So, hmm, I’m a little late with this.
While I was in the middle of the series 4 reviews – around the time of The Unicorn and the Wasp, I think – I started work on a new wordpress site, which is presumably where you’re reading this now. When it came time to write this series 4 roundup post, a week after Journey’s End, I decided it probably wouldn’t be that big a deal if I left it a couple more days and just wrote it once I’d properly finished the website.
Anyway, it’s now August 24th, because the wordpress site took a ridiculous amount more work than I anticipated, and I’m only just getting around to writing this overview post now. While I’ve had most of the ideas I’m going to talk about sketched out for a while, probably the distance since having seen the episodes won’t help. Ah well.
Disclaimer offered, so let’s get on with the actual overview. Here’s a reminder of the scores I gave to each episode week-to-week, all appropriately linked so you can go back and remind yourself of what I said about each episode.
- Partners in Crime | Russell T Davies | 8/10
- The Fires of Pompeii | James Moran | 8/10
- Planet of the Ood | Keith Temple | 9/10
- The Sontaran Stratagem | Helen Raynor | 7/10
- The Poison Sky | Helen Raynor | 6/10
- The Doctor’s Daughter | Stephen Greenhorn | 5/10
- The Unicorn and the Wasp | Gareth Roberts | 6/10
- Silence in the Library | Steven Moffat | 9/10
- Forest of the Dead | Steven Moffat | 9/10
- Midnight | Russell T Davies | 9/10
- Turn Left | Russell T Davies | 9/10
- The Stolen Earth | Russell T Davies | 10/10
- Journey’s End | Russell T Davies | 10/10
And, of course, there’s Voyage of the Damned, an episode which I’m always inclined to say is part of Series 3, no matter what the production codes say; I gave the 2007 Christmas special 7/10. (Incidentally, while Voyage of the Damned is definitely part of series 3, The Next Doctor is one of the specials; I am much more relaxed these days about whether or not the specials are part of series 4 in their own right, which I suppose is a sign of maturity.)
Now, time for my favourite part of these overview posts: the now-traditional graph. Love the graphs.
(Those of you who went back to check may have noticed I actually forgot to give The Stolen Earth a score out of ten at the time. I’ve decided to give it a 10 retrospectively, because, well, why not. I also apparently forgot to give one to Forest of the Dead, so I’ve given that a 9, to match Silence in the Library.)
As ever, when the scores are accumulated together I do invariably think they’re probably all a little bit nonsensical. I think, over the years I’ve been doing these graphs, the scores have become more polarised – I’m becoming more comfortable giving lower scores, but still have the same inclination towards quite high scores as I’ve always had. The actual number grades are still typically the least important part of any given review anyway – at this stage, I only really include them (when I remember to, anyway) for these little roundups, the only maths I do all year.
Speaking of which: Series 4 has an overall score of 105/130, which is an average score of 8.08/10, or more sensibly 8/10. Interestingly, that’s actually exactly the same as Series 3, which also scored 105/130. In terms of the four instalments of the Russell T Davies era generally, they’re all still very closely grouped – series 1 got 107/130, while series 2 received 108/130. That, I must say, is quite surprising for me to note – I was expecting series 4 to come in ahead of its predecessors, based on the not-especially-scientific fact that I’d just kinda always had a sense that series 4 was probably the best one.
However! This is an average score, so what’s also interesting to look at is the highs and lows of each series. As you can see above, I gave two perfect scores in series 4 (which was interesting in itself; compiling this, I was surprised I’d not given a 10 to Planet of the Ood and Forest of the Dead, though I suppose the latter isn’t impossible), which is comparatively few in contrast to Series 3 (four 10/10 episodes) and Series 1 (six 10/10 episodes), though still beating Series 2, which only had one (Love & Monsters, obvs).
Where Series 4 does do better, though, is the number of 9/10 episodes – where series 4 has five 9/10 episodes, series 1 has x, series 2 has two (or three, depending on whether you count The Christmas Invasion or not), and series 3 had two. I suppose if you’re looking at a modal average – look at me, I know some basic maths – that’d suggest that Series 4 does actually come out of the comparison better, or at least houses some better episodes.
Setting aside the numbers for a moment, though, one thing that was interesting to me was the actual shape of the graph – there’s a massive dip in the middle there, not entirely dissimilar to the dip seen in series 3. Admittedly there’s an easy explanation – both series saw a Helen Raynor two-parter followed by a Stephen Greenhorn episode – but it did get me wondering a little about how that might compare to viewer numbers, since there’s typically a similar dip in ratings around that time, isn’t there? At that point, though, it becomes more of a maths project that I’m really interested in, though, so who knows really.
