by Catriona Mills

Live-blogging Doctor Who: The Sontaran Stratagem

Posted 27 July 2008 in by Catriona

Aha! This time I have prepared myself in advance, and am sitting here a good ten minutes before the episode actually starts, watching extended sports coverage on ABC News.

Seriously, when did it come about that the sports bulletin started at quarter past the hour? There must be more actual news in the world than can be included in a fifteen-minute bulletin.

Eh, c’est la vie: that’s Australia’s sports madness for you, I suppose.

See, now they’re claiming the All Blacks are rubbish because they’ve just lost two games in a week. Two games versus South Africa and Australia, I might add: two equally strong sporting countries. Oh, well: I’ve never cared for Union, so I’m not that fussed.

What does this have to do with Doctor Who? Absolutely nothing!

Why am I writing about it instead of saving my energy? No idea!

Aha! (Again.) The news has finished—though it lasted long enough for me to add another post, blogging addict that I am—and we’re heading towards Doctor Who and the Sontarans.

Watching an ad. for Foreign Correspondent has reminded me—well, Nick reminded me—that Tiananmen Square occurred in 1989. Damn! When did I get old?

And here we are! An attractive female journalist being thrown out of Rattigan Academy by a group of cultists in red tracksuits.

NICK: Newspaper journalists in the Doctor Who universe are remarkably stupid. And UNIT is supposed to be a secret organisation.

He’s tough to please, that one.

But, really, if she’s investigating deaths associated with ATMOS Systems (wait for that joke!), why the hell does she have ATMOS activated in her car? Daft girl.

She still doesn’t deserve to drive straight into the canal. That’s my fourth least-favourite death.

Ah, Donna driving the TARDIS! I love the relationship between her and the Doctor.

(Hang on, “her and the Doctor”? Yes, “her” is the objective pronoun as well as the possessive, isn’t it? Oh, never mind.)

Woo hoo! Who’s ringing? Can only be . . . Martha!

Yay, Martha! I love you, Martha!

Ooh, Nick tells me that the director of this episode also directed Jekyll. I really enjoyed Jekyll.

DONNA: She’s engaged, you prawn.

I love that line! And I love the way Donna is completely free of any kind of jealousy or discomfort around the other companions. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again—it’s my favourite part of her character.

UNIT! Ah, UNIT! You were such a huge part of my childhood. But where’s Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart? And Yates? (The prat.) And Benson? I love you, Benson!

Nick tells me the uniforms are all wrong. And that they’re wearing their berets in such a way as to cause their sergeant majors to give them at least a thousand push-ups each.

Homeworld Security? That’s a frightening term.

The bit where Donna demands—and gets—a salute makes me laugh and laugh and laugh.

Martha checked the biopsies? Aren’t biopsies pre-mortem? I think she means autopsies.

I admit, ATMOS sounds too good to be true. Fits into every car? Reduces CO2 emissions to zero? Twenty quids’ worth of shopping vouchers if you introduce a friend? Sign me up! Ah, but then I’d meet my fourth least-favourite death, wouldn’t I? A dilemma!

NICK: Ah! It’s Sergeant Cannon Fodder and Corporal Dead Meat.

On the other hand, these two are tossers. I don’t think they deserve their (spoiler!) fate, but they are tossers.

Okay, giant, creepy, alien vat. I have some advice for you, UNIT chappies: do not attempt to open it. Seriously. Even Corporal Dead Meat agrees with me, Sergeant Cannon Fodder.

Their gauntlets are kind of cool, though, with the padded back pieces.

Ah, green goo. No . . . Ah! Thing leaping out of the goo! Ew, and the creepy pieces of flesh over the mouth. Oh, that’s just wrong.

Nick thinks these two are inconsistently written, veering between scientific curiosity and angling for promotion.

SONTARAN: Words are the weapons of womenfolk!
ME: Yeah, well . . . . pffft!
NICK: I’m not sure that Sontarans even have womenfolk. They are clones, after all.

So it was just random misogyny. That makes it worse.

Woo hoo! Mike, from The Young Ones. As a Sontaran. I have lived my entire life waiting for this moment. Sort of.

