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April 29, 2008

The Cars That Ate Powys

Doctor Who: The Sontaran Stratagem

Finally, they're back!

Sontaran1Ugly, brutish and thick, they take militarism and macho posturing to dizzying new heights. Cheer as they stomp about in their redesigned uniforms! Boo as they wave their weapons in the faces of innocent bystanders! Swoon as the Doctor runs rings around them! Gasp as they bring planet earth to the brink of disaster!

Welcome back, UNIT, it's been a long time.

They may be a little less homespun these days, but UNIT still display the very same xenophobic incompetence that we've all come to know, love and expect. From the moment they frog-marched en masse back onto our screens like a herd of baby elephants, forgoing a surreptitious recce in favour of some good old fashioned jackbooted grandstanding, UNIT hardly put a foot right. And I loved it; it just wouldn't have been the same if they'd somehow got their act together in the intervening years. They even managed to make Torchwood look co-ordinated.

When UNIT finally take control of the factory of evil they send their cockiest private (marvel at his arrogant swagger!) down into the bowels of the complex, where he and his panicky mate start mucking around with alien technology that they can't possibly comprehend. Just what are UNIT teaching these idiots in basic training? Obviously it's the very same nonsense they doled out back in the 70s (or was it the 80s?). Observe how Privates Gray and Harris react when they encounter an alien species - they mercilessly take the piss out of it! They must have at least suspected that it was an alien creature, they work for UNIT after all, not a crack squad sent in to disrupt children's fancy dress parties, and they've just been flummoxed by a weird (and thoroughly disturbing) inhuman clone, so what the hell were they thinking?

Colonel Mace is so wet he makes Sgt. Benton look like Errol Flynn...

Sontaran3 God help them if this had been a peaceful first contact situation - they might have started an interstellar war. But it's hardly surprising when you look at the doofus that's leading this motley crew: it's one of the Double-Take Brothers from The Harry Enfield Show! Such gravitas! Such presence! Such a funny mouth. At least Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart looked as if he meant business, even in his more ridiculous moments (cf. confusing Cromer with chroma key), whereas Colonel Mace is so wet he makes Sgt. Benton look like Errol Flynn.

This incarnation of UNIT don't even operate on a 24-hour basis. When that poor journalist with the funny name tried to spill the beans about ATMOS she was put through to an answer phone. What happens if the Slitheen attempt to invade the Home Counties after 5:30pm? We'd be f**ked!

But the definitive proof that a 21st century UNIT can change it's acronym but it can't change its spots is encapsulated by that pitiful image of a poor grunt trying to shoot a catalytic converter off the back of a jeep at point blank range.

And missing.

So, that's UNIT back to basics, what about the Sontarans?

Sontaran2 Christopher Ryan was an absolute hoot as General Staal. As much as I adore Linx and Styre, this articulation of the turd-heads (an insult that will be saved for Torchwood, I guess) took the much maligned B-division baddies and it gave them some teeth (literally). I don't think I've ever seen a villain enjoy himself quite as much as Staal does as he prepares to unleash murder and mayhem on an unsuspecting populace, even if his plans do feel familiarly preposterous. His witty repartee with the dim-witted soldiers was a joy to behold and my favourite moment of this season so far has to be Staal's semi-surprised stagger as the Doctor temporarily disables his transmat beam. And while it's becoming increasingly difficult not to imagine him roaring "You did it beautifully, Tubbs!", it's hard not to love him. And full-marks to the production team for giving us a ruthless warlike race that mills around in what looks suspiciously like a pink-themed nightclub. Now that's what I call cultural relativism.

I'm happy to report that Tennant thrilled me this week. His visit to the Rattigan Academy was simply delightful, and at one point he successfully channeled Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy at the same time! If that doesn't deserve a Cymru BAFTA, nothing does. His verbal sparring with Luke (a genuinely frightening child prodigy) was inspired and his disarming treatment of Staal evoked such warm memories from my childhood, I almost cried.

I'm surprised they didn't chuck in a clip of Donna meeting Martha from a couple of minutes ago...

Sont4However, as much as I enjoyed The Sontaran Stratagem, it isn't perfect by any means. Donna's flashbacks were so flagrantly self-indulgent I'm surprised that they didn't go the whole hog by chucking in a clip of her meeting Martha from a couple of minutes ago; Tennant's air-sucking shenanigans almost sabotaged the UNIT-dating joke; the Sontarans chanting was bizarre (try to imagine the Daleks screaming 'Here We Go! Here We Go! Here We Go!' as they enter battle); and the fake farewell between Donna and the Doctor was contrived beyond belief, although Catherine Tate continues to impress the hell out of me.  She's helped by a strangely subdued return for Martha Jones who never really gets going, although I'm guessing she'll come to the fore as the evil doppleganger next week.

But what's really did my nut in was the shameful way in which the Doctor was symbolically castrated by yet another deadlock. In the 70s we got Tom Baker staring wildly at the audience before proclaiming, "even the sonic screwdriver won't get me out of this one!" but now we have to suffer the ignomy of those bloody deadlocks instead. If the sonic is a lazy get-out-of-jail card for the Doctor, then the deadlock is an even lazier get-out-of-jail card for the scriptwriter.

And everyone is at it, even shitty old cars are double-deadlocked. Does this mean that bricks will simply bounce off the windows? I bloody hope so, because if they don't the Sontarans plan is seriously flawed. Assuming anyone bothers to try, of course...

Next Week: it's Kirsty Wark's turn to sacrifice credibility for verisimilitude.

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