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'Sontar-Ha!' - The Sontarans return to attack the Earth, the Doctor's daughter and a murder mystery with Agatha Christie,
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This review is from: Doctor Who - Series 4 Volume 2 [DVD] (DVD)
As you probably gathered on the front cover, this DVD contains episodes featuring the return of the Sontarans to the new series of `Doctor Who'. But more on that later as this DVD contains four very enjoyable episodes - including a two-parter and two oners. The second volume of the fourth series of `Doctor Who' is a true delightful treasure.
`THE SONTARAN STRATEGEM'
This two-part story has many returns coming back into `Doctor Who'.
Firstly there's the return of former companion Martha Jones (played by Freema Agyeman). She's now a qualified doctor and is working for U.N.I.T. since she finished travelling with the Doctor. I remember being thrilled with delight when Martha Jones was coming back to `Doctor Who' since it seemed such a shame she left so abruptly at the end of Series Three, and it's nice to have a final pay-off for the Doctor with a former companion and friend. Martha meets Donna Noble for the first time, and the two of them get on like a house on fire which I was very pleased about since Donna doesn't have any romantic interest in the Doctor whatsoever and there doesn't have to be a cat-fight between her and Martha (unlike the one between Rose and Sarah Jane in `School Reunion').
Secondly there's the return of U.N.I.T. (the Unified Intelligence Taskforce) that the Doctor worked so long ago back in the 70s - or was it the 80s (reference to the U.N.I.T. Dating Controversy for Doctor Who fans). The Doctor is rather uncomfortable joining up with U.N.I.T. again since he doesn't like people with guns. This branch of U.N.I.T. is led by Colonel Mace (played by Rupert Holliday-Evans) along with his second in command Captain Marian Price (played by Bridget Hodson). The Doctor initially doesn't take a liking to them even though they admire him for what he did back in the old days. Also the Doctor doesn't like them saluting him whenever he's around. Like the Doctor, I wished the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) had returned to `Doctor Who'. I'm glad a reference is made to him, though he was stranded in Peru which was annoying. The Doctor gets on well with Private Ross Jenkins (played by Christian Cooke), which I was glad about since there's at least someone in U.N.I.T. he takes a liking to. Even when Luke Rattigan calls Ross a U.N.I.T. `grunt', the Doctor readily comes to Ross' deference saying `he's nice'.
Most importantly however, is that this story features the return of the Doctor's oldest foes - the potato-headed Sontarans. As I getting to know about `Doctor Who', I first came across the Sontarans in the Colin Baker story 'The Two Doctors' and eventually later on in 'The Time Warrior' with Jon Pertwee, Here, the Sontarans are played by Christopher Ryan and Dan Starkey. Christopher Ryan plays General Stall of the Tenth Sontaran Battle Fleet. Chris Ryan is superb as the Sontaran general as he manages to get the militaristic and bombastic nature of the Sontarans across with their love of war and their code of conduct in battle. The same is said for Dan Starkey who obviously enjoys playing a Sontaran in this - Commander Skorr. I've had the DVD cover signed for this recently by Dan Starkey, and he seems such a nice chap. He's had the opportunity to play more Sontarans recently with Matt Smith as Strax, and in Big Finish playing Sontarans in stories such as `The Five Companions', 'The First Sontarans' and 'Starlight Robbery'.
This story also features Bernard Cribbins returning as Wilfred Mott, Donna's granddad; and Jacqueline King as Sylvia Noble. I love it when Wilfred's reunited with Donna and she tells him about the wonderful adventures she's had, both keeping it a secret from Donna's mum. I was absolutely over the moon when Wilfred meets the Doctor for the first time and recognizes him from 'Voyage of the Damned'. I also found it very when Sylvia recognises the Doctor for ill reasons during 'The Runaway Bride' and gets apprehensive when the Doctor inteferes with the ATMOS system on the car and blows it up when gas comes out. I thought it extremely funny when it's Sylvia who saves Donna's granddad at the beginning of the second episode of this story `The Poison Sky' when she uses an axe to smash the car window when he was trapped inside. Brilliant stuff.
This story of course is about U.N.I.T. investigating mysterious deaths connected to the Atmospheric Omission Systems (ATMOS) in people's cars, and Martha enlisting the Doctor and Donna's help to find out what's going on. They eventually come across Luke Rattigan, inventor of ATMOS who's working with the Sontarans. Pretty soon, the ATMOs systems in the cars get activated and poisonous gases exhumed choking the Earth by polluting its atmosphere. It all goes crazy and deadly serious as the world is poisoned by the end of the first episode.
'THE POSION SKY'
By the second episode, the Doctor has to find a way to stop the Earth being choked to death and understand why the Sontarans are using this sort of method to change the Earth's atmosphere. It soon becomes clear to the Doctor that the Sontarans intend to use the Earth as their new ground for cloning troops in the war against their enemies the Rutans and they have to change the atmosphere to do it. The Doctor has to enlist Donna's help in order to stop them as well as save Martha after she's been cloned to serve the Sontaran cause.
