Monday, May 05, 2008

Sex, Lies and the Potato Men

Does it count as actual praise to say that the 'Sontaran Strategy/Poison Sky' two parter was the best of the kid-friendly double episodes which traditionally fill this spot in a season of New Who? Is it praise of any type to say 'that was better than Rise of the Cybermen'? Should it simply be taken as read that anything - even a script written in his own faeces by a lobotomised Welshmen using his palm as a pen - is better than Evolution of the Daleks? No farting aliens and Scooby Doo chases? Automatically more interesting than any story featuring the Slitheen.

So I'm not really showering this latest Helen 'Daleks in Manhatten' Raynor script with garlands and bouquets by comparing it to its predecessors. It is a better stab at a pre-teen Who adventure than the three previous attempts in that it's not actually dreadful, but it's not really good either. The plot has just as many holes as usual, the resolution is nonsensical, Martha's clone is a tired idea handled badly, the kid genius is both poorly written and acted, his team of super clever kids seem tacked onto the plot just to fill in a couple of minutes of running time (as do some of the scenes of Donna in the Sontaran spaceship), the Sontaran weakness in the face of bullets suggests their armour is a bit crap, and Freema the Plank gets screen time which should rightfully be the mighty Ms Tate's.

But even with all of that there's a lot less wrong here than in the three preceeding early two part stories. More importantly though the script actually contains layers and a degree of subtlety that you would never previously have given Raynor credit for*.

On the surface level, the entire story can be summed up in a dozen words - Sontarans poison earth, get shot, Martha cloned, kid sacrifices himself, earth saved - and it's tempting to accept that that's all there is going on. After all, Raynor's script in an identical slot last year was the absolute low-point of New Who and would rank in the bottom half dozen Who stories ever.

But if you give the writer the benefit of the doubt, you can view the entire story as the point at which the show began moving towards the Doctor finally getting some payback for his overweening arrogance and hubris.

I can never remember a period in Doctor Who, even in Colin Baker's first year, in which the Doctor was so obviously a bit of an arsehole. Certainly I can think of no single story in which he was guilty of so much misplaced arrogance, inappropriate intellectual superiority, possible physical cowardice and sheer stupidity as here.

Most obviously, the Doctor spent all of the first episode and the first half of the second lambasting Colonel Mace and his troops, and battering on interminably about the fact that there was no way UNIT could fight the Sontarans. When Mace decides to ignore the Doctor, he successfully overcomes the Sontaran force, including killing the Sontar second in command personally. It's difficult to read this sequence of events as anything other than the writer rejecting the Doctor's arrogant assumption of superiority.

The other glaring, though less clearcut, example of the Doctor failing to live up to expectations comes right at the end of The Poison Sky. The Doctor is on the Sontaran battleship with a Prime Plot McGuffin Bomb in his hands and is threatening to blow up both the Sontarans and himself if they don't agree to his demands. The Sontarans (predictably) refuse and tell him to blow them all up, see if they care.

And the Doctor doesn't do it.

You can see Tennant bursting a blood vessel as he acts his little socks off trying to suggest that the Doctor's hesitation is because he doesn't want to kill the Sontarans, but to me at least it's obvious the Doctor's bluffing. The fact that Tennant fails to convince with his reading reinforces the belief that the writer intended the Doctor to seem too scared to kill himself and that's exactly what comes across on screen.

The clock ticks down and the Doctor appeals, more and more desperately, for Staal to surrender until - with only a couple of seconds left and the Doctor showing no sign of pressing the button - the badly acted genius kid redeems himself by beaming in in place of the Doctor and immediately pushing the button.

Redeemed kid dead but planet saved and everyone happy.

It's a Who cliche, but the fact that the Doctor seemed so hesitant to make the sacrifice himself is new and something which it might be interesting to follow up on. Perhaps as last of the Time Lords, and having watched the Master die, the Doctor feels a new and added pressure to survive: as the only one of his species in the Universe, he has a duty to go on?

