Doctor Who: The Sontaran Stratagem

Donna: 'He's too skinny for words. You give him a hug... you get a paper cut.'

A triple whammy of returning fixtures tonight, with the Sontarans, UNIT, and the ever lovely Miss Jones. 'Daleks in Manhattan' and 'Evolution of the Daleks' were two of my least favourite episodes of season three, but this felt like a redemption of sorts for Helen Raynor. The Sontarans haven't been in an episode of Doctor Who since 1985's 'The Two Doctors'. How well did they fare in a modern context? Pretty well, I'd say.

The Sontarans were fun and, unlike the Slitheen and the Daleks, I was actually pleased to see their return. True, at times they were a little comic book—it's obviously hard to sympathise with a race of aliens obsessed with destruction and the glory of war—but the same could be said for most Doctor Who villains. They're a belligerent bunch, with motivations frequently hard to understand and often contrary to logic. In the case of the Sontarans, it must have been a breakdown in logic that caused them to forget to include a probic vent cover on their armour. There's nothing glorious about being defeated by a squash ball.

At first, I didn't recognise Christopher Ryan as General Staal—his prosthetic head hid his features too well—but his voice was unmistakeable. This isn't Ryan's first time on Doctor Who—it's not even his first time in a rubber mask—he played Lord Kiv in the 1986 episode 'Mindwarp'. We also got to see just how short the Sontarans really are. Very short indeed. Which makes General Staal the ideal part for Ryan, who's only five feet tall.

The meeting of companions went a lot smoother than in 'School Reunion'. Donna's clearly cut from a very different cloth than Rose, Sarah Jane or Martha. She has no romantic feelings for the Doctor, so the Doctor's fears of a cat fight erupting turned out to be embarrassingly unfounded. Still, at least we got a laugh out of it. Donna and Martha actually got on pretty well. Donna likes the Doctor, just not in 'that' way, which has been refreshing this season, as the semi-romantic sub-plots were starting to feel jaded.

But, Martha—a soldier? I'm not sure whether it was Freema's dodgy acting abilities, or whether a bad-ass persona just doesn't jibe with Martha's softness, but her tough chick act was painful to watch at times. Physically, there's no hardness to Martha. Freema undoubtedly did her best, but Martha will always be sweet. Evil clone Martha was even less convincing. Like Noel Clarke before her, Freema's acting chops just aren't up to the job of pulling off a tough guy.

It's always a joy to see Wilfred. He's the real heart of Donna's family and I love him in any scene. It's obvious that he loves Donna, and the feeling's clearly reciprocated. Wilfred's the kind of Grandpa we all wish we had, and Bernard Cribbins is perfect in this role. Which is more than can be said for Donna's Mum, who's quickly becoming a real irritation. Do Companion's mums always have to be so whingey? I liked Jackie, because despite her incessant carping, you knew that she had Rose's best interests at heart. Martha's mum, Francine, I can't seem to warm to, and I'm finding it increasingly difficult to feel anything but loathing for Sylvia. Maybe they'll both end up having hidden depths?

*coughs*

Other Thoughts:

—The Doctor's 'In-tru-da window' joke was the same gag cracked by American megalomaniac Henry Van Statten in the first season episode, 'Dalek'.

—The 'Sontar-ha' chant was new. At least, I don't recall hearing it before.

—In first season episode 'Aliens of London', the ninth Doctor stated that UNIT were good people. Why the change of heart?

Billie says...

Is this a "technology is evil at its core" lesson, or a "pollution will eventually kill us" lesson? Maybe it's a "humans should never betray their own species" lesson, because we can already tell that's going to come back to bite that bratty teenage genius. I liked seeing the Doctor outgenius him. That was fun.

And I always enjoy seeing companions interact. I don't know if it's just that they've learned from the mistakes they've made with earlier companions, or if Catherine Tate is a better actress or easier to write for (or all three), but there's a complexity to the Doctor's relationship with Donna that I like so much better than the unrequited mess he had with Martha. I liked seeing Donna being protective toward Martha, and vice versa. And maybe Donna was a bit pleased to be the active, more important companion, but not in a mean way at all.

Alert the media because this never happens, but I disagree with Paul about Donna and her feelings for the Doctor. As I said in an earlier review, I think Catherine Tate's performance has hinted that she does love him. It's just that she knows he doesn't feel the same way, so she's smart enough to keep it to herself. It's my interpretation, though, and I could be wrong. At least there's more there to interpret with Donna than there was with Martha, and that's good. (That makes it sound like I didn't like Martha. I did and I do.)

I love Donna's grandfather, too. I had one terrific step-grandfather, and two really awful grandfathers. I still miss him. The terrific one, that is.

