The first three series or seasons of (Nu) Who, aside from reintroducing the Time Lord to the public again, allowed the show to experiment and fine tune itself as the series or seasons went by. And then the fourth series rolled along, which also so happened to be the last full series or season of David Tennant, showrunner Russell T. Davies, and majority of the producers that saw the birth of (Nu) Who. Of course, there were still the 2008-2010 specials, but having this in mind, Davies and the gang really pulled out all the stops for this series; and they also managed to find the right balance when it came to tone, pacing, special effects, characterization and story.
This series also happens to be my favorite series in all of (Nu) Who, and I have actually seen the entire thing (without skipping an episode in each rewatch) three times. (However, I have seen bits and pieces of some of the episodes in this series, as well as full episodes, several times over by now). This series has my favorite Doctor-Companion pairing in all of (Nu) Who that I have seen so far (still catching up to Series 10)- the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), best friends until the end. This is is also the series that I go into with much anxiety and trepidation every time I watch it because I know that after this series comes the 2008-2010 specials, which means that I have to move on to series 5 and a new Doctor. (Don’t get me wrong, I like all of the Doctors, but its different when you have to say goodbye again to your favorite Doctor).
However, this series was definitely a great one, and I consider it to be peak “Doctor Who” material. Not only does this series have Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat at their very best, but it also manages to pull of a series which is a culmination of everything from the “Davies era”, while sowing the seeds for what was to come in the specials. (This, I think was necessary, because even though you can reference the past during the “Moffat era”, it will seem a little bit out of place, although the return of any former companions who can return to interact with newer companions would be amazing.) This also meant that they had to also manage to tie up loose ends regarding the other companions as well, and we also get to witness their own character arcs coming to completion.
Aside from this, it had all the ingredients for a great run- great stories, amazing actors, a great showrunner and producer, and much more improved CGI. They were finally able to get the right balance for everything this time around.
Tennant and Tate are magnificent as Ten and Donna. Their partnership and chemistry with each other was great and effortless, and it was a wonderful transition from having two younger companions who looked up and liked to Doctor to having an older companion who is just simply your best friend. These two were also allowed to grow as characters and actors.
Tennant’s Ten was more comfortable and was having the time of his life, all the while showing Donna how brilliant she is by her just being herself. It was also here that Ten, upon watching it the third time around, started showing signs of him being a little bit older and a little bit tired. As an actor, however, he was allowed to stretch himself even more. I think that his finest performance here is, without a doubt, “Midnight”.
Tate as Donna was a welcome return, especially as her character was allowed to grow and develop more. This meant that she was less shrilly, which turned a lot of people off during her sting in the “Runaway Bride”. She was a more mature and older companion, which meant that she was less wide eyed, and it allowed her to be able to hold her ground against the Doctor when there was a need for it to happen. Her empathy for others allowed her to ask the difficult questions, and more often than not, she became a very good voice of reason for the Doctor in a way that only a best friend could. Tate’s performance as Donna was amazing, and peaked in “Turn Left”, and the ending of “Journey’s End”.
Oh, and before I forget, this series also introduced the recurring character of River Song (Alex Kingston), who is a favorite of mine, but not one I consider as a true companion because…well, spoilers.
This series was mostly written by Russell T. Davies. Steven Moffat and Helen Raynor both had a two parter story; while Gareth Roberts, Keith Temple, James Moran, and Stephen Greenhorn got one episode stories. These episodes were directed by several staples already in the series such as Alice Troughton, Graeme Harper, Colin Teague, James Strong, Douglas Mackinnon, and Euros Lyn.
All in all, this is my favorite series in (Nu) Who despite the fact that I always get anxious as this series leads into the beginning of having to let go of Ten, as it managed to find the right balance in everything and was definitely peak “Doctor Who” material. Also, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Donna Noble is my favorite companion in (Nu) Who history.
Now, you know the drill. From here on out, there will be spoilers!
