Doctor Who – “The Poison Sky” (2 of 2)

Yesterday we had a very nice barbeque with good food, good company and even some reasonably warm and sunny weather. As a result, no posting from me. Belatedly therefore, here comes the rambling…

As part twos go this isn’t fantastic but it’s well above average. As with many concluding episodes it’s a tad frantic at times, but generally the characterisation is far enough to the fore to balance the running and shouting.

Having stood around for a bit waiting for the cliffhanger, the Doctor reverts to sonic-ing the Atmos device, leaving it to Donna’s Mum to think of breaking the car window. Nice to have other people appear resourceful but this does seem a bit dense. Donna’s Mum is taking much the same dim view of the Doctor as Martha’s Mum, which is not unreasonable given that troubles follow him like crows. This incident only serves to cement her worries in her mind, which starts me wondering again if bad things will happen to Donna.

As the Tardis key reminds us, Donna is still pretty new to this lark, and when stranded on the Tardis and forced to find her own resources she feels paralysed: psychologically it’s a very real response, but a bit unexpected from the normally resourceful Donna. Of course she steps up to the plate when required, but we’re forced to consider (as her call to her Grandpa makes plain) that the Doctor has placed her in peril and is relying on her to save him as much as he’s saving her. It’s not a safe way to live.

It turns out that the Sontarans do have a moderately sensible reason not for wading in and massacring everyone, and given the emphasis on clones and cloning it does make a certain amount of sense to tackle the subject of Sontaran breeding grounds. Their atmospheric conversion process conveniently requires precisely as long to roll-out as the Doctor needs to stop it, but that kind of ticking clock is hardly unique to this series. I’m slightly more baffled by the Doctor’s plan to ignite the poison gas, but that’s probably because so much exposition is babbled so quickly I’m sure I missed some of it. Such as why the blazing inferno doesn’t extend to ground level where all the people are choking on clouds of gas. It also gave me pause when General Staal instructs his underling to crank the Atmos devices to full (because, you know, there was no hurry previously) but that seems to be covered by some babble about needing the gas to build up slowly so it doesn’t ignite.

The issue of “Martha Clones” (as another review dubbed her) is dealt with pretty well by having the Doctor spot instantly that something is up (nicely tipping the audience off without painstakingly spelling it out — for once). The clone is apparently only created because she has the top secret “don’t fire the missiles” password, and amusingly has to keep clicking “don’t fire” every five minutes like someone trying to stop Windows rebooting after an upgrade. The scenes of her and the real Martha, while strangely out of left field, are worthwhile and tie in to the ways in which Martha and Donna are contrasted over this two-parter. Martha has done the whole ‘travels with the Doctor’ thing and is getting on with her life, whereas the Doctor’s world seems to be something that Donna still needs for now. What I do appreciate are the little ways in which Donna punctures the companion-Doctor bubble: the way she shrugs off the ‘Tardis key’ moment which meant everything to Martha; the way she approves of Martha likening the Doctor to her Dad; the way she swipes his arm instead of hugging him at the end.

Tennant’s Doctor is fine but a little too shouty at times. A bit of grim understatement would work wonders instead of constantly turning on his Angry Face. I do like his “Are you my mummy” quip which is one of those wonderful moments that blurs the divide between different incarnations of the Doctor: you just accept that this version of the Doctor remembers those events. He’s also very good when arguing with, and occasionally being impressed by, Colonel Mace. UNIT generally are surprisingly competent this week, after initially floundering and then, pleasingly, confounding the Doctor’s predictions by being really rather effective. I loved the UNIT Helicarrier moment, and the fight back against the Sontarans. There’s a lot of surprisingly violent material in the combat scenes, although they are of course entirely bloodless. For a while it’s like we’re back in Pertwee’s era.

One of the best things about this episode is the fact that the Sontarans aren’t treated as random aliens but are allowed to retain their personality. So Commander Skorr (or someone just like him – they all look alike you know1) refers to UNIT’s retreat as “sport”, and relishes his death as “wonderful”. They’re one-dimensional military aliens to be sure, but their relentless bombast is a great hook, and makes the Doctor’s final confrontation with Staal interesting in their sheer devotion to the cause.

Likewise “boy genius” Ratigan is a mildly interesting “hook” on which to hang the human traitor role, and as such I appreciate the attempt to give him some characterisation. He’s not the most interesting supporting character the world has ever seen, but he’s at least given some motivation and a bit of an arc to avoid him being a moustache twirling villain.

Other things I like:

* the “Sir Alastair” reference, naturally
* the way the Doctor just grabs Ratigan’s gun off-handedly
* changing channels during the conference call to the Sontarans
* Donna repeatedly pronouncing “Sontaran” wrong (it always annoys me on TV when one character babbles something unpronounceable and the other character repeats it perfectly).
* “You have three fingers” “Oh”
* the brief snippet of Rose soundlessly yelling “Doctor” on the Tardis screen. Whether (and by what means) she’s trying to contact the Doctor is unclear, but of course Donna wouldn’t recognise her anyway.

Things I don’t like so much are Captain Price snogging Colonel Mace, which seems a bit tired – just because she’s a woman doesn’t mean she has to fancy her commanding officer. And doesn’t it seem a bit cold of Donna not to ask the Doctor if her Grandpa can have a quick trip in the Tardis? It means so much to him you wonder why she doesn’t at least ask.

As for next week, er, we’ll see won’t we?


1I know they’re varying heights and have two distinct faces so I have to assume that they either come from different “lines” of clone, or they’re the same clone at different ages. Or something.

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