The Size of the Mouth and the Size of the Brain (Partners in Crime)

(71 comments)

DEMIURGE! (This has to be the most obscure caption
I've done in ages.)
It’s April 5th, 2008. As you might imagine, very little has changed. We’ve just calmly plowed from the end of Torchwood Season Two into Doctor Who’s fourth season, specifically Partners in Crime.

Partners in Crime stands out as one of the most structural pieces Davies has ever done. Davies, on the commentary track, describes the story as in part a work of petulance on his part. Given that everyone expected he’d do a darker story to help change the perception of Donna from The Runaway Bride, he decided to turn towards comedy more thoroughly than he had in the past. And yet in all of this what jumps out is that Catherine Tate doesn’t do any comedy bits until her “mime at the Doctor” sequence when they finally meet. She’s in a comedy, yes, but she’s playing it straight the entire time.

This, more than anything, constitutes the reinvention of the character. Had Davies taken the obvious route of just throwing Donna into something dark and serious (i.e. either of the next two stories) he would have ended up with a functional character, but at the expense of having any reason to give the role to Catherine Tate. You don’t cast Catherine Tate for the latest iteration of generic companion. So Donna needs to retain the frisson of wrongness that animated The Runaway Bride. There the joke was that David Tennant was stuck with a character off of The Catherine Tate Show, and this was not a narrative he was well-suited to. 

But a comedy sketch character can barely be stretched over an hour (Davies, quite sensibly, gives her an emotional arc so that she grows at the end). To do it over a season would be suicide - a fact so self-evident that even Doctor Who fans realized it and panicked when Tate was announced as the new companion. And so Donna had to be moved away from being a sketch character while still finding a way to retain the fact that she was an unusual choice as a companion.

Hence the structure, where we get an overtly comedic episode in which Catherine Tate gets exactly two comedy bits, only one of which - the one at the very end of the episode - involves her playing a Catherine Tate Show character. This provides a sort of halfway house for Donna as a character - she retains the genre colliding aspects she was first created with, but doesn’t actually have to be that character full-time in the narrative. 

Instead, Donna is built up as a sorrowful character. The key sequence comes when she all but watches a woman die, then goes back to her mother’s where she’s berated and belittled for a scene (done gorgeously in time lapse, with Donna sitting wearily at a table, never moving as the scene cuts forward on her mother’s diatribe), and then goes to talk to her grandfather who is supportive but inescapably sad. The result is a portrayal of a cahracter who is trapped in her life. In this regard we’re back to the territory of Rose. But with Rose the point was the superficiality and banality of her life. With Donna it’s something else. Rose’s life was entertaining enough, but unsatisfying compared to the wonders of the universe. Donna’s life, on the other hand, is visibly intolerable.

There’s an odd class issue bound up in this. Rose is a working class character, whereas Donna is a middle class character losing her grip on the middle class. This is a timely narrative for Davies to embrace, coming as it does right at the dawning of the Great Recession and the point at which the unobtainability of the middle class, and indeed the degree to which middle class existence was a fragile bubble waiting to pop due to wholly external circumstances like horrifying spider monsters or, worse, the financial industry. And it’s a different sort of narrative than what was provided by Rose. Rose’s story is aspirational. Donna’s is more anxious. The Doctor isn’t a more noble life for Donna - he’s an acceptable one in a way that the slow motion collapse of her professional/family life isn’t.

This contrast is further amplified in the nature of the monsters in Rose and Partners in Crime. Rose recycles the Autons - Robert Holmes’s monsters of plasticity and fakeness. The idea of the Autons was originally that they’re fake people born of a growing industrial sector. And in Rose it is mannequins, initially the ones in Rose’s shop, that serve as the primary monsters. In other words, it’s literally Rose’s job that tries to kill her. But in Partners in Crime we switch to body horror. The Adipose are our own bodies being turned against us - horrors that literally emerge from us. Indeed, the bodily nature of the Adipose is foregrounded by the fact that the Adipose themselves are completely adorable and harmless. It’s merely the act of their creation that is dangerous.

But also notable is the sort of technology the Adipose represent, and who they’re targeted after. The Adipose are a weight-loss technology developed by a private company and telemarketed aggressively. They are, in other words, for people with money (hence their expensive-sounding “free gift”). In The Writer’s Tale Davies works through their development, starting from a parody of the “ladies who lunch” image as “ladies who lurch,” an image that further grounds it in the culture of the well-of. In other words, it’s not the job that threatens, but the entire aspirational culture it represents. At the time of writing I don’t know if this is going to be one of the stories Jack Graham deals with in the tail end of his phenomenally brilliant 50th Anniversary Countdown, but it would be perfect for it - a body horror monster that extends out of the ethic of capitalist consumption. Rose is attacked by her job; Donna is attacked by the entire culture of late capitalism. 

This more existential sort of threat is reiterated by the fact that the Adipose are not monsters as such. Indeed, the story is mostly lacking in any villains. Miss Foster is a nasty piece of work, but only inasmuch as she’s protecting her scheme. It’s notable that this is one of those odd stories where everything would probably have been all right if the Doctor and Donna hadn’t shown up; Miss Foster’s scheme on its own wasn’t hurting anybody. Indeed, it’s not entirely clear why the Doctor is so determined to stop her, given that the scheme appears not to threaten the Earth on any meaningful level except inasmuch as she panics when he threatens her. There is, in other words, no villain here - merely a system that pushes various people into various courses of action that in aggregate cause profound harm. 

