Doctor Who 4 (2009)


Our rating: 4 out of 5

Rated: PG

reviewed by: Charity Bishop

When creator Russell T. Davis announced that this would be his final season as the primary writer of Doctor Who, fan response was mixed. Also controversial was the casting of British comedian Catherine Tate as the Doctor's new assistant, but as it turns out, season four is Davis' finest work -- and Donna is the best assistant the Doctor has ever had.


Traveling alone after his assistant Martha has chosen to abandon the Tardis, the space traveling time lord Doctor (David Tennant) finds himself on a themed spaceship called Titanic over the Christmas holiday. What starts out as a pleasant if surreal experience rapidly transforms into disaster as the spaceship starts to plummet toward the earth. The Doctor manages to avoid catastrophe at the last possible instant, and this throws him inadvertently into the path of Donna Noble (Tate). Having once encountered him and declined his invitation to travel as his companion, Donna is regretting that decision and spends all of her time searching for unusual phenomenon that might lure his attention in order to cross paths with him once more. Both of them have shown fascination in a recent suspicious weight loss program that is actually involved in the hatching of mutant alien "fat babies." Missing one another numerous times throughout their separate investigations, Donna finally manages to catch his attention and throws her bags into the Tardis.


But as she is preparing for a series of adventures, Donna also encounters a woman in the street who appears momentarily and then fades. Images of this woman (Rose, from two earlier seasons) keep appearing in the background, cries for help that are unseen by the Doctor. And then there is Donna herself. Compassionate, intelligent, and wise, without a hint of romance toward her 907 year old companion, strange instances keep transpiring around her, leading the Doctor and ultimately Donna herself to suspect that not all is as it seems, and that her becoming his companion was not mere chance. Their adventures escalate as they spin through time and space toward the shocking two part season finale, in which a host of previous companions and Torchwood members are all involved in a final desperate attempt to save the universe from destruction.

To be honest, I wasn't sure about Donna at first. She first appeared in season three as a woman who is unintentionally pulled into the Tardis on her wedding day and then proceeds to verbally assault the Doctor for the next hour. It was hilarious but also, as some people put it, "irritating." Many had their doubts and others were downright infuriated to know she was returning, but within a span of three episodes, most of us ate our words. Donna is more honest than her predecessors, more mature, more settled, even more emotional but never in a clichéd or melodramatic way. She moved me to tears more than all previous companions combined. Tate is magnificent. People often make the mistake of seeing her only as a comedian, but her stint here proves she is one of the most talented actresses of her time. Not only that, but Tennant has one episode in particular ("Midnight") where he really shows his acting chops. In terms of writing, this is the show's best season but it does falter once or twice. There is a magnificent sense of scope and clues are dropped not only throughout all Davis' contributions toward the finale, but also in Moffat's episodes, indicating where he intends to take the series in the future. We watched the destruction of an ancient city, solved the mystery of Agatha Christie's disappearance, saved the Ood, learned there is more to shadows than we suspected, saw the worst of human nature take control, and participated in the greatest reunion of past and present companions ever established -- Donna, Martha, Rose, Sarah Jane, and the Torchwood cast.


For the most part, the episodes are fairly family friendly but there are several recurring elements and themes that do bear mentioning. Davis is also the creator and writer for the show's adult spin-off, Torchwood, which contains mature sexual themes and prevalent homosexuality. While he cannot bring these themes explicitly into Doctor Who, he does have an irritating habit of referencing them. "Partners in Crime" has an openly gay couple in it; Donna remarks that it's not fair society is so narrow minded as to not let them be happy. "Midnight" has a brief reference to a woman's sexual orientation, and the last two episodes feature subtle winks at Jack's bisexuality, as well as his same-sex relationship with Ianto (Ianto being offended that Jack is flirting with someone else). There's also an overbearing anti-gun slant throughout several episodes, as if the Doctor has turned into a pacifist. (I guess Davis has forgotten the Doctor's violent streak?)


However, other than that the episodes are family friendly, although I would add this caution -- they may be too intense for very small children, because some of them, particularly "Midnight" and the two-part "Silence in the Library," are very scary. There is a high level of violence, as well as the implications of families being liquidated by alien firepower, entire cities burning to the ground, and main characters being shot and/or killed. Occasional mild language intervenes. The saddest thing about this season is that it concludes at thirteen episodes, and audiences must wait two years for season five.