Doctor Who Series 4 Review
Updated: Dec 2, 2022
Another week in lockdown means another Doctor Who review. Naturally enough, following Series Three we are moving on to Series Four, which is an iconic year for the show. It's often considered the finest work of modern Doctor Who, a triumph for both David Tennant and Russell T. Davies in their final full season, it gives us great episodes, and for many, a best-ever companion in Donna Noble.
Any series that starts with a new companion or Doctor always feels like a clean slate, and that is the case here as well, to a certain extent at least. We have met Catherine Tate’s Donna before, in ‘The Runaway Bride’ of course, but the Doctor has moved on from Martha Jones and is looking for "a mate”, while Donna is read to get out of her rut of a life, so it feels like a fresh starting point for both of them. Before we go on any further, it must be noted for arguments sake that we will add in the numerous specials, including ‘ Voyage of the Damned’ and then the four additional stories that followed the regular season as part of this review. However, when discussing favoured episodes, for example, it strictly relates to the 13 standard Series Four episodes featuring Donna as the primary companion.
She’s been mentioned a lot already but the big change ahead of the fourth season is the addition of Donna Noble as the main companion. As discussed last week, Martha was a bridge between the clingy, desperation of Rose to what is a more casual, laid back dynamic now between Donna and the Doctor. Perhaps the show learned some lessons from the first three years that the companion can’t always be in love with the Doctor, and Donna is a welcome change from that previous trend. Donna is also a strong, independent, authoritative, persuasive character and works nicely as a foil for the Doctor but also serves as his conscious, such as in ‘The Fires of Pompeii’, ‘Planet of the Ood’ and ‘The Poison Sky’. There’s no doubt she leaves her mark on the Doctor throughout, and even beyond. Before we get into the episodes, for those of you reading these reviews for the first time, they are being written in light of our upcoming Doctor Who walking tour of Cardiff. The Welsh capital has served as the backdrop to most of the new episodes filmed this century, be it in studios or around the city’s streets and buildings, and a tour of those locations will become a reality later this year (hopefully). Series Four is no exception, especially in ‘Partners in Crime’ (Churchill Road), ‘The Poison Sky’ (Cardiff docks) and ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’ (City Hall), for example. In the meantime, consider these reviews a light introduction into what may or may not feature on those tours in the future. Regarding the stories, as mentioned this is considered a high point of NuWho, but there are some inconsistencies. The second half of the series is wonderful and incredibly consistent in its quality, and contains some high levels of fan service as well. At that point Donna had really hit her stride after a shaky start, and it lends itself to some great episodes. The first half of the season though, is a little less formidable and it takes some time to really get going. Saying that, there were no bad episodes overall, and there really was a building tension throughout that came together in a fairly satisfying climax.
The Stories 2007’s Christmas Special was the Titanic story, ‘Voyage of the Damned’. The concept promised so much and The Exchange in Cardiff offered a great replica of the ship’s interior, but it was hard to care about the characters or actors that much to be honest. It offered a nice Christmas experience in between Martha’s departure and Donna’s arrival, which is the aim, but a full version of the mini supplemental episode, ‘Time Crash’, where the Tenth and Fifth Doctor’s meet would have been better. In case you’ve let that pass you by, here it is...
Donna returned for the first time since ’The Runaway Bride’ in ‘Partners in Crime’, the first regular series episode in 2008. The episode was more about bringing the Doctor and Donna together in an amusing manner rather than there being any real threat from the little Adipose body-fat aliens. Rose Tyler makes a brief appearance also, hinting at bigger things to come down the line. The series setup is very much established from this point.
‘The Fires Of Pompeii’ was a classic historical episode much akin to the style of the original show. It was also noteworthy for Peter Capaldi and Karen Gillan playing totally different characters to what we know them for, and for its humorous Welsh/Celtic references (more later). A famous flaw first appears in this episode regarding set points in time and how major events shouldn’t be altered, yet the Doctor is convinced to save Caecilius’ family by Donna anyway. Overall an exciting setting and premise and a nice vehicle for Donna to show her personality. ‘The Planet of the Ood’ is where Donna finally begins to settle as the companion. We meet the Ood again for the first time since ‘The Satan Pit’ in Series Two, but this time we are brought into their backstory, creation and upbringing. As well as having a strong political and social point, this is where Donna’s personality really starts to have an impact on the Doctor and her character starts to grow stronger as a result.
The first two-part story is ‘The Sontaran Stratagem’ & ‘The Poison Sky’, which brings Martha Jones back into th