All of this contributes to building Donna to where she represents a wealth of real-world concerns. And more to the point, to where she represents an enormously prescient set of concerns. These are very good issues to be tackling in 2008 - better, really, than Davies could realistically have known while writing it. (Indeed, look how much weaker his attempts to grapple with this get a year later in The End of Time, where he manages some of his most unsatisfying writing ever in trying to shoehorn Barack Obama into the plot. He does much better when he’s getting preposterously lucky.) And the result is a companion who immediately feels more grown-up than previous ones. Tat Wood’s usual line that the new series is targeted at teenage girls flounders here. Donna isn’t a mouthpiece for that sort of audience at all; she’s a mouthpiece for women in their twenties and thirties. This is a subtle but significant shift, and one that profoundly alters the shape of what Doctor Who is (as well as teeing up Moffat for his success in really breaking the show out among female fans). 

In this regard it’s telling that Donna is also used to kill off one of Davies’s biggest innovations, which is romantic tension between the Doctor and the companion. Or, if not romantic tension, at least the inevitability of it, restoring the “best friends” option as a relationship between the Doctor and the companion. There’s a little bit of a problem here in that the romantic tension is killed off by swapping out the young companions (Billie Piper was 21 when she filmed Rose; Agyeman was 27) for an appreciably older one (Tate was 39 for Partners in Crime), but thankfully Moffat is going to be along in just a few episodes to set that right. And the broad strokes are really more important here; the acknowledgment of the possibility of a romantic relationship between the Doctor and the companion was a breath of fresh air, but with Martha it threatened to become overwhelming and to foreclose other possibilities. Donna is used to reopen those possibilities, and in doing so she appreciably broadens the audience to whom Doctor Who seems to speak.

The result is that we finally have a companion who can stand up to Rose, such that the tease of Rose’s return at the episode’s end is a thrilling shock, but not one that pre-emptively erases the entire rest of the season, as would have happened if she’d returned opposite Martha, or opposite some new generic companion. Her appearance is a reasonably compelling… well, it’s tempting to say mystery, but this misunderstands how Doctor Who’s arcs work. To suggest that Rose’s return is a mystery is to suggest that there is in some useful sense a way to solve it. Inevitably, however, Doctor Who’s resolutions to its season arcs come by introducing some key piece of information at the end. (Clara is a case in point - there is absolutely no way to guess what is going on with Clara prior to The Name of the Doctor. There aren’t even any red herrings to be had; there are absolutely no useful clues prior to the explanation of the mystery.) Instead they’re teases - indistinguishable from the trailers for future episodes. They exist to tease future Doctor Who.

Which is, of course, what a season opener is for. In a normal season of television the premiere does much better than the finale; given this, it’s an oddity that Davies’s premieres are usually relatively slender things. His turn towards overt comedy in Partners in Crime feels in many ways like the natural culmination of his premieres. And yet beneath the frivolity is an unusual degree of substance - certainly more than either New Earth or Smith and Jones had. From the get-go, Season Four displays a swagger and confidence in itself that is refreshing. Where Season Three seemed to go out of its way to keep apologizing for the fact that Rose wasn’t in it anymore, Partners in Crime just gets on with it. It’s engaged in the relatively novel practice of teasing a season of Doctor Who by just being really good. Indeed, it’s so self-confident in its ability to just be good Doctor Who that it manages to get away with including Rose as a teased afterthought that wasn’t even part of the media narrative of the story.

But, of course, we’re always cycling back to this media narrative. Because Doctor Who still exists in that context. It has since 2005, in fact, and for the last two seasons has demonstrated a growing sort of hubris about this - a sense of entitlement whereby the fact that it’s the biggest thing on television is just sort of assumed. But underneath that was still a clear nervousness - a desperation to hang on to its popularity even as it luxuriated in it. But with Partners in Crime we enter a new sort of space in this regard, in which the show casually deflects any sense that it might be arrogant with the age-old “it ain’t bragging if it’s true” defense. Save for a weak three-episode stretch, what unfolds here is a show that is ruthlessly confident in its own quality, and, more to the point, deservedly so. And while the finale may have a controversial reputation in fandom, that is essentially the only place it’s controversial. In a way not seen since the Hinchcliffe era, Doctor Who here reaches a point where it starts to make success look effortless, and where essentially everything it tries comes off. Unlike the Hinchcliffe era, or any other point where Doctor Who has hit this sort of frenzied stage of success, the baseline it’s building off of is already one of massive success. The result is, by any measure, absolutely massive.

Comments

Alex Antonijevic 3 years, 7 months ago

I always enjoyed this episode, and after watching it, really liked Catherine Tate as a companion. I was definitely in the worried camp beforehand, though.

Sadly, this is the episode that got my mum to stop watching. "Too silly" is her usual criticism. She got back into the show during the Matt Smith era and in 2011 I finally got her to go back and finish the Tennant era.

Other episodes deemed too silly: Unicorn and the Wasp, Vincent and the Doctor, The Doctor's Wife, Asylum of the Daleks (which caused her to stop watching again). So I dunno. She really liked Night Terrors.

