Partners in Crime
The Fires of Pompeii
Planet of the Ood
The Sontaran Stratagem
The Poison Sky
The Doctor's Daughter
The Unicorn and the Wasp
Silence in the Library
Forest of the Dead
The Stolen Earth
New Series Season Four
Eight Things About Series 4 That Make Me Want to Scream Whenever They Appear by Hugh Sturgess 26/9/08
I was planning on writing a full-length, detailed review of Series 4 with my usual mixture of cutting insults and long-bow analogies, but it would in the end just be a study in ways to say "what a bloody cop-out" without sounding like it was repeating itself. So I've decided to condense all the things that I hate/loathe/despise about this latest series (and also the New Series in general) into this neat, snappy list.
This is really starting to annoy me. When Rose told Jackie and Mickey that the Doctor showed her "a better way of living your life" and then proceeded to get teary as she vaguely outlined the "wonderful" things the Doctor does, it was acceptable as it was the first time it had been done, and the point of that entire episode (The Parting of the Ways) was to demonstrate Rose's love for the Doctor. When Timothy in The Family of Blood described the Doctor as "ice and fire and rage... and he's wonderful", it was acceptable because that episode makes a conscious effort to mythologise the Doctor (his subsequent punishment of the Family is probably the most scary and awing thing he's ever done in any TV story). When Martha tells Donna in The Sontaran Stratagem that the Doctor is wonderful for reasons we are never shown or told, it's just irritating.
Series 4 is by far the least wonderful and least impressive series of New Who so far, and yet it also has the highest ratio of wonderful-Doctor statements to episodes and the companion herself is introduced as becoming "born again" after meeting the Doctor (or so is the implication). For reasons that I will go into later, the Doctor has basically never done anything very wonderful or remotely amazing (or what a real person with real emotions would describe as such if they were caught in the middle of it). By now, the Doctor is an attention-seeking, petty, moralising bore who fishes for compliments (his "I've got to give them a chance" rountine smacks of begging to be congratulated for his selfless forgiveness) and seems to save the universe because of a sentimental indignation of the most self-pitying kind.
While The Sontaran Stratagem is by far the worst example this season (just as it is the worst example of everything this season), the eulogy at the end of Forest of the Dead - which is intended to be a testament to the Doctor's wonderfulness but ends up sounding like an overwrought love letter from a David Tennant fan - is particularly egregious. Lawrence Miles described it best when he said that Steven Moffat often includes things like this to curry favour with fans, "as though David Tennant were a little squiggy voodoo-doll through which he can absorb our love-vibrations", and frankly I think every author does this to one degree or another (even if they are unaware of it; as usual, I think that Helen Raynor probably doesn't even know what she's writing, or even if she is writing at all).
Statistically, the job of Doctor's companion is probably the safest occupation in the Doctor Who universe. Well, at least no more dangerous than any other occupation in the Doctor Who universe. Ever since Wilson (a man we never see) was killed by Autons (somewhere between minutes five and six of Rose), we've seen average members of the population of the universe blown up, gunned down, lobotomised, fatally possessed, torn to shreds and crushed down to a singularity because the Doctor's too busy saving his friends to help them. And in four years of New Who, the worst a companion has suffered is permanent memory loss. The only companion who has actually died in the legal sense is Jack, and he is resurrected and made immortal a few minutes later anyway.
Even Doomsday and Last of the Time Lords, which are meant to highlight how dangerous life with the Doctor really is, betray themselves: the Tyler family is united in a parallel universe and Rose is spared from her deliberately foreshadowed death; while the Jones family (despite being "traumatised and tortured" apparently) only survive because their daughter is the Doctor's companion. Russell so wants to make the Doctor "dangerous", but he can't be brave enough to actually show some consequences of this "danger" (you know, like actually killing someone), inevitably leading to a feeling that the characters are overreacting supremely.
Once again, The Sontaran Stratagem leads the way in offending my sensibilities, as Martha tells Donna about Cliche #1 and immediately launches into Cliche #2. It's a perfect example of the spoon-fed, take-our-word-for-it pap that the New Series has devolved into; we are never shown that the Doctor is wonderful, or dangerous, we are just told about it and have little choice but to accept it.