Just like the other series or seasons, this one also kicked off with a Christmas Special, “The Voyage of the Damned”, which actually starred Kylie Minogue as a one-off companion, and introduced the world to Bernard Cribbins’ Wilfred Mott, Donna Noble’s (Catherine Tate) grandfather. Many don’t like this one, but even though there were moments that were a little cringe worthy for me (not so great CGI and all), there were a few key moments that I did love, from Ten giving his speech about who he is, to that little cyborg alien who actually proposed to Minogue’s Astrid Peth. So for me, this one was a mixed bag.
However, I did love the Children in Need Special that came right before this episode, “Time Crash”, in which Ten and the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davision) bump into each other. Everyone loves it when incarnations of the Doctor bump into each other, but this time around, you can see how much Tennant loved doing this, and how his statement of “You were MY Doctor”, rings familiar as every Whovian has said this about their own personal favorite Doctors.
Going into the fourth season for the third time, I was a little bit nervous that there might be some episodes or characters that I don’t enjoy anymore. However, to my surprise and delight, I still loved it from “Partners in Crime”, all the way to “The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End”.
I was a little bit worried about rewatching “The Sontaran Strategem/The Poison Sky” and “The Doctor’s Daughter”, but I discovered that they were still good solid episodes, although not as amazing as the other episodes in the series.
For “The Sontaran Strategem/The Poison Sky”, even though there was much to be desired out of the performance of Ryan Sampson’s Luke Rattigan, it was still a great adventure with high stakes, UNIT, and the reintroduction of the Sontarans. (Although I do love Dan Starkey’s Strax), I wish we had more episodes with Sontarans as menacing as these ones were.) Many people criticize that the Doctor was pretty harsh on UNIT in these episodes, but I think that it was still in character, as UNIT at this point was more military organization than a research based one. Also, it allowed us to see how wonderfully Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) was doing after her travels with the Doctor, and I love that Martha and Donna just hit it off right away as good friends. This was the second time Helen Raynor did a two parter, and compared to the “Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks”, this one was a great improvement.
“The Doctor’s Daughter” was very interesting upon rewatching it. Not only did I notice how Donna would ground the Doctor in empathy, I began to notice how old and tired the Doctor was, especially when talking about the Time War and his people. I also noticed that Martha, more than Donna could handle being out on her own without the Doctor, and that whole walking on the planet surface thing with her friend Hath dying in the quicksand reminded me of something straight out of the Classic Doctor Who serials.
Many are also not so keen on “Unicorn and the Wasp”, but I think it was a great light hearted, murder mystery, and I do believe that we needed at least one really light episode, especially as from then on out, the episodes would get darker and more intense. Favorite part? Donna kissing the Doctor out of character so that he’d get the shock he needed in order to detox sparkling cyanide from his system. Also, did I mention that they meet AGATHA CHRISTIE in this one?
My absolute favorite pair of episodes are also found in this series- “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead”. Aside from the Vashta Nerada being one of my favorite “Doctor Who” monsters, I love the introduction of River Song (Alex Kingston) here. Actually, I ended up watching the last parts of “The Husbands of River Song” before rewatching this, because it makes this even more painful when you are looking at it from River’s point of view. (I still yet have to watch River episodes in order, which I will do for her character guide post in the future.) Kingston did an amazing job as River, and I loved how perturbed the Doctor is by her, and by the fact that she knows his real name. ( I do think that the only other person he would have told would be Rose if he had the chance). I also loved Donna’s bits in this two parter. I loved how her reaction to River was more of a friend being jealous and a friend wanting to protect her best friend from something that might end up hurting him. I also loved how her mind was trying to fight back constantly against the fictional world she got thrust into.
The rest of the episodes saw us going all over the place, travelling to more planets on screen than we did in the previous three series, gave us little hints and clues as to what was to come.
This time around, I liked how they seeded things with plot twist after plot twist in the series finale.
“Fires of Pompeii”, “Midnight”, “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead” are great and classic Whovian stories, with “Midnight” showcasing Tennant’s acting, while being the first ever “Companion-lite” story.
