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DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who
Series 4 - Volume 2


Starring: David Tennant, Catherine Tate and Freema Agyeman
RRP: £17.99
Certificate: PG
Available 07 July 2008

Martha Jones, now a member of UNIT, summons the Doctor back to modern-day Earth, but an old enemy lies in wait. With the mysterious ATMOS devices spreading across the world, Donna discovers that not even her own family is safe from the alien threat - but is it too late to save them...?

The two-part The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky contains a pleasing number of returning foes and friends.

Most obviously, of course, the Sontarans are back. Christopher Ryan makes a good Sontaran, and the prosthetics people have done great work while remaining faithful to the original design - but does anyone else think that General Staal’s sticky-out ears make him look like a short version of Christopher Eccleston? I also found it strange that this asexual cloned race would make gender-based value judgements, as Staal does when he says: “Words are the weapons of womenfolk.” Maybe the Sontarans are now so familiar with species that reproduce sexually that such sayings have become commonplace.

I like the fact that Donna (Catherine Tate) doesn’t know how to pronounce the word Sontaran. The first time I saw the word written down (on the front cover of the novelisation Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment), I thought it was pronounced son’tər-răn. (I also enjoyed the humour of Donna’s “I’m going home” scene.)

It’s good to see Martha (Freema Agyeman) back, and not pining for the Doctor at all.

And it’s good to see UNIT back again, in force, with more than half a dozen soldiers (unlike the old days)! They’ve got more troops and more funding, though they’ve dropped the United Nations part of the acronym, at the request of the real-life UN - now they’re called the UNified Intelligence Taskforce. Writer Helen Raynor neatly sidesteps and/or mocks the controversy surrounding the dating of the classic UNIT serials by having the Doctor (David Tennant) refer back to “the ’70s - or was it the ’80s?” (Lawrence Miles did something similar in his two-part novel Interference). It’s a shame that the production team didn’t get Nicholas Courtney in to reprise his role as Lethbridge-Stewart, in a cameo at least, but he does get a name-check in The Poison Sky.

This serial has a lot going for it, but the plot doesn’t quite sustain two whole episodes. This is often the problem with new Who: single episodes tend to seem too rushed and/or over-run; two-parters tend to feel padded out and/or run short.

The ending of the first episode suffers from the same “dragged out cliffhanger” syndrome as the end of Aliens of London. It seems as though the production team is elongating the peril until the running time is fulfilled: people are choking; Wilfred (Bernard Cribbins) is locked in the car; the Doctor is helpless; the Sontarans are jubilant; people are choking; Wilfred is locked in the car; the Doctor is helpless; the Sontarans are jubilant; people are choking; Wilfred is locked in the car; the Doctor is helpless; the Sontarans are jubilant; repeat ad nauseam... Why is the Doctor so helpless? Why doesn’t he just use his sonic screwdriver to shatter the car window?

And more should have been made of the Rattigan Academy, either that or the geniuses should have been left out of the plot altogether.

The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky isn’t quite the glorious victory the Sontarans would have wished for, but neither is it an abject failure.



The Doctor meets the most important woman of his life on the distant planet Messaline, in the middle of an endless war. But as General Cobb threatens genocide, and Martha is kidnapped by the alien Hath, the Doctor faces an even greater battle - can he find peace with his own child...?

What a tease the title The Doctor’s Daughter is! By the time this episode aired, I had been waiting weeks for it, intrigued by the potential inherent in its designation. However, within moments of the episode starting, it becomes clear that Jenny is only the Time Lord’s daughter in a genetic sampling kind of way, not some returning Gallifreyan relative or even Miranda from Father Time. Still, Georgia Moffett (daughter of Peter Davison) is good in the role. I imagine that she is cultured from the same part of the Doctor’s genetic code as his fifth incarnation. In other words, she is the fifth Doctor’s daughter. Look - she’s got his nose!

That’s a pretty amazing progenation machine, though, isn’t it? It not only adds clothing (which makes sense, as the fighters on Messaline would want their soldiers to be combat-ready) but also ties back hair and applies immaculate eyeliner!

It’s unfortunate that we have another anti-war/cloning story right after the Sontaran two-parter. Once again, the Doctor goes off on one with his pacifist preaching - but the writers are going somewhere with this. The Time Lord has used violence under certain circumstances, even the Tenth Doctor himself (for example, the sword fight in The Christmas Invasion), but this doesn’t necessarily mean inconsistent characterisation. His participation in the Time War has left him emotionally scarred, and this comes to the fore in The Doctor’s Daughter and again at the end of Series 4.

The pace of this episode is a little problematic. Whereas the Sontaran two-parter seemed padded out, The Doctor’s Daughter feels rushed. Martha’s grief over the death of the Hath Peck (Paul Kasey) is unconvincing after so short an acquaintance, and the fighters lay down their weapons rather too swiftly at the end.

The bubbling Hath are great creatures, though, and the plot is a nice basic twist on an old idea. Usually the shock revelation in this kind of sci-fi tale is to do with how long the war (Star Trek: A Taste of Armageddon) or isolation (Full Circle) or whatever have been going on for. Here the revelation is how little time has in fact passed.

The Doctor’s Daughter is not without its problems, but its hearts are in the right place.



In 1926, Agatha Christie disappeared for ten days. Was it amnesia? A nervous breakdown? Or a giant alien wasp..? The Doctor and Donna join forces with the world’s most famous crime novelist, to encounter a body in the library, poisoned cocktails, and a Vespiform seeking revenge...

Though The Unicorn and the Wasp shares many similarities with one of my favourite episodes from the previous series, the brilliant Shakespeare Code (the same writer, Gareth Roberts; the same basic idea of meeting a famous English writer in a historical setting; and the same “No, no, don’t... don’t... don’t do that” routine, which is now a standard feature of the “celebrity historical”) I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much. This is possibly because I’ve seen/read more Shakespeare than I have Agatha Christie. Having said that, just a basic knowledge of Cluedo will get you through the amusing pre-credits sequence.

This episode has been hailed as the first pure comedy Who story since The Romans and The Myth Makers back in the Hartnell era. However, I don’t consider any of these stories to be pure comedies. There’s always some drama. City of Death and Love & Monsters have just as high a comedy quotient, in my opinion. That’s not to deny that The Unicorn and the Wasp has plenty of successful comic moments, including references to many Christie titles, the chair that seems to make people want to have a flashback, and the Doctor’s reaction to being poisoned by “sparkling cyanide” (which, in a pleasing bit of coincidental cross-series continuity, is similar to the Sixth Doctor’s solution to aspirin poisoning in the audio drama The Condemned).

Viewing this episode again after Journey’s End, I see that its notions of amnesia and of anger arousing dormant characteristics have thematic connections with the series finale.

But is the production team being deliberately retro with its rather poor “transformation into wasp” effect (a cloud of smoke and a lighting effect)? Perhaps they blew the effects budget on the CGI wasp.

The Unicorn and the Wasp didn’t give me quite the buzz I was expecting, but it still warrants investigation.


Richard McGinlay

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