Someone’s back! Oh! And it’s good!
So far with this series, there has not been a single episode I wouldn’t want to go back and watch again. I’ve got the DVDs for Series 3, but quite frankly, I tend to skip the Shakespeare episode (I feel the need to point out I had to think for a few long moments before I remember what the second episode was”¦), skip the first 20 odd minutes of “˜Gridlock'”¦ With this collection, I could quite happily just sit back, and let the DVD play all of them.
And this episode is no exception.
Plot! A mysterious academy looms and a journalist is thrown from the building, ranting about how ATMOS is somekind of conspiracy”¦ her death by her car driving into a river with the doors locked, is seemingly arranged by the satellite navigation device in her car, the ATMOS previously mentioned.
Onboard the TARDIS, Donna learns how to pilot, and the Doctor receives a phone call. Except it’s not his phone. It’s Martha Jones’, and only one person promised to ring that number”¦
I can’t help but be excited by Martha’s return. I’m an unashamed fan. Her character just had such a different feel to Rose’s, a more independent and dare I say, sassy edge. Yes. I know. She also suffered from Doctor love, but the greatest thing about that particular plot is that she recognised this, and had the emotional maturity needed to realise she had to move on from him.
Sorry. Plot. Martha’s called the Doctor back to Earth, to investigate a series of mysterious deaths that occurred all across the globe at the exact same time, but in different makes of cars, except all had ATMOS devices installed. She’s working for UNIT (old fans will remember the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce as military organisation the Doctor used to work for. Or still does… As Colonel Mace points out, the Doctor never resigned”¦for the purposes of the nuWho however, the group has become the Unified Intelligence Taskforce) and she felt they needed a more expert, expert on alien life. Make no mistake though; she is not the same Martha Jones that left the TARDIS behind. She’s a qualified Doctor in her own right, more confident, forceful and yet, despite all this, and what I just said, she’s still Martha Jones.
There’s a brilliant moment that illustrates this ““ halfway through the episode where the Doctor is analysing one of the ATMOS devices from the factory that UNIT have invaded, and he insists that Colonel Mace keeps away from him. Why? Because he’s carrying a gun. He doesn’t like guns. As the Colonel strops away, Martha asks why he’s being so tetchy! She also points out that she isn’t carrying a gun; she’s trying to teach UNIT the way the Doctor taught her ““ there can be another solution.
Freema Agyeman portrays such a love for her character; you can see it written on her face that she’s throwing herself into the part and enjoying every moment. And given how this instalment of the two parter turns out, she’s going to get plenty of opportunities to show her versatility”¦
The plot thickens as the Doctor decides he should take a look at the Rattigan Academy, the place that developed the ATMOS technology, under the lead of it’s child genius founder, Luke Rattigan. Unsurprisingly, it’s the same mysterious academy from the opening teaser”¦ the Doctor simply has to take a look. While there, he does exactly what he does best, waltzing around, getting excited about all the brilliant human invention in the room, followed up by a rather unsubtle stab at alien goings on. And even knocking the young Luke Rattigan down a peg or two by pointing out a mistake in his grammar!
Luke Rattigan, to put it mildly, is not a sympathetic character. He’s a child genius; eighteen years old and already a millionaire. He has an opportunity to show some remorse when the Doctor, back to his serious attitude, comments on how “It’s been a long time since anyone ever told you “˜no'” and proceeds to show he knows exactly how hard it is to be so intelligent, to see things no one else can, and be utterly alone. But Rattigan doesn’t have what the Doctor has; life experience. He wants more than what this world can offer him, so he’s working with the alien threat. The Doctor handily activates a teleport pod and he’s zipped up to an alien ship/station in orbit.
Of course, unsurprisingly to anyone who has read the episode title, it’s the Sontarans. It’s a shame these guys have come into the series now, when the appearance of the Judoon is still relatively fresh in people’s minds. There’s a definite echo in appearance here. Military garb, energy weapons”¦ I’m not the design of their uniform is much of an improvement over the old series, but then, since the Judoon are the ones wearing black, they need to be a different colour. The make up design those is fantastic and despite Luke Rattigan’s question on how the Sontarans can tell each other apart, you CAN see the difference between the two principle Sontarans we meet here.
The Doctor escapes the Sontarans with his military aide Ross Jenkins, a very nice appearance from Christian Cooke, and they flee the Academy, and then the military jeep, which has an ATMOS system, tries to kill them. Of course, they escape in an odd bit of logic which I can buy simply because the episode hurtles through it. But it’s a good sequence just before it as Rattigan gives away that the Doctor only called himself the Doctor and the principle Sontaran, General Staal, recognises the name. The ensuing hint about the Time War, that the Doctor may have actually led one of the battles is a most appreciated treat.
Quite literally, this episode rockets along. There’s a very strong sense of direction, a good narrative force directing the story”¦ all those apply here. In many ways it’s rather surprising that this is coming from the same writer who brought us “Daleks in Manhattan’ in Season 3, an episode that, simply didn’t live up to its promise. Perhaps the only bump in the story is Donna’s side trip back home, just to catch up with her family and make sure they know what she is doing as halfway through the episode, it slows the whole thing down.
Her desire has been prompted by a good little scene between companion and companion, where Martha entreats that her family worried about her because she didn’t explain what she was doing with the Doctor. And the pay off for this scene is hilarious because as she tells the Doctor that she’s going home, he assumes she means for good, which leads into a big goodbye as he rattles off all the places he wanted to take her”¦ before he realises she’s going to come back in a matter of hours! The chemistry, the interplay between Catherine and David in their respective roles, is just gold.
And then the pay off for Donna’s side trip home, is to put a recognisable face on the chaos that is about to hit planet Earth. It brings it closer to home by putting Donna’s family front and centre of the emergent threat. Good play.
The set design follows on from last weeks “˜Planet of the Ood’ in terms of delivering us some good pieces. It’s sold, believable. Even the hidden alien lab where the Sontarans keep their cloning apparatus has an edge of realism to it, and there’s a good attempt at explaining everything in simple terms for the audience, to make it easier to believe how a cloning process could work.
The CGI work again is top of the range; the design of the Sontarans battleships in orbit of Earth is just beautiful work. The only let down is the trails of gas leading off from the ships which just look bad”¦ and I don’t think it’s the first time I’ve seen that kind of effect and been a little bit knocked out of the episode by it.
Still, by episodes end, I’m sat here at a computer, enthused enough to want to sit down and write this review. That is good. The story doesn’t do anything that particularly stands out, but it weaves together a lot of threads in a coherent mass that comes together nicely at the end and pushes us towards next weeks concluding part.
I feel confident enough to rate this a good 3 and half salutes out of 5, with 1 “Ma’am” just for fun!
Trust me. When you see the episode, it’ll all make sense.