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April 09, 2008

Rip Up Fatty!

Doctor Who: Partners in Crime

Crime1 Thanks to a lovely twist of fate, my Saturday nights are currently home to both Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica's fourth seasons. And if you'd have told me that six years ago I would have laughed in your face. Now, I know that you shouldn't compare apples with oranges (although both are essentially re-tellings of 1970s sci-fi shows that I adored and worshiped as a kid) but whereas BSG's season opener punched me squarely in the jaw before dragging me to the edge of my seat, the return of Doctor Who just made me tut.

I was just relived - happy, even - that Partners in Crime wasn't quite as terrible as the previews had led me to believe. It was merely bad. Hooray! To think that I am now content with this level of mediocrity is a pretty sad indictment of both this franchise and my hopes for it. But I don't even care anymore. I've grown accustomed to the birthing pains of the season premiers and the god awful death screams that erupt around episode 12 - that's just the way things are nowadays and expecting anything else is just asking for trouble. I'm sure the rest of the season will be a vast improvement on this throwaway fluff, and Moffat's writing a two-parter that's bound to tally with my fanboy sensibilities, so at least I've got something to look forward to. Besides, I'm pissing in the wind: 8.4 million viewers and an AI score of 88. I'm so hopelessly out of tune with public opinion it's almost frightening.

the return of Doctor Who just made me tut

Crime2 I'm really sorry but I can't abide Catherine Tate. There's absolutely nothing I can do about this; I would be displaying exactly the same levels of negativity if they'd cast Syd Little, Anthea Turner, Kirstie Allsop, or John '****ing' Hannah as the Doctor's companion. It's just one of those things - like mayonnaise and Marmite - and bandying around words like "serious actress", "rounded character", "RSC" and "delicious condiment" isn't going to change my mind. Sadly, neither does Catherine Tate's performance.

I've seen her in two episodes now, and I think that entitles me to form an opinion, and perhaps I can suggest that she isn't the next Vanessa Redrgrave without being ripped apart for being a heretic. So here goes: she's rubbish.

The "gramps" scene was toe-curlingly bad (poor old Bernard Cribbens hadn't endured such a monotonous monologue since his last season on Jackanory) and the mugging during the "Mate?!!" moment managed to blur the line between genres to such a extent that I honestly thought I was watching a Comic Relief sketch. As least James Bond fans don't have her turning up for real in their franchise. The bastards. I'm sorry but there's just too much baggage for me to put aside to take her seriously, but at least her comedic skills came in handy during the elaborate mime set-piece. That was a genuinely entertaining moment with a killer punchline. All that was missing was the laughter track.

But there's still hope. Donna Noble does appeal to me as a character, and I never thought I'd see a companion that I could actually identify with - mid-life crisis and encroaching ennui makes a nice change from doe-eyed narcissism - and I'm secretly looking forward to seeing the Universe through the eyes of a caustic, cynical cow. Then again, Adric probably looked good on paper too.

All that's missing is a laughter track...

Crime4As for Tennant... I give up. If you look back through my reviews over the last couple of years you'll see me desperately scrambling for evidence, no matter how tenuous, that the tenth Doctor isn't a smug, shouty twat and all his jaw-jutting mockney bravado is just an elaborate ruse. But, alas, he was and he still is. I'll just have to get over it and hope that Tennant gets to play someone else again this year. And how can he possibly tone it down standing next to Catherine Tate? It's beyond hopeless.

And then there's the plot. Season openers always have a built-in get-out clause. Just like the Auton Invasion in Rose or that Judoon nonsense last year, you could argue that the Adipose are just some eye candy to drape across the real meat of the story, which is, of course, the introduction of Donna Noble as the new companion.

Which would be fine if we hadn't already met her. We know who Donna is and how she interacts with the Doctor, thanks very much. We got an eyeful of her two Christmases ago! Move on! Did we really need twenty minutes of them almost bumping into each other like a couple of prats? The paper-thin plot suffers as a result of this screwball frippery, and instead of an interesting mystery we get a tacked-on threat delivered by a villain supposedly modeled on a reality TV show so niche even I won't watch it. Hinchcliffe and Holmes happily turned to the pages of the greatest stories ever told for inspiration. The current production team appear to be idlty flicking though old editions of Hello and TV Quick.

Adric probably looked good on paper

Crime5 The Adipose, while admittedly cuter than kittens, felt like pure advertising to me. I'm not talking about the inevitable Character Options range, it's the fact that they look like they've walked off the set for a Gaviscon commercial. Or a surreal campaign for mobile phone tariffs with a kooky soundtrack. But yeah, I want one. I bet they'd make a great stress relief aid and I could cuddle one during next week's episode.

It's just a shame that the Doctor didn't broker a deal with the Adipose and humanity - they could have formed a truly symbiotic relationship. They would be given cutesy wutesy ickle life and all the plump people would lose a bit of weight. Everybody wins. It would nobble any invasion plans by the Slitheen into the bargain. But no. There's a needless and inexplicable death, loads of running up and down Van Statten's base in Utah (go figure) and a reference to Road Runner that even Tom Baker would have balked at. "There should have been another way", indeed.

The Close Encounters riff was a joke too far. Could they really not be bothered to create something new? The Judoon rocket ships last year were brilliantly conceived - this was an Easter Egg that had somehow managed to secrete itself into the final cut. But forget all that - is this the moment that the human race finally accept that aliens really exist? Or are Torchwood already polluting the water table with their retcon drugs?

How can he possibly tone it down standing next to Catherine Tate? It's beyond hopeless.

Crime3To be fair, there are moments in Partners in Crime that I enjoyed (David Tennant talking to himself in the TARDIS was very sweet) and some pretty interesting stuff can be glimpsed on the periphery. The bees are disappearing, not to mention entire planets. Is this significant or just throwaway conspiracy fluff? Will the bees be this season's recurring motif or will we get a cameo from Rose Tyler each week, where she'll forlornly observe the Doctor before fading away into nothing. Is she trapped between realities, free to watch the universe but powerless to intervene? Is this the price she will have to pay for some future deed? Is she a Cylon?

At least it's got me asking questions. And it came completely out of the blue which was lovely. And even though I'm not Rose's biggest fan, her appearance made me squee with delight - for a second there Doctor Who was genuinely exciting. This show can still surprise me. However, if you glance over her shoulder 47 minutes in, you can distinctly see John Simm and Harold Pinter knocking around in the background...


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