If it wasn’t obvious from the above, anyway, I really enjoyed series 4. Like I mentioned a couple of times throughout the reviews, this is the Tennant series I’m least familiar with, so in some senses it was as close to new Tenth Doctor content as I could actually experience in 2018.
I went back and read the previous two round-ups ahead of this one, just to see what sort of tone I tried to strike last time, aiming for a degree of consistency and so on – and of course they’ve historically been fairly inconsistent. With series 2, there’s an almost oddly defensive aspect to it, almost like I’m trying to justify actually quite liking it; with series 3, it’s quite critical, as my discussion of the Doctor and Martha leans quite heavily on the unrequited love angle. I’m not convinced either really works with series 4 – I enjoyed it a lot, in a… not an uncomplex way, but I suppose a fairly straightforward way, and I don’t think it has any significant damning faults and flaws in terms of how the Doctor and Donna were characterised.
The obvious point, which I think a lot of people would offer as something worth criticising as part of series 4, is Donna’s exit. Certainly, there’s issues within it, but I’m not convinced it derails series 4 in the same way that Martha’s unrequited love plotline does series 3. What interests me most about Donna’s exit, which is something I’d like to return to one day in a proper article, is how the way it contrasts with Clara’s exit suggests a difference in how Davies and Moffat view what it means to be the Doctor. Donna’s very much the Davies era companion who comes closest to being a Doctor analogue in the same way the Moffat era companions do – to take an example at random, Donna’s the first one who’s shown being taught to fly the TARDIS – and yet in the end, she also falls furthest. That strikes me as a more interesting discussion to have about her exit, if only because I don’t think it’s been had before.
More broadly, though, after having watched series 4 again it’s not difficult to see why Donna is so popular. For one thing, there was never the danger that she’d be undercut by Rose the same way Martha was – playing the companion dynamic as just friends for the first time in the new series was massively important, but I suspect the fact that Catherine Tate was actually (and still is) quite famous in her own right helped a lot too, lending the character a certain gravity that Freema Agyeman didn’t have. (On that, it has just occurred to me that there were a lot of terribly famous people in those first four series of Doctor Who, weren’t there? Billie Piper, Catherine Tate, Kylie Minogue – lots of star power.)
But, of course, there’s also the fact that Catherine Tate had absolutely brilliant chemistry with David Tennant – she’s clearly prompting him to try harder and up his game, each of them rising to a challenge set by the other.
Another thing I wanted to take a moment to reflect on was the reviews themselves, particularly since we’re actually coming up to the end of Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor, or at least the beginning of the end – certainly, they won’t be regular features again the way they have been previously. Over next year, we’ll do the specials, and then… well, I’m not entirely decided, but I suspect I won’t start covering Matt Smith’s stuff until a year later again, to do Eleven Years of the Eleventh Doctor. Basically, though, this is the end of this particular type of reviews as a regular thing for the foreseeable future, so I wanted to take a second to look back on them.
I am, admittedly, not actually entirely convinced any of them are very good. There are high and low points (the nadir, I suspect, was the The Unicorn and the Wasp review), but for the most part, the average level of quality was lacking: they’re never especially insightful, often because I wrote them in a rush, and the times where I do stumble onto an interesting idea, it’s typically gestured at and then moved on from, consigned to a vague “yes, I’ll write a proper article on this idea some day”. I’m still doing it, even in this one!
Even then, though, I don’t know that trying for especially deep insights and observations was the right track for these pieces; after all, if there’s room in any subject for the first piece of writing and the best piece of writing, these pieces weren’t the first, and they certainly weren’t the best. The aspects of them that were a little more interesting were the moments where I spoke a little more personally, or tried to at least, and moved beyond questions of quality and tried to deal instead with my own experience of the episodes.
So that’s something I’d like to return to and try and do properly. Not for a while, not yet anyway; I have a clever idea for exactly one such personal post, and I figure this is the sort of thing where you’d want to have a couple of good ideas before committing to it. Keep an eye out for that, though, at some point.
Anyway! Doctor Who, series 4. Often a series I’ve been reticent about giving a proper opinion on, because I didn’t feel particularly familiar with it; now, though, I feel basically confident in saying that it is actually very good.
(A conclusion that will likely surprise no one who’s read any of these posts before.)