Smith and Jones
|Production Code||Series Three Episode One|
|Dates||March 31 2007|
With David Tennant,
Written by Russell T. Davies Directed by Charles Palmer
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.
|Synopsis: Martha Jones is working in a hospital, when she discovers a strange patient. But he's not the only strange thing going on at the hospital.|
A Review by Benjamin Bland 5/4/07
Well here we are. Is it really a year since New Earth and David Tennant hit our TV screens as the Doctor with cat nurses and someone called Chip? Well, the answer is yes. It's 31st March 2007 and we're sitting down to watch the new series of that modern phenonemon that is Doctor Who.
And boy this episode really does look and feel modern. Doctor Who is a cool program nowadays, however strange that may sound. Series 2 only enhanced that reputation. I must point out however that despite my praise of David Tennant's energetic, bounding Doctor, I am one of those people who feels that the new series hasn't really come close to being as good as the old. It's touched that briefly with stories like The Girl In The Fireplace but other than brief exceptions it is a poor substitute for what I class as proper Doctor Who. Things may be about to change.
Smith and Jones is utterly... Whoish. For the first time I feel like I'm watching that old Saturday night program that I loved so much, it's just been modernised slightly. The only bits that knuckle me slightly is Martha's family life excerpts. Other than that, this is a true romp, going from start to finish in what seems like a matter of minutes. Tennant bounces around like Ricky Wilson when performing live, a bundle of energy that never seems to run out. Freema Agyeman is the most impressive however. She looks like she's been in the show for years while at the same time seems utterly new and refreshing. Whereas Rose seemed slightly too characterised Martha just walks in and is normal. The writers always tried a little too hard to make Rose normal, where she was already, they didn't need to. Now they seem to have relaxed a bit letting Agyeman just play the role. It works brilliantly and the chemistry between the Doctor and Martha is evident from their first scene together.
Aside from the Doctor and his new companion this is a true Who story by all accounts. It is, of course, utterly silly and that's great. The Judoon are simply thick aliens doing a job. For once, RTD realises that not all the aliens have to be scary, evil monsters. The actual villan - or is that villaness? You'll have to watch to find out - is of course slightly ridiculous but Russell T Davies has covered himself by making sure it is explained simply and clearly. The climax is the only thing that slightly dissapoints. Indeed, the problem has such an unforgivably easy solution that most teenage children could probably pull it off without too much difficulty. Yet that is the only problem. I'm not even bothered by the fact that Martha blatantly has a crush on the Time Lord we all know, it just doesn't seem to matter. An improvement on the awful end to last series that I could only have dreamed of.
Things look set up for an absolute rollercoaster over the next 12 weeks. Roll on Shakespeare!
A Review by David Weber 13/4/07
"It's Bigger on the Inside"There are some episodes where I know straight out what to think about it and how to rate it, and there are others where for a while I have no clue. Smith and Jones is definitely an example of the latter.
"Is it? I hadn't noticed!"
If anything, this makes the habit of writing reviews even more useful, so I can think back calmly to an episode afterwards while watching Confidential, and even when I'm typing, thinking about the quality as well as the entertainment level. Smith and Jones definitely engaged and entertained, there was no problem there, so did it succeed in other levels?
Like Rose, Smith and Jones is all about it's introductory character, Martha Jones. As Davies has said, however, whereas Rose was a simple and gradual introduction to an extraordinary world, thus dragging the episode back somewhat and robbing the episode of valuable time, Smith and Jones is a violent and sudden change of worlds for its character focus. This is fortunate, considering the family theme is too mundane and convoluted to work at all, and comes off as even more unnecessary than usual. Although I've been a scathing critic of the Tyler family element in the past, that theme at least had a credible origin with the idea of the consequences of getting mucked up in time travel; Martha's familial theme seems to run contrary to the writing team's intention that Martha would be different in motives for travelling than a desire to escape her mundane life. That said, it does reflect upon the character rather well, showing her key differences to the previous assistant.
Family problems aside, the episode has more time and space (no pun intended) to allow the plot to breathe, which is rather better than usual for Davies' episodes. The Judoon, although rather thuggish and bearing rather a passing resemblance to the Sontarans (although not in a derivative way), are credible monsters and an interesting concept, being more a side-effect of the villain than the actual villains. That said, they give off the distinct impression that the galaxy at large is Not a Nice Place, and that galactic law is singularly republican in nature (my impression is that this was probably intended). Galactic Stormtroopers aside, the real villain, played by Anne Reid, is suitably menacing, with some hilarious details, for example the concept that a blood-sucking plasmavore carries a straw. For once, the focus seems to be more on the villainly than character, which makes a refreshing change.
