‘Is that what you did to her, turned her into a soldier?’
What a great question to build the episode on, and what a shame the episode never really worked. It’s not to say that there weren’t great moments, and some superb ideas, even a good script. But the direction was lousy – if they were trying to evoke the spirit of Classic Pertwee Who it was a worthy idea but came across forced. Martha Jones returns to the core Who show, bringing the Doctor back to work with UNIT for the first time since his fourth (Tom Baker) incarnation. It isn’t an easy return – Martha is working for Homeworld Security, although her point in staying behind to work for such a martial organisation (as the quintessential insider) is rather cute. And she needs the Doctor – the Sontarans are back for the first time since their battle with the Third (Jon Pertwee) Doctor, and plotting world domination through cutting the carbon emissions in cars. Can the Doctor, Martha and Donna work together to defeat them in time? And why is child genius Luke Rattigan any more important than just the inventor of the emission-cutting system?
The acting is quite wonderful – Agyeman showing the potential she recently displayed in Torchwood, and the episode works very well as a quasi-sequel to the sublime School Reunion. Having Agyeman and Tate trying to out-professional one another as sequential Assistants was a lovely touch which humanised both characters, whilst wrong-footing Tennant’s wholly assured turn as the Tenth Doctor (now freely referring his Third and Fourth incarnations). And again it’s Tate’s character who questions the humanity of the Doctor’s actions, giving voice to the questionable outcomes of his interventions with a depth, innocence, yet sincerity which even Billie Piper didn’t quite have. Tate really shines, effortlessly balancing her trademark humour with this unexpected dramatic flair. It’s a real shame that she’s only destined to be with the series for one season, and it makes you wonder what her true purpose in series 4 is. Where the episode falls apart is with the Sontarans. The approach is so cartoony as to undermine all the strengths the cast bring to the episode, and it’s surprising that an actor as experienced as Christopher Ryan should have aimed his performance so over-the-top. It’s true that each series seems to have episodes aimed at the younger audience, but to mix such a mature approach to the core cast with such a silly villain was awful. And why on earth didn’t Bernard Cribbins just smash the car window?
Don’t think I didn’t catch the Medusa Cascade reference. Given that it’s now getting repeated, and we’ve been told by a third party that the Doctor sealed the rift there, it makes you wonder why it’s a repeated meme – is Rose’s return connected? It’s always bugged me – the Doctor’s involvement in the Time War happened off camera before Series 1 – how much of what we’ve been told is actually true?