Doctor Who: Series 4
The fourth series of New Who aired in 2008, after a Christmas special at the end of 2007. This would be David Tennant’s last full series as the Doctor, and RTD’s last as show-runner (although both would stay on for a series of specials the following year). Catherine Tate, who’d co-starred in 2006’s Christmas special as a one-off companion, returned this series as a full-time companion. There was also a revamped opening theme tune!
- Voyage of the Damned – ☆ – watched 6 Mar 2023
- Partners in Crime – ☆☆☆ – watched 7 Mar 2023
- The Fires of Pompeii – ☆☆☆½ – watched 10 Mar 2023
- Planet of the Ood – ☆☆½ – watched 15 Mar 2023
- The Sontaran Stratagem – ☆☆☆ – watched 15 Mar 2023
- The Poison Sky – ☆☆☆ – watched 16 Mar 2023
- The Doctor’s Daughter – ☆½ – watched 16 Mar 2023
- The Unicorn and the Wasp – ☆☆☆ – watched 18 Mar 2023
- Silence in the Library – ☆☆☆☆☆ – watched 19 Mar 2023
- Forest of the Dead – ☆☆☆☆½ – watched 20 Mar 2023
- Midnight – ☆☆☆☆½ – watched 21 Mar 2023
- Turn Left – ☆☆☆☆½ – watched 22 Mar 2023
- The Stolen Earth – ☆ – watched 23 Mar 2023
- Journey’s End – ☆☆ – watched 24 Mar 2023
Voyage of the Damned
The first 20 minutes of this were average but OK (except that I hated that “Titanic busting through the TARDIS wall” cliffhanger and the resolution here did not make it any better), but then it just got worse and worse and worse. Why the hell was this 72 minutes long? It was soooooooo slow and the writing was terrible. Like, Alonso made a full recovery very quickly from being shot in the gut. The “Host” angel-like monsters were irritating and the Max Capricorn head-on-a-mobility-scooter was too cheesy for words. The “Jesus Doctor” shit from the very last episode got a rerun and that sucked. Ghost Astrid at the end was totally unnecessary. Most of the guest characters were insufferable. I don’t think it really makes sense that the story takes place in orbit around contemporary Earth, so presumably these characters are all aliens, but most of them look extremely human and seem to come from a society very similar to ours (with class divides, obnoxious stockbrokers, dry cleaners, etc.). The Doctor got a lot of cringey dialogue. Aaaaand the whole section with the Queen (RIP) running out of Buckingham Palace in her dressing gown and hair curlers was AWFUL. Terrible episode, ugh.
1. Partners in Crime
This is one of the few episodes I actually had rewatched recently-ish (a few years ago). Anyway, I didn’t like it as much this time around. The plot is paper-thin (if the Doctor had just not turned up then all that would’ve happened is that the pill-takers would’ve lost some weight and then the Adipose would’ve vamoosed and everything would’ve been fine) and there are some uncomfortably cheesy moments like Ms Foster’s fall to her doom. However, Donna was soooo much better-written her second time around, and Ms Foster was an enjoyably sinister villain until the Doctor and Donna actually crossed paths (then she just got kind of ridiculous). Of course that path-crossing scene, with the miming, is pretty great, by itself. The scene earlier on with Donna and her granddad, Wilf, is also nice.
Oh yeah, and then Rose appears out of nowhere at the end. I find this appearance kind of hilarious, actually, because of how utterly self-absorbed she still is. Donna (not knowing who she is) asks her a quick favour, and without saying a word, Rose is straight-up just like “not my problem” and walks off into the distance until she literally fades into the ether. So fucking melodramatic, lmao
2. The Fires of Pompeii
I think this is mainly known for being “the one with Karen Gillan and Peter Capaldi in it” and obviously as you can tell from the title it’s set in Pompeii… that’s about all I remembered about it. Anyway, turns out it’s a good episode! Donna’s given a lot of space to shine, obviously arguing with the Doctor to save people’s lives while he gets all dark and broody, but also in other ways. Given that in her first appearance she “couldn’t find Germany on a map” I was amused by her “I’m no expert, but shouldn’t Rome have SEVEN hills?” here, but don’t get me wrong, this way is much better. Like with a lot of Doctor Who eps, I felt like the “monster of the week” (the Pyroviles) was a lot less interesting than the human villains (the Sisterhood, maybe not so much the shouty guy) and most of the other guest characters (the family, who are based on characters in a popular Latin textbook ) were very good, as well. There’s some silly stuff, like outrunning the dark cloud coming from the volcano, but overall this was an enjoyable ep.
