NuWho 10th Anniversary: What Is Your Most Underrated Series 4 Story?
This year, Doctor Who has been back on our screen ten whole years. It feels like yesterday that the TARDIS materialised once more; suitably, it also feels like forever.
So join us as we celebrate a decade with the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctors. Let’s find out which serials are our favourites, and shine a light on the underrated ones too. Watch us run.
And then vote on your favourites. At the end of the year, we’ll find out which serials showcase our beloved show at the height of its game.
Donna became the most important woman in the universe – and then it was all snatched away from her, and from us. But at least we can relive her adventures whenever we want. You know our favourites of Series 4, but what’s the most underrated serial…?
Christian Cawley: Partners in Crime
Back in 2008, I was less than charitable to Partners in Crime, which is honestly far and away from being the worst of Doctor Who; on the contrary, it features some of the funniest moments of the show’s 51 years. It’s easy to see why: the big reveal at the end of a dimension hopping Rose Tyler essentially steals the light heartedness of the previous 40-odd minutes, rendering them – in this viewer’s eyes, at least – largely pointless. Here was the real story: the Doctor’s long lost love, believed stranded on a parallel Earth and with a desperate need to find the Time Lord, was back.
Throwing this key plot point for the series arc in at this stage was of course necessary, and Billie Piper’s return came as a complete shock to the viewing public (and fans). But it kind of distracted from the core of the story, which was Donna’s own (successful) search for the Doctor, and the realisation that she’d been leading a terribly superficial life.
She’d had her eyes opened following their previous meeting, and was now ready to see beyond the veneer of the Hello magazine obsession and go travelling to experience life properly, and as we see in Partners in Crime, this was the beginning of a journey for her whole family, her mum and her granddad (Jacqueline King and the incomparable Bernard Cribbins) that would eventually see Donna’s new life meet a tragic reset.
Sure, there’s some nonsense with (literally) fat aliens bursting out of people and Sarah Lancashire being arch as Miss Foster, but Partners in Crime is a superb season opener that not only brings back Rose Tyler but also a likeable version of Donna Noble. That’s a lot to manage in one story, and Russell T Davies pulls it off with apparent (albeit deceptive) ease.
Tony Jones: Midnight
Generally well received at the time, Midnight is one of those episodes people forget until reminded of it. Series 4 is very much the Catherine Tate series and has many episodes of note, yet it is Midnight that stands out, different from the rest and not just because it lacks the presence (for the bulk of the story) of the companion.
What it does do is to place David Tennant’s Doctor in a very claustrophobic situation where he is not in control. The balance of power shifts between the Doctor and Lesley Sharp’s Sky Silvestry. As the alien presence inside Sky gains power, the two have a battle fought not with weapons but with words – the actual performance carries an otherwise odd sequence into something special as Sky ends up convincing other passengers the Doctor is the enemy, and all through the simple device of repeating speech.
This is uncomfortable viewing in places – the threat is very real and hard to combat. A vessel full of ordinary people condemns the Doctor as alien and dangerous and could quickly become a mob. The Doctor fights easily identifiable monsters, not ordinary people. The Doctor doesn’t do ordinary. Much as the Seventh Doctor is shot in passing to trigger his regeneration in events completely out with his normal practice, the Tenth Doctor is in as much danger here is he ever is, and from something almost banal. He is genuinely terrified.
More than this, the resolution has the much used modern device of a member of the group sacrificing themselves because the Doctor needs to live (the early Voyage of the Damned is an extreme example of this), in this case the hostess of the tourist vessel. Her name? Nobody knows.
This is a tight, intelligent and undervalued piece of writing. Of course what follows (Turn Left) is a better example of modern Who but Midnight is better on many levels.
Becky Crockett: The Unicorn and the Wasp
I just really like the idea of the Doc being a fan of and meeting Agatha Christie and working with her to solve a mystery. It’s a fun episode that isn’t weighed down with heavy moments – the only real one comes at the end, talking about the fate of the real life Christie. While the characters and the story are a bit over the top, they and the story itself are reminiscent of the lady’s own work.
It’s like Cluedo on steroids.
Plus it has one of the more hilarious comic moments of the show between Tennant and Tate.
Joe Siegler: The Stolen Earth/ Journey’s End
I can simplify my story in a single sentence. It was FUN. Given you probably want more than that…
I don’t care that it mistreated the Daleks by making them spin in a circle (although not any worse than Tom Baker taunting them about climbing stairs, really), and I don’t care that we had a forced naked Tennant appearance. I don’t care about all the companions jammed in there to stand around. IT WAS FUN. So any rational, story based reason you can come up with to say why it’s not good doesn’t matter worth a darn.
