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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “The Sontaran Stratagem”

(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 3: “Planet of the Ood”)

One thing is for certain: screenwriter Helen Raynor has worked as a temp. Or the very least, she sees the value of the work that the invisible people in an organization do. Because one of the highlights of this episode is the scene in which Donna announces that while the UNIT soldiers have been stormtroopering around and the Doctor has been fretting over inappropriate technology, she has been to Personnel. “That’s where the weird’s stuff’s happening, in the paperwork…. I spent years working as a temp. I can find my way around an office blindfolded.” And she comes up with the clue that no one was even looking for, that no one had even conceived of.
(The no-sick-days thing makes me think of Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems and how all the employees there were named John and applied for Social Security numbers on the same day… which only highlights that geekery really is in the details.)

And so here’s another wonderful thing about the new Doctor Who: the women characters are allowed to be women. Real women, even if, like Donna, they’re not “clever” and they’ve “only” ever worked as a temp before. I mean, of course it’s extremely cool that Martha is brilliant and a doctor and now, clearly, a leader of both men and women at UNIT. But Donna’s worth is appreciated, too. And their perspective as women, as distinct from that of men, gets some play, if from a humorous angle. “She’s engaged, you prawn,” Donna has to knock over the Doctor’s head, because of course Donna has noticed Martha’s ring, probably almost subconsciously. It never registered with him.

Who’da thunk that the Doctor was such a… guy?

Which isn’t to suggest, though, that the Doctor is not emotional and does not feel things deeply… Of course we know he does, even if he is a bit clueless about how to deal with these things. When he thinks Donna’s saying she’s leaving him for good, he’s terribly upset:

and goes off on a sweet little rant about how it’s too soon and there’s so much he wanted to show her and she saved his life in so many ways… until he realizes she’s saying she’s just popping home for a visit. And then he’s embarrassed:

But why does he always wait until it’s too late (or so he thinks) to tell people how he feels? What a jerk!

You want to smack him, but — dramatically speaking — this is wonderful. The Doctor isn’t perfect! He’s not perfect with General Mace, either, the UNIT commander. It’s some pretty heavy dick-measuring the two of them engage in here, all the snarking and the sniping. The Doctor is, frankly, being unreasonable and more than a little hypocritical with the whole aversion-to-guns thing, for one: he’s been perfectly okay at other times with guns, if not necessarily for himself, at least for others around him. The Doctor’s just being a real bastard, and for no reason. That’s not a complaint: it’s praise. I love that the Doctor is kind of a bastard sometimes these days. It’s another thing that makes him more real.

Oh, I do have a lot of stuff to say about the ATMOS/killer-cars thing, but I’m saving that for my next Doctor Who blog, on the conclusion of this story…

Random thoughts on “The Sontaran Stratagem”:

• Ah, so “UNIT” now stands for “Unified Intelligence Taskforce.” Used to be “United Nations Intelligence Taskforce.”

• Donna’s reference to Guantanamo Bay… Ouch. So this isn’t happening too far from the real world, is it? (And the fact that the weasel Rattigan is American? Double ouch.)

• The Doctor tells Donna he worked for UNIT “a long time ago, back in the ’70s… or was it the ’80s?” To newcomers to the show, this just sounds like a bit of scrambled memory on the Doctor’s part — ah, who can be bothered to distinguish one decade from the next when you’ve got centuries of memories? But real fans know this is a bit of retconning of the show’s past timelines, when the episodes in which the Doctor was stranded on Earth and worked for UNIT were produced in the 1970s (with Jon Pertwee as the Doctor) but were supposedly taking place in the 1980s… which the episodes later produced and set in the 1980s conveniently forgot.

• Poor Ross! He could have been the new Sergeant Benton. He had a nice rapport with the Doctor. (“Don’t call Ross a grunt. He’s nice. We like Ross.”) And he was cute, too.

• For once I direct you to look not at David Tennant but instead what’s over his shoulder:

Rattigan’s office is a superb example of the extraordinary production design of this show. Without a single line of dialogue, the stuff crammed into his room speaks volumes about Rattigan, namely, that he’s a geek with tons of money to burn. That painting probably cost more than you or I make in a year — that sort of anime-as-fine-art thing is all the rage in Japan, which means it comes with a particularly dear price tag. Which makes it exactly the kind of thing a superrich geek would thrown his money at.

• Ah, ya gotta feel for Luke, at least a little. I can’t help but think that if only he’d met the Doctor first, he’d have ended up traveling on the TARDIS instead of teaming up with the Sontarans and becoming an accomplice in the almost-destruction of humanity.

• Great quotes:

“Getting a little too close to the 1980s…” –the Doctor
“What am I gonna do, put a dent in ’em?” –Donna
“Well, someone did.” –the Doctor

“He is too skinny for words. You give him a hug, you get a paper cut.” –Donna, about the Doctor (I’d risk it)

“You know the Doctor: he’s wonderful, he’s brilliant. But he’s like fire. Stand too close and people get burned.” –Martha

“Words are the weapons of womenfolk.” –General Stahl (but of course Stahl doesn’t realize he’s complimenting us)

“I think it’s harmless.” –famous last words from the UNIT grunt in the red beret, who might as well be wearing a red shirt

“How do you tell each other apart?” –Rattigan, to Sontaran
“We say the same of humans.” –Sontaran

(next: Episode 5: “The Poison Sky”)

MPAA: not rated

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