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

Partners in Crime - Donna

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

Midnight - 10th Tenth Doctor 2

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

The Unicorn and the Wasp - Agatha

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

10th Tenth Doctor Donna Noble The Stolen Earth

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

The Sontaran Stratagem

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

The Fires of Pompeii - Karen Gillan Soothsayer

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

Partners in Crime - Donna 10th Tenth Doctor

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…

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30 Responses

  1. Edward Delingford says:

    Not a fan of series 4 overall – this was where Tennant really starts to grate with his various acting tics, shouting and eye-boggling overacting getting in the way of his performance and undermining the more serious and ‘doctorly’ take he gave 10 in series 3. Worst of all, the series ends with the cheesy mess that is Journey’s End and THAT scene on the beach . Otherwise the series is inoffensive and bland, benefitting from being a more successful counterpoint to the failure of the Specials year which followed. Mostly forgettable episodes with only one absolute stinker (apart from Journey’s End) in The Doctor’s Daughter.

    I think Partners in Crime might be the slightly under rated one from the series as it has to compete with Moffat’s run of superb series opening episodes and will always pale in comparison. While not not in the same league as any of those, or even Smith and Jones, it’s quite an efficient little effort. Like the rest of series 4, it plays too safe (part of the reason series 5 still shines so brightly is thst it is full of risk, innovation and just sizzling with energy and creativity while series 4 is RTD coasting), but there are some nice touches such as 10 and Donna missing each other, the return of the gorgeous Bernard Cribbins and the ‘sensibly dressed’ villainy in Sarah Lancashire. The Adipose were cute if silly creatures of the week.

    While I haven’t gone out of my way to rewatch any of series 4, if this or say Fires of Pompeii were to be on television, either would be a reasonable way to pass 40 or so minutes.

  2. Ranger says:

    OK, went with The Doctor’s Daughter. This episode seems to be like Marmite – though the balance seems to be on the negative side. But I think it is worthy of a second look because of the restating of the basic core of the Doctor’s character.

    • Novecento says:

      “I never would” is hardly the basic core of the Doctor’s character. He would and did on various occasions.

      • Edward Delingford says:

        That episode is rank for so many reasons but the sanctimoniousness of 10 really galls and Tennant is unsufferable in how he portrays this. The acting from the support players is terrible too, even the late Nigel Terry looks completely disinterested throughout. The future Mrs Tennant is very pretty to look at, but oh dear, obviously only cast for the ‘Doctor’s Daughter is the doctor’s daughter’ headlines. Possibly the worst stunt casting in Who ever.

        • Dr. Moo says:

          Only the second worst stunt casting ever. What’s number one? Kylie.

          I hated The Doctor’s Daughter. The fact that the CBBC spinoff it was clearly aiming for with the final scene never happened says it all. But I can forgive it because it introduced Mr Tennent to his wife. “Out of evil must come something good.”

          • Edward Delingford says:

            I’d forgotten about Kylie. I don’t mind her in Voyage. She’s certainly a better actress than Mrs Tennant and Voyage is harmless enough trash. A bit like Robin of Sherwood or The Crimson Horror. Does what it says on the tin and you set your expectations accordingly. Certainly stunt casting but in that case it worked a little better. I understand Mr Tennant might have cozied up to Kylie during the shooting so just like the Doctor’s Daughter he benefited a lot more than the viewer out of the episode (according to the gossip at the time, he seems to have had a habit of charming a succession of female guest stars and young female crew members to ‘test drive the Tardis’ with him)

            The quality of guest stars over the last couple of years has been top notch. Sir John Hurt! Keeley Hawes! The news about Rebecca Front is a good example of getting the cream of the British acting crop to appear, but if you got to act opposite Peter Capaldi, who wouldn’t?

          • Dr. Moo says:

            John Hurt wasn’t just another guest star. He was the Doctor.

            Read that again: John bleedin’ Hurt as a genuine official bonafide Doctor!

          • Ranger says:

            Sorry Edward, have to disagree in a major way – there is no way that Kylie was a better actress than Georgia Moffatt – at least Mrs T had a bit of life in her, rather than the “oops, career dragging a bit, but really can’t be bothered to put any effort in to this” mess we had from Kylie. Besides, I like Georgia’s smile.

          • Dr. Moo says:

            Spot on Ranger! Georgia is much better than Kylie. The way I saw it was that Kylie was supported brilliantly by David, a little like what happened to Matthew Waterhouse with his costar Tom Baker.

    • kwijino says:

      I thought Jenny was fine for the role that was written. I don’t mind a fun episode every now and again.

  3. Dr. Moo says:

    Planet of the Ood. Just brilliant. A great commentary on slavery and freedom with a genuinely moving story. And it’s got Percy from Blackadder in it which can only be a good thing.

  4. Mrs Fingerbottom says:

    Most underrated of season 4… That’s a toughie as I think they’re all rated about right… but The Smugglers gets overlooked because of the two serials that follow overshadowing it so much.

    • Dr. Moo says:

      …if it’s funny once…

    • K Doctor Who News says:

      It says “Series 4” which is clearly a different term to “season”. Of course, we *could* have said Season 30, but 60% of readers would have been utterly baffled.

      The BBC calls it Series 4. Let’s just leave it at that.

      • Mrs Fingerbottom says:

        Don’t you think I know that? Seriously! Learn to recognise a joke when you see one!!!

        • K Doctor Who News says:

          As anyone who knows me will attest, I have absolutely no problem in spotting jokes.

          Perhaps you could employ some of the oft-used netiquette conventions to highlight your shrewd sense of humour in future? You know, like every other Internet user?


          • Mrs Fingerbottom says:

            Certainly! Consider it done. Allow me to practise.

