We’re back, with our new Doctor Who rewatch! Today we’re continuing Series Four, with three more episodes: The two-part The Sontaran Stratagem and The Poison Sky, and The Doctor’s Daughter. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not seen these episodes!
In *The Sontaran Stratagem*, journalist Jo Nakashima is thrown out of Rattigan Academy after trying to expose the danger of the ATMOS system. She leaves a message for Colonel Mace of UNIT about it. Luke Rattigan recommends her death to his unseen allies. The ATMOS system takes over her car and drives her into the river, killing her.
The Doctor is teaching Donna the basics of flying the TARDIS, when a call comes in on Martha’s old phone. Martha is calling, summoning the Doctor back to Earth. She takes the Doctor and Donna to join a UNIT raid on the ATMOS factory, led by Colonel Mace, and tells him about a string of ATMOS-related deaths. ATMOS is ostensibly an emissions-reduction system, but it with 800 million cars on Earth, that’s a lot of coverage if it should be weaponized. Meanwhile, in the depths of the factory, two soldiers encounter some zombie-like workers outside a sort of biolab, inside which is a sarcophagus-like machine. Inside the machine is a green solution…and an incomplete, human-like creature. The soldiers are intercepted by General Staal of the Tenth Sontaran Battlefleet, “Staal the Undefeated”, who disables their weapons by using a cordolane signal to expand the copper jackets on the ammunition. Staal then captures them for “processing”. When they emerge, they are under Staal’s control. Staal transmats back to his ship.
The Doctor determines that ATMOS does work as advertised. Martha chastises the Doctor for his belligerent attitude toward UNIT—“You can come and go, but some of us have to stay.” Donna discovers that the factory has never had a sick day, which is conspicuous at best. The Doctor inquires about ATMOS’s creator, Luke Rattigan. Martha counsels Donna to keep in touch with her family, and tells her about the things her own family suffered while she traveled with the Doctor. Donna opts to go visit her family while the Doctor checks out Rattigan Academy. Martha examines captured workers, and finds them to have strange vital signs and to be under some kind of compulsion. However, en route to tell Colonel Mace, she is picked up by the two enslaved soldiers. They take her to the biolab for processing. Donna meets up with her grandfather and tells him where she’s been, but he cautions her not to tell her mother. She tells her mother that she’s been travelling.
The Doctor is dismayed to see that ATMOS is also in UNIT’s jeeps. With UNIT soldier Ross Jenkins, he meets with Luke Rattigan at the Academy, with whom there is instant tension; he intentional provokes Rattigan, who isn’t used to being contradicted. He points out that a piece of “art” in the building is actually a teleport pod; and he teleports himself to the Sontaran ship. Staal follows him to Earth, and is stunned at the Doctor’s knowledge of the Sontarans. The Doctor uses a ball to hit Staal’s probic vent, temporarily disabling him, and uses the opportunity to escape with Ross; he temporarily disables the teleport as well, but Staal quickly fixes it, and takes Rattigan to the ship. He declares them to be on a war footing. Rattigan learns for the first time that the Sontarans are clones. He reveals that the devices are in about 400 million cars on Earth, more than enough. Staal sends his lieutenant, Commander Skorr “the Bloodbringer”, to Earth to start the final process. On Earth, Skorr oversees the creation of a clone of Martha in the biolab, which will be attached to her mind via a headset so that it can mimic her. Meanwhile Staal realizes that he is facing the Doctor; he has never gotten over the fact that the Sontarans were not allowed to fight in the Time War, so he will relish the Doctor’s death. He activates the ATMOS in the Doctor’s jeep, and the vehicle takes control of itself; it is deadlocked, trapping the Doctor and Ross inside, and drives toward the river to drown them. The Doctor uses a reverse psychology trick to disable it and escape; Staal believes it works, and assumes the Doctor is dead. The Doctor goes to recover Donna, and Ross calls for a vehicle without ATMOS; the Doctor properly meets Wilfred for the first time, and meets Sylvia again. The Doctor calls Martha, but unknowingly gets the clone, and warns her about the Sontarans; she hides the warning from Colonel Mace. The Doctor tries to disable ATMOS on Donna’s car, and finds the system has secrets; it contains a converter that expels poison gas. When the converter system trips the alarm on the Sontaran ship, Staal realizes the Doctor is alive, and sends his troops into battle. Donna realizes that all the ATMOS systems on Earth are enough to poison the atmosphere. Wilfred becomes trapped in the car, as all the ATMOS units activate at once.