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Froborr 3 years, 7 months ago

In what universe is "Vincent and the Doctor" silly? I am utterly baffled by that list.

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prandeamus 3 years, 7 months ago

Criticising someone else's mother's taste is sure a dangerous business, but I'd observe there's very little commonality in those "silly" episodes. UatW is a comedy. tDW is fanwanky, VatD is really let down only by the MindChicken CGI, and AotD is pretty reliable body horror and I can't see much silliness there. There are things to like and dislike about them all.

In contrast, I can remember virtually nothing about NT except something about miniaturised people in a clothespeg dolls house. Ish. It really didn't move me in any way.

Tot hominem, tot sententiae, as per usual of course.

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prandeamus 3 years, 7 months ago

IMO, the chicken lets it down a bit.

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prandeamus 3 years, 7 months ago

Should have been a comment on Alex above.

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Alexander J Bateman 3 years, 7 months ago

I always toy with the idea that main thing Donna brings to the show is she gives RTD something more to say about Doctor Who. Pretty much after School Reunion I really got the feeling he had used up all the material he had thought of in the gap (most of it in the First series, which is fantastic). After that, its some vague no Docor Who stuff about relationships and recycling old ideas.
This is the point where we start getting new stuff again.

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Alan 3 years, 7 months ago

I love Donna and always will. I don't think I could have stayed with the series if we'd gotten yet another season of turgid romantic angst. I nearly cheered at the end, when Donna not only makes it clear that she has no romantic feelings for the Doctor, she is astonished that anyone else would.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 7 months ago

I thought "V&tD" was lovely in the main, and had a powerful performance by Tony Curran, but the monster (not so much a chicken as the Jekyll & Hyde version of Tweety Bird in that one cartoon) was a bit off, and the ending was just mawkish beyond belief. I will admit to having similar thoughts about historical figures who never knew how great they were but as fan wish-fulfillment it went too far.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 7 months ago

I agree! While I adored Rose, and Martha certainly had her charms, Donna is still my favorite of the new series companions, and stands with the best of the best in the history of the show. She got to combine some of the funnier aspects of Jackie (that blowsy, woman-of-a-certain-age quality, plus her ability to take the piss in the face of the Doctor's otherworldly pomposity) with this undertow of sadness and low expectations that made her unexpectedly touching. Her raw emotionalism made her seem to care about the people she met much more than Rose ever did (Rose being a good person but something of a narcissist) as will be seen in the next two episodes. Plus, the tension between her utterly wonderful Gramps and her horror-show of a mother gave her some great character scenes with such different people to play off of.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

I find myself looking forward to new companions and their interactions with the Doctor nowadays. Prior to 1996 there was very little in the way of chemistry between the Doctor and companions, or at least very little realistic. As much as fans may say "the Doctor should be non-sexual", they shouldn't say this about his human friends. Admittedly few of the earlier classic Doctors could ever be considered worthy of a crush, but when you get to Tom or Peter you're into the realm where a companion could harbour at least affection for their Doctor. The most naturalistic relationships of those years appear to be 3rd Doctor and Jo (a warm father-daughter paternalism) and 4th Doctor and Sarah (a marvellously strong, amost sibling friendship). Arguably these relationships could have contributed to the success of those eras. The 5th Doctor's relationships with his companions becomes very much the elephant in the room, as not only is he a reasonably attractive individual, most of his companions are as well, and yet Nyssa, Tegan, Turlough, and even Adric pointedly ignore each-other as potential partners. If one wants to continue to portray the Doctor as basically asexual, all well and good, but portraying his human companions in the same way is at the least awkward. If you're going to have a young Doctor, you should entertain the idea that Peri or Nyssa might fancy him.

Of course this is mostly likely down to the fear of the BBC management of any "hanky panky" in the TARDIS, and if we owe the TV Movie anything, it's for finally lettting kissing out of the box.

Since 2005 the series has happily run the gamut of realistic (at least within the narrative of the show) relationships - Jack fancies the Doctor, Rose and the Doctor love each-other, Martha loves the Doctor but he doesn't love her back, Donna definitely doesn't love the Doctor and is firmly rejects her (momentarily mistaken) idea that he might fancy her. Amy fancies him for a while, then becomes his best friend; and finally we get Clara and the 11th Doctor, whose relationship seems to wonderfully hearken back to Sarah Jane and the 4th Doctor. Two friends who enjoy each-other's company and are completely relaxed, safe in the knowledge that neither of them is harbouring unrequited love for the other.

The fan accusations of "Soap" and "Romance" from this time seem pretty small-minded now, and we can probably thank Donna and Series 4 for that.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 7 months ago

Asylum was silly? I can see people not liking it, but I have a little bit of trouble seeing it as silly.

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Mark Patterson 3 years, 7 months ago

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Steven Clubb 3 years, 7 months ago

Donna certainly brings a womanliness to the role which hasn't been seen.... well, Evelyn Smythe is probably the only other example. Someone who is old enough to know her mind and not afraid to give the Doctor a piece of it. Barbara has her moments, but she's a friendly authority figure to Susan/Vicki, while River is a romantic lead, so it's exceedingly rare for the show to have a woman who is unapologetically herself without revolving around another character.