This leads logically on from the last point. From before Day One on the New Series (the impressive pre-series trailers with Chris Eccleston running away from an explosion), a point's been made to emphasise that the Doctor could feasibly take us anywhere at a whim. Emphasised in the dialogue, that is, not the plots. Despite having mention made of the frozen seas of Woman Wept and the splintered moon of whatever, the only alien worlds we have seen so far in the New Series are... quarries.
Quarries and a windy hillside to be precise. What the hell are they smoking?! Quarries and hill-sides, with all the monies being spent on this show, with all the claims to the "wonderfulness" of the universe, is just offensive. (Indeed, it's poisoned the word "wonderful" for me. I can't even use it when it deserves to be: I stopped myself short of calling the boy I love "wonderful" because I couldn't help thinking of the crap "apple-grass" hillside of New Earth. That makes me angry.)
Back in Series 1, Rose was meant to be our eyes, ears and mouth (all of which are sumptuously defined on Billie Piper, appropriately enough) in the Doctor Who universe, but we skip right over her visiting the weird and wonderful (that word...) sights of the universe and instead are treated to... her telling her boyfriend about them? Are you actually deranged, Russell? What was the point of having Rose as our identification figure, when we too are just told about the amazing things she's seen? Was that the point? Were we meant to identify with Mickey, and feel as jealous and as left out as he does? If so, why? And when we finally do see an alien planet, it's just a quarry. And it's "impossible", apparantly.
"Lame" isn't a word I enjoy using, but frankly it's appropriate here.
And what "wonderful" sights does the Doctor show Donna in Series 4? Well, he takes her to Pompeii, which they destroy together and kill 20,000 people between them; then it's off to the 42nd century, which is just like 2008 but with less interesting bits, and an ice planet (represented by a quarry in Wales somewhere covered in paper snow); then a series of gloomy, stinky old tunnels; 1920s rural England; a glorified spa; a Chinese space-bazaar. Only the last one is remotely interesting, and we only see it for a few seconds at the beginning and end of Turn Left and it's clear that Russell doesn't give a toss about it. And having presented us with this grot for thirteen weeks, it then has the audacity to have the Doctor tell us all about these amazing-sounding other places he didn't bother to take us. Again, the crime is committed in The Sontaran Stratagem: by now, you've got to think it's deliberately trying to include as many worn-out ideas as possible.
Series 1 actually said something about our world. Although Bad Wolf was not a critique of reality TV shows (as many people claimed), and Aliens of London was more a grotesque parody than a political satire, stories like The Long Game actually had something to say about our world. Looking back at Series 1, stories like Rose, Dalek and Parting of the Ways seem raw, angry and spiky, like a song by Rise Against, precisely because they have something to say. Series 4 looks flabby, soft and self-indulgent for precisely the same reason.
It's not so much cowardice as just spinelessness: Doctor Who is such a success now that everyone in the production team doesn't want to risk ever alienating any member of the audience with anything worrying, troubling or threatening. That~'s the only possible reason for the inclusion of the "cheap shots" line in Planet of the Ood, which is so thoroughly wrong it's almost evil. Donna says that her world doesn't have slaves, and the Doctor replies by asking her who made her clothes. Just for a second, it looks as though this episode might actually be about something. But then, Donna criticises the Doctor for taking "cheap shots" and the Doctor actually APOLOGISES. Oh, sorry, the story seems to say, hope you didn't feel too awkward for a second there. Hope you didn't think about your world for a second. Don't worry, it won't happen again.
The real Doctor, the Doctor we met at the beginning of Series 1, would have as soon apologised as shoot Donna in the head. We've been sold a pup. This line near-as-dammit proves that this episode isn't about anything; the enslavement of the Ood is just a sci-fi concept, nothing else. Russell's comments on Confidential prove as much: he announces shamelessly that he wanted the Ood, an ice-planet and humans as slavers. He wants humans as slavers not because he wants to make Planet of the Ood an allegory about Third World exploitation but because it would be a "clever" reversal of the SF convention. I look forward to the "ironic" episode in which the Doctor finds that humans are supporting a corrupt and thoroughly vile regime on an alien world because of mining rights: "I wanted to have the Doctor attacked by a giant drill," Russell says on Confidential that evening.
