Stratagems and Self-discovery

I learnt something very insightful and rather frightening about my future at the weekend. Let me briefly explain. My parents have been watching the series of Doctor Who. On Sunday, when Luke and I went to visit them, my dad said that he didn’t understand that week’s episode. “It didn’t make sense,” he said. “Why? What was wrong with it?” He looked up and replied “It had no end – it was confusing…” Everyone turned to look at him. “Dad, you did know that it was the first part of a two-part story, didn’t you?”
“Ah. Now that would explain a lot, wouldn’t it…”

Let’s get on. The Sontaran Stratagem. Like Andrew, I think this will be more tangent than plot talk…so let’s start where we mean to go on.

When I was a teenager, I went out and bought a VHS copy of The Two Doctors. Apart from Patrick Troughton and Shockeye, oh, and Peri (with her barely-existing top), the revelation for me was the Sontarans. Humourless, ruthless, honourable, war-loving race. What an enemy! I always loved the story of why they were so short and stocky (their home planet had much higher levels of gravity). How brilliant it was to hear that they were coming back!

Now I’ve heard some rumours about the Sontaran plot. Mostly fan-generated rumours… But interesting ones. Rumours that suggest that the hat that Donna’s grandfather was wearing in episode 1 had what looked like a UNIT badge on it… and that he was “on lookout” in London at Christmas (I guess that means when the Titanic stuff took place…)

But then I’ve also heard that the whole “the Doctor’s song will end” stuff from the Planet of the Ood was being taken as meaning that he would be regenerating at the end of the series. Which doesn’t entirely tally with the fact that David Tennant was photographed filming the Christmas Special this week… Ah well. Worthless listening to rumours I suppose!

This was wholly more satisfying than I had imagined. But what did niggle slightly before I saw it was the fact that its another two-parter written by Helen Raynor, and almost exactly like the one she wrote for the last series, in that it involved an old enemy of the doctor trying to take over the world. And Daleks In Manhattan was pretty good but not brilliant. But oh, this was different.

A camp childhood genius helping a ruthless warrior race with the only weakness being a small plug socket on the back of their neck. And just as good – Martha was back! (I’m an unashamed Martha fan – and for me, swapping Martha for Donna was really not a fair exchange.) As well as all that, Catherine Tate was pretty good in this, and the scenes with her family were funny and touching. Of course, it helps to have Bernard Cribbins there. But these scenes of the home life were excellent. And one of my childhood favourites, UNIT, was back on the kind of scale that I remembered… And plausably at last – not like in Battlefield.

On another tangent – I was always cruelly disappointed with Battlefield. I’d seen stories from the Pertwee/Baker era. I knew who Lethbridge-Stewart, Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton were. And when Lethbridge-Stewart returned for Battlefield, I couldn’t wait. I was at the age that meant I was required to be bathed and ready for bed before Doctor Who came on – it was a school night, after all – and I curled up in an armchair in pajamas and dressing gown to see the return of UNIT. And it was barely recognisable. They seemed completely amateur and rather inept. The Doctor said in the Sontaran Strategem that UNIT always used to be a “little more homespun…” which is true, but there was always the feeling that they were ready for anything – just completely unprepared for the things that were thrown at them because they were only armed with puny earth weapons… Nevertheless, UNIT were great, and what I was seeing – with all the glorious late 1980s technicolour – was rubbish. And it had the female Lister from Red Dwarf in it (not that I knew it then – I just hated the character at the time). There wasn’t much to love about them – except the Brigadier.

It was almost exactly like the contrast between seeing Tomb of the Cybermen for the first time, and then watching Silver Nemesis. And there were some great stories in the McCoy time, but what people tend to remember is the bits like these – not The Happiness Patrol (which made a Bertie Bassett lookalike a plausible and fairly chilling villain – which was no mean feat!), not Paradise Towers, The Curse of Fenric, Ghostlight or Rememberance of the Daleks. Which is such a shame.

Again, we’re back to traditional Who stories. Which is not in any way a criticism. How could it be? Traditional Who is TV drama at its best – perfect escapism and often with a wider message that is demonstrated clearly in the way the Doctor deals with his enemy. This, depending on the conclusion next week, is traditional in the best way possible.

I just hope my dad understands that the reason it didn’t make sense at the beginning is that its part 2 of a two part story. Otherwise, I don’t stand much chance for a stable future!

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