Timestamp #198: The Sontaran Stratagem and The Poison Sky

Doctor Who: The Sontaran Stratagem
Doctor Who: The Poison Sky
(2 episodes, s04e04-e05, 2008)

 

The Undefeated meets his match on Earth.

 

The Sontaran Strategem

Reporter Jo Nakashima is physically thrown out of Rattigan Academy by Luke Rattigan and his students. Jo threatens to find someone who will listen to her about the threat posed by the ATMOS system, which is installed on her car and others around the globe. As she drives to UNIT Headquarters, Rattigan recommends to a hidden boss that she be terminated.

Sure enough, the ATMOS system leads Jo to her final destination: A body of water where her sealed car drives itself into the depths.

Meanwhile, in the depths of space and time, Donna is driving the TARDIS and trying to avoid putting a dent in the 1980s. The Doctor receives a call on a special mobile phone only to find Martha Jones on the other end. She’s bringing him back to Earth.

The TARDIS materializes in an alley near Martha. The Doctor and Martha embrace each other, check in on her family, and discuss her engagement to Tom Milligan. Martha and Donna hit things off right away, and Marth introduces the Doctor to her new job at UNIT as they storm an ATMOS during Operation Blue Sky.

A familiar three-fingered figure watches the festivities from a remote location.

Martha takes the Doctor and Donna to meet her boss, Colonel Mace. Mace salutes the Doctor, impressed by what he’s read in the files of the Time Lord’s service in the ’70s – or was it the ’80s? – but Donna likens it to how the Americans run the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Mace tells the Doctor of fifty-two simultaneous deaths worldwide, all linked to ATMOS. Since UNIT can’t figure out how the system killed so many people at once, they called in their expert scientific adviser on the hunch that it might be alien tech.

In the depths of the factory, two UNIT soldiers find themselves in a restricted area. When they investigate further, they find mysterious technology and a humanoid creature in a crypt-like box. The soldiers investigate the embryonic form before being introduced to a Sontaran.

The cordolaine signal in the room renders their weapons useless. The soldiers are disabled and sent for processing. Their assailant is General Staal of the Tenth Sontaran Battle Fleet, better known as Staal the Undefeated.

Well, there’s a bit of foreshadowing if I ever saw one.

The Doctor takes the ATMOS system apart and investigates it piece by piece, impressed by Martha Jones but warning off the UNIT troops and their guns. Donna finds the HR files on ATMOS personnel sick leave, or rather specifically how none of the workers ever take time off.

While Donna and Martha look into the personnel issues, the Doctor learns about Luke Rattigan, the child prodigy developer of the ATMOS system. Martha talks to Donna about family matters and how she needs to be careful with them and her travels.

The Doctor gears up to visit Luke Rattigan, but Donna wants to go visit her family. The Doctor misunderstands, thinking that she’s leaving him forever, giving her a good laugh. As they depart with a UNIT escort named Ross Jenkins, Martha examines a factory worker named Trepper with strange results.

The UNIT soldiers, Privates Harris and Gray, are hypnotically programmed to further the Sontaran stratagem before Staal returns to his ship via transmat. Harris and Gray watch the Doctor and Donna leave before escorting Martha to what she thinks is a meeting with Colonel Mace. Instead, she’s locked away in one of the Sontaran cloning vats.

Donna returns home, thinking over her adventures so far with the Doctor, before sharing an embrace with her grandfather Wilfred. Donna tells him all about the Doctor, but she refuses to tell her mother about the experiences.

The Doctor and Jenkins arrive at Rattigan Academy, scoffing at ATMOS the whole way there. Rattigan gives them a tour, and while the Doctor is impressed at the science lab he is skeptical about the technology’s origins. He recognizes that it’s been a long time since anyone has told the boy no, but he also recognizes the teleport pod in Rattigan’s office. It takes him to the Sontaran ship and back, and he’s followed by Staal before he disables the teleport with a wave of the sonic.

Jenkins refers to the general as a baked potato in armor, but the Doctor displays the Sontaran’s weakness by ricocheting a racquetball into the armor’s probic vent. While the Doctor and Jenkins run, Skaal and Rattigan repair the teleport and return to the ship. Skaal orders Commander Skorr to begin the invasion of Earth, which involves visiting Martha Jones and the cloning vat.