Russell has always been prone to the sort of cop-outs for which he is justly famous, but what is more alarming is the way that they have slowly increased their influence over his story-writing ability to the degree he hamstrings a script to include them. In The Sound of Drums, it would have been perfectly reasonable (and far more entertaining) to have claimed that the Master had landed on Earth twenty years ago and spent all that time building up his political career. Instead, Russell includes a pointless line about "limiting" the Master's travel to eighteen months either side of our present, seemingly just so the characters can go on about the Archangel network (mentioned in a way you just know means that it will feature prominently in next week's resolution). Basically, all the "eighteen months" conceit does is deliberately rob the story of any discernable intelligence or scale. That its only essential function in the plot (i.e. the story as presented couldn't be told without it) is to turn the story off makes it even more risible. If you have told a story that can only be resolved by a magic wand, you've written an undisciplined story.
This was acceptable in Parting of the Ways, as that was meant to be a no-way-out situation (but the nature of the series meant that there simultaneously had to be a way out). But in Last of the Time Lords and (now) Journey's End, Russell writes himself into a corner by creating an "impossible" situation that demands he use a deus ex machina. Most alarmingly, he seems proud of this: on the Confidential for Boom Town, he freely acknowledges that the opening-TARDIS-console bit is a deus ex machina (he actually calls it that, just pronounced wrongly) in a tone that suggests he sees this as a legitimate way of telling a story. In Journey's End, he doesn't even bother to explain exactly what the cop-out is, just have the main characters spout reams of incoherent technobabble that even Douglas Adams would call "a bit much". Several times. And he still expects us to care about the story when he so blatantly doesn't. He might as well say "look, this story's a crock of shit, isn't it marvellous?".
Put your hand up if you too felt let-down in a huge way when the supposedly "biggest big adventure ever" The Stolen Earth turned out to be just another episode of Daleks flying through the air and invading Earth, men in uniforms saying psuedo-macho things like "ladies and gentlemen, we are at war!", celebrities making inane appearances and Londoners running up and down screaming? Keep your hand up if you thought Journey's End (supposedly so big that it "couldn't be told" in the usual 45-50 minutes) was one of the most appallingly lazy things you'd ever seen on TV? It comes back to the fact that Russell is now determined to give the audience exactly what he thinks it wants, and apparantly that means alien invasions of Earth. In my review of The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, I said that the conclusion I drew from the two-parter was that the author, the script-editor and producer have all become staggering bores, repeating the same tricks over and over and over again and yet still expecting us to be interested, like the distant relative you only see once a year and who always tells the same "funny" story from the war. Only this distant relative is there for thirteen weeks running, and tells the same story ever week.
It's also like one of those computer programs that can guess what word you're thinking of by asking you yes-or-no questions, except one that's broken so that it only gives you the same answer again and again: what'll we do with a story set in Pompeii? Invasion of Earth. What'll we do for a story about Sontarans? Invasion of Earth. It's worst of all in The Stolen Earth, when the end of all conceivable universes is just a pretext for Yet Another Boring Invasion of Earth, and Russell genuinely expects us to think of it as an "epic" story just because it features lots of out-of-work actors we've seen before and because the flying saucers have Daleks on them this time. What a fucking bore.
God, this is tedious. It was a problem in Series 3, but it's worse here. In fact, it's so perfunctory that you almost wonder why they bother actually showing it, when they feel so free to just tell us about so much else (i.e. anything actually interesting). One of the ninety-two things that horrified me about The Sontaran Statagem/The Poison Sky (one for every minute) was the pre-titles sequence, which introduces a bland, journalist-like character who you just know will die before the credits kick in. And she does. That it is so totally bereft of any kind of shock or surprise factor that you wonder how anyone half-sane allowed this to be broadcast is what makes it so profoundly cack-handed. In fact, it is so expected that they could just have shown her drive away and let us work the rest out ourselves when she's never mentioned again (Colonel Mace could even have mentioned the death of a journalist coming to see him or some such to make it blatant). Oh, wait, that would have taken imagination, wouldn't it?
