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Doctor Who 4[XXX].4: The Sontaran Stratagem

April 26th, 2008 (09:58 pm)

Difficult to evaluate episodes in multi-part stories. There are always undeveloped strands which might come into their own next week, or performances which might suddenly acquire more weight with more context.

There was much that was good in The Sontaran Stratagem. The Doctor and Donna continue to have a splendid relationship that makes David Tennant's Doctor seem that bit more credible. The Doctor's assumption that Donna was walking out on him was entirely in character; this Doctor is an addict of high emotion, whether it is peril or grief and self-pity. His immediate leap to the tragic conclusion that Donna can't take any more TARDIS travel and wants to go home was splendidly self-regarding without being self-aware. He is, after all, a dunce.

Freema Agyeman made a welcome return, and seemed to have more to do with this version of Martha Jones than she did with the Martha of the 2007 series. Martha has her own critique of the Doctor now; she is her own person and if he can't cope with what his influence has made her, she can't be held responsible. We are back to the Doctor as dysfunctional male who is in denial about his relationships with women, an idea viala_qilarre first brought to my attention with what looks like prophetic grace.

It's impossible to successfully recreate the Sontarans' appearance from The Time Warrior or The Sontaran Experiment, still (adjusted for technology) the most successful Sontaran masks. Kevin Lindsay is long gone, but to me ideal Sontaran face will always be a parody of his. This being said the prosthetics applied to Christopher Ryan and Dan Storkey were far more flexible than anything John Friedlander was able to devise in the 1970s. I was a little disappointed with Jenkins deciding that Staal looked like a 'baked potato'; as a child I could never see why my classmates thought that the Sontarans looked like potatoes, as I found potatoes a harmless root vegetable most welcome on the plate, whereas the Sontarans were hideous distortions of humanity, the most frightening Doctor Who monsters, nightmare-stalking creatues that could not be tamed. I still experience a frisson of disturbance on seeing the first dishelmetings of Linx and Styre; Stor is a different matter, as the storyline of the last episode of The Invasion of Time is undermined by the seemingly insoluble challenge the production faced in trying to make Derek Deadman's mask fit successfully.

There were some things about the Sontarans that I thought this script got right. The Victorian country house setting of the Rattigan Academy allowed Staal to make his first appearance in a reasonably Gothic setting. The Sontaran costume was originally designed to appear in a story set in a castle, and until fairly late in the day The Sontaran Experiment was to be set in a ruined abbey, continuing the Gothic theme. Linx and Styre were both bachelor army officers devoted to their regiments, and Christopher Ryan's delivery was both reminiscent of Kevin Lindsay's but bringing his own characterisation to someone whom Helen Raynor had written to be worthy of more respect than the obsessively saluting, blank space that was Colonel Mace. Unfortunately I didn't take to the final rugby chant at all, which seemed out of keeping with Staal's austere character.

Presentationally there was something wrong with the Sontarans. They are steely grey figures, creatures of gun metal and cannon. I don't think they ought to be blue. Dan Storkey's Skorr seemed a little flat compared to his superior: I was reminded of Stike and Varl in The Two Doctors, never one of my favourite Doctor Who adventures.

Otherwise I'm not sure where the Rattigan Academy is going. Luke's gifted boy genius inventor reminded me of John in The Tomorrow People, and the academy could potentially be a sort of TP-lab-gone-bad. Yet I'm not sure here whether anything more is going to be done with it beyond more background for Luke, unless the answer to the defeat of the Sontaran plan is to lie there. The whole pollution-caused-by-aliens premise seemed unsubtle and also unthreatening, as if the Sontarans' intervention was excusing the damage human beings have done to the atmosphere. There were a few moments of humour which didn't quite work, like the aforementioned Mace salutes; the Doctor's talking out the ATMOS device didn't seem to make sense either. So far, my least favourite episode of the season.


Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: April 27th, 2008 06:54 am (UTC)

I think the Rattigan Academy probably gave a nod to Terence Rattigan, and The Winslow Boy.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 27th, 2008 12:02 pm (UTC)

I wonder if it's going to be relevant in any way, though? In what way is a teleport pod analogous to a postal order which Ryan may or may not have stolen?

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: April 27th, 2008 12:02 pm (UTC)

I had assumed it was just a passing reference.