What's more is that the plot itself seems to make a good deal of sense, and is paced much better, with a credible resolution as well as beginning and some great twists. If I have any criticism, it's in fact that the episode focuses rather too non-stop on the action, with little relief, meaning that it feels just a little amateurish in execution. The plot is also easier to follow than The Runaway Bride, making it satisfactory, inventive and simple, which is like a supermarket 3-in-1 offer. That said, there were little flaws like the fact that the Doctor can go through something which previously would have killed him, and only lose his shoes and sonic screwdriver as a result, both of which reappear good as new at the end of the episode. Sigh. At least the resolution, with the Doctor giving up his blood to identify the alien and save the hospital's inhabitants, is suitably heroic and clever, almost enough to make me want to forget the pointless plot device from the kissing-obsessed writer; although I think the fact that he disarms the altered MRI machine by unplugging it was perhaps a let-down.
Plot leads to performances, and I'm suitably impressed with both Agyeman and, surprisingly, Tennant here. Agyeman gives a solid and assured performance here, sweeping aside short-term worries about the new companion. She even manages to carry through the family scenes, intrusive though they are. Tennant, however, feels like he's finally beginning to find his feet: although he's given far too maniac and technobabble lines as usual, he delivers both better than usual, and comes across as far more in character than usual. In his better moments, he excels, carrying the scenes and plot with an assurance that is both modest and impressive. He also seems, from first glance, to work better with Agyeman, although it really is too early to tell.
Really, the only thing that constantly irritates in this episode is, of course, the non-stop intrusive score from Murray Gold, who almost manages to outdo The Runaway Bride in terms of unsuitability. Non-stop, the music intrudes upon dialogue, atmosphere, suspense and action, proving a constant block against anyone wishing to connect with the episode. But then again, it's so constant I've almost come to expect it.
The final scene is good, with an introduction to the TARDIS that has to be the best yet. It seems that the show has evolved notably since its reintroduction, but now is the full way for the better; although less character orientated, its plot, action and concepts are beginning to shine. Davies seems to work more solidly in this area, although probably more time is needed to tell. Overall, I would say this is his strongest episode yet.
Like so by John Nor 10/5/07
"Like so" indeed. It was as if Russell T. Davies had taken to heart people's criticisms of last year's season opener set in a hospital (New Earth), and said "You know what? I can write a better one than that... like so."
New Earth was ok. The 2005 Season opener Rose was very good. Smith and Jones was excellent.
The plot was a bit of a mess in New Earth, although the rest of it was fun. Rose certainly accomplished what it set out to do, which was lay the foundation for the revival and introduce the characters for the 21st Century, but the plot was maybe less than satisfying. With Smith and Jones, Russell is spinning all the plates, as the plot crackles along excitingly, the characters are established for any new viewers, and the 2007 season is launched spectacularly.
Spearhead from Space continues to be a key text in the history of Doctor Who for Russell, as following on from Rose and the Christmas Invasion, he riffs on it here again, with another pajama-clad Doctor Who. The 1996 TV movie is recalled too, but in a good way (did anyone else detect a Frankenstein reference?) Russell T. continues to help me to see that fairly rubbish movie in a good light.
Transporting the hospital to the moon is a clever halfway house of grounding the action in some sort of relatable-to normality, while also supplying some sci-fi action. Russell is obviously a fan of Douglas Adam as the Judoon seem to be the police equivalent of Hitchhiker's Vogons - the Earth just happens to be in the way, and they have similar bureaucratic methods.
The production design is great, with the animatronics of the Rhino Judoon a high point, along with the magical scenes of the Earth viewed from the moon.
Freema shines as Martha, delivering the potentially clunky line about her cousin movingly. She is more confident than Rose from the get-go, and it will be fascinating to watch how she reacts to the trip of a lifetime over the next few months.
Tennant continues to be a fantastic Doctor, (his amusing hopping about recalled Pudsey Cutaway!)
This is the first time that the Doctor's saliva is a plot point I believe, as his kiss is meant to shake the Judoon out of their complacency when scanning Martha, in preparation for when they are re-scanning Florence. (Was that ALL it was? Or did he really think that was his last few moments? A goodbye kiss...)
Martha protests she ain't interested near the close of the episode, but looks a bit crestfallen as the Doctor accepts this too readily...
There are echoes of the episode Rose in the manner of Freema joining. This time around, the Doctor physically illustrates his mentioning that it travels in time, in a cheeky nod to the programme's history of having a (thankfully) ill-defined approach to the physics of time-travel.
