Doctor Who – The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End Review (or “A Fitting End To An Era, Even Though It Isn’t”)

August 14, 2013

The Russell T. Davies Era isn’t quite over yet; after this story there are still four specials to go.

But in almost every sense, The Stolen Earth & Journey’s End is its pinnacle.

Here we have a story where pretty much every strand of his writing for the past four years of Doctor Who, Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures comes to an end.

For most characters, this is their last hurrah, their final tangible contribution to the show.

Can RTD do his own writing  justice here?

Doctor Who – The Stolen Earth & Journey’s End Review: What’s This One About

Along with 26 other planets, Earth has vanished from the universe thanks to Davros and the Daleks.

The only hope for salvation is if the Doctor and his “Secret Army” (i.e. all his mates) can stop them

Meanwhile, poor old Donna has no choice but to leave the TARDIS forever.

Thoughts – Let’s Start With The Bad

To get the negative stuff out of the way first, let’s talk about – yes, you guessed it – Rose.

"Fuck...fuck, this is it. This is my chance. There's The Doctor and I can shoot him. Now relax; breath. What do I do? Shout exterminate? There's no time. He's on the move. But Dalek procedure states I have to shout Exterminate. Oh man...I'm going for it" This Dalek was the envy of his peers for the 2 seconds he subsequently lived

“Fuck…fuck, this is it. This is my chance. There’s The Doctor and I can shoot him. Now relax; breath. What do I do? Shout exterminate? There’s no time. He’s on the move. But Dalek procedure states I have to shout Exterminate. Oh man…I’m going for it”
This Dalek was the envy of his peers for the 2 seconds he subsequently lived

While there are some parts of her story I enjoyed, like her jealousy of Martha, much of her character and reason for being there was stupid.

Russell T. Davies is usually quite good at character development, and did an accomplished job with the likes of Martha, Donna, Wilf, Sylvia, Mickey and Captain Jack, but he’s dropped the ball with Rose.

So this average girl is now a gun-toting, dimension jumping freedom fighter, all because she’s trying to get back to the same universe as a bloke who has given her no actual sign that he wants to be romantically involved with her?

Over in her universe, they created a “Dimension Cannon” that could measure timelines, all to get her back there. And that’s not even taking into account that once she’s back there, the odds of them meeting again are miniscule.

Would she not be told by her family to give up with her obsession by this point?

It’s just silly, and it’s actually quite annoying.

And to go to the trouble of creating a second, human Doctor to live out her days with seemed far too much.

Oh, and by the way, that second Doctor must be utterly depressed. He’s got the same mind and memories as the real Doctor, and yet is forced to accept saying goodbye to “his” TARDIS, living his life with this super stalker in an alternate dimension and – most of all – being confronted with the reality that he’s only got about 40 years left to live. That’s the human equivalent of being told you’ve got a matter of days or weeks.

You’ll notice, by the way, that the real Doctor didn’t seem all that fussed about leaving her behind, and his reason for dropping them off there – “Sorry mate, you’ve committed genocide” – doesn’t really matter when you consider that there are no Time Lords left to enforce any punishments and the Doctor has already committed genocide before, probably more than once.

But going back to Rose; I know they had to bring her back for this, and I know that RTD made a rod for his own back by writing her out the way he did back in Doomsday, but it’s still ridiculous and still annoying.

Not Enough For Everyone To Do

The other problem I have with The Stolen Earth & Journey’s End is that there’s not quite enough for everyone to do.

Aga Freeman has just ruined Doctor Who forever by breaking the Fourth Wall. I honestly thought it was all real before she did that.

Aga Freeman has just ruined Doctor Who forever by breaking the Fourth Wall. I honestly thought it was all real before she did that.

So take Jackie for example; she doesn’t contribute to the story one bit, but for a couple of jokes at her expense. Perhaps it would have been better for her to appear in a small cameo at the end when the Doctor delivered Rose back to the alternate universe?

And of the main characters, Martha Jones just ends up in a 2 episode wild-goose chase.

Nothing she does has any bearing on the overall development of the plot, and since her interactions with the rest of the cast are limited, it means she ends up a little bit wasted.

And Now To The Positive Stuff

Those are the only serious issues I have with this story, and beyond that, I think it’s top notch.

To fit so much into 2 episodes – even if a couple of characters are left with nothing much to do – and to make it all work and link is solid writing.

RTD has clearly been thinking about this one long in advance, with plotlines and places – not just from Doctor Who but Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures – all coming together so neatly in the end.

So apart from the Doctor meeting Rose again, we also have the conclusion of the Donna Noble storyline, Dalek Caan, The Hand in the Jar, Sarah Jane’s warpstar, Harriet Jones, the Parallel Universe, The Bees disappearing, The Medusa Cascade and The Shadow Proclamation.

All of that gets put to bed once and for all, and yet it’s done in a way that flows and doesn’t seem like it’s been thrown in for the sake of it.

Oh smile for fuck's sake. The whole world has just been saved. Again.

Oh smile for fuck’s sake. The whole world has just been saved. Again.

As much as I love The Five Doctors, it was a bit of a case of “Let’s just have lots of people appear” whereas this actually constructed a solid foundation for why they appear.

Very impressive stuff.

It’s just a pity this couldn’t be the end of the Daleks. They must be running out of lives by now, considering this is the 3rd time since the show came back where they’ve seemingly been destroyed for good.

Davros

An addition to this story that I particularly enjoy is Davros.

Now sure, having him lurk in the shadows for almost the entire first episode is a waste, considering everyone will have known it was him when he first spoke, but that’s just a minor niggle.

Apart from Davros looking great, the man in the costume – Julian Bleach – is tremendous. He delivers his lines with such power and gravitas that it blows all the other Davros actors out of the water. And I say that having enjoyed the work of Terry Molloy and Michael Wisher (but not David Gooderson).

The speech that finishes with “The Destruction of Reality Itself” is a masterclass in how to slowly build a monologue from quietly talking to screaming at the top of one’s lungs, without seeming like it’s “acting”.

And what about that little moment written in where he recognises Sarah? That’s one for the long-term fans, and it’s a bloody good one at that.

My only disappointment was that Davros rejected the Doctor’s offer to come with him. Imagine Davros as a companion? That’d be epic.

Inevitably they’ll find a way to bring him back one day, and when they do, I hope that it’s in a story without the Daleks.

The Final Scenes

As good as this story is all the way through, the best bit of the lot – by far – is the last few minutes, after all the Doctor’s friends and stalkers have left the TARDIS and he’s left with Donna.

"Don't leave me with her!!!"

“Don’t leave me with her!!!”

Throughout Season 4, Catherine Tate has been a companion performing at a standard probably never seen before in Doctor Who. Even though I prefer Ian & Barbara because of the way they were written, they weren’t given the same level of drama to work with as Tate. You’ve only got to compare the way her departure is written to theirs to know that it’s a different style of writing in 2008.

