You are THE DOG'S. ::in tone usually used for talking to beloved pets:: Who's the dog's this week? You are. Ohyisyouare. Who's a lovely writer, then? Yisyouare.
If only you hadn't spilled those unpleasantly whiffy racial issues on it, I would have been beside myself. As it is, I am merely suited, booted and thoroughly tinhatted ready for the finale. Bring it on.
I thought I was spoiled to the end of the series but it turns out that aside from one finale line I am slightly sure of, I was only spoiled up to 4x11. Spec will be informed by those spoilers.
So, let us get the bad out of the way first. And there is only a little bad, but it is mighty in its upsetting whiffiness.
Firstly, and less importantly, the time beetle: it was shite.
I could call it a shoutout to the old school fans, but frankly, who wants a shoutout to the days of Bertie Bassett monsters and the fucking Bandril? It was well embarrassing even when the writing was good. Graeme Harper, for SHAME! Props team, what were you thinking? Have you pissed away all the special effects money on beer and curries and getting Penelope Wilton in for the next episode?
Secondly, and more importantly, I always think that if Very Clueless But Well-Meaning White People like myself are looking at the opening of your show and thinking "Christ almighty, Russell, easy on the referencing of those Charlie Chan movies that used to be on BBC2 at teatime; it is the 21st century" then you're in trouble. RTD wanted a quick and easy way to create an air of exoticness and wanted a shorthand way to create a sinister fortuneteller. He can be such a deft writer when it comes to sketching a situation very fast but dipping into racist cliche really wasn't the way to do it.
They've really used up all their Benefit Of The Doubt cards now. I don't think they mean to do/imply what they do but surely now that it's been pointed out that there's a pattern and it's not nice, it would be a good time to employ someone to say "Stop, there's a way round this that won't make you look like a thoughtless prick."
Thirdly, I remember that at this time last year, I was similarly bowled over by the possibilities inherent in the set-up after the masterful (ho ho ho) Utopia. And we all know how well that turned out. All I will say is Tinkerbell Dobby Jesus Doctor. Let me leave you with that horror and move on. No amount of Martha Jones awesomeness was able to make that right. So this year, I am prepared. Drawing inspiration from hradzka, who I don't know from Adam but who made me laugh with her post on John Ringo, I made icons in preparation.
Now I can express my ire at similar nonsense with one simple icon. Yay. Feel free to share if you so wish.
I also made one for XF, because God knows, I am bound to need it.
Now the good stuff, which can be summed up in two words, which are Catherine, and also Tate. And if you had told me a year ago I would be writing *that* sentence, I would laugh in your face. Then I would run away from you and then run back so I could do it again with sufficient velocity to go HAH! in your phizz. Like that. HAH!
She had to carry the whole thing from about two minutes in, to two minutes from the end, and like Tennant last week, she was amazing. Tate and Tennant are amazing together, with a natural chemistry and comic timing that I am going to miss very much. I am sad that already the ordinary episodes are over and all we have left is the sturm und drang und angst of the pepperpots because it was in the more workaday episode that they made even dodgy material sing.
This week Tate had some help from Billie Piper, but that was more puzzling than anything. On a Watsonian level, we don't know what she's doing there, or where her knowledge and information is from and we won't until next week. On a Doyleist level, there were too many teeth or something. She sounded unRoseish on both levels, except for strange flashes, and she seemed to be channelling Tennant's Doctor a fair bit too. Which is not to say I didn't like it but it was peculiar. It was also peculiar that she was smiling and so on when Donna was so terrified in the end game.
As I mentioned above, I am a sucker for anything with alternate timelines, multiple apocalypses and so on. This was, like Buffy's The Wish, the story of one change that had a huge rippling effect through time. Donna decided to listen to her mother and go for a job to replace her temp gig at HC Clements, so she never met Lance, was never dosed with energy particles, never drawn into the Tardis, never met the Doctor and thus never snapped him out of his suicidal mood at the barrier. He drowned and the world went to hell in short order. Torchwood and Sarah Jane died, London got nuked, the US population was decimated, China poisoned, and Britain turns into a fascist state.
Donna in the teaser is a sort of optimum version of herself: she's left behind a mother who thinks she's useless; a job that bored her and she was too smart for; she's been tested in fires real and metaphorical; her curiosity about the world has been re-engaged; and she's travelling with someone she loves and values and who loves and values her (albeit platonically). She admits she is happy, which is basically Doctor Who-speak for "your world is about to turn to cow-shite".
The Donna we see for the rest of it is the same Donna, but without having anyone but her grandfather who truly valued her and could see past the bolshiness and front. When you've lost all sight of yourself, then maybe "a new flavour of Pringle, Big Brother, text me, text me, text me" is exciting.
Yet in the end, this Donna is just as brave and resolute in adversity. The moment where she says "I understand now..." was heart-breaking because she's still retained that bravery and a tiny spark of belief that she can have a better life, even if it's in an alternate universe. She might be mouthier and more unpleasant but she's far more trapped and terrified yet she does the right thing almost unflinchingly.
