We’re back, with our New Doctor Who rewatch! This week, we begin Series Four, David Tennant’s final series as the Tenth Doctor. We’re gaining a new (old?) companion, and watching three episodes today: Partners in Crime, The Fires of Pompeii, and Planet of the Ood. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not seen these episodes!
In Partners in Crime, the Doctor is investigating Adipose Industries—but unknown to him, so is Donna Noble. Donna seems to have pulled her life together since their last meeting, and even their investigative techniques are nearly the same. As they observe a press conference with the company’s manager, Miss Foster, they learn that the Adipose pills bind the body’s fat together, then flushes it out. Independently they each obtain a list of customers who have bought the telephone-marketed pills; and each obtains a golden pendant in the shape of the pill, which is given out with the first order for each customer. The Doctor visits a customer named Roger Davey, who says that he has lost exactly one kilogram every night for two weeks; and more, it is gone by 1:10 AM. He knows this, because every night at that hour, his burglar alarm awakens him, with no clear explanation. Meanwhile, Donna visits another customer, Stacey Campbell—and while Stacey is in the restroom, her body collapses into a collection of small, white creatures, which appear to be made of fat. The creatures escape before Donna finds the woman’s now-empty clothes. Elsewhere, Foster sends a team to collect the creatures, who are the children of a race called the Adipose. The Doctor has a device which also detects the eruption of the creatures, but he is unable to arrive in time to locate the Adipose, or Donna for that matter—he misses her by just feet. Foster, meanwhile, discovers a pendant is missing—and in fact it was responsible for the unscheduled “birth”—and checks the security footage, to find the thief.
At home, Donna’s mother nags her about her lack of a job, until Donna goes up the nearby hill to visit her grandfather. Wilfred Mott has also met the Doctor, at his newspaper stand on Christmas Eve, and he believes Donna’s stories, but he can’t properly console her, or help her find him again. However, she asks him to keep an eye out for the TARDIS as he watches the sky through his telescope. In the TARDIS at that moment, the Doctor is analyzing readings, and uncomfortably reminiscing about Martha.
The Doctor and Donna separately return to Adipose Industries in the morning, still unaware of each other; and both hide until the office closes. Donna hides in the restroom, until Foster arrives with guards; she thinks she has been found, until it is revealed that there’s another spy, a reporter named Penny Carter. The Doctor and Donna watch Penny’s interrogation by Foster from opposite door windows—and suddenly see each other. They mouth greetings to each other, until Foster catches them, and they run. They descend the outside of the building in a window washing cradle, until Foster—with a sonic device of her own, cuts one of the cables. The Doctor shorts out her sonic with his (although not fatally) long enough to escape back into the building. The Doctor frees Penny, but shortly all three are caught again. Foster reveals that she is actually Matron Cofelia, and that she was hired by the Adipose First Family to breed and prepare their next generation after their breeding planet, Adipose 3, was lost. The Doctor points out that, aside from the occasional deaths from the process, seeding a Level 5 planet like Earth is a crime against galactic call, and he threatens to notify the Shadow Proclamation. Having obtained Foster’s sonic pen, he matches it with his to create a sonic burst that stuns the guards, allowing him to run with Donna. Foster then starts the birthing process for all the million affected humans early. She uses a machine called an inducer to send a signal to all the pendants, initiating the process. The Doctor finds a secondary inducer terminal in the basement, and counters the process with the pendant and his sonic screwdriver. He needs a second pendant to complete the process—and Donna, as it happens, has one. Most of the humans are saved; only ten thousand Adipose are formed. And the nursery ship is on approach to collect them.
As the ship arrives, it begins to beam up the Adipose. It picks up Foster as well; the Doctor begs her to stop and return to the building. After all, the Adipose committed a crime, and they’ll want to cover it up…and who needs a nanny when the parents have come for the children? Just as she realizes her mistake, the Adipose cut the beam, and she plummets to her death. The ship departs.