Sure enough, he’s breeding a clone of Martha.

Rattigan suggests using ATMOS to kill the Doctor, and Skaal links the name to the survivor of the Last Great Time War. He relishes the thought of killing the last of the Time Lords. Sure enough, the UNIT jeep drives itself to the river, but the Doctor uses a logic trap to stop the jeep and blow the UNIT in a not-so-spectacular pop of sparks.

The Doctor finds himself on Donna’s doorstep. As he examines Donna’s car, he meets Wilf for the second time (but the first time proper) and tries to warn Martha, unknowingly calling the clone instead. Martha’s mother, Sylvia, recognizes the Doctor from Donna’s wedding as he unlocks the ATMOS unit. This triggers a Sontaran battle group to head for Earth as the travelers figure out that ATMOS means to poison everyone on Earth.

Wilf ends up locked in the car as every ATMOS vehicle starts gassing the planet. The car is sonic-proof, the planet is choking, and the Sontarans are chanting.

It’s a perfect place for a cliffhanger.

 

The Poison Sky

Sylvia saves Wilf using a totally low-tech option: An axe through the windshield!

UNIT is on high alert, unaware of the mole in their midst as the Martha clone accesses the NATO defense system. She transmits the information to the Sontaran ship as Donna rushes off with the Doctor and Jenkins to fight the Sontarans.

The travelers return to the UNIT mobile headquarters, and the Doctor hands Donna a key to the TARDIS as he rushes off. Donna finds fresh air in the time ship, the Doctor beckons Clone-Martha to follow him, and the mole dispatches Harris and Gray to steal the TARDIS and transmat it to the Sontaran ship.

Donna figures out her predicament as Rattigan returns to Earth and the Doctor figures out that his TARDIS has been stolen. He laments being trapped on Earth (again) before returning to the command center. The UNIT forces find the Sontaran ship and the Doctor makes contact with them. Donna rushes to the monitor, just missing Rose, to catch the transmission as the Doctor handles the Sontarans and ruffles their feathers about the war with the Rutan Host. He also sends a secret message to Donna, asking her to contact him, but she doesn’t know how yet.

She calls home instead to check in with her family. She promises that the Doctor will save them. The Doctor has his own problems as he puzzles over the gas and UNIT spools up the world’s nuclear arsenal to attack the Sontarans. Even though the nuclear missiles wouldn’t even dent the ship, they stop the launch, and the Doctor begins putting the pieces together about Martha’s identity.

The Sontarans storm the factory, killing the UNIT troops in their path including Ross Jenkins. The Doctor is downright furious and Colonel Mace finally starts listening to him. The Time Lord wishes that the Brigadier was there, but Mace states that Sir Alistair is stranded in Peru.

He’s been knighted! Good for him.

Rattigan outlines his plan to take his students off-world and restart the human race. His students are unimpressed with his plan, including his mating program, and they abandon him. He reports back to Staal and finds out that the students would have been sacrificed. Rattigan’s plan was a Sontaran ruse, and the boy returns to Earth to avoid being shot down. The Sontarans lock down the teleport system.

The Doctor borrows a mobile phone and calls Donna, calling her his secret weapon and asking her to go into the ship and re-open the teleport link. He walks her through how to disable a Sontaran with the probic vent and open the ship’s doors before he’s interrupted by Mace’s battle plan.

The Doctor heads outside with a gas mask – “Are you my mummy?” – while ignoring Mace’s briefing. He’s sure that it will not work, after all, but still marvels at the Valiant‘s arrival. After all, he remembers it from a year that never happened even if no one else does.

The UNIT “helicarrier” clears the air with its powerful turbines before attacking the factory. The UNIT troops storm the facility as the Doctor and Clone-Martha follow the signals to the cloning facility. He finds Martha’s body and reveals that he’s known about Clone-Martha all along by her off smell. He removes the memory transfer device from Martha’s head, which disables the clone, and opens communications with Donna again.

While Martha consoles her clone, the Doctor with Donna to fix the teleport. The clone tells Martha that the gas is clone feed, set to convert the planet to a massive cloning facility. Remarking on Martha’s soul brimming with life as the character’s theme takes on a military air, the clone dies.

