Last week, I was invited to BBC Television Centre to watch the first two episodes of the new series of Doctor Who. I would have reported on this sooner if pain of death and utter confidentiality hadn’t been threatened and promised. I enjoyed the last series, but not as much as the previous three, and there were some serious questions lingering in the back of my mind. David Tennant is just amazing in all he does, so his portrayal of the Timelord wasn’t an issue. For me the key questions were: Could a series that slightly lost its way get back on track? And, perhaps the burner, could Catherine Tate make her casting as the Doctor’s assistant look like a masterstroke of utter genius, despite most Who fans dissing her appointment?
We were all ushered along the labyrinthine corridors of the BBC into a small screening room (looked like a university lecture theatre). There were nibbles – crisps and dips and crudites. But I digress.
A man fired up the TV/DVD and off we went. The first episode, let me warn you, is a comedy episode. Not stand-up, not Laurel and Hardy, but frothy, daft entertainment. I can’t say too much even though the series starts this coming Saturday night, but for the first 15 minutes, Donna (Tate) and the Doctor, although investigating the same strange goings on, conspired to just miss each other. In one scene, they were in the same office trying to get hold of the same information, but when the Doctor stood up, Donna looked down etc etc. It was nicely done, but I did wonder whether this kind of just missing each other would wear. The moment they finally came together was a real delight… a very funny scene.
The basic plot was this – a nefarious head of a corporation (Sarah Lancashire) is trying to flog dieting pills. The public are lapping it up, but things are starting to go wrong. Lancashire’s character controls what happens to the fat once it leaves a pill user’s body (all I’m saying is Moomins), and you can bet everything isn’t quite what it seems.
An enjoyable, fun, utterly daft yet low-key start to the series. Six out of 10.
Next up was an episode that was just dynamite. With Donna now fully in tow, the pair of them land in Rome… except it’s not Rome, it’s Pompeii… mere hours before the big volcano explosion. The Tardis goes missing, the two Ds befriend a family who Donna wants to save but the Doctor does not, and there are scary soothsayers, heartbreak and mad rock monsters. Now this is what I’m talking about – dark, sometimes scary, emotional. Doctor Who at its best, and the episode guest-stars the wonderful Phil Davis and Peter Capaldi.
All-in-all I enjoyed it. The first episode is a bit throw-away, but there are some nice moments, some high comedy and a bit of adventure. The second ep blew me away.
I’ve been wondering whether Tate could cut it, and I have to say she did a good job (or certainly a better job than I was expecting). My only worry is that she did lapse into her comedy character Cockney from time-to-time, but she did have more ooopmh than Freema and was a genuinely different character to the assistants before her. It may take a bit of time to shed her comedy baggage.