Tuesday, July 07, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's 4x05: "The Poison Sky"

Written by Helen Raynor
Directed by Douglas MacKinnon

General Staal: “Doctor you impugn my honour.”
The Doctor: “I’m really glad you didn’t say ‘belittle’. Then I’d have a field day.”

Okay I’ll be truthful, the previous episode wasn’t exactly a stunner and unfortunately this part is actually much weaker than its opening segment. I know the Sontarans have the earth at their mercy and that there is a genuine sense of danger but this episode really didn’t do it for me.

Last time we saw Wilfred he was trapped in the car about to be poisoned to death. With Donna screeching rather than doing something assertive, it takes Sylvia of all people to solve the problem by putting an axe to the car window. This also became the episode where she began to appear less irritating.

Maybe it was the sight of her in axe-wielding mode or maybe it was the fact that this episode saw her actually be useful. Either way, it’ll make me look forward to her next appearance in the series. She still hasn’t quite gotten to the stage of realising that The Doctor isn’t all bad though.

When Wilf encourages Donna to go back to UNIT HQ with The Doctor and Ross, it’s Sylvia who pleads with her to stay. For a woman who wanted Donna out of her hair during “Partners In Crime”, the reversal here is understandable. Sylvia is aware of the dangers out there and doesn’t want a dead daughter. Donna on the other hand wants to help stop the Sontarans so she heads off.

Luke meanwhile seems to be enjoying the array of carnage that is going on. Well he did talk about how earth wasn’t big enough for him, so it’s not much of a shock that he basks in the same love for war that General Staal is also exhibiting. While Staal takes an interest in how Luke is feeling, it’s becoming clear that the lad is outliving his usefulness to this lot.

In fact it was kinda obvious from the get go that the Sontarans were using Luke for their own means and given that the kid has sociopath tendencies, it’s not like they had to make a great effort to get him on side.

Luke’s arrogant enough to think he’s a major player in the Sontarans’ plan to choke the earth and he’s even more arrogant when he gathers his fellow child prodigies and tells them of his new plans. Fortunately these bunch of geniuses have enough sense to tell Luke that his plan is insane.

Luke did make a good attempt to persuade them but seeing as he behaved like a megalomaniac it was fantastic to see these kids rebel against him. However it did look like at one point that Luke was gonna go trigger happy on the poor kids. Thankfully he isn’t that homicidal.

However failing to round more willing idiots to help the Sontarans only meant that General Staal could brag about having no further use for him. I know Luke is a genius but he really should’ve seen this betrayal coming. In fact Luke’s total ignorance regarding the Sontarans is part of his downfall but at least he’s sly enough to avoid execution.

The Sontarans plans to choke the earth however seems to be working arguably a little too well. You’ve got the gas breathing out of everyone’s cars and people being forced to barricade themselves inside their own home. The Sontarans also have the advantage of getting the Martha Clone to do some sabotage inside UNIT and of course, the buggers manage to nick the TARDIS with Donna inside.

Getting to the UNIT part, if The Doctor was annoying with his anti-gun stance last week, then he might test your patience with the way he attempts to derail UNIT from every idea that the come up with this time. In some ways The Doctor has a point but I have to the fact that Colonel Mace doesn’t exactly have that many options either.

Sending in a bunch of unprepared UNIT soldiers to battle with invading Sontarans perhaps wasn’t his best move but what was the alternative? The Sontarans have no interest in peaceful means or reason so I can see why trying to defend the earth via soldiers was a plan for Mace. Just a pity that the Sontarans basically kill everyone in sight.

That leads to the other thing. With so many characters in this two-parter, deaths were expected and while hardly any of them are really extraordinary, I did hate that our first killing happened to be Ross. The Doctor was also upset enough to use the lad’s death against Mace too. Not sure The Doctor was right in doing that.

If soldiers weren’t a strong enough idea to combat the Sontarans and the poisonous gasses in the sky, then setting the earth on nuclear was another failed idea. It’s didn’t take Martha’s clone long enough to work out the logistics in stopping that particular plan.

With the real Martha largely absent from this episode, Freema Agyeman was on full evil as her double caused a reasonable amount of havoc. I was hoping the moment when The Doctor realised that she was a clone would be stunning but if I’m being honest it actually lacked bite.

I wasn’t surprised that he knew all along and was getting Martha’s clone to do his own agenda but the moment where she brags about having a gun is enough to be pro-arms. Martha’s own reaction to seeing her double however was a little better. Shocked as she may have been it didn’t stop her from trying to get some answers about the Sontarans’ overall plan for earth.

Appealing to the clone’s better side (before it died) both Martha and The Doctor realised that the Sontarans planned to use the earth to breed more of their kind. Well I understand how essential that would be but even still, it basically blows as a plot. It’s also why I just can’t take this lot seriously as villains.

Fortunately afterwards we were getting some progress in defeating the Sontarans. UNIT were clever enough to put the Valiant from last season into good use with sorting out the air but it was The Doctor, Donna and Martha’s team up with a betrayed Luke that got the right results.