A Review by Donna Bratley 26/5/07
Easily the best opening episode from the pen of Russell T Davies, it starts fast and never lets up. That's a problem at times; there's so much going on that the odd plot point (like what the lady with the straw had done to upset the magnificent Judoon) might easily slip by unnoticed on a single viewing. But it also makes the economical introduction of a whole new family seamless. They're your average dysfunctional family, the Joneses, and that's the point. Aren't all families a bit that way? Martha is swiftly established as the wall everyone queues up to bang their head against in a crisis, but the family is background colour, hardly a factor in the story at all, though Mother's venom toward the aggravating blonde girlfriend, and Dad's helpless foot stamping are highly entertaining. Just keep Annalise off the screen! Some characters designed as irritants simply succeed too well.
Freema Agyeman steps into the show as though she's been there forever. Martha is immediately likeable and real, her reactions to the oddities of her day never feeling contrived. "We're on the bloody moon!" is destined for classic status, and both her disbelief at the Doctor's claims and her stunned look after the genetic transfer are a delight. Her best scene... I'll come to that later. Let's just say, it's promising that we have a companion who seems able to reason for herself, and is unafraid to doubt or ask questions. I'm willing to trust the Doctor, but there were times Rose's faith was just a little too sanguine to be convincing.
While I always appreciated Billie Piper's performances through her two series, there were aspects of that character which never failed to irritate me. Her simpering jealousy, yes, but above all, her thoroughgoing lack of ambition in life. Martha Jones appreciates that your existence is what you make it, and she's using her undoubted intelligence to make hers a success. If we're talking role models, I'll take an ambitious young woman trying to make a professional career over a bored shop assistant any day.
The plot has helped set my mind at rest, barmy as it is, and contrived as the resolution may be. The Runaway Bride was a festive blip; he hasn't forgotten how to tell a rattling story that actually hangs together, and while we've several new species to assimilate, only the Slabs really fall flat. It's not the concept so much as the usage. I love the idea of a species of hired galactic thugs, not terribly bright, but thorough, and fair enough to issue compensation vouchers; and Galactic Law is something we should definitely hear more about.
Visually, it's superb, with spectacular moonscapes, a wonderful localised storm and, in the Judoon captain, one of the finest prosthetics yet. I was oddly disappointed with the crater, though; it didn't feel quite deep enough, but the Judoon ships landing and the army of leather-clad rhino centurions stomping across the lunar surface more than compensate.
There's a confidence about the whole programme that bodes well for the rest of the series, and nowhere is it more apparent than in the Doctor himself. Whether he's prattling away at the Plasmavore, considering the suitability of the assorted trainee doctors as assistants in a crisis, or mimicking the inevitable newcomer's reaction to the TARDIS, David Tennant has completely taken possession of the role. The chemistry with Agyeman is already terrific, too.
They have the benefit of some tremendous dialogue, mind. Among my favourites: Martha's "laser spanner" question and the Doctor's careless retort about Emmeline Pankhurst, following up from his amiable jabbering about Benjamin Franklin to the bemused consultant (an extra point, Mr Davies, for giving the name of Mr B Stoker to Roy Marsden's deliciously snooty character) and the entire scene with Anne Reid's creepily changeable Florence. The Second Doctor remains my favourite, and that whole sequence was gloriously reminiscent of his tactics to unbalance a dangerous opponent.
Ironically, after all the charging about, the rampaging monsters, screaming extras and comical radiation-expelling, the quiet last few minutes are the most impressive of all. Full marks to the writer on making one of television's most frequently played scenes fresh. "Your spaceship's made of wood!" and the explanation of the Doctor's weird first appearance give it a boost, but for all its finely-honed writing, the scene works because of the way the two actors sell it. It's just about the perfect end to a highly entertaining seasonal debut.
Jackbooted Thug Fun by Adrian Loder 18/7/07
I've kind of had a love/hate relationship going with the revival of Doctor Who on TV these past few years. There have definitely been things about it that I don't like at all - the poorly-done, character-driven melodrama especially grates on my nerves. One reviewer at some point, possibly in a different review, mentions that Doctor Who eventually got further and further away from any kind of deep, emotional goings-on, as if this were a negative. While there is nothing wrong with having a show that deals with these sorts of things, they're a dime-a-dozen. This is, in fact, the standard format for most television. One of the things that made Doctor Who unique was that, unlike Star Blech or Star Bores, it stayed primarily within event or concept-driven science-fiction.
On the other hand, I always kept it in mind that Doctor Who has had numerous production teams, each with a different - sometimes radically different - idea of how things should be done. And this is of course just talking about TV - throw in all the different writing styles and audio drama productions and you get even more multiplicity and malleability. This was just one more production team's idea of what Doctor Who's format ought to be. As such, though I often have bemoaned certain aspects of the last few seasons or have disliked them - the last half of last year was just dreadful, between Fear Her, Love & Monsters and Doomsday - I have never been so presumptuous as to say they aren't Doctor Who. They may be bad Doctor Who, but still Doctor Who.