Donna reminds the Doctor of his offer to travel with him—and this time, she insists, much to his consternation. Still, he agrees, and learns—to his shock—that she’s been waiting and hoping for this for a long time, to the point of keeping luggage in her car. She leaves the car for her mother, and leaves the keys in the care of a blonde girl…a girl named Rose Tyler. Rose disappears moments later.
Before leaving the here and now, Donna asks to go a short distance in the TARDIS. The time machine appears in the night sky over Wilfred’s hilltop, and she catches his attention—and joyfully, he wishes her the best as the TARDIS departs.
In The Fires of Pompeii, the Doctor and Donna arrive in Rome, or so they think. Donna wonders how it is that she can understand the locals, and the Doctor explains that the TARDIS translates for her. Shortly after, they realize that this isn’t Rome at all—and the sight of a rumbling mountain tells them where they really are: It’s Pompeii…and tomorrow is volcano day!
The Doctor is determined to leave; Donna wants to save everyone. He insists that it isn’t possible; this part of history is fixed. While they argue about it, they discover a problem: The TARDIS is gone. The merchant at whose stall it was parked has sold it to a marble merchant, Caecilius, who has taken it for modern art. As they go to find it, a red-robed junior oracle, a sister of the Sibylline Sisterhood, watches them. Using a telepathic power, she reports her findings to her sisters and their high priestess, who have the “blue box” in their book of prophecies. However, this prophecy portends destruction.
Caecilius and his wife Metella have a son named Quintus, and a daughter, Evelina; Evelina has the gift of sight, and is an acolyte of the Sisterhood. The Doctor and Donna join them at home, passing as marble inspectors to get to the TARDIS, but they are interrupted by the arrival of the town augur, Lucius Petrus Dextrus. Lucius is here to claim a piece of worked marble; but the Doctor stops short of leaving when he sees that the piece is an electronic circuit. He ends up in an argument with both Lucius and Evelina, whose prophecies are both true and disturbingly close to home—and they verify them by exposing the Doctor and Donna’s true identities.
Donna stays to check out a skin problem that Evelina suffers, and finds that Evelina is turning to stone. She warns Evelina—and inadvertently, the Sisterhood—about the eruption. The Sisterhood kidnaps Donna for use as a sacrifice. Meanwhile, the Doctor investigates the hot spring venting system which emits the vapors that give the oracles their power. Since the system’s installation, the oracles have all become accurate—and the gods’ goals are taking tangible form. And yet, the oracles can’t foresee the eruption. The Doctor gets Quintus to take him to Lucius. There he finds more circuits, which together form an energy convertor. He is forced to escape, but not before learning that Lucius’s arm has turned to stone. At Caecilius’s home, the Doctor is menaced by a large stone creature, burning with flame—but water thrown on it causes it to fall apart. The Doctor goes after Donna. At the Sisterhood’s temple, he interrupts the sacrifice and saves Donna, then confronts the high priestess, who is almost completely stone. He forces a confrontation with the creature inside her, and finds out that the creatures under the mountain are Pyroviles: aliens from a volcanic world, trapped on Earth. Surrounded by the Sisterhood, he and Donna escape into the vents, into Vesuvius itself. There they find a Pyrovile construction—an escape pod which brought them here. They don’t intend to escape; they want to conquer Earth, which will make it inhospitable to humans. They can’t return home, as their planet was “taken”. The energy converter is part of their plan. The Doctor and Donna get in the escape pod. There he finds that if the plan is executed, Vesuvius’ power will be bled off and the eruption won’t happen—but everyone will die. If he stops the plan, then the Pompeiians will still die in the eruption…together, they make the latter choice, and shut off the machine. The first moment of the eruption hurls the pod free, and they return to the city for the TARDIS, outracing the building eruption. The Pyroviles are destroyed in the blast. At Caecilius’s house, they board the TARDIS, but Donna begs her to save someone, anyone—if he can’t save everyone. Finally, he returns, and retrieves Caecilius and his family, who are otherwise about to die. He lets them out in the hills, and explains that the visions were a result of a momentary crack in time, retrograde from the explosion—but it has closed now, and there will be no more visions. The Doctor and Donna leaves, but he acknowledges that Donna was right—sometimes he needs someone. Six months later, Caecilius and his family have moved to Rome, and founded a new life—but their new household gods are in the image of the Doctor and Donna.
