The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky

* Selling an episode around the concept of “sat-nav gone bad” feels deeply rooted to the time when the technology was relatively new, and therefore still being greeted with suspicion. It was less than ten years ago, but it was still before we all started carrying around Google Maps in our pockets. However, the sat-nav thing is just window dressing in this story; the main selling point of Atmos is as a means of reducing carbon emissions, which seems more relevant today, with hybrid and electric vehicles becoming more and more mainstream. It wouldn’t require a huge rewrite if this episode was being made today – just replace the contemporary sat-nav fear with stuff about driverless cars, and you can still have people being driven into rivers.

* You can’t help but grin as Martha is reintroduced, despite the fact that it was only a week or so ago that I last saw her. I like the idea of having roving ex-companions in the field; people who are doing The Doctor’s work in his absence, and who are there if he needs them when he’s in the area. I also like the decision to make Martha and Donna get along, thus avoiding a retread of School Reunion but with a more annoying incumbent. It ties in with the conscious effort to make current companion relationship more platonic and grown-up than the last one, which I applaud, but then again I didn’t dislike the old way of doing things. It’s good to do something different just to keep it varied, it’s not that the the previous dynamic was a problem that needed fixing.

* I’m still not entirely comfortable with UNIT being repositioned as the bad guys that Torchwood used to be, but I guess that even in the Pertwee days, there was always the suggestion that they were too eager to resort to combat. The idea of Martha working from within to improve the organisation ties in with this – I suppose UNIT can be a force for either good or bad, and their moral stance changes depending on the personnel. They need someone like the Brigadier, or Martha, or later Kate Stewart, to keep them on the straight and narrow. The Doctor has been away for so long that they’ve forgotten the principles he taught them in the 70s (or was it the 80s, etc). But at least they’re still using “greyhound” and “trap” as their call signs.

* Around half way through the first episode, I wrote in my notes: “Donna wants to go home again, wah wah wah. Goodbye speech and everything.” And then seconds later: “Ah, it was a gag.” Does the fact that I took it at face value say more about me, or about how Donna has been written so far as being so self-centered and flighty? It’s me, isn’t it? But still, I don’t care about her having sad flashbacks to things that happened a maximum of three episodes ago. Literally the only good thing about Donna in this episode is getting to see Cribbins again. Sylvia’s shtick of being the nagging, Doctor-hating mother has been done to death by now, but Wilf being so excited for Donna, urging her to continue adventuring despite his fears and worries, is something new, and it’s lovely.

* I do like me a Sontaran, and Mike Thecoolperson makes a great commander. It was fun to see massed ranks of them in battle, and amusing that they still have the same old problem that you can only have one or two of them without their helmets on at once. The one that wasn’t Christopher Ryan was Dan Starkey, and it was a little bit odd so see him playing a Sontaran who wasn’t Strax, but then again, clones obvs. It was mostly a faithful and successful revival of an old villain, with the exception of the added “Sontar-ha!” chant, which was just annoying. It seemed mandatory at this stage that every monster needed a repetitive catchphrase for the kids to copy in the playground, but after four series, it’s starting to feel contrived.

* I have no particularly strong opinions on the episode as a whole – it’s one of those that just kind of exists. I’d remembered Rattigan as being absolutely awful, but he’s mostly fine until near the end when he starts throwing a strop about how clever he is. He’s a villain with no particular motivation other than entitlement and attention-seeking, and is probably the worst thing about the story, which is otherwise a perfectly serviceable mid-weight two-parter.

RATING: 7

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