So what on Earth has this to do with Smith and Jones, the premiere installment of Season 29? I've recently been viewing the new episodes and am very hopeful for the future. The crappy melodrama has largely been replaced with show-don't-tell styles of evoking characterisation and the plots have been more satisfying on the whole. And it all starts here, because The Runaway Bride is really more like last season than this one.
Let's start with the plot: simple, yet imaginative, and makes good use of the larger budget of the last few years. The Judoon were shown in the preview for the season that showed after the end of the last (or perhaps at the end of Runaway Bride, I can't remember) and in that 3-second glimpse I thought they might be Sontarans. Oh joy! alas, not Sontarans, but except for the rhino heads they bear a strong resemblance, and are a fine successor to their heritage of jackbooted thuggery. That they aren't, strictly-speaking, the villains of the piece adds a nice layer to the plot and the real villain is quite chilling, though the straw is a bit much. That bit's obviously for the kids.
I very much prefer Martha to Rose. I tried to like Rose, I really did, but unlike some others who only grew tired of her in her second season, I really never did like her, despite any claims to the contrary. She was giggly and stupid-acting in the same way as certain vapid high-school girls I knew. Martha is a doctor - well, a med student, but close enough - and though hardly a stuffy, cerebral drybones, she brings an air of intelligence and sophistication that Rose never had. I think I could live with a Tennant/Agyeman pairing for quite a long time.
Speaking of David Tennant, he once again shines. His portrayal has always been more Doctorish than Chris Eccleston's and he continues to refine it nicely, keeping many of the traits of past incarnations while adding his own interpretation along with it. The shoe/radiation scene, though, was a bit much. Still, one thing it did do - and which Tennant himself does ably - is remind everyone that the Doctor is an alien, he's not a human being. He's different from us, and he's supposed to be, something that got lost with Season 27/Series 1. Sometimes he does things and behaves in such a way as to look completely insane, but which is perfectly normal for him, and that's good.
So, overall, I'm pleased. I've said this before though, God help me. The third time's got to be the charm though, hasn't it? 8/10.
No! Kro! Blo! Sho! Ro! by Steve Cassidy 4/9/07
Smith and Jones has to be the best season opener for decades.
After season two's disappointing starting piece - New Earth - season 3 had to make an impact from the beginning. This adventure does that with what is actually a highly enjoyable script from Russell T Davies. It has to accomplish a lot. NuWho must keep its momentum going in what is the traditonally the more difficult third season. And for once this adventure hits the ground running. It has to introduce a new companion after the successful but flawed Rose Tyler and move the Doctor along. For the most part it succeeds. By the end of this adventure, memories of what came before recede into the distance.
But the premise is good. A place of work isn't just disturbed, it is kidnapped. And as this is Who, it is transported to the moon. Almost automatically you have got everyone's attention. The scale is big with what we have come to expect from Who but at the same time you can recognise the horror and terror of those trapped inside the hospital as it is transported to another celestial body. The idea of this being done to catch an intergalactic criminal is very Douglas Adams and the Judoon are a good creation. Intergalactic freelance stormtroopers scanning people to find out if there are any alien hideaways. They resemble Sontarans to a certain degree even to the wandlike checking equipment but are rhino-like in concept. Perhaps there is a planet somewhere out near the Crab Nebula where rhinos were the dominant species and they evolved into the Judoon. A good Who idea to catch onto the kids' imaginations.
It is more of a romp then a story/character piece. But this is no bad thing. Lots of running down corridors from stomping menacing Judoon and this is what was necessary. The production design is as good as we have come to expect from NuWho and there are some lovely shots of the Judoon moving as a phalanx across the craggy surface of the moon towards the hospital. The CGI of the dark clouds above St Thomas' hospital are impressive as are the costumes and prosethetics.
It is,however, a companion introduction first and foremost. After two years of Rose Tyler would the viewers accept a new face in the TARDIS? Luckily they chose well with Freema Agyeman. RTD has said that his most memorable changeover from childhood was from Jo Grant to Sarah Jane Smith. Two characters who aren't too disimilar. Martha is given an earth-family the same as Rose and for the first five minutes we are introduced to them as well as her. There's real cliched stuff here: the shrewlike mother, the well meaning son, and the philandering father with his bottle-blonde girlfriend ("Take me shopping big boy!"). They are only on screen for a few minutes but you got a sense of shoulder-sagging deju vu when watching them. Freema Agyeman is a very good choice for a companion. She's an actress with an instant likeability factor. They have given her a career and a profession in being a trainee doctor which proves she already has a brain. She uses logic ("The air would be sucked out already") and has a sense of humour. The omens were good for Martha Jones.
