Doctor Who: Series 4: The Poison Sky


David Tennant as \'Doctor Who\'In-brief:


(Very) In-depth:

I’m a little bit shocked actually. I just sat down and watched the second of a two-part episode of Doctor Who, and not only did it manage to build upon the first episode, with no stone left not fully unturned, it did so in a way that was, quite simply, brilliant.

Plot; Martha has been cloned, the Sontarans are flooding the world with somekind of poisonous gas, Donna’s granddad is being poisoned to death by said gas and the Doctor, and UNIT, stand helpless”¦

“¦but not for long.

That cliff-hanger from last week is quickly resolved as Donna’s mother uses one of those ordinary households objects mums usually keep lying around to smash open the car her dad is dying inside.

“Why do you have an axe?!”

And from then on it is boom, boom, and boom. You are literally flung right back into the story and it proceeds at near breakneck pace as events unfold logically from last week. The Doctor needs to stop the gas flooding the whole world, and we are neatly reminded that this is a global crisis thanks to some news footage of our own news shows, and fictional American ones, reporting on it throughout the episode. It’s a very nice touch that we’re still seeing the same fictional network, and the same fictional news presenter, that we’ve seen occasionally throughout the whole series returning from America ““ it brings a good dose of continuity to the series”¦

The Doctor, Donna (who must wrestle herself away from her mother who wishes her to stay, and her granddad who wishes her to go) and young solider Ross Jenkins race back to the site of UNIT’s field base where they are soon met by the cloned Martha Jones. And again, in another bit of continuity, the clone takes a moment before meeting the team, to inform her superior about the Doctor’s warning from last week that the threat is Sontaran, just to cover her own back. Good! A smart clone!

More good! The Doctor shuttles Donna off to the TARDIS so that she’ll be safe from what’s coming, while he tries to stop a war which humans just can’t win. As he points out, the Sontarans are a technologically advanced race bred for warfare ““ humans won’t be able to combat them on their level. And his warning proves prophetic when, all too soon, Ross Jenkins is killed in battle with his comrades, when Colonel Mace refuses to listen to the Doctor’s first command of “Get them out of there!”

It’s a very small sequence and it’s surprisingly affecting. Ross had a fair amount of screen time last week, and his death in this episode happens fairly early on, and seems horribly unfair, but it reminds us that this is war. There are serious consequences. And the Doctor knows this only too well”¦

“Greyhound Six! Report!”

“His name was Ross!”

And now how refreshing was it, from the moment the Doctor clasps eyes on clone Martha, that you just know he knows it isn’t her. He doesn’t say anything. It’s just an odd look. And in some ways “˜Perfect Ten’ shows a far more devilishly cunning side here than in previous entrants because, as he explains later in the episode, he let the clone think he didn’t know because he needed her to stop UNIT from going too far with nuclear weapons. That’s an awful risk to take, and that helps sum this man up.

And he uses the clone again, ensuring that his TARDIS, and therefore Donna, are transported onboard the Sontaran battleship in orbit of Earth. Perfectly placed to carry out his instructions, while he stays below, distracting them all, with an intentionally funny scene where he ignores Colonel Mace by hacking into UNIT’s communication systems, calling himself a representative of the planet, and demands to know why the Sontarans are behaving like cowards! As Luke Rattigan himself stated, surely it’s insane to antagonise the enemy?

But all he’s doing is distracting them. Ensuring he has the opportunity to send a message to the TARDIS, to Donna, letting her know he needs her to pick up the mobile phone he left behind”¦

I cannot tell you how tight this script is. How everything just came together cohesively. It’s so surprising how this is written by the same writer as last years’ early season two parter and it just goes to show how any author can spin all expectations around heads. A stellar cast and crew can only go so far with a below average script, and this is by no means below average.

The Doctor, wary of clone Martha, lets Donna know she needs to re-wire a transport pods controls so he can hack into it and get up there. In the meantime, UNIT shows the Doctor that, while they may not be quite as technologically advanced as the Sontarans, we more than make up for it with ingenuity. UNIT pull out gas masks, everyone goes outside, the Doctor comments “Are you my mummy?” and Colonel Mace shows him his plan.

It has two parts. Simple things.

Firstly, the bullets they will be using are lined with steel, thereby stopping the Sontarans weapon that neutralises copper lined bullets by expanding them inside the guns (such a simple explanation as well that other sci fi shows have sidestepped in the past”¦) And secondly, he relies on continuity. The UNIT aircraft carrier Valiant returns in glorious style as it descends on the ATMOS factory, and uses its massive turbines to blow the gas away.

This episode is firing away on all cylinders.