But, yes, Catherine Tate is wonderful as Donna, and her final scenes here, where she realises that she’s taken on board more than the human brain can handle are so sad. You felt for both her character and the Doctor when you realise that she didn’t just have to stop travelling with him, despite it being her intention to doso forever, but it also meant she had to give up being the person she’d become.

Donna has grown as a person since she first met the Doctor; she’s become a better person and she – and her Grandfather – knew it. To give all that up? Well…it’s a lot worse than being separated from a man who you’ve got an obsessive crush on isn’t it.

And then, once she’s had all traces of those memories removed, she’s noticeably back to being a louder and sadly worse human being as a result.

The heartache doesn’t end there though, because The King of Sad Acting himself, Bernard Cribbins, takes on the mantle and brings even more emotion to the table.

His exasperation at his daughter when he insists to her that Donna was better with the Doctor is heartbreaking, as is his scene with him out in the rain.

But that’s nothing compared to what’s to come in his next appearance.

Cribbins though is quietly a contender for the MVP of this story on the whole. Apart from this emotional stuff, he also brings a sense of action – as he takes to the streets with a paintball gun – and humour, when he says he voted for Harriet Jones when he really didn’t.

Random Observations

  • You’ll notice in that last scene, that David Tennant can’t help but let his Scottish accent break through. Listen to his delivery of the words “Still, that’s fine”.

    And there's the happy couple. I bet it ends in divorce brought on by domestic abuse on her part. Psychopath.

    And there’s the happy couple. I bet it ends in divorce brought on by domestic abuse on her part. Psychopath.

  • While I enjoyed many of the little things dropped in for the long-term fan to enjoy (Calufrax Minor for example), that line about how the Dalek’s vision is not impaired was too unsubtle for me.
  • Another part that was unsubtle, but did work, was the continuation of the “Yes, I know who you are” joke to Harriet Jones.
  • How come Rose was able to see a scan of the universe on a TV in a shop?
  • It’s Gita off Eastenders!! Yay!! But she’s killed!! Noooo!!!
  • In my Planet of the Ood Review, I discussed how there were 5 occasions where Murray Gold got the Incidental Music bang on. His remix of Song of Freedom here is another one of those occasions. It’s a heartwarming tune played at exactly the right point in the episode. Very well done.
  • That scene in the TARDIS where they all manage to control it smoothly was a nice piece of writing again by RTD. It actually made sense, and was the perfect way to give the group as a whole a happy and triumphant moment, even if it was – to borrow a phrase – “Punchtheairtastic”
  • The one thing I don’t like about that scene is where Aga Freeman blatantly, blatantly, breaks the fourth wall and smiles to the camera.
  • Donna’s thing for Captain Jack is quite amusing.
  • If you didn’t watch Torchwood or the Sarah Jane Adventures (and I never watched the Sarah Jane Adventures), you’d probably be a bit lost as to who everyone was. They do a decent job of explaining it though. But what’s up with this Mr. Smith computer?
  • And why is K9 hidden away when all it takes to bring him back is to say “Out you come, boy”
  • It’s lucky that they killed off Burn Gorman in Torchwood before this was made. He’s not got a face fit for family viewing. He’d be scarier than Davros.
  • Martha’s Mum wins the award for “Character That The Least Amount of People Wanted To See Back Again”. But would you believe it, she actually manages to smile!
  • How come nobody presses Sarah on how she has a child all of a sudden?
  • And considering her first meeting with the Daleks was in Death to the Daleks, how come she’s so scared of them? They weren’t exactly fearsome, were they?
  • The montage of all the people who have died helping the Doctor is a nice addition to the story, and makes Davros’s point well,
  • One aspect of this story that annoys me is that Russell T. Davies made it very difficult for his successor to follow on from him. There have been far, far too many examples of Alien Invasion in contemporary Earth. It just does not wash with me that people will get back to their normal lives when this is the tenth story where aliens have invaded the earth in a public manner in the space of a few years. We’ve had the space ship destroying Big Ben, the Christmas Invasion, Ghosts from another dimension, Cyberman & Daleks invading, the Christmas Star in the Runaway Bride, the hospital disappearing, “First contact” with the Toclafane, a replica of the Titanic nearly crashing into Buckingham Palace, the Adipose, the ATMOS stuff and now the entire planet being transported across the universe. It’s too much; it ruins contemporary Earth in Doctor Who and means there has to be some silly fix brought in to sort it.
  • One aspect meanwhile that puzzles me, is how the other parallel universes manage to survive? Surely there are Daleks plotting the Reality Bomb in them too? Were the stars not meant to be out in Rose’s universe? And yet when the Doctor drops her off there, everything seems fine.
  • What a cliffhanger this story has. The Doctor regenerating? Superb.
  • And what about that Dalek actually managing to shoot the Doctor? He’ll be the envy of his peers.

    Awww, just looking at him breaks your heart

    Awww, just looking at him breaks your heart

  • Is it not just a little bit convenient that Mickey teleports to the exact location where Sarah is about to be exterminated?
  • And you’ll notice that when Mickey says he’s got an opportunity for a new start, he means he’s going to break up Martha’s relationship with her fiance. What a bastard.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #13

Doctor Who – The Stolen Earth & Journey’s End Review: Final Thoughts

This two part story is a fitting way to polish off the Russell T. Davies era.

Yes, there are a few stories left, but they are just marking time until it’s time for the Doctor to go.

Though it has its faults, this is probably the grandest Doctor Who story made to this point, and it deserves recognition for that.

A top quality effort in spite of the nonsense with Rose.

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Doctor Who – Turn Left Review (or “What Has Happened To Gimmick Battle Royal Rose?!”)

August 13, 2013

I actually fell asleep the first time I watched Turn Left.

I even fell asleep the second time.

The reason for that was that I was on a course all that weekend to become a Body Pump Instructor, and that was tough work. When I got back to my aunt’s house where I was staying, I was too tired to watch even 5 minutes of it.

When I got home the next night, I tried again to watch it, and drifted in and out before finally getting to see the whole thing at the third attempt the next day.

And I thought to myself that maybe it was because of the tiredness factor, but I just didn’t get the hype. My brother had told me it was a superb episode – and this has been backed up by fandom ranking it at #12 in the DWM Mighty 200 poll – but I just couldn’t see it.

I watched it one more time between then and my review watch and I couldn’t see it either.

So what about this time? Did I see the brilliance in Turn Left that everyone else seems to see?

Doctor Who – Turn Left Review: What’s This One About?

It’s Sliding Doors, but this one involves Donna, a scary looking Rose, a woman who looked more normal as Chantho the Reptile and a world where the Doctor wasn’t there to save the day.

Thoughts – It’s A Nice Idea, But…

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I dislike Turn Left, but neither does it enthuse me.