Ultimately, all these token-deaths do is trivialise the function of death in a narrative, making the ability of the regular characters to avoid it seem so amazingly unremarkable and yet also contrived, paradoxically at the same time. In The Stolen Earth (a story which, itself, could be described as "remarkably unremarkable"), Russell wants to establish that this story is grim, tragic and downbeat, and thus has the Daleks exterminate a whole family in possibly one of the most ill-judged sequences ever seen on television. I won't bore you with poorly described details, but let's just say that any description would use the words "contrived", "clunker" and "cackpole" (and other c-words, of course) very liberally.
(This is a close relative of the other drama-creating device: the self-destructive supporting character, to be used in the event that Russell wants to end a story without doing any hard work and there aren't any pieces of unlikely-sounding technology in the vicinity. It may seem cruel that I'm using "Russell" as a stand-in for "the author" in every instance, when the story that offends me the most (the Sontaran two-parter) isn't even written by him. Indeed, two of the only three episodes I liked these season were written by him (Midnight - which is one of the best episodes in a long while - and Turn Left). However, he is culpable for what the other authors do because he condoned every word they wrote. He signs off on literally every aspect of the show, so any problems we have with it can be laid squarely at his door. (Much in the same way that Hitler is culpable for the Holocaust, even though he didn't actually think up the "let's ship them all off and kill them" idea, as he gave Eichmann and Heydrich the rather more vague brief of "just get rid of them somehow". There the similarities with Hitler end.)
Thus, Russell can be said to be to blame for everything that I don't like about this season, and by God he'll pay. The self-destructive stooges are probably Russell's most favourite utensil for ending a story (he has used them ever since The End of the World), as they can switch a story off and make it look tragic and "costly" at the same time. Need to get the Doctor out of a no-way-out situation he has contrived himself into? Why not just have an annoying and selfish American teenager no one likes or cares about take his place in sacrificing himself, thus preventing the Doctor from doing any hard work and also making him look "haunted" and "tragic" by having someone else die in his place. Want a way to prevent Jenny from going in the TARDIS with the Doctor? Just have her jump in the way of a poxy bullet, thus again solving the problem while giving the Doctor a chance to emote.
Even in Midnight, which is a really good story otherwise, the stewardess feels the need to sacrifice herself for the greater good at the climax. And it's not even necessary: if you don't know, the whole threat to the Doctor in this episode is that he is going to be thrown out into the glare of a lethal sun by paranoid humans, who don't seem to think they'll be sucked out as well. And yet, the stewardess eventually throws herself and the real "villain" out into space, and even looks "tragic" as she does so. It is so obviously a case of pushing-our-buttons, and it stinks. If Russell wanted to kill her, why not have the "villain" grab onto her as she's sucked out, thus killing them both?
This covers a multitude of other sins, linking to virtually all of the previous points, but it is primarily directed at the music. Or "Jesus Christ, don't you dare play that fucking 'Doctor Forever' music again" to give it its full title. Murray Gold's music for Series 1 was fab. It really was. For Series 2 it was mostly good, with a high point at the cliffhanger for Army of Ghosts. For Series 3, it was really rubbish. I'm thinking particularly of the "memory lane!" scene at the end of The Sound of Drums, which overdoes the strings and brass to such a degree that it feels like I'm watching a silent movie and the Master's going to hit the Doctor in the face with a pie in an amusing fashion instead of aging him 100 years. It's meant to convey excitement and make us go "golly, this is edge-of-seat stuff", whereas really we're just thinking "Murray Gold, please just die." There were flickerings of renewed talent in Voyage of the Damned and in Series 4 up to Planet of the Ood, but then we had The Sontaran Stratagem and then I was the one who wanted to say "no, don't... don't do that."
I guess that episode was so bad on every other level that Murray didn't want to highlight it with music of any quality. It's loud, it's obnoxious and it's frankly so over-the-top that it's impossible to listen to it without thinking "you're overreacting". It comes in at any moment when we're meant to feel any emotion, usually "tragic" or "triumphant", which Murray has got down to a fine art of spoon-feeding.
