The reintroduction of Donna Noble to the show works well by emphasising the sadness and loneliness of her mundane post-'Runaway Bride' life, with Catherine Tate excelling at bringing out the character's melancholic side. Casting Bernard Cribbins as her excitable grandfather Wilf is a real masterstroke (no, that's not a sly use of punnery to suggest that he actually is The Master!). The scene in which the pair gaze up at the stars on top of the hill is particularly touching, with dialogue full of banter, hope, regret and wonder at the beauties of the universe.
On a purely visual level, the humour in the episode is outstanding. This is epitomised by the hilarious mime-meeting between The Doctor and Donna, in addition to the sight of a massive spaceship hovering over Wilf's shoulder as he continues his seemingly futile astrological efforts, plus the cheeky wave an Adipose gives Donna before it escapes from a bathroom window.
There's not a great deal of substance or tension to the narrative, presumably as the episode is effectively a vehicle to reintroduce Donna and her clan - so any heavy duty plot might have detracted from the well paced flow of events. Nonetheless, Sarah Lancashire delivers a commanding performance as the ambiguous Miss Foster, never allowing her character to turn into a pantomime villain. As for Billie Piper's cameo, the BBC cleverly cut the scene out of any press preview screenings or DVDs. This preserved a genuinely intriguing and effective twist that lays the foundations for future developments.
'Partners In Crime' also contains a satisfying reference to The Doctor's decision to flush plenty of newborn alien spiders down the plughole in 'The Runaway Bride'. "They're just children," says the Time Lord when he opts to allow the Adipose to go on their merry way. Donna, not unlike many avid Whovians, rightly notes that this is a significant shift and character development from his previous actions against the eight-legged arachnids.
Overall, the story transcends a deliberately lightweight plot to kick off the fourth season in style and pave the way for future adventures - and hopefully lots more Wilf!
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