Picking up in *The Poison Sky*, UNIT seals off and clears the factory and the command center, while Donna uses an axe to break open the car. Sylvia tries to get Donna to stay with them, but Wilf encourages her to leave with the Doctor, which she does, using an elderly UNIT car that is ATMOS-free. The Doctor gives Donna a TARDIS key of her own, and sends her to the TARDIS. Meanwhile the Martha clone taps into NATO’s defensive systems to obtain strategic data for the Sontarans; while on the ship, Luke Rattigan is overcome with excitement at the onset of war. Just before the Doctor arrives at the command center, the clone gives Mace the Doctor’s tip about the Sontarans, so as not to arouse any suspicion. The Doctor arrives and warns Mace not to attack directly. The Sontarans teleport the TARDIS aboard their ship. Rattigan returns to Earth to rally his own “troops” at the Academy; Donna, spying from the TARDIS door, overhears the Sontarans commenting that Luke is acting according to plan. Meanwhile, the Doctor—with the Martha clone in tow—searches for the TARDIS, and finds it missing. He begins to suspect that something is amiss with Martha; he lies to her and tells her that Donna has gone home. At the Academy, Rattigan unveils the truth to his students—that all their work has been for the purpose of starting a colony on another world after the Sontaran conquest—but against his expectations, they are horrified rather than thrilled. He begins to have a breakdown, and pulls a gun on them; but they walk out on him, calling him “sick”.
UNIT locates the Sontaran ship, and plans a strike, but the Doctor warns them off. He commandeers the communication system and contacts the ship, contacting Donna in the TARDIS as well; Donna briefly sees Rose on the viewer before switching to the Doctor. He accuses Staal of cowardice for their plan, and deduces that the war with the Rutan Host is not going well. Staal counters by revealing the TARDIS. The Doctor drops hints for Donna to pay attention, and to call him from the TARDIS; he tells the Sontarans he can control the TARDIS remotely, causing them to end the communication and move the TARDIS out of the war room. As the news broadcasts the scale of the tragedy, Donna calls her mother and Wilfred, who have sealed all the windows. Again Sylvia lectures her, and again Wilfred encourages her; she defends the Doctor’s actions.
The Doctor gets an analysis of the gas from the clone Martha. UNIT intends to launch nuclear missiles at the Sontaran ship despite the Doctor’s warnings; the Sontarans have anticipated it, and negate the launch codes. The Doctor knows the missiles wouldn’t hurt the ship, and asks the clone why the Sontarans would stop the launch in that case; she denies knowledge. Skorr’s squadron moves in toward the command center, and Mace orders his troops (led by Ross) to fire; they are quickly killed. Finally Mace orders a retreat, though too late to save many of the troops. The Sontarans take the factory. As the gas concentration rises, Rattigan returns to the ship; Staal admits he never intended to save the students, and would have killed them—he admits to using Rattigan. As the Sontarans move to kill Rattigan, he teleports back to Earth, and breaks down completely. The Sontarans close off the teleport links to Earth.
Mace still intends to fight back somehow. The Doctor calls Donna, and persuades her to reopen the teleport link. At his direction, she takes down the guard outside by striking his probic vent. After a close call with the Sontarans, she locates the link. Mace introduces bullets without copper jackets, which will fire despite the cordolane signal; and he calls in the Valiant to use its massive engine turbines to dispel the gas over the area. The Valiant fires on the factory; and UNIT ground troops pour in with the new ammunition, successfully pushing back the Sontarans. The Doctor takes the Martha clone with him to find what the Sontarans are hiding; he infiltrates the basement, and finds the biolab. Inside he finds the unconscious real Martha, and the clone pulls a gun on him; she admits to stopping the nuclear launch, but the Doctor says that serves his purpose as well. He admits that he had known all along that she was a fake; and he pulls the plug connecting her to the real Martha, causing the clone to die slowly. Donna calls him, and he tells her how to reactivate the link. Meanwhile Martha interrogates the dying clone about the purpose of the gas; she describes the gas, and the Doctor realizes the gas is clone feed. The Sontarans intend to turn the Earth into a giant cloning facility for new Sontarans. Before the clone dies, it commends Martha on her life; Martha recovers her engagement ring from the clone’s body. The Sontarans find Donna, but just as they fire on her, the Doctor teleports her to him; and he teleports the TARDIS back to the alley from which it was stolen. He then teleports himself, Donna, and Martha to the Academy; Luke pulls a gun on him, but the Doctor snatches it away. He deadlocks the teleports open.
