Partners in Crime was the opening episode for Season 4 of Doctor Who, starring David Tennant, and brought back Donna Noble, played by Catherine Tate, from The Runaway Bride as the new companion.
Plot: Unknown to each other, the Doctor and Donna Noble both investigate Adipose Industries, manufacturers of a revolutionary new diet pill which promises that the fat will just “walk away.” In reality, the Adipose technology creates new life forms out of human fat which literally remove themselves from the human body and are collected to become new babies of the alien Adipose race. One girl is killed when she inadvertently sees an Adipose creature, and the cold-hearted head of the organization, Miss Foster, activates the fail-safe which causes the girl’s entire body to be converted into Adipose babies. The Doctor and Donna try to stop her and end up forcing her hand to activate the fail safe against every Adipose user. The Doctor manages to shut down the machine before this happens, but the collection of babies that have been created are gathered up by an Adipose Nursery Ship. The Adipose kill Miss Foster, though, as they know that doing this breeding process on a planet like earth is illegal, and want to rid themselves of their accomplice. After determining that Donna is not interested in him romantically, the Doctor agrees to take Donna with him, much to her delight and to the delight of her grandfather, Wilf.
Comments: Okay, so it’s obvious that I’m not looking at these stories in chronological order. I’m just posting on them as I get around to watching them again, and I don’t own every episode of the Doctor Who revival series (or the original for that matter). I’ve just selectively bought some in iTunes, sometimes because I’ve missed them on television, but mostly because I’m just getting the ones I enjoyed the most as I have the opportunity.
Now, Partners in Crime isn’t one of the best stories by a long shot, but I decided to get this one because lately when I was thinking of my favorite moments over the revival series, I realized I had three that came from this episode! Three moments from an episode I’d only seen once a long time ago that I still recalled as favorite ones. That’s quite a lot.
On rewatching it, I realize that it also contains one or more of the out-and-out ickiest, most unwatchable moments I have ever seen on TV, and the grossest thing I’ve seen on Doctor Who since Cassandra first showed up in The End of the World – and that’s the scene where poor Stacey Harris is literally turned into a bunch of overly-cute obviously-CGI smiley, squeaky fat-babies. Bleah.
The plot of the episode is paper-thin and somewhat less imaginative than the similarly-toned Smith and Jones that opened Season Three, and yet this episode somehow gets higher marks from me. I think its because the interplay between Donna and the Doctor is so well-handled and quite funny, and makes for quite a (deliberately) different dynamic between the main characters than we’ve had before.
Donna is just completely open and on the surface here, absolutely thrilled to be seeing the Doctor again and at the prospect of traveling, but not at all confused at how she feels about him. She has got a tender side that we see in her relationship with her grandfather (so great to see Bernard Cribbins back at Wilf, after his previously unrelated turn in Voyage of the Damned), but she is still abrasive and unsophisticated – just not unbearably annoying like she was in The Runaway Bride.
Donna also has the best dialogue in the story. For example, when she is talking about what life was like after meeting the Doctor, and why she didn’t end up traveling the world as she’d stated:
Donna: Easier said than done. It’s like I had that one day with you, and I was going to change, I was going to do so much. And then I woke up the next morning, same old life. It’s like you were never there. And I tried, I did try. I went to Egypt. I was going to go barefoot and everything. And then it’s all bus trips and guide books and don’t drink the water, and two weeks later you’re back at home.
Later, we get this exchange between her and the Doctor about the Adipose children:
Donna: What are you going to do, then? Blow ’em up?
Doctor: They’re just children. They can’t help where they came from.
Donna: Oh well that makes a change from last time. That Martha must have done you good.
Doctor: Ah, she did, yeah. She did. She fancied me.
Donna: Mad Martha that one. Blind Martha…Charity Martha.
Catherine Tate does an excellent job with these scenes. This new dynamic between Doctor and his companion is refreshing for the audience, and seems to be therapeutic for the Doctor himself, which adds to the strength of their connection.
Most of the other characters are pretty flat and boring, and generally feel like caricatures I’ve seen before in other Russell T. Davies stories, although I’m not sure which ones. The worst offender is the snoopy reporter Penny Carter, who is in it quite a bit but really has nothing to do but to help give the Doctor and Donna something to sneak around at the start. Even the main antagonist, Miss Foster, though her goals and backstory are different, seems a pretty typical sort of villain who never really surprises, except maybe in her cartoon-roadrunner-style plummet to her death at the end.
As for my three “best moment” contenders that are found here, well, the first is when a good twenty minutes into the story, the Doctor and Donna first see each other. Both staring into the same room from different windows, they have a very funny miming exchange that leads to a pretty good punch line.
The second is also my favorite dialogue of the story, as the Doctor tries to “vet” Donna before allowing her to join him on his travels in the Tardis:
Doctor: I just want a mate.
Donna: You just want to mate?!
Doctor: I just want a mate!
Donna: Well you’re not mating with me, sunshine!
Doctor: A mate! I want a mate!
Donna: Well just as well because I’m not having any of that nonsense! I mean you’re just a long streak of nothing, you know, alien nothing!
Doctor: There we are then. Okay.
Donna: I can come?
And the third is the truly surprising appearance of Rose Tyler at the end. I watched this episode long after the season had finished, and I knew Rose was coming back, but I was still completely surprised by her appearance here.
Things to watch out for (Warning: includes veiled Spoilers for the rest of the season): After three years of things like “Bad Wolf”, “Torchwood” and “Mr. Saxon” – people watching this episode were keeping their ears pealed for this season’s “arc words”. But the big surprise is…there aren’t any. Instead, there are clues and references dropped all through the season that lead up to the season finale. In this episode, there are at least two. One is Donna’s comment about the disappearance of the bees, and the other is the fact that the Adipose breeding planet has been lost. Both of these concepts are revisited by the end of the season.
Another thing to note is how with Donna’s non-ambiguous relationship with the Doctor, she has the freedom to truly tell him off. This only comes through a bit in this story, but we see it in the dialogue mentioned above, when she points out the difference in the Doctor’s approach to the children in this story compared to his approach with the “children” from The Runaway Bride. We’ll continue to see this with Donna in her relationship with the Doctor over the season. It’s a refreshing approach for the audience, and it seems almost therapeutic for the Doctor.
Making sense of it all (Warning: blatant spoilers for the rest of the series): I haven’t rewatched the rest of the season yet, but in The Stolen Earth, both the disappearance of the bees and the disappearance of the Adipose breeding planet are tied into the activities of Davros and the Daleks in their efforts to end all reality.
Rose’s appearance in this episode doesn’t really make a lot of sense. It’s stated later in the season (I haven’t rewatched these episodes yet) that she is finding ways to communicate through the dimensional barriers to her new home to warn the Doctor of the fact that the stars are going out. But why she is standing around here, looking sad, and not talking to the Doctor, is never directly addressed. One theory I’ve seen is that this moment takes place (for her) after the events of The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End, with Rose taking one last look at the “true” Doctor before the dimensions completely close off, but I haven’t decided if I buy that.
Last Word: Partners in Crime is a thin adventure that is best enjoyed as a bit of a prologue for better things to come this season. It’s primary virtue is that it bridges the gap between the annoying, nearly unwatchable Donna Noble from Runaway Bride to perhaps the best companion character the revival series has had – seen from here on in.