3. Planet of the Ood
Remembered pretty much nothing about this (basically, the trailer triggered some memories of the snowy setting and I recognised Solana; that was it), but I remembered how dodgy the treatment of the Ood seemed in their first appearance so I really wanted to like this. It had some good moments too, like the part where the Doctor and Donna meet the “unprocessed” Ood and realise with horror what the evil corporation is doing. But overall it felt very action-y, with loads of gun battles and that awful “maniacally evil guard captain chasing the Doctor with a giant mechanical claw” scene, and like there was a lot of padding to compensate for the fact that the episode was underwritten (and despite that it ran like 5 minutes shorter than the previous episodes this season1). Also, to be honest, the unrelenting cartoonish evil of the human guest characters (who nonetheless got lots of screentime) made this not all that fun to watch. Like I said, I wanted to like it; it’s basically a “historical in the future” about a slave revolt with a pointed critique to make about capitalism… but I just didn’t really like it.
4. The Sontaran Stratagem
Decent. Basically there’s some knockoff Mark Zuckerberg in cahoots with the Sontarans to invade Earth by installing these ominous “ATMOS” devices into everyone’s cars, which are supposed to reduce their carbon emissions to zero and also act as a satnav (apparently with some self-driving capabilities?) but are actually programmed to gas the vehicle’s occupants at some predefined moment to commence the invasion (spoiler: it’s at the end of this episode). Martha summons the Doctor to help, and it turns out she’s working for UNIT now, and also engaged to that doctor from last season’s finale. She meets Donna, and they immediately strike up a great rapport with zero jealousy or Rose-like bullshit whatsoever. Towards the end of the episode there’s also a detour to visit Donna’s family, and Wilf is as delightful as ever.
As for the requisite list of negatives… well, it felt stupid that UNIT knows full well that ATMOS is some sinister shit and yet has all their jeeps fitted out with it anyway. There’s some line given about “all government vehicles” having to have them but I feel like a bureaucratic rule is not some insurmountable obstacle. Martha also seemed very lacking in common sense in this episode and I was sad that she got replaced by a Sontaran clone because I really wanted to see actual Martha. Wilf was also lacking in common sense at the episode’s conclusion, when he decided he was “just going to jump into the car to move it because it’s not safe” and then promptly gets locked in to be gassed because that’s the exact safety risk they were talking about 🥴
A final thought, that isn’t about this episode specifically, but it seems like the writers have finally noticed that the sonic screwdriver was written as an all-powerful magic wand last season, because this season it can’t do jack fucking shit. Everything is always “deadlocked”, making it impervious to sonic manipulation.
5. The Poison Sky
Well, my opinion on this is substantially the same as my opinion on part 1. I would’ve preferred way more Real Martha and little-to-no Clone Martha. UNIT continued to act kind of stupid. I was a bit incredulous at the part of the resolution where the Doctor sets fire to all the Sontarans’ poison gas, which magically leaves all the solid objects that were in contact with that poison gas unscathed. I rolled my eyes at the part where the Doctor is apparently determined to kill himself with the Sontarans instead of sending that weapon up without him because he “has to give them a choice”, even though he knows full well they never give up. At no point did I believe the Doctor was actually gonna die in some random midseason ep (especially because I know there are nine seasons of the show after this and more on the way 😂), so it just felt annoying. I also didn’t think the Zuckerberg knockoff’s sacrifice redeemed him in any way; in fact it just seemed like the “easy way out”, because it meant humanity never had to work out what to do with someone who tried to sell us all out to the Sontarans – which would’ve made for a more interesting question. But despite all those minor grievances I think the episode is basically fine and enjoyable.