In Planet of the Ood, a businessman involved in the sale of Ood servants is killed by one of his “products”. The Doctor and Donna land on the Ood-Sphere, the home planet of the Ood. They meet a dying Ood in the snow, and then learn that they have landed near an Ood sales and distribution center, one of several spread across the three galaxies of the Second Great and Bountiful Human Empire. As a group of potential buyers arrive, the Doctor and Donna join the group so as to investigate. They find that the Ood are purported to be born for service, but the Doctor knows that isn’t possible; and it quickly becomes clear that something is wrong, as they learn of Ood with a condition that causes red eyes and dangerous, hostile behavior. Another Ood goes feral while they are present, and is hunted down; it will be taken for research, but first it is killed. Meanwhile the facility’s manager goes to check something in a remote warehouse, Warehouse Fifteen; he refers to it as the Ood’s “Daddy”.
Investigating further, the Doctor and Donna infiltrate the shipping building, which is filled with shipping containers full of Ood ready for shipping. The guards, having learned that they are not legitimate buyers, track them there, and nearly kill the Doctor, but the sales manager stops them, as the boss wants the Doctor and Donna alive. All the Ood in the building suddenly develop red eye, causing the guards to divert to killing them; the Doctor and Donna escape. As the crisis escalates, they find the sales manager, but she betrays them, and they run again. They find a group of captive, unprocessed Ood, and find that they lack communication spheres, but have a secondary brain outside their heads; this brain is replaced with the comm spheres during processing. The Ood insist that “the circle must be broken”.They are then captured and taken to the boss. However, all turns to chaos when all the Ood become feral at once, and break out of their cages.
The boss knows the facility is lost, and will be investigated after the authorities sterilize it. In retaliation, he leaves the Doctor and Donna chained up for the mercies of the Ood. Before he goes, the Doctor insists there must be a third element to the Ood’s mental capacity—a hive brain of sorts. The boss insists it soon won’t matter, and leaves them to die. He dismisses his own servant Ood as he leaves. A group of red eyed Ood come to kill the Doctor and Donna; but the captive, unprocessed Ood exert their mental power and restore the red eyed Ood to normal, and the Ood accept the Doctor and Donna as friends, and free them.
The facility is now a battleground. The Doctor and Donna head through it, and follow the boss and his lead scientist, Doctor Ryder, to Warehouse Fifteen. The boss intends to destroy the hive brain which is hidden there, behind an electronic barrier, knowing that doing so will kill the Ood. The Doctor breaks in with Donna and observes this, and realizes that the barrier is the circle that must be broken. However, Ryder reveals that he is responsible for the current difficulties; he is part of a terrorist organization called Friends of the Ood, and he lowered the barrier to its lowest setting, allowing the Ood to regroup and rebel. The boss kills Ryder by dropping him onto the brain. However, before he can kill the Doctor and Donna, something begins to happen to him; and his servant, Ood Sigma, offers him a drink. It seems the drinks he has been having all along—which he believes are hair tonic—are a serum which will slowly, and under the influence of the Ood brain, convert him into an Ood. He transforms before their eyes. Ood Sigma insists they will take care of him. Donna doesn’t handle the events well, but holds up. The Doctor, with Ood Sigma’s permission, shuts down the barrier, breaking the circle, and allowing the Ood their freedom, and the restoration of their minds. Their telepathic song forces the guards to lay down their weapons, ending the battle.
The force of the song echoes across the galaxies, and both humans and Ood hear it—and the Ood will return home. However, the Ood have a prophecy for the Doctor, in the form of a new song: they predict that the Doctor’s song will soon end, but the “DoctorDonna” will be remembered forever.