"Woh are you doing for Crishmath. Nex Chrishmath. Any Pwansh"

“Woh are you doing fo Crishmath? Nex Chrishmath. Any Pwansh?”

The idea behind it – i.e. what would happen if Donna had never met the Doctor, and subsequently what would happen if the Doctor hadn’t been there to save the day in Smith & Jones, Voyage of the Damned, Partners in Crime and The Sontaran Stratagem – is interesting enough, but it’s limited and highly predictable.

So while I like that they’ve explored it, and it was interesting to see the after-effects of these potential invasion storylines, it just didn’t grab me.

Why would Sarah Jane have been at the hospital without the Doctor? Did he just tell her not to bother showing up that day because he had everything in hand?

The same applies to the Torchwood team stopping the Sontarans.

That part is just name dropping for the sake of setting up the next episode.

As a whole, this entire episode comes across as a bit gimmicky to me.

And worst of all is the Rose Tyler stuff.

Oh No, Gimmick Battle Royal Rose Is Back

First off, what the hell happened to Billie Piper?

She looks ill, but worst of all, she can barely speak. When she says “What are you doing for Christmas? Next Christmas? Any Plans” it comes out as…

“Woh are you doing fo Crishmath? Nex Chrishmath. Any Pwansh?”

I’ve just googled the theories on why she’s like this here and they range from her getting veneers in her teeth (even though they were big enough as it was) to cosmetic surgery to – laughably – forgetting how to speak as Rose.

Either way, it’s incredibly distracting. It’s honestly like she’s had some sort of facial paralysis and can’t open her mouth anymore. Like she’s recovering from a mild stroke.

There’s an episode of ALF that has the grandmother from The Goonies in it, and she looks and sounds awful (she died later that year). This is a bit like that, although thankfully Billie Piper appears to be in good health to this day.

"Pardon?"

“Pardon?”

But yeah…the term “In no condition to perform” comes to mind.

That’s not the bad thing about her here though; what’s bad about her is the writing of her character.

Rose is meant to just be an average girl from a council estate, but now Gimmick Battle Royal Rose is some sort of mystic wanderer who has the ability to travel in time as well as between realities, she understands the workings of the TARDIS and for unexplained reasons is in charge of UNIT.

I mean…come on, eh? That’s just poor writing.

But it’s also poor writing on a different level. We’re supposed to believe that they’ve never really tested the time machine before when they send Donna back, but it’s clear Gimmick Battle Royal Rose must have used it dozens of times.

And more than that, if Gimmick Battle Royal Rose can travel back to the point where Donna has been sent to, why didn’t she just create a diversion that would prevent her from turning right without the need for self sacrifice?

To me it just seems like little thought has gone into it and that we’re supposed to just accept all these giant leaps because it makes for a good story in principle.

The Good Parts

There are good parts to this though, and they are pretty much exclusively the human parts.

Alright love, get you're priorities straight. Yes, she's got something on her back, but you've just seen a nuclear explosion in London.

Alright love, get you’re priorities straight. Yes, she’s got something on her back, but you’ve just seen a nuclear explosion in London.

It’s watching the reactions of people to the disasters that happen.

The most interesting change is that of Donna’s mother Sylvia, who slides into a sort of depressed acceptance of events. She seems a defeated woman by the end of it. A solid performance.

But the best part of the whole episode for me is the scene where Rocco and his family are moved out to the work camps. Just that little glance between him and Wilf tells the story. Both men did a sterling job. But then Bernard Cribbins seems to be the King of Sad Acting.

Random Observations

  • There have been tweaks to Donna’s character to take into account her never meeting the Doctor. This results in her being a bit more bolshy and perhaps less likeable. But I loved the line where she calls that woman “Vera Duckworth” and suggests she go and “feed whippet”. Class.
  • Why would Gimmick Battle Royal Rose not offer any encouragement to Donna when she said “I get what you mean about me not dying”? I wouldn’t like her to be my motivational coach.
  • The woman who plays the fortune teller has the widest nose bridge I’ve ever seen. She looked better with all her Chantho makeup on as I said above.
  • Surely there weren’t that many casualties when the Titanic crashed into Buckingham Palace. After all, hadn’t everyone left the City as a precaution? RTD didn’t think that through, did he.
  • This whole thing hinges on the Doctor being such an emotional fool that he killed himself in the Runaway Bride. I’m not really sure he would have, are you?
  • The bit where Donna asks Gimmick Battle Royal Rose if she and the Doctor were an item, she looked back as if to say “Yes”. Surely the answer is an affirmative “No”?
  • For some reason, I thought the “There’s something on your back” line was a continuing theme throughout Season 4, but it seems to only have been used in the Fires of Pompeii (which doesn’t actually make sense, thinking about it) and this. Odd.
  • But at least they keep referencing the bees.
  • That maid in the hotel was ludicrously over the top. Surely she’d have more on her mind witnessing a nuclear explosion than pointing at Donna aggressively?
  • The end of this story puzzles me as well. How come by just saying Bad Wolf, the words spread across everything in that market place? Especially without the help of the Heart of the TARDIS.
  • How come RTD thinks that if there wasn’t a Doctor Who, people in the naughties wouldn’t know what a police box was? That’s like me not knowing what a record player or a telegraph is. If we assume Donna is as old as Catherine Tate, why would she not know what a police box is, considering there were still hundreds of them on the streets into the 1970s?
  • Compare this story to Midnight. Midnight is a simple but incredibly effective episode, and this is the opposite. It’s complicated and as a result ineffective. It’s night and day for me.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #12

Doctor Who – Turn Left Review: Final Thoughts

I just don’t get the love.

It’s an interesting idea that’s overwhelmed with silly additions, nonsensical name dropping and a ridiculous change in the abilities and stature of Gimmick Battle Royal Rose.

So although there are elements of it I like – more particularly the human element – to me this is just too much of a reach to take seriously.

And it’s not even close to being Catherine Tate’s best performance. If anything, it’s one of her poorer ones.

Bernard Cribbins is good though.

But he always is, I suppose,

12th of All Time? Not a chance.


Doctor Who – Midnight Review (or “Simple But Very Effective”)

August 13, 2013

When I was in First Year of Senior School (that’s the 8th Grade for American readers I believe) I spent ages working on a story for English class. It went on for a while, and I thought it was a clever idea. Don’t ask me what it was though, because I can’t remember.

The point is, with the deadline for submission looming, I gave up on it; it just wasn’t working.

Instead, I wrote a different story that seemed less exciting, but fulfilled the criteria it needed to.

And I got an A for it.

That’s a bit like Midnight.

Written as a last-minute replacement for a story where the Doctor takes part in an episode of Most Haunted: Live, Midnight seems safer, cleaner and easier. On paper it probably didn’t seem like Russell T. Davies’s most exciting work.

