100% All-Natural Composition
No Artificial Intelligence!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

ATMOS-Fear: War beneath "The Poison Sky" in new DOCTOR WHO episode

I guess there's no point in denying that I'm a longtime fan of the British science-fiction series Doctor Who, what with these reviews that I do of the new episodes even before they broadcast here in the states. Just wish that I could have done last season as much as I'm doing this one or the 2006 season.

So this weekend most Yanks got to see "The Fires of Pompeii" via the Sci-Fi Channel. While the Brits were enjoying the premiere on BBC One of the conclusion of the two-part story that began last week with "The Sontaran Stratagem".

Cue the standard screengrab and select non-spoilerish quotes...

"It can't be stopped. It's everywhere. The whole planet."

"Look what happens every time that Doctor appears!"

"Good work for a female."

"I'm stuck. On Earth, like an ordinary person. Like a human! How rubbish is that?! Sorry no offense but COME ON!"

"My God, they're like trolls!"

"Its official designation is Castor 36. I like to think of it as Earth Point Two."

"It is being likened to a biblical plague. Some are calling this 'the end of days'."

"How can one man stop all that?"

"The planet is going nuclear!"

"He wasn't 'Greyhound 40', his name was Ross. Now listen to me, AND GET THEM OUT OF THERE!!!"

"This isn't war! This is sport!"

"Unfortunately he's stranded in Peru."

"For the billionth time YOU CAN'T FIGHT SONTARANS!"


"I've got to give them a choice."

"Sontar... HA!"

"The Poison Sky" picks up right where "The Sontaran Stratagem" left off, with the ATMOS devices spewing their toxic exhaust into Earth's air and the Doctor trying to rescue Donna's grandfather. UNIT's technicians have found that the gas is dangerous but not lethal: it must take up 80% of the air's density before it begins actively killing people. The Doctor realizes that simple mass extermination of humanity isn't the Sontarans' plan: they possess more than enough firepower aboard their ships to destroy all of Earth. So if the gas isn't designed for wholesale genocide, what is it for?

"The Poison Sky" is a wildly satisfying episode! The true purpose of the ATMOS devices is revealed to be absolutely diabolical, and it's a credit to Staal and the other Sontarans that they came up with such a plot. And speaking of Sontarans: this episode we finally get to see them in true fighting form. You can call them "poo in a spacesuit" if you like but after "The Poison Sky" there will be little doubt that the Sontarans are the definitive race of proud warriors in the Whoniverse. The action scenes with them might be some of the best choreographed from the entire forty-five year history of the series.

There's little else that I could say about "The Poison Sky" without it going too far into spoiler territory, and if you've already seen "The Sontaran Strategem" then you owe it to yourself to go into this one pretty unawares. I will say though that the producers of Doctor Who deserve major props for how they tie this episode into previous continuity... and especially for the reference to Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart! No, we don't get to see the Brigadier in action again, but we do find some delightful news about him that (I hope) might lead into an eventual return of the character.

Oh yeah: I think "The Poison Sky" is a monumental episode in that it it firmly establishes that the Doctor Who saga is a component of the Marvel Universe, because UNIT has its own S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier! This is turning out to be quite the weekend for Marvel Comics, what with the Iron Man movie and now this :-)

The only thing that I thought was a bit weak about "The Poison Sky": when Rattigan - AKA the evil clone of Sergey Brin - goes into "Marshall Applewhite mode" and tries to get his students to make like Heaven's Gate. Was that supposed to be deliberate? I mean, they're even wearing sweat suits. Didn't really care for that part of the plot.

But otherwise, "The Poison Sky" is a solid Doctor Who episode. David Tennant is terrific as ever as the Doctor and companions Donna (Catherine Tate) and Martha (Freema Agyeman) both have some choice scenes for their characters. The Doctor saves the day in classic fashion, and there is one last scene in the TARDIS that without warning jolts the Doctor and his friends to... somewhere else.

"The Poison Sky" gets 4 and 1/2 Sonic Screwdrivers out of 5.

And the teaser for next week's episode promises the old-fashioned sort of trouble for the Doctor. Here are two words from it: "Hello Dad."

"The Doctor's Daughter" on BBC One next Saturday. And everywhere else via torrent download for those of us who are too impatient.