With each season the cast and crew seem to get more confident and self-assured, and Tennant has settled into the role wonderfully; he’s the favorite of many Who fans, both new and old. The Doctor also has a new companion, a young medical doctor named Martha Jones, who I prefer to Rose in almost every way. She has a crush on the Doctor, which maybe isn’t quite as interesting as the mutual attraction with Rose, but it seems to suit the dynamic of the show better and the actress who plays Martha, Freema Agyeman, is far more charismatic and talented (and attractive, for that matter) than Billie Piper. She’s great. In my opinion, the two nominated storylines of season three are two of the best Doctor Who stories ever.
So, things keep getting better all around. *Most* of this season is darn near perfect. The Doctor and Martha meet-cute with alien rhinos on the Moon in “Smith and Jones,” there’s a fun spaceship hurtling towards the sun suspense story in near-real time called “42,” and I have an unreasonable affection for the first Doctor Who episode I ever saw, “Gridlock,” which is about a decades-long flying-car traffic jam on a distant future colony of Earth. Even some of the throw-away stories like “Lazarus Man” and “The Shakespeare Code” are miles ahead of some of the lame season two episodes, though a Dalek two-parter in Depression-era Manhattan is appallingly bad. And then there’s the “whonimees,” which appeared back-to-back in the second half of the seasons:
“Suddenly Human”/”The Family of Blood” – Another Paul Cornell story with good focus on character, this time the Doctor, though Martha gets several good moments as well. To hide from evil aliens called the Family of Blood, the Doctor disguises himself as a human at a British boarding school in 1913. Even the Doctor can’t know his real identity, but his pseudonymous John Smith personality falls in love with the school’s matron, making for a tough decision when the Family attacks and Martha feels that she needs to return the Doctor’s true identity. The Doctor’s love story is interesting, the show plays with some issues of class, gender, and race with the disguised Martha, World War I hangs in the background of the story in some brilliant ways, and the last few moments are brilliant.
“Blink” – Steven Moffat knocks it out of the park with one of the greatest hours in science fiction television history. Maybe I’m overhyping it, but it is universally beloved. The villain is creepy (though it doesn’t always entirely make sense), and there’s a fun "timey-wimey" plot. The Doctor isn’t actually in the episode all that much, but Academy Award-nominated guest star Carey Mulligan carries the show fantastically.
Following these episodes, the Doctor and Martha go trillions of years to the future in “Utopia,” a creepy episode with a great cliffhanger reveal. Then…we go into a not-so-great finale where Russell T. Davies’ one-upsmanship gets out of control and things get pretty rough. But, take out that Dalek two-parter and replace the finale two-parter with something that makes more sense and hangs less on clapping for Tinkerbell, and it would’ve been a perfect season.
Season 4, by the way, is even more consistent in that it has even fewer dud episodes, but also fewer truly great ones. Of course, the Steven Moffat two-parter “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead” is great. It’s nominated next year, but it did lose (for once).
Grades: “Suddenly Human”/”The Family of Blood” A