“Fires of Pompeii” showed why the Doctor needs companions, and specifically Donna, as well as having some of Tate’s best performances, coupled with “Planet of the Ood”, and especially “Turn Left” and the ending of “Journey’s End”.
“Turn Left” was Donna’s equivalent of “Midnight”, as it was “Doctor-lite”, and showcased her acting abilities while highlighting Donna’s importance to the overall story arc. “Turn Left” is also a very interesting episode to watch especially if you know things from “Torchwood” and “The Sarah Jane Adventures”, because those are definitely referenced in this story a well, and it makes the Doctor’s absence have even more of an emotional impact.
Many people do have some problems with “The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End”, but after watching this around three or four times already, I still enjoy it very much, and yes, I cry at the ending of this one more times than I ever cried in “Doomsday”.
Understandably, Davies was really pulling out all of the stops on this one, because not only did he have to tie up the series arc, he had to tie up everything in his era, including character arcs. So, with that in mind, I think that this was done really well, without it being too overstuffed, given the fact that they managed to actually do a three-way crossover with “Torchwood” and the “Sarah Jane Adventures” at the same time.
I also loved the fact that ever since the beginning of Series 3, both the Doctor and Donna were heading towards this, orchestrated by Dalek Caan, whom we have been seeing since Series 2, in his ultimate revenge against his own kind.
During my first watch of this episode, I kind of got annoyed a little at Rose (Billie Piper), and wasn’t fond of her performance, but watching it this time around, I understand where she’s coming from. From the beginning, Ten treated her as someone very special to him, and she had no knowledge of his other companions aside from Donna and Jack, who are not considered as rivals, but then we have Martha, who is also young, and whom Rose doesn’t know of yet. Also, wouldn’t you be frustrated as well if you crossed a dimension and couldn’t get in touch with the man you love the instant you get there?
It is also interesting to note that Davros (Julian Bleach), was a little bit right about most of Ten’s companions (with an added bonus of Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith ), as they, by choice, and because they were inspired by the Doctor, became weapons. Martha with UNIT, Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) with Torchwood, Rose in the alternate Earth’s Torchwood along with Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke), and Sarah Jane who although she does her own thing the Doctor’s way, did provide them with a warp star. However, if you look beyond this, you can see how much the Doctor has changed them, and in a sense, you can also see how each companion, from Rose to Donna, has also changed him.
However, nothing can compare to the joy that I felt when all of them piloted the TARDIS and brought the Earth back home.
I also liked how each one got their own ending here- Jack, Mickey and Martha still defending the Earth from aliens, Rose getting her own happy ending with the meta-crisis Doctor, and Sarah Jane back to her son and her adventures.
Then there’s the Doctor-Donna. This was Donna’s finest moment, which makes it even more tragic that the Doctor had to wipe her memories at the very end, as it meant that Donna, who grew up so much during the series, while just being her brilliant self, and who had just reached full potential as the Doctor-Donna, had to go.
It’s even more tragic because sure, Donna had to be sacrificed, but all of this does hurt the Doctor, because he’s the one who has to willingly give up that amazing relationship they had as well in order to save his best friend. It’s also interesting because you realize that in all actuality, the Doctor is the one that has to make that sacrifice, always.
Also, it should be noted that he did this for Donna’s own good, even though he didn’t give her a choice at all in the matter because the Doctor-Donna was hell bent on staying even if it meant that it would kill her.
Because of this, I think that losing Donna was the ultimate last straw for the Tenth Doctor, which led him to become darker than ever before, which will be seen during the specials. (Also, lest I forget, we also said goodbye to Penelope Wilton’s Harriet Jones, whose death honestly shocked me when I first watched it.)
In the end, Series 4 was an amazing run. It had heart, humor, joy, just enough fan service, great stories and characters, amazing actors, and much better CGI than before. We got to travel to different planets and time periods alongside these two best friends, the Doctor and Donna, and this began the end of the Davies era, even though we still have three more specials to round everything out.