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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Doctor Who - "The Sontaran Stratagem"

WHOSCALE: 8 out of 10

Staying consistent with the format of each season, The Doctor and Donna return to modern-day Earth in the first of this two parter penned by Helen Raynor.

Raynor wrote last season's two part Dalek story, "Daleks In Manhattan" and "Evolution of the Daleks," which also scored well on the Whoscale.

Raynor once again proves that she can write great stories for the revived series that has the look and feel of classic Doctor Who.

Right off the bat, Raynor continues to stick to a Doctor Who tradition with the title of this episode. Viewers that know the Fourth Doctor's tenure well are instantly reminded of "The Sontaran Experiment." Raynor stuck to tradition in her Dalek story as well, with the title following the "____ of the Daleks" format.

What really scored this episode some big points is how closely The Doctor works with UNIT, versus a more subtle approach by Russell T. Davies in "Aliens of London" and "World War Three." "The Sontaran Stratagem" had all the ingredients; green UNIT jeeps, a UNIT base, and the purples used in some of the lighting for this episode reminded me of the mid 70s and early 80s of Doctor Who, which was another plus.

Probably the most disappointing thing for me had to be the complete revamp of the Sontarans. About the only element carried over from the original series was the shape of their heads, their helmet design, and their insignias.

For the first appearance since the mid 80s, the Sontarans now don colors of greyish blue, instead of their traditional black. Additionally, their physiques are more chiseled, and their uniforms don't look like the "oven insulation" material from "The Sontaran Experiment" and "The Invasion of Time." However, the most dramatic, if not puzzling change had to be their height. Frequently throughout the episode, references are made to the Sontarans' limited height compared to humans. At one point, a scene of General Staal standing beside human boy genius Luke Rattigan indicates that Staal is relatively the same height as teenage Rattigan. One other attribute that was scrapped in favor of the new design was how the Sontarans sound when they speak. The original series Sontarans spoke with a slow, "out of breath" quiet tone. The new ones are as loud as Rose's mother.

To this day, I wish the writers had chosen to make Colonel Mace the new series Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, because I thought he suited the role perfectly.

Overall, a great episode with a terrific cliffhanger. At the time of writing this review, this episode, along with its accompanying second part is the last story to be contributed to the series by Helen Raynor. A pity, since she and Mark Gatiss were two of the best we were getting besides mastermind Steven Moffat.