Sunday, January 30, 2011

"The Sontaran Stratagem"

I remember that when I first heard of the return of the Sontarans I was fairly pleased. I've always had a bit of a soft spot for the Sontarans; I'm not sure why, I just think that in some respects the secondary recurring villains of the Doctor, like the Sontarans, the Silurians and the Ice Warriors, haven't suffered the overexposure which has plagued the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Master, and that leaves fresh room for exploration. I suppose it's a shame then that "The Sontaran Stratagem" is little more than a functional story, a post-Third Doctor UNIT runaround that reminds me the most, perhaps not in its favour, of "Battlefield" more than anything. I suppose one of the problems is that instead of developing the character of the Sontarans it makes them a bit silly. Gone are the black uniforms and the rasping voices. Gone is the experimentation and the soldierly outlook. Now they're "warriors" who stand around in their ship doing the haka like the New Zealand All Blacks, wear bright blue uniforms so that children can identify the toys in the shop, talk more or less like normal people and are visibly in the dwarf range of the height spectrum rather than being solid and stocky like they were in the old days. At least they still have the probic vent on the backs of their necks, although it seems like more of an arbitrary weakness than ever. Also, Rattigan asks how they can tell each other apart, and it'd seem a fair question considering that they're meant to be clones, but Staal and Skorr are played by different actors and look nothing alike apart from superficial similarities like those between humans, rendering the point rather redundant.
Anyway the Sontarans are in an alliance with annoying American prodigy Luke Rattigan, who reminds me of a number of people I know. His Academy is, of course, a room full of test tubes and other meaningless scientific apparatus much like Sec's laboratory in the Daleks in New York story. They've developed a technobabble device for removing carbon dioxide from car exhausts which also lets the cars kill people. It's all a great mystery, and as usual this first part is mostly just set up. Nonetheless I think the Sontaran Mothership and the smaller ships look pretty cool and the teleporter isn't bad but I'm not sure why the Sontarans would be hanging around with this arrogant human teenager.
Another aspect of this is that Martha returns. I admit to feeling extremely disappointed when I heard her say "I'm bringing you back to Earth" like it was a good thing. We'd barely managed to escape! We also get to see the new and improved UNIT, sans the Brigadier and virtually anything that made it UNIT in the first place, and the Doctor complains a lot about how much he doesn't like people with guns in a rather needless attack on the people who are meant to be helping him. At least Donna and Martha get along, as was more or less to be expected; it's a welcome relief from the other companion dynamics which will come back to haunt us in the fullness of time. We're also reintroduced to Donna's mother, who is more needlessly unpleasant than ever, and Wilf from "Voyage of the Damned" who has been rewritten as Donna's grandfather in case you hadn't already figured that out from "Partners in Crime". He jumps into the car even though they know the cars are killing everybody and that's it.
Speaking of the cars, there's a bit where the Doctor defeats the car because it's been programmed to do the opposite of everything the Doctor's telling it to do, and so he tells it to drive into the river when it has already been programmed to do so, so it tries to both drive and not drive in at the same time, and because the Doctor apparently lives in some kind of Hannah Barbera universe instead of the logic flaw causing the ATMOS computer to crash it explodes a little bit. What I want to point out in addition to how silly it is to see a computer burst into sparks due to a logic error, sort of like the Cyberman's head exploding in "The Age of Steel", is how ridiculous it is that something would be programmed to do the opposite of everything the Doctor said. Wouldn't it just be programmed to ignore him? What kind of idiot would make a serious device which did the opposite of what people ordered it to do?
Also the Sontarans clone Martha but in the end it's all just set-up. I don't mind seeing the Sontarans come back but it's pretty hard to muster too much enthusiasm for this episode. It just feels so stock; it's watchable but apart from making some vague claims in regards to Rattigan about the difficulties of being intelligent in a world full of the kind of people who enjoy RTD episodes, there's not much to it.

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