Doctor Who: The Sontaran Stratagem (2), BBC1

by | May 5, 2008 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

A thrilling climax to a brilliant story, which was however marred by inconsistent writing.

What was good about it?

• David Tennant as the Doctor. With less of the hysterics, Tennant displayed his prowess with a performance as layered as the script allowed. There was inappropriate sentimentality when handing over a Tardis key to Donna (that she characteristically dispelled), a subtle change in his attitude to Martha once he realised she was a clone, and the mask of his rather stuffy dislike of violence as he gazed upon the Valiant loom into view above them and his “Are you my mummy?” quip as he pulled on a gas mask.

• Christopher Ryan continued to be an admirable adversary for the Doctor in his role as the indomitable General Staal. At the climax when the Doctor threatened to destroy the Sontaran mothership, he intellectually outfoxed the Doctor as the Timelord gave his foes the chance to flee. But Staal didn’t fall for his ruse, mocking the Doctor’s enfeebling morality, proclaiming that the Sontarans didn’t fear death thus demanding he sacrifice his life to save Earth.

• The emergence of Colonel Mace from some UNIT patsy into an authoritative figure worthy of stepping into the shoes of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. He ignored the Doctor’s advice of refusing to engage the Sontarans in combat (which also twisted the viewers’ heads that the Doctor is just occasionally wrong) and used his nous to retake the warehouse from Commander Skorr.

• The lull in the buzzsaw pace after the opening quarter-of-an-hour that saw the stranded Donna phone her family and the Doctor marvel at UNIT’s ingenuity. This slackening made the upcoming battle have all the more significance as it made the terrified Donna’s bravery all the more powerful, as well as putting the sanctimoniously omniscient Doctor in his place.

• Donna celebrating knocking out a Sontaran guard with another quip of endearing bravado – “Back of the neck!”

• Bernard Cribbins adds so much more than the rest of the companions’ families have so far – through a delectable combination of writing and acting, he is far more believable than the facile emotional prop some of Martha’s family were and is bereft of the grating irritation of Jackie Tyler.

• The Sontarans’ plot was something more than a common-or-garden invasion of Earth – they wanted to convert it into a vast womb in which to grow billions of clones to continue their eternal war with the Rutons. Similar invention was seen in The Dalek Invasion of Earth where they wanted to pilot the Earth round the galaxy as a portable planet to aid their conquests.

• It didn’t feature a guest appearance by John Barrowman, although Captain Jack was mentioned and he will be back later in the series, at which point the Sontaran efforts to turn the world into a mechanised hatchery will seem insignificant next to Barrowman’s ubiquity on Saturday evenings.

What was bad about it?

• The subplot of teenage genius Luke Rattigan fizzled out into irrelevance. When he unveiled his plan for his flock of disciples to leave Earth for a new home in the stars, they pretty much ignored him and all left to find their relatives imperilled by the thickening cloud of gas. And as they trooped out you felt nothing for Rattigan – not anger at his devious plot and not pity for his crumbling plans.

• Rattigan then teleported to the Sontaran mothership to report his failure only to discover he and his disciples were merely an expendable cog in the Sontaran Stratagem and would have been executed the moment they set foot on board.

• And this meant that Rattigan’s supposed moral salvation through his self-sacrifice in taking the Doctor’s place in blowing up the Sontarans was more an act of puerile vengeance than a redemptive change in attitude, and had the Sontarans welcomed him to their cloned bosom he would have happily watched as the Earth collectively choked to death.

• The TV news reports that featured Kirsty Wark and some anonymous American anchor as if these two hives of platitudes encapsulated a global crisis. Britain we can understand, Doctor Who is a British programme, America just smacked of the kind of repulsive servility evidenced in DVD adverts where an American accent is used to award the film (no matter how atrocious) a specious sense of global importance because an American voice is advertising the product (and MTV can sod off, too). This conceit was later compounded by Wark’s second news report that focused on the Eastern Seaboard of the US rather than some other random location in the world. This isn’t f**king Cloverfield, it’s Doctor Who.

• For a race who are bred specifically for war and who last knew peace 50,000 years ago, the Sontarans are rubbish in battle. Sure, when the UNIT guns were disabled they swept through the warehouse like a knife through butter (by the way, why didn’t UNIT use grenades?) but as soon as UNIT unpacked their modified machine guns it became like men vs Teletubbies.

• Displaying an ignorance of basic combat manoeuvres not seen since the Emperor’s “finest men” succumbed to a bunch of teddy bears on the forest moon of Endor, the Sontarans obligingly stood without any cover while they were cut down by UNIT, their supposedly superior laser firepower appearing slow and cumbersome (yes, the Earth’s lower gravity may not have helped their dexterity, but Sontaran technology should have overcome this). And why didn’t Martha clone warn her masters of UNIT’s new weapons and the hovering Valiant?

• Much was also made of the Sontarans’ only weak spot – the probic vent at the back of the neck – yet this only came into play when Donna disabled a guard, other than that they seemed to have that same ‘weak spot’ most biological entities have – a fleshy torso that contains all the vital organs necessary for continued life.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

05/05/2008

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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