The Sontarans know the plan is nearly complete, and the world is nearly ready. The gas begins to seep into Donna’s house despite her family’s efforts. Meanwhile, the Doctor tells Martha, Donna and Rattigan that the gas is flammable, which is why the Sontarans stopped the missiles. He constructs an atmospheric converter from Rattigan’s equipment, and launches it as a rocket; the resulting fireball spreads around the world, burning off the gas in rapid fashion. In retaliation, the Sontarans prepare for a standard invasion. The Doctor takes the converter and recalibrates it for Sontaran air, then prepares to teleport to the ship; he will kill the Sontarans if they don’t surrender, but he expects not to survive. He offers the Sontarans the choice, but they decline to leave. In the last seconds of the standoff, Rattigan—seeking revenge for the Sontaran betrayal—teleports himself up and the Doctor down; and he presses the button, destroying the Sontaran ship.
Donna visits her family again; and Wilfred secretly encourages her to continue traveling with the Doctor, but to return when she can. At the TARDIS, the Doctor and Donna say goodbye to Martha; but before Martha can leave, the door slams and the TARDIS takes off violently, under its own control, destination unknown; and his severed hand in its jar begins to bubble.
I was very critical of The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky in first watch (and even in my last rewatch a year or so ago); but it’s grown on me. The Sontarans are becoming one of my favorite villainous races. Although it’s usually a problem if a villain or species (or any character really) is one-dimensional, in the Sontarans it’s different, because it’s a design feature of their race. Their warlike nature, coupled with their singlemindedness about it, means that they can challenge the villain tropes head-on, even in dialogue; there are scenes here where General Staal does exactly that, telling the Doctor that he won’t glibly reveal his plan, and won’t hesitate to shoot while the Doctor talks—all common villain clichés. He follows through with it, as well. When he betrays Luke Rattigan, it’s only a great revelation to Luke; to the Sontarans, it’s just business as usual, and of course a warrior would do that. The Sontarans here behave a little differently from their classic series counterparts, but not much; and the costumes have improved over the years, such that I like this version better. This is Dan Starkey’s first appearance as a Sontaran, here playing second-in-command Skorr; he will later reprise the performance as Strax, of the Paternoster Gang, in addition to playing various Big Finish roles. While Strax is comical in a fish-out-of-water sense, Skorr is dead serious; Starkey plays both roles equally well. In a nod to the classic series, Staal’s actor, Christopher Ryan, previously played Lord Kiv in Mindwarp, and will later return in The Pandorica Opens.
The selling point of all three of the episodes we’re reviewing today is the return of Martha Jones. Here, she spends most of her time out of action while connected to her clone; but in general, she’s doing well, having joined UNIT and graduated on an accelerated program. She’s pulled in two directions, between the Doctor and UNIT, as his perspective on soldiers has changed because of the Time War. In the end, she turns down the opportunity to travel again, but isn’t given the chance to leave, as the TARDIS takes off with her aboard, under its own control. We see Donna’s family again, and get a good look at the tension in the household; Sylvia constantly tries to get Donna to stay (does ANY NuWho companion ever have a good mother? They’re all either harpies or dead, I think), while Wilfred encourages her to go on with the Doctor. He’s an incredibly sympathetic character, and we begin to see why he’s such a popular companion, even though his turn hasn’t happened yet. This is UNIT’s first proper NuWho appearance, not counting the aborted view of it in The Sound of Drums; it’s on good footing, but hasn’t settled into a consistent cast yet—that will come later. We do get confirmation that the Doctor is still technically on staff, however. Luke Rattigan is purely insane, the poster child for psychosis; but he does make a self-sacrifice in the end, although for vengeful reasons. He’s a sad character, and one wonders what the Doctor could have done with him if he had met him earlier in life.
