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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “The Poison Sky”

(tons of spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! and no comments from party poopers — this is a love fest only / previous: Episode 4: “The Sontaran Stratagem”)

Sorry, I went a little screenshot-crazy this week…

“Stay away from your cars,” the news reports warn ominously. Holy crap, so this is what it will take to get us all out of our gaz-guzzling, smog-creating automobiles, eh? Our cars are turning on us… it’s all so horrific, and yet it’s kinda funny, too. The episode (even more so than “The Sontaran Stratagem,” since we didn’t know quite what was going on yet) is a great example of how much more satirical the new Doctor Who is. There were always moments of satire in the old show, but commentary on the here and now is built into the warp and weave of the new stories much more often… which is a reflection of how much more adult-minded the new show is.
And by the end, it looks like things may have changed for the better, for the long run. Donna’s mother happily announces that she “walked all the way,” from the store. “Won’t catch me driving.” The roads were empty, she says, except for all the kids on bikes. Except how long before everything goes back to the old normal? That’s one of the satirical threads running through the whole series, with the stories set on Earth today: the weirdest shit can happen, and people are able to pretend that it didn’t. Here, the atmosphere ignites. It burns, all over the planet. How are people gonna talk themselves into thinking this was terrorists, or hallucinations, or whatever? (It’ll be interesting to see if there are any longer-term ramifications of this event over the course of the rest of this season or into the next.)

Donna: Why do you allow yourself to be sent back to the TARDIS? Of course, it transpires that she ends up being very useful for having been sent back to the TARDIS alone, but she didn’t know that would be the case. I mean, what was she going to do, just sit there and wait for him to save the world? How could she not be out there with him, helping him? How could she leave his side?

And then, oh Donna: the Doctor sends you out into the Sontaran ship, and you’re wandering around with no idea where you’re going or what you’re supposed to be doing, and it’s likely you’ll be discovered at any moment, and probably killed. (Even the Doctor acknowledges this: “He’s gonna kill me,” Donna says about the Sontaran standing guard outside the TARDIS, and the Doctor replies, “I’m sorry, I swear, I’m so sorry, but you’ve got to try” — he’s saying, “Yeah, you might get killed.”) And in the middle of this, the Doctor, on the other end of the phone, says, “I’ve gotta go — keep the line open.”

How, Donna, did you restrain yourself from yelling into the phone, “You’ve gotta go? You’ve gotta go? Are you fucking kidding me, Doctor? Don’t you dare hang up on me!”

Fortunately for Donna the Sontarans have, like, no peripheral vision whatsoever in those helmets, but still. He hung up on her. The bastard.

Random thoughts on “The Poison Sky”:

• Donna’s mother breaking the glass on the car, so Gramps can get out? Brilliant. Even the Doctor didn’t think of that…

• She is coming:

Rose is calling for the Doctor from her parallel universe. Why? Is something bad happening there? Or is she just lonely for him? Ooo, what’s gonna happen?

• Another great moment in Time Lord scoffing. The Doctor has no use for Sontaran battle chants:

Change the channel from the Sontarans:

I always knew the Doctor would be a cartoon fan:

(Anyone know what cartoon that is?)

• War with the Rutans? Ah, I laughed with geeky delight. The writers know their Doctor Who stuff, that’s for sure.

• My city, smogged under:

There’s good satire to be found in the news bits, though it comes at the expense of America (so perhaps it’s not accidental that most of the news reports were cut from the American version of this episode). On the British news, we get historical references: “On the Eastern Seaboard of America,” the newsreader says, “it’s said to be reminscient of Dunkirk, with boats taking refugees out into the Atlantic.” On the American news report, we get something harkening back rather further… like 6,000 years further: the gas is “being likened to a biblical plague. Some are calling this the end of days.” Only American news would resort to that. *hangs head in shame*

• Even North Korea is onboard with the nuclear thing. Now we know it’s serious…

• Love the hair:

• The Brigadier — that is, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, whom the Doctor worked with back in the 70s (or was it the 80s) — is “stranded in Peru”? He must be quite old by now, certainly in his 80s. (The show could bring back Banberra, though, who replaced him as head of UNIT — she kicked ass.)

• Chekhov’s rubber mallet: If there’s a rubber mallet on the TARDIS console in the first act, then you have to use it in the third act…

• “Please please please please please,” the Doctor, fingers crossed, begs Luck or Fate or whatever as he watches the atmosphere ignite thanks to his doing. Boy, he’s a whole lot less confident in himself than he used to be. Maybe that comes from the Time War: I have the feeling he screwed up big time during that disaster — maybe only he could end it (as he’s said; I can’t remember if that’s from a previous episode or the next one, in which he talks a bit about what he had to do in the war), but maybe he’s the one who turned it into such a major fiasco in the first place. That would seem to be in keeping with the overall tone of the series.

• Right, Donna’s not madly in love with the Doctor. Not at all:

And yes, he so totally deserves a smack:

Sacrificing yourself to give Sontarans a choice, Doctor? Bullshit. He knows damn well they won’t accept his ultimatum and leave — did he not just say, “Sontarans are never defeated”? The thing is, he’s still suicidal…

• Oh, I hope Donna’s grandpa gets a ride in the TARDIS. But I have this dreadful feeling that he — and Donna — are being set up for something far more tragic…

• Oops, I think I may have inadvertantly spoiled Ross’s death with a comment I made while blogging about the previous episode. Sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.

• Great quotes:

“Are you my mommy?”–the Doctor. Hilarious!

“I’m stuck on Earth like an ordinary person, like a human? How rubbish that? No offense, but come on…”–the Doctor to Martha (well, the Martha clone, though he already knows that). In his own way, the Doctor is just as arrogant as Luke Rattigan is…

“The human female onboard ship could only be the Doctor’s wife.”–Sontaran. My friend Bonnie insists that the Sontaran says “the Doctor’s work,” but I think it’s much better if this is yet another instance of the running joke about the Doctor and Donna being mistaken for a couple.

“The bravery of idiots is bravery nonetheless.”–Stahl

“Blimey, I’m busy.”–the Doctor

(next: Episode 6: “The Doctor’s Daughter”)

MPAA: not rated

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