Has anyone seen Sweeney Todd (any version)? I'm thinking mainly of the moment at the end when Sweeney finds that he has in fact slit his own wife's throat unawares. To highlight what a shocking revelation this is, the score gives us a "dan-dan!" flourish, like a comedy sound-effect you expect when someone finds that they've left their front door unlocked. I couldn't help thinking of it when the false-Martha dies in The Poison Sky. ("Attend the tale of Martha Jones, she was captured and she was cloned...") You can immediately tell we're meant to get tragic when the strings start going and the doppelganger gasps for air and starts talking about <!-Martha's-> family. We're meant to think "we've misjudged her, she was just a slave following orders after all, she wasn't really evil", whereas really... well, really we're still thinking "please, just die." And when she finally does, the music comes in (slightly too early), in possibly the most syrupy, obnoxious and horrendously conceived moment in modern television history.
As far as I'm concerned, music should highlight the story, or, as Douglas Adams once described humour, "underpin" it. But here it's the musical equivalent of a billboard: announcing really, really loudly what people are feeling or whether this particular event is surprising or tragic or whatever. The "Martha is Dead" music is, in particular, the audial equivalent of flashing up a caption reading "FEEL SAD AND/OR CRY." The score I refer to at the beginning of this point, "The Doctor Forever", is played no less than three times within ten minutes at the end of The Poison Sky, intended every time to make us feel relieved the Doctor's saved the day without dying. Whereas we're still thinking "please, just die."
As with any show with a visible single dictator-like master (Russell's "executive producership"), there's a tendency to view any lapses as insane indulgences on the part of a mad monomaniacal god-emperor. Lazy people always say things like "Russell T Davies please leave" whenever the programme falters, as if he's responsible for every single thing that happens in the making of Doctor Who. They're right, of course. Russell is directly responsible for everything that has ever been wrong in the final version of the New Series, and simply saying "let's hope it's better next year" isn't enough. It's fortunate that Russell is actually leaving, because I'd hate to become one of those Davies-bashing bores who spend whole reviews (like this one) whining on about bloody Russell T Davies (like this one).
Although "let's hope it's better next year" isn't an option (for one fairly obvious reason), we can at least look forward to 2010 and ponder exactly what kind of show Steven Moffat will give us. You can just about imagine what his "Episode One" might look like, but the series finale? We can at least expect that it will see a return to the character-focussed series of old, moving away from spectacle. Because, no matter what you think of him, Moffat's stories are, at the very least, rather talky.
Comfort food by Thomas Cookson 16/4/13
With Series 4, it feels like after years of desperately chasing ratings, the show's finally secure in its position as a popular light-entertainment show, in synch with popular culture without feeling parasitic about it like previous RTD seasons.
Here was where a previously desperate relaunch, with no sense of identity or integrity, began to settle into a comfortable, relaxed niche. The show was still rather philistine and dumb, but it wasn't unpleasant viewing anymore.
It felt like the show was no longer ashamed of its roots. After three seasons of making the Doctor into a sexed-up lothario, the show finally seemed comfortable showing a platonic Doctor-companion dynamic like back in Classic Who. Well I say comfortable, except the show kept smugly rubbing it in as something so radical. The return of Sontarans, Davros and UNIT proper (although they still didn't bring the Brigadier back), saw more arms reaching across the ocean of the Wilderness years. It even had Sarah and Davros reminiscing on Genesis of the Daleks together (in the process, reaffirming what a sadistic creep Davros is)
Even The Doctor's Daughter feels like the product of a show in touch with the kind of low rent, cheap and cheerful stories Classic Who used to do. It's Warriors of the Deep with a happy ending and a budget.
Of course, this isn't what we really want from the show. We know the series can do better than go through the cliches. Even 80's Who could occasionally be a cliche-crusher, but this was a cliche-embracer. But given New Who's identity crisis it had suffered ever since it was resurrected (like Buffy's mum, it had come back 'wrong' somehow), this felt like the show recovering its sanity against all hope.
Yes there's the usual propaganda that Series One masterfully made New Who a self-contained new show that's only loosely based on the classic series. I don't buy it. I think RTD was desperate to be seen that way, and to shy and shame away all traces of the classic series just so RTD could impress his drinking buddy Michael Grade and not scare him away with anything too sci-fi or otherworldly, or anything untrendy about the Doctor. But the result was a mess.