But it actually turns out to be probably the finest story he’s ever written.

Doctor Who – Midnight Review: What’s This One About?

A bus tour to see The Sapphire Waterfall goes wrong when an alien consciousness enters the vehicle and makes Carol Jackson demand the Doctor’s death.

Thoughts – Simple But Very Effective

What I love about Midnight is the simplicity.

It has a small cast, it mainly takes place in one claustrophobic, enclosed room, it has no visible monster and it barely uses special effects.

As much as Midnight is about simplicity and a no-frills setting, this is still a fantastic looking CGI scene

As much as Midnight is about simplicity and a no-frills setting, this is still a fantastic looking CGI scene

And yet it’s amazing.

Why?

Because it’s all about the writing, characterisation and acting,

What happens in Midnight is a story that can be told in any setting. What’s the threat? Something unseen banging on the doors?

Then what?

It takes a normal, if irritating thing – that being someone copying exactly what you say and repeating it back at you – and turns it into something genuinely disconcerting and then altogether menacing.

From there, it becomes a tense moral and psychological drama about the way people react to fear. In this case, it’s a group of travellers who got on with each other on a superficial level being confronted by what appears to be a threat to their lives.

And how do they react to it? By turning vicious and threatening to kill one of their number – the Doctor – who they believe to be behind it all.

Alien menace aside, you could imagine this being the sort of thing someone like Hitchcock would have done an amazing job on. To a large degree, Midnight resembles one of my favourite movies of all time, 12 Angry Men (though I know that’s not a Hitchcock film, in case you misunderstand me)

Could all modern Doctor Who stories have worked back when that was made? No, of course not, but this could. As I say, it’s a story that can be told in any setting.

And that also means it could also work well in the theatre.

I’m not sure if there’s a higher compliment I could pay the writing of this one. And no, I don’t mean that because I think theatre is a more worthy art (indeed, I subscribe to the Patrick Troughton belief that theatre is just actors shouting in the evening) but rather because to make Midnight work, you don’t need anything but a room and a set of actors with the ability to carry it off.

And boy, the actors here carry it off with aplomb

The Acting

Perhaps the greatest strength of Midnight is the work of the players, to use an old fashioned term.

Uh-oh

Uh-oh

Everyone does the job they are supposed to. Though credit must be given to writing 7 different and relatable characters, it’s the actors who pull it off.

David Troughton is thoroughly believable as the know-it-all Professor type who can’t cope out of his comfort zone.

Lindsey Coulson meanwhile is perfectly cast – and I say that without hyperbole – as Val. She plays the aggressive, lash out first/think about it later character so well that it’s almost frightening. No, scratch that, it is frightening. The venom with which she turns on the Doctor is worse than any Dalek or Cyberman.

Rakia Ayola does a fine job of playing the sort of hostess you’ll see on any plane. You know the type; a fixed, false smile covering a very thin layer of contempt for the passengers on board.

Then there’s Lesley Sharp as Sky Sylvestry.

Man, she’s amazing. Not only does it take some talent to be able to speak people’s lines back to them as smoothly as she does (which makes it all the more creepy), it’s the look on her face. Wonderful.

But best of all is David Tennant.

Tennant’s very best acting as the Doctor – for me – comes in the last 25 minutes of The End of Time, but this is a clear second on that list.

He’s superb here.  He manages to squeeze every little bit about what makes the 10th Doctor the 10th Doctor into one episode.

The best bit is where Sky steals his voice and he repeats everything she says rather than the other way around. The fear in his eyes tells the story. I don’t think it’s possible to do that bit better.

Indeed, everyone does that bit superbly.

Random Observations

  • Though one of the key features of Midnight is its simplicity, it cannot be argued that the CGI used for scenery outside the bus is brilliant. It probably looks as good as it does because it’s only an image; the actors don’t actually go out into it.

    Betty Boop - clearly sells herself for minimal royalty rights.

    Betty Boop – clearly sells herself for minimal royalty rights.

  • What the hell is Rose doing on that screen? Talk about a stupid thing to write. Her appearing on the TARDIS scanner makes little enough sense, but on a bus? Come on. Has she just been standing screaming into the two way monitor since The Poison Sky?
  • I get what they were going for – i.e. the mayhem of all these forms of entertainment on offer on the bus compared to the civility of conversation – but it still looks a bit daft seeing all these things being played at once.
  • And if kids in 2013 are probably too far gone to appreciate a Betty Boop cartoon, surely the people of whenever in the future this is will be too.
  • The owners of Betty Boop must be willing to accept minimal royalty rights.
  • Random Fact #1: This is the first story since Genesis of the Daleks not to include the TARDIS
  • Random Fact #2: I understand this is also the only Doctor Who story where the threat is never explained/revealed/seen.
  • Random Fact #3: This is also the first story since the Deadly Assassin without a companion, although Donna does of course appear in bookending scenes.
  • Put a wig on David Troughton and you could have a Second Doctor story.
  • You knew it was coming, but the bit where Sky finally starts talking ahead of The Doctor is such a strong dramatic moment.
  • The final scene – where the Doctor doesn’t see the funny side of Donna repeating what he said – is the perfect way to end it.
  • I watched this last night at about 1am when I knew I had to get to sleep for a 6am start. But did I fall asleep? Did I buggery. This kept me wide awake and fully attentive throughout. There are very few stories that manage that at 1am.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #43

Doctor Who – Midnight Review: Final Thoughts

Let me say it again; Midnight is as good as it is because of the simplicity, the acting, the characterisation and the writing.

It doesn’t have much in the way of special effects and that’s because it doesn’t need it.

It plays on basic human psychology and turns it into possibly the most tense 45 minutes of Doctor Who there’s ever been.

I’d also say that for adult viewers – and maybe kids too, though I don’t have any to ask – this is more than likely one of the scariest Doctor Who stories ever. Why? Because the people on the bus are everyday people. The real threat – even above whatever possessed Sky – is the baying mob. The Doctor can deal with as many exotic enemies that want to destroy the universe as the writers can throw at him, but he was helpless against 6 normal people on a bus who were all willing to kill him.

Under different circumstances, that could potentially happen to anyone in real life.

So we believe in it more.

And that makes it more effective.

He probably didn’t realise it whilst writing it, but this is – as I say – probably the finest 45 minutes of Doctor Who RTD ever wrote.

It’ll be ranked a lot higher than #43 on my list.


Doctor Who – Silence In The Library Review (or “David Tennant Is Ted DiBiase At Summerslam 93”)

August 12, 2013

Two of the very best Doctor Who stories since it came back – and indeed of all time – were written by Steven Moffat.

The Girl in the Fireplace and Blink are both, in their own way, superb.

So anyone watching Season 4 for the first time will be excited to arrive at his next effort, the two-part story of Silence in the Library & Forest of the Dead.