The Doctor can be a hypocrite. He’s not always insisted that people carrying guns stand ten feet away from him at all times.

Ah! The first time that Donna uses her actual skills to help people. She’s right: the fact that the factory workers have no sick days—that is weird.

Oh, I don’t trust a child genius. They’re all . . . creepy. On television, anyway.

The Doctor wants to go to a hothouse for geniuses? Because he gets lonely? You arrogant man. Though I do love you.

Martha has had a worse run than most companions—though that doesn’t justify the cliche she’s just brought out about the Doctor being like fire. That’s a little weak.

And here are Cannon Fodder and Dead Meat, back but under Sontaran control.

Jenkins: he’s a pretty boy. And he seems sweet. I hope he doesn’t die at any point.

I love this exchange between the Doctor and Donna, when she’s explaining that she’s going home and he’s talking about all the planets they could have travelled to—none of which we ever see them going to. And she just lets him keep nattering—ah, I do love you, Donna. He is a great, big, outer-space dumbo.

Nick tells me there’s some anxiety about Polish migrant workers in the U. K., but he’s not sure whether this is critique or just playing up to it. I’ve not come across that anxiety.

(No, no! Martha, don’t go with Dead Meat and Cannon Fodder, you fool!)

I remember there was a lot of anxiety about Polish refugees during World War Two, but that was for an entirely different reason.

It’s only episode four— we really don’t need these Donna flashbacks. I don’t think they work, per se. We know what she’s gone through—but the way she breaks down when she sees her grandfather breaks my heart.

He’s so wonderful, the grandfather. But I never knew my biological grandfathers, and the man I called Granddad (my lovely neighbour) from the age of four died late last year, so maybe I’m biased. (Last time I saw Granddad, before he died, he said, “Well, you got fat, didn’t you?” I love you too, Granddad.)

The fact that Donna confesses to her grandfather but not to her mother—that’s a nice piece of character development.

Ah, so Jenkins is called Ross. I still hope he doesn’t die.

Ah, here’s the child genius. I missed a lot of this last time, because I geeked out and had to leave the room to grab my computer. Embarrassing? Not at all.

RATTIGAN: If only that [moving to another planet] was possible.
DOCTOR: If only that were possible. Conditional clause.

First response: Hee!
Second response: Actually, that’s not a function of a conditional clause, is it? It’s using the plural because it’s the subjunctive mood, isn’t it?
Third response: Oh, just watch the programme.

SONTARAN: We have an intruder!
DOCTOR: How did he get in? Intruder window?
ME: Hee!

Also, back five minutes, I agree with the Doctor—we don’t call Ross a grunt. We love Ross. He’s pretty.

DOCTOR: Now, Ross, don’t be rude: you look like a pink weasel to him.

Tennant is lovely in this episode, completely manic.

Is it part of the standard Sontaran mythos (wait, those two clones don’t look anything alike, which kind of undercuts Rattigan’s question about how they tell each other apart) that the valve on the back of their heads is there to force them to face their enemies in battle? I don’t remember that.

Back to poor old Martha, who’s now facing a Sontaran whose nickname is “The Blood-Bringer.” That’s sort of creepy, but not as creepy as the thing in the ooze.

Nick points out that the Sontaran ship is a lovely piece of CGI—and he’s right. But Nick’s a CGI junkie, and I’m not.

Ooh, Martha clone. And Freema Agyeman in goo, which I’m sure pleased those fanboys with a certain kink.

Hang on, ATMOS in the jeep. Doctor and lovely Ross, you might want to jump out of there at some point. Ooh, the Doctor’s clever. He’s just like James T. Kirk—who talked how many computers to death while he was captain of the Enterprise? Six or seven?

NICK: ATMOS must have a Kirk circuit.

We really are soul mates!

I think the point where the Doctor turns up on Donna’s doorstep and says, “You won’t believe the day I’ve had” is adorable—they do rely on each other, in a way that isn’t creepily co-dependent.

No! Don’t talk to Martha! She’s a creepy clone, now!

The fact that they called Donna “The Little General” when she was younger—I wonder if that’s why I like her? My family always used to say that I was destined to end up the dictator of a small, South American country.

