Utilising the cutting edge in review technology, this week Simon Mills brings us a 100% real-time review of The Sontaran Stratagem in:
Kopic’s Radical Analysis Process With Indiosyncratic Textualising (KRAPWIT) – The Sontaran Stratagem Review
We open the episode at the Rattigan Academy and we see Ratboy himself, stood there looking as camp as a row of tents as a lady woman is forcefully ejected whilst she rants about how dangerous ATMOS is. She then shows supreme intelligence and cunning by getting into her car with ATMOS installed and having a bit of a chat with it. Stoopid journalist. Ratboy recommends her termination, and frankly, I agree. For being stoopid. This is two minutes of telly shorthand for what would have been the entirety of episode one of classic Who. "Spooky academy… ATMOS dangerous… kills woman." There, I got it down to six words. How clever am I? Can I join Ratboy’s Academy for Overacheiving Youngsters in Tango Orange Suits?
We cut to Donna flying the TARDIS. She can’t believe it and neither can the Doctor… I wonder if this is a clue to what’s going on with Donna and whatever’s on her back? Mowbli rings and Doctor says "it’s not mine…" The Doctor answers it and Martha says she’s bringing him back to Earth. Which sort of begs the question, why is Martha ringing it to call him if it’s not his mowbli? Too… much… contradiction… need… more cheese! And here it is, cue the spingly-spangly music with so many bells and whistles you’d think it was an American cheerleader convention.
The optional subtitles announce the TARDIS arrival as "METALLIC THRUMMING." Personally, I’d much rather see "VWORP! VWORP!", but there ya go. There’s a nice FX shot, panning across the open TARDIS door, showing Donna in the background. Nicely done, showing the "bigger on the inside" concept very nicely. Probably the best shot of this type I’ve seen in Nu Who. Liking Donna more and more… Who else could call him a prawn so convincingly.
Paging Doctor Jones! UNIT! Lots of shouty toy soldiers, Sontaran jokes and throwaway lines from the Doctor poking fun at the confused UNIT chronology, saying he used to work for them in the 70’s…or was it the 80’s?
We now get to meet Colonel Mace – and what a limp lettuce he is! No air of authority. I can’t imagine him saying "Chap with wings! Five rounds rapid!" I expect him to say something more like, "Tea! Two sugars! Hot!" We want the Brig! We want the Brig!
Two UNIT grunts go exploring the catacombs and find some zombies guarding a door. Not your usual run-of-the-mill factory workers, for sure. Blank faced, monotonous monosyllabic factory-drones not giving the game away, eh, lads? Haven’t you seen any old Doctor Who stories where workers get mind controlled??? Sheesh!
Nice light FX of circles spinning around… ah, no… that’s the BBC iPlayer gone into buffering mode… Hang on…
Oooh, purple haze. (Where’s Hendrix?) Must be alien, then, if its a room with purple light. UNIT grunt with a few more braincells says they should wait for backup… but we know what’s going to happen though, don’t we kids? Then we have some strange knocking noises. So what do we do now? I know, let’s open this strange looking device to see if anything jumps out and tries to kill us!
Gloop! The grunts discuss genetic engineering and existentialism while the clone mumbles incoherently and sinks beneath the gunge again. Staal chooses this moment to reveal himself and Grunt #1 does his bit for interplanetary relations by cracking short-ass jokes. Staal retaliates by boring them to paralysis with nonsense about getting their copper jackets expanded. Ohmigodhelpus!
Meanwhile back in mobile UNIT HQ, the Doctor explains that he doesn’t like people carrying guns because they are usually the enemy. Martha is proud of the fact she doesn’t carry a gun and is changing the system from the inside. You go, girl! Smash da system! And if any big alien baddie points his phased plasma rifle in the 40 megawatt range at you, just flutter those eyelashes at him. Donna proves her worth by ferretting around in personnel and announces that no one has taken any sick days. Nice of them to keep an empty folder in which to file nothing for you to find. Mind you, this is followed by another great Donna and Martha scene. Martha says keeping her travels with the Doctor secret nearly destroyed her family (referring to Last of The Time Lords). One wonders if telling them about him would have made any difference, though? Anyhoo…
We now see that the UNIT grunts have been magically transformed into Sontaran zombie grunts. Not much difference there, then.
The Doctor is about to set off for the Ratboy Academy when Donna approaches and says "sorry… been thinking… going home". It seems to this KRAPWIT reviewer that those words were deliberately crafted by the script writer to illicit a touchy-feely scene in which the Doctor gets to ramble on about the places he wanted to take her, "So many places… The Fifteenth Broken Moon of the Medusa Cascade, the Lightning Skies of Cotter Palluni’s World, the Diamond Coral Reefs of Kataa Flo Ko…" Where does RTD get this stuff? Does he just throw random words at Google and hit the "I Feel Lucky" button? Still, it gave us another opportunity to hear the words "Medusa Cascade". I know RTD didn’t write this story, but that scene just reeks of his penmanship.
