Warning: Here be spoilers.
Now, the thing about me and Doctor Who is that I was introduced starting with the new series, series 4. A friend of mine had just bought the complete DVD set, and wanted someone to watch it with. But I hadn’t seen the preceding Christmas episodes, so I knew nothing of Donna Noble when I started watching Partners in Crime. My friend didn’t do all that good of a job explaining how the Doctor and Donna knew each other or who that blond girl was at the end, so all the impression I was left with of that episode was pretty much that I was missing a whole lot. (Though to be fair, it wasn’t his fault. It would be hard to prepare a person for that episode without simply showing them the Christmas episode, and possibly a few Rose episodes as well.) There’s so much sitting around and chatting that’s lovely if you remember all these people from the Christmas episode, but completely useless if you don’t, because it all just sort of rings hollow.
Anyway, this being the case, it took me until Silence in the Library to really get into it. And for those two episodes, I was glued to the screen. And then came Turn Left, which was wonderful in all its ideas and made it perfectly alright for you not to know who Rose was, because you’re simply on the same wavelength as Donna. But the whole storyline thereafter was utterly meaningless to me, because sure, you can do your best to explain who Captain Jack, Sarah Jane, Martha and all the people that surround them all, but with that many people suddenly involved, plus Rose, and not knowing who any of them are, I spent more time having a headache and trying to figure out who was whom and the storyline became so vague a thing that I turned away and didn’t revisit Doctor Who for several years thereafter.
When I did, I started with series 1 and worked my way through chronologically, so when I reached series 4 everything made a whole lot more sense, and it is now my favourite series of the David Tennant years. Its only downside is that you truly need the background of at least the 2 previous series to understand what’s going on. Possibly even the series before that. But I digress.
With Donna Noble, series 4 accomplished several things in the new series that no previous series had managed. Firstly, Donna as a companion is far more instrumental to altering the course of the Doctor’s actions than Rose or Martha; and while she maintains that awe and love for the Doctor that Rose and Martha had before her, she manages to do so without falling in love with him, thereby wonderfully decreasing the relationship drama that so heavily characterised the two previous David Tennant series. It also makes for the first time that there was a plot whose threads could be traced back more than one series. In series 1, there was the “Bad Wolf” hint running about; in series 3, it was the mysterious man warning Martha’s mother about the Doctor; but series 4 not only reprises the Bad Wolf theme and brings back characters, but contains threads that trace back to the mystery of Donna appearing in the TARDIS back in the Christmas episode between series 2 and 3.
Donna took some getting used to, but once I was used to her, she became my favourite companion of the new series. Truly, she is a marvelous companion, making us laugh at times, and other times serving as a moral compass for the Doctor to a greater extent than her predecessors by opening our eyes to the extent of the horror presented by some things that they encounter: the most notable examples being Pompei and the slavery of the Ood. The writing was quite good as well, with a variety that ranged from liberation of a species in Planet of the Ood; to a creepy, clever story in Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead; to an Agatha Christie mystery featuring Agatha Christie herself, with science fiction overtones.
The only reason why the series itself cannot be ranked as my favourite series is simply as I explained above. In order to understand this series, someone has to watch at least 2 preceding series, or go online and read a whole lot of background. And while that is wonderful when you have the background because it’s one great big reunion, as I’ve explained above, if you don’t have the background it just serves to make everything more confusing. Frustratingly, it’s not even just a matter of watching 2 or 3 episodes outside the season, because it takes a minimum of 3 episodes to acquaint oneself with all the characters involved; 4 if you add the special in which Donna first appears. If you also want to know what happened to them (i.e. Jack’s indestructibility, Rose’s alternative universe), you have to add to that a minimum of 2-4 episodes, depending on how much background you really want. That brings the total to 5-8 episodes outside of series 4. Which is only reasonable if you have plans to watch the entire 3 series before this anyway. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, if you have the time.
So I give this a 7/10.