For all the guff Moffat gets for his female characters, I love that he gives them the space to be their own people. River, Amy, and Clara all have fruitful lives outside of the Doctor's orbit and he seems to have stumbled across the idea of companions as friends the Doctor visits from time to time... the latter two being young enough to at least have their head momentarily turned by the dashing stranger before deciding he's way too high maintenance for them.

If they steal a page from the Big Finish audios, it would be pretty cool to see Kate Stewart and Osgood accompany him on some adventures. A woman old enough to make up her own mind and one who could use him as an inspiration to find the strength she so clearly has inside of her.

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Mark Patterson 3 years, 7 months ago

Donna is, without a shadow of doubt, my favourite companion since IanAndBarbara. A great character, beautifully conceived, written and performed. This season isn't my favourite of Davies' tenure, but the dynamic between Tennant's Doctor and Donna is one of the true high points of the post-revival show, a pairing about as perfect as any companion-Doctor relationship has ever been.

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Steven Clubb 3 years, 7 months ago

I love that she pretty much sees him as a means to enrich her own life. It's not like Rose and Martha casting aside everything so he'll travel with them forever and ever (which inadvertently undermine Martha as she's willing to cast aside everything she's worked for to travel around with an intergalactic vagabond), she's making a very deliberate decision to improve herself.

And while it ends up with the old "and we can travel together forever and ever" beat that Davies loves to pull out right before dropping the anvil on our hearts, that doesn't feel like her plan at the start.

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jonathan inge 3 years, 7 months ago

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Steven Clubb 3 years, 7 months ago

"I will admit to having similar thoughts about historical figures who never knew how great they were but as fan wish-fulfillment it went too far."

I think this is one of the things which make the episode so tragic. Amy thought the knowledge would save him, but the horrible reality of depression is it wouldn't. Knowing what is to come doesn't protect him from the crushing pressure of his disease.

That extra little step is what saves it from pure sentimentality.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 7 months ago

I love this episode for multiple reasons. Any time we see a companion having been made better by their time with the Doctor I get warm feelings. Here, Donna spent a day with the Doctor. One day. And she’s made all sorts of efforts to try and have a more meaningful life. I was sort of expecting you to make something of the fact that she spends the first half of the episode as a “Doctor-Donna” investigating weirdness and trying to find the Doctor on her own. She is also a very traditional Doctor (sort of like Benny early in the NA range) where she gets by with a mixture of charm, bluff and bothering. It’s simply wonderful. More on Donna as time goes on.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 7 months ago

@ Steven Clubb: Yes, very true, and well played to them.

I would note that "An Adventure in Space and Time" pulls off a similar bit of wish-fulfillment.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 7 months ago

According to "The Writer's Tale" the proposed companion for S4 would be Penny, a sarky 30-something recently dumped and ready to get away from it all. RTD didn't mention any romantic inclinations, indeed she seems to have been conceived as something of a tough cookie with more than a bit of Donna in her DNA.

As for Donna not having an arc, I'd say going from a put-upon character who didn't value herself or her own life to becoming a compassionate defender of the downtrodden and an adventuresome person who relishes the chance to mingle in Rome and the 1930s and wherever, who takes the time to actually care for the Doctor and his feelings (in, say, The Doctor's Daughter and The Stolen Earth) instead of just mooning over him...that's something of an arc as far as I'm concerned.

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Steven Clubb 3 years, 7 months ago

And a pretty awesome arc at that.

It would be really easy to go into full-on feminist critique of Rose and Martha, who give up absolutely everything in their lives for a man they barely know, an idea Davies is at least smart enough to acknowledge. The utter lack of foresight of either character is a troubling part of their personality, which only Martha seems to ever understand.

Donna's arc is about someone who has become painfully aware of her own short-comings and latches onto the Doctor in the interest of self-improvement. It's the first truly adult relationship in the show as opposed to some sort of young adult wish fulfillment.

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Galadriel 3 years, 7 months ago

Thank you, Steven, for mentioning Evelyn. I love her Big Finish audios for that very reason. Evelyn has her own job and skills, and she has a very maternal vibe with Six.

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David Anderson 3 years, 7 months ago

Where's Gauguin in the story?
Compared to Vincent and the Doctor, The Shakespeare Code is grounded in historical reality. Historical character as cultural artifact is one thing. But if you put that into a story about the horrible reality of depression - you end up with horrible depression as cultural artifact. And that's what mawkish sentimentality is.
I'd be more charitable if Curtis weren't responsible for Love Actually and the Boat that Rocked.

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jonathan inge 3 years, 7 months ago

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David Anderson 3 years, 7 months ago

Miss Foster has apparently sold Adipose to a million people, which is an eighth of the population of London. I have trouble seeing that as part of any realistic critique of capitalism. Nor do you sell to an eighth of the population of a major city by only selling to people who have money.

I was getting more and more fed up with the usual Davies 'now I know there's so much wonderful stuff out there' speech. It feels a little as if Donna has been briefly replaced by Generic Davies Companion.

And um... Davies-era misogyny alert.

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Froborr 3 years, 7 months ago

This episode is so sad for me, because I love Donna here, and I love so much of this season, and then at the end it all goes terrible. The last few minutes of the finale are quite possibly the worst thing the Doctor has ever done--certainly worse by far than his actions in "Waters of Mars."