            [insert joke here] XD LOL haha :p 😀 😉

          • Castellan Spandrel says:

            This is quALITY bANtz!

          • TheLazyWomble says:

            Thank you for that, Mrs Fingerbottom. I had no idea what netiquette is (not sarcasm). I could work out what the word meant, but not what the netiquette involved.

  5. Planet of the Deaf says:

    Midnight is too highly rated in most surveys to be ‘underrated’
    I chose Partners in Crime as I really like the Adipose, it’s a great idea, completely different from the usual alien threat, and unlike most aliens it’s not clear cut whether they are bad or good.

  6. Doc7 says:

    I don’t think there’s an underrated here. There’s an overrated in Turn Left. There’s a best in either Midnight or Silence in the Library/ Forest of the Dead. The Doctor’s Daughter is the only real stinker here with a non-starter of a story featuring Tennant at his worst being all self-righteous and preachy. (“I never would!” Per-lease! Give me a break.) The rest of the season is good, not great. Still ahead of series 2, 3 and 7 but 1, 5, 6 and 8 all surpass it by miles.

    • Edward Delingford says:

      Agree. Not sure why people rate series 4 that highly, except that it is better than series 2 (but then everything is!). I actually think series 3 edges it. Although series 3 has some absolute bottom of the barrel stuff that should be consigned to the nearest black hole (Last of the Time Lords, Daleks in Manhattan), it does have three really great episodes too (Blink + Human Nature two parter). Series 4 doesn’t have the lows, but it doesn’t have the highs either, it’s just dull and lifeless with an uninteresting story arc and the return of the ghastly Rose. The difference between any of the Tennant series and what followed is vast and it’s only when you look at say ‘Journey’s End’ and pretty well anything in series 5 (yes, including Victory of the Daleks) you realise it’s not just that the newer series look a million times better (HD helps but it’s more to do with the improved aesthetic design, direction and overall gorgeousness and lushness Moffat insisted for the series) but the acting from top to bottom, the storylines, dialogue and how the doctor is portrayed are simply better than anything which has gone before. A lot of this is that Moffat had plenty of time to refine his vision before series 5 hit our screens due the Specials Year hiatus (and that Matt was such a great contrast with late series mopey, shouty, self-righteous Tennant and gave us back a truly alien doctor full of wonder and magic) but it is also that RDT was really running out of steam mid way through series 4.
      I’m also a bit more generous with series 7 as the great first part and just the brilliance of Matt Smith’s work in series 7B (Rings, Silver, Journey and Name are right up there with his greatest performances) tips it over into the ‘just about’ ok bracket and therefore ahead of 2,3,4. Of all of the series, 1 and 6 are the most under-rated IMHO and it’s interesting how often now they are the ones people now speak of rediscovering and admiring while series 4 has vastly diminished in its appeal and now probably sits well below either of these. Series 5 and 8 are just completely solid gold but I am confident series 9 is going to blow the top of both! I love that this show just gets better and better even 10 years down the track. Not many shows can say that!

      • Ranger says:

        Funny how different people look at things. Series 4 is clearly the best until series 8 came along. The problem after series 4 is twofold: Matt Smith and Moffatt forgetting the viewer and writing for himself. If you want to talk about actors tics, being shouty, etc Smith was as bad, if not worse (exhibit A: his acting as the Cyber computer took him over – totally embarrassing) than Tennant. Thank a non-specified deity that Capaldi has come in and toned all that down – a real actor, who knows what he is doing. Plus, I just don’t like Matt Smith’s Doctor. Not his fault, he just doesn’t do it for me, where he clearly does for others.

        Moffatt, I can’t excuse, because he has shown repeatedly he can write wonderful tales, but he became too self-indulgent and forgot his audience with pointless complications and soap-opera story-lines. However, he seems to be getting a handle on it again, so we’ll wait and see what series 9 beings.

        It’s a measure of my family’s dislike of this period, that none of us have expressed any urge to buy the box sets of the Matt Smith era and watch any of the episodes again. Whereas Classic, Eccleston, Tennant and Capaldi DW are re-watched repeatedly.

        • Dr. Moo says:

          It’s funny how differently people see things, isn’t it? Personally I love(d) every minute of the 11th Doctor’s era (I’m even able to defend Let’s Kill Hitler for goodness sake!) and I am already looking forward to seeing him meet 12 in some future multi-Doctor special, even you as one who dislikes 11 cannot deny how great that would be! I think you’re being rather unfair to Mr Smith.

          But one thing I’ve seen consistent views on from all corners is how perfectly Moffat & Capaldi have worked together. After the patchy seventh series (I blame the distraction of having the 50th on the horizon) series eight was possibly the best season of NuWho yet.

  7. Individual of Doom says:

    Best: Midnight
    Worst: The Doctor’s Daughter
    Overrated: Turn Left
    Underrated: Sontaran two-parter

      • Individual of Doom says:

        My best and worst hardly need explaining.

        Turn Left is good but nothing special. It paints the Doctor as a godlike figure that the universe will die without him. Not good. If you want to do that well Moffat’s your man, see the finale to series five.

        My underrated is so because it’s not a well appreciated story. The best Sontaran story since The Time Warrior, not that that’s saying much, where we finally get to see them as a competent army giving UNIT a proper challenge.

  8. TimeChaser says:

    Series 4 is perhaps the most solid one of all of New Who, so it’s hard to pick an underrated one, but I had to go with The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky. Leave it to the new series to finally, properly utilize the Sontarans. For a race supposedly grown in batches of millions, all we ever saw in the Classic Series was one or two at a time. While we still don’t get millions this time, at the least what we are given is a proper group, and they give UNIT a serious run for its money.

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