Can it live up to the last two stories?

Time to find out.

Doctor Who – Silence in the Library Review: What’s This One About

After making children scared of statues in Blink, Moffat has turned his attention to making them fearful of shadows too.

He also mounts a war against spoilers and introduces his soon-to-be regular guest character, River Song.

Thoughts – It’s Ted DiBiase At Summerslam 93

The definition of incongruous to me is “Ted DiBiase At Summerslam 93”.

It's David Tennant in Silence in the Library

It’s David Tennant in Silence in the Library

What do I mean by that?

Well Ted DiBiase for almost the whole of 1992 and 1993 was exclusively a tag team wrestler along with IRS in Money Inc. In the 9 previous pay per view events stretching all the way back to late 1991, he would only be found in tag team matches or Royal Rumbles.

 

Then, all of a sudden, in his last ever WWF match, he wrestles against Razor Ramon, a man who seems to be of a different era entirely to the Million Dollar Man. It’s especially jarring when you consider DiBiase would retire a couple of months later and return as a manager and commentator in January 1994.

So the whole thing seems weird. It’s like he’s been plucked out of time for that match and placed in someone else’s story. Two eras colliding.

And that is exactly how I feel about David Tennant in Silence in the Library.

Everything about this story, from the way the Doctor acts, to the style of writing and all the way through to the choice of guest actors and characters, feels like a Matt Smith story.

David Tennant is Ted DiBiase at Summerslam 93. He doesn’t feel right as the Doctor in Silence in the Library in the slightest.

It gives the whole thing a mildly uncomfortable edge.

It Tries Too Hard

Apart from that though, I would say that Silence in the Library also fails to meet the benchmark set by Moffat’s last two stories.

Why?

Because I feel he’s trying too hard.

I liked the way he scared the shit out of children in Blink, but what I liked about it was that it happened in the last scene, separate to the flow of the story.

Here, the dialogue is far too unsubtle. Tennant stops short of turning to the camera and asking children if they are scared yet.

It just felt too obvious.

Apart from that, it tried far too hard to be quirky. I mean… “Proper Dave” and “Other Dave”? Come on.

Hey, who turned out the lights?

Hey, who turned out the lights?

But on top of all of that, what let it down was that it also tried to be too clever.

There’s too much going on and yet at the same time not enough, if that makes sense.

You’ve got the real world (The Library) and the virtual world (where CAL is living), but the suggestion seems to be – at least at first – that we’re not supposed to know which is real. But when it becomes clear which is real in the narrative, the story loses some of its oomph.

So there’s practically no drama in the second episode with Donna. We know she’s not dead, so what’s the point in having so many scenes there. Forest of the Dead really does become a bit of a waste of time as a result.

And all that confusion regarding who is where, and when is when, is made even worse by the River Song stuff.

The River Song Stuff

As an idea, I like the storyline with River Song, even though there are plot holes that are perhaps unforeseen at this point.

I suppose they weren’t to know that David Tennant was definitely leaving at this point, but seeing as this is the first and only time River and this Doctor meet – on-screen at least – it takes a lot away from their interaction.

But as I say, the idea is good, if not a little too stereotypically Moffat. For her last meeting with the Doctor to be his first is cool.

Having said that, I’m reviewing this in August 2013 when it’s still going on in the most recent episode and I feel a bit jaded towards it.

I sense it’ll come to an end soon though, because her penultimate meeting with the Doctor comes after he’s had a haircut. And Matt Smith has just cut his hair…

Random Observations

  • By no means is this story all bad though; as I say, I like the concept behind it, even though it would have worked better as a single episode

    From The File Marked "Things You Don't Want To Hear": "Mummy, That Looks Like You"

    From The File Marked “Things You Don’t Want To Hear”: “Mummy, That Looks Like You”

  • To give it credit, I thought the scene where Miss Evangelista dies is one of the best moments of emotional drama we’ve seen in Doctor Who. And again, it’s Catherine Tate who is responsible for making it as good as it is. Her horror mixed with a touching sense of emotional support when Miss Evangelista asks to speak to the “Nice lady” and then openly talks about the private conversation they had together is a sad, sad moment.
  • Equally, the cliffhanger is a doozy, because it actually makes you ask yourself “Wow, what next”. It’s just a pity the reprise couldn’t live up to it.
  • An area where this story excels is in the visual department. The use of darkness and shadows, the skeletons in the spacesuits and the library all look great and they are pitted well against the everyday suburban look of the virtual world.
  • And having a monster that doesn’t actually appear in any visual form beyond shadows and taking over corpses is effective as well.
  • One aspect that I felt was weak though was the conclusion; the Vashta Nerada’s threat extinguishes with little more than a whimper.
  • Oh, and here’s something that makes no sense; how did the Doctor manager to get out of those handcuffs?
  • Another little “What might have been” moment, which was an odd combination of good and pointless was Donna’s “husband” being real but his stammer preventing him from shouting out to her.
  • I enjoyed the Doctor’s line about how Donna’s ideal of the perfect man says “Everything” about her, but quickly changes his mind. Never tell a woman what you really think…it only leads to trouble.
  • When I watched this again the other night to review it, I actually completely forgot that River ends up living in the virtual world. I just thought she was dead.
  • The effect of Miss Evangelista’s warped face is over the top, but it probably scared the kids.
  • The Doctor got that clicking fingers control scheme working fast did he not? Or was it always there and he never knew it? But then, if it was, why didn’t the door open and shut at the end of The Long Game, hmmmm?
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #24

Doctor Who – Silence In The Library Review: Final Thoughts

When a writer is responsible for some of the best episodes the show has ever seen, people want and expect it to be good. They’ll almost overlook faults because of this.

And I think that explains a ranking as high as #24 for Silence in the Library.

It’s a good idea for a story, but it tries too hard, it wants to be cleverer than it actually is, and the second part is a waste.

That’s not to say the performances, the casting, the setting or the production values are a let down, because they are not; in fact they are all first class.

But this is a writing issue.

And it just shows that you can’t always get it right, eh Moffat?


Doctor Who – The Unicorn & The Wasp Review (or “Gareth Roberts Certainly Has A Type”)

August 10, 2013

Remember my review of The Shakespeare Code? The one where I criticise Gareth Roberts for having a “big old wank about Shakespeare”?

Well he’s at it again, but this time about Agatha Christie.

I’m far more fond of Christie’s work than I am of Shakespeare’s but it wouldn’t be right to slate him for writing a story that’s basically a love letter to one and not the other.

Having said that, there’s still a story to be watched beyond that in The Unicorn & The Wasp, so let’s see how it goes.

Doctor Who – The Unicorn & The Wasp Review: What’s This One About

Gareth Roberts has a big old wank about how much he loves Agatha Christie.

Oh, and there’s a giant wasp in it too.

