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05 March 2015 @ 08:19 pm
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky  
I feel that The Daleks In Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks failed in part because it didn't have the courage of its convictions and the sets and costumes weren't quite up to the job. On the other hand I think The Sontaran Strategem/The Poison Sky succeeds quite well at what it is trying to do, I'm just not that interested in it.

It occurs to me that Nu Who, or at least Davies era Who, was interested in finding a monster that was both menacing and yet broadly comic which, in particular, could be used in these high spectacle early season two-parters. We have the Slitheen introduced for this role in season 1, but a lot of people felt the comedy was too broad. Here we have the Sontarans repurposed to the same ends (possibly inspired by Gimli's turn as comedy dwarf in the Lord of the Rings films). Broadly speaking they are successful. You don't doubt that they are a serious threat, but they also succeed in being comic without stepping over whatever invisible line the Slitheen violated and becoming "too comic".

Similarly, in the light of where the season is going, this is the story that introduces the themes about companions becoming soldiers and it doesn't do a bad job of presenting its military as sympathetic while, at the same time, not strictly aligned with the Doctor's way of doing things.

Rattigan, the boy genius, is somewhat poorly thought out and mostly irritating. Interestingly NLSS Child really failed to follow what was going on with him at all. She was very unclear about the extent to which he was in collusion with the Sontarans, the extent to which he was their dupe and even what happened at the end. "Did he die?" she asked. I'm not sure what went wrong there. I can't obviously spot anything in the telling that should be particularly complex for an 11-year-old to grasp and I suspect the problem was that she simply wasn't that interested in him.

She was more interested in Martha. We had a lot of discussion about who Martha was engaged to. I'd said at the end of the Last of the Time Lords that she didn't end up engaged to Tom Milligan. It turns out I was wrong. I said that was definitely not who she ended up married to. "Maybe he just looked different?" NLSS Child suggested. I left it at that. She was also interested in Donna's family and actually took to Sylvia though mostly, I think, because during the cliffhanger to The Sontaran Stratagem she asked why no one was fetching something to smash the car window with, so when Sylvia turned up with a fire axe at the start of The Poison Sky she was able to look smug and say "see, that is what I would have done." It's not actually a bad episode for Sylvia who probably fares worst of a Davies' mothers, rarely if ever getting a sympathetic moment.

It's just, at the end of the day, this is one of the show's big spectacular two-parters with an emphasis on action and humour. It knows what its doing and, like Planet of the Ood feels less like a place-holder than many episodes in seasons 2 and 3, but I think I prefer Doctor Who stories when they are being a bit cleverer than this and possibly that when they are silly, that they are a bit cleverer (and possibly more serious) about the silliness.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/145890.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on March 5th, 2015 08:30 pm (UTC)
You're right that this doesn't do much obviously wrong. The problem is that it doesn't do much memorably right either. It just coasts along, which doesn't work for a supposed spectacular. I think coasting along was a problem with a lot of late-Davies stories, although I may be in a minority there.

I also agree about Sylvia, who never felt like a real character. To be honest, I was pretty tired of the family set-up by this stage, but if you are going to do something, you might as well put a bit of effort in.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on March 6th, 2015 09:03 am (UTC)
I agree there is a fair amount of coasting, but I think this does deliver in terms of gun battles, the clone, all the sneaking around the Sontaran ship Donna does. It's all at a fairly "mindless entertainment" level - and the Hinchcliffe era demonstrates you can do this kind of thing more intelligently without having to be "deep and meaningful". However I think this season overall has more of a sense of direction and purpose than seasons 2 and 3 did and so less of a sense that stories are just there to fill in the gaps.

It surprises me, given the regular accusations of misogyny thrown Moffat's way, that people so rarely raise the issue that an awful lot of Davies' run features one, increasingly bitter, mother-in-law joke. Obviously that doesn't exonerate Moffat for his mis-steps, but placed in context of the rest of UK genre TV, it is difficult to see him as uniquely bad - and at least his stereotypes tend towards women who are brash, determined and fun-loving (even if they often end up having to be rescued by a man) rather than women who are suspicious, over-protective and controlling.
philmophlegm: cyberleaderphilmophlegm on March 5th, 2015 10:02 pm (UTC)
Comedy dwarf sontarans (they aren't worthy of a capital letter) are one of my biggest hates of New Who. This is a race that invaded frickin' Gallifrey for feck's sake.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on March 6th, 2015 09:06 am (UTC)
daniel_saunders (above) in his recent analysis of the early JNT era made an interesting point that the 80s tended to re-imagine monsters not as they were, but as the public remembered them to be. I think something similar is happening here, especially as most of the public probably did little more than recall what the Sontarans looked like. Although I'm also pretty sure Davies wanted a comedy monster and repurposed them to fit and I think the concept has been pushed a bit far. Strax is easily the weakest aspect of the Paternoster gang.