The Doctor saves Donna by teleporting her and the TARDIS back to Earth. He then teleports Donna and Marth to the Rattigan Academy, throws Luke’s gun from his hands, and uses the boy’s colonization tech to build a device to ignite the planet’s atmosphere.

As the atmosphere burns, the Doctor begs for the plan to work. It’s quite the parallel as his planet burned to death, but the Earth burns to life. The air is clean again and the world rejoices, but the Doctor’s job is not done.

The Sontarans level their weapons on the planet below. The Doctor runs to the teleport and bids farewell to his companions, planning to sacrifice himself to end the Sontaran threat. He heads to the ship to give them a choice: Leave or be destroyed.

The Sontarans refuse to yield. Staal is eager to end the Time Lords and humans once and for all. But the humans get the last laugh as Rattigan swaps places with the Doctor, yells “Sontar-HA!”, and presses the button.

The Sontaran ship is destroyed and the threat is done. Donna heads home to share the moment with her family, and Wilf tearfully tells her to go see the stars. She kisses him goodbye and returns to the TARDIS. Martha is there to say goodbye, but before she can leave the TARDIS slams the doors and takes flight on her own accord.

As the TARDIS rocks, the Doctor’s hand bubbles away happily in the jar.

 

As I write this in the year 2020, Doctor Who fandom is beset by complaints that the show has become too political and too obsessed with “social justice”. One thing that I’ve learned over the course of the Timestamps Project is just how much Doctor Who has been political and socially conscious since 1963:

  • Unchecked capitalism’s effect on ecology (Planet of the Giants);
  • The rights of indigenous peoples (any story with the Silurians and/or Sea Devils, starting with Doctor Who and the Silurians);
  • The debate over nuclear energy (most notably Inferno) and nuclear war (starting with The Daleks);
  • Peace and war (permeates the entire series, once again starting with The Daleks, but especially The War Games and The Caves of Androzani);
  • The role of the military and the threat of the military-industrial complex (any episode with UNIT, particularly Robot and Battlefield, and while we’re at it, anything to do with the Sontarans);
  • Environmentalism, destruction of resources, and ignoring scientific warnings for personal gain (most notably, Inferno and The Green Death);
  • Membership of the European Economic Community and labor strikes (The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon);
  • Sexism and feminism (particularly Jo Grant’s and Sarah Jane Smith’s tenures);
  • Genocide (most notably, Genesis of the Daleks);
  • The responsibility and power of the media (The Long Game);
  • Taxation (The Sun Makers);
  • Margaret Thatcher (The Happiness Patrol and The Christmas Invasion);
  • LGBTQIA+ representation (the revival era gets quite a few props for this, but (despite the classic era’s hands-off approach to the topic) give some deep consideration to the queer-coding with The Rani, Ace and Kara in SurvivalThe Happiness Patrol, and The Curse of Fenric)
  • Racism and xenophobia (the entire series as the Doctor relates to every alien species he/she encounters);
  • The threat of technology overtaking humanity (any episode featuring the Cybermen);
  • Nazis, including intolerance, xenophobia, genocide, racial purity, racial supremacy, totalitarianism, and everything that evil regime stands for (literally any episode featuring the Daleks).

And that, without the slightest hint of hyperbole, is just barely scratching the surface. After all, we just tackled assimilation and slavery last week. Let’s face facts: The Doctor has been what is disparagingly known today as a “social justice warrior” since 1963.

And here we are again, tackling ozone depletion, air pollution, and technology to reduce both. Tangentially, this story also hits on carbon emissions and the environment, as well as the social justice implications of detainees and unchecked military power. I mean, Donna’s mention of the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay is square on the nose.

Doctor Who has been politically and socially conscious from day one. The show was even co-created and helmed by a woman, and directed from day one by a gay man of Indian descent. Come for the monsters, stay for the moral at the end of fable.

[Inadvertently (but equally) right in the snout is my watching this end-of-the-world pandemic during the COVID-19 crisis, but I digress.]

 

On top of all of that – and by the gods, it is a lot to digest – I deeply enjoyed the return of both Martha Jones and the Sontarans. Freema Agyeman is a delight, and the Sontarans are a force of nature. Add to that the emotional depths of Donna’s relationship with Wilf – one of my absolute favorite family members and the embodiment of every child who’s ever looked at the stars and wanted to fly among them – and this story just rocks.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Daughter

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

Timestamp Special #6: A Fix with Sontarans

Doctor Who: A Fix with Sontarans
(1 episode, 1985)

 

It’s one last brief stop with Colin Baker before jumping back on the canon timeline.