David Tennant as the Doctor puts in a proficient performance but I am beginning to believe he is as good as the person directing him. When he tones it down (ie The Shakespeare Code), he is a pleasure but when we get shouty Doctor (Evolution of the Daleks) it all becomes unravelled. Here we get a mixture of zany Doctor (radioactivity squeezed into his plimsoll - "You can come round and meet the wife! We can have cake!") and quiet Doctor (the final scene in the alley). Theres no middle ground with his Doctor. Where he does excel is the physical acting. He has to struggle back from near death at the climax and pull the plug on the villainess's scheme. He really convinces you of his exhaustion and pain. Ann Reid plays a bloodsucking alien who the Judoon are after. It's quite a menacing role especially when they light her so she appeals craggy and sinister. But so many RTD villainesses tip over on the wrong side of camp and she does here.
Plaudits must also go to Roy Marsden and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Martha's sister Tish. And once again the production design is top notch. But it's the pace of Smith and Jones which keeps it barrelling along. It's an adventure, pure and simple, given extra oomph by being set on the moon. It has that touch of imagination that all good Who has. The setting, monsters and premise are good and you can't keep your eyes off it until the end. Even Murray Gold's music is enjoyable and atmospheric. Along with Tooth and Claw, it is one of RTD's best scripts for the programme.
An above-par adventure for the start to what would certainly be a superior season. Who would have thunk it?
A Review by Joe Ford 7/1/08
A fantastic opener, fantastic in the sense that it kick starts the show in exactly the right direction and deals a double blow to critics who have lost faith in the show. Taking the three opening episodes of series one, two and three, this is easily the best of the lot, extremely confident with its identity and showing the audience that the series still has so much to offer.
I want leap straight on to the hot topic of Freema Agyeman as Martha Jones who was under a lot of pressure to deliver the goods after Billie Piper's career-boosting turn as Rose. All my fears were dismissed in this episode alone. Freema is a real find and totally convincing in what is actually a hard role to make convincing (come on, there are not that many people who can make being kidnapped to the moon and not panicking seem rational) but, even better, she is likeable and, coming after a pretty smug year with Rose Tyler, the humble and intelligent Martha Jones feels much more comfortable. As well as being utterly gorgeous, she plays the role with enthusiasm and humanity and shares instant chemistry with David Tennant (I'm fast coming to the conclusion that this guy could have chemistry with ANYONE!). We get some back-story behind the character with another London based family featuring heavily in her life but with a completely different feel to the Tylers. To be honest we don't spend enough time with the Joneses to see if they will compare, but the domestic drama that laces this story feel so real it is a good (and witty) introduction to them.
The big difference between this episode and New Earth (which is still a good'un) is tone. Smith and Jones (reserving judgement on the title), whilst containing some funny moments, is essentially a serious episode with some nice threatening scenes to give the drama some backbone. Whereas New Earth pulled you in several directions from farce to poignancy, this opener has a focussed storyline and concentrates on thrills and danger. Moments that should be absurd are not only pulled off but also played with such conviction they give you the chills (the line "I even have a straw" is really creepy!).
Sod Primeval and its dinosaurs in modern-day Earth, Doctor Who opens its season with a hospital transported to the moon! It sounds ridiculous but the direction is stunning, backed up by some very clever special effects. There is something very Sapphire and Steel about the shot of the moon sitting very lonesome on the moons surface and the slow reveal from the veranda is a Russell T Davies moment of genius. What other show on telly could get away with this and maintain its integrity?
With this surprise unleashed, the episode barely stops for breath with the Judoon making an instant impression, soaring overhead in their (excellent) spaceships and marching across the moon's surface to besiege the hospital. This is another special effects triumph from the Mill and another spectacle to add to the episode's list. I know, we were all thinking it was the Sontarans but frankly the animatronics and design of the Judoon are so good I don't give a toss that it isn't. It occurred to me during the scene when the Judoon pour through the doors of the hospital that Doctor Who is screened near the timeslot for Casualty and this plot is pretty similar to some of theirs (well no it isn't, but they could pour on some pretty unlikely concepts at times). The Judoon are another idea that could have been really disastrous (think back to the first appearance of the Slitheen) but thanks to a spot-on director (Charles Palmer, you may return any day!) and some great effects, they are really menacing and high on the list of returnable monsters.
Who would believe that this is the same Anne Reid that played Nurse Crane in Curse of Fenric? I'm pleased to see her turning up in more and more telly lately, obviously brilliant in Dinnerladies but also very good in The Bad Mother's Handbook (with none other than Catherine Tate) and giving a terrific performance in Smith and Jones. She never tips over into melodrama (despite threats) and manages to make (AGAIN!) what is essentially a bloody stupid idea work like a dream (that straw will haunt my dreams). Seriously, I was rather hoping she would return at a later date because she makes an intriguing foe, turning from frail old granny to menacing blood sucker in a matter of seconds (plus she has a nice line in witty quips; gotta love, "Call it my little gift").