This episode also features young actor Ryan Sampson playing Luke Rattigan, in charge of ATMOs and working with the Sontarans. Luke is an opposite to the Doctor in that he's a genius and seems frustrated with the whole world not being clever as he is. When he works with the Sontarans, he's hoping to take his academy of youths to a new planet to start afresh when the whole world has been choked to death. Eventually however Luke discovers he's been backstabbed by the Sontarans and is agonisingly upset and betrayed. Luke soom redeems himself when he takes the Doctor's place in order to stop the Sontarans.
Ryan Sampson plays the part of Luke remarkably well and he certainly seems to enjoy playing egotistical youths with mad obsessions for a glorious future. Recently Ryan's playing alongside Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton in Big Finish audios playing the same sort of characters including '1963: Fanfare for the Common Men' and 'The Elite'. One wonders if he's ever played some nice characters aside from the bad ones.
Donna's very good in this story, as she gets to work on her own without the Doctor when she's visiting her family or when she gets teleported by mistake in the TARDIS to the Sontaran ship. She uses Martha's mobile to keep in touch with her family as well as the Doctor who gives her instructions to help him to stop the Sontarans. She even gets to use a mallet to know a Sontaran on the back of the neck with the probic vent. Donna truly shows her mettle in this story in being a companion, particularly when she discovers that people working in the ATMOS factory don't take any sick days which raises some clues to solving the mystery. This story allows Donna to put her temping skills to good use. Even when she's doubting herself and the Doctor reassures her, she still manages to do the things she wouldn't ordinary do in a dangerous situation.
`The Sontaran Strategem'/'The Poison Sky' is a very good comeback for the Sontarans and a lovely return for Freema Agyeman as Martha Jones. Written superbly by Helen Raynor (who was Doctor Who's script editor for the new series), this two-parter is definitely an action-packed and fun-filled adventure worth to enjoy. And I find it difficult to get the Sontarans' war-chant/catchphrase out of my head when they go `Sontar-Ha! Sonta-Ha!"
At the end of `The Poison Sky', the Doctor and Donna are ready to set off for new adventures and Martha ready to settle back down to Earth with her new fiancée, before the TARDIS shut on them. The TARDIS goes out of control and takes off. The Doctor, Donna and Martha have no idea where they're going, only that the TARDIS is taking them on a new adventure.
`THE DOCTOR'S DAUGHTER'
Following on from `The Poison Sky', the Doctor, Donna and Martha find themselves on the planet Messaline in the far future where war rages between the human race and a fish-like species called the Hath. The Doctor gets a tissue-sample taken from him when he's forced to put his hand through a progenation machine and it processes him. The process genetically creates the birth of a new female soldier - the Doctor's daughter Jenny (played by none other than the daughter of Fifth Doctor Peter Davison - Georgia Moffett).
I must admit I rather disappointed with the outcome of the story's title. I thought we were going to get to meet the Doctor's actual daughter who luckily managed to escape the Time War. Possibly this would be the mother of the Doctor's granddaughter Susan. Instead we get a genetically modified being made in a mission created from the tissue sample of the Doctor's, which technically makes her the Doctor's daughter. I couldn't help but feel rather cheated with this, as I'm sure many of the fans were at the time.
In saying that however, Georgia Moffett's brilliant in this and seems so lovely to watch. I was very pleased with the casting choice they made to actually cast a family member of one of the previous Doctors - Peter Davison (who previously appeared in the wonderful Children-In-Need special 'Time-Crash'). David Tennant began dating Georgia which had led recently to them being married - something I'm still getting my head round.
The story between the Doctor and his new daughter is really touching and moving. Even though the Doctor's resistant to the idea of Jenny being her daughter, he gradually grows to accept her despite her flaws in terms of being a soldier. Donna is especially good in persuading the Doctor to accept her daughter as she gets to learn more about him being a father before and is reluctant to start a family again.
The end of this story was heartbreaking when Jenny gets shot by General Cobb as she stands in front of the Doctor's defence. It's very moving when the Doctor has his final moments with her before she died. Eventually the Doctor leaves Jenny for a burial by the human on Messaline and takes Martha back home before he can continue having adventures with Donna.
However, Jenny manages to survive after the terraforming process of Messaline affects her and is brought back to life with regenerative energy. She soon gets away in a rocket/space ship and has adventures on her own, `saving planets; fighting monsters and doing an awful lot of running'. It begs to wonder what's happened to Jenny now. I hope we do get to see Jenny again since it's a mystery that's lingered on to this day.
`THE UNICORN AND THE WASP'
If I was to title one of the daftest episodes in `Doctor Who' ever, then it's got to be this one. A story set in the 1920s where the Doctor and Donna meet Agatha Christie at a country house and they fight a giant wasp. Come on! Get real!