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Alex Antonijevic 3 years, 7 months ago

People are free to criticise her taste because she never really elaborates on her "too silly" comment. I'd be very interested in what exactly made those episodes too silly, and she didn't believe me when I told her they were among the most well-liked episodes out there. If she could articulate her reasoning she could probably write some really interesting reviews that go against the fandom.

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jonathan inge 3 years, 7 months ago

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 7 months ago

He doesn't have another choice though. What's the alternative? To let her die? To watch her brain burn? It's tragic, probably the most tragic end we've ever seen for a companion, but it's better than watching her die in front of us.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

I would be floored if Davies actually thought about the number of people in London when he picked a nice big number.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

I suspect that what upsets people about Donna's fate is that somehow the Doctor should have found an alternative. But dramatically and emotionally there really was no other way. A Time Lord/Human hybrid of Donna's power would completely skew the whole series. There was no way she could continue travelling with the Doctor forever without completely changing the nature of Doctor Who. Unlike Romana, Donna was clearly far more intelligent than the Doctor and effectively would have relegated him to the role of companion.

Conversely simply restoring Donna to how she was prior to the meta-crisis incident would have seemed like a cheat and had fans yelling "Deus Ex Machina!" and "Reset Button!" in droves. Both for the sake of the series and in the context of the story, the Doctor had no other choice. If there's anything the new series has reinforced over the old, it's that sometimes there is no other way. Sometimes the horrible just happens and the Doctor (and we) just have to live with it.

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Triturus 3 years, 7 months ago

It’s notable that this is one of those odd stories where everything would probably have been all right if the Doctor and Donna hadn’t shown up; Miss Foster’s scheme on its own wasn’t hurting anybody.

I thought the people who took Adipose eventually end up dead? Or was that only if they overdosed?

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 7 months ago

When the Adipose is seen Foster says they'll need to Activate Full Parthenegenisis. Of course this could have been her plan all along. We just don't know.

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Alex Antonijevic 3 years, 7 months ago

In Turn Left, the Adipose hit America instead and seem to cause some real damage, even without the Doctor.

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Gareth Rees 3 years, 7 months ago

But he also writes, "You can give way too much information. Maybe discussions about a new companion, if put into print, would become part of fandom's rigid thinking. That actress would, in 20 years' time, still be asked in interviews, 'How do you feel about the fact that you were originally conceived to be a blind Sumo lesbian?'" And so here we are...

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ferret 3 years, 7 months ago

Doctor-Donna is indeed the narrative collapse that threatens the series in that finale (the Daleks wiping out reality works too, but this is more interesting). Not only would she relegate the Doctor to the role of companion, she would have saved the days and solved problems by doing no more than pressing buttons and spouting rubbish (any sufficiently advanced technobabble is indistinguishable from nonsense), causing the monsters to spin out of control. THANKYADAVROS!

A series of that sort of hollow resolutions and nonsense (destroying a once-loved character of Donna) would have ended in eventual cancellation: a narrative collapse indeed.

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jonathan inge 3 years, 7 months ago

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Sean Case 3 years, 7 months ago

Donna didn't think it was better than dying. She was begging him to let her die as she was rather than turn her back into her old self.

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Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

It’s notable that this is one of those odd stories where everything would probably have been all right if the Doctor and Donna hadn’t shown up; Miss Foster’s scheme on its own wasn’t hurting anybody

No.

A lot of people think this, but they're wrong; the text of the story says otherwise.

At the end, the Adipose kill Miss Foster to cover up what they've done.

It was always the plan to destroy the evidence when they left. The Doctor just changed their timetable. That's why it goes the way it does in Turn Left.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

It does go that way in Turn Left, but it's also clearly a very different scheme. For one thing, it's in America. So clearly there are major changes. Here we get no indication that the plan is to mass-convert people. That's an option they have for when things go south, but it appears the plan is to just get one million Adipose a day for a while. Indeed, the more dramatic "disintegrate people and have a massive army of Adipose" plan seems clearly inferior for a number of reasons.

Yes, the Adipose were always going to kill Foster, but that's because "seeding a level five planet" is illegal. That's the crime - not mass murder.

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mengu 3 years, 7 months ago

The alternative is let her die. More than the alternative. Donna would rather die than lose her memories. If there was any indication of doubt or ambivalence... but there isn't. He ignores her decision, violates her mind, and it gets played as his tragedy. She makes a decision about her own life. He ignores it.
Yeah, it's the worst thing he's ever done.

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elvwood 3 years, 7 months ago

Jonathan, I think what Gareth is saying (and he should correct me if I'm wrong) is that we shouldn't judge based on never-weres. To me, the fact that RTD considered introducing a new romantic companion and rejected that idea contradicts what you suggest about him learning nothing. But then, I don't see in the dialogue any indication that there was meant to be anything romantic between them, just a "bezzy mates" kind of love, so we're coming from very different perspectives. I think Donna's great, and the way that this episode shows the comedy sad-sack of The Runaway Bride pulling herself up by her bootstraps and going all Sarah Jane on the mysterious is a brilliant way of reinventing her. It shows her potential. I was one of those who was dreading her return, but this episode turned that around fast.

Of course, she's still Doctor-obsessed, as are all RTD-era companions except for the straight guys (Mickey and Adam). She's the fan who sits in his or her bedroom hoping for the Doctor to turn up and whisk them away on adventure - but she gets out there and does something about it, despite her environment encouraging her to stay small. And that makes her mighty.

