Welp, figured out what Catherine Tate was doing while last episode filmed and David Tennant was on his own… she was filming this episode, with Tennant now the Superman III Margot Kidder.
Tate goes to a fortune teller (Chipo Chung, in a particularly inglorious return to the show after she was a major supporting character last season, albeit in full costume) who tricks her into never meeting the Doctor in the first place—two Christmas specials ago—and thereby changing the fate of the universe itself.
So what we get—in addition to this alternate history to the show’s timeline, where London becomes Nazi Germany before a further dystopian thing and it gets so bad even White British people become refugees—is Tate being really kind of annoying. Not good. Very weak character. Turns out if she didn’t meet Tennant, she would’ve gotten more and more shallow and more and more ignorant of current events—be they aliens or concentration camps—and just miserable to be around.
Though she does eventually patch things up a bit with mum Jacqueline King, who’s not good in a more dramatic role. Makes you wonder what the auditions are like for the companion’s mom part—“we want you to be unlikable no matter what the context.” Bernard Cribbins is fine but he’s no longer cute as Tate’s grandfather. He’s one note. Having your granddaughter go off and save the universe while traveling through space and time didn’t make Cribbins or King any more interesting, apparently.
Or Russell T. Davies just writes thin characters and they cast people who can’t add enough.
I haven’t even gotten to the big deal of the episode: Billie Piper is back. She’s back across dimensions not telling anyone her name so there’s not a dimensional collapse or whatever and she’s trying to convince Tate to help her save the universe.
I mean, I guess the episode’s well-paced? Like, there’s a lot. When Tennant gets back from Bermuda or whatever, he’s got a bit of time so they can set up the next episode. See, Tate’s got a message from Piper and it’s the end of the world and time for a “Doctor Who” crossover event (based on the upcoming episode teaser). Though presumably not across multiple shows.
Also, Tennant also realizes Tate’s subplots are all about alternate universes so he thinks it might be important, which is of course different than a lazy, reliable way to gin up an episode, give your lead an alternate life to play.
Two more episodes to the season, I’ll bet it’s a “two-parter,” as Turn Left doesn’t count enough to be a proper first part apparently.
Piper’s better than I remember her, though she also doesn’t have the entourage. We shall see.