6. The Doctor’s Daughter
Just not very good, is it. The title is super baity, since Jenny’s not so much a “daughter” as a “clone with some genetic futzing” (who emerges as a fully-grown – and fully-clothed! – adult from that pod thing) who’s only created a few minutes into the episode. She apparently knows nothing except about war, and as such she’s an extremely shallow character. Oh, but she’s a Time Lord, though, since apparently this cloning machine can adapt to brand-new species’ DNA on the fly.
So yeah, I found that a bit unbelievable, and then I got really annoyed with Martha’s subplot. I like the beginning of the subplot, where she’s separated from the others and with the Hath, and how she uses her medical training to treat that one Hath and develop some degree of rapport with the group as a whole. What I hated was how absolutely cheap that Hath’s death was!! Basically Martha falls down a ravine for no reason and lands in a muddy pond that she somehow can’t get out of. The Hath tries to reach across to pull her out but can’t reach, so jumps in themself, and is somehow able to push her out, but then sinks and dies while Martha just cries out “Nooooo!” and does literally nothing to try and help. It’s like… holy fuck that was so unnecessary. I’m genuinely angry about this. Then when Martha reunites with the other main characters like five minutes later she’s all cheerful again like nothing even happened (even though at the end of the episode she’s back to being sad).
Overall: the core idea of a seemingly eternal war that’s only actually been going on for seven days because all the combatants are clones seems like it could’ve had some potential, but I thought the “Doctor’s daughter” angle was cheap, I thought Martha was poorly used (for the third episode in a row) and I’m angry about the unnecessary death of the Hath (and how the narrative basically just ignored it while dragging out Jenny’s death (that didn’t stick, anyway, as it turns out) foreverrrrrr). Rating it 1.5 stars though because it was still better than Voyage of the Damned.
7. The Unicorn and the Wasp
So I mean, this is fine. The BBC is world-renowned for its period dramas, so they have a lot to draw on to evoke the 1920s, genteel upper-class Britain kind of atmosphere familiar from loads of Agatha Christie novels. But like… it’s not a very good murder-mystery, even though it’s trying to mimic one, because there’s nowhere near enough clues to even try to piece it all together. Maybe it’d have been better if there was no giant alien wasp and there was just a normal murder committed by a human. I also didn’t really enjoy the repetitive jokes where Donna keeps telling Agatha Christie about books she’s going to write and adding “copyright Donna Noble”, or early in the episode when Donna tries to talk like what she thinks a 1920s upper-class twit sounds like2, or the extremely protracted sequence after the Doctor gets poisoned (although that doesn’t seem to be a popular opinion). I didn’t hate all the jokes though – the one where Donna dares to believe that Enid Blyton’s Noddy might be real is pretty funny.
8. Silence in the Library
A lot going on in this one! The Doctor and Donna land on a library-planet with a beautiful aesthetic (I love the art nouveau font on the signs, haha). On the surface of things, there appears to be no one alive but them, but when the Doctor tells the computer to search for all lifeforms, its count maxes out at a million million. (I do admit, it did occur to me that that’s not all that impressive if you count bacteria – although I have no idea how many millions of bacteria are inside a single human body at a time, I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me it was close to that.) There’s a strange little girl who seems to be stuck in some kind of “dream world”, and is connected to the library’s computer system, CAL. Then, an archaeological expedition turns up and we’re introduced to a character who’ll become a familiar face (perhaps an overly familiar face…) over the next few seasons: River Song! And finally, it turns out that the shadows are inhabited by a nasty pest, the Vashta Nerada, which can eat all the flesh of a body right down to the bone in a fraction of a second. There’s a really unsettling, but awesome, scene when the first of the expedition team inevitably dies, and her spacesuit “ghosts”, i.e. holds onto an echo of her consciousness for a couple of minutes after she dies.
Of course, it remains to be seen how part 2 will wrap up this whole story, but this episode was still really good. By far my favourite from this season so far (it is not even remotely close).