Thoughts – He’s Quite One Dimensional, Isn’t He?

There’s always a chance that RTD loved Gareth Roberts’ work on The Shakespeare Code so much that he asked him to go back and write another story based on another famous writer; indeed, that’s probably what happened.

Phwoar

Phwoar

Even so, for the sake of originality, he probably shouldn’t have. We’ve now had a story about Dickens and ghosts (which they actually make a joke about in the script), Shakespeare and witches and now Agatha Christie and a murder mystery.

Is that not going to the well once too often? It most likely is, and we’ve still got one about van Gogh to come in the next full season.

Roberts didn’t write them all, but he did write two of them in a row, so I think he should be criticised for a lack of original thought.

If you’ve seen Arrested Development, you might agree with me that it’s a bit like Gob’s pitches to Stan Sitwell about Single City, Sin City, Fuck City etc.

But To Judge It On Its Own Merit

However, if we get past that, what we’re left with is a decent story.

I’d say the Unicorn & The Wasp is fun rather than particularly brilliant. It’s got that 1920s vibe down nicely, and has a good cast to go along with it.

So it looks and feels authentic, and alongside that there’s a fair amount of humour involved too.

Some of that humour – such as the scene where the party guests are telling their account of where they were when the murder took place – are a bit too obvious for my tastes, but other aspects hit the spot nicely.

I’m talking about stuff like when Agatha Christie introduces herself to Donna…

“Agatha Christie”
“What about her?”
“That’s me”
“No! You’re Kidding”

…which is a brilliant conversation.

Or better yet, the scene where the Doctor has been poisoned and tries to explain what he needs to Donna in the kitchen. That bit is genuinely laugh out loud funny.

Donna doesn't show enough urgency when confronted by a giant wasp, I think.

Donna doesn’t show enough urgency when confronted by a giant wasp, I think.

But while there is good humour, I can’t help but feeling the plot is a little on the light side, and is a textbook example of one that didn’t need to have an alien threat.

Why can’t the Doctor just go back in time to the 1920s and solve the mystery of Agatha Christie’s disappearance? Why does there have to be an alien involved at all? Because it’s Doctor Who? Going all the way back to my Enemy of the World review, you’ll know I disagree with that.

Donna & The Wasp

Now you’ll know from reading my reviews of this season that I’ve been a big fan of Catherine Tate’s work.

And she – much like David Tennant – is on form here and naturally handles the comedy elements well. In particular, I like her part in the scene where Christie reveals the murderer.

But if I praise her for her acting, it’s only fair that I criticise her when the occasion arises as well.

And I thought the lack of fear or urgency she showed when confronted by a giant wasp was poor.

I don’t know about you, but for me the prospect of being confronted by a 6 foot wasp is horrific! I hate wasps the normal size; they are little bastards who are deliverers of a sharp pain if they get you. So a giant one? Surely that would play on anyone’s fears more than a Sontaran, a lava monster or an Ood?

And yet Tate just shows mild alarm and runs off with less exigency than someone who has let their saucepan boil over.

Random Observations

  • It’s good to see Christopher Benjamin back on Doctor Who after all these years. He hasn’t lost any of his comic timing and seems to have aged pretty well. I enjoyed the scene where he accidentally gave himself up when Christie was simply going to say he was innocent.
  • I really need to get round to listening to some of those Jago & Lightfoot Big Finish Audios.
  • On the other hand, I wasn’t too keen on the character of Robina (The Unicorn). She didn’t add much to the story, and what’s more, when she is revealed, her real common accent is far less convincing than her fake posh one.

    Don't just stand there!! Move!!!

    Don’t just stand there!! Move!!!

  • Felicity Kendal meanwhile looks like she’s had her face ironed.
  • How come nobody noticed the Vicar changing into the wasp when it happened in the very same room at dinner? I can accept that we as viewers didn’t see it because we weren’t shown it, but surely if you were there you’d notice?
  • And how come the Vicar’s clothes manage to survive the transition into being a wasp?
  • Are we to assume Felicity Kendal knowingly shagged a wasp?
  • The scene with the Indian woman standing still, putting her hands over her face and screaming *before* the stone gargoyle is dropped on her head from a great height is one of those TV annoyances. Why wouldn’t she move?
  • And how come it fell on her head, but appears to have landed on her stomach?
  • I didn’t really get the link between the Vespiform and Agatha Christie. So because Felicity Kendal was sitting reading one of her books whilst wearing that jewel when the Vicar changed back to a wasp for the first time, it got linked to her mind? Aye…ok then.
  • I massively dispute the theory that paperback books will still be available to buy in the year 5,000,000
  • The aforementioned scene where the Doctor is poisoned and has to eat specific things to combat it is lifted right out of a Colin Baker Big Finish. I can’t be bothered checking which one though.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #83

Doctor Who – The Unicorn & The Wasp Review: Final Thoughts

So moving away from Gareth Roberts’ rather unoriginal idea for a story, the Unicorn & The Wasp could be summed up as light, fun and amusing, but at the same time not particularly deep.

It’s an entertaining 45 minutes of TV, but it has its faults and will never really be considered a classic.

Personally I’d have preferred it if it didn’t have any alien elements at all, but I suspect I’m going against the grain with that line of thought.


Doctor Who – The Doctor’s Daughter Review (or “Built On A Cop-Out”)

August 9, 2013

Doctor Who fans are mostly an optimistic bunch.

Don’t get me wrong, there will be some fans who are the epitome of pessimistic and who hate everything as a default, but I tend to think that it’s the other way around as a rule.

Certainly my brother fits the mould of someone who thinks every story is at the very least “Good” after its first broadcast. It’s not that he thinks everything is brilliant – this isn’t an Ian Levine declaring Tooth & Claw as the best story since The Massacre type deal – but he doesn’t really watch a story and say “Well that was crap”.

And to an extent I am the same.

Or at least I used to be up until May 10th, 2008.

Because that was the day I watched The Doctor’s Daughter for the first time, and the first time where I finished watching a new episode of Doctor Who and declared “That was a load of absolute shite”.

Doctor Who – The Doctor’s Daughter Review: What’s This One About?

It’s the one with the worst bait and switch cop-out ever seen in Doctor Who.

It also has a guy who looks like an ancient Peter Crouch, the boy with the bad skin from…erm…Skins and some of the worst aliens in the show’s history.

Thoughts – Start Badly And Never Recover

The Daughter’s Daughter is sold on a lie.

The Hath; a bad idea, even if they look good

The Hath; a bad idea, even if they look good

In the Next Week trailer in the last episode, the suggestion is that it’s the Doctor’s actual daughter, which is something that you could believe in since he has a granddaughter and has remarked before on how he has had kids.

So at the time I was quite looking forward to this episode.

And then, before the opening credits had even rolled, they ruined it.