Or having apparently discovered the joy of sex in the past couple of years, he's realised that there's more to life than getting blown to smithereens for a load of ungrateful humans?

Other minor bits of Doctorly stupidity? Sending Donna to hide in the TARDIS for no reason other than plot convenience. Tortuously explaining the mobile phone to Donna whilst talking to Staal, when he intended to ring it later. The Doctor not noticing the hardly subliminal appearance of Rose on a UNIT monitor. Knowing about Martha's clone and happily leaving the real Martha in danger for no terribly convincing reason (nice to know that the Doctor doesn't consider clones to be real people either and so kills them without a second thought or any attempt to find a better solution).

All in all, the Tenth Doctor is becoming less and less appealing. With that in mind, his comeuppance is overdue and if this two parter is the beginning of his end then I'm not going to complain.

* No doubt someone will claim Saint Rusty wrote those bits.
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7 Comments:

Blogger SAF said...

I tend to nod a lot while reading your reviews - in agreement and not a nodding off sort of way, I should add. I do hope you're right and that this is just the first of several pegs this Doctor needs to be taken down.

8:25 pm  
Blogger Stuart Ian Burns said...

Arguably though, depending upon your opinion of exactly how hyperaware the Doctor is of situations, if he already knew Martha was a clone, he might have suspected she would have aided the Sontarans in capturing the TARDIS and since he had to be on Earth for various reasons he sent Donna in there to have someone in the blue box if it was zapped into the spaceship. It is a bit seventh Doctor, but the character does seem to be reflecting back on his earlier incarnations more than ever in this series.

10:38 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Stuart: "if he already knew Martha was a clone, he might have suspected she would have aided the Sontarans in capturing the TARDIS and since he had to be on Earth for various reasons he sent Donna in there to have someone in the blue box if it was zapped into the spaceship"

I can accept that the Doctor couldn't do anything about the real Martha because he needed the clone Martha to block the nukes (though usually you'd expect the Doctor to do the blocking without needing any help). That's a bit 7Doc but giving Raynor the benefit of the doubt, it at least makes some kind of sense.

Having Donna in the TARDIS though serves no purpose since all she does is follow the Doctor's instructions to escape and get back to Earth (unless I'm forgetting something vital she did on the Sontaran ship?)

8:51 am  
Blogger Jane Henry said...

Wasn't the point about Donna being on the Sontaran ship that she had to open the teleport device again, so that the Doctor could get the tardis back and pitch up and not press that button...

I quite like your coward theory - I wondered why he didn't do it too, apart from the obvious point that without him there would be no programme...

Also, UNIT still had all the nukes trained on the Sontaran ship, why not use them?

12:00 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Jane: "Wasn't the point about Donna being on the Sontaran ship that she had to open the teleport device again, so that the Doctor could get the tardis back and pitch up and not press that button..."

Oh, in which case it seems like I have forgotten something and I withdraw that particular complaint:)

It does make the tenth Doctor sound even more cynical than the Seventh,though, by putting both his companions in grave danger in order to further his agenda.

12:17 pm  
Blogger SK said...

I didn't think he sent Donna to the TARDIS in order to get her up to the Sontaran ship, did he? He just took advantage of her being up there (via the extremely clumsy scene which introduced the mobile telephone in advance of its use) once she was.

I'm not sure why he did send her to the TARDIS, though, nor while the usually objecting (not to mention objectionable) Ms Tate agreed to go meekly indoors where it's safe.

Seriously though. Next Doctor Who writer to type the word 'deadlock' gets to meet Mme Guillotine up close and, as they say, personal. Just after Murray Gold.

2:35 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

SK: "I'm not sure why he did send her to the TARDIS, though, nor while the usually objecting (not to mention objectionable) Ms Tate agreed to go meekly indoors where it's safe."

Call me overly cynical, but...plot convenience?

2:51 pm  

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