“The fat just walks away!”
So we’re back, Doctor Who and me. The show was having its usual break between seasons, and I was caught in a soap opera plot involving my boyfriend having major surgery whilst I got all confused about where my affections lay, thus stymying my original intention to review all the episodes of Torchwood.
Still! It’s all dealt with now, and we can move on to the reappearance of Donna Noble, last seen as a typically gobby Catherine Tate comedy character in The Runaway Bride. Thankfully by the end of that rather lacklustre Christmas special her character had developed into something more nuanced, and able to convincingly tell the Doctor off when he effectively committed genocide. The Donna we see in Partners in Crime is a nicely evolved version of that, but the first hurdle for Russell T Davies is explaining her sudden change of mind about wanting to travel with the Doctor. Actually, this never really gets explained, but I guess people do change their minds, and Donna seems to have grown since we last saw her, having tried to travel the world and found it rather disappointing.
So she’s been trying to find the Doctor by the eminently sensible method of investigating anything weird in the assumption that he’ll eventually show up to check it out. Even so, you have to assume she was lucky here. She could just as easily have ended up bumping into Sarah Jane Smith, Captain Jack, or even Fox Mulder.
The opening half of the episode, Donna and the Doctor “comedically” just missing each other in their parallel investigations of Adipose Industries, quickly became a little forced, and reminded me of the really irritating episode of Survivors in which Greg and Jenny keep just missing each other and never actually meet again before he dies. Yes, it’s vaguely amusing, but also annoying. Plus, the script and the direction never really made clear that their investigations were actually separate, and I found myself wondering whether I’d dozed off and missed the scene where they actually met before embarking on a joint poke around the shady company.
Still, it did build up the anticipation for the scene in which they finally meet, which I have to admit was rather well done. Their little dumb show across the office of the bad guys was actually very funny, and presumably put in by Russell to exploit Catherine Tate’s gift for physical comedy. David Tennant rose rather well to the occasion too, and the whole thing was topped off nicely by Miss Foster’s frosty punchline “Are we interrupting you?”.
In keeping with the style of new Who, we also got to know Donna’s family rather better than previously. Her nagging mum was a good character, giving us the lovely “why don’t you look for a job?” kitchen montage, which reminded me rather too closely of various conversations between my boyfriend and me during my brief period of unemployment last year.
But surely the crowning glory of this new bunch of soap opera rejects (sorry, “characters”) was the casting of Bernard Cribbins as Donna’s Grandpa. Stepping neatly into the shoes vacated by the late Howard Attfield, who was to have reprised his role as Donna’s Dad, Cribbins was simply marvellous, his very voice conjuring up memories of The Wombles and The Railway Children. He was helped by being given the standard “Magically Contemplative Scene #227” automatically generated by Russell’s Sentimentatron computer. Actually, I’m being rather harsh, it was a well-written scene very well-played by Cribbins and Catherine Tate. It’s just that it’s so predictable that any Russell T Davies script will include at least one scene of this ilk.
Much like School Reunion, another episode with the job of reintroducing an old companion, the actual plot of Partners in Crime was slight to non-existent. We’ve seen shady companies with alien agendas plenty of times before, and the schemes of Adipose Industries didn’t actually seem that nefarious. It could be that I’m missing one of Russell’s subtle nuances (!), but it seemed to me that the original plan was simply to cream off some of Britain’s extra fat to generate the Adipose children, without actually killing anyone. Seems to me like everyone benefits from that one. Although Miss Foster’s assertion that Britain was “a wonderfully obese country” that she’d had to look rather hard for does make one wonder how her planetary survey somehow missed the United States of America.
With the real bad guys, the Adiposian First Family, never actually appearing, Miss Foster/Matron Kafilia (if that’s how it’s spelled) was a rather splendid main baddie. Russell has asserted that in some way she was inspired by Supernanny, a cultural reference that I have no knowledge of. But Sarah Lancashire’s marvellously unflappable, smiling cut-glass accented performance made it clear to me where her inspiration lay. Yes, the Matron was an evil, extra-terrestrial Mary Poppins! I mean let’s face it, she even flew up into the sky at the end, albeit without an umbrella and a song. The fact that she then fell gruesomely to her death was the icing on the cake for those of us who find Disney’s classic one spoonful of sugar too many, though for my money The Simpsons did it better having her sucked into a passing plane’s engines.
And what of the Adipose themselves? I still can’t make up my mind about them. On the one hand, they were infuriatingly cute, with their gap toothed smiles and little waves to the characters. I immediately found myself thinking of Ewoks, and merchandising opportunities to appeal to the kiddies. But! On the other hand, these cute little fellas were formed out of discarded human fat, which is actually rather gross when you think about it. In case we missed that point, Donna acknowledged it at the end with her shell-shocked remark, “I’m waving to fat…”
In keeping with the somewhat low key plot, Russell managed to keep the action set pieces down to a minimum, and at least they made sense within the plot. The main one, of course, was the whole “hanging on a cradle outside the building” business, which was rather well-done, and almost entirely convincing. Still, Donna’s slightly unbelievable dangle above the ground managed to be more convincing than Alan Rickman’s death plunge in Die Hard, though that was some 23 years before…
Other than that, we had the Adipose forming all over London, and then the actually rather good spaceship that came to pick them up. OK, it looked more than a little reminiscent of the Mothership from Close Encounters, but it was done very nicely. And that blaring noise it made periodically was a lovely sound effect.
But with all the concentration on Donna, it seemed like the Doctor didn’t get too much of a look in. David Tennant was his usual self, but the script hardly stretched him, confining itself to re-establishing the chemistry between him and Donna. In this, at least, it succeeded, with that marvellous final scene where she she acidly commented that she wasn’t about to “mate” with him. Thank the gods for that, I thought. Finally, an old-fashioned companion who doesn’t want to shag the Doctor. Let’s hope he doesn’t get any ideas himself.
Still, just while I was feeling happy about that, who should pop up but bloody Rose Tyler? It was rather a surprise ending to a somewhat slight season opener, but I’m guessing we haven’t seen the last of her…