Another reason not to review Doctor Who is that it is forearmed against critics. "Fans always find fault with the new series, as a matter of principal" goes the argument "Since this writer finds fault with the series, he must be a fan; therefore, we can discount his criticisms." Curiously enough, this argument is usually put forward by, er, Doctor Who fans. They are a self-loathing bunch, these asexuals.
But it is perfectly true that the fan's perspective is slightly different from that of the heterosexual community. There is some excuse for the director who says "I know that my film was savaged. But that was only the movie critics. It was never intended for clever people who've seen loads of films. It's intended for stupid people who haven't." The correct, normal thing to do is to say: "Apparently, Simon Pegg is appearing in a new science fiction movie. His character is the engineer on some kind of space-ship. He comes from Aberdeen." Only someone in an aberrant mental state would even know that this character – Taffy, is it? -- is vaguely based on one that appeared on the telly about forty years ago. The director certainly doesn't want anyone to make that connection.
So: let's cast aside my fan goggles and try to watch 'Partners in Crime', not as part of a thing called Doctor Who but as 45 minutes of TV intended to fill the gap between The Weakest Link and I'd Do Anything.
I think that what the straight viewer would see would be a situation comedy. The long drawn out opening gag, in which one character is looking for the other, but keeps missing him, despite the fact that he's only ten feet away, is the kind of thing you'd get in cleverly timed seaside farces or Carry On films. The main characters are broadly drawn comic 'types': there's the working class girl with the mockney accent, day dreaming about the one that got away; her nagging mother; her bonkers, dishevelled grandfather and the sinister company director who's part Anne Robinson and part bondage queen, explicitly compared with Supernanny. (Women in powerful jobs are both sinister and funny.) Only the science journalist, (this week's Highest Ranking Sympathetic Supporting Character) is played straight. The Doctor himself, of course, is hardly even a character, more a grinning collection of comic mannerisms: Basil Fawlty rather than Inspector Morse.
The opening scenes of 'Rose' said to the viewer: "These characters behave like people in a soap opera: please take them seriously". The opening scenes of 'Partners in Crime' said "These characters behave like people in a sit-com: please don't".
Approaching the show as comedy, I think the straight viewer will have quite a good time. There is lots of action, but it's all fairly obviously blue-screen and CGI: there's no real sense of danger. Common Girl and Crazy Man seem to be enjoying themselves: they are doing comedy stunts in the mode of Buster Keaton or Frank Spencer, as opposed to Indiana Jones. The scene where they finally catch up with each other and have to communicate in sign language is particularly good.
There is also a streak of what is evidently supposed to be 'drama' running through it – Crazy Man is supposed to be lonely (we see him in posing moodily in his spaceship) and Common Girl, who met him once before, is miserable because she can't find him. There are a lot of references to Crazy Man's previous two girlfriends. The scene between Common Girl and Cockney Newsvendor Grandad isn't funny, but it isn't proper serious drama, either. I think that the straight viewer is rather bored by these scenes, but she thinks that they are necessary exposition to set up what is obviously turning out to be a rom-com.
The plot is so surreal that the straight viewer will very sensibly ignore it. Since she has seen Harry Potter and the Golden Compass, she is hardly likely to be bowled over by the wondrous special effects. She's more likely to treat it as a cartoon. ('Supernanny' remains suspended in mid-air for a few moments after the tractor-beam is switched off, which will make anyone think of Roadrunner.) The little aliens are cute and funny, but not quite convincing; since we are obviously not supposed to believe in them, this hardly matters.
(In the old days of Doctor Who, the model space ships and monsters were frequently imaginative and well made, but the actual filming was so primitive that it couldn't really prevent them looking like models. This is what straights mean when they say 'wobbly sets'. I feel that the new series suffers from 'wobbly CGI': well-animated but still pretty obviously animation. The aesthetic is a lot like, say, the football match in Bedknobs and Broomsticks -- the whole fun is in seeing characters who are real interacting with ones that obviously aren't.)
The straight viewer will not understand, nor even listen to, the explanation that supernanny gives about what the cute little aliens are, but since it hardly makes any sense at all, that won't matter. She may recognise the scenes in which the aliens burst out of the bodies of human beings as being a quote from a horror movie with Sigourney Weaver that she once saw, and so get the concept of 'parasite' which is the only scaffolding she really needs. The animated sequence makes perfect sense on its own terms: globules of fat break off comically lower class obese people; turns into millions and millions of jelly babies who fly home to mummy on a flying saucer out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind – the same kind of logic you'd get in one of Terry Gilliam's Monty Python animations. The final, ridiculous image, of the girl and the crazy man waving at the old guy from a phone box in space confirms that what we are watching is a cartoon and should be treated as such.
So: what is the straight community's verdict? I think that they find the early comedy sections and some of the stunts quite amusing. And there certainly isn't anything else on TV that wraps sit com and farce and some less than subtle social satire around a surrealistic cartoon in quite this way. I think that the sheer strangeness of it will keep them watching. I think that they will be either bemused or intrigued by the romantic sub-plot – this girl is going off in some kind of space ship, but she's treating it either as a holiday or a date -- but they will certainly want to see how it turns out. But no-way will they regard it as 'drama' along the same lines as Casualty or Morse or even The Archers. Is there any other TV show (even The Sarah Jane Adventures) that would be allowed to get away with such a paper thin plot.
Catherine Tate is less irritating than she was the first time around. Unlike some people, I am less than confident that she is going to have a platonic relationship with the Doctor. She seem to tell Tom Campbell – sorry, Gramps – that she's interested in the Doctor romantically; but to tell the Doctor himself that she just wants to be his friend. Isn't this precisely how you reel in the straight but geeky guy who isn't all that interested? I imagine that the Doctor will declare his love for Donna in episode 7 and Rose will turn up and spoil things in episode 8.
The sad thing is that, while this mess spins around him, David Tennant is still trying to present a character who is recognisably the Doctor. His performance does, at least, give me some kind of reason for switching on. But, oh, as the fellow said all those years ago, what has happened to the magic of Doctor Who?
If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider buying a copy of The Viewers Tale or Fish Custard which collects all my writings about Doctor Who to date.
Alternatively, please consider making a donation of £1 for each essay you have enjoyed.