It hardly seems like a year has passed but the fourth series of Doctor Who is upon us. There have been concerns, even in these very pages, about the return of Donna Noble to the show after her appearance in The Runaway Bride. Shouting at everyone and repeating 'The wha-?' might pass for comedy on BBC2 on a Thursday night but it doesn't make for a decent Doctor Who companion, especially following the divine Martha Jones (straight into my top 3 with Ian Chesterton and Jamie!). You might have said Catherine Tate had a lot to prove in the series opener.
The episode begins with the Doctor and Donna both independently investigating a miracle diet pill. Amusingly they keep just missing each other for the first half of the episode, before coming face to face whilst both not-so-secretly observing the villain deal with a nosey journalist. Their mimed conversation was hilarious, even if it did get them busted. Once reunited Tate and Tennant get to show off the chemistry that they have cultivated together, seemingly on and off set, as the bored temp and the lonely God investigate Adipose industries.
Partners in Crime seems quite an unusual episode in some ways, there is no real global peril, quite a low bodycount (on screen at least), and a markedly different alien creature in the Adipose; cute little fellas with cheeky grins and a snaggle tooth. Even the villain, Miss Foster (played like a malevolent Mary Poppins by Sarah Lancashire) is really only breaking the law alittle bit. She does little worse than tie up a reporter and try to hijack the Doctor's trolley.
Russell T Davies' script teases us with references to the past and glimpses of the future. The Doctor refers to the shadow proclamation, whilst the ghostly figure of Rose Tyler sows a mystery no doubt to be explored through this fourth series. Worse yet the red fingernails of Miss Foster and her sonic device ('identical' to the sonic screwdriver? Really?) remind us of the the end of Last of the Time Lords and the persistent disturbing rumours of the return of the Rani respectively. Surely not even RTD could make that work?
The direction was excellent, James Strong is among the very best of the cadre of directors that Doctor Who repeatedly returns to (and possibly imprisons at Upper Boat), and Murray Gold's score was fresh while referencing his music from The Runaway Bride and, to tremendous effect, Doomsday. The Adipose themselves were well realised whilst their parent spaceship was breathtaking. The return of Bernard Cribbins to Doctor Who should not pass without mention, what a pleasure to have him back even under such sad circumstances.
To add insult to injury indications are that the ratings were stronger than for the last two series openers despite the early time slot. Shut my mouth!
For many fans the greatest fear for this series was whether Donna could work on more than just a comedic level. On the basis of this energetic and entertaining episode those fears were unfounded. In fact the comedic moments that so concerned me turned out to be some of the highlights (the image of the Tenth doctor, laiden down with Donna's luggage is likely to remain a favourite in my memory). Welcome back Donna Noble!
More references to the past next week when it's volcano day, but what does it all mean?