Doctor Who: The Sontaran Stratagem
There's a particular brand of Nintendo Logic, prevalent in crappy old 8-bit adventure games, where the Great Hero has to navigate a pathway; you can see where it leads, there's plenty of room to walk around, but you can't proceed until you've solved a puzzle because - oh noes! - there's a stick in your way. Back in the old multi-parter years you could forgive the odd slip with McCoy and his brolly. You grumbled a bit, but grudgingly put up with Colin Baker looking stern-faced eight times out of fourteen. These days we get three cliffhangers a season, tops, if we're lucky. So what on earth is Helen Raynor playing at, building a whole cliffhanger around the same Nintendo Logic principle? "Doctor, help! I'm trapped in a life-threatening situation involving a locked door!"
Imagine how this could have turned out in the hands of Eric Saward in 1984
Sometime since Shakedown, somebody's finally decided to update the Sontaran military handbook so that rule one now reads 'Think Big'. They've never been much for each other's Play-Doh headed company before now, but if you've got a army that churns out hundreds of millions on a conveyer belt, then you'd bloody better use them because a couple of B-list grunts in a golf ball simply doesn't cut it anymore. Why they've set their sights now on Earth instead of Ruta III is no mystery either, if all they've got to show for centuries of conflict with their frigid foes is the ultimate in gazpacho-soup biotechnology. A quick stopover in Paris instead of Seville or New Orleans and they'd at least have some croûtons to go with it.
I'll give the Sontaran strategists this much; they've got taste. The entirety of Earth's radio signals and broadcast transmissions to sift through for vital intelligence, and they zero straight in on their favourite episodes of Columbo. Which is why, two decades after the dregs of the JN-T era when they could have feasibly enlisted a disgruntled Clive Sinclair with the lure of a rampack that doesn't crash when it wobbles (while tactfully neglecting to tell him who's actually been making the BBC Micros to generate those not-so-special effects with), their Earth agent is Alex Brady, the wacko Spielbergish film director from Murder, Smoke And Shadows. Look, it's definitely him - same twisted genius, same cocksure arrogance, same twangy annoying Yankishness. He leaves a Columbo-style paper trail of clues too, since if the factory staff are all under hypnosis, there's no reason to even have a sick-day folder except for interfering busybodies like Donna to find. What, precisely, does our kid believe he's going to get out of all this? "It was never big enough for me." No, well I imagine there wouldn't be much of the Earth left after raping the resources to make 800 million shiny new needlessly-overcomplicated deathmobiles with, not after the Adipose, the Slitheen and those Bane idiots with their genetically-modified Fanta have already had their go.
Hence priority A2 in the UNIT Field Operatives Manual, underneath 'find the cackling woofter in the goatee', is 'investigate faceless corporations staffed by zombies that get rich overnight'. Look, there's another one. The statute's been in place since the 1970s, and compared to this lot, even Global Chemicals and their fruity Wagnerian Vic-20 would slip under the Cardiff radar. Tell the guy in charge of painting UNIT's 'top secret signs', he'll soon get the word out. But those 52 spontaneous deaths? Not to worry, it's only what's left of the Ian Levine forum having a collective aneurysm at the great Orobouros monster that is the UNIT dating controversy continuing to swallow its own tail. So nothing suspicious there.
Hmmm... clone army, high technology, the unearthly knack of flogging tarted-up shit to gullible proles worldwide... has anyone got George Lucas handy on the phone?
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that if Robert Holmes, who created the buggers, couldn't construct a workable original plot out of a shopping list of elements and some bizarre location footage, then poor old Helen Raynor still hasn't got a mission. I was expecting just a load of derivative crap, but at least she has a crack script editor and research team on hand this season to ensure that both UNIT and the Sontarans are handled spot-on, and that her script presses everyone's continuity buttons the right way. Imagine how this could have turned out in the hands of Uncle Tewwance in 1973 or (God forbid) Eric Saward in 1984. As is becoming the norm for this season, the companion and support cast effortlessly carry it all off through honest, down-to-Earth humanity, and look! Hard-edged Martha gets to be a more proactive catalyst - she gets others to react, though her own delivery hasn't gone down so well this week across the blog - than her entire time at Torchwood. As a result it's all huge, jolly and yes, touching fun right up until it goes completely mental at the end, as the Sontaran wave in the terraces chants and throws toilet rolls on the pitch at the halftime score of Killer Cars 400 million, humans nil.
Please can we have a giant radioactive cat to save the day this week?