And we're off. Season four of the new-look Doctor Who begins in high style with an episode that gives The Doctor a new(ish) partner, dangles some clues about the season to come, and contains a whopper of a surprise near the end, at least for those who have safely avoided spoilers about this season. I'm just going to assume that everyone reading this entry has seen at least this episode so that particular spoiler will be in this post. Fair warning.
Russell T. Davies pens this week's episode. I was surprised by the Davies antipathy in the comments last week given that a) I've generally liked the episodes he's written b) Davies' seems responsible for the overall structure of the show and the tightness of each season and the ease with which one season led into the next has always impressed me and c) he is the guy responsible for reviving the show after all. Is this an old-fan versus new-fan divide? As someone who came to this show only in the Davies era I don't necessarily have the best perspective on this.
Anyway, back to this week's episode. It opens with a shot of Catherine Tate's Donna, last seen rejecting The Doctor's offer to travel the universe in the TARDIS two Christmas specials ago. We're soon to find out how much she's regretted this decision, but only after The Doctor and Donna spend the first half of the episode almost-but-not-quite crossing paths as they investigate a sounds-too-good-to-be-true weight loss scheme called Adipose.
Okay, scratch that. Adipose is too good to be true. Working separately, both The Doctor and Donna discover that it's "The Fat Just Walks Away" slogan can safely be interpreted literally. Turns out that it's a front in which an alien race uses overweight customers as unwitting sources for tiny babies made out of fat. (There's a joke in the episode about the aliens choosing the U.K. as a particularly fine source of fatties. It offended my American pride.)
It's not a bad scheme. Adipose customers lose weight while giving birth to adorable alien fat babies. Was the deception even necessary? The pounds come off and those alien babies are pretty darn adorable. Well, there is the matter of the occasional fatality.
Television is a medium driven by writers, but James Strong deserves some credit for his direction here. The Doctor and Donna's near misses are all nicely choreographed as is their eventual, silent meeting on the opposite sides of two glass windows. This episode also put some of my fears about Tate to rest. She broadly plays some of her comic moments but she becomes a pretty deft foil for Tennant and when she talked to her grandfather about yearning to see the stars, I believed her. She seems like the right companion for our Doctor at the moment, too. After realizing how much damage he'd done to poor Martha, it's easy to see why he'd want a sidekick with no strings attached: no romantic expectations and no real life to wreck (unless hanging around to be abused by her aunt counts as a life.) I can see this working.
We also catch The Doctor in a rare introspective moment. Alone on the TARDIS, he has no one to talk to but, after 900+ years, he's started to question whether his habit of taking on companions is really fair to his tagalongs. It looks like he has a lot of thinking to do this year.
As for this episode, the basic plot's simple and fairly light with some nice villainy from Sarah Lancashire, an actress who first became famous on the long-running soap Coronation Street. (Yes, I had to look that up.) Her arrival would seem to be the first of several to tie into various bits of oddness happening around the world, including the disappearance of bees. I've got a theory about that, too, the bees might be disappearing because…. OMG! Did you see Rose? That was totally her at the end! What does her reappearance mean?
Looks like we'll have to stop by Pompeii before we find out.