Story 189


Series 4 – Episode 1

“No exercise, no diet, no pain, just lifelong freedom from fat. The Holy Grail of the modern age!” – Miss Foster

Regretting her decision not to join the Doctor, Donna Noble is looking for trouble in the hope of finding him again. They are both separately investigating Adipose Industries – unaware of the other’s presence. Run by the steely Miss Foster, the company has developed a pill that helps people lose weight, but it’s part of a breeding plan that turns body fat into little alien creatures, killing their human subjects. Before travelling with the Doctor, Donna has a brief encounter with a woman, unaware that she is Rose Tyler. From the Tardis flying overhead, Donna waves to her overjoyed grandad Wilf in his allotment.

First UK transmission
Saturday 5 April 2008

October–December 2007. Main locations: in Cardiff at Waterloo Gardens, Penylan; British Gas Building, Churchill Way; Grangemoor Park; Dominions Arcade, Queen Street; Millennium Stadium; Nant Fawr Road, Cyncoed. Glan Rhymni, Windsor Estate, Tremorfa. Lady Mary allotments, Roath Park. Studio: Upper Boat Studios, Treforest, Pontypridd.

The Doctor – David Tennant
Donna Noble – Catherine Tate
Rose Tyler – Billie Piper
Miss Foster – Sarah Lancashire
Wilfred Mott – Bernard Cribbins
Sylvia Noble – Jacqueline King
Penny Carter – Verona Joseph
Stacey Harris – Jessica Gunning
Roger Davey – Martin Ball
Craig Staniland – Rachid Sabitri
Clare Pope – Chandra Ruegg
Suzette Chambers – Sue Kelvin
Taxi driver – Jonathan Stratt

Writer – Russell T Davies
Director – James Strong
Producer – Phil Collinson
Designer – Edward Thomas
Music – Murray Gold
Executive producers – Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner

RT review by Mark Braxton (published October 2022)
Netflix hit Stranger Things may be one long, extended tribute to D&D, but Doctor Who got there first: with the Doctor and Donna.

Their partnership in time is a breath of mountain air after the unexpressed love between Rose and the Doctor, then the unreciprocated crush of Martha on the Time Lord. All that tension flying around the Tardis worked well in dramatic terms, but with every new season comes change, and that feels like a very good thing. Our hero and his companion can now just get on with the business of travelling, encountering dangers, putting things right. Just like old times!

The story comes a whole 16 months after Donna was first introduced in the Christmas special The Runaway Bride, as was her harridan mother Sylvia (Jacqueline King). In that episode we also met her father Geoff but the actor who played him, Howard Attfield, died in October 2007, so Bernard Cribbins – first seen as Wilfred Mott in Voyage of the Damned – was brought back and repurposed as Donna’s grandfather. What a decision that was!

These family set-ups (Tyler, Jones and Noble) are a strong feature of early New Who, deftly created and written by Russell T Davies, and keep the adventures grounded in a way that the show rarely did before. And Donna, both earthy and escapist, goes on a massive journey from nine-to-five temp to saviour of the universe. Previewing Partners in Crime, RTD told RT, “She’s a friend, an equal and a conscience.” And so successful was Catherine Tate’s pairing with Tennant that the news in 2022 that they’d be coming back in the 60th anniversary story has been met with near-hysteria on social media.

Here the reunion is depicted skilfully and comically by Russell T. There’s a delayed gratification to the final meeting, with both homing in on the same thing – the mystery at the heart of Adipose Industries – while contriving not to collide like a Whitehall farce. The moment they finally clock each other from opposing windows is glorious, and their signing and miming are perfectly comprehensible to the viewer.

But to say that their sophomore adventure was fat-free would be a lie. The Adipose invasion is a curious concoction, a slightly queasy mix of Pillsbury-Doughboy cuteness and Cronenberg body horror. There’s some strong imagery here for a 6.20pm time slot, but Murray Gold’s jovial and jazzy score seems to tell us it’ll all be OK.

Tate’s resigning isn’t the only casting coup… Nobody arches an eyebrow quite like Sarah Lancashire, and her deadly Miss Foster, all prim lippy and steely outlook – “a wet nurse using humans as surrogates” – is delicious. The way she gathers her alien children, like Richard Dreyfuss at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, is rather touching.

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I’d be surprised if the Adipose feature prominently in fans’ favourite monster lists. Their realisation isn’t helped by some CGI that may have been passable in 2008 but looks a bit blurry now. Better by far is the giant Spielbergian spaceship that arrives for the big finish.

Speaking of which, the moment the ship’s tractor beam is turned off and Miss Foster remains stock-still before plummeting to her doom is exactly like Wile E Coyote realising he’s run over a cliff. Davies is a talented cartoonist himself, so that makes perfect sense to me…

Plenty of comedy here, then, but sadness, too, something Davies homes in on with unerring skill. “No one’s going to come along with a magic wand and make your life better,” Sylvia tells Donna, while Wilf says, “You seem to be drifting, sweetheart.” And when the two central friends finally take a breath and have a proper catch-up, neither seems to have progressed much since they last met.

Once loose ends have been tied up and the lethal lipids seen off – let’s not shed a tear for the Adipose, dear reader, they’re not exactly Zygons or Sea Devils – we get not one but two zinging pay-offs: the shock, momentary reappearance of Rose (it almost made me jump at the time) and then Donna waving down to her grandad from the Tardis, with Wilf doing a very Cribbinsy little dance of joy.

Watch it again on iPlayer and you’ll get very excited for the 60th…

Radio Times archive


RT gave its usual extensive coverage for the launch of the season, as well as a tribute to Doctor Who's original producer Verity Lambert.