Starting with a little bit of history, this is a segment of the popular British television show Jim’ll Fix It. The premise is that children write in with their wishes and Jimmy Saville, the show’s creator and host, finds a way to make those dreams come true. For this ten-minute spot, eight-year-old Gareth Jenkins wrote a letter asking to meet Colin Baker and visit the TARDIS. He also included a picture of him in a Sixth Doctor costume that his mother or grandmother made for him.

It’s been pretty evident during my reviews of the Sixth Doctor’s run that I wasn’t fond of the character – a fact that has earned me a certain amount of flak from fans, including those who think that I’m attacking Colin Baker instead of the character, which is far from reality – but my fan heart is warmed by this. I have a philosophy to not the criticize fans based on what they love, and I’m over the moon that young Mr. Jenkins idolized this Doctor so much.

In order to make Gareth’s dream come true, Jimmy Saville presented an adventure with two Doctor Who alumni. That’s pretty cool.

The story opens with the Doctor dancing around the TARDIS console in a valiant effort to tech the tech when an inadvertent button push teleports Tegan Jovanka into the console room. Tegan’s unimpressed with the Doctor’s new face and unhappy about the abduction, but she agrees to help remove two Sontarans and their vitrox bomb from the ship.

On a clever note, Tegan asks what a Sontaran is because she’s never met one.

The Doctor asks Tegan to push the blue button, but since there are so many of them, she accidentally activates the matter transfer stream again. This time the new passenger is a human boy named Gareth Jenkins. The boy is dressed exactly like the Doctor and offers to help in any way he can. Together, they set a trap as the Sontarans storm the console room.

Group Marshall Nathan (Turner? Am I reading too much into this?) demands introductions and is surprised to learn that Gareth is aboard. In the year 2001, their invasion of Earth is stopped by a brave and wise military leader of the same name, and the Sontarans decide that if they kill him now they can succeed later on. As they raise their weapons, Gareth springs the trap and the Sontarans literally melt to death.

Ew.

The Doctor asks Gareth how he knew where all of the controls were, and the boy answers, “Well, I’ve seen you fly the TARDIS on telly.” After that, Jimmy Saville appears on the scanner screen for a moment before boarding the TARDIS. The Doctor presents Gareth Jenkins with a Jim’ll Fix It medal for his participation, along with a bonus: A Sontaran meson gun.

 

It was heartwarming and fun, even if the Sixth Doctor was a little acidic with Tegan. That last bit makes sense since this episode was aired on 23 February 1985, right in the middle of the Twenty-Second Series.

 

As our journey with the Sixth Doctor comes to a close, we’ll rejoin the time stream on our next adventure.

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Time and the Rani

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

Timestamp #97: The Invasion of Time

Doctor Who: The Invasion of Time
(6 episodes, s15e21-e26, 1978)

timestamp-097-the-invasion-of-time

 

Duplicitous Doctor is delightful.

Somewhere in deep space, the TARDIS is parked on an alien ship. The Doctor negotiates with the ship’s crew as Leela and K9 keep the TARDIS running. Leela tries to use the scanner, but the Doctor disabled it to prevent her interfering. The Doctor signs a contract granting him complete control over the Time Lords, returns to the TARDIS, and departs. Leela takes a dip in the TARDIS swimming pool to pass the time.

On Gallifrey, the Time Lords detect the incoming TARDIS, but they cannot determine who it is, so they increase security. The TARDIS materializes and the guards, led by Commander Andred, arrive with orders to arrest the pilot and destroy the capsule. The Doctor emerges and demands to be taken to Chancellor Borusa.

Leela is on Gallifrey? How can she be there but Sarah Jane could not?

Upon meeting with Borusa, the Doctor claims his legal right as President of the Council of Time Lords. He is very gruff and brusque with the Time Lords, who are unaware that every interaction is being watched by the mysterious aliens. The Doctor selects his Presidential chamber, including 20th century décor and lead-lined walls, and orders that Leela be given proper accommodations.