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elvwood 3 years, 7 months ago

Note that this is also shortly after the death of River Song, where she chose to die rather than lose her memory of the Doctor. He found another way (of a sort) then, and this decision is just another step on the road to the Time Lord Victorious, who knows better than everybody else and is determined that all his friends should live, whether it's as dataghosts, anomalies, amnesiacs... or indeed paving slabs. In some of those cases I would agree with him, but on the scale of selfish, arrogant decisions the one he makes for Donna is the worst. If it was a temporary thing while he looked for a cure, fair enough; but he's very clear that she is being denied her past wth him forever, against her wishes.

As part of his story arc, great; in all other ways, just awful.

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Gareth Rees 3 years, 7 months ago

Yes, that's a fair summary. The passage I quoted seemed apposite to this discussion: Davies recognizes that people have a tendency to compare what was to what might have been. Here we are discussing the beginning of the run of Donna, a character who's fully realized, and we're comparing her to Penny, a character who never existed beyond some ideas in Davies' head and perhaps a handful of lines of dialogue in early drafts of scripts (which were reworked into scripts for Donna). Because Penny doesn't exist, she can be anything we want her to be, a representation of everything that we think is good or bad about Davies' writing. But if she had made it to the screen, she would have been influenced by a thousand creative decisions — who to cast, the skills and technique of the actor playing her, the feedback between her performance and the scriptwriters, the rapport between the co-stars, how the directory chooses to shoot her, and even what kind of costume she wears.

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mengu 3 years, 7 months ago

DoctorDonna is supposed to be smarter than the Doctor, to be able to think of ideas he never would. And yet she can't think of another way? Forget the things people come up with with chameleon circuits and so on, those can simply not work. But Donna should be able to think of a better solution than the Doctor. Even if she were the one to think of the mind-wipe, that would have worked. That would have been tragic instead of abominable.

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prandeamus 3 years, 7 months ago

@Jonathan inge: To say that Donna's arc loops back to where it came from is not the same as saying there is no arc. Reset buttons like this are all-too-easy to apply in SF and fantasy. While it may reduce the impact of the arc, the arc is there.

Moreover when Donna is glimpsed by the Doctor and Wilf she's progressing with her life, and I get the sense that although she's reverted more or less to type, she is happier. (This may be rose-coloured glasses on my part, not having seen the episode recently).

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Froborr 3 years, 7 months ago

It's exactly what Sean Case said--it's not that the Doctor "should have found another way," I'll accept the narrative telling me that there isn't one. It's that, in the face of her pleading with him to let her die instead of erase her memory... he erases her memory. There's room for debate around the ending of "Love and Monsters," but none here--Donna knows she must lose her memory or die, and she prefers to die. The Doctor is literally and explicitly subjecting his best friend to what she herself considers a fate worse than death. He is a monster in this moment.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 7 months ago

While what he is doing is monstrous, I can't out and out say that it's the wrong thing to do. Donna gets to go back to earth and have a fulfilling life. Donna doesn't want to go back to being the vapid and self involved person she was before, but she can grow out of that again on Earth. Traveling with the Doctor is not the only way to become a good person.

There is also the question of if she's mentally competent to make that decision. Her brain is burning and she's having trouble thinking. In countries with euthanasia laws, there has to be proof that the patient is of sound mind. Which in Donna's case is debatable.

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jonathan inge 3 years, 7 months ago

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liminal fruitbat 3 years, 7 months ago

Whether or not it's fulfilling is very much a YMMV thing - the last we see of her looks almost exactly the same as the first we see of her (except that her new husband probably isn't working for a big red spider). Nothing's changed, and everything she became has been destroyed because the Doctor can't accept that she wants everything she's done and become over season 4 to count as a part of her life.

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ferret 3 years, 7 months ago

Maybe the Americans self-medicated more Adipose pills per day than the recommended amount.

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Froborr 3 years, 7 months ago

Nope. He performed a medical procedure with serious medical side-effects against her express will. That is absolutely the wrong thing to do, period. He violated Donna's agency, self-determination, and bodily autonomy, because he's an arrogant git who thinks he knows what's good for other people better than they do. He's definitionally wrong, since "good" is a matter of personal preference.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 7 months ago

It is a YMMV thing, however I would say the text (or episode) in this case is giving us and Donna a happy ending. We're meant to think that she's gotten love and that she'll be taken care of. She's moved past wanting a rich bloke and the crass materialism that implies. It's different substantially from where we saw her in "Runaway Bride".

Now as for a medical procedure...that's loading the question. Is this a right to die situation? Because that's a moral quagmire and a half. What I will say is that there are situations where self-determination and bodily autonomy are secondary concerns, and in right to die scenarios, if the person cannot prove they are of sound mind then a professional doesn't kill them. Is Donna in her right mind and rational in that scene? I don't think so, and the Doctor didn't think so either. He may be wrong based on a literal definition of good, but I don't think he's necessarily wrong on ethical grounds.

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Froborr 3 years, 7 months ago

"Sound mind" does not mean perfect mental and neurological health. If it did, more than half the population would be of unsound mind. More to the point, most psychological and neurological disorders do not impair a person's decision-making capacity to the point of losing agency. Such disorders are quite rare, involving, for example, an inability to distinguish fantasy from reality, to gauge consequences of actions, or to comprehend one's surroundings.

