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Home > Series 4 Reviews > The Sontaran Stratagem

The Sontaran Stratagem Guest reviewed

An old friend calls the Doctor back to Earth where she is now working with some even older friends to defeat a very old enemy...

I was really looking forward to this story. The Sontarans are one of my favourite monsters in terms of concept and design but I've always felt they haven't been best used in the classic show, except their first story "The Time Warrior". So I was greatly enthused to hear they would be this seasons "classic monster" return.

The Sontarans look fantastic and modern make-up techniques have only improved the already classic and well remembered design. Interestingly they were revealed slowly and dramatically despite having been openly shown in promo pictures for months, and having a recent Radio Times cover. The fact that the slow reveal still worked is a great tribute to some very good direction, which kept the action generally pacey, only stopping for a couple of obligatory "New Series" emotional breaks.

The plot is unusual for a Sontaran story, showing them deviously trying to destroy the Earth from behind the scenes. I was expecting the usual barge in and fight character to be the main idea. However, it is a two part story so the reason behind this may become more clear in the next episode.

The style of TV these days seems to require that the viewer has some common ground with the characters, and each of the Doctors companions has had their family dragging along behind to do this. Generally this hasn't bothered me too much as long as they are used sparingly and the characters are worthwhile. In Donna's case I find her Mother to be an irritating watered down version of Jackie Tyler. Wilfred though seems like he will be one of the better family characters.

So all in all a fine opening episode, with one small niggle... the Sontaran jig... I'm not convinced that worked. I'm really looking forward to the second episode, with less jigs!

Jay from Bristol

The Best Linx to the Past

Just as The Fires of Pompeii was everything I’d hope to get from a pseudo-historical, The Sontaran Stratagem was everything I’d want from an Earth invasion type story. I was nervous about the return of Martha, but aside from her very smug opening line before the titles, she provided a warm presence and was quite enjoyable. One minor criticism is that she wasn’t terrible convincing as a doctor, and she’s less convincing as a soldier, however her placement in the story works perfectly because she’s just distant enough from the Doctor now that we have mixed emotions when she falls into enemy hands.

The Sontarans are handled brilliantly, with lovely homages to The Sontaran Experiment at the start where just a three-fingered hand is shown over the controls. Seeing huge numbers of the clone troops is lots of fun, and the makeup is brilliant. I take back the misgivings I had about Christopher Ryan, as he gives a sterling performance with appropriately husky voice, and makes very much the believable alien war hero. I’m disappointed that the other Sontaran we see (Score!) is not only played by a different actor, but he didn’t make the remotest effort to do "the voice". Even the awful commander Stor in The Invasion of Time made the effort to do a whispery-rasping voice. Which makes Rattigen’s line about “How do you tell each other apart?” totally pointless. They sound totally different for one thing. And if that fails, try looking at the face. Or the teeth. The shape of the head. Ignoring that, they look great in their costumes, and the striking blue doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. Most importantly they have a strong identity which differentiates them from the black and silver Judoon.

So aside from the minor gripe about "Score!", the episode was a joyful triumph. Full of charm and soldier-boy fun, plus fun references to the classic series. The dialogue had lots of flare, and plenty of very funny moments. The tenth Doctor slipped back into his UNIT role perfectly, working alongside and bickering with the military men around him. It’s amusing to see that UNIT continue their top secret tradition (and now Torchwood’s), of writing their top secret organisation’s name on their vehicles.

It was nice to see the Sontarans' cloning technology extended to a previously unseen purpose allowing Martha to join the ranks of the doppelganger companions, and resurrecting the always disturbing scenario of one of the main characters going bad, which we saw with Mickey four years ago, way back Rose.

My only other slight grumble is the now tedious emotional family moment. In this episode we have Donna meeting her granddad again after a whole three days apart. We get flash-backs. They wave, they hug, they cry. My attention begins to wander. But back to the action as Martha is tricked into going into the cloning chamber (and for people like me still hung up on the old 25-minute episode format, our cliff-hanger for episode one is where the guards stop Martha escaping, she screams and the lights go out). But then we’re back to the domestics. They chat at the kitchen table. I sigh loudly to let my houseplants know how bored I am.

Ignoring these ubiquitous family scenes, the episode was gripping, and rattled along at a great pace. Throw in some utterly spectacular spaceship shots as the episode reaches a crescendo, plus a horrifying cliff-hanger, complete with companion-turned-bad, and all-in-all you have a brilliant part-one of a very traditional, thoroughly enjoyable Doctor Who story. Four episodes in and this season is easily the strongest of the new series by a country mile, and well on course to be one of the greatest seasons in the history of the show. With a very excting story title in two weeks, plus a Stephen Moffat two-parter and a season finale with a cast the size of Ben Hur, it promises to be a memorable year.

Review by Murphy from Staines

Next episode - The Doctor's Daughter

Learn all about the potato-headed aliens in the Sontaran Fact File.


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