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'Doctor Who' - Season Four Review

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'Doctor Who' - Season Four Review
13 stories and many timeslots later, the fourth season of the modern incarnation of Doctor Who is finally over. But did the returns of a redhead temp called Donna, Dalek creator Davros, the spudfaced Sontarans and a lisping Rose result in a series that blew our minds or our fuses?

Thankfully, a winning mixture of elation and poignancy ensured that the season achieved a great tonal balance where neither light nor dark was allowed to fully overwhelm the other.

At the core was Catherine Tate's excellent performance as Donna Noble, epitomising the intricate fusion of fun, adventure, sadness and a desire to belong. Donna, a refreshing contrast to the effervescent spirits of Rose and Martha, was bolstered by much-needed modifications to the boisterous character that appeared in the mediocre 'The Runaway Bride'.

We all know the actress from her comedic background and, apart from the occasional shouty misfire, she continued to deliver on that front. Who can ever forget the sheer visual hilarity of her silent first encounter with The Doctor in 'Partners In Crime', or her attempts to blend in to the deliciously Cluedo-esque world in 'The Unicorn And The Wasp'? Then there was her paraphrased Alan Partridge homage in 'The Poison Sky', quipping "back of the neck!" after offing a Sontaran via its probic vent. Pure "wizard", as Donna would put it.

Yet eyebrows were collectively raised in living rooms across the country on many recent Saturday evenings due to the sheer emotional depth she gave Donna. Her tear ducts certainly took one hell of a pounding, making Ricky Hatton's pummelling by Floyd Mayweather look like mere handbags.

Donna's sobbing at The Doctor's unwillingness to save the residents of Pompeii gave the visually impressive episode much-needed depth. Her crying over the mistreatment of the Ood. in arguably the best episode of the season, ensured that we felt a real epiphany when the butchered slaves started singing in unison, despite the vicious humans stealing their brains.

Then there's Donna losing her fake children in the superb 'Forest Of The Dead', an episode notable for the heart-wrenching death of River Song (superbly played by Alex Kingston) and the tragic stammering that prevented Donna's ideal man from being reunited with her. In 'Turn Left' her history was rewritten, which ensured the temp was put through the emotional wringer once more - in addition to Mr. Chaudhary's "wandering hands".

On the subjects of Nobles, or rather nobility, can someone please give Bernard Cribbins a knighthood? The legendary star, who fought against the Daleks in a Doctor Who movie back in 1966, was a complete revelation as Wilf and exuded an appealing childlike energy from beneath the woolly cap and wrinkles.

Into his third year as the Gallifreyan galaxy guardian, David Tennant wasn't allowed to rest on his laurels. The whole "Allons-y" and exuberant "H'oh yes!" schtick may have become rather stale of late, but there was plenty of dramatic meat for him to sink his teeth into before hopping onto the stage to play Hamlet.

In particular, Tennant rescued the lacklustre episode 'The Doctor's Daughter' through a solo acting tour-de-force, conveying the conflicting feelings that stemmed from his sudden fatherhood and loss of his former family. It certainly helped to detract from the feeble sight of Martha Jones and a Hath lumbering around in some random quicksand.

Similarly, Tennant's wonderful performance alongside marvellous guest star Lesley Sharp in 'Midnight' ensured that the episode was highly watchable and gripping despite its limited setting and unsatisfying ending. Sometimes a simple expression on Tennant's face can say so much, as witnessed by the closing shot in the season finale after the Time Lord had parted ways with his former companions.

However, the prominence of UNIT throughout the series was a genuine letdown in terms of execution. There was no sense of spirit or familiarity like in the early 1970s golden years of The Brigadier, Sergeant Benton and Captain Yates. The slightly underwhelming Sontaran two-parter killed off Ross, the only marginally interesting UNIT character, Finally, along came the right man in the shape of General Sanchez in 'The Stolen Earth' - but he was sadly killed off too. What a waste of a potentially cracking semi-regular character.

The returning classic series monsters were lacking in menace. The Sontarans, despite a great performance by Christopher Ryan, were let down by poor direction in their episodes. Badly judged shot selection leading up to their unveiling meant that there was a notable lack of suspense, awe or anticipation, plus the battle scenes were a visual mess. Nonetheless, the plotting was cleverly structured and Rattigan's explosive suicide was highly effective.

The Daleks, who returned in 2005 in chilling style, promised a great deal in the finale once the chilling cries of "exterminate" were picked up by Mr. Smith and Torchwood. Yet they were all too easily wiped out by a sudden plot twist that conveniently dispatched hordes of the metal-encased mutants simultaneously - just like in 2005 and 2006.

Also, judging by the manner in which Sarah Jane Smith escaped at the start of 'Journey's End', they have regressed to screaming "exterminate" over and over again before opening fire - thus allowing the intended victim to escape. It makes for a good cliffhanger, but an unsatisfying resolution.

Davros returned amid much hype and posed a fascinating ethical dilemma to The Doctor by suggesting that he uses his companions as "weapons", and later chastised the human Doctor for genocide. This moment harked back to 'Genesis Of The Daleks' when The Doctor refused to wipe out the Daleks.

The evil scientist was well portrayed by Julian Bleach, particularly in the vocal department. This nicely leads into the return of Rose Tyler. Yikes. It's fair to say that she did not easily slip back into the chavette character, with her distracting lisping threatening to overshadow 'Turn Left'. Fortunately, she quickly returned to the Rose we love in the finale, reeling off lines like "Do you like my gun?" with gusto.

Returning to the subject of tone, Russell T. Davies deserves great praise for assembling such a diverse range of stories. Observe how we found ourselves immersed in a 1920s murder mystery packed full of laughs and lead piping, followed up the next week by an eerie and visually expansive trip to a library in the distant future.

A fantastic finale brought together the themes and characters of the Russell T. Davies era - and gave the year a great sense of cohesion. Steven Moffat will have a hard act to follow in 2010.

Hey, who turned out the lights?

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> Read our individual episode reviews here

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