HERE BE SPOILERS…
The sonic screwdriver has had a checkered history in Who – ejected periodically by producers and script-editors as a predictable plot-solver and all-purpose get-out clause, the little shiny pen was wielded willy-nilly in the series four opener, opening fire-doors with sexy sparks and explosions (when it could have been used as a simple magnet to the same end), and even came into its own in a sonic-screwdriver shoot-out between this episode’s Villain – played by Sarah Lancashire – and The Doctor, in a Die-Hard style building-hanger scene that was the highlight of a very poor start to the series.
Such is Russell T. Davies’s fascination with making The Doctor a ‘Man of mystery’ that, as often happens, we got less Doctor-per-pound in this episode than we might have liked. Instead the revenant (and in my opinion unwelcome) Catherine Tate’s character occupied – Piper style – a huge chunk of the opening twenty-five minutes. We got to see her bored with her post-Doctor life, being nagged by her mum in an interminable kitchen-montage, and spouting some of the cheesiest lines ever to besmirch the show to always-reliable Who veteran Bernard Cribbins, in his allotment. She urges the stargazing Cribbins, that if he should ever see ‘that blue box’ through his telescope…
“You shout for me gramps. Oh, you just shout.”
I missed the next twenty seconds, as vomiting can cause some irritation and temporary distraction, but it was soon clear that Tate and The Doctor were in pursuit, unbeknowst to each other, of this week’s villain: Lancashire as a corporate tyrant determined to make Britain thinner by turning body-fat into cute alien Pokemon-style gonks that squeak adoringly and jump out of their host’s cat-flaps (?), destined to be adopted by intergalactic foster-parents.
‘Partners In Crime’ milked this ‘parallel pursuit’ comedy well beyond its capacity, and the heavy humorous styling of the episode read more like a 1967 episode of The Avengers than a Doctor Who adventure.The twee and grossly over-used music contributed little suspense to an episode where the creatures were cuter than tribbles and the main villain poorly-written, acted and defined. Why did Lancashire have a sonic-screwdriver as well? Was this a red-herring to make us think that she might be The Master in disguise?
Other minor canonic tweakings include the Pete Townsend power chords in the title sequence, already familiar to Who fans from ‘Voyage Of The Damned’, but now enshrined in the opening credits (which stubbornly retain the out-of-date ‘bullet-time’ shot that was passé even in 2001), and a lick of emetic-yellow paint and a few other restructurings in the Tardis.
This week’s CGI was not the worst the show has produced – the ‘fatlings’ were so cartoon-like in design that one couldn’t easily say if they were rendered well or not. The ‘foster-ship’ that gathered them up at the end was a clear tribute to/blatant nicking of Doug Trumbull’s mothership in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, and very nicely-executed. Its impact was somewhat diminished by the Wil. E. Coyote-style gravity pause before doomed space-nanny Lancashire fell to her death, the pitch of which was well below the average age of junior whovians.
It is hard to believe that the production team that gave us one of the best Doctor Who episodes in thirty years – Stephen Moffat’s ‘Blink’ – can have opened the highly anticipated fourth series on such an excruciatingly dull and clumsily-executed note. The only reason can be that Who is by now preaching to the utterly converted – drone-like fans (like myself) who will tune in each week no matter what, because sometimes the show not only relives the character and imagination that has made it a science-fiction legend, but exceeds it greatly.
I do love this show – just not this week.
Oh yes, and Billy Piper showed up mysteriously at the end of ‘Partners In Crime’ and fulfilled my most deep-seated fantasies about her – by disappearing into thin air.
Opinion of twelve year-old Who fan of my acquaintance:
A good episode – he liked the bit at the end where The Doctor was teasing Donna about whether she’d get to go in the Tardis, and also liked the actiony bit on the side of the building.
WANT ANOTHER OPINION?UberGeek Simon Brew has also reviewed Partners In Crime…