Once the Doctor in inaugurated, he will be connected to the Matrix, the repository of Time Lord knowledge and history. The ceremony proceeds, but once the circlet is placed on his head, the Doctor collapses in pain. He is attended to by the surgeon general, although Borusa wants him arrested (which cannot happen to the President under law), and taken to the Chancellory to rest. Leela is taken away for questioning in the matter, and when she arrives at the Chancellory, the Doctor recovers and has her expelled from the Citadel since aliens are not allowed there. Leela runs to evade capture.

At this point, everything’s playing out as if the Doctor is completely betraying Leela.

Borusa tries to call the Doctor’s bluff, but the Doctor tells him that as long as Leela remains at large, Gallifrey is in danger. Borusa leaves the Doctor rest, after which the Doctor dons his normal attire and escapes the Chancellory. He hopscotches his way to the TARDIS with Leela in pursuit, but he locks her out and then shares a secret plan with K9. While on the run, Leela stumbles into the space traffic control room and meets the operator, Rodan. Together, they note that a massive warship is approaching the planet, but Rodan assures Leela that it cannot harm them so long as the planetary transduction barrier remains in place.

The Doctor leaves the TARDIS and returns to the Chancellory just in time to meet with Castellan Kelner, who has been watching the Doctor’s adventure the entire time. Meanwhile, a guard unlocks the TARDIS, releasing K9 who stuns the guard for his trouble. K9 disables the transduction barrier, allowing the warship to approach and three aliens to materialize in the Citadel as the Doctor laughs an evil laugh.

The aliens are called the Vardans, and the Doctor entered into an alliance with them some time ago. He asks Borusa to meet him in his chambers later, and tells the Vardans that it is only a matter of time until he retrieves the Great Key. When he reaches his quarters, he explains everything to Borusa, their secret maintained by the lead-lined walls of the room. Leela was banished to protect both her and the secret. Leela convinces Rodan to join her in the Wastelands, which she believes to be part of the Doctor’s plan. The run into Andred, who lets them go but stays behind to face the invasion and keep tabs on Castellan Kelner. In the Wastelands, the duo encounters a tribe of Gallifreyan outsiders led by Nesbin. These tribe has rejected Time Lord society and live in the wild.

The Doctor and Borusa leave the chambers and meet with Kelner and the Vardans. The Doctor begins his act: He has Borusa placed under house arrest and directs Kelner with tracking and expelling trouble-making (potentially rebellious) Time Lords. The Doctor returns to the TARDIS where K9 is interfacing with the control panel. He places the circlet on the robot dog’s head, giving him access to the Matrix. Andred, in an attempt to defend his home, enters the TARDIS and corners the Doctor, threatening to assassinate him.

K9 stuns Andred before continuing his analysis. When the guardsman comes to, he realizes that his weapon is ineffective. The Doctor leaves Andred with K9 and discovers that Kelner’s men have eliminated Andred’s force. He returns to the TARDIS and explains things to Andred: The TARDIS shields them from the Vardans, and the Matrix has been invaded. The Doctor modifies Andred’s helmet to shield the guardsman from the Vardans, then constructs a plot to disable the remaining force field around Gallifrey. The downside is that only Rassilon has the power to do so, but the upside is that his being lives on in the Matrix.

Kelner and the Vardans discuss the Doctor’s erratic behavior and begin to plot against him. Meanwhile, Leela organizes the rebel tribe to stage an assault on the Citadel. The Doctor returns the Vardans and tries to earn back their trust by opening the planet to attack. He opens a hole in the shield directly above the Citadel, and a spacecraft approaches as three humanoids materialize in the Panopticon. As the hole opens, K9 leads Andred to the Presidential chambers and Leela leads the tribe to the Citadel. The Doctor returns to his chambers, prompting the Vardans to place Kelner in charge and order the Doctor’s execution, but K9 traces the Vardan signal back to its source and places their planet in a time loop.

Presuming that they have won, the Doctor, Leela, Andred, and the tribesmen converge on the Panopticon and being to celebrate, but their joy is short-lived as three Sontaran soldiers appear and take aim on the group. Well, that escalated quickly.

I did like how the Doctor immediately surrendered to save the assembled innocents.

