VINE VOICEon 17 August 2008
Series 4 of the new Doctor Who has been in my opinion, one of the finest series ever. David Tennant remains as brilliant as ever, and if anything changes, it's that he can only get better as time goes on. Catherine Tate, has surprised and amazed me, with her portrayal of Donna Noble in this series, making the character such a credible, efficient and lovable assistant to the Doctor.
All this excellence continues in this fine volume of the fourth series, as Russell T Davies revives another old villainous race from the Doctor's past, introduces more allies and facts from the Time Lord's past (the older series to be exact) and includes some more good old interaction with one of history's greatest figures.
To start of, we have (essentially) a three-part mini-arc that features the welcome (first) return of Martha Jones (the excellent Freema Agyeman) to the series. The two-part episode "The Sontaran Stratagem"/"The Poison Sky" shows Martha as now being a fully-qualified doctor and member of modern-day U.N.I.T. (old allies of the Doctor). This features the return of the dreaded Sontarans after a twenty-year absence from our screens, who've arrived with an insidious scheme to dominate the Earth and empower their own empire.
Having never heard of the Sontarans before, I found them to be unique and interesting villains. As with Daleks and Cybermen, Davies works his reinvention magic again, portraying the Sontarans as a notorious threat and enjoyable adversaries. Their leader General Staal is fantastically acted by Christopher Ryan (Mike of Young Ones fame) and the Sontarans' background and purpose are greatly intriguing, thus making for another high-quality episode.
But there are many other things that make this two-parter so outstanding. Such as the somewhat reluctant alliance between the Doctor and U.N.I.T. over ideals and methods, and the superb interaction between Martha and Donna. Those expecting a childish-fight between the two assistants need not worry. I was pleasantly surprised to see Donna and Martha form a fast-friendship and good-heartedly gang up on the Doctor at one point, it makes for fun viewing. Catherine and Freema have such good chemistry with one another, and both their characters develop excellently as a result. Each are given a fair share of the spotlight, with Martha having made quite the life for herself and being subjected to the Sontarans' manipulation, and Donna's torment over whether to tell her family what's she doing, and her courage and companion's role being truly tested for the first time.
After all that, we have what is personally one of my all time favourite episodes, "The Doctor's Daughter", which closes this mini-arc featuring Martha. I really can't understand why there were people who didn't like this episode, as it puts the Doctor in a situation I've never seen him in before and is thus brilliantly presented. Those who've watched the older series will already know that fatherhood is nothing new to the Time Lord, but that doesn't alter anything here, in terms of excellence, character-depth and development.
The character of Jenny (wonderfully portrayed by Georgia Moffett) starts out as being a new soldier that's not likeable, with the Doctor refusing to accept her as his child, and Donna playing the part of peacemaker and helping them both. Jenny's origin is plausibly executed and ties-in nicely with the episode's plot, featuring a war between humans and a new species known as the Hath. As the Doctor tries to stop the fighting, the interaction with Jenny helps him to relate to her in a creative way. The nature of the human/Hath conflict is fascinating, Jenny's development makes her an outstanding character (which I hope we'll see again), Martha's interaction with the Hath is cracking and Donna once again proves how brilliant she is solving things that not even the Doctor can see. All of this coupled with the emotional and surprising ending, makes "The Doctor's Daughter" a true classic.
This volume's final episode on the other hand, "The Unicorn and the Wasp", is without doubt, one of the daftest episodes I've ever seen. In 1926, the Doctor and Donna meet the great Agatha Christie (portrayed by Fenella Woolgar) at a private party, before the night of Christie's real-life disappearance. The premise for this episode, is basically a murder-mystery featuring an infamous jewellery thief known only as "The Unicorn" and yes...a giant wasp.
It is truly one of the daftest episodes ever and just so silly. However, if you can accept that this episode isn't meant to be taken THAT seriously, then there is fun and humour to be found watching this. Fenella Woolgar as Agatha Christie is the highlight here. She portrays the legendary writer so credibly and tying her role here to the real-life disappearance and amnesia is clever. I enjoyed seeing Felicity Kendall appear as well, but all in all, "The Unicorn and the Wasp" is an episode that's perhaps too barmy and sci-fi for its own good.
Overall, the second volume of Doctor Who Series 4 is fantastic. David Tennant remains the man, and Catherine Tate (and the Donna Noble character itself) really starts to emerge as one of the greatest companions ever to the Doctor. There're so many great moments here, excellent guest-appearances and it's essential because of what it means. Given the VERY heavy, psychological nature of the remaining six episodes (which are all major), this volume kind of ends the Series 4 status quo, as it's all horrors, pains and nightmares from here on out.
A truly excellent DVD that reminds us of the brilliance of Russell T Davies' Doctor Who. I'd totally recommend it and have only one thing else to say.
Keep `em comin'!