The Doctor gets out of the TARDIS, has a bit of DNA taken from him, it gets put into a device and out pops Georgia Moffat.

What a fucking cop-out. Seriously.

So instantly, this story is off to a bad start,

Does it get any better? No, not really.

The story then develops into the usual futuristic setting of unclean looking humans living on a dystopian old space craft/station that looks exactly like all the other ones we’ve seen in the show before; Dark, rusty and lit with a red hue.

Nothing even remotely original.

And the plot? Well it’s basically a two different factions travelling to the centre of the station. Nothing exciting, nothing innovative, nothing to write home about; just people walking.

Once they are there? Well they throw in some stuff about how the war has only lasted for a week, the Doctor throws a ball onto the floor to terraform the planet and then – to ensure the reset switch is pressed – they kill of the Doctor’s “Daughter”; a daughter by the way who he initially didn’t want to know but then fell into a deep paternal love with because he saw her do some gymnastics.

Basically, it’s just a crap story.

And yes, you could argue that it tries to fit too much in and that’s why it doesn’t come off as being particularly well told, but I just think it’s a lazy idea built on a cop-out.

But then they copped out of their cop-out of killing off their cop-out (see how many cop-outs there are?) by having Jenny survive and then wander off to “save the universe”. Aargh.

The Hath

Another crap thing about this story is The Hath.

Look at the quality of the "Holding Back" acting

Look at the quality of the “Holding Back” acting

I get the idea behind them, and they do look good, but why bother with it? What is the point of an alien that you can’t understand? How can they even understand each other? It doesn’t make sense.

And what makes even less sense is that Martha seems to understand them. How? Is she just correctly guessing what they are saying like people did with Lassie, or is it that we’re supposed to believe the TARDIS has translated for her?

And in that case, can we assume that the TARDIS also allows people to understand dogs, cats, fish and all sorts of other animals? And if not, why not?

Martha – A Terrible Doctor and a Terrible Person

So Martha – a medical Doctor no less – had established simply by looking at Jenny while she was still able to hold a conversation that she was going to die. She made no effort to save her life at all. I’d hate to have her as my Doctor. Then she says, with a sense of authority, that there are no signs of life or that she would regenerate.

How does she know this?

And why does the Doctor take her word for it?

And how Jenny come back to life anyway? It’s not like she regenerates? So was she never dead?

What crap storytelling.

Back to Martha though, and this is the same woman who only minutes earlier let a Hath save her life at the expense of its own because of her stupidity. Was she affected by it? No, she couldn’t give a shit. She didn’t even mention it to the Doctor, Donna or the Hath.

What a terrible person.

How Is This Meant To Have Taken Place Over A Week?

As much as the writer – Stephen Greenhorn – probably thought he was being clever, the idea that this war took place over a week is an absolute nonsense.

Something unspeakably mucky looks like it's about to happen

Something unspeakably mucky looks like it’s about to happen

It’s just ridiculous.

For a start, the only casualties we see in this war are two blokes being shot and a Hath getting a dislocated shoulder. Has the war just calmed down a lot in the space of a day?

And has nobody – not one person – survived from the beginning of the week?

Pitiful; but then this is from the pen of the guy who wrote the Lazarus Experiment. Why he was asked back but Rob Shearman and Paul Cornell weren’t is anyone’s guess.

Random Thoughts

  • Neither Tennant nor Tate are up to much either in this; even they couldn’t turn this into gold.
  • How come Peter Crouch’s Bristolian dad is so much older if he too is supposed to be a clone?
  • And again I ask; why did he try to shoot the Doctor, other than to conveniently “kill” Jenny and hit the reset switch?
  • I’m getting really tired of The Martha Jones Incidental Music Jingle.
  • What exactly is up with Joe Dempsie’s skin? It’s not even as though you can google to find out since it’ll just come up with “Joe Dempsie Skins”
  • Ok, I’ll say it; it’s a little creepy that the Doctor married his fake daughter in real life. Just a little. It shouldn’t be of course, but it just is.
  • So Martha is married to that bloke from The Last of the Timelords. Viewers on Netflix will be thinking “Eh?” seeing as some key scenes were cut from when they met.
  • To top off all the bad writing, the story finishes with a line about how Jenny was the reason the TARDIS went there in the first place and it became a paradox. Now it’s me saying “Eh?!” That doesn’t add to the story, nor does it make sense.
  • Oh how moralistic the Doctor is, telling them all to start their society on the basis of a man who never would. Boak.
  • The acting as the humans “Struggle to hold back” Peter Crouch’s dad is pitiful.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #140. I’m surprised the readers of DWM have actually got one right, although I’ll have it a lot lower.

Doctor Who – The Doctor’s Daughter Review: Final Thoughts

A badly told story, built on a cop-out. Awful.

Some of the ideas weren’t bad, but the execution of them was, and that’s because the writer is of a lower standard than is acceptable for a show like this.

One of my least favourite stories.


Doctor Who – The Sontaran Stratagem Review (or “Redemption For Raynor”)

August 9, 2013

Helen Raynor didn’t have the best of debut stories when she wrote the poor two parter, Daleks in Manhattan & Evolution of the Daleks. In my review I finished with the rather damning line “A pretty resounding failure on the whole”.

In hindsight that might not be the best English ever written on this blog, but the point stands.

And yet, here she is back again to write another two-part affair.

Jobs For The Girls, eh?

And on the surface, it looks a little bit like she’s using every gimmick under the sun to potentially mask a poor plot.

For you see this story – The Sontaran Stratagem & The Poison Sky – not only includes the return of The Sontarans, but also the return of both Martha Jones and UNIT too.

So does she glide through on the basis of the gimmick or is this a story worth commending?

Doctor Who – The Sontaran Stratagem & The Poison Sky Review: What’s This One About?

With the help of an irritating boy genius, The Sontarans plan on turning Earth into a clone birthing planet thanks to a gas emitting Sat Nav system fitted on every car.

Playing the long game then, I see.

Thoughts – Redemption For Raynor

It seems as though Helen Raynor has redeemed herself; The Sontaran Stratagem & The Poison Sky is surprisingly good.

In spite of the gimmicks, this turns out to be a well told story that actually manages to be the best “big” modern Earth story they’ve done since the show came back.

What do I mean by big?

Well I’m talking about ones where the world is aware of invasion; stories like The Aliens of London, The Sound of Drums, The Christmas Invasion, The Runaway Bride (ok, that maybe doesn’t fit the criteria), Smith & Jones and The Army of Ghosts.

To me, The Sontaran Stratagem is better than any of them.

And you wanna know why? I’ll tell you.

The Sontarans

First and foremost there’s the Sontarans themselves, who are wonderfully realised.