9. Forest of the Dead
I felt like this wasn’t as good as the episode before, mainly because there was a lot more “running away from the Vashta Nerada-possessed corpses in spacesuits” and that was a bit boring. Overall, though, the episode is still really good. There are basically two plot threads: events in the library, and then events in this dreamlike virtual reality world that Donna’s been “saved” into. It’s the second one that I really liked, as it becomes more like a nightmarish virtual reality world. In general, I thought it captured the disconnected and unpredictable nature of dreams really well. At the end of the episode there is the brilliant sequence where River incapacitates the Doctor and sacrifices herself, instead, brushing off the Doctor’s insistence (once he comes to) that “history can be rewritten” because she absolutely refuses to have the Doctor’s existence in the future be something that is rewritten. Then the Doctor realising that he can “save” her, after all – not fully, but in the virtual reality world of CAL (along with everyone else in the expedition team who got picked off over the course of the two episodes).
I will say the logic of how all the virtual reality people could be reconstituted in their actual living bodies was beyond me a bit, but I guess it makes about as much sense as teleporters in general. Actually, perhaps less logical is how the “ghosting” communications devices could somehow be turned into perfect recreations of people in virtual reality. I’m guessing they’re actually not perfect, or else they’d have been recreateable in physical form just like the people who got into VR via the teleporter, but they’re not deficient in any way that’s noticeable in that section of the end of the episode. I also felt like the resolution with the Vashta Nerada was a bit quick ’n’ easy – basically they learn how to use the communications devices to talk, and the Doctor negotiates a 24-hour truce in which he can save the day and teleport everyone off the planet. I was a bit confused as to what the Vashta Nerada had to gain from this, in particular losing their only food source (not that they’d been eating for 100 years I guess?). Like OK, their home forest got pulped and made into books, but the books aren’t going to turn back into a forest now are they, and there didn’t seem to be any rodents on this world for them to eat…
Hey, look at me go again, nitpicking at the logic of a Doctor Who episode. Anyway, I enjoyed the episode despite this stuff. River was a great character in this two-parter. I also felt sad for Donna’s dreamworld husband at the end 😢
RTD had to write this episode at very short notice after another episode fell through. It’s a budget-saving bottle episode, and Donna is barely in it (in return, the Doctor is barely in the following episode, Turn Left). Most of the drama takes place aboard one little vehicle on the surface of an absolutely hostile planet (unbreathable air, eviscerating sunlight, etc.), focusing on half a dozen passengers and how they turn on each other once a strange, malevolent entity possesses one of them’s body.
My attention wandered a bit during the first part (although I did love that it basically starts as the Doctor and Donna on one of their relaxing leisure trips – it can’t be all terror and mortal danger all the time or else no companion would ever stay!), but from the moment that the malevolent entity starts banging on the outside of the broken-down vehicle, things get really tense and compelling. David Tennant gives an awesome performance – his Doctor has soooo much more personality than it did two seasons ago, super arrogant and superior, which bites him in the arse with this group, obviously. It’s a really good episode.
11. Turn Left
- What I remembered of this episode before seeing previews of it = Donna turning right not left in her car to take up a different job, the whole alternate universe where aliens wreak havoc and Britain slides into fascism
- What I did not remember = Rose
- What I liked about this episode = the whole alternate universe where Britain slides into fascism (I mean, it’s powerful shit)
- What I did not like = Rose (the fact she’s now some kind of omniscient being with incredible knowledge about far-future technology including time travel?? wtf. RTD is so in love with this unlikeable character that he made her a goddess now (without even being possessed by the heart of the TARDIS))
I was also perturbed at the start of the episode by the “stereotypical China” world with the stereotypically devious Asian fortune teller and the fact that the TARDIS translation circuits translated none of the Chinese-language signs anywhere in this world. I mean, in The Fires of Pompeii it translated the Latin…
Anyway. This episode does have flaws, but overall it’s really good. There’s a reason everyone raves about it.