(They do love me. I think.)

And now the Doctor’s set off ATMOS. That was a daft thing to do.

Don’t get in the car, Donna’s grandfather! That’s a stupid thing to do!

I actually find this endpoint rather frightening—we live on a main road, and the fumes are bad enough without ATMOS.

(On another note, I was devastated when Martha turned up only to be taken out of play halfway through the episode. That’s not what I anticipated.)

Ha! Sontaran haka! Lovely.

NICK: You’re a strange boy, Luke.

And that’s the episode. The first two-parter of the season—and appropriately followed by an advertisement for “The Cars That Ate China.”

Next week: Nuclear attack against a spaceship lingering just outside our atmosphere? Really? Is that a good idea?

Oh, well: we’ll see.

Share your thoughts [10]

1

Tim wrote at Jul 27, 11:02 AM

Tim’s thoughts:

The Doctor’s ‘ATMOS, do the opposite!’ trick is at least as dodgy as his ‘I’m a stowaway’ defence on the Titanic. And how come it makes the doors unlock?

Minor gripe: Why ‘Unified’, not ‘United Nations’?

If the biopsies show no toxins, how does Martha know they were poisoned?

I agree with Nick that the two soldiers were poorly written; I’d go further to say that the whole episode is poorly constructed. On the other hand, it does have several good lines for Donna.

Re grammar: The Doctor is just leaving out a link (probably because he knows Rattigan knows these links); the clause is conditional (an irrealis present conditional clause, to be precise), therefore it requires the subjunctive mood. (Incidentally, evidence like that suggests that the Doctor doesn’t need the TARDIS’s translation effect to understand English.)

There are other doctors on Earth (Martha, for one). Why do the big bad aliens always leap to the assumption that any reference to a doctor is to the Doctor?

I thought the Sontaran haka looked silly; they’re soldiers, not footballers.

Thinking ahead (spoilers!), it seems excessively convenient that UNIT takes over Earth’s nuclear weapons and that the response is directed from the same mobile UNIT HQ that is investigating ATMOS, and that the Sontarans know this in advance and clone Martha as an agent on the inside to stop it. And why doesn’t HMG fire up the Death Star Laser they used in ‘The Christmas Invasion’? (One could ask the same re ‘Runaway Bride’. I suppose they must have burned out the fuses or something.)

2

Leigh wrote at Jul 27, 11:05 AM

Couple of things (if I can remember)

The bit where Donna demands a salute ONE of the best Donna shpeals (is that how you spell that?) in the whole series IMO

I don’t really have any memories of my Granddad either, but I think Donnas is lovely cause he is what all Grandfathers should be, totally besotted with his granddaughter

I agree Ross is pretty especially his eyes … Is that the first time you and I have agreed on the prettiness of a guy

Lastly, I didn’t take what the Doctor said about the valve on the back of the Sontarans neck the same way. I didn’t think he was saying they put it there so they have to face front, I took it as they have to face front cause its on their back. Different perception I guess xx

3

Catriona wrote at Jul 27, 11:24 AM

I read the Doctor’s statement as running, “This is on the back of their necks because then they have to face their enemies (or else they reveal their weaknesses).” But I could easily be wrong on that. But, since they’re exclusively a clone species, I think we can legitimately argue that there’s nothing on their bodies that’s there by chance.

I don’t think lovely Ross is the first time we’ve agreed on a guy—aren’t we in agreement that Dean Winchester has pretty, pretty eyes?—but it’s certainly a rarity.

(Not important, but the preferred spelling is “spiel”—from the German “speil” or Yiddish “shpil,” meaning play or game.)

4

Catriona wrote at Jul 27, 11:35 AM

[Having looked at this comment again when I'm not distracted, I've just realised the question I asked made no sense, so I'm exerting my editorial powers and deleting it.]

Now the Unified rather than United Nations comes, Nick thinks, from the United Nations not wanting people to be confused—he says the fact that people were putting up UNIT fan-sites was something of a problem.

I’ve forgotten enough of the following episode to not remember the specific reason for cloning Martha was—they do just love cloning people. But I agree that this wasn’t the best-constructed episode of the season. It was, though, a good Donna episode.

