The week off in the middle of Doctor Who’s third season proved pivotal for the show. The first half had been increasingly criticised, with few bright spots to talk about, and had featured quite possibly the weakest Dalek story of all time, a real low point.
Yet after the week’s break, things really started to pick up. Granted, it took a week or two to really hit top gear, but we had that stunning run of four top notch episodes (and that’s not happened since Who returned to our screens) that kicked off with The Family Of Blood and continued through to Utopia (with the small matter of Blink, almost certainly the best episode of Who since Russell T Davies’ revival, and a good shout for the top ten of all time). And while the end of the series was disappointingly weak, it was the second half that chalked it up as a success.
So once again, we find ourselves at an interesting point. Season four has been quite good so far. There hasn’t been an outright disaster, there have been some good episodes in there, and there’s been more consistency about the run thus far. Highlights? Personally, I enjoyed The Fires Of Pompeii and had a real soft spot for The Unicorn And The Wasp. The Doctor’s Daughter too was good fun, save for the ending, and we wait and see just how long it is before the character of Jenny is reintroduced into the show. Were I to choose a season highlight thus far, I’d probably edge it to The Fires Of Pompeii, but it’s nice to have some good competition seven episodes in.
The low points were, ironically, the two higher profile stories, involving the Sontarans and the Ood, although that’s perhaps partly down to the higher expectations I had for them. The former was weak (although still a good few notches better than the Dalek two parter of last year), and we still await a story that really does the Sontarans justice. They’ve had a couple of good ones over the years, but is the definitive Sontaran adventure yet to be written, or is there only so much you can do with a race of honourable warriors? The Ood episode didn’t click with me as perhaps it should. I really like the Ood as villains, too, but it all seemed a little too obvious, albeit nicely constructed. Perhaps this is a story where the old-style Doctor Who episodic format would have suited it better?
The season opener? It was what it was, a daft little story to reintroduce Donna and get us back into the swing of things, and that’s just what it managed to do. Sarah Lancashire proved a good guest star, but most of the episode was about getting that mechanic between the two acting leads in place.
And you’d have to say, against the expectations of many, that Catherine Tate is the one to emerge from the first half of the season with her reputation suitably enhanced. There have been a few Catherine Tate-isms slipping into the show, but nowhere near the amount that were feared, and instead she’s gone on to create an interesting companion for the Time Lord. Most viewers, I suspect, have appreciated the fact that we have an assistant for the Doctor who isn’t looking for any kind of romantic attachment, and the fact that her family extends little further than Bernard Cribbins is even better. That’s from someone who didn’t mind the extended Tyler brood of the first two seasons, but who thought the attempt to do the same thing with Martha’s family didn’t really work.
Martha’s return, meanwhile, was fine, and demonstrated to an extent the potential that her character had. But you still wonder if Freema Agyeman got the raw deal with Martha Jones, a character that remains in the shadow of Rose, all-but-demanding further exploration. That could yet happen, of course.
Of the running threads to tie together, we had talk of wasps disappearing a few times throughout the series, but perhaps more pertinent is the number of missing planets that have been chipped into the conversation. We’ve also, of course, seen Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler twice, and it’s no secret that she’s on her way back.
So far, then, not too bad. With the fireworks mainly being saved up for the back end of the season (save for the volcano of Pompeii, of course, surely the special effects of the season to date), Doctor Who season four has been comfortable thus far, and is probably looking more promising than last year’s run at the same point.
Which brings us neatly to Saturday, and the small matter of Steven Moffat’s Silence In The Library. We. Can. Not. Wait.