TV EYE: Doctor Who, S4 E04: The Sontaran Stratagem

Oh dear. And it all seemed to be going rather well…

There’s something about the first two parter of the season that seems to bring out the worst in New Who- the big, attention-grabbing 2 parters have almost never actually worked, and this week’s episode was very clearly from the same mind as the severely below-par Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks two parter from last season. Attempting to both update classic Who villains the Sontarans, and provide a new angle on the idea of UNIT and the Doctor being involved in a paramilitary organisation (most of which takes a predictably cliched view of the military mind), this was an episode that was mainly stuck in a holding pattern. Despite lots of running around, very little seemed to actually happen – after twenty minutes of setup, we then got another twenty five minutes of “lets stretch the story out”, and less-than-wise ideas like the annoying evil teenage genius. Tate was given less opportunities for full-blown comedy this week, and the positive setup between her and Donna seemed to work fairly well, although after having Martha as a regular damsel in distress in Torchwood, it would have been nice if they could have waited a little longer before tying her up and giving her an evil clone. The treatment of UNIT also seems to be verging on the obvious (They’re far too militaristic! Guns=Evil!) and Tennant’s Doctor is in danger of getting back into annoyingly chirpy ‘Mad as a badger’ mode here. The two-parters often feel like there’s not quite enough plot for the whole running time, and there were plenty of moments that felt over-extended– especially the end cliffhanger, with all of its panicking, random smoke blowing, and the Sontarans doing an impression of the New Zealand All-Blacks, which seemed to go on forever. Christopher Ryan was very good as the chief Sontaran, and they’re handling the race fairly well, although New Who’s habit of trying to make the obvious gags before anyone else can is getting pretty weak when you’ve got a character saying “Oh- he looks like a baked potato!” The effects work was good, but the characterisation and plotting was unimpressive – this was a bit of a come down after last week’s largely impressive episode, and definitely the least effective Who outing this season. My hopes are not exactly high for the second episode…

2 thoughts on “TV EYE: Doctor Who, S4 E04: The Sontaran Stratagem

  1. On a personal note – this felt the most 1970’s “Old Who” in the enitre New Who run so far, for some reason.
    I haven’t seen all his stories but from what I have seen it was quite Pertwee-esque. Contemporary Earth based, UNIT, The Doctor being almost swept along by events with no perceptible reason for actually being there other than dropping Jo, err, Donna off at home for tea and cucumber sandwiches.
    Oh – and Land Rovers!
    I almost expected Bessie to be parked up at the UNIT HQ with Delgado cuffed to the steering wheel, expleting (is that a word?) in very polite, clipped but ultimately quite threatening tones…
    It was quite a comedown from the excellent “Planet of the Ood” for me – I didn’t have high hopes for that one but it far exceeded my expectations!

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    • Best. Delagdo. Description. Ever.
      It was a little Pertwee-esque- but to be honest, Pertwee always had a much comfier relationship with UNIT, and UNIT were always five blokes with a Land Rover. And, frankly, a UNIT story without Sgt. Benton shouting “We just can’t hold ’em, sir!” is no kind of UNIT story…
      Hope you’re well, sir. We’re down next weekend- 17th-19th. Let me know if you’ve any spare time (even if it’s just an opportunity for a hug!)

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