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27 April 2008 @ 10:59 am
Doctor Who: The Sontaran Stratagem  
The difficulty with writing a review of the first half of a story is that first halves often stand up pretty well. It's not too hard to build a sense of growing tension and intrigue. Where stories often come unstuck is carrying their first half to a satisfactory conclusion and, right now, its impossible to say if The Sontaran Strategem's second half (The Poison Sky) will carry this off.

These early season two-parters in NuWho are generally action-oriented run-arounds with half an eye explicitly on entertaining the kids, providing a bit of spectacle and steering clear of anything too overtly thematic. The Sontaran Strategem seems very much in this mold. While not being as overtly comic as the Slitheen, the Sontarans are clearly being played more than a little for laughs. Mostly this works, while it might have been interesting to try and work the Sontaran military ethos into a coherent and interesting world view, enough is done to distinguish them from run-of-the-mill evil aliens, maintain them as genuinely scary and a threat while maximising the possibilities for humour (not an easy juggling act by any means). The only place I felt it fell down was the comedy chanting of "Sontara" at the end making them look, I thought, extremely silly, without I suspect the benefit of amusing the children. While an improvement over the Sontarans of the 1980s I nevertheless felt their design still suffered in relation to the Sontarans of the 1970s - an odd occasion where a new series imagining has failed to make a classic monster look better. Luke Rattigan is a disappointing villain, on the other hand, whose characterisation is struggling to make it into two dimensions and so far, has mostly consisted of some gloating. The only thing approaching a motivation for him was supplied by the Doctor and is pretty thin, amounting to "it's not easy being bright". It would be nice to see him fleshed out a bit next episode but I suspect that is not going to happen, especially if this two parter is conforming to type.

lonemagpie has pointed out* that this is one of the most traditionally constructed pieces of NuWho. I suspect this is a deliberate stylistic hearking back to the Pertwee UNIT episodes. We have the use of everyday objects as weapons, the strange quasi-militaristic organisation that has to be infiltrated, hypnotised humans and even a Terror of the Zygonsesque duplication sequence. Of course we are spared abducted scientists and people in orange hanging around looking suspicious, followed by multiple break-ins and then out-ofs of the Rattigan institute. I had been expecting, following on both from Torchwood and the episode trailer, that UNIT were also going to be depicted as an unpleasant extra-governmental organisation who had let power go to their heads (presumably in contrast to the oh-so-fluffy and responsible Torchwood :-) ) so it was nice to see them humanised both through the quiet dead-panning of Colonel Mace and the proto-companion Ross (what rank is he? the internet is refusing to reveal!).

Donna is great isn't she**? I know many people loved the mime show in Partner's in Crime, I wasn't so taken with that, it seemed rather forced to me - a bit of "hey! look! we have a comedian as the companion!" - whereas the "I've decided to go home" scene here was pure gold. I continue to love Bernard Cribbins as well. I so hope he isn't actually dead. Firstly because he's a great character and it would be such a waste and secondly because I'm not sure a second episode underscored by a whole theme of companion's families getting hurt and killed would sit well with this first half. I was also impressed with the way they turned her background, as a secretary, into an asset. Personally I think a much better job is being done with Donna in demonstrating how the "ordinary" person can be extraordinary than was done with Rose. I was disappointed, as in Torchwood, that Martha was effectively sidelined half-way through the episode but I see how this was inevitable - its the Doctor's show after all, not the Martha Jones show. Freema Agyeman was always at her best when portraying an efficient and business-like Martha so the development at least plays to her strengths as an actress.

So all in all, given this is the first half of what will probably turn out to be a light-hearted, action-orientated two parter I found lots to like here. However a lot will hinge on whether they can bring all the disparate elements together next week or whether it will all fall apart into a lot of running around, shouting and stupidity.

*at least I think he has, since I try not to read other reviews until I've written mine I've only actually read the first line of that post!

** yes, yes, I know I'm getting repetitious.
sophievdennis on April 29th, 2008 12:45 pm (UTC)
Donna love
* Loves Donna too
* Can't be bothered to write anything more insightful