The opening episode of series three of the revived Doctor Who had a lot to get through in 50 minutes – it needed to introduce a new companion, set up a new ongoing story arc (which would culminate in the return of The Doctor’s arch-nemesis The Master – look out for those mentions of a “Mr Saxon” that would become increasingly important as the series progressed), establish a new alien race and still find time and space to transport an entire London hospital to the moon. Inevitably writer/producer Russell T Davies makes it all look effortlessly easy.
Rose Tyler is gone, trapped in a parallel universe and The Doctor is alone again after his first encounter Donna Noble (Catherine Tate). We first see him here already on the case, investigating strange goings on at the fictional Royal Hope Hospital in London by going undercover as a patient. He meets medical student Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) and fellow patient Florence Finnegan (the marvellous Anne Reid), the latter turning out to be a blood-drinking alien, a Plasmavore. Before The Doctor can do anything about it, the entire hospital is transported to the moon by intergalactic police force the Judoon who resemble angry rhinos in space armour who are also on the trail of the Plasmavore. The Doctor has to race against time to save the hospital’s patients and staff as the air slowly runs out while at the same time preventing the brutish Judoon from slaughtering them all for harbouring a wanted criminal.
By now we were getting used to Davies’ outlandish flights of fancy but Smith and Jones was a step too far for some fans. It’s an audacious opening story, fast paced and full of incident but it stretched credibility too far for some. In truth its a fun romp, lightweight and largely inconsequential in the greater scheme of things, but it rattles along at a fair old clip and the pace never lets up, thanks in part to Davies’ script and director Charlie Palmer’s brisk, no nonsense direction. It doesn’t make a huge amount of sense but as a rollicking adventure with lots of aliens and much running about it was a fine start to a key series, the first without the much loved Rose Tyler accompanying The Doctor on his travels.
And that was the real purpose of the episode. The story played second fiddle to the introduction of Freema Agyeman as Martha, who joins The Doctor for what should have been a one-off journey (The Doctor is still smarting from losing Rose at the climax of the story Doomsday) at the end of the episode. Agyeman had been in the previous series’ Army of Ghosts (2006) in which her character Adeola was killed off by the Cybermen. A throwaway line here explains that Adeola was Martha’s cousin.
Following in the footsteps of Billie Piper was a big ask for Agyeman but she doesn’t seem to have been at all fazed by the task of replacing one of the most popular companions in any incarnation of Doctor Who. Her tenure in the TARDIS was to be a short one, shunted aside at the end of her only series to make way for Kylie Minogue in the Christmas special Voyage of the Damned, but she makes a decent fist of the role. She was rather sold short by Davies’ insistence that she too fall in love with The Doctor (a mistake not made when Donna returned the following year, she being notably immune to The Doctor’s boyish charms), an unrequited crush that is never really developed.
There’s real chemistry from the off between her and David Tennant’s Doctor. Tennant had hit the ground running, making the role his own at the start of the previous series and by the time of Smith and Jones was well established as the public’s favourite Doctor. As always, his enthusiasm occasionally gets the better of him, as in the scene where The Doctor inexplicably tries to expel excess radiation through his foot, but he’s generally on good form here. There’s a hint of the time-hopping weirdness that would later become a staple of the Steven Moffat era at the start of the episode when Martha meets The Doctor in the street as he hops back in time to impress her in a scene from end of the episode (try to keep up…) but it never threatens to derail the plot like it did in some of Moffat’s episodes.
The Judoon are a ludicrous looking lot but are strangely effective. A race of mercenary interplanetary cops, they’re initially presented as the episode’s “big bad” but turn out to be good guys with a rather strict code of ethics and an unshakable adherence to the rule of law. They’re not terribly bright (The Doctor later refers to them as “interplanetary thugs”) and at the start of this episode The Doctor had never met them before. This was a welcome change to the all-knowing Doctor that had seemed particularly unimpressed by the Ood of the previous year as he was already familiar with them. New alien races always seem more impressive when The Doctor is as clueless about them as the audience. The Judoon were popular with viewers and turned up again in The Stolen Earth, working for the Shadow Proclamation, The Pandorica Opens, A Good Man Goes to War and several novels and at the time of writing are scheduled to appear opposite Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor in an as yet untitled episode of series twelve.
Smith and Jones isn’t the best episode series three was going to give us and it’s unlikely to be on anyone’s must-revisit list. But it’s a decent, solid adventure that does everything it sets out to do and also returns The Doctor to the moon for the first time since the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) was sent to a penal colony there in Frontier in Space back in 1973. It’s a lot of fun that stands as a sterling introduction for Agyeman and it was a solid start to a series that would lose its way before the big finale twelve episodes later.