(Spoilers for The Sontaran Stratagem, The Poison Sky and the whole of Series 4 ahead.)I really don't know about Helen Raynor. I'm sure she's fine as a script editor, but as a writer of episodes... In the last series, she had Daleks in Manhattan, which was uneven to say the least, and quite lamely titled. In Series 4, she again gets to play with the important toys - bringing back one of Doctor Who's top 5 aliens, the Sontarans, no less - and again, the result is cookie cutter Who at best, and ill advised at worst. One only needs to look at Martha's preview-friendly, but patently undeliverable line "Doctor, it's Martha... and I'm bringing you back to Earth!" to get the gist. The other groaner is Captain Price kissing Colonel Mace to celebrate their win over the Sontarans.

As far as Sontaran episodes go, it doesn't beat the original, but since every subsequent appearance was pretty awful, it probably gets second prize. The make-up is good, but the Tim Burton Batman body armor makes them too thin. They're just not squat enough. It IS however, the first time we see Sontarans in any great number, and for an army of clones, you'd have thought that was CRUCIAL. I don't think I've ever seen more than three together. So that's nice, and their martial culture is well represented (especially the idea that their weakness is built in so that they can never run from their opponent, and their outrage at not being "invited" to the Last Great Time War). Nice to see their ships again, and how these might be modular pieces of bigger ships.
The other group on the nostalgia tour doesn't fare as well. UNIT soldiers are a stupid, even callous lot. Yes, shooting at a car's exhaust pipe (below) is funny (enough so that it makes a return in Turn Left), but check out how they let Staal get the better of them in the basement. That kind of underestimating of one's opponent borders on the absurd.
There ARE some good character moments for the regulars - Donna's homecoming (and the Michael Palin joke), the Doctor's verbal fencing with Rattigan, the girls being friends right off the bat - but the plot is your basic invasion story that never manages to surprise. You've got civilians under mind control, an impostor close to the Doctor he later reveals he spotted all along, a boy genius right out of the Sarah Jane script throwing tantrums, lots of shooting, lots of fake tension (the missiles), a magic machine that fixes everything, the most selfish character in the piece sacrificing himself at the last minute, and the thing overstays its welcome by lasting two episodes. That's why I can't come up with a proper essay. The story just sits there being as ordinary as possible.

Things to watch out for
Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey: The Doctor wanted to bring Donna to see the Fifteenth Broken Moon of the Medusa Cascade - is time echoing back that it's coincidentally on his mind so much?
They call it foreshadowing: Atmos cars ask you "what is your destination?" before throwing you off a cliff. If you see Journey's End looming in those words, then you're as crazy as I am. Donna wonders if the Doctor turns his companions into soldiers, which is a point to be addressed by Davros in the final episode, where indeed, the "Children of Time" are Earth's weapons. Maybe he does, but you'll have to answer for yourself if that's a bad thing.
Are you my mummy?: The theme of abiogenesis is of course present in the Sontarans. They're a clone race. They also clone sexy sexy Martha, and plan to turn Earth into one big clone farm. Who needs a mum and dad, eh? (Well, Donna does.)
Dusty Rose: Though Donna doesn't notice it, there's a quick shot of Rose shouting "Doctor" on the TARDIS video screen.
The reference section: Rattigan mentions how many "t"s there are in his name, a tic he shares with another Raynor character, Tallulah.
-While it could just be a pot-shot at the 80s in general, the Doctor's contention that someone put a dent in them when Donna comes "too close" to the decade could be a reference to the 18-month hiatus the 6th Doctor suffered between his two season.
-UNIT uses the old call signs from the 70s, including Greyhound and Trap One. Their mobile HQ is the back of a lorry like in the old days, though production design kinda made it like a TARDIS - bigger on the inside.
-The Sontarans' war with the Rutans is of course mentioned. When do we get to see this jelly fish race in its CGI glory?

Next week: The Doctor's Whaaaaattt???


Sea-of-Green said...

It WAS good to see the Sontarans and classic UNIT (in all of its perpetual ineptitude) again. But, yeah, I agree -- the story as a whole was pretty flat.

Dorian said...

I took the "dent in the 80s" line as another reference to the UNIT dating controversies.

But I may be slightly fixated on UNIT dating controversies.

snell said...

Captain Price and Colonel Mace also seem to be fixated on UNIT dating controversies.


snell said...

Somewhat more seriously, a continuing sub-theme of the season seems to be the Doctor grappling with the paradox of his travels (and interventions) being a form of miltary action, which he claims to detest. His terse exchanges with Colonel Mace over guns and saluting; his being flustered when Jenny calls him on his soldier ways; his incredulity and panic when he's stuck with a group who won't follow his "orders" in Midnight; his panicked flight when called upon to lead the Shadow Proclamation into battle, only to see essentially the same thing happen as the "Children of Time" all concoct suicide plans (and Davros calls him on it!). And one of the final images of the season? Wilf saluting the Doctor...

Siskoid said...

Snell - on your first point, don't worry, I thought the same thing.

On the second, that's a great observation, especially the bit about Wilf (and the Doctor has no answer for him).

Jack Norris said...

And don't forget: General Staal is Mike from the Young Ones!


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