The following contains MAJOR SPOILERS for "The Sontaran Stratagem," the fourth episode from the fourth season of BBC?s "Doctor Who."
?He called you a grunt. Don?t call Ross a grunt, he?s nice.? ? The Doctor
It?s always fun when classic villains make a return to the new ?Doctor Who? series. And despite its faults, ?The Sontaran Stratagem? remains an exciting and nostalgic adventure for the legendary Time Lord.
Living up to its reputation, ?Doctor Who? takes a completely normal and commonplace object and transforms it into a thing to be feared. In a similar way that wheelie bins and blue tooth sets have been demonized in the past, cars join their ranks as another science fiction global killer. But not because of carelessness on the roads ... this time it is the hidden alien gas chambers stored neatly under half the worlds engines.
And that is the very core of the Sontaran?s stratagem for global conquest -- incapacitate the native populace (that?s us), infiltrate UNIT (apparently Torchwood Cardiff won?t quite cut it) and then advance their cloned armies wave after wave after wave.
The makeup of the Sontarans is quite obviously light years ahead of the last time the cloned troopers made an appearance on the time-traveling series, and the armor wasn?t too dissimilar to the Judoon of the third year.
And only in the new ?Doctor Who? series could the Sontarans be referred to as talking baked potatoes. And then seconds later their leader, General Staal (Christopher Ryan), is brought to his knees by a tennis ball. Priceless.
The banter between Martha and Donna was the complete opposite to that of Rose and Sarah Jane in Season Two's ?School Reunion.? In that episod,e there was a lot of tension and petty rivalry between the companions, but none of that was present in ?The Sontaran Stratagem.? Instead of mud slinging, the two greet each other as fellow companions, and Martha even went as far as extending some cautious advice to Donna regarding her family.
Donna?s reunion with her Gramps helped provide a very human element to the episode, particularly in the very personal and pessimistic ending to the adventure. And there was quite a little bit of comedy mixed in there too, like when The Doctor recognizes Gramps as the newsagent from ?Voyage of the Damned.?
One of the most cryptic components to the new ?Doctor Who? series is The Time War, first introduced by Eccleston very early on in the first season. From that point on, The Doctor was a wanderer without a home and the last of his kind. Since then there have been fleeting references to The Time War and its players -- mainly Daleks and Time Lords -- but there was an interesting note in this episode that the Sontarans were forbidden to get involved. Who would have the power to prevent them from waging a war?
The gassing of Earth as Martha Jones walks through the carnage ordering the real work to begin to Murray Gold?s militaristic score was amazingly dark and there was something chilling about the way genius Luke Rattigan (Ryan Sampson) joins in on the chants of the Sontarans.
What Didn?t Work
Aside from taking a little too long for the story to get to the point, the lighting for the episode was too bright and too vibrant at points, lacking the subtleties required to create the sinister atmosphere that the Sontarans deserved. The neon pink glow that their ship seems to bask in removed much of the ominous and threatening natures that the aliens are so obviously meant to command.
Throughout the episode, the colors, the bland Sontaran dialogue and the clich?d simplicity of mind control reduced what could have been a fantastically intricate story piece into Saturday morning cartoon material. And just like the season premiere, a heft dose of the instrumentals seemed more like slapstick elevator music only this time made bearable thanks to the intense final score as the Sontaran stratagem is set in motion.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
"Doctor Who" stars David Tennant, Catherine Tate and Freema Agyeman, and airs Saturday nights at 6.20 p.m. GMT on BBC 1, and then on Friday nights on the SciFi Channel at 8.30 p.m. ET. "The Sontaran Stratagem" was written by Helen Raynor and was directed by Douglas MacKinnon.
Alan Stanley Blair is the assistant news editor for Airlock Alpha and its sister site Rabid Doll. Contributing from his home country of Scotland, he is currently studying for a diploma in freelance journalism and can be reached at anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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