The fat just walks away…
Alright, so. Those of you who’ve been following this series since the start – even if it is, you know, only the one of you – might be wondering where the Series 3 roundup post is. The answer is more than a little bit underwhelming: I had a near-catastrophic computer failure not long after I was supposed to upload that piece (though it was more than a little late anyway) and I’ve just kept delaying it ever since. The plan was to publish it a little bit before this review, but I got my dates mixed up – I thought Partners in Crime had aired on April 12th ish – so that ended up being difficult. I’ll probably post it in a week or so, maybe.
(Note: I never did that, but I restored it to its proper place when I moved to WordPress.)
As to the rest of you, you might perhaps be wondering what this is. They’re reviews, but also, they’re not. Really, it’s a series that’s just as much about my experience of watching the episodes the first time around as it is the episodes themselves – I’d call it a personal history via Doctor Who, but that is probably overstating it more than a little bit in terms of exactly how personal it is. But it’s very much contextualising the review in terms of my memories of the episode, my own experiences in terms of being a fan since then – there’s opinions and hopefully a degree of insight, maybe, but it’s not exactly academic. Often, it’s about that gulf between a decade old memory, and the more measured approach of someone who’s ostensibly a television critic, but generally speaking I’m pretty positive about it all anyway (series 4 contains The First Episode of Doctor Who I Actually Disliked – which you won’t guess – so that should potentially be an interesting review).
What’s notable though, I suppose, is that Series 4 is probably the stretch of modern Who I’m least familiar with – with the exception of maybe Series 6 – which is a result of both the length of time since broadcast, and the fact that I didn’t have them on DVD, so never really re-watched them. In a sense, then, while I’m not coming to the episodes fresh, they’re pieces of television that I know much better in terms of the paratext that’s sprung up around them – most notably The Writer’s Tale, which I re-read every few months anyway. It was definitely something I was quite conscious of while rewatching episode; I’m really, really unfamiliar with a lot of the basic visual grammar of the episode, how the different set pieces are structured, and so on. There’s a version of it that I’d built in my head, but often that was quite different from what was actually on screen.
So, all of that said, let’s talk about Partners in Crime.
The obvious part of this episode that bears discussing is Donna – who’s still one of the most popular companions Doctor Who has ever had, even ten years later, which is a real testament to Catherine Tate and Russell T Davies. (I believe it was TARDIS Eruditorum that posited that you could more readily divide Davies’ tenure into the Rose and Donna eras than by Doctors, which is very true.)
As a reintroduction to Donna after The Runaway Bride, it’s very effective. I know there was a degree of trepidation – to put it lightly – about the character returning full time (for my part, I was very positive, but then I was positive about essentially everything about Doctor Who at the time) but it’s actually a really good concept for a Doctor Who companion. It’s a little bit like those astronauts who came back to Earth, but couldn’t readjust to life once again – the ones who failed to walk in the dust and so on. It’s also, of course, very in tune with the ideas at the heart of the Davies era: that the Doctor changes people, emboldening them and enriching their lives. In a sense it comes back to the conversation Rose has with Mickey and Jackie in The Parting of the Ways; what we see with Donna here is almost a version of what could have happened if Rose didn’t find her way back to the Doctor. Doing that with a character we know and already recognise is a great way to approach it – we’ve seen the starting point, we’ve seen the refusal, so we know that backstory. It also – not to get ahead of myself – ties in quite well with Donna’s departure, in the end, given how it plays upon those ideas of the Doctor’s influence.
And, of course, the parallels drawn between the Doctor and Donna in the episode (the Doctordonna, if you want to read it as foreshadowing) drive this home further. It’s not that the character is defined in terms of him, exactly – certainly, in Donna’s first appearance, she was defined as an opposite figure – but that on her post-Doctor life, and the attempts to find him again, Donna’s become something of a Doctor-analogue herself. She operates in the same way as him, their outfits mirror one another, she’s even got the blue car; in that sense, it’s quite similar to how Moffat presented his companions towards the end of his run. I suspect when the time comes to talk about Journey’s End I’ll find myself writing about Clara, but it’s interesting to pick up on how, even at this point, you’ve got Donna being positioned as akin to the Doctor – and how her story followed that path, and where it ended up.
Another aspect of this episode I quite liked was the Adipose – they’re very manifestly not the typical series opener monsters, and it’s good to subvert the standards we’re used to. There’s something quite refreshing about how they’re not the straightforward antagonists of the Judoon or the Autons. Davies’ series opener episodes generally tended to be quite broad, and in a way the Adipose/Miss Foster combination feel like that approach taken to the furthest point: the creature is secondary to the Doctor and Donna’s plotline, and there’s very little focus on the eventual resolution of such. Indeed, there’s a couple of moments where the actual narrative plot is quite… not slapdash, that’s unfair, but it’s very obvious that Davies simply isn’t that interested in the mechanics of it.
Aside from that, they Adipose are quite a neat concept on their own – they tap into a lot of ideas about body image and so on, and they’re kinda cute in a way. I’d be quite interested in seeing them return at some point, actually; it feels like there’s a certain versatility to them that means you could still do a lot of different stories with them. Definitely, there would have been some potential for them in Class, with a story about anorexia and drug addiction. What’s also interesting about that, though, is how it highlights that a lot of Partners in Crime could still fit in Doctor Who (or associated) today; indeed, interesting to consider the episode in light of later ones, particularly the criticisms Moffat’s pacing – something like Partners in Crime really rollicks along, in a way that wouldn’t feel massively out of place even during series 7.
Ultimately, then, I quite enjoyed this episode. It’s an entertaining piece, and an effective re-introduction to Donna. Hopefully, subsequent episodes shouldn’t creep up on me the same way this one did, so I’ll try and write some stuff that’s at least a little more insightful!