The Sontarans used the Vardans as pawns to dismantle Gallifrey’s defenses. The Doctor hides his true identity as the Sontarans search for him, and Borusa works behind the scenes to provide a distraction. The Doctor’s group scatters while Kelner remains behind to polish boots with his tongue. The Doctor, Leela, Rodan, Andred, and Nesbin – basically, the power players in this plot – run to the Presidential Chambers and find Borusa. Hot on their heels, the Sontarans begin to assault the door, which Borusa had previously reinforced with titanium. Escaping through a secret exit, the group (now including K9) moves to Borusa’s office. The Doctor sends everyone onward to the TARDIS, then asks Borusa for the Great Key of Rassilon, the literal key to ultimate Time Lord knowledge. Borusa attempts to deceive him, but in the end surrenders the key to the Doctor, making him the first president since Rassilon to hold it.

On the way back to the TARDIS, Nesbin is killed, but with his last ounce of strength he takes down a Sontaran. The Doctor and Borusa retreat to the TARDIS with Sontarans in pursuit, and the Doctor entrusts the Great Key to Leela’s protection. As the Sontaran commander forces Kelner to widen the hole in the planetary shield, the Doctor works with Rodan to seal it. The overrides for the shield are controlled from the TARDIS, so Kelner sabotages the stabilizer banks and sends the time capsule hurtling toward a black star. The Doctor overrides the stabilizers, but that leaves the TARDIS stuck in state until the override can be, well, overridden.

Kelner gains access to the TARDIS, and the Sontarans pursue the Doctor’s group through her labyrinthine interiors. Which, in this incarnation, appear to be a series of industrial tunnels and eclectic rooms. In the workshop, the Doctor tasks a hypnotized Rodan as K9’s assistant, including possession of the Great Key, while he distracts the invaders. The Doctor’s group finds Borusa at the swimming pool, and he joins the running distraction. When Andred is inadvertently wounded, Leela takes him and Borusa back to the workshop. The Doctor meets up with them, and finds that Rodan and K9 have constructed a de-mat gun, the ultimate weapon of the Time Lords that erases its targets from all of time. The Doctor pursues the Sontaran commander to the Panopticon, where the warrior plans to destroy the Eye of Harmony, which will destroy Gallifrey. The Doctor uses the de-mat gun on the explosion, which removes the commander from time, destroys the gun, and wipes the Doctor’s memory of the entire event.

The Doctor used two different guns in this story. I really need to start a tracker of some sort.

With the day won, the now resigned President gets ready to depart, but Leela and K9 decline to follow. Leela has fallen in love with Andred, even though aliens are not welcome on Gallifrey, and K9 remains to look after her. As the Doctor flies on to his next adventure, his former companions mourning his newfound loneliness, he pulls a box out of storage: K9 Mark II.

This serial had some really good plotting and acting. It was great to see the Doctor playing such a powerful role in saving his home. I really wish that he hadn’t had the entire thing erased from his brain since the important part to forget was the de-mat gun.

It’s also time to say goodbye to Leela. Louise Jameson is a great actress, but Leela wasn’t my favorite companion. Granted, Sarah Jane is a hard act to follow, and Leela saved a couple of stories in her run. I will miss her.

The big downside to this story: The patched-in love story for Leela. It just appears as a quick method to eject her from the TARDIS, and that drags the grade down from a glowing top score to a solid four.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Fifteenth Series Summary

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

Timestamp #77: The Sontaran Experiment

Doctor Who: The Sontaran Experiment
(2 episodes, s12e09-e10, 1975)

Timestamp 077 The Sontaran Experiment

 

Before watching this serial, I read up a little on this short story. The TARDIS wiki entry tells the tale: “Script editor Robert Holmes was not a fan of six-part stories, believing that they were padded, so for season twelve, he decided to have one four-part story and one two-part story.”

After some of the reviews on The Timestamps Project, I can attest to that. I respect him for going out on a limb like that.

This one picks up right after The Ark in Space. The Doctor and his companions teleport down to Earth with only a few hiccups, and the Doctor sets to work on fixing the refractor units. The companions venture off to explore as Harry corrects his demeaning banter with Sarah Jane. For now, anyway. Within no time at all, the Doctor is in the crosshairs of a hunter’s rifle, Harry takes a tumble into a disguised trap, and Sarah Jane goes for help.

