Here's the moment where I decided I was actually getting to like brassy comedian Catherine Tate as the new traveling companion for Doctor Who's quirky time-traveler. Yes, she's not nearly as clever as Martha Jones, my number one hero, but that makes her heroics, when they happen, more exciting and suspenseful. I actually felt a bit of tension in this sequence, which almost never happens on the new Who. In general, part two of our Sontaran storyline was just as muddled as part one, but at least it was fun this time around.
I wasn't sure at first why I liked "The Poison Sky" better than "The Sontaran Strategem." I think it's just because last week's installment was just lots of nonsensical investigation. And this week's was lots of nonsensical battles, which are just inherently more fun to watch. There were just more fun moments this week, which is all you can really ask for a lot of the time. (Sorry this is late, by the way — partly I wanted to ponder it a bit more, but mostly I just got swamped thinking of ways to obliterate campiness. This episode provided a few hints in that department, of course.)
I liked almost everything about Donna in this episode, which surprised me — except for some of the interactions with her family. Donna's mother is still not working for me as a character, and even though I love Bernard Cribbins, I'm getting tired of the way the schmaltzy music comes on whenever she has a heart-to-heart with her grandfather Wilf. The thing of the companion staying in touch with her Earthbound family worked pretty well when it was Jackie and Mickey (as annoying as they sometimes got) but it just doesn't seem to have that much life left in it now.
Besides Donna getting to be a hero and take on a Sontaran single-handed, the much-maligned paramilitary organization UNIT finally got to kick some ass as well. The first half of the story had me wondering why UNIT had even been included, and I was ready for part two to be just a litany of scenes where the Doctor tells the toy soldiers not to engage the aliens — along with the occasional moment of UNIT disregarding the Doctor and learning the folly of violence. So I was stoked when UNIT actually turned out to be competent — and I liked Colonel Mace's rousing little speech about showing the aliens how advanced humans can be in the killing department.
So, yes. Fun shooty action and nice use of the
SHIELD helicarrier UNIT airship in the giant battle. Although, the final bit where the soldiers all cheer and the hawt female science-nerd/soldier smooches Col. Mace — maybe a little too much. But it's Doctor Who, so "too much" is always on the menu.
And yet. All the things that didn't make sense in part one still didn't make sense in part two. The Sontaran scheme still seemed way too fancy for the galaxy's most unstoppable warriors. Why not just swoop down, have a fun afternoon killing all the humans, and then transform the planet into a clone farm? It's better strategy, plus it's the warrior way. The Sontarans must have done this to planets a thousand times before, so why would they need to use cars to convert the atmosphere to clone feed? They should have a "Sontara-forming" device on their ship to do that for them.
I was also sad about Martha — when she turned up on Torchwood, that show suddenly became twice as watchable, and the Torchwood team started being good at their jobs. But Doctor Who reaped no Martha boost, mostly because she was sidelined in the random clone plot. I sort of got that the Sontarans needed the Martha-clone to infiltrate UNIT and stop the nuclear launch. But did they really need her to keep pressing a button on her iPhone every few minutes after that? Couldn't they have just rigged a little button-pressing machine? Mostly, it just seemed like a waste of the amazing powers of Freema Agyeman.
And then the scene where Martha talks to her dying clone literally made no sense to me. Why were we supposed to be sad that her (apparently) smelly clone was dying? Was Martha confronting her own mortality through her clone's death? No clue, sadly.
Actually, now that I think of it, I know why I liked part two of the Sontaran storyline better than part one: there was a lot less of Sergey Brin, or whatever his real name was. His character continued not making much sense to me. He was like like stock character #27: the misunderstood genius who teams up with the bad guys because he believes their empty promises. And then they suddenly but inevitably betray him. (He had maybe just a dash of Adam from season one.) Even the wacky "breeding program" scene felt like a random stereotype. ("I'm cleverer than you! I'm cleverer than EVERYONE!!!") Plus did I miss a scene that explained about this new planet the Sontarans were going to give him and his ten other breeding partners? It was mentioned, like, twice.
The only way Sergey Brin could have surprised me is if he hadn't sacrificed himself at the end. The misguided geniuses in league with monsters always sacrifice themselves, either to redeem themselves or to punish their former allies, or just because there's five minutes left.
Another thing that bugged me, of course, was the deus ex machina device, the fancy atmosphere-fixing machine that we'd seen for a split second in the first episode, which miraculously turned out to be the key to solving the killer-smog problem in the second episode. Of course, the new Who is known for its deus ex machinas, so it's par for the course. And the alternative, to have the Doctor MacGyver a new atmosphere neutralization whatsit out of spare parts, wouldn't really have been much less cheap. Just slightly less cheap.
Oh, and the Doctor being willing to sacrifice himself, just so he can offer the Sontarans one last chance to quit? Sort of great, I guess — except he knows what the Sontarans will choose. Is it really worth giving up his life — all his remaining lives? — just to offer them a last chance that he knows they won't take? And then it turns out the Doctor is bluffing anyway. So he's throwing away his life on a bluff that he knows won't work. (Or, more cynically, he's manipulating Sergey Brin into committing suicide on his behalf.) It felt like it happened not because it made sense, but because the story needed one last tense climax.
So in short, I liked part two better than part one, mostly because I'd already swallowed the ridiculous set-up and the ridiculous resolution was more fun. Looking at the two parts as a whole... it was a forgettable but sort of entertaining romp. Better than the Daleks/pigs/Depression/New York storyline by the same author last year, but still a bit scattershot. If I had to explain to someone how the ruthless warriors, the killer car fumes, the global military organization, the geek wunderkind, the mind controlled soldiers, the cloned companion and the aborted nuclear launch all fit together, I think I'd have a brain embolism. Better to think of it as a collection of cool moments (Donna alone on the Sontaran ship) and blah ones (Martha watching her clone die, Sergey Brin describing his breeding program) than try to view it as a story.