Giving the episode some real drama, The Doctor said a poignant goodbye to both of his companions before giving the Sontarans the option of surrender or extermination. With the amount of times the bad guys tell The Doctor to shove his ultimatums, you’d think The Doctor would just blow them up.

Harking back to “The Parting Of The Ways”, Staal can see that The Doctor is unlikely to act on his threat and enjoys goading him. It doesn’t help that The Doctor really does look like he’s having trouble keeping his word. Thankfully Luke is able to redeem himself by taking The Doctor’s place and blowing both himself and the remaining Sontarans in oblivion. Um, good riddance on both counts!

With the Sontarans and the earth safe from poison gasses again, I think I should take a look at how Donna was in this episode. Given how weak this whole affair really is, it’s moments like this that Donna coming into her own really stop this episode from becoming a chore to watch.

We’ve seen both Sylvia and Wilfred’s opposing attitudes towards her partnership with The Doctor and both of them came to light even better during an intimate phone conversation that Donna had with both members of her family. I’m glad Donna chose to listen to Wilf more than her mother though.

She also proved her own strength and bravery when trapped in the TARDIS by knocking out the Sontaran to get the teleport system back online. Granted The Doctor did need to encourage during those moments but it doesn’t undermine what Donna still had to do. I might not be able to take the Sontarans seriously but luckily this entire two-parter made the conscious effort to try and make them into serious threats.

The funny thing is also how Donna reacts to The Doctor putting himself in serious jeopardy. Both her and Martha try and stop him from going on a suicide mission but when he comes back in piece, Donna feels more comfortable in slapping in the arm while Martha is at ease with hugging him.

The last part is checking in with the family. With Donna’s family nearly getting killed in this story, she could’ve decided that The Doctor wasn’t worth the risk and stayed home. However Wilf still encouraged her to go and that’s exactly what she did. My only grievance is that she didn’t fully explain the alien thing to Sylvia. After what happened here, the woman did have the right to know.

However I am pleased to say that this episode probably has the best ending of an episode so far this season. With Martha refusing Donna’s offer to join her and The Doctor, isn’t rather delicious that the TARDIS chooses to act up and drag the three of them off to a distant planet.

Martha’s fury over the whole thing is quite interesting but given how disappointingly underused she was here; perhaps the next episode will actually give Martha an interesting storyline. Plus I do actually enjoy this show a tiny bit more with two companions rather than one.

Also in “The Poison Sky”

Like certain episodes of Torchwood, the previously on bit for this episode was a tad too long for its own good.

Luke: “This is it, isn’t it? Oh man, this is war.”
General Staal: “And how does it feel boy?”
Luke: “Magnificent.”

The other UNIT member we met in this episode was Captain Marion Price, who got to snog Colonel Mace during the episode too.

Donna: “Yeah maybe we can get sentimental after the world’s finished choking us to death.”
The Doctor: “Yeah, good idea.”

The Doctor (to Martha’s Clone): “I’m stuck on Earth like an ordinary person. Like a human. How rubbish is that? Sorry, no offence but come on.”

Because the episode really couldn’t avoid it, I cheered when Colonel Mace mentioned that The Brigadier was in Peru to The Doctor.

Wilfred: “It’s the scale of it. How can one man stop all this?”
Donna: “Trust me, he will.”

The Doctor: “Any ideas?”
Martha Clone: “How should I know?”

When The Doctor was talking to Martha’s clone, he mentioned Captain Jack. He also mentioned “Are you my Mummy?” to Colonel Mace.

The Doctor: “I’m sorry but you’ve got to go outside.”
Donna: “But there are Sontarans out there.”
The Doctor: “Sontarans.”

Martha Clone: “You’re not going without me.”
The Doctor: “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

The end credits of this episode had Billie Piper credited. Rose appeared briefly on the TARDIS monitor when Donna was alone.

The Doctor: “Am I supposed to be impressed?”
Martha Clone: “Wish you carried a gun now?”
The Doctor: “Not at all.”

Donna: “You know that coat... sort of works...”
Martha: “I feel like a kid in my dad's clothes.”

Towards the end of the episode we got Martha in a leather jacket and her hair back in its pineapple glory.

The Doctor: “Planning your own trip, were we?”
Luke: “They promised me a whole new world.”

Martha: “Just send that thing up on its own, I don’t know, put it on a delay.”
The Doctor: “I can’t.”
Donna: “Why not?”
The Doctor (re the Sontarans): “I got to give them a choice.”

Originally in the episode, Donna was supposed to hit her Sontaran with a shoe rather than a hammer and how nice was it to have Elisabeth Sladen and Colin Baker talk about their own experiences with the Sontarans in Doctor Who Confidential.

Martha: “What are you doing?”
Luke: “Something clever.”

Wilfred (re Sylvia): “I won’t tell her. Best not. Keep this our little secret.”
Donna: “Yeah.”

The trailer for the next episode looked stunning. All that slow moments and creepy music.

Much as I love this show, I have to admit that “The Poison Sky” is definitely the worst episode we’ve had this season. Slow moving in some parts, not that great a scheme on the Sontarans part and sorely under using the real Martha, here’s hoping that the next episode will wash away the disappointment of this two-parter.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

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