Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Doctor Who: The Sontaran Stratagem (1)

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?


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?


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?"

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