“The Sontaran Strategem” – Review: Redux

General Stall “Sontar-Ha”

The Sontaran Strategem

It’s always nice to have a stratagem, which, according to the dictionary is a plan, scheme or trick for deceiving an enemy, although what exactly the inhabitants of Earth had done to deserve the wrath of Staal The Undefeated and his Tenth Sontaran battle fleet wasn’t quite clear from episode one of this series’ first two-parter, although I’m sure all will be revealed tomorrow. Essentially, the plot involved the Sontarans surreptitiously distributing a new carbon eliminating device for all the world’s 800 million cars that was coupled with a free satnav device that had a secret, second purpose that turned the cars into weapons for the impending invasion. Business as usual in the world of Doctor Who then.

The story was marked by two returns.  Firstly, the eponymous Sontarans whose necessary overhaul in the prosthetic department was well executed and made them a little less laughable than they had been on previous occasions.  All the necessary boxes got ticked for the Sontaran return: the love of war, the references to their height, the return of the probic vent and even one “he looks like a talking potato” quote.  All in all, I found the warmongers to be a great foe and a welcome (re)addition to the cast of aliens and monsters. Secondly, last year’s travelling companion, the no-longer-loved-up Martha Jones made her promised phone call to the Doctor and brought him back to Earth. Although, before the episode was done, we’d been treated to an evil version of Martha, stomping around and looking all moody.

It could be argued that there was a third return in this episode too, because UNIT was here and playing as big a part as it did back in the Christmas Invasion.  The calibre of recruits seemed to be a little shaky with the three ‘grunts’ (Harris, Grey and Jenkins) all being a little bit lame and out of their depth when faced with a Sontaran.  Considering their role in life is to deal with alien threats, you’d have thought they would have reacted a bit more professionally.  The other UNIT recruit and in a seemingly high ranking role, was Martha.  In fact, it was her “level 1 security clearance” that led to her to being targeted as an ideal choice for the Sontaran cloning process, which was a well thought out and expertly created addition to the story.

The story progressed at a very rewarding pace with each revelation and development being interspersed with some nice character pieces.  It was helped, as many previous episodes have been, by the additional time that the two episodes afford the plot but that does mean that we’ll not be able to make a true assessment until next week.  On the evidence of the first forty-five minutes though, it looks like being an even better effort from the pen of Helen Raynor than the Daleks return last season in New York.  There were a number of neat references littered throughout the script from more mentions of the Time War and the Medusa Cascade to a joke for the fans about “UNIT dating”.  The snappy dialogue and a few laugh-out-loud gags were all present and correct just as we have come to expect from the new Who.

The guest cast too was of a high calibre.  I could easily watch another Who spin-off series focussed entirely on Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins) as he lights up the screen whenever he’s on and says more with a look or a roll of his eyes than he could with two or three lines of dialogue.  Elsewhere, boy geniuses (genii?) are always a hard concept to pull off but thankfully Ryan Sampson seems to have a bit of presence to make it work, and I always found him to be one of the better elements of that “Since You’ve Been Gone” sitcom.  Acting under inches of latex mask is another challenge but the two main Sontarans gave it their all.  And then we get to the final scene of the episode: the Sontaran Haka. Now that we have Strax as an established secondary character in the show, it’s nice to head back here and look at Dan Starkey’s first time under the latex (albeit not actually playing Strax) and how the race were re-imagined for a new audience. I got the sense that as a race, the writers in Doctor Who have teased the Sontarans and made fun of them a little bit, which dissipates much of the sense of peril and danger that should probably be there. Either way, it was an original way to deliver the cliffhanger and I’m looking forward to “The Poison Sky” more than I thought I would.

Highlight: Another perfectly reintroduced classic monster

Lowlight: The “Sontar-Ha” war cry

Talking Point: Was Martha back too soon?

Demon’s Run Rating: 15 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 26th April 2008

Marathon Status: x

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