Before watching this, I'd seen my favourite Doctor Who story 'Black Orchid' with Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding and Matthew Waterhouse. It was around the same time that I watched `Black Orchid' that this story `The Unicorn and the Wasp' was shown on TV. Obviously the production term thought why not make another Doctor Who like `Black Orchid' set in the 1920s English countryside at a country house, only they made it rather bad.
Now don't get me wrong, there are things about this episode I love. I love Fennella Woolgar's casting as Agatha Christie (brilliant casting suggestion by David Tennant apparently who's friends with Fennella). I think Fennella as Agatha Christie is the saving grace of this episode particularly. I also love the rest of the cast including the absolutely lovely Felicity Kendal (who I know as Barbara Good in `The Good Life') as Lady Clemency Edison . There's also Felicity Jones (who I know from the recent production of `Northanger Abbey') as Robina Redmond. Christopher Benjamin, who to Doctor Who fans is known as Henry Gordon Jago in `The Talons of Weng-Chiang', is playing Colonel Hugh Curbishly in this story. And there's also Tom Goodman-Hill playing the vicar Reverend Golightly. A top notch cast in a daft story as this.
To be fair though, Gareth Roberts has come up with a plot that does make sense. Like with 'The Shakespeare Code' before this, Gareth Roberts focuses the story on a certain event during Agatha Christie's life - the day she disappeared. I had seen a film recently about Agatha Christie disappearing on that same day after she discovered her husband was having an affair, and it didn't feature a giant wasp. I think the story would have worked better if they had a proper murder mystery without adding a `wasp' into the mix. I mean the ideas are sound, and it does make a reference to a book with a wasp on the cover called `Death in the Clouds'. There's lots of references to Agatha Christie's works as well inclding titles of books and various phrases used by Hercule Poriot. But on the surface, it does seem rather daft to have a `giant wasp' as the main villain. Also the story seems comedic in certain parts - perhaps too comedic for my liking.
Graeme Harper however manages to direct a piece that is lush, beautiful and as sunny as the 1920s itself. I love the country house settings, the vintage cars and the greens used in the story. It does make you feel wanting to take a sip of champagne or lemonade during a hot day.
David Tennant and Catherine Tatte certainly seem to enjoy doing this story, as I'm sure it was refreshing doing a story that was set in the 1920s with Agatha Christie, an historical and also had a bit more humour than certain other stories in the series. Catherine certainly relishes playing Donna in this story, particularly when she goes `Top-ho' or tells the butler to `buttle off'. The Doctor even remarks on the wasp having `buzzed off' after attacking Donna which made me roll my eyes. And I though the scene was very funny when the Doctor's being poisoned and is trying to tell Donna through a mouthful of nuts and ginger beer what he wants. The Doctor asking for something `salty' and Donna gives him `salt' and he says it's too `salty' was very laugh-out-loud and ridiculous indeed.
So all in all, `The Unicorn and the Wasp' isn't as great as `Black Orchid' and it certainly is the daftest episode of `Doctor Who' I've ever seen. But some of its not all that bad. Certainly I've made far more criticisms of this episode compared to how Peter Davision makes criticisms of `Black Orchid', but this story really isn't that bad. If you're in the mood for some comedy drama like Fawlty Towers and Douglas Adams, and certainly if you want an Agatha Christie murder mystery to unravel, you can't go wrong with this one.
This is a good collection of Doctor Who from its fourth series. Brilliant performances from David Tennant and Catherine Tate who seem to be hitting it off well as the new Doctor-companion set up and a fantastic return for Freema Agyeman as Martha as well as the Sontarans. As the Doctor and Donna say...'Onwards!'
Next up is Doctor Who - Series 4 Volume 3 where we get to have `silence in the library'....
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 Nov 2013 09:16:55 GMT
Congratulations on your 50th review Tim.
Yup i agree about Unicorn & the Wasp & your comments about having a Douglas Adams flavour to the episode.
I think The Doctor's Daughter is very underated & overlooked as it showcase Tennants Doctor at his best.
The Sontaran 2 Parter was exellent apart from that whiney American brat lol.
Great all round review mate.
In reply to an earlier post on 8 Nov 2013 10:10:58 GMT
Last edited by the author on 8 Nov 2013 10:14:18 GMT
Tim Bradley says:
Glad you enjoyed this. It was a coincidence this happened to be my 50th review. Very fitting for a siginficant year in Doctor Who's history.
With 'Unicorn' I'm afraid I wish for more Steven Moffatt-like tales compared the too-comedic aspects of RTD era. I really regret wishing that and wish 'Doctor Who' stories were more like this one, even though it was daft.
Yes David Tennant was brillaint in 'Daughter' and certainly puts across the lonely aspects of the Time Lord and had a good working relationship with Georgia Moffett as well as Catherine and Freema.
The Sontarans are my one of my favourite Doctor Who monsters. This was the first Who story where I had to wait a week for the cliffhanger to be resolved. It sure was an unnerving experience but nothing compared to that brillaint cliffhanger in 'Stolen Earth', but that's another story.
Really pleased you liked this review. More to come. Tim
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