The fourth series of Doctor Who came with a barrage of pre-publicity that involved David Tennant and Catherine Tate, along with the creator of the latest series, Russell T Davies, appearing everywhere and anywhere. The hype tended to obscure the worries of fans over the casting of Tate as the new regular companion, Donna.
Her first appearance, in the 2006 Christmas special, brought unfavourable comparisons with the rogues' gallery of characters from The Catherine Tate Show. No amount of special effects would placate the audience should it be faced with the Daleks failing to bother her mouthy schoolgirl, Lauren. "Partners in Crime", the first story of the series, was a welcome step forward from Tate's previous appearance, but it unfortunately failed to dispel all these worries. The mimed, lip-reading reunion between Donna and the Doctor, for example, avoided slipping into farce only by a quality performance from the excellent Tennant.
In keeping with the first episodes of the previous three series, "Partners in Crime" underlined the relationship between Time Lord and companion. It also introduced this season's repeated theme, was awash with humour and pop-culture references, bulged with impressive special effects, and captured viewers with exciting stunts. Sadly, the episode's obviously expensive CGI creations, the Adipose, were more suited to a show for younger viewers. The Japanese kawaii influence in these fat-based life forms was jarring in a series capable of producing genuinely frightening monsters.
"Partners in Crime", though, had at its core an interesting concept and a strong plot. Not only was an alien civilisation prepared to sacrifice millions of humans to ensure the continuation of their species, they were unwilling to get their hands dirty, employing a third party to carry out their evil plan. Sarah Lancashire not only chewed the scenery but positively devoured it as the matron entrusted with the scheme. The guest-villain role has become much sought after since the resurrection of Doctor Who, and Lancashire grasped her opportunity well. Similarly, Bernard Cribbins, reprising his role from the 2007 Christmas special, was a delight to watch as Donna's "Gramps". It was a nice touch from a show that began with another eccentric grandfather 45 years ago.
And so the new series of Doctor Who ground the occasional gear as it pulled away, but I will stick with it. Experience has taught me that for every "Love and Monsters", there is a "Blink", and that every journey has to start somewhere. "Partners in Crime" was a good place to start.
Peter Batchelor, graphic designer, Chandlers Ford, Hampshire