A show that promised 'the trip of a lifetime', yet kept landing on Earth every week. A show that honestly didn't seem to know if it was for kids or adults and so mixed up inane slapstick and cartoon aliens with references to prostitution and naked Barrowman. I wouldn't be surprised if most kids got quickly sick of the soap rubbish and actually wanted to see more adventure stories and see more of the Daleks in Parting of the Ways than Jackie. Yet RTD was writing in the strange belief that casual viewers wanted more of the former. The show's vision under RTD seemed almost more myopic than anything Ian Levine was responsible for. It looked like the product of someone with a massive head trauma. Even the Doctor seemed characterised as completely brain-damaged and pathologically unlikeable. And given how RTD's novel Damaged Goods was inspired by his own past of excessive, destructive drug use, it all makes perfect sense.
Series 1 was hardly free of fannish sensibilities or myopicness. Bringing UNIT in to Aliens of London just to kill them off, just begs the question of why use them at all? Dalek doesn't really work as a reintroduction to the Daleks because it's showing Daleks in an out-of-the-ordinary fashion, without establishing to new viewers what they're ordinarily like first. And the thread of Adam being despised by the Doctor and kicked out only makes sense if you know this is a rather sad fannish case of RTD indulging in Adric-bashing by proxy. How many casual viewers would pick up on that, and how are they supposed to make sense of the Doctor's unexplained belligerent, vile behaviour?
Series 4, on the other hand, feels like it got the balance right as a family entertainment show with no shame about its connections to the classic series.
I often think if New Who had started with this season, I'd have been very happy with RTD's era. However, by now, we'd largely seen it all before. In the case of Davros' speech about the Doctor being "the man who never looks back, because he dare not out of shame", we'd heard it all before, word for word, straight from Margaret Slitheen in Boom Town. The dialogue wasn't even derivative of an earlier Davros story, it just demonstrated how RTD only has one voice for every Doctor Who villain he has.
I've often decried the philistine direction RTD took the show in, and I always will. But as Moffat's era has demonstrated, there's being clever in a way that people want to champion, and then there's being a conceited showoff who's just not playing nicely with others, like Clark Kent in his teens. There's a certain need for mastering the art of simplicity. And Series 4 was all about it. Sometimes its worst moments were attempts to be clever, like the twist revelation in The Doctor's Daughter about the dates of the war.
But even moments like the Doctor being shown the holograms of the abducted planets and determining their orbits suggested a sci-fi lite approach that I could get behind. It's exactly what the rushed and barely coherent verbal strategizing in Parting of the Ways was crying out for. As such, it made me think maybe RTD was getting better at this.
Series 6's story arc proved that convoluted is not necessarily better. But Series 4 managed a good balance of occasionally referencing disappearing worlds that eventually turned out to be part of a Dalek plot. Very neatly done.
But too often stories suffered a more egregious simplicity. Even Midnight has to over-verbalize its character curve of moral degeneration of the panicked humans. Fires of Pompeii might have been far more morally compelling if the Doctor's moral authority went a bit deeper than "TARDIS, Time Lord, yeah!" or vague references to fixed points. Instead, it just feels like a juvenile to and fro runaround, until the final moments just about save it, the stupid Messianic deification of the Doctor bathed in light excepted.
Much of its simplicity I put down to RTD Who's feminized sensibilities. Almost every episode in the season' first half is somehow about arrogant masculinity put right by women who know better. With the military ('the domain of the small penis') or the Doctor himself, it takes Donna, Martha or Jenny to put them right. For the Doctor, when alien Time Lord matters come into it, like not changing history, or his cold rejection of Jenny, it takes a family-minded Donna to bring out his human side.
I think the Doctor apologises for taking cheap shots over bringing up modern slavery with the "Who made your clothes" jab from RTD's patronising assumption that women love clothes shopping, and hate being guilted over it by judgemental men. One of many ways in which RTD was so fixated with not scaring away viewers that he made sure New Who didn't dare be actually about anything. However, I'm on Donna's side. Tennant does come off like he's taking cheap shots at someone genuinely upset at the sight of slavery, as though she's not been demonstrating enough social guilt or shame at her race. Would the Second Doctor have heckled Victoria over "Who reaped your sugar?"