We got a great moment where Davros remembered Sarah Jane from Genesis, we got some great dialogue between Davros and the Doctor, all the companions meeting up, the German speaking Daleks… It was just FUN.
Of course I loved the throwbacks to Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Pirate Planet, and Voyage of the Damned in here. Throwbacks all over the place, I love those. The emotion at the end with Donna was just way over the top awesome.
But bottom line it was just a fun story. In fact, had I remembered to write my favorite story of the season for this series, I would have used it there, but I used it here because so many people tend to trash this story for not being good. I don’t see that.
And no, he DIDN’T bloody say he loved her. Fortunately. That was something good there at the end.
Philip Bates: The Sontaran Stratagem/ The Poison Sky
Yeah, I love the Sontarans. Always have, always will. That they were finally returning after decades off-screen was an absolute joy, and writer, Helen Raynor didn’t let me down.
Doctor Who likes to make the mundane creepy, and satnavs were at the height of their popularity. “You have reached your final destination,” indeed. And frankly, I’ve never quite trusted cars. We’re all so used to these hulking bulks of metal that kill with ease. It’s pretty odd, really. It makes sense the Sontarans would take advantage of these death-traps.
It’s great to have the Sontarans really showing their military force as they, for the first time on TV, take on UNIT. It’s the first appearance of Dan Starkey – naturally, he’s great – but Christopher Ryan as Staal (the Not-Quite-So-Undefeated-Anymore-But-Never-Mind) was a revelation. I’m really hoping he returns in another full-blooded two-parter.
Let’s not forget the great team of Donna Noble and Martha Jones. Martha doesn’t get enough credit, and Donna? Well, we all know how amazing Donna is. I was a sceptic about her return. I’m proud to say I was wrong. Catherine Tate was just so, so good. I just loved her adventures with David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, even if the end of Series 4 went rapidly downhill.
Oh, and a word about Douglas Mackinnon here, because everyone was blown away with what he did on Listen. But take a look at his other serials: Cold War in particular but also The Sontaran Stratagem/ The Poison Sky. It’s just so beautifully done. I especially like that last cliffhanger shot with the Doctor looking despairingly down a chocking street as gas rises and swirls into our environment. Properly stunning and compellingly hopeless.
Looking back, it’s also cool spotting the ATMOS logo in the taxi that comes to pick up Stacey in Partners in Crime. I like that intricate world-building the show does so expertly.
James Lomond: The Fires of Pompeii
Pompeii has been crying out for the Who treatment since the first production team made the bizarre choice to send the TARDIS back to cavemen times. And this historical runaround really delivers everything we want from the show. The trappings are all there: famed historical surroundings; aliens under the radar; an ethical dilemma that makes sense and doesn’t stretch even the plausibility of a fantasy universe (looking at you, Kill the Moon!). And this really is what makes the episode – Tate’s performance as Donna and the Doctor resolve to sacrifice themselves and 20,000 people to save the world is pitch-perfect. In light of the events in the Time War and The Day of the Doctor, re-watching the scene with the Tenth Doctor taking ending thousands of lives as a lesser evil is even more poignant.
The Pyroviles are brilliantly realised, particularly in their transitionary form, we’re given a cult of scary nuns to rival the Sisterhood of Karn and one of the best prophsise-til-you-drop performances in all of NuWho. The daughter referring to the Doctor as a “Lord of Time” gave me chills when this first aired and still stands up as a fantastic scene. And then there’s the playground compatible water pistol. Textbook!
And on top of ALL this awesome, we’ve then got meta-awesome with Amy Pond running around in a mad-woman frock and the Twelfth Doctor posing as a marble merchant – what could possibly be going on?!
Drew Boynton: Partners in Crime
While definitely not one of my favorite episodes, Partners in Crime contains some of the greatest moments of NuWho. The episode kicks off David Tennant’s last full series as the Doctor by re-introducing Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble… and actually making her likable! It also re-introduces Bernard Cribbins as Wilf… and somehow makes him even more likable than he already was! Then there’s the Donna-Doctor across-the-room-window-chat, which is one of the funniest and smartest scenes of the last 10 years.
And the jaw-dropping final scene of the episode, with a cameo by Billie Piper, stands as one of the greatest un-spoilered twists in an era of Internet spoilers. It’s too bad the Adipose storyline just doesn’t work – the Adipose themselves are fun little creations, but the creepy body fat plot is kind of gross. Putting the Adipose in a lighter Trouble with Tribbles-like episode might have worked much better, and keeps an episode full of great things from gelling together.
That’s what we think. Now it’s your turn! Vote below for the most underrated serial of Series 4, and we’ll find out the overall winner later this year…