One of the hunters is chased by a robot, and falls off a cliff. The Doctor goes to help, and the other hunters mistake the Doctor for the perpetrator and stun him into submission as another human in a spacesuit, Roth, watches from the brush. Sarah Jane returns to the refractors and finds only the sonic screwdriver, so she returns to Harry, but he’s no longer there. In the interim, Harry has fled after being attacked. Roth sneaks up behind Sarah Jane and saves her from the robot, and he explains that the trap was set for the robot, who is an agent for an alien in the rocks that is trapping the human explorers and torturing them.

In a twist on that theme, the Doctor is being interrogated by the explorers. It seems that the Nerva Station has become legendary as a lost colony. These explorers are from another colony, GalSec, and being monitored by the alien. There were nine of them on a military expedition, and they were stranded when the alien destroyed their ship. The explorers are serious about the interrogation, but the Doctor is not, and his overall attitude about it is amusing. He’s freed in short order as Roth stages a diversion and Sarah Jane rushes to the Doctor’s rescue. They head back to the hole trap and investigate, and the Doctor jumps into the hole as the robot arrives. The Robot takes Sarah Jane and Roth to the alien, which Harry has just located, and the reveals himself as a Sontaran.

That explains the title.

Sarah Jane is surprised to see the Sontaran since he look just like the one who died in 13th century England. Sure, Sarah Jane, they both look like a potato in armor, but Linx looked more like an undead zombie potato in armor. This Sontaran, Field Major Styre, reveals that he looks the same – no he doesn’t! – but he is not the same because they are a species of clones bred to fight wars. As Sarah Jane ponders this, Roth tries to escape and Styre kills him.

Back at the hole trap, the Doctor climbs out and into the arms of his previous captors, who are subsequently captured by the robot. The Doctor dives back into the hole and finds the tunnel that Harry used. Speaking of, Harry explores the area around the ship, finds a captive, and tends to him. Keeping the story’s title honest, the Sontaran is experimenting on humanity to determine their limits and weaknesses in preparation for an invasion of Earth. After Styre interrogates Sarah Jane, revealing that she should not exist since she was not among the humans on the planet at the time of the catastrophe, he reports his results to his commanders and begins a fear-based experiment on Sarah Jane. Harry locates Sarah Jane, calls her “old girl” again because the old boy never learns, and tries to free her but cannot. After Harry departs, the Doctor arrives, disables the force field, frees Sarah Jane, and confronts the Sontaran. He tries to escape, but the Sontaran shoots him before returning to his ship to deal with the rest of the human explorers.

Harry returns to the unconscious Sarah Jane and Doctor, and in a fit of anger and determination, he nearly strikes the Sontaran before the Doctor stops him. The Doctor was saved by his own contradictory nature – “Never throw anything away,” but remember that “It’s a mistake to clutter your pockets” – and he devises a plan after disabling the robot and listening in on the invasion plans. The Doctor decides to confront Styre in hand-to-hand combat, which will tire the Sontaran and force him to recharge at the ship, which Harry and Sarah Jane will sabotage. The battle is so-so, but the Doctor’s use of the Sontaran’s pride against him is just awesome. As planned, Styre wears himself out, returns to the ship, and melts away as the ship reverses the recharge sequence. The Doctor solves the Sontaran threat with a bluff, and beams himself and the companions away.

To Robert Holmes’s credit, this was a much tighter story than most. On the downside, it was a little too fast-paced for this era and writing staff, and the storytelling shortcuts were obvious. Despite that, I think it was still a good adventure.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

Timestamp #70: The Time Warrior

Doctor Who: The Time Warrior
(4 episodes, s11e01-e04, 1973-74)

Timestamp 070 The Time Warrior

 

Welcome to Series Eleven and a serial chock full of firsts for the franchise. I really like the new title sequence and logo, which combines Star Trek-style warp speed rainbow star streak effects and 1970s psychedelic wormholes.

The story begins with a group of medieval warriors who are complaining about the poor stores in their seized castle, including sour wine and rancid meat, when they see a falling star. After a series of well-done effects for the crash, the raiders investigate and encounter a spaceship piloted by a Sontaran.

A Sontaran!

His name is Linx and his ship needs repair. After he claims Earth for the Sontaran Empire, the medieval warriors exchange their help for super weapons that would make them invincible. Flashing forward to the 20th century, the Doctor and the Brigadier investigate the disappearance of a dozen leading scientists and their hardware. Linx is the culprit, having kidnapped them through time so that they can repair his ship. True to his word, Linx has also provided Irongron, the lead human warrior, with a rifle.

