Weekend Reviews • 19 April 2008 • The SnowBlog
I wouldn't be at all surprised if the uppermost thought in your mind these days is this: what does Rob think about the most recent couple of episodes of Doctor Who? And you wouldn't be the only one. I've been wondering too. And the tentative good news for the Who production team is that I don't think I'm displeased. Though I'm not delighted either. [spoilers ahead - though no words of great wisdom] The Pompeii episode was a big improvement on the flimsy, hectic, vacuous cute-fat-creatures one, but still not very solid to my mind. Thousands suffocate screaming; they can't be saved. That sounds like fun. And who knew you could survive falling out of the sky if you were in an escape capsule made of rock? Or that volcanic eruptions can cause rifts which ripple back in time to make all fake soothsayers become real soothsayers who can then see forward in time. It all seemed rather complex and random, and more than a bit depressing. Though I liked the Welsh jokes.
And I wouldn't say there's much actual atmosphere or rapport yet - which makes it a bit difficult to feel carried along. I imagine it's because the Doctor and Donna are rather an odd couple who couldn't really plausibly have gelled yet, though they force the odd mad grin in each other's direction. Which just brings home to me what amazing chemistry Billie Piper used to achieve when she was around. Pure gold. Plus, you cared what happened to her character. Donna is still too new (and residually annoying), whereas with Martha I was more concerned for the actress than the character. (She seemed so nice; how would she react when she realised how many people thought she was terrible? It didn't seem fair. Though I shouldn't have worried about her career; she seems to be back next week. I do my best not to watch the previews, but I don't have a good feeling about Martha's return. I just hope she doesn't keep doing that confused frown and looking frightened to be on TV.)
But I am pleased and amused by what they've done to the character of Donna. Suddenly she's the sort of woman who rarely screeches, thinks deeply, concerns herself with the wellbeing of others and is reasonably knowledgeable on matters such as Roman history. The three defining points of her character originally were belligerence, ignorance and self-absorption. The accent and the actress remain, but nothing else of the old Donna survives, I'm pleased to say. I can probably live with this Donna (though showing me glimpses of Rose doesn't help). But it is sad to see how interesting and eloquent Catherine Tate can be when she's not acting. Couldn't she be loud and a little cartoony in real life, but sensitive and charming on film? Isn't that the more usual way with actresses?
One thing that's bugging me, though, is the mystery of the disappearing bees. It's been mentioned twice, so clearly they're going somewhere with it. But what confuses me is that in real life there is a problem with bees too. They're mysteriously dying in large numbers. And since they pollinate most Western food crops, if they go extinct we're in deep trouble. Whatever Doctor Who 'reveals' at the end of this season is not, I can say with some confidence, going to be the real secret of their waning numbers. So how is that going to work? That would be like having the Doctor fix our climate problems. Except that when the show is over, they're still here. So I'm expecting some confusing lameness on the bee front.