Friday, August 12, 2016

Alien Invasion With Environmental Systems: "The Sontaran Stratagem!"

The Good: Good character definitions, Decent plotting, Good acting
The Bad: Light on character development
The Basics: An average set-up episode for an alien invasion storyline, "The Sontaran Stratagem" does what it sets out to do without much flair.

Fans of Doctor Who who liked Martha Jones as a Companion for David Tennant's version of The Doctor had every reason to feel cheated by the direction the show went. After two solid seasons with Rose Tyler as The Doctor's Companion, Martha Jones had her chance and after her season (reviewed here!), she abandoned The Doctor and he reluctantly came back to Earth and took Donna Noble as a Companion for his travels in the TARDIS. The non-romantic travels between The Doctor and Donna Noble were interesting and good, but it did not take long for Martha Jones to resurface. "The Sontaran Stratagem" was her first episode back!

"The Sontaran Stratagem" introduces the newer Doctor Who audience to the militaristic aliens The Sontarans and the episode has a classic Doctor Who feel to it. That mood comes from the inclusion of UNIT and Martha Jones as an active soldier/doctor in the organization. In many ways, "The Sontaran Stratagem" is a basic invasion storyline for Doctor Who.

Opening at the Rattigan Academy on Earth, the cultlike young people there kick a reporter out. The smarmy leader of the students, Luke Rattigan, threatens reporter Jo Nakashima, who claims that the ATMOS is dangerous. When Nakashima attempts to contact UNIT, her car drives her into the river, killing her. In the TARDIS, Donna Noble is practicing flying the time machine when Martha Jones calls and requests the Doctor return to Earth. Martha takes command of a UNIT team for Operation Blue Sky, which is rounding up illegal aliens at the ATMOS factory. Jones figured out fifty-two deaths worldwide the day before happened simultaneously in cars with ATMOS systems installed.

The Doctor is understandably concerned, especially if an alien influence was to marshal the force of 800 million cars. When two UNIT soldiers investigate the basement level of the ATMOS factory, they uncover an entity that is in an embryonic state before they encounter a Sontaran soldier. While investigating the ATMOS system leaves The Doctor and UNIT puzzled, Donna smartly observes that none of the workers at ATMOS have taken a sick day! When Martha begins investigating the workers, she is captured by the Sontarans. While The Doctor squares off against Luke Rattigan, Martha is replaced by a Sontaran replicant!

"The Sontaran Stratagem" has somewhat minimal character development, which makes some sense given that it is the set-up episode of a two parter. The episode takes just enough time to re-establish Martha Jones before pushing ahead with the ATMOS/Sontaran storyline. Jones is immediately recharacterized as no longer in love with The Doctor. While there is a charming exchange between Donna and Martha, Martha and The Doctor redefine their relationship in a compelling way when Jones stands up to The Doctor. Martha joined UNIT, we learn, because while The Doctor gets to go on his next adventure, some people stay behind and have to deal with the consequences of his actions.

The redefined character of Martha Jones works surprisingly well and she interacts with Donna in an interesting way. Donna proves herself smart and clever enough to intrigue Martha and Martha feels compelled to warn Donna that she needs to look out for her family if she is going to continue traveling with The Doctor. That gives Donna the perfect excuse to go off an reunite with her family, most importantly her grandfather Wilfred.

Luke Rattigan is instantly reminiscent of Adam Mitchell from "Dalek" (reviewed here!) and, more relevantly, "The Long Game" (reviewed here!) and The Doctor treats Rattigan much the way he (in his earlier incarnation) treated Mitchell. It helps lend the comparison that The Doctor uses the same joke in this episode that he did in "Dalek." Rattigan is smart, but arrogant and his weakness in that regard seems to entirely overwhelm the intelligence he possesses. The result is that Rattigan seems just as generic as the Sontaran soldiers.

The performances in "The Sontaran Stratagem" are good, but only Freema Agyeman is given anything significant to do that requires her to show more range than she did in prior episodes. After effortlessly stepping back into the role of Martha Jones, Agyeman has to play the Jones Replicant and adding menace to her range is delightfully chilling.

In the end, "The Sontaran Stratagem" does what it sets out to do: it creates a small mystery needed to bring The Doctor back to Earth and put Martha Jones and her replicant in play, while leaving enough story for the second part to feel full in its own right. The mystery of the ATMOS system is presented compellingly enough in "The Sontaran Stratagem" and it leaves viewers eager to find out the "why" that this episode leaves lingering!

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the final season of David Tennant as The Doctor here!

For other television episodes involving invasions, please check out my reviews of:
"A Call To Arms" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"And The Sky Full Of Stars" - Babylon 5
"Aliens Of London" - Doctor Who


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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