Doctor Who: Partners in Crime
It's funny how things flip around. Only a few months ago, the press were still rubbing up to Russell T Davies like cats in search of a good ear scratch. Now suddenly the review pages of the nationals are increasingly like the Doctor Who Forum during a full ming-mong moon. Our friends at the Coventry Telegraph ran a gentle piece about the lack of frights in current Who, and this theme was taken up more forcefully by Andrew Billen in The Times who sounds just like the kind of fan Davies has devoted his life to winding up. And I shouldn't overlook poor old Gareth McLean whose adoration of the show started to wobble at the end of the third series, and is now showing worrying symptoms of what Who fans call "legacy damage paranoia". These views aren't that unreasonable, but you'd be forgiven for reading them and thinking that Partners in Crime somehow represents a change from the previous three seasons. Of course, it doesn't do anything of the sort - from as early on as Aliens of London the new series has had frothy stories with farting aliens, cartoon villains and nonsensical plots. The real difference is that the fragile spell cast by BBC Wales is starting to fade away. Davies himself has stressed how important it is that every episode has to be a success (or perceived as such) and he uses (quite rightly) every trick in the book to affirm that view and counter anything off-message. Astonishingly, a lot of fans and a lot of the media bought into this and the strange illusion that every episode of Doctor Who must either be great or even better was created. Hopefully now we are leaving that parallel universe, and we can get back to the real world where people watch Doctor Who every week, and a shit episode isn't the end of the world because there's usually a better one along pretty sharpish.
Surely even Davies must be getting bored
Granted it's been a barren spell since the last ten minutes of Utopia (the 16th June 2007!) but it doesn't look so bad when you consider that there's apparently been an agreement that because of circumstances out of the production team's control we shouldn't expect too much of Christmas Specials (everyone's drunk and stuffed so you have to deliver a crowd-pleaser), first episodes (everyone has forgotten about the series in the interim so you have to deliver a fluffy crowd-pleaser) and finales (the show runner has gone a bit loopy and has to throw in the kitchen sink including big chunks of the New Testament - apparently that's a crowd-pleaser). I can see a whole further series of excuses about why we shouldn't expect episodes to be much cop: "Well that one's was written by Helen Raynor and she's new-ish, you can't expect miracles", "That was written by the bloke who wrote No Angels - come on" and "This episode was written by Chris Chibnall." So, for a don't-expect-much first episode I thought that Partners in Crime lived up to its billing. For a programme about fatties it was so lightweight it made Invasion of the Bane look like Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz. Surely even Davies must be getting bored of large corporations acting as a front for alien invasions which have a network of electronic devices ready to activate their various evil schemes? Oh. I've just read the press release for The Sontaran Strategem, so perhaps not. I wonder if he's had a really bad experience with a firm of stockbrokers?
it made me hide behind the sofa
The story elements were definitely not new (even my deja vu had deja vu), but Catherine Tate as a regular certainly was. I was pleasantly surprised up to a point. She was very good in the first twenty minutes despite a leaden scene on the hill with my childhood hero Bernard Cribbins. But as soon as the action went up a notch she started doing a variety turn involving a medley of characters from her eponymous sketch show. This was epitomised during the scene where she was desperate to start travelling in the TARDIS. She went from genuinely touching when she thought the Doctor was turning her down, to beyond dreadful with the "You want to mate!" reaction. I couldn't work out whether she was "doing" Gran or Derek Faye - whichever it was it made me hide behind the sofa. I share Neil's concern that Tate's tendencies are unlikely to help Tennant's performance. He's at his best during his quiet moments but the combination of Tate and all of this "lonely god" crap will not do him any favours.
Lots of squidgy aliens emerging from my body
There were some funny moments. I could sympathise with poor old Stacey as I had a similar bathroom experience after the last Tachyon TV curry. Lots of squidgy aliens emerging from my body, only they didn't squeak and I doubt if Character Options will be licensing the image rights anytime soon. And for some reason, I quite liked the scene when the Doctor visited Roger's house as part of the investigation - just the Doctor talking normally to a man who doesn't quite understand the significance of the situation. But it seems to be set in stone that like the "phoney war" at the start of World War II, each series has to start with a phoney episode before we get stuck into the real thing. Much of this was redeemed by Rose's appearance. Firstly, because it's so rare to get a genuine surprise nowadays, but mainly because it showed that even during a nothing episode there can suddenly be a moment that makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I never get that from Torchwood. And the ratings are much better.