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New Who 4.4, The Sontaran Stratagem

Watched this yesterday, natch, when I got back in from Harrogate. Like a lot of people, I was nervous about it, given Helen Raynor's two episodes last year. But insofar as it's possible to judge from one half of a two-parter, this seems to have continued successfully in the same solid-good-stuff vein as the previous three episodes of the series.

I did find myself wondering for a moment whether something I'd raised about Donna last week - viz., the risk that it would get boring if she was always the one Speaking Out for Right - was coming to fruition here when she started ticking UNIT off for arresting ordinary factory workers. But, then again, two minutes later she was wondering, without irony or sarcasm, whether aliens maybe really wanted to help fight pollution by putting carbon conversion devices in cars - so I was happy enough that she still retained more than one dimension. Meanwhile, the interactions between her and Martha were excellent - and although I am not normally a shipper, I very quickly realised just how cool Donna / Martha would inevitably be.

I thought the atmosphere of the classic UNIT stories had been captured and updated very nicely, and I loved the Doctor's line about being unsure whether he'd worked for them in the '70s or the '80s. I chose to believe I'd got wax in my ear and was mis-hearing whenever anyone said the full version of their name, though. The script in general felt light and punchy, and I especially enjoyed the bathetic jokes, like the Doctor's great emotional parting speech to Donna, and the Jeep which didn't explode. The characterisation of the Sontarans seems great so far, too - although of course there's still plenty of room for that to go tits-up in the next episode.

Other than that, though, I'll save judgements about the overall plot until next week. It seems that last year I rather liked the first episode of the Daleks two-parter, but considered the second 'one of the lower points of the series so far' - so there's no reason to assume a good start this week will mean a good finish next week. It all rests on things like what the Sontarans' overall stratagem actually is, how the character of Luke Rattigan will develop, how well evil!Martha will be used and how UNIT are handled in the second episode, really.

Wider plot arcs: I think there's some important material to be revealed as we find out just exactly what the Sontarans are up to. Are they (or the Rutans) behind the 'lost' planets we've heard about in previous episodes, perhaps? Also, why weren't they 'allowed' to participate in the Time War? And who got to call the shots about that? It was also interesting to hear the Doctor and Colonel Mace (was that name chosen just to reference the poison gas, I wonder?) speaking of the TARDIS as a 'weapon' that was best kept away from the front line. That could be a back reference to the way it was used by the Master in Last of the Time Lords, of course - but it could also be a forwards reference to something that is going to happen later in this series.

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