finally rumbled – with everyone in the room having stopped what they are doing to focus on them – is superb.
The Best Casting of All
It’s sad that Howard Attfield, who played Donna’s dad, died during the filming of this season and had to be replaced. If you look at the scenes he originally filmed for this one, he did look like a man struggling for health, and that’s putting it mildly.
But as unfortunate as the circumstances around it were – and I feel insensitive for even writing that – it led to one of the greatest bits of casting in Doctor Who history.
The idea to turn Bernard Cribbins’ character in Voyage of the Damned into Donna’s grandfather was a masterstroke.
Again, just like with Catherine Tate, if you’d told me beforehand that Bernard Cribbins would turn out to be an amazing regular character in Doctor Who in the late noughties, I’m not entirely sure I’d have believed you.
But he’s wonderful.
No, this isn’t his finest moment, because that’s still to come, but he knows how to act, and he’s bloody good at it.
He plays so well against Tate and helps bring out her emotional side. And he’ll continue to do that again and again.
As I say, wonderful.
On The Flipside
On the flipside to the genius that was the casting of Bernard Cribbins, we have the return of Gimmick Battle Royal Rose.
Rose Tyler did not need to come back, and it does not make sense for her to come back.
She lives in a parallel universe; one that the Doctor has stipulated on many occasions that he can’t travel to. Indeed, he made it clear that nobody can travel there.
And yet she can.
How? Well that gets explained later on, and the explanation is utterly ridiculous.
- For anyone who doesn’t watch WWE, at Wrestlemania 17 they held what was called the “Gimmick Battle Royal”, where they brought back old wrestlers to take part in an over the top rope, battle royal. The thing was, many of these guys had aged a lot and didn’t exactly look great in their old costumes. They clearly weren’t quite what they used to be. So it’s entered my lexicon to refer to anyone who has aged a lot but then tries to wear what they wore when they younger, the “Gimmick Battle Royal” version of themselves. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I just called her Gimmick Battle Royal Rose. Here she looks about 15 years older. And it’ll only get worse by the time we get to Journey’s End.
- Ms. Foster’s death was very Wile E. Coyote, wasn’t it?
- Why would anyone think the best place to hide car keys was in a public bin?
- Well done to RTD for immediately nipping in the bud any hope or suggestion that Donna and the Doctor were going to be anything other than friends. We didn’t need any more unrequited romance.
- How come the Doctor is just hanging around 2008 Earth anyway? Should he not – in that case – be visiting Martha?
- To be fair, the idea that Ms. Foster can control the parthenogenesis of individuals with the twist of a dial is slightly ridiculous. If anything, there would have to be a lengthy search process to find the correct individual controller.
- Also, surely that can’t be the first time someone has seen an Adipose? Not if there are millions of people on the pills?
- I love the comment about the bees going missing, especially since people were actually discussing it in real life at the time.
- The incidental music is quite good here, and incongruously includes that bit that sounds like Patrick Troughton era stuff.
- I’m sure I’ll soon get tired of the Donna Noble Jingle though.
- DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #98
Doctor Who – Partners in Crime Review: Final Thoughts
Partners in Crime is funny, charming and refreshingly different for a Doctor Who story.
It also does a fine job of reintroducing and subtly changing the character of Donna Noble.
I enjoyed this story very much, and would probably say it deserves a higher rating than #98.