Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Partners in Crime

 Chapter The Second, where Sisyphus realises the extent of his undertaking: the New Series is included too!

HyperNanny Miss Foster breeds little critters the Adipose from the fat of Londoners, under the cover of a slimming pill company. In the midst of stopping her without breaking too much of a sweat, the Doctor runs into old pal Donna again, whose wedding he'd ruined a couple of Christmasses previous.

Watched the DVD with the kids last thing on Sunday night before bed before school (what I forever think of as 'Songs of Praise time'). My better half, despite being massively in lust with David Tennant -  a lot of ladies are, it's a broad church - had to skip it, as she'd retired early feeling unwell. She's fine now, but sad to have missed skinny boy in action.

Kids again were quiet throughout and nothing confused or scared them too much.  Middle child said "Not again" when the Doctor and Donna separately both trick their way into the Adipose Industries offices for the second time, and he's right it is a bit repetitive and could have been streamlined, but that would have meant losing some of the best material that's in between - the Doctor in the TARDIS starting to explain the plot Macguffin before realising sadly there's no-one there with him, and also the scenes of Donna with her relatives.

First-time round:
Caught up with it late on the evening of transmission, timeshifted on the PVR. The scheduled broadcast time was early for the 2008 series as I recall, so we couldn't watch live as we were putting our - at the time only - offspring to bed when it went out. Crikey, that was seven years, one global financial crisis, and two kids ago now; it's flown by.

I'll make no cucumbers about it, I love the work of Russell T Davies, and this is a trademark RTD Doctor Who series opener: we join a sideshow alien plot midway through, it's not too big a deal for the Doctor to manage; the tone's fairly light, with an emphasis not on the unearthly goings-on, but the companion's home-life in sharp relief to all that (which is what the episode is really about).

This was the last time he would pull the trick off, but it's kept fresh with a beginning sequence where the Doctor and Donna have a series of comical near misses, almost bumping into each other as they run parallel investigations. This culminates in a sequence where they finally spot each other from a distance, and a comic dumb show ensues which has justly gone into the clip bank for anniversary docos, symphonic spectaculars, etc.

I'm no Tate-hater, she's great and a perfect fit for Donna, a larger than life character with a carefully revealed vulnerability. Bernard Cribbins is obviously excellent, because he's never been less than excellent in anything he's ever done. He was the best thing in that shambolic aftershow party on BBC3 on the evening of the 50th anniversary of Who in 2013, which - given that it also included a sequence where One Direction were regressed away to nothing but white noise - is saying something.

The unsung hero of this era, though, is Jax King as Donna's Mum. The sequence where Donna sits statue still in the kitchen as Slyvia flits around berating her is wonderfully written and performed (and exactly like many similar ear-bashings the younger me had with my Mum). I particularly like the dialogue "It's not like the 1980s. No one's unemployed these days, not really. Except you." Untrue, obviously, and probably a corrosive point of view (no one was out of work unless they wanted to be), but it perfectly encapsulates how some people were thinking and feeling in the latter days of the New Labour boom years.

The design of the Adipose, into which the writer contributed significantly, is a triumph attested to by the merch generated (Adipose stress balls and such): the lone fang is what makes it. I can't think of another Doctor Who creature that has been designed to be cute and non-threatening, but becoming dangerous through sheer numbers. The obvious antecedent from Sci-Fi telly in general is of course the Tribble from original Star Trek. For once, Trek got there first, but it doesn't excuse them ripping off the Cybermen in the form of the Borg.

The pendant being an activator of Adipose creation is a bit clumsy, as is the notion at the end that two are needed, conveniently allowing Donna with her pendant to 'complete' the Doctor. But it's a Macguffin, so it's not worth getting too worried about. Also, calling a race of creatures made out of fat 'Adipose' is straight out of Dalek creator Terry Nation's guide to Doctor Who naming: he called a wet world Marinus, a dry world Aridius, and a world taken over by machines as Mechanus. To be a true tribute, they should have been called the Adiposarians, but let's not quibble.

And a world of desperate criminals was Desperus.  And Skaro was scarred by nuclear war.  I could go on...

The final words on plot-hole spotting go to my eldest, who asked why Roger Davey's burglar alarm didn't go off at the end. In an early scene, Roger, one of the slimming pill test subjects, explains at length that he is woken every night by the alarm, which unknown to him is being set off by the Adipose created from his own fat escaping his house through the cat flap.  At the climax, when all the pill-takers are going into spasms, another Adipose emerges from Roger, escapes through the cat flap, and... no alarm. Good spot, boy. Take that RTD, you hack!

Like Arc of Infinity, this is a season opener with the return of an old companion. Rather than the coincidence being ignored, though, Davies hangs a hat on it, overstating it in the opening sequences for laughs ,then mining from it a human story of second chances. Donna is desperus to find the Doctor again, because she realises she was foolish to pass up the chance he'd offered her before, and despite her efforts to improve herself, she'll never have as good an opportunity without him. Anyone who's ever been on holiday can empathise with the haunting moment when she recounts her trip to Egypt; despite good intentions, she ends up indulging in empty tourist activities rather than exploring, and before she's knows it, she's back home and no wiser.

Also, at a stretch, Partners of Crime like Arc also features an appearance from an actor who would go on to be cast as the Doctor (a glimpse of Peter Capaldi in the Next Time trailer for The Fires of Pompeii). 

Deeper Thoughts:
Does the Doctor make things worse? There's two lines of Foster's that create uncertainty about what her eventual plan would have been, had the Doctor not got involved: "We had planned to seed millions" and earlier "In a crisis the Adipose can convert bone and hair and internal organs". Had a crisis not occurred, would she have just left the planet having created billions of innocent new Adipose lives, while simultaneously making millions of humans slim?  What's wrong with that? The Shadow Proclamation apparently says it's against the law, but it seems like a victimless crime to me.

The later story, Turn Left, suggests what might have happened without the Doctor's intervention: Foster would ultimately have gone ahead and killed people. But as that's ten episodes later, it's a bit late for such exposition, and it anyway happens in a parallel universe where the story takes place in the USA, so can't be trusted as definite proof. Ignoring Turn Left, there arises the uneasy idea that the Doctor has pointlessly endangered a million lives, and Donna has contributed to a murder. The thoughtless pricks.

This wouldn't be so bad except that by coincidence, in the same year, we have Planet of The Ood, where the Doctor and Donna take credit for the positive outcome despite not making any material difference to the plot (it's Ood Sigma and Dr. Ryder who are the real heroes of that one); plus, in Midnight, the Doctor unambiguously does make things worse by his presence (the other passengers of the bus want to throw Sky out and he stops them, but in the end that is indeed what has to be done, and someone else has to sacrifice themselves to achieve it). Perhaps, as they did on the series Community after a season of uncharacteristic behaviour, we should just explain away 2008 as Doctor Who's gas leak year.

In Summary:
Slim,but fun.

1 comment:

  1. Just thought I'd add that Donna is my favourite companion from the "new era"; she doesn't compare to Katy Manning, but she is seen through the eyes of a massive teenage crush.