Other things I loved: Captain Nerisa Magambo, who was smart and to the point (and maybe a tribute to Bambera, but who knows). More of her please. The deadened Tardis, Donna and Rose's reaction to it and the fact that the ship was "trying to help". The Blue Peter-style time machine lash-up and the moment where Rose says "it's a time machine". The music throughout, which was not too loud. OMG, Bad Wolf. Didn't make that much sense if you thought about it too much but at this stage of the game I think we've established that I leap over potholes like a young Baryshnikov, waving my hands airily and pretending not to see. Well, unless they're big enough that I fall in.
Controversially, I also loved Mr Colasanto.
I know some people have had issues with the somewhat caricatured Italian pater familias in the middle section of the story. I suspect that originally Mr Mirchandani might have been the exuberant father but that was too much of a hot potato in the current political climate. Might be wrong. Or it might have been a Polish family, which would also have been a braver (and IMO, more pointed) choice. The character himself showed an awful lot of traits that British people like to claim for themselves: the muddling through and making the best of it, cheerfulness in the face of adversity, kindness. Bravery in hiding his suspicions about the reality of the labour camps from Donna (and presumably his family)
However, I know some people saw it as Donna and her family being chucked in with a bunch of "ethnics", but for myself, I wouldn't think of an Italian as an "ethnic", not in any way and not in the way the commentator seemed to be using it. Further, I would suspect that Italian was chosen as a plausible nationality to be in this country while avoiding making it explicitly racist but instead xenophobic. I understand if people see it differently. I also saw it more as a violation of Sylvia's notions of middle class status space and status, by being made to share at such close quarters. When Donna called him "Mussolini", I don't think we were meant to be on her side and laughing, as she was made to look a bit daft when Wilf was there. (She was either going to call him Mussolini or Pavarotti, these being the Italians most British people know.)
There's been some commentary that it was ridiculous that Donna wouldn't pick up the implications of the "labour camps" but I thought that was explained by a combination of the need to show/explain that this was a very bad thing for younger viewers and the fact that "it wouldn't happen here" is such a prevalent view in this country [see also DNA databases, national identity cards for foreigners, 42 days detention and other things that make me profoundly ashamed of my government] It has happened before. Just because they weren't death camps doesn't mean that this country doesn't have a shameful history of its own. Thousands of refugees were interned as enemy aliens in the second world war, or packed onto ships in horrendous conditions and forcibly sent to the Dominions. And that's just one war. But because it's not part of our national story it didn't happen in the popular consciousness.
And now Sylvia. The performance was great, but what. A. Cow. I know some of it might be this show's mother issues but previous mothers have always had some reason for their awful behaviour. Jackie was over-protective and mouthy at first but turned into a rounded character as we realised how Rose was all she had. Francine's mind was poisoned by Mr Saxon almost from the beginning. But Sylvia has clearly been a harpie when it comes to her daughter for years, all but telling her that she's a waste of space and a disappointment. There's a moment at 31 minutes in or so, where Donna tries to bring her mother out of her depression by cajoling her into having a go at her, sacrificing her pride and saying her mother was right and she should've worked harder at school. Then when that brings no response Donna says she'd always been a disappointment and all her mother says is "yeh". It was such a telling moment.
Which makes me wonder, given that Donna's had strange time readings since birth and is "the most important woman in creation" according to Rose, whether there's some chance that there's some secret to come out about her origin and how that affects Sylvia's attitude.
And now, I have no idea what is going to happen next, following the companionfest of the trailer. Clearly there is something dodgy about Donna. I strongly suspect some sort of Key To Time or Manchurian candidate scenario. I would also bet that if Donna is designed for something, she will do something heroic to avert it or subvert it. The narrative demands it. All the pointers are to another self-sacrifice. I don't know whether two is too much for three episodes. [blocked out overly spoily stuff below]. Rose's ambiguity when asked whether Donna will die is fuel for that theory
We know that Tate signed up specifically for one season only, which makes me think this is an arc with a very definite end and that points to tragedy. They've done it before, albeit with a companion that many people disliked.
This is a cap of one image from the trailer. Don't you think Donna looks a bit, well, un-Donna here?
The one spoiler I think I know is that something awful happens and Jack retcons Donna so she doesn't remember and the Doctor asks Wilf never to tell her.
That makes me think Donna was planted by someone else for nefarious purposes, as a trap perhaps. But she is awesome in her own right and thus defeats this purpose and sacrifices herself. Alternate-Donna is then plucked from the Turn Left timeline, they find some other way to make Original Donna turn left, and Alternate-Donna is left to live her life. However, if that means being left back in the same place she was in before, with no memory of how she changed and grew, and living with her poisonous cow of a mother, THAT WILL NOT BE A BLOODY HAPPY ENDING, RUSSELL. IT WILL BE A TRAGEDY AND I WILL BE VERY CROSS. IN A GRRRRRR, LET ME HUNT YOU DOWN AND BERATE YOU SORT OF WAY. I am sappy enough that I wouldn't mind if she met Lee from The Library again.
And to get you in the mood, All the Strange Strange Creatures
Oh, how I loved this episode, despite all the things I didn't like. Women are the heroes, from Sarah Jane to Martha to Donna to Capt Magambo to Rose and it's not seen as anything unusual. They just do because that's who they are. It's sad that that's an infrequent enough occurence to be cherished.