Quotes:

Doctor: "Name?"
General Staal: "General Staal of the ninth Sontaran battle fleet. Staal the Undefeated!"
Doctor: "Oh, that's no good. What if you get defeated? Staal the not quite so undefeated any more but never mind?"
Ross: "He looks like a potato. A baked potato. A talking baked potato."
Doctor: "Now, Ross. Don't be rude. You look like a pink weasel to him."

Doctor: "ATMOS means more people driving, more cars, more petrol, end result: the oil's gonna run out faster than ever. The ATMOS system could make things worse."
Luke: "Yeah, well, that's a tautology. You can't say 'ATMOS System', 'cause it stands for Atmospheric Emission System. So you're saying 'Atmospheric Emission System System'. Do you see, Mr Conditional Clause?"
---
Four moor peaces eye rote, sea hear.

8 comments:

shawnlunn2002 said...

As much as I love Season 4, this two parter didn't do it for me. It's not awful but it's not great either.

The Sontarans have an interesting plot, I just don't think it's worth two episodes and Martha's treatment in this season bugs me.

Often she's an afterthought. However the scenes between her and Donna are lovely.

I don't think Donna's love for the Doctor is romantic in any way possible. There's a deep connection but it's not romantic. Love definitely but more platonic and deeper. Does that make sense?

Luke, yuck! I think that's all I can sum up for the bloke.

Mark Greig said...

Sorry to be ganging up on you Billie but I have to agree with Paul and Shawn. I don’t think Donna ever had any romantic interest in the Doctor. I do believe she loves him and wants to travel with him in time and space for as long as possible but I never get the sense that she wants anything more from him than what she’s got.

I loved this two-parter. Great to see them successfully revive the Sontarans and actually make them a credible threat. In many of their later appearances in the classic series the Sontarans were more comical than threatening.

The only negative was the gruelling return of Martha Jones. Every time she opens her mouth it’s like nails on a chalkboard. Luckily I’m able to tolerate her this time because Wilf was around to make things better. It’s hard to stay mad when Bernard Cribbins is on screen. God bless you sir.

daniel c w said...

Did you stop posting/mentioning new reviews on the front page?

Can I be sure not to miss any reviews,, if I check the Blog regularly?


Daniel

Paul Kelly said...

Hello Daniel,

Billie posted a message on the main site front page a few days ago:

Red Alert! Because of circumstances beyond my control, the Billiedoux.com site (right here) won't be updated again until mid-December. But reviews of Dexter, FlashForward, Stargate Universe, Dollhouse, Glee, Fringe and Doctor Who will continue going up on the blog. Please don't leave us!

Billie Doux said...

Hi, Daniel CW:

Yes, every new review is posted on the blog these days, and has been for about a year. Billiedoux.com should only be down for a couple more weeks. It's not my provider's fault -- he's the best. My laptop at home got hit with a virus and was completely destroyed, and I'm waiting for the only person I really trust to come and fix it.

daniel c w said...

@Paul: I've seen the message, now, must have been blind before :)
Actually, my eyes usually jump down to the list, ignoring everything above it. My bad.

@Billie: Good luck with that. I hope it doesn't interfere with your writing.

Patryk said...

So when Martha was saying during her Torchwood stint that she had a boyfriend she was talking about the guy she met in the last season finale and now they're engaged. Good for her.

AS for the "lesson" of the episode I didn't get any enviromentalist or anti-tech message. Instead it was a "the easiest way to kill humans is use something pop culture says everyone should have like cars... or an iphone" lesson. just like in Partners in Crime. :)

If Atmos was the CO2 filter then what's up with the killer GPS, was it a package deal Atmos+gps? Did Donna have one in her car? (the GPS, not Atmos)

DK said...

 Doctor Who says that anybody with a gun is usually the enemy.  First, is killing by other means more acceptable?  Apparently it is as The Doctor manages to kill quite nicely without them and manages to hide behind others who are using guns.  Second, blaming the weapon and not the person is a cop out.  It's the person, not the tools fault.  It is the same as saying anybody who listens to rap music hates women.  You just can't tar a whole group of people with the same brush.  You have to call a spade a spade.  Looks like aliens have hypocrites too.

At the end of the episode:  he has a magic screwdriver that will open anything locked in the universe except a car door?  If true, pick up a brick for God's sake!  (or rock, or fist, or tire iron, or worthless magic screwdriver, or butt of gun, well no, not that).  What does he do instead?  Goes to the back of the car and tries to pull off the bumper!?  I guess maybe he's right and really shouldn't be given a gun.

I feel like a pervert for saying this but what is it about Donna that I find so damn hot?  Between her and Martha I know which looks better in a bikini but I also know which I'm more curious about.  I suppose I shouldn't be given a gun either.  Maybe some like minded individual can help me sort it out.

By the way, any chance y'all will find out there are words that can be used as adjectives other than brilliant and cheeky?