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May 10, 2008

Begun, this Clone War Has

Doctor Who: The Poison Sky

Crybabyrattigan Environmentalists rejoice! This episode of Doctor Who condemns air pollution, and there's even quite a lot of recycling. And world hunger is instantly solved much to the astonished offense of vegetarians everywhere when the entire sky goes up in flames and a variety of fried birds drop onto everybody's doorstep. Regardless of the plot recycling and illogic, this was a vast improvement over part one and I quite enjoyed it for a variety of reasons.

The characterization of Staal continued to impress me. Skor, not so much. Why was he so excited when he said “this isn’t war, this is sport”? Wouldn’t it have made much more sense for him to have been disappointed by that? Somehow I didn't think the Sontarans had a sense of sport. They always struck me as the sort of guys who'd rather play Risk than, say, Tennis. I believe that in the previous episode, the Doctor demonstrated the hazards that this might present for them. Anyhow, it’s not important, because Skor wasn’t the important Sontaran, Staal was. And Staal worked well, because he was stamping around and being bullishly violent which was, essentially, the same thing Colonel Mace was doing. The contrast and similarity between the two lends a lot of interest to them, and I'm somewhat sad that the snogging scene between Staal and Rattigan was cut in post. Still, it seems like the "stratagem" of the Sontarans was unnecessarily complicated and not quite Sontaran enough for me. Simply trying to destroy Earth makes a bit more sense, which is what it came down to anyway after the Doctor and UNIT solved the air problem with a few questionably logical but spectacular and dramatic deus ex machinas such as a giant ceiling fan attached to the bottom of last year's plot, or a massive air ionizer that's been modded by a pyromaniac. Meanwhile, the mention of the war against the Rutans got my hopes up a bit that they would factor into this story, but surprise! they didn't. I still hope it's not just an easter egg but a setup for a later plot. Ditto to the mention of "Sir Alastair," although I suppose that one's even less likely to manifest.

We all know people that are a lot like Rattigan: too clever for their own good, too interested in eugenics to have many friends, and too gay for John Barrowman.

Regardless of the Sontarans resorting to plan B, the tried-and-true senseless violence plan, the day is unsurprisingly saved by our boy genius. And it turns out, refreshingly, that he's more "boy" than "genius," as we see him act like an actual teenager, with all of the arrogance, petulance, obstinacy, and crippling emotional issues that go with the territory. He even falls on the floor of the teleport and dissolves into tears when he's been let down by his students and the aliens he was meant to help. Rattigan's ego grates on one's nerves a bit, it's true, but I think we all know people that are a lot like Rattigan: too clever for their own good, too interested in eugenics to have many friends, and too gay for John Barrowman. But despite his flaws he's one of those characters that you look at and think that he might even be good companion material. Having a character like that is a great asset to a story, as Blink and Human Nature proved last year. And even though Rattigan's no Sally Sparrow, and he doesn't seem to understand the difference between a tautology and a merely redundant phrase, he still stands out as an excellent character who plays with cliche and makes it entertaining.

Tardistools And speaking of companions, I actually appreciated Freema Agyeman's performance this time. The moment between Martha and her clone was legitimately touching, and well-acted. That's the Martha I remember! Two of her, in fact! After how poorly they've treated the character lately, she deserved to be in this episode twice over. And I'm glad she's finally been put into an episode in which she has relevance and accomplishes interesting things I'm looking at you, Owen Harper Trilogy Travesty! It's good to see that she's grown more mature rather than simply lamer as we had been previously led to suspect. I was worried that at the end she would decide to travel with the Doctor, which would have been damaging to her characterization. And frankly, her characterization can't take the hit right now. But as it stands, I'm simultaneously glad of the fact that she's coming along and of the fact that she's unwilling. I hope this leads to some proper opportunity for her to interact with Donna, because their sparse moments together are wonderful.

Of course, that's probably because Donna's so wonderful. I continued to appreciate Donna's presence to the point that it's getting tiresome to write about it. She's excellent! I can't complain about anything. This is even, nay, especially true as we saw her thrown behind enemy lines and forced to help the Doctor out via the recycled material lifted from Age of Steel, as well as whatever weapon she happens to grab in the TARDIS. Donna's scenes on the Sontaran mothership demonstrate that she's becoming useful as well as a compelling character, which is something I appreciate quite a bit. And Donna's family manages to maintain my interest, because Wilfred is officially my favorite companion family member, ever, even if Donna's mum is officially the most boring. It seems that they are playing a far-background role this season, of which I approve.

And the Doctor's characterization was as bizarre in this episode as it was in the last. Playing along with Martha's clone was Doctorish enough, but using her and then essentially killing her without trying to fix it, or even a trademark "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry?" Stranger still is his utter lack of appreciation for Rattigan's sacrifice, even after recognizing him as a kindred spirit in the previous episode. I'm not sure if this is some new direction the character's taking or just awkwardness on the part of this story. I suppose it won't take long to find out.

I'm tired of Rose already and she's not even back yet.

And then the Rose cameo... God, that was stupid, wasn't it? I wasn't really all that surprised to see her at all. After her absolutely excellent cameo appearance in Partners in Crime and the not-particularly-subtle use of the Doomsday theme in Planet of the Ood, this was even further in the downward spiral from gasp to yawn. I'm tired of her already and she's not even back yet. It mostly has to do with the incredibly poor execution; throwing Billie Piper's face into the middle of another scene distracts from the plot of the episode and disallows the cameo from making the impact they wanted it to. I seriously hope that they have a decent story built around Rose's return because I'm not impressed by the way they've decided to handle the buildup.

Doctorfrustrated I seem like I'm going on about all of these flaws too much. Or maybe not; I'm just a bit wary of sounding too negative after the minor (and now deleted) flame war that ensued in the comments of my last review. But it wasn't so bad; unlike the flames in this episode, those flames didn't exhaust an entire planet's worth of clone fodder and the whole of the Upper Boat's effects budget for the year. So no negativity here: I really did find this two parter a lot of fun, and I am enjoying this series greatly and look forward to each episode with eager anticipation. Especially the next one: man, The Doctor's Daughter's a looker, isn't she? Now there's a Doctor Who guest star who can excite the copper in the bullets of my rifle any time she likes.

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