That is a very high level of damage, and there is no evidence that Donna has that much damage before the first time she says "No," which means the Doctor is ethically bound to accept her right to die. Keep in mind also that this is a Doctor for whom hubris, narcissism, and a tendency to meddle destructively (Time Lord Victorious, bringing down Harriet Jones and thus creating an opening for Harold Saxon, "Tooth and Claw," it's a long list) have been repeatedly highlighted as major character flaws--it is completely in character for him to violate Donna this way.

Is Donna in her right mind and rational in that scene?

The standard of evidence to establish that she is not must necessarily be extremely high. Stripping someone of their agency is a radical step.

Note also that behaving irrationally is not equivalent to being of unsound mind; people of sound mind engage in irrational behavior quite frequently. Which is probably a good thing, since you can't trust a truly rational person--they'll betray you the instant it's in their best long-term interest to do so. Civilization could never function if people were rational, it would collapse in a massive conflagration of tragedies of the commons. (Which it seems to be in the process of doing anyway, but a lot slower than if people were being rational about it.)

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 7 months ago

When it comes to letting someone die, to kill them through inaction, I'd say it's not a lot to want someone to be in at least coherent mental health. Donna is suffering a very high level of damage in the scene, as evidenced when she tries three times to put a thought together and it gets away from her. And the Doctor knew she was coming apart before this. He let it go on as long as he could before wiping her mind. In every description of this the problem is that her brain is cooking, that it is being destroyed by the Time Lord DNA. It is destroying her mind and it makes and claims she makes suspect.

I feel like the standard of evidence that she is making a rational decision is of the highest import. There have been times in my life where I have wanted to die from physical or psychological anguish. At this point I no longer feel that way. I was not rational or making good decisions. Someone who's very DNA is at war with itself, who is facing the prospect of an immense loss and mental injury is likely not making rational decisions. While I do not expect rationality in all things, when it comes to end of life? I don't think it's that much to ask.

Now it is arrogant. The choice to assume the right over life and death is inherently one of hubris. And the 10th is (perhaps) the most arrogant of Doctors. However I would not say that is was ethically wrong.

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Triturus 3 years, 7 months ago

Froborr
That is a very high level of damage, and there is no evidence that Donna has that much damage before the first time she says "No," which means the Doctor is ethically bound to accept her right to die.

Is it that ethically black and white, though? If someone of sound mind, fully intending to kill themselves, takes an overdose, the paramedics will still do everything to save that persons life if they arrive on the scene in time. They don't just let them die if they find a suicide note.

There is a lot of debate about the right to die and at what stage treatment of terminally ill patients can be withdrawn, and it will always be a contentious issue. In this case, the Doctor knows that if he wipes Donna's memory she will live and will have no memory of wanting to die. I can understand him preferring to take that option. I'm not saying it would have been wrong to let her die either, just that I don't see the decision he made as being a violation.

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Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

I know that positive-action negative-action things conflate the issue a lit, but I get these unimaginably painful neck spasms from time to time. During one of the worse ones, I actually literally was begging my wife to kill me. I do not think she was morally in the wrong to decline.

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Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

Most people disagree with me on this, but my read is that when the Adipose kill Foster at the end, it indicates that, while yes, the major part of the plan was to create adipose one at a time with no harm to the users, it was always the plan to kill them all when the plan ended, because the adult Adipose (I like to call them "Daddypose") couldn't risk leaving behind evidence (in the form of residual adipose DNA) that the Shadow Proclamation might find.

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Froborr 3 years, 7 months ago

There is a lot of debate about the right to die and at what stage treatment of terminally ill patients can be withdrawn, and it will always be a contentious issue.

It shouldn't be. The answer is "When the patient wants it to be." With *extremely* limited exceptions already discussed (and yes, severe depression does impair a person's ability to make these kinds of decisions, and thus does qualify as being of unsound mind for these purposes). But outside of those exceptions, a person owns their own body, they get to decide what happens to it.

@Ross: I understand what you're saying, I have a couple of chronic conditions of my own that occasionally cause extreme pain to the point where death does seem preferable. But that's the thing--if I therefore choose to die, it is my right to do so. I do not have the right to compel another to help me (which is why your wife was not morally wrong to decline) but neither does anyone else have the right to force a life on me I don't want.

Nor, as I already said, is it relevant that someone might feel differently about the intervention later--again, assuming that they will is exactly the "I know what you want better than you do" arrogance we're talking about.

In this case, the Doctor knows that if he wipes Donna's memory she will live and will have no memory of wanting to die.

So what you're saying is, if I have the power to alter someone's memory--say, a drug I can slip into their drink beforehand that interferes temporarily with the ability to form new memories--I can do whatever I want to them because they won't remember saying no?

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 7 months ago

Firstly: By saying it shouldn't be you trivialize one of the great questions facing medical practitioners and patients right now. There is far from consensus on this issue. While you may think that it's clear cut a vast majority of people do not.

You're being very reductionist. Context is important and to say that the Doctor is basically a date rapist is ridiculous.

