Season 29 Episode 1 – Smith And Jones, by Russell T. Davies

May 11, 2008

review by Martin Odoni.

I’m starting reviews of the new season with a real shock for you all… Smith And Jones was a Russell T Davies episode that I liked! Yes, I was stunned too, and on balance I’ve put it down to chance.

It’s still not exactly a classic episode, but it was really refreshing that, for about the first time ever, RTD wrote a story where the Doctor saved the day by coming up with a clever, cunning, and genuinely courageous strategy that actually outwitted the enemy, instead of just by waving a magic wand or by hitting a convenient reset-the-universe-to-how-it-was-fifty-minutes-ago button on the side of the sonic screwdriver. (Although just pulling a power cable on the machine at the end was a bit on the easy side.)

David Tennant’s performance was noticeably better than most of last year; he’s settled into the role now and he’s learned to stop ‘cranking-it-up’ for the sake of it so often. He still has his OTT moments here, but generally he was far more measured than in past episodes.

I find Martha a breath of fresh air too. All that saccharine sentiment about Rose from last season had gotten really stale, and it’s nice that the Doctor now has an assistant with an independent, authoritative mind of her own. It’s clear she’s still going to have a crush on the Doc, but at least she won’t need him to validate everything about her the way Rose did. Martha is also just a lot more likeable and less ‘chavvy’ than Rose. To an extent, Martha reminds me of the Third Doctor’s original companion, Liz Shaw. Freema Agyeman’s performance is a bit stagy, but hopefully she’ll get to grips with the character soon.

The Judoon were a fairly different idea for a new alien race, although I had the word “Vogons!” going round and round in my head at times; bureaucratic, officious, huge-set etc.

The plot was a bit ridiculous of course – the hospital being shipped to the moon just so the Judoon could get round a legal loophole was clearly just a contrivance for having a story set in a hospital on the moon – but I guess it’s forgivable. And the story rattles along at such a pace the audience doesn’t really have time to argue.

The plasmavore is, I’m afraid, yet another variant on the cannibalistic-alien-that-absorbs-and-assimilates-other-species villain that was used at least five times last season. It’d be nice if they could think up something a bit more original, but this is atoned for by the excellent performance from Anne Reid. The bit with the straw is clearly taken from the Red Dwarf episode Psirens, but it sets up one of the cleverest, and scariest, gambles the Doctor has ever made; letting the plasmavore drink his blood to expose her was heroic and ingenious. Max points to RTD for coming up with that idea, genuinely clever and leery.

Glaring irritants; well, already the utterly unnecessary running theme for the season has started up with the ‘Vote Saxon’ posters. Keep your eyes and ears open for more of that boring, smug, name-dropping in weeks to come. (I invented a character called Saxon for a series of scripts I’m writing at the moment, so I feel a bit ripped off by that.) The scene with the Doctor expelling radiation just had my eyes rolling in annoyance, although even that’s not all bad news; I was relieved the carcinogens went out through the foot, rather than RTD using it as an excuse for yet another juvenile fart-gag. And some of the incidental music really grated, as ever.

But irritants aren’t too many in number here. In fact, this is easily the best season-opener Dr Who has had since Castrovalva way back in 1981. 7/10.

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