The Sontarans are looking good here. It would have helped if Luke was called Vivian, Neil or Rick though; I'd have laughed

The Sontarans are looking good here. It would have helped if Luke was called Vivian, Neil or Rick though; I’d have laughed

This is certainly their best appearance since The Time Warrior, and in fact it’s probably a little bit better.

Not only do they look good and not only are they performed well, but they are also written as interesting characters.

The Sontarans have a solid backstory which a decent writer will always be able to get mileage out of, and Raynor manages that, but she also adds to it with stuff like the Sontaran war dance.

Mainly though, what brings them out is the acting of Christopher Ryan. He’s a great casting choice because he’s the right height, but also because he’s good enough to take the lead with them.

Sure, you watch it and think he’s going to call a character “Vivian” at any moment, but you can also appreciate that he adds more depth to “Doctor Who Monster” than most manage.

The other guy is good as well, and it’s actually a bit weird to think that he still plays a semi-regular part in the show as Sontaran Strax.

So yes, I’m impressed with the Sontarans.

Credible Plot & Casting Choices

Another aspect I like about this story is that it has a credible plot.

Using Sat Nav as a plot device is a nice idea. And it was relevant to the time as well, as that was the time when they were probably at their most popular and most used in the UK. Now in 2013 we have them on our phones, but I recall actually buying a Sat Nav for the first time in that year.

And linking it to a boy genius was also quite clever.

Nobody likes a boy genius; nobody. Especially a small boy genius.

So they cast well by bringing in the 5″3 Ryan Sampson as Luke Rattigan. Not only does it make him a more whiny and annoying runt of a character, but he also works alongside the similarly diminutive and well cast Sontarans.

What’s more, while we’re on the subject of height, they also did a nice job in hiring massive blokes to play the UNIT soldiers who were taken over. By hiring guys who are over 6″2 and having them in the same shot as the 5″0 Christopher Ryan, it makes the Sontarans look more impressively scaled.

Good Humour

Then of course there’s the humour, which invariably works.

Whether it’s the bit with the Doctor wrongly thinking Donna is leaving him for good, or his Tom Baker-esque exchanges with Luke, there’s humour that works throughout.

Some of my favourite examples include…

  • The reactions both Wilfred and Sylvia give to seeing the Doctor again.
  • The ATMOS device “exploding” in a fizzle
  • The brilliant line from Staal in response to Luke saying something is “Cool”. “Is the temperature significant?” he asks, followed by an awkward pause.
  • And the line that cracks me up the most is Wilf’s “Oh, an alien hand….” line after he shakes the Doctor’s hand. It’s such a small and insignificant line but it’s natural.

What I like about the humour here is that it doesn’t feel forced at all, and that’s the most important aspect in making it work in a show that’s not a comedy.

Donna And Her Family, Again

Once again, I also have to commend the acting of Catherine Tate, but also that of Jacqueline King and Bernard Cribbins.

Bernard Cribbins; can bring the emotion out of anything

Bernard Cribbins; can bring the emotion out of anything

All three of them are quality actors who really raise the bar in Doctor Who.

It’s a treat to watch.

Cribbins manages to make seeing Donna walk down the street into a genuinely emotional moment, which says a lot. Could you imagine Jackie and Rose Tyler managing that without layers and layers or emotive music and dialogue? Probably not.

And where Tate excels once again is in the drama.

Her scene where she has to be talked into going out of the TARDIS to knock out the Sontaran is another home run. Her character is genuinely scared, and Tate gets that across beautifully.

Well done again, Ms Tate.

Where It Falters

Although there are all these aspects of The Sontaran Stratagem that are praiseworthy, there’s also a few bits that let it down.

For example, when put up against Catherine Tate, Aga Freeman comes across as an incredibly stagey and wooden actress. Her line about how she’s “bringing (the Doctor) back to Earth” is awful, and she doesn’t get much better from there.

It’s odd that I didn’t notice this in the previous season, but it’s very obvious here.

Similarly wooden is the actor who plays off against Luke at the Academy in The Poison Sky. He may as well be reading his lines off a piece of paper held up by one of the extras.

And UNIT are a bit crap too, aren’t they? As we discovered in Battlefield, UNIT the organisation isn’t nearly as important as the UNIT characters.

Back in the 70s there was the UNIT Family, with the Brigadier at the heart of it. Without him – and that’s not just true of this and Battlefield, but also as far back as the Seeds of Doom and even the Android Invasion – they are nothing but nameless soldiers.

Oh, and one more area where I think it’s let down; a big thing is made of the Sontarans only having the one weakness (the Probic Vent), and yet they are gunned down as easily as humans once UNIT have their weapons sorted. I mean, I know it’s never been stated explicitly that they are immune to bullets, but still…

Random Observations

  • The “I order you to tell me your prime directive” line is getting a bit old is it not? How often has the Doctor got himself out of a scrape by doing that?

    Casting big buggers to stand against the diminutive Christopher Ryan adds a lot to the Sontaran visual

    Casting big buggers to stand against the diminutive Christopher Ryan adds a lot to the Sontaran visual

  • How come nobody other than Sylvia has ever thought the way to escape an ATMOS car is to smash the window?
  • That line about how Wilf missed Donna’s wedding with Spanish Flu was as subtle as a sledgehammer to the testicles.
  • The burning of the sky must have killed a lot of birds, or at the very least brought down a plane or two?
  • The doppelgänger Martha was a nice idea, and the look of it when it was in its embryonic stage was creepy.
  • I bet the Doctor gambled on Luke swapping places with him. He tries to be all smiles and sunshine but he’s never happier than when someone sacrifices their life to save his.
  • Ok, I can just about accept Rose managing to break through into an alternative rea…actually, no I can’t; it’s ridiculous. But even more ridiculous is her popping up on the TARDIS scanner. How did she do that? And what’s she doing? Just staring into one of the Doctor Who Universe’s makey-up two-way monitors and screaming “Doctor!!!” over and over until he looks? She needs committed, she really does.
  • The next story looks amazing. The Doctor has a Daughter? That’ll be a game changer!! Unless of course it’s false advertising and it turns out to be a massive cop-out. But they wouldn’t do that, would they?
  • With Strax being a reasonably large part of the show now as a good guy, can the Sontarans ever be brought back as villains? Possibly, but it’d have to be a story about them trying to reclaim him.
  • One last line I liked; where Staal complains about not being allowed to take part in the Time War. Brilliant.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #91. Aye, cos it’s nowhere near as good as The Fires of Pompeii or Tooth & Claw, is it?! *sigh*

Doctor Who – The Sontaran Stratagem & The Poison Sky Review: Final Thoughts

So there are some elements that are weak about this, but on the whole, I think it’s another high quality story.

The Sontarans have been brought back strongly; a lot more strongly than the Cybermen were, and credit has to go to Helen Raynor for that, especially after she botched her Dalek story so badly.

And once again, Donna – and her family – add a lot to the show.

So I’m happy to give this one the thumbs up