The Butler Didn't Do It!,
This review is from: Doctor Who - Series 4 Volume 2 [DVD] (DVD)
Series Four's first two-hander resurrects those potato-headed martial clones, The Sontarans, for `The Sontaran Stratagem' and `The Poison Sky'. The Sontaran Statagem also features the return of erstwhile companion Martha Jones and The Doctor's old muckers UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce - now Unified Intelligence Taskforce). The plot concerns a plan by the alien invaders to convert the Earth's atmosphere to make it suitable as a breeding-ground for future Sontaran soldiers; the Sontarans are eternally locked in war against their mortal enemies The Rutan (seen in classic Fourth Doctor story `The Horror of Fang Rock' from 1977). The first episode is slow to start but serves as an introduction proper to Donna's family and to establish Martha's change since she left The Doctor - she is now a qualified doctor and is working for UNIT. The second part ups the ante, with pitched battles between Sontaran warriors and UNIT soldiers; as well as the sudden siege of Earth as the Sontaran gas starts to cloak the planet. Christopher Ryan returns as Sontaran commander, General Staal whilst Rupert Halliday-Evans plays Colonel Mace, deputising for Sir Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart who is, according to Mace, `stranded in Peru'. This is the first time The Brigadier has been explicitly referred to in the new series; he has apparently been knighted since the he was last seen in 1989's Battlefield serial. Freema Agyeman takes centre stage here as Martha is cloned and Agyeman gets her teeth into being villainous for a change. The themes of pollution and ecological disaster befalling the Earth are topical and surprisingly underused in contemporary TV drama, and writer Helen Raynor has produced a lively and entertaining story. The SFX and make-up are also particularly impressive; The Sontaran ship in orbit around Earth is superbly realised, whilst the costumes, and the design of the titular monsters, are both recognisable and effectively updated.
The Doctor's Daughter had the fanboys up in arms before it was even broadcast; the provocative title resulting in a frenzy of internet speculations. Suffice to say, things aren't as they first appear; The episode is an action-packed nod to sci-fi classics of the past as the TARDIS crew (now three, as Martha was inadvertently pulled along for the ride) is dragged to the planet Messaline, where the fish-headed Hath and the human colonists are engaged in a seemingly endless war. Peter Davison's real-life daughter Georgina Moffett takes the titular role, whilst grizzled veteran Nigel Terry plays the overtly martial Cobb. For once The Doctor finds things out of his control, and this story is really about his companions, and how despite their best efforts, they are helpless to change events that are already predestined. The episode is glossy, fun and energetic; Moffett's character must surely return, and the story's ending leaves this possibility tantalisingly open.
The fourth and final story on this disc is period drama `The Unicorn and the Wasp'. The Doctor meets one of the few historical figures he has yet to encounter, and Agatha Christie doesn't disappoint. Played with controlled relish by Fenella Woolgar the author of enduring classics such as `Murder on the Orient Express' finds herself at the heart of a murder mystery with seemingly her biggest fan on hand to help her solve it. Reminiscent of that other Edwardian Doctor Who-dunnit - Black Orchid - this episode is chock-full of period mannerisms and whimsical charm which makes it a real visual treat. Featuring David Tennant's Dad in a cameo, the story incorporates an alien aspect that was missing from Black Orchid and is also pleasingly irreverent towards its depiction of society in the 1920s and 30s. One of the best things about this story is The Doctor's increasing rapport with Donna as they begin to forge a real bond. I also liked the way The Doctor keeps dropping the names of Christie's novels into the conversation; a trait of the Tenth Doctor that proves to be both witty and sufficiently subtle to avoid grating.
Personally I would have liked to see this story developed in terms of characterisation and plot, and it is one of those modern Doctor Who stories that seems to have been compressed to fit the new format. This minor quibble aside, the story sees Series 4 hit its stride, as well as showing a production team at the very top of its game.