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Epic, yet personal,
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This review is from: Doctor Who : Complete BBC Series 4  [DVD] (DVD)
Amongst fans, series four of Doctor Who has probably been more divisive than any of the the preceding three, causing some to lament that it had become little more than a soap opera, while others applauded its desire to push boundaries and experiment.
Personally, I fall into the latter camp. As time has moved on, the bar has been moved ever higher in terms of performance, scripting and production values, even since series 3. As good as David Tennant is, and he is VERY good, this is most definitely Catherine Tate's series. When she was cast, there was a vocal tranche of opinion that dreaded her appearance, based purely on her role in the 2006 Christmas Special (in the series 3 boxset). Even that was a little harsh; she had merely played the part as written, though there were clear echoes of her sketch show in it. However, as time went on, the audience went on a journey with Donna and gradually warmed to her, as she gained some kind of enlightenment and a sense of wonder at all the things she saw. Not just that, but her relationship with Tennant's Doctor, though platonic, had that wonderful kind of spark that Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn shared in their movies. I think the perfect example of that comes at the very end of the series; it was the major highlight of the series finale for me.
So, what of the episodes themselves:
First episodes of a series are tough to judge at the time and while series 3's 'Smith and Jones' had been the best at that point, 'Partners In Crime' trumps it. The Adipose plot was admittedly barely a cypher to bring CT and DT back together, but Sarah Lancashire held her own and there were obvious signs of the great chemistry to come. And if that wasn't enough, there was THAT scene to finish the episode off. Hands up who saw that one coming? ( Liars! :-) )
I really loved 'Fires of Pompeii', with its (in hindsight) predictions of what was to come later and in-jokes ofr all those Cambridge Latin Course veterans. 'Planet of the Ood' was a relatively low-key and downbeat affair, though it too subtly presaged later events. It did still give us glimpses of the fact that Tate's Donna was not going to be content to be a mere mute (or screaming) ornament in proceedings.
The Sontaran double bill, a Helen Rayner effort, was infinitely better than series 3's misfiring 'Daleks In Manhattan'. And Chris Ryan was wonderful as Staal. While it didn't hit the stellar heights of later stories it was certainly much better than merely adequate.
'The Doctor's Daughter' was, in hindsight, probably the weakest episode of the series, which sounds bad but isn't really meant to be. I rather enjoyed it, Its very simple premise and its sense of time and history being compressed as they were was a very interesting one. And of course we have a new character floating around the universe. Who knows when we'll bump into her again...
'The Unicorn and the Wasp' managed to keep up a tradition of doing nice historical author-ish episodes with some style and elan. Some quibbled about the effects and the climax, but such things border on the churlish in retrospect. The episode is a fun one, and perfect for peak-time Saturday family viewing.
From this point onwards, however, the series seemed to hit another gear entirely. Steve Moffat's Library double was, quite simply a stunning tour de force on so many levels. By now though, this is what we have come to expect of the man who manages to put the fear of God into the nation's ten-year-olds every series. Job done this time round - "stay out of the shadows"
For me, the two most surprising episodes were 'Midnight' and 'Turn Left'. The former's simple one-set staging reminding me very much of 'Twelve Angry Men'. It left RTD able to concentrate on what he does best, more than ably assisted by Lesley Sharp's performance. The mysterious and unresolved menace was beautifully realised. 'Turn Left' though, was the biggest shock of all. The usual Doctor-lite episode threw us into a world without the Doctor and shows us the consequences. It shows also how important Donna is in this context. And of course we get the return of Rose...
Then, the finale: if this really is to be RTD's swansong then I think the intention was to comprehensively clear the decks and prepare the way for Moffat to do his stuff. As a result, there was an awful lot to pack in and, towards the very end, a suitably RTD-ish tendency to ladle on the cheese, but he largely gets away with it. Once again though, Tate steals the show, with her half-timelord, half-human meta-crisis showing just how fabulous she was all along. The best bits for me were the crackles of dialogue, like when the half-human Doctor regenerates:
and then taking control of things once the threefold man is reunited with all the parts of himself.
There were lots of nice touches, such as the Sarah-Jane references concerning Genesis of the Daleks, especially the moment where Davros recognises her: chilling.
That all this was so wonderful makes Donna's fate all the more heart-rending and pathetic. We'll miss her. And Bernard Cribbins too: a national treasure. I'm not sure about Rose's resolution either, though it does tie up all those floaty, "wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey" bits, to steal a quote.
In the end, what is series 4? Well, in my eyes it is certasinly a progression from the series 3. This season had no clunkers at all and was of a generally high standard. Tennant's Doctor is now utterly fully formed, having recovered from some of the overwrought gurning of series 2. Now he's alone again, next year's specials and 2010 series give the writers and team a blank slate to work from. It alsd helps to have such a talent of cast and crew talent and a wealth of goodwill to go wit hit. You really do get the sense that eveyone concerned loves this show.
RTD has done a great job in reviving what many thought was a dead show and making it consistently the most popular, best produced, mote inventive and simply best drama on British TV.
When release time finally comes it will be an essential purchase for me. I hope it will be for you too.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 19 Aug 2008 12:02:53 BDT
K. Robertson says:
Brilliant review! :D
Posted on 13 Oct 2008 19:46:06 BDT
Mr. J. R. Trinder says:
what exactly do you mean by "overwrought gurning of series 2"?
In reply to an earlier post on 20 Oct 2008 16:20:27 BDT
What I meant was that his responses in some situations were just over the top - in fact verging on ham. I know that his character was supposed to be much more expansive that CE's s1 Doc but it just mildly irked me occasionally. It wasn't all the time, but the sometimes too-shouty tone of DT in series 2 didn't help. I just think he's reined it in a little more in s3 and s4.
Which is good because I am a Tennant fan; some of the s3 and s4 stuff he's pulled out has been astonishing.
Posted on 27 Oct 2008 11:36:33 GMT
S. Herbertson says:
Thanks for a superb, measured and reasoned review. It's rare that I've read a review of a series where the views of individual episodes so closely resonate with my own. And full credit for acknowledging that this really was the series that was all about Donna and her journey. I think she provided a perfect counter-point to both Rose and Martha, but also allowed different reactions and nuances from David Tennant (particularly in The Doctor's Daughter, which I agree was the weakest episode in many ways, but thought the relationship developed beautifully between the two leads here). This series needed to flex its muscles - we all knew that the BIG climax was coming and apart from some pretty minor quibbles it certainly delivered. I have huge admiration for RTD and what he's done for the series - let's not forget that he's not gone, not quite yet and I think we still have room to be surprised by him in the next few specials.
Posted on 2 Nov 2008 18:53:05 GMT
S. Moore says:
Thanks for a brilliant review. I was thinking of doing one, but you have said all there is to say and far more eloquently than I could hope to. For anyone who hasn't seen the series yet and are weighing up whether it's worth buying or not you need read no further than this review. If you like what it says, you'll LOVE the dvds. Seldom does one agree with every single word someone says, but on this occasion I do wholeheartedly.
Posted on 21 Dec 2009 17:56:24 GMT
I have to say I wasn't looking forward to a series with CT but she won me over and this is undoubtedly my favourite series. The chemistry was brilliant. I miss both characters already. Secretly hoping they'll pop up on Christmas Day. If not, there's always this box set to watch :-)
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