(Thanks, Mom, for the birthday present!)
The third season of the new series is a mixed bag, with some absolute low-lights balanced by some top-notch Doctor Who, some of the most emotional moments in the program's history, and one episode that might just be one of the most clever time-travel stories of the entire genre, let alone in the pantheon of Who-dom.
This series is dominated by a character who isn't even there, as the Doctor attempts to move on without Rose, and Martha can do nothing except pine for a man clearly in love with someone else. I actually like Martha a lot. She's intelligent, resourceful, level-headed, witty, and gorgeous, but gets a bum rap by fans who pine for Rose as much as the Doctor does.
Let us flit through the episodes...
The Runaway Bride - A jolly romp that provided little other than an preview of Catherine Tate's feisty Donna Noble and a fun Christmas story for viewers. If you think too hard it all falls to bits, so don't. B+
Smith & Jones - Very clever, even if the story is stricly a means to introduce the Doctor to his new companion. Martha's ability to not panic and make sense of the situation around her clearly impresses the Doctor. Highlights are many, but I love the sweet little old lady with a very sinister straw, plus the little squeak made as the Judoon mark the hands of their subjects with an X. B+
Shakespeare Code - Yeah, as a certifiable Shakespeare nerd, the nighttime performances considerably irk me, but that's balanced out by using a play title, Love's Labours Wonne, that has a sole contemporary reference to suggest that it ever existed, though I like to think that it had to have been written, the ending to Love's Labours Lost being so unresolved. Its presence in this episode makes me smile. But the rest of the episode is fairly unremarkable. B-
Gridlock - The frikkin Macra? Good lord, of all the Doctor's former adversaries, I can't imagine who was clamoring for their return, especially given that their only other appearance was in a missing story over 4 decades ago. The concept of a traffic jam lasting for generations is a considerable stretch on my suspension of disbelief, but you can't help but surrender to it. And I can't tell whether it's an acting choice or a character choice, but the Doctor's utter panic and desperation at Martha's kidnapping seems a bit... much. True, Martha's the Doctor's guest, not having 'earned' full companion status yet, and he could be overcompensating for his fear of being alone after losing Rose, but still. The story only exists for the Face of Boe to deliver his revelation to the Doctor that would bear fruit at the end of the season: "You Are Not Alone." C+
Daleks In Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks - Oh lordy. Nice subtle continuity with 1965's The Chase which also, if briefly, connected the Daleks and the Empire State Building, and the American dialects are a bit better this time around, but damn. Dumb dumb dumb. Worst episodes of the New Series. D
The Lazarus Experiment - Apart from all the plot points about the mysterious Mr Saxon, and the use of Martha's mom as a wedge, Meh. C
42 - Apparently this didn't go over well with most fans, but I actually like this. Gritty, dark, reminiscent of the "Aliens" movies. The 'real time' scenario works quite well. Still, the Doctor's desperation when Martha gets ejected is a bit too much; still can't decide if it's the Doctor's over-compensation or Tennant displaying his raaaaange. The yelling & screaming as he fights the alien entity's attempt to take over makes me suspect the latter. Still, fast-paced and chilling. B+
Human Nature/Family of Blood - A bold concept never addressed in the classic series: the Doctor wipes his memory, changes his physiognomy, and lives as a human. Martha, posing as a maid, can only watch as he falls in love with the school nurse, and her race actually becomes an issue. And as the aliens that caused him to transform in the first place start to close in, Martha's desperation to get the Doctor back to normal builds nicely. Great cliffhanger as a humble schoolteacher who has no concept of his actual identity is confronted by aliens threatening his new girlfriend. Nice subtle fanwank by refering to his parents Sydney (Newman, the show's creator) and Verity (Lambert, the show's first producer). The montage of the Doctor's happy married fantasy life reminds me of Last Temptation of Christ. His agony over giving up the life he had is Tennant's best acting in his tenure in the role, and is the most heart-rending moment that we've ever seen the Doctor go through since the end of "The Green Death." And of course, the means by which he conceals his identity comes up again a few episodes later... A
Blink - If the previous episode was more soap opera than sci-fi, then Blink is a pendulum swing back, and damn if it doesn't present the most clever sci-fi concept in the show's history, if not the genre. I adore Sally Sparrow, and she'd've made a brilliant companion. I could go on yammering, but I'll stop and merely say that I love this episode. Love it love it love it. A+
Utopia - This story exists as prologue to the series climax, and is merely a means to introduce Captain Jack and re-introduce You Know Who. Credibility gets stretched by the connection between Professor Yana and the Face of Boe's message (You Are Not Alone), but still, what a chill we get as we figure out the revelation at the same time as Yana does. B
The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords - Something that goes unremarked upon is that basically everything that happens in this story is the Doctor's fault. After "The Christmas Invasion," the Doctor's whispered question in a single person's ear leads, like the sneeze of a butterfly, to the downfall of Harriet Jones and the political instability that would ultimately lead to Harold Saxon's rise to power.
Unfortunately, Russell T Davies tends to fall into the trap of writing season-ending stories in which he writes himself into such a corner that he can only resolve it by a deus-ex-machina device that stretches credibility to, and occasionally beyond, the breaking point. He did it in Season One with the Bad Wolf Rose-Is-God thing, he narrowly evaded it in Season Two, but really goes overboard in Season Three (from what I gather, he does it again in Season Four). The Doctor is reduced to Tinkerbell, resurrected by Martha as Peter Pan. And that's a shame, because John Simm as the Master is so damn fun, and Martha's family pays the price for their mistrust. A season that takes a while to get going but then recovers with two all-time knockout stories back to back, stumbles at the finish line. C-