David Tennant owns the role now and can draw on much of what he has already achieved. The biggest difference I felt was that he has calmed down slightly, playing the performance from the atmosphere rather than the stratosphere. I have no doubt that we will be seeing some of his histrionics throughout the season but he seems to be listening to his harshest critics who aren't fond of his exploding emotional firework of a performance and delivering something far more restrained. It really works in an episode like this that demands quick thinking, fast action and a certain amount of gravity but I hope he hasn't been reigned in completely. What struck me as more thoughtful than the norm (and backed up by the script) was the Doctor's thoughtful looks as Martha thinks about her situation and intelligently reasons moments out and stops him in his tracks to make sure they are operating humanely, like he was never looking for company but the more she does to impress him the more he likes being around her. After their adventure together on the moon it felt perfectly natural for him to be waiting on a street corner for her feuding family to disperse and offer her a trip of a lifetime.
The scene in the alleyway is the highpoint of the episode. Surprising, since all of thrills and spills are over. It just goes to show what two actors can do with what is essentially the same scene that has been repeated over and over for the past forty years. Tennant and Agyeman work Davies' dialogue like a dream and there are some lovely, perceptive comments made (I love the "made of wood" line) and Martha's choice to step inside feels somehow more natural than Rose's. Rose was escaping a boring life, but with Martha it is like stepping into the TARDIS because it will be fun, exactly what my reaction would be if offered. I do like the reference back to Rose; it is nice to know that once you have left the TARDIS you aren't forgotten.
Whilst the performances and direction are both superb, I would like to hand the plaudits over to Murray Gold and his amazing score for this episode. I will put my hand on my heart and swear that Gold's music is one of the reason this show has been such a success and triumphed over weaker copies such as Primeval. The theme for the Judoon is so bombastic and grand I was punching the air in time thinking, yeah, this is why this show is so cool! I have just finished a course on programmatic music and Gold's distinctive themes for each character is a beautiful example of his effective it can be. Martha gets her own here; it's not as haunting as Rose's but it is more mysterious and upbeat. I like.
Other things to notice:
A Review by Finn Clark 16/9/10
Russell T. Davies's season finales may have gone downhill, but I like the evolution of his season openings. Rose is straightforward. New Earth is more complicated, with evil cat-nuns, body-swap comedy and plague victim zombies, but it's still basically just another episode. They considered bumping up Tooth and Claw to the opening slot. However, all the season openers since then have been so specifically written to suit their slot that they'd feel out of place anywhere else. Partners in Crime is the more extreme, being an outright comedy in which excess body fat turns into cute aliens and waddles away. I can't believe I just wrote that sentence. Smith and Jones is more conventional, but it's still the kind of story that'll blast you through the back of your sofa with sheer eye candy. It has a plot. It's fun and clever. It has time-twisty stuff that echoes the structure of the entire season. These things are all good. However, just as important is the fact that it teleports a London hospital to the moon and fills it with alien space rhinos. Gotta love the red death rays.
I'd love to see how this episode played in a cinema, although it might not be very kind on Freema Agyeman. Ah yes, Martha Jones. Back in 2007, I thought she did a bang-up job. My brow wrinkled a few times, such as with her reactions to the hospital having landed on the moon, but I was prepared to wait and see. Eccleston had been similarly off-putting at first with his false jollity, but they'd turned out to be deliberate. Fair enough, I thought. Maybe that's just the kind of person Martha is.
Today, I'm less forgiving. We've seen her in Series Four, so it's easy to come off the fence and call her poor. "We're on the moon." Uh, right. This is probably her weakest episode of the year, sad to say, but even here it's easy to see why she was cast in the role. She's a lovely person who's bubbling over with energy, which carries over well on screen. There's something very watchable about Freema, by which I don't just mean her backside, and she pulled off the feat of following Billie Piper and making it look easy. She's also good at portraying unrequited love; for example, with her reaction here to the Doctor's "good" after she's said, "I only go for humans." As it happens, she has some iffy moments in this episode, but overall I think she's a performer with lots of charisma and the kind of energy levels you need to pull off a challenge on this scale, even if she's obviously more comfortable as the audience-identification figure than she would be the following year as Gestapo Girl. There's nothing wrong with playing someone similar to yourself. In Series Three, she did well.