Speaking of politics, I must address the labour camps references in Turn Left. If not for Cribbins' performance giving it dignity, that scene would be unforgivably crass. I've put the scene down to RTD's childishly neurotic suspicious-mindedness, as if he expected Blair or Brown to resurrect Nazism in our time when no-one's looking, the first chance they get. But given the Labour government's sickeningly slimy xenophobic criminalising of asylum seekers (even imprisoning them with our hardened criminals in the name of accommodation), it's not implausible. But RTD makes the leap so absurdly melodramatic that it loses its believability or meaning the moment the overbearing music stops.
Series 1, in its head-trauma, volatile state, felt like it had things to say, sharply, from the point of view of an angry protagonist with real damage. The blurring of fantasy and reality meant the Emperor Dalek's gloating over converting the unwanted and dispossessed to an evil philosophy, perfectly conjured Al Quaeda in our time. Likewise, the Daleks decimating future Earth felt like our karma for bombing Iraq. The Doctor's volatile nature suggested the solution of reckless action, as opposed to modern leftism's crippling fixation with what we did wrong in hindsight.
There's a problem of the Doctor becoming largely ineffectual this season, and incapable of grasping certain moral nettles.
When New Who came back, I suspect RTD was terrified of an idealist peacenik figure like the Doctor coming off as uncool or impossible to take seriously. This led to the creation of the more thuggish Eccleston Doctor. A Doctor designed to be someone hooligans would think twice about picking a fight with. Yet he was so removed from who the Doctor is, that it felt like RTD had brought Doctor Who back, only to singly destroy the entire point of doing so.
Tennant was initially more successful as a Doctor, and his proclaimed 'no second chances' motto wasn't so hollow at first. As we saw with his ruthlessly dispatching the Cybermen and the Devil, or his cold warning to the Krillatines, whilst lamenting how forgiving he used to be. Even brief moments in Army of Ghosts/Doomsday made him seem smarter than his predecessors, like using reverse psychology to persuade Yvonne to stop.
Indeed, his speedy rescue of Rose from the Cult of Skaro's lair made me wonder if what had happened was akin to the Sixth Doctor. A Doctor whose personality was radically changed to make him more adapted for survival in a savage, dangerous universe. Thus giving Tennant the adolescent personality of a reckless thrillseeker who'd be hyperactive, daring and suited to braving impossible odds with the speed of a gazelle.
Somewhere along the line, I think RTD fell in love with the evangelical moral purpose of his own Doctor, and became ashamed of the Eccleston incarnation and determined to erase him. To the point of even creating an Eccleston proxy for the 'real' Doctor to shun and exhile, whilst The End of Time even retcons it so that Rose's first meeting with the Doctor was with Tennant's Doctor.
This inevitably led to his wishy-washy pacifism and adolescent moral hectoring getting turned up to eleven, with him criticizing the military approach on principle, yet seeming only capable of antagonising the enemy and thus giving everyone a bigger mess to handle. It was almost Season 24 again in its unchallenging manufactured naivety.
Likewise, the entire presence of Donna as companion seems to require his genocidal actions in The Runaway Bride to be forgotten. Because Russell's a fan, and that's what fans do with things in the series they don't like. Pretend it didn't happen.
I liked Donna. Her zesty whirlwind personality always made me forget my troubles. I'd have welcomed a flat share with her. Though she didn't show much growth this season, she showed heart and maternalism. Resultantly I was unenthusiastic about watching New Who anymore after Journey's End. Not because I disliked the story (despite myriad flaws, I have an almost patriotic admiration for its homegrown big blockbuster fanwank), but because of Donna's departure and her fate. The Doctor going against Donna's wishes to save her life is a truly lovely scene that, in terms of contentious moments of Tennant's lofty moral arrogance, often gets unfairly lumped with the rest. Her reduction to a shallow caricature with no recognition of the Doctor is truly tragic and even turns New Who's anti-intellectualism into a dramatic virtue, laced with dramatic irony.
Without her, it seemed the show had a little less going for it.