First of all, NEW TITLES! I very much approve, even if Jon Pertwee looks rather bored in his photo at the beginning. The effects look great, and I like the chunky, bold new font – it immediately feels much more recent than the previous style. I’ve never been mad keen on the diamond logo, and it’s replacing my all time favourite, but it does look much better than I imagined when coupled with the slit-scan effect.
This was very much a story of many firsts – a new title sequence, a new name for The Doctor’s home planet, and most importantly a new companion. It was an interesting variant on the usual introduction to have the newbie meet The Doctor and mistakenly identify him as the villain of the piece. Her coming round to his side was a way to establish her intelligence and ability to get to the bottom of a story. She’s not quite as loveable as Jo just yet, but it’s a strong start nonetheless, and you can see an instant chemistry between the lovely Lis Sladen and Pertwee.
The new villain was very decent too. I’m only really familiar with the Sontarans from the new series, and due to the shitness of their two-parter, I haven’t previously taken them seriously as a threat. This is a much better introduction; establishing the same core traits of their warlike ways and contempt for anything that can’t better their cause, but in a way that’s actually entertaining.
The flipside of this is that I love the comedic side of the Sontarans in New Who, and while Linx had his moments, he just reminded me of a less funny version of Strax. Not that that’s the fault of this serial of course, but it didn’t help that I found Irongron a bit too shouty to be an effective villain. He didn’t seem like a real person, which is sometimes fine in an alien or futuristic setting, but not in an Earth-bound historical.
And that was often a problem with the serial in general – we’re back in a real historical setting for the first time since the black and white days, but it feels like it’s been done in a really half-arsed way. The historicals of old were always nuanced and sympathetic in their portrayal of the olden days, whereas this was done in broad brush strokes, which made it hard to empathise with anyone. Sarah Jane was right – it was like being in a re-enactment rather than being in the past. Even Dot Cotton was putting on a posh voice.
All of the above left me feeling slightly disconnected from what I was watching, despite the obvious strengths of the main cast and Linx. Perhaps it would have been better if the subplot with Irongron’s attempts to expand his empire hadn’t been so prominent – I wanted more time-travelling Sontaran hijinks instead. As it is, a slightly disappointing start to the series, but that’s outweighed by the huge promise of the new companion. It was smart to end the last episode with The Doctor and Sarah Jane just stepping into the TARDIS – they’re such a natural pairing that it would seem a formality for him to officially invite her. She just belongs there.