Partners in Crime is always a delight to watch. In my opinion, New Series season openers are usually good episodes; and I suppose that makes sense, as the production team would want to put their best foot forward for the first episodes. Rose is debatable, but certainly not terrible; New Earth is compelling, Smith and Jones is suspenseful, and Partners in Crime takes the humor angle. It’s certainly not humorous in the sense of being unbelievable; but there’s almost a slapstick comedy aspect to it, with the Doctor and Donna taking identical actions and continuously just missing each other. That scene, incidentally, may be a nod to The Romans, where the First Doctor and Vicki kept just missing Ian and Barbara.
I will say in advance that I don’t think this series is as good as Series Three. That series hit every high note it could find, and it would be tough to beat. However, Donna is my favorite NuWho companion, and so I don’t consider this series to be very far behind Series Three. After three seasons of companions who mooned after the Doctor in the romantic sense, we get a refreshing break from the melodrama with Donna, and it feels like fresh air. She’s witty, but not perfectly so; but where her wit fails, her volume and the sheer force of her personality prevail. The production team went out of their way to establish right from the beginning that this would be no romance; there’s the entertaining “You want to mate?!” scene, where the Doctor makes it clear that this time, he just wants a friend. It may be heavy-handed, but it was a good call. As a consequence, Donna stands in a class by herself, and I would argue that we have yet to have another companion like her. Amy—once she gets past her initial bout of lust after the Doctor—is more of a little sister character to him, with Rory being the brother-in-law (and never mind that the real, legal relationship is even more bizarre—thanks, River!), while Clara is…something else entirely, in that she wants to BE the Doctor. I’ll probably rave more about Donna as we proceed, so for now, back to the episode.
The Adipose are certainly different, and I admit that the concept is disgusting on paper—creatures that form from human fat while it’s still on the individual. Still, these things are so adorable, it’s hard to be angry at them (and besides, as the Doctor points out, they’re just children, and not responsible for how they are born). We have yet to see an adult Adipose, and I doubt we ever will. On a personal note, this is the episode that got my now-ten-year-old daughter interested in Doctor Who; she loves the Adipose. I imagine some adult fans probably ridiculed the episode as silly based on these creatures, but I don’t recall the reaction at the time; they ARE a bit silly, but not overwhelmingly so, I think. As far as the series is concerned, the Adipose are a means to an end; they give us our first hint of the series arc, in that the Adipose have lost their breeding planet, Adipose 3. It’s not yet stated how it was lost, so stay tuned. We also get a mention of the bees disappearing, which is a real-world concern as well, but here is a part of the arc.
When we consider past and future together, we actually get a group of companions here. Wiilfred Mott returns, and it’s revealed now that he is Donna’s grandfather. The original intention was to bring back Donna’s father from The Runaway Bride, Geoff Noble; however, actor Howard Attfield passed away in the interim (this episode being dedicated to his memory). Therefore Bernard Cribbins’ Wilfred, fresh off of his appearance in Voyage of the Damned, was retconned into Donna’s grandfather, and will eventually be a companion in his own right, albeit briefly. We also get a cameo at the end from a familiar face: none other than Rose Tyler, who appears briefly for a momentary encounter with Donna—who of course doesn’t know her by appearance—before disappearing again.
Some additional references for this episode: Donna refers back to her previous meeting with the Doctor (The Runaway Bride) and the Racnoss. The two-sonic-device effect (a sonic burst) was used in the Torchwood episode Fragments, and also in the audio The Light at the End. The Doctor mentions cat people (Survival, New Earth, Gridlock), though it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek. The Shadow Proclamation is mentioned (Rose, et al) and is implied to be an organization, not just a treaty. Donna mentions the starship Titanic (Voyage of the Damned).
The Fires of Pompeii is a particularly noteworthy episode, though not so much at its time of release (although it was the first story to have primary photography filmed outside the UK since the television movie, being filmed in part in Rome). It’s notable for casting not one, but two actors who would go on to much larger Doctor Who roles. Karen Gillan, later to play companion Amy Pond, here plays a priestess of the Sibylline Sisterhood; and Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor himself, appears here as Pompeiian marble merchant Caecilius. The latter’s similarity to the Twelfth Doctor actually has an in-universe explanation as of The Girl Who Died; when regenerating, the Eleventh Doctor subconsciously chose the face of Caecilius for his next form, as a reminder to himself to save people when he can.
