Let’s be frank–the Adipose scheme was going along swimmingly until the Doctor stuck his nose in and everything went, er, less pear-shaped. (Ooh.) Really, all they had to do was ask, “Hello, I represent Adipose Industries. Would you be interested in helping infertile families experience the joy of parenthood? All it would require of you is the totally painless removal of two pounds a day. Ma’am, we’ll just give you the pill; you don’t have to rip it out of our hands.” People seemed pretty happy to be less heavy until the Doctor and Donna got involved and they were suddenly faced with being too light.
Is the show following suit? When this episode aired in the UK, a Guardian blogger claimed as much, wondering if the “disturbingly lightweight” “Partners in Crime” signaled the “end of the road” for the Doctor. We’re perplexed by this perspective for a number of reasons. First, was the episode actually that light? Sure, the villain wasn’t terribly scary, and the key creature was adorable rather than slavering, but Donna’s dead-end life and the Doctor’s loneliness weren’t exactly made for birthday cake, and the Doctor’s (long overdue) confessions about how he botched the Martha Jones Experience weren’t accompanied by circus music. In addition, “Partners in Crime” follows the tradition of New Who‘s season openers being sillier than the average episode. “Rose” had plastic arms choking the Doctor, plastic bins spitting out plastic Mickeys, and plastic mannequins in bridal dresses marauding in the streets, for heaven’s sake. “New Earth” had body-swapping and “I’m a chav!” “Smith and Jones” had rhino bounty hunters and a little old lady villain who used a bendy straw to suck the life out of victims. A bendy straw. It’s a misrepresentation to suggest that every episode of Doctor Who is “Human Nature” or “Doomsday” or “Blink”.
And that’s a strength, not a weakness. Lots of great shows have leavened their heavy tone with lighter or more humorous episodes. Think about how the world of The X-Files opened up when Mulder and Scully met Jim Rose and the rest of the traveling circus in “Humbug”. One of the best things about Doctor Who‘s premise is its flexibility: they can do new, they can do old, they can do space, they can do Earth, they can do dark, they can do scary, they can do tragic–why can’t they do funny?
This is an especially pertinent question given that “Partners in Crime” did its job, which was to re-introduce Series 4 companion Donna Noble. Sending Catherine Tate in to joust with David Tennant gives the Who crew two versatile actors who can actually do comedy–why on Earth (or in space) wouldn’t they take advantage of that? This season premiere showed us how Donna has changed, why she needs a trip in the TARDIS, and why she’ll make a good companion. It also reminds us of why the Doctor needs a companion and sets the parameters for a relationship quite different than the ones we’ve previously seen in New Who. And it does all this via mime. Done and done–what’s not to love?
In the end, it seems unfair to judge where the series might be going based on a season premiere intentionally designed to be a romp. After all, they’re going to Pompeii next week–do we really expect a musical revue? And that blonde who showed up at the end skipped right away, didn’t she? We’re betting we’re going to be begging for an Adipose to wave at us by the end of this season.