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Triturus 3 years, 7 months ago

So what you're saying is, if I have the power to alter someone's memory--say, a drug I can slip into their drink beforehand that interferes temporarily with the ability to form new memories--I can do whatever I want to them because they won't remember saying no?

It shouldn't even need clarifying, but no, I'm not saying that.

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Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

I think that it is inherently fraught to try to reduce this like that because The Doctor-Donna is, in a very real way not the same person as Donna (she is in other also very real ways, the same person as Donna). Whether or not the Doctor-Donna has the right to be allowed to die, it is not clear that it follows from this that she has the right to take Donna Noble with her.

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liminal fruitbat 3 years, 7 months ago

@Ross: the way I see it, the DoctorDonna is a different person to Donna in the same way that Jamie and Zoe were different people at the start of The War Games to the people they were at the end. I don't see how any sensible case can be made for "you have the right to die, but your younger and less experienced self might not consent, but I'll not suggest partial amnesia as an option."

@Theonlyspiral: love, yes, but "she'll be taken care of" is a pretty big comedown for Adipose-investigating, Caecilii-saving, Sontaran-concussing, mystery-solving, universe-saving, Doctor-calling-out Donna Noble. And any points gained for implicitly-non-materialistic are a bit spoiled by "Here, have a winning lottery ticket as my gift on the last day I'll ever see you".

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Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

@liminal fruitbat: Donna was physically altered by the metacrisis without her consent; her very sense of self was *changed*; she's a new person from that point onward. Yes, the Doctor's solution also rolled back her character's natural growth throughout the season, but I don't think you can dismiss the fact that halfway through the episode, Donna Noble is effectively possessed by an alien intelligence that integrates itself into her own mind to create a new identity, and it's that new identity who's asking to die.

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Spoilers Below 3 years, 7 months ago

Moral and ethical issues aside, I'm not sure that Doctor Who as a television program could ever advocate that suicide is preferable to living a life very similar to one lived by a large swathe of its viewership... I know I certainly did my tenure as the unemployed, disappointed, and living with my parents type, and did at one point attempt suicide. I'm happy that I failed.

The same circumstances? Certainly not. I was not a galactic consciousness that had supreme power over the universe and perfect knowledge of all things being made to reduce itself back to being an unemployed women in her mid-30s. But I had looked at my situation, had decided that it was untenable, and decided that that ought to be that. I don't regret having failed and being alive. Perhaps if I had been a tremendous space consciousness forced to live under reduced circumstances I would feel differently about the ending, but I'm not, and so I don't blame the Doctor for not letting Donna die. I know I couldn't have let my best friend die were I in his place, as freedom oriented and liberal as my views are. Certainly not with their decision being made as quick and last minute as it was. They could yell at me later about it, and someone who's really determined to commit suicide will do so. But is life as Donna Noble, unemployed woman who lives with her nagging mother and kooky grandad, really such a bad life that you should off yourself rather than live it? No way. No way is the show going to tell you that.

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Ross 3 years, 6 months ago

But it would have been a sounder move to have the Doctor persuade Donna of that (or better still, have The Doctor-Donna realize for herself because she's part-Doctor why it is that The Doctor never chooses suicide) than for the Doctor to take the decision out of her hands.

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Spoilers Below 3 years, 6 months ago

@Ross: Absolutely agree with you there.

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What Happened To Robbie? 2 years, 3 months ago

Just reached this in my rewatch and something that I found very jarring was the Doctor telling Ms Foster "Seeding a Level 5 planet is against galactic laws."

Just a personal view on the character but the Doctor for me isn't the type to cite galactic laws which sound like they come from the orthodoxy, the ruling classes. He's the one who overthrows the sort of governments that come up with galactic laws.

Also although I loved Donna, for me this is one of the most uninspiring runs - nothing until silence in the library makes me feel anything more than meh. It was the first time in new who that I stopped looking forward to new episodes and even failed to see episodes for several months after broadcast. Coming off the back of Lottl/voyage didn't help either.

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John Seavey 2 years, 3 months ago

I disagree--he's anti-tyranny, but he's pro-anarchy. He's always been very much in favor of working with established, legitimate humane authorities to outlaw technology or practices that are indefensible by any standard; witness his campaign against the Miniscopes as far back as 'Carnival of Monsters'.

In general, when the Doctor cites a "galactic law", it's usually something that's so common sense and pro-general decency to others that large numbers of societies have banded together to agree on forbidding. Things like the Cyber-Bombs, machines that can brainwash entire planetary populations--stuff that's just out-and-out terrible. It's entirely in keeping with his character.

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John Seavey 2 years, 3 months ago

Er, "he's not pro-anarchy". Not "he's pro-anarchy".

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What Happened To Robbie? 2 years, 3 months ago

I see your point, I think perhaps the reason it jarred for me in this episode is that the adipose don't seem "out and out terrible." later on when the Doctor is on the the roof with Donna he even seems to concede that it's not really a terrible plan and as Phil points out things only turned bad because the Doctor interfered.

I think it's arguable whether he's pro-anarchy or not depending on which story/doctor you watch. Interesting you mention the 3rd doctor who often comes as one of the more conservative, pro-establishment Doctors.

And if it is "common sense and pro-general decency" I don't see why he needs to cite a galactic law to put a stop to it. Unless he's doing it for the benefit of the person he's asking to stop so they understand the severity of their actions.

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