Full disclosure, true confessions: I’m a bit of an anorak. I’ve created convoluted explanations for how potential romance with Rose Tyler doesn’t disadvantage other Companions (with the help of Susannah’s brilliant Time Vortex theory–ask her about it), and I don’t buy into the whole “baby Time Lords are woven on looms” thing, but for the most part I’m just not that terribly interested in romance on Doctor Who. The characters might be able to visit the creation of the universe or the Medusa Cascade or the Kennedy assassination after a bout of TARDIS rockin’, but the rest of us don’t have time machines, and the kissing doesn’t strike me as being quite as interesting as episodes about the whole of time and space. (Obviously, mileage varies on this point.)
So I was pretty sure that the explicit declaration at the end of “Partners in Crime” would be right up my alley, but I had no inkling of how important the decision to make Donna “just” a mate would be for the overall structure of the season. Rose and Martha, both in love with the Doctor in one way or another, tended to get pretty wigged out when reminded of the fact that he’s an alien instead of a really appealing human male who just happens to have a time machine. They spent a lot of their time with the Doctor trying to view him through their lens of an ideal romantic partner. That’s not to say they didn’t appreciate him or the things he can do, but they did tend to focus on a limited set of his dimensions (it could be argued that Season 2 was all about the folly of the Doctor adopting Rose’s point of view on such matters, in fact).
Donna, however, has been confronted with the Doctor’s alienness from the second she met him. Because of this, she’s not afraid to explore the alien parts of his nature, and Season 4 to this point has been the audience’s opportunity to hop on that bandwagon. “The Fires of Pompeii” led us back to the Doctor’s almost eternal perspective on opportunity, change, and fixed points of tragedy. “Planet of the Ood,” on the other hand, takes on another facet of what it must be like inside the Doctor’s head by juxtaposing the Oodsong Donna can’t hear with the Doctor’s inability to escape it. This is most poignantly shown when the Gallifreyan Mind Meld (or whatever the heck that is) gives Donna the opportunity to hear the Oodsong…and she begs to be released from it, not only by having the song blocked again but by being taken home. Donna’s willingness to share all of the aspects of the Doctor’s life–not just those that seem the most human–opens up stories that investigate what it’s really like to be the last of the Time Lords.
Other parts of the episode don’t quite add up–where does evolution come into play with a species that holds a hindbrain in its hands? Why are the Doctor and Donna commemorated in song just for showing up (since their presence didn’t really change the outcome)? Why is the Doctor nearly gleeful over Mr. Halpen’s gruesome fate (and is this fate truly the most gruesome thing we’ve seen on New Who?)? And why, why, why that lengthy scene with the claw? But when the character work is so strong, it’s easy to skip lightly over those issues and just get swept up in Oodsong.