So, we drop Donna off at her mum’s house and are treated to a flashback sequence. Not quite sure what the point of this was? Was it to show us Donna reflecting on all her marvelous adventures with the Doctor? All four of them? I think it was just another chance to crack the "I’m waving at fat" gag. Then, behold! Lord Bernard of Cribbington! Waving his arms magnificently in the distance. Such charisma!
Meanwhile, Martha is duped into following our favourite grunts into the catacombs. She sees the tank of gloop and tries to run away. There is screaming and then the lights go off. I bet you wish you had a gun now, Martha?
Donna and Gramps – nice chemistry whilst mum is moaning. I’d like to see more of Wilf and Donna together, but could quite easily live without the tedious mother. Wilf is the little boy (or girl) in all of us that looks up at the sky and wonders… and wishes he (or she) could hitch a ride with a mysterious traveller… Oh, if only Saint Bernard of Cribbinshire had had a chance to play the Doctor himself earlier on, say in the mid 70’s… What’s that you say? He did have a chance?
Back to Ratboy Academy with the Doctor and Jenkins (why are low ranked soldiers always called Jenkins? or Wilkins?). Whizz! Pop! Bang! Flash! Ah this must be where they keep the geniuses. Doctor waffles his way around the room and says something about moving to another planet. Ratboy doesn’t like having his grammar corrected – I think we’ve found Ratboy’s weakness. Yay! Let’s split his infinitives and go, shall we? The Doctor finds a teleport pod and zaps himself off to see what’s on the other end and finds… Sontarans!
At this point I must digress somewhat. As has been well established in the past, we know that Sontarans are from a high gravity world which is what causes their "squashy" appearance. My question is this… If they are from high grav planet why do they have spindly legs dangling from their Batman outfits? Surely they should be extremely stocky with trunk like legs and not have armour plated tight-ass butt cheeks? Anyway, Jenkins, being the highly trained UNIT operative that he is, immediately goes into First Contact mode and calls Staal a baked potato. Nice. We have the inevitable face off between the Doctor and Staal which ends with a cliched squash ball trick shot bashing Staal in the probic vent and incapacitating him while he and Jenkins escape.
Cut back to Martha, strapped down with a gloating Sontaran looming nearby. Martha sees a hand emerge from gloop and is scared shedless. Why would a hand be that scary. If it were a skull dripping with half-formed flesh, then I’d concede the point, but a damp hand? Oooh…scary.
Back on the Sontaran mothership, Staal finds out from Ratboy that this person was "The Doctor" and is an enemy of the Sontarans. He also reveals that the Sontarans were not allowed to play with the big boys during the last great Time War. Awwwww. Some fantastic spaceship effects now. Not sure about the heat haze, though – that’s caused by distortions in atmospheric conditions which you wouldn’t get in space.
Martha sees the clone emerge from the gloop and is put to sleep to "keep the memories alive"
The Doctor and Jenkins are in back in the jeep. "Greyhound 40 to Trap One!" calls the Doctor over the radio. Nice that they kept the classic call-signs. But what’s this? The jeep’s ATMOS system (sorry, tautology there) starts to act up, much to everyone’s surprise. It seems as though it wants to give them a dunk in the river, but the clever old Doctor realises that it is programmed to contradict everything he says. The he contradicts himself and says that it’s ignoring all his orders. He then counter-contradicts himself by telling it to drive into the river. If it’s ignoring him, why would it then do the opposite of what he tells it? The ATMOS device then obligingly blows itself up in a puff of logic. After the thrilling escape, there’s a nice denouement though with the Doctor saying "Oh. Is that it?" having expected a large explosion. Made me chuckle, anyway!
We’re back at Donna’s house with Gramps, Donna, mum and the Doctor. A veritable crossover reunion from Runaway Bride and Voyage of the Damned. My head nearly explodes with a continuity overload. The Doctor discovers that there’s a Temporal Pocket around the ATMOS things, out of synch by 1 second. I decide to ignore this technobabble as the Sontarans prepare for glorious warfare and activate the devices. SONTAR, HA! SONTAR, HA!
NOOO! Wilf, don’t get in the car! If it’s dangerous stay away from it, you Womble! Doh! There is much gassing, gasping and flapping around while Wilf is slowly dying and why does no-one try to break a window, eh? The Doctor has a solution, of course! Stand in the middle of the road looking enigmatic…
Cue spingly-spangly music.