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Sunday, April 27, 2008

"The Sontaran Stratagem": No one is safe in new DOCTOR WHO episode

A diabolical race of alien Mr. Potato Heads, inspired by Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, hires an evil clone of Google founder Sergey Brin to sabotage every car on Earth with homicidal wacko environmentalist computers and the only person who can stop them is a guy in a blue police box.

Can there be any doubt that this is a new episode of Doctor Who?

"This is your final destination."

"Getting a bit too close to the Nineteen-Eighties!"

"Doctor, it's Martha... and I'm bringing you back to Earth!"

"Technically speaking you're still on staff. You never resigned."

"We've got massive funding from the United Nations, all in the name of homeworld security."

"It's all right for you. You can just come and go but some of us have got to stay behind."

"You need to be careful, because you know the Doctor. He's wonderful, he's brilliant! But he's like fire. Stand too close and people get burned."

"I came to do my job."

"You can't say 'ATMOS System'! Because it stands for 'Atmospheric Emissions System' so it's like you're saying 'Atmospheric Emissions System System'! Do you see, Mister Conditional Clause?!"

"General Staal of the Tenth Sonaran Battle Fleet! Staal the Undefeated!"

"Fifty-three deaths in the same second, man! That is so cool!"


Season 4 of the classic British science-fiction series (although it's actually Season 30, which makes it even more classic) continues to unfold on two continents. While American audiences finally got to behold the season premiere episode "Partners in Crime" (mash here for my original review) over the weekend on the Sci-Fi Channel, our English/Scottish/Irish cousins were enjoying the new season's fourth episode. And as usual, many of them have been kind enough to "export" it via the Internet.

"The Sontaran Stratagem" hails the return of the Sontarans, who haven't been seen since "The Two Doctors" from the Colin Baker era in 1985. The squat, ugly alien soldiers have an, ummm... stratagem for taking over the planet Earth. It involves ATMOS, a company that has created a way to produce zero carbon emissions from vehicles (in addition to incorporating the Global Positioning System). When strange things start happening in connection to ATMOS - namely, dozens of people dying around the world at the same moment in ATMOS-equipped cars - former companion Martha Jones makes a phone call to the TARDIS. The Doctor and Donna are soon on their way.

Ohh-kaaaay, so... what to make of "The Sontaran Stratagem"? It might be the weakest of the new season so far, even though this was a very fun episode. My biggest beef was how the Sontarans were handled. These are supposed to be the Spartan warriors of the Doctor Who saga, and they were treated too much like parodies of their incarnation from the original show. But I suppose that in the context of a Doctor Who episode, they were plenty enough acceptable. I did not like that ridiculous "Sontar!" chant toward the end though. But I might be willing to forgive any shortcomings of the Sontarans themselves after next week's chapter, if it lives up to its ominous preview.

David Tennant is obviously enjoying his time as the Doctor, and that makes his performance all the more fun to watch. Catherine Tate as Donna continues to grow on me, and it's terrific to see Freema Agyeman again as Martha. "The Sontaran Stratagem" also sees the return of UNIT, which gladly welcomes the Doctor back into its ranks. But alas: Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart is not on the scene! But this is just the first-half of a two-part story: maybe Brigadier will come back next week and order "five rounds, rapid" on those nasty Sontarans.

I'll give "The Sontaran Stratagem" 3 Sonic Screwdrivers out of 5. Not as good an episode as "Partners in Crime" or "The Fires of Pompeii", but still a pleasant-enough romp involving a long-neglected adversary that deserves some respect. There's also plenty of fun to be had in this episode with lots of classic Doctor Who lore: I especially loved what the Doctor did with Staal's probic vent!

Next week: the Sontaran crusade against Earth continues in "The Poison Sky".


Anonymous said...

Was thinking that you could use your Sonic Screwdriver scale and give an example. What episode would be a 5 Sonic Screwdrivers and what would be a 4, 3 blahblahblah.

Chris Knight said...

Great question! Okay, here goes...

5 Sonic Screwdrivers: would be an episode like "The Girl in the Fireplace", "The Doctor Dances" and "The Parting of the Ways". Or perhaps "The Deadly Assassin" and "Remembrance of the Daleks" from the original show.

4 Sonic Screwdrivers: something along the lines of "The Impossible Planet", "Planet of the Ood", "School Reunion" etc., and "The Five Doctors" from the original series.

3 Sonic Screwdrivers: "Rose", "Army of Ghosts", "Daleks in Manhattan" (which I did finally get to see and was somewhat disappointed).

2 Sonic Screwdrivers: "Voyage of the Damned" comes to mind, and the 1996 "Doctor Who" TV movie comes perilously close to straddling the line between 3 and 2 Sonic Screwdrivers (even though I loved Paul McGann's portrayal of the Doctor).

1 Sonic Screwdriver: "The Idiot's Lantern" and "Fear Her"

0 Sonic Screwdriver Because It Self-Destructs: "Love & Monsters"

Anonymous said...

Mr. Knight, I agree with you on Paul McGann, his portrayal of The Doctor was great, he was good with what he had. It's too bad that we only saw him once, and his only adventures other than the TV Movie are the Big Finish Audio Adventures. Although I sorta hope that one day they will do something like a Time War trilogy, either a TV miniseries, comics, or radio play, or something that would bridge the gap between the TV Movie, and the beginning of the 2005 run of the show.

Chris Knight said...

There have been rumors that an appearance by Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor might be in the works, and that he and Tennant's Doctor wind up crossing paths (sorta like how Tennant and Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor met in the recent Children In Need special).

Although, there have also been rumors that Sir Ben Kingsley will be playing Davros at the end of this season and those were debunked, so as ever with anything about Doctor Who take it with a grain of salt (but I'm *dying* to see McGann's Doctor again :-)