Pompeii on Volcano Day is a busy place for the Doctor; this is his third visit there. The Seventh Doctor visited with Mel in the audio The Fires of Vulcan, and visited again with Ace in the novel The Algebra of Ice, both of which were released prior to this story. I haven’t read the novel, but I suspect that the audio drama influenced this story, contributing such elements as the theft of the TARDIS. However, this story takes a more direct involvement in the events; without spoiling too much, I’ll say that the Tenth Doctor’s actions cause the eruption, albeit for ultimately good reasons. This story also serves as the Tenth Doctor’s Father’s Day; it’s the first Tenth Doctor story to directly grapple with the idea of history being fixed and unchangeable, just as Father’s Day was for the Ninth Doctor. The Doctor and Donna argue the point, as she wants to save everyone; he insists that it can’t be done. As it turns out, he could prevent the eruption…but at a cost that is unacceptable. However, she successfully persuades him to save someone, anyone—and that choice gives us the face of the Twelfth Doctor, centuries later. While it could never have been planned so far in advance, it’s a hugely satisfying payoff when it happens. The Doctor’s struggle with fixed points will come to a head in The Waters of Mars.
There is another link in the series arc here; the villainous Pyroviles have also lost their home planet, and thus want to conquer Earth. Still no mention is made of just how this planet was lost. We get a second bit of foreshadowing from the Sisterhood and the town augur, Lucius; they predict that “she is returning” (a reference that will soon have meaning for the Doctor) and they tell Donna that there is something on her back (Turn Left). They also hint at the events of The Waters of Mars, exposing the Doctor as a “Lord of Time”. The Sisterhood bears a strong resemblance to the Sisterhood of Karn (The Brain of Morbius, Night of the Doctor, et al) and the Pythia and her acolytes on old Gallifrey (Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible), even possessing a book of prophecy that resembles the Gallifreyan Book of Future Legends.
Planet of the Ood revives the sub-villains from The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, and gives them a surprisingly sympathetic twist. The story takes us to the Ood Sphere, the home planet of the Ood, which is located near (and probably in the same system as) the Sense-Sphere from The Sensorites. This was a deliberate nod, though I don’t know how far in advance it was planned; however, the Ood bear a definite resemblance to the Sensorites, and have similar telepathic powers. It’s a snowy planet, and in-universe, it’s the first New Series episode to include real snow (although, behind the scenes, it was artificial); technically The Runaway Bride had real snow, but it was artificially induced by the TARDIS. We don’t get many such snowy scenes in the television series.
Donna is rapidly becoming something of an activist; after trying to expose Adipose Industries, and save Pompeii, she now wants to free the Ood. For once, the Doctor is one hundred percent with her; he admits to feeling that he owes the Ood a debt because he was unable to save them last time. However, he actually has surprisingly little to do with saving them here; they have a plan in place, and are already carrying it out. Truthfully, the Doctor only releases the forcefield around the Ood Brain at the end, and Ood Sigma was certainly expecting to do that himself. I’d call the Doctor and Donna active spectators here; they aren’t really necessary, but they sit in on a great story anyway. It’s a story we need, as well; there is a lot of foreshadowing here, given by the telepathic Ood, who predict the end of the Doctor’s song…and say they will always remember the “DoctorDonna”. More of that to come.
We’ve seen a massive brain before, in Time and the Rani, although that one wasn’t natural. AS for other brains: We learn here that the Ood have secondary brains, fragilely located outside their bodies, which are mutilated and replaced with communication spheres when the Ood are processed for service. It seems like a biologically terrible design, but what do I know?
Overall, these episodes are a good start to the series. It won’t last forever; the next few episodes are, in my opinion, the low point of the series; but we’re off to a good beginning. With a new companion, some soon-to-be-familiar faces, and some great locations, it’s a roller-coaster already, and there’s a lot more to come this series. Definitely a good way to get going.
Next time: Three more episodes, with the two-parter of The Sontaran Strategem and The Poison Sky, followed by The Doctor’s Daughter! See you there.
All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.