12. The Stolen Earth
I remembered absolutely nothing at all about this episode, which seems to be for a very good reason: it is boring. The TARDIS is even on Earth at the exact moment that the Earth is “stolen”, but unlike every single other thing attached to Earth at that moment, the TARDIS (with the Doctor and Donna in it) is left behind, and nearly the whole entire episode is just taken up with every single major character that’s been in the show or a spin-off since 2005 trying to get a phone call through to the Doctor. Along with a lot of action scenes, which all blend repetitively into each other. It’s way too many characters and I’m sorry to say I could not stay invested in events (except when Martha came home to her mum; that got me, for some reason). Wilf gets some great moments too.
I didn’t even remember that the Doctor gets shot by a Dalek and (apparently?) regenerates at the end of this episode, shortly after trying to run down a street at Rose. (Who, by the way, is still selfish and unlikeable in this episode. Why’s she gotta be so jealously dismissive of Martha.) I did kinda remember something like that being the reason for the DoctorDonna and/or that Doctor clone Rose gets in the next episode, though.
13. Journey’s End
Well, this was a lot better than part 1, but beyond that I’m not sure what I think about it. It was more engaging but also more annoying. I feel like this person’s review of the two-parter is pretty spot-on. This comment by a deleted user on another post is also good.
The plot didn’t really make sense (and why did Davros/the Daleks want to destroy reality anyway? they live in reality…). After all the effort the characters put into calling the Doctor last episode, in this one he basically got captured by Davros straight away and was a prisoner for the whole rest of the episode. Martha didn’t really seem in character at all and that disappointed me. The Daleks were terrible and completely unthreatening (I mean they got pushed around like bumper cars, lol). I didn’t really like all the random convenient coincidences like Sarah Jane randomly having that “explosion captured in a necklace” or whatever it was (even though that got rendered pointless pretty rapidly anyway), or the fact that the Dalek Crucible had a huge-ass “destroy all the Daleks” button built into it which Donna just had to find and press. The “towing the Earth back home” part felt ridiculous (why is the Earth shaking?). I super didn’t like the Doctor clone, who was a deus ex machina who seemed to exist only to save the day after RTD had written himself into a corner with everyone else’s plans being foiled, and to represent a “happily ever after” for Rose. That scene at Bad Wolf Bay was soooooo cringey and gross, ughhhhh
However, I didn’t mind the resolution of the DoctorDonna plotline – obviously it’s dark and Donna’s agency gets taken away, but as I’ve mentioned I prefer it when the Doctor makes those morally grey, “for the greater good” (in his opinion) decisions sometimes. I was a bit dubious about how seeing the Doctor at the end of the episode doesn’t “trigger” Donna (maybe because I was thinking about the trailer for the upcoming specials where the Doctor has to hide behind people so Donna doesn’t see him, lol) but whatever. Maybe there’s some lingering “for X amount of time after the mindwipe your mind can keep wiping things sufficiently similar to what was mindwiped” thing. IDK okay. That said, I did feel like it was a bit of a letdown that the reason Donna was “special” was because of her destiny to one day be the DoctorDonna… I kinda prefer the idea that the companions are just totally ordinary people, and that really every ordinary person is or has the capacity to be “special”, and no preordained destiny has anything to do with it.
Anyway. This episode was at least watchable compared to The Stolen Earth, so that’s a plus, but I can’t forgive the incoherent plot or bad characterisation. Disappointing end to a season that honestly I thought I’d enjoy more than I did. Honestly only the sequence from “Silence in the Library” to “Turn Left” is stuff I can imagine watching again. Maybe “The Fires of Pompeii” too. Otherwise, I was let down 😔 Series 3 was way better, in retrospect.
Presuming that Britbox is showing me the most “canonical” cuts of every episode, anyway. It’s also worth noting that every series has seen its episodes get 1–2 minutes longer, on average, than the previous season, so this episode was still longer than a series 1 episode. ↩︎
In fact, in general, a lot of jokes in this episode are basically just copied straight across from the same writer’s last episode, The Shakespeare Code. They already did Martha trying to speak Shakespearean English in that, and I thought it was cringey then too. Plus, this series already had Donna playing around with language in The Fires of Pompeii. And then the “turns out the Doctor & companion actually gave the writer the idea for a bunch of their works” is reused here from the Shakespeare story, too. ↩︎