I also like Martha Jones and her family, who get acres of screen time but never for a moment feel like a prologue to the main action. Martha's intelligent, brave and likeable, but also shown to be completely unlike Billie. Had Rose been American, she'd have been white trash. Martha, on the other hand, is training to be a doctor, sorting out her family's arguments for them and generally in control of her life. She has a career plan. She's sensible and can think. She even seems older than Rose. All this means she's better suited to the 10th Doctor, being less likely to trigger a feedback loop of grinning idiocy that makes you want to slap the two of them silly. Eccleston found his Doctor immediately, but Tennant took longer and I think the introduction of Martha was a big help for him.
The retcon of Freema's previous role in Army of Ghosts is clever too, by the way. It feels like a character point rather than mere wank, unlike the superficially similar line for Gwen in Journey's End.
I've been talking a lot about the 2007 season rather than this specific episode, but there's a reason for that. Smith and Jones is ingenious and terrific fun, but slightly empty. It's much more impressive on first viewing, whereas something like Partners in Crime is always funny no matter how often I watch it. Nevertheless, in 2007 it blew me away, which is what it was meant to do. Job done. Nice one, Rusty. Nevertheless, the episode doesn't even live particularly well in the memory, since a year later I remembered loving it but wasn't entirely sure why. It's hardly one of Doctor Who's meatier episodes and today I'd be more likely to rewatch New Earth, although even I'd agree that it's a less successful opening episode.
That doesn't mean it's stupid, though. In hindsight, the time-twisting is one of the most interesting things about it, with the Doctor's trick with his tie being a foreshadowing of the structure of the entire season. It's even played out in front of a VOTE SAXON poster. Brrrr. On rewatching, the Mr Saxon references actually become creepy. Note also that the script is teasing us with the Doctor's mentions of a brother and how "we" played in the nursery. On first broadcast, I was convinced I knew where that was going.
One can draw parallels with other episodes. I've seen it called a remake of Rose, although I can't see many similarities beyond the London setting and the introduction of a companion. New Earth would seem a much better comparison, both stories being set in a hospital and involving a female undead villain who's using artificially created slave lifeforms to hide from aliens which look like animals. Alternatively, I could even point at the 1996 TVM, which is yet again set in a hospital and shows the Doctor getting involved with a beautiful doctor with whom he shares a kiss, a near-death experience and temporal jiggery-pokery. Tennant carrying Martha in his arms is even reminiscent of McGann carrying Ashbrook. One might also name-drop Mr Saxon.
The story has the right amount of plot and a satisfying ending that makes sense, even if took New Who two years to get there. I like having rival camps of bad guys, so long as it's not just Two Alien Factions. The Judoon are a laugh and deserved their return the following year, even if it was essentially a cameo, but Anne Reid gave me the creeps as Florence. I've seen it argued that it's a cliche for the little old lady to turn out to be evil, but if it is then it's a harmless one. You could say the same of small children, doctors, nurses, butlers and pretty much anyone. We need a villain. Nurse Crane is as good as anyone and at least this way we can construct fan theories drawing links with the fact that Anne Reid's previous Doctor Who role had been in Curse of Fenric and saw her turned into a vampire. Admittedly, she didn't get up again afterwards on-screen, but one presumes she did. Maybe the first Plasmavore was born from the Haemovores 65 years earlier? However that's just me being a fanboy. The real reason why Anne Reid's casting is a reason for celebration is that she's an actress with plenty of experience under her belt, so gives a quality performance. If I ever wrote a Doctor Who screenplay, I'd want to set it in a retirement home.
This isn't one of Russell T. Davies's deeper episodes, but that doesn't make it dumb. In particular, the Doctor beats the villain in a clever way, yielding an ending that's neither contrived nor rushed. How often had we been able to say that, eh? To be honest, there's not much to say about this one, being memorable mostly for scale and SF eye candy. Oh, and jokes. I laughed at the Judoon's compensation voucher. These days, I don't adore the story as I used to, but I like it and admire its swagger. It's doing a specific job and on those lowbrow terms I prefer it to all the Christmas specials. Where else on TV can you see this stuff? A London hospital on the moon! A vampire with a plastic straw! If you're pulling down a random episode to rewatch, Smith and Jones remains cool, funny and uniquely Whoish.
Here we are, standing in the Earthlight by Evan Weston 11/12/14
The Runaway Bride was our first step away from the Billie Piper era, but Smith and Jones puts the kibosh on it for good. And unlike our previous introductory episodes, this one is really, really good. Not great - it's got holes and things worth poking at, to be sure - but it's probably the best major character introduction in the Davies era.
There's a ton of pressure on Freema Agyeman's shoulders here, as we all know she's set to be the replacement for Piper. For the most part, Agyeman aces it, playing off Tennant reasonably well and demonstrating solid acting chops in an action setting. She doesn't really have to play on any major emotions here, but it feels like she's more than capable after watching Smith and Jones (as it turns out, she is). It also helps that she's playing the exact same character as Piper. Sure, the minor details have been changed - the white shopgirl is now the black medical student, and the families are vastly different - but Martha is a carbon copy of late-Series 2 Rose. She's bright, fearless, compassionate and has a thirst for adventure. Sound familiar?