During the investigation, the Doctor provides his name (once again) as Doctor John Smith, and we meet Sarah Jane Smith.

Sarah Jane!

Sarah Jane is a journalist posing as her aunt, a scientist. When another scientist, Professor Rubeish, goes missing, the Doctor traces him through time and Sarah Jane stows away on the TARDIS. When the Doctor sets his course for medieval times, Sarah Jane disrupts an archer who is trying to assassinate Irongron, and then gets captured by his forces.

I loved the Doctor’s quote: “A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting.”

The Doctor witnesses Linx removing his helmet and, you know, the Sontarans really haven’t changed that much over the years. Sarah Jane is brought before Irongron, who is in a poor mood. Linx arrives, interrogates Sarah Jane, and provides a robotic knight for Irongron’s exploits. Irongron tests it by pitting the assassin archer against the robot for sport, but the Doctor stops the machine with an arrow to its remote control. The archer escapes with Sarah Jane, and the Doctor breaks into Linx’s lab after Irongron calls the Sontaran away to diagnose the robot. The Doctor discovers the missing scientists, including Rubeish, who couldn’t be hypnotized like the others because he left his glasses in the future, but the Doctor is soon ambushed by Linx. Linx interrogates the Doctor, who discloses that he is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey.

Gallifrey!

Sarah Jane is taken to the Wessex Castle where she meets the lord who wants to defeat Irongron, and they all assume that the Doctor is behind the plot to kidnap the scientists. They develop a plan to kidnap the Doctor and stop the insanity. Back in the makeshift lab, Linx restrains the Doctor with a headset that provides a shock when he strays from his assigned task. Rubeish helps him to escape, but the Doctor encounters the human warriors and is nearly beheaded by Irongron. He is saved by the archer Hal and Sarah Jane, but they spirit him away to Wessex Castle. They confront him about his role in the affair, but he convinces them that he is the good guy.

Irongron attacks Wessex Castle and is nearly dissuaded by the dummies that impersonate a superior force, but Linx shows Irongron how to shoot the rifles and they discover the ruse. The Doctor and Sarah Jane drive the warriors back with chemical warfare. Irongron is angered by the failure, and Linx is angry with Irongron.

The Doctor and Sarah Jane lead an attack on Irongron’s castle, and they sneak in disguised as friars. They discover the scientists suffering from starvation and sleep deprivation. When Linx returns to the lab, the Doctor offers to help him fix his ship in exchange for the scientists’ lives. Linx attacks in response, and while the Sontaran is distracted by the weakened Doctor, Rubeish hits Linx right in the probic vent, his only weak spot, and knocks him out.

Irongron summons Linx, and the Doctor responds in the guise of an upgraded robot knight. He is soon defeated and captured, and subjected to a firing squad to offer Irongron’s men practice with their rifles. Sarah Jane sneaks into the kitchen and slips a knockout draught into the food, and then helps the Doctor escape the rogues and their poor aim. Rubeish removes the scientists’ trance and works to send them all back to their time.

At this point, it’s Linx versus everyone else: When Linx’s spacecraft lifts off, it will produce a shock wave that will level the castle, and the Doctor wants to save the innocents from that fate. Linx begins the power-up sequence on his craft as the guards fall prey to Sarah Jane’s culinary sabotage. The Doctor figures out how to send the scientists home and leaves Rubeish in charge as he faces off against Linx.

Only Irongron remains standing from the drugged stew. He bursts in to confront Linx, but the Sontaran kills him. Hal warns the rogues that the castle is about to be destroyed, and then arrives just in time to shoot Linx in the probic vent with an arrow. Linx dies, but falls on the activation button for his ship, and the castle is destroyed as the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Hal escape.

Irongron is dead, his marauders are scattered, Wessex is safe, and the Doctor and his stowaway companion set course for home.

This was a fun episode with so many pieces of the mythology. Sarah Jane is an empowered and very spirited woman. She takes charge and fights hard, but is also willing to admit when she’s wrong. She’s a fantastic character right from the start. I’m eager to see how she develops as a companion.

Grading this one was easy.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Invasion of the Dinosaurs

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.