UNIT storms the building. The Sontarans are caught by surprise. Colonel Mace has he moment of heroism as he shoots the lead Sontaran dead. The Doctor runs the other way, downstairs, and takes clone Martha with him. He walks into the hidden cloning room, and sees the one he came for; Martha Jones. The clone pulls a gun, but he’s already one step ahead. He knows the Sontarans took the factory to protect the original Martha ““ the clone needs her to live. So he disconnects Martha from the equipment she’s plugged into, and the clone falls to the floor. It’s a slight jump from last week’s idea that the clone only needed Martha alive for “”¦full memory access”¦” but I can buy it.

In a reasonably effective scene, the clone lies dying, but Martha manages to play on its copied memories of family, and it tells Martha, not the Doctor, about what the gas is really for; it’s food for clones.

The Sontarans want to turn Earth into a new clone world.

The Doctor can’t have that. And now he has all the pieces of the puzzle, he knows what he has to do. He’s already worked it out. From the very moment he clasped eyes on clone Martha, he had a plan. Donna is beamed back to Earth after her re-wiring of the teleport pod aboard ship, and the Doctor then uses the pod to beam them all to Rattigan’s Academy.

Yes. Now. Luke Rattigan. I’ve deliberately not mentioned him so far because his storyline is different. In some ways, it’s the crux of the entire story.

When we last left him, he was supporting the Sontarans as they plotted to choke the world. Has he switched sides? Far from it. He’s all for the end of the world. His plan is to take his students from his academy and repopulate another world. The human race can start again.

He’s even got a mating plan worked out.

But his students don’t share his view. They want to save their families. They abandon him. Rattigan returns to the Sontarans and discovers the truth; there is no plan to move him to another world. He was only a tool; an instrument to ensure Earth’s destruction. And now he’s going to die.

He returns to Earth in the last second and lies shaking, sobbing uncontrollably on the teleport pods floor. His entire life just crashed around him and he has no where to go”¦

The Doctor turns up; Donna and Martha, too. Rattigan is waiting, he pulls a gun, and the Doctor just walks straight to him, pulls the gun away and walks on by. Martha and Donna don’t even react as though the boy’s there. He’s not a threat anymore. He’s broken.

The Doctor runs around the Academy, building something. It’s an atmosphere device that will ignite all the gas and save the world. It works. But the Doctor, he knows what happens now”¦

“You don’t defeat Sontarans”¦”

He turns to Donna and Martha in turn, and thanks them. He’s saying goodbye. He has to stop the Sontarans by using the device again aboard their ship. But he has to give them a choice to stop.

His last words?

“And Luke”¦ do something clever with your life!”

The Doctor’s gone. He gives the Sontarans their choice. They choose to continue; they don’t fear death, and the Doctor will die with them.

The Doctor disappears. Luke appears in his place. His last words to Donna and Martha?

“[I’m] Doing something clever!”

He pushes the button. The Sontarans ship explodes.

That’s some serious emotional changes going on there. Luke was a villain. And then he becomes an anti-hero in a way. Of course, it’s the only way the Doctor could have survived, if someone took his place. And it comes completely out of left field. Who could have seen selfish, twisted, lonely Luke Rattigan making this choice given last weeks episode?

Don’t get me wrong. The character was still quite contemptible. And you could even argue his choice was based mainly on revenge. Maybe that’s even the way Helen Raynor, the writer, wanted it to be, but I don’t think so. Look at the way the actor plays him, look at all of Luke’s actions coming out of being a lone genius and now he has nothing. He made the smart choice.

A good, strong episode. Plenty of things to love here from continuity (anyone else enjoy the mention, that was sorely lacking last week, of the Brigadier halfway through the episode?), character moments, acting, set design, special effects”¦

Directing was on good form although there were two irritating shots where firstly we’re shown Sontarans invading the factory from one angle, and then we’re shown further invasion from another part of building, except it’s the exact same shot, just mirrored! I rewound to be doubly sure. And then there’s another scene where Donna, waiting for the Doctor to call, makes a call home. It’s a sweet scene as she talks to her mother, who could never grasp what’s going on in her daughter’s life, to her granddad who loves her, and you’re thrown from it when an odd yellow smattering crosses the top of the screen. It’s only the shade surrounding the light in the kitchen, but seriously! Someone should have noticed that!

Perhaps my favourite moment of the episode is when the Doctor simply strolls out of the teleport pod, and pulls the gun swiftly out of Luke’s hands. He has bigger concerns. It’s just a heroic shot, artfully done.

By end of the episode, everything’s been tied up. Donna “˜s said goodbye to her family again. And Martha’s ready to go home. She’s got a life to live. On Earth.

The Doctor smiles proudly. Martha turns to go”¦

And the TARDIS door slams shut. The engine powers up and they’re out of there!

“Take me back, Doctor!”

“It’s not me!”

Oh, I so enjoy Doctor Who when it’s on top form.

Four Rose Tyler’s appearing on TARDIS screens out of five and that’s taking the whole two part episode together!


What? Did I not mention Rose appeared again?


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