To be clear, I'm not knocking this at all. Possibly the best thing Smith and Jones does is develop the Doctor's character organically - something that Davies is better at than anyone else. This may be the best instance of that phenomenon in the Tennant era. After The Runaway Bride, the Doctor knows, if only subconsciously, that he needs a new companion. The whole episode hints at it, and the final scene is fantastic. He's drawn to Martha because she's exactly what Rose was, and his deep feelings for Rose drive him to give Martha a shot. However, he also knows Martha is not Rose, and so he is almost hostile in his invitation to her. He brings up Rose pretty much unprovoked and snarls, "Not that you're replacing her!" It's a great moment that sets up the main arc of Series 3: Martha's maturation into her own person and the Doctor's gradual release of his love for Rose.
Now, the episode itself is no slouch. Smith and Jones is one of Doctor Who's better mystery stories, and it's all set in a hospital on the moon. Cool! The first 15 minutes are extremely confusing, though, and almost too many questions arise. Why is the Doctor in the hospital? Why did said hospital get airlifted to the moon? Why should we care about Martha? Holy crap there's a vampire lady. It's actually too intriguing, to the point where you stop trying to figure it out and just give up and hope everything ties together. For the most part, it does. Everything from the first third of the story is resolved, even the Doctor's random appearance on the street in the first scene. It's really good plotting, something Davies rarely does well. The story is intense, too. There's lots of running around the hospital, but unlike Series 2's New Earth, it doesn't feel mindless at all.
The new character is great, too. Martha is established early on as a clever, laid-back medical student who wants a little bit more out of life. We aren't bludgeoned over the head with this information, but are instead shown it through Martha's actions: she accepts a verbal skewering from her supervisor with a wink from the Doctor, and she keeps a relatively level head after the hospital is transported to the moon. In fact, she's almost too level, and through most of the episode that's a bit grating. Still, it makes sense with the character development to come. I briefly mentioned Agyeman before, but she's really quite good. Her chemistry with Tennant isn't totally there yet, but it shows a lot of potential, and she definitely gives off the proper vibe for her character. It's obvious why Russell liked her after her small role in Army of Ghosts/Doomsday. (I really enjoyed the throwaway line about her cousin in Canary Wharf.)
Martha's family is also established in this episode. They don't do much, but the show is very good at telling us a lot about characters in a small amount of time. Tish is the most like Martha, but a good deal more emotional. She's a very interesting character. Leo is the dull one who doesn't get much development, Clive is a whipped old guy enjoying a mid-life crisis and Francine, played by the terrific Adjoa Andoh, is the steely-eyed mother who you know is going to cause trouble. It's a solid introduction for the Joneses, and this story makes us look forward to more of them in the future.
The other characters are a mixed bag. Tennant actually delivers a fairly poor performance for the first half hour or so, drooling over his lines and tottering about like an idiot. He has that bottled-up-feelings thing going on in a few instances, but he's just clowning around for the most part. He's solely responsible for the episode's worst scene - his dancing, shoe-removing attempt to expel the radiation he shot into the Slab is very hammy at best. However, he significantly improves once he confronts Florence Finnegan, the story's blood-sucking, shape-shifting villain. That scene is one of the best in the episode, with the Doctor playing dumb and Finnegan revealing her master plan... until the Doctor tricks her into drinking his blood. Anne Reid is very good as the creepy old lady with a taste for the red stuff, though her servants are perhaps the most dull concept the show has ever thrown at us. Leather slave drones? Please. The Judoon, on the other hand, are very effective beasts, played as the secondary antagonists just doing their jobs. Roy Marsden is solid in his brief role as the hilariously named Mr. Stoker.
The production elements of Smith and Jones are top notch, as is becoming the norm with Doctor Who. Charlie Palmer steps into the director's chair for the first time and delivers a solid performance, tracking the characters through the hospital in a manner that's fast-paced but never sprinting. The moon looks nice on the green screen, and the Judoon ships look gorgeous, descending on the lunar surface with obvious malice. The design of the Judoon themselves is a bit silly - why do they need to wear skirts? - but the rhino heads are effectively scary. The score is also a plus, with Murray Gold delivering his best work in quite some time.
Smith and Jones rocks. That's about all there is to say. It does the character heavy-lifting far better than Davies' other introductory episodes, and it delivers a ripping good yarn in the process. Series 3 overall is one of the strongest in the show's history, and while there are faults to be found with Tennant's performance and the way things are structured, this is a very solid start.