Well, I have finally had the chance to catch up on this season of Doctor Who and I thought I would reflect on the episodes I have seen so far before I watch the last three episodes.
"The Fires of Pompeii"
The second episode I thought was very good, better than partners in crime. I liked seeing the Doctor interact with actual historical events (well sort of); from what I understand there is actually very little known about the real city of Pompeii, other than it was destroyed by a volcano, so there was room to take a lot of liberties in the story.
The story itself was good, I enjoyed the mystery and the revelation that many of Pompeii’s citizens were turning to stone before the volcano erupted. I also enjoyed the foreshadowing in the prophesies about the Doctor and Donna. “Doctor, she has returned” was obviously about Rose, and we will just have to see what the prophesy “There is something on your back” is referring to with Donna.
The rock monsters were great, not to mention all the sets, costumes and effects. I also enjoyed. The story’s conclusion also took an insightful turn as Donna was clearly needed to act as the Doctor’s conscience and keep him from giving into the calluses that often come with living through pain, despair and disappointment.
"The Fires of Pompeii" is a very solid episode and a good sign of things to come for the rest of season four.
"Planet of the Ood"
I was looking forward to seeing the Ood again after their appearance in season two, hoping we might learn more about them. In this regard the episode did not disappoint. There was something poetic about the revelation that instead of the translation sphere that we see the Ood with, the Ood instead naturally hold a "hind brain" that gives them individuality. Donna points out that it should be obvious that having to do this would make the Ood very peaceful.
Of course what it also did was make the Ood easy targets for big industry which once their “hind brains” were removed and replaced with the translation spheres, the Ood become subservient; the Doctor of course rebukes the CEO of Ood Operations for lobotomizing them. The Ood themselves execute their ultimate lesson for the CEO as they transform into an Ood. This was of course a bit of poetic justice, but it also flirted with being a bit cheesy.
"Planet of the Ood" was another good episode overall. I also don’t want to forget to mention the incredible alien landscapes in this episode; you really got a sense that they were visiting an alien world.
"The Sontaran Stratagem" and "The Poison Sky"
The first two-parter of the year bring back some classic villains that look like the Mr. Potato head army. As only a casual fan of the classic series I was not very familiar with the Sontarans, but like always, the story was written in a way that new fans could be introduced and still give the older fans a nod that references classic Who. Likewise, UNIT was also part of the story, a classic organization that I believe goes back to the 3rd Doctor during his exile on earth.
But for me and other new Who fans it was the return of Martha that we were excited about. Martha really grew on me last season and I was glad I did not have to wait very long for her return this season. Out of all the modern companions she has had the most growth as a character, at least the most in the shortest amount of time. I also appreciated the fact that the reunion with Martha did not involve her predictably having contention with Donna. This would have been way to obvious and it was better to have the Doctor being surprised right along with the audience.
As for the story itself, it was an OK enough story complete with lots of action and the redemption of boy genius villian Luke Rattigan giving his life to save the day in the end. It was also good that Martha’s return did not in anyway take away from Donna’s character to continue to develop. We get to see Donna’s mother and grandfather again and Martha warns Donna that as wonderful as the Doctor is when you get to close to the Doctor, like fire, you or the ones you love can get burned.
This was a decent two-parter, I was sad to see Martha wanting to part ways again, but I was glad that the Tardis seemed to have other plans and whisked her away for at least one more episode with the Doctor and Donna. I have always like it when the Doctor had two companions with him anyway; it just seems like there is better chemistry all the way around when this happens.
"The Doctor's Daughter"
For me, this episode was more fun anticipating after seeing the “next time” teaser than the episode actually was. I am not saying that it was terrible or anything, it was enjoyable, but I don’t think it lived up to its potential. Jenny, played by Peter Davison’s (real name Peter Moffett) daughter Georgia Moffett, did a great job. She was definitely played it in a way that I wanted to see more of her character; and as much as this is the case the obvious set up for a possible spin off series did not sit well with me.
I did think the character development was great between the Doctor and his “daughter” in the short amount of time they had. The idea that his genetic “offspring” was created as a war machine did make for some great tension. The development of course came as Jenny learned a different way of life counter to her “programming” and the Doctor learned to accept her and give her a chance.
The problem I had was the lack of commitment to Jenny’s death in the story, which was too contrived, and ended up not being a death at all. Despite the creative twist about the war only being a week long, the episode has too many obvious and conflicting agendas; Create a sad moment for the Doctor to remind us again how “alone he is” and keep the character alive for another appearance on the show or start a spin-off. In the end, I kind of felt like I was just being manipulated despite some great performances.
"The Unicorn and the Wasp"
I am not a big Agatha Christie fan, and so most of the inside jokes and nods given to her work went over my head. In the end it was a nice “who done it” episode, but the giant bee transformation was a bit corny.
"Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead"
This was the second two parter of series 4 and the best episodes of the year. The episodes written by Steven Moffat are always among my favorite and while not Moffat’s best work the episodes do not disappoint.
The mysterious River Song, who is revealed to be the Doctor’s future trusted companion, lets us know that there will finally be real life after Rose at some point. We learn that Doctor can have a close relationship with another companion, close enough to share his real name, and this person not be Rose- or to our knowledge have any romantic implications. Both Martha and Donna have lived in the shadow of Rose, and so a future for companions without that shadow is refreshing.
In the end you have to admit that the story is part rip off of the matrix, but you can easily forgive that because of how well the story was told. The “virtual life” ended up being the salvation for all those lost in the library, that were “saved” by the computer when the shadows of Vashta Nerada appeared so that the Doctor might retrieve them later. And of course the virtual world was used to save River Song in the end from complete death. And the virtual world allowed Catherine Tate to earn her acting merit mage as Donna Noble, as she gave a convincing performance as a “virtual” mother trying to reconcile what is real and what isn’t.
Again, I think these were the best episodes of season 4 and a hopeful sign as Steven Moffat is positioned to take the reigns as producer when Russell T. Davies steps down.
I was pleasantly surprised by this episode. As the season approached the final three episodes I half expected this one to be “mailed in”. With some of my recent disappointments with RTD’s writing I found this to be one of his best stand alone stories. In addition to this, it was also one of the best acting performances by Tennant and the other characters I have seen.
The special effects department did spend some money on some beautiful alien landscapes, but in the end it wasn’t the special effects that made the performance so convincing. Essentially the whole story took place in one small room aboard a train, and all the drama came only from brilliant acting performances. It was nice to see the exploration of the human condition so wonderfully conveyed by the all actors involved.