As far as the Death Star Laser, I’m wondering if the reason it’s not been used since “The Christmas Invasion” is due to the concurrent downfall of Harriet Jones. It was her initiative, wasn’t it? So the way in which the Doctor undermined her immediately after she authorised its use might have led to a simultaneous discomfort with that technology. (I’m not saying that’s what it is—but it seems plausible.)

5

Wendy wrote at Jul 27, 10:55 PM

i just thought grammar + the doctor….a winning combination…

6

Tim wrote at Jul 27, 11:39 PM

> (Not important, but the preferred spelling is “spiel”—from the German “speil”)

Actually, from the German spiel. :)

> Now the Unified rather than United Nations comes, Nick thinks, from the United Nations not wanting people to be confused—he says the fact that people were putting up UNIT fan-sites was something of a problem.

Ah, that’s a good reason, then.

> As far as the Death Star Laser, I’m wondering if the reason it’s not been used since “The Christmas Invasion” is due to the concurrent downfall of Harriet Jones. It was her initiative, wasn’t it? So the way in which the Doctor undermined her immediately after she authorised its use might have led to a simultaneous discomfort with that technology. (I’m not saying that’s what it is—but it seems plausible.)

It wasn’t Harriet Jones’s initiative, but Torchwood’s. In ‘The Christmas Invasion’, Major Blake of UNIT is surprised that the PM knows about Torchwood. We learn in ‘Army of Ghosts’ that the weapon was reverse-engineered by Torchwood from a Jathar Sunglider that they shot down over the Shetlands in 1996. Also, a change of government probably wouldn’t mean abandoning the weapon entirely — for comparison, Obama is likely to be less gung-ho than Bush, but if he gets in, he’s not going to scrap nuclear weapons altogether.

I could buy a technical malfunction — perhaps they could only get the weapon to work once — but it deserved some sort of explanation, I think.

7

Matthew Smith wrote at Jul 28, 01:24 AM

I think Martha would prefer I value her for her brains rather than her evil strut and dark gaze but I can’t help it. The best thing about this episode (apart from Martha) was the word play and yes Donna’s ‘tude. (Although the joke about “I’m going home” fell flat for me). Actually just having those cute cuddly sontarins back and the potato jokes added value.

8

Catriona wrote at Jul 28, 06:13 AM

Oh, Tim! Do you have to point out my typos on the blog? You’re quite right, of course, but in my defense it is a typo, not a deliberate mis-spelling. It’s a stupid and embarrassing typo, especially since a/. the episode is all about grammar jokes and b/. I just gave a lecture on how spelling errors undermine your credibility as a writer, but hey.

And you might well be right with the Death Star laser—you’re certainly right about the Torchwood/PM thing; I’d completely forgotten that. The fact that Torchwood is “outside the government,” as they say, undercuts my argument that the fact that Harriet was undermined, and the way she was undermined, immediately after using the weapon might have led to a rethinking of its deployment or a public backlash against it.

Matt, the “I’m going home” joke fell a bit flat for me, too (surely you’d just say, “I’ve got time to nip home for a quick visit while you’re at the academy, haven’t I?”) except I loved the way Donna just let him keep talking and talking.

(Of course, Matt, you could value Donna for her dark gaze, evil strut, and her brains.)

9

Nick Caldwell wrote at Jul 29, 10:59 PM

The Haka is, of course a war ritual, performed by Maori warriors before entering the fray. So that’s probably the preferred connotation.

On the other hand, I’m now thinking the Sontarans would make good rugby players, in the Alfie Langer style (courtesy Roy and HG): “I dart!”

10

Catriona wrote at Jul 29, 11:42 PM

And my other favourite of Roy and HG’s Alfie Langer jokes:

“Where are you, Alfie?”
“I’m here!”
“Where?”
“I’m here! I’m under the table!”

Then again the haka-infused scene outside Helm’s Deep in Two Towers wasn’t absurd, and I don’t think was entirely down to the fact that you knew that, under the prosthetics, those Uruk-hai were actually enormous Maori men.

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