Sontar-Ha! Sontar-Huh?

Do you remember that feeling when you were little, when Christmas came round, and you got exactly what you wanted in every way… and then discovered it wasn’t quite as brilliant as you thought it would be?

I don’t know whether I should be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the story – and I think the Sontarans are a wonderful baddie. I am, and always have been, a UNIT fan. DT was brilliant as usual, Donna bearable, and Martha was excellent. But I feel cheated. I went on a nostalgic trip after I saw The Poison Sky, and it only made things worse, and because I particularly like the Sontarans and I want to share my pain, I’m going to go a bit geeky on this episode’s ass.

After I saw this episode, I watched the first ever Sontaran story. A real cracker starring Jon Pertwee – The Time Warrior. Then I sat, and I thought back to classic adventures, including the first two or three Sontaran stories, and I feel like they’ve missed something big with the new one. A classic story – particularly of the 4-6 part Pertwee stories would consist of the first part being the Doctor and Liz/Jo/Sarah investigating something – just like the ATMOS device – and then calling UNIT in as they think there’s something suspicious.

We didn’t get that. The Doctor and Donna turned up halfway through the UNIT investigation.

We’d then be treated to a final part full of suspense-filled, thrilling denoument, topped off with a moment or two of humourous banter or slower reflection.

Out of two 45 minute episodes, we got about ten whole minutes of conclusion. One short, sharp UNIT assault, using amour-piercing bullets. One hastily-assembled atmosphere changer to fix the earth. One teleporter, and one more explosion. That’s it.

Ok, factor in the surprising change of heart from Luke Rattigan, who finally made something of his genius and sacrificed himself to save the Doctor and protect the earth. And because I don’t want Andrew to be wrong – maybe that was the comuppance he deserved for throwing his lot in with some squat Mr Potato Head alien types.

Despite that, I really enjoyed it. It was pacy, suspense-filled and good fun. But I do think it was badly-structured. Its the first time I’ve had the inclination to criticise the new series, and I feel awkward. But it was too-weighted on setting-up the end and had a storyline that didn’t entirely add up.

Let me explain: The Sontarans are cloned war machines, basically. They are totally focussed on war. They do anything and everything they can to fight – and ultimately to die. The term “one-track-mind” was invented for them, I’m sure. So would they really have decided to take some time out of their war to come to a planet like earth, team up with a teenage genius to gas the world’s population so they could use it as a clone-production world? Surely that’s far too crafty for Sontarans?

This is the trouble with bringing back older monsters. Its like the myth about Daleks not being able to climb stairs (they can – watch Rememberance of the Daleks if you don’t believe me – the cliffhanger to episode 1 is the Doctor being chased up a flight of stairs in the school basement by a dalek.), the Sontarans already have attributes and characters to fall back on. Their behaviour in the story was fine – and the two commanders were brilliantly written – and performed… Yet another blast from my comedy-watching past in Christopher Ryan making the small leap from Mike in the Young Ones to a Sontaran Commander… But it all worked well, and I absolutely loved it. Except for the mind-bogglingly layered “Stratagem”…

But I tell you what, if you either a) don’t have a clue about previous Sontaran stories, and/or b) are able to watch it all and keep your geeky tendancies quiet – like I had to – then this is brilliant. My reflection on it might be a bit lukewarm after I’ve had time to think about it a bit, but my reaction when I saw it was complete joy – and I’ll be happy to see this again (and again)!

Oh, and the icing on the cake… Martha’s in the next one too! Hurrah!

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