My only real criticism is the science here. If the gases were worldwide and flammable, shouldn’t the fireball have consumed all the available oxygen? I could be wrong, but it seems untenable. As for the reason for the plan: The Sontarans want to use the planet as a cloning world. It isn’t stated why, but it’s possible they also lost a world, as the Adipose did—if so, it would make this part of the season arc. To that effect, we also get a glimpse of Rose Tyler, on the TARDIS viewer.
References: Sontaran mind control was first seen in The Time Warrior. Their sonic baton weapons were first seen in The Two Doctors. Sylvia references Donna’s wedding (The Runaway Bride), and Wilfred references Voyage of the Damned, when he previously met the Doctor. Martha met her fiancé Tom Milligan during Last of the Time Lords. The Valiant also last appeared in Last of the Time Lords. The Doctor makes an “Are you my mummy?” joke (The Doctor Dances). A building marked “Butler Institute” is visible in New York (a nice nod to the VNAS, Cat’s Cradle: Warhead).
In The Doctor’s Daughter, the TARDIS lands in a cave on an unknown world. The Doctor, Donna and Martha are immediately captured by a group of well-armed humans, who immediately “process” the Doctor; they force him to give a tissue sample, which is genetically extrapolated to create a female human clone of sorts, with memories and combat skills already implanted. The process is nearly instantaneous; the Doctor declares the clone to be his daughter. The clone is quickly provided with weapons, and a group of fishlike aliens called the Hath attack and kidnap Martha before anyone else can be processed. The clone activates explosives to seal the tunnel, cutting them off from Martha and the TARDIS. The one surviving soldier, with the clone, takes the Doctor and Donna to meet his leader, General Cobb. Meanwhile Martha patches up the one surviving Hath, whose language she does not speak, but who seems to understand her. Other Hath arrive as she resets the survivor’s shoulder; they take her to their command center.
Donna calls the clone “Jenny”, for “Generated Anomaly”; she adopts the name. The soldier tells them they are on the planet Messaline. Cobb explains about the war as he knows it; it has been going on for many generations, and both sides use the cloning technology to maintain their ranks and breed new generations. The colony was supposed to be harmonious between the colonists, but relations broke down; everything is underground because the surface is inhospitable. A map shows the entire city, including the Hath side; the Doctor wants to use it to find Martha. Cobb says they are searching for the Source, which is the source of creation in their world; whoever finds it will control the world’s destiny. The Doctor unlocks another layer of the map, with more tunnels; the Hath computer terminal gets the upgrade as well, and both sides decide to move for the source. Cobb intends to destroy the Hath, and orders the soldier, Klein, to lock up the Doctor and Martha, and Jenny as well. Donna sees numbers on several walls, and debates their significance. In the cell, Jenny argues that the Doctor is a soldier despite his objections, making him uncomfortable. The Doctor upgrades Donna’s phone and calls Martha; Martha reports that the Hath are on the march as well as the humans. Donna argues with the Doctor over Jenny; to prove her point, she demonstrates that Jenny has two hearts, and is therefore a Time Lord, though the Doctor tries to deny it, as he is offended by her identity as a soldier. He tells her about the Time War.
Martha and her Hath accomplice work with the map to find a shortcut to the Source, and she determines that she can cross the surface despite its dangerous environment. She finds the surface more hostile than expected, but she and the Hath head out. Meanwhile Jenny flirts with Klein to steal his gun, and forces him to let them out. Disabling the next guard, they chase after the soldiers headed for the Source. Cobb, following after, finds Klein in the cell, and brings up the rear to stop the Doctor. Donna starts recording the numbers on the walls, and realizes they are counting down along the path. She tells Jenny more about the Doctor and how he saves planets and lives. They reach a laser defense grid; the Doctor shuts it down while Jenny holds off their pursuers, but it reactivates before she can get through. She is forced to acrobatically vault through it, leaving her gun behind. On the surface, Martha’s Hath is killed saving her from a pool of mud.
Donna wants the Doctor to take Jenny with him, and he grudgingly agrees, finally accepting that she is not just a soldier. He is not happy, however, and explains to Donna that he was a father once before, but it ended badly. On the surface, Martha at last reaches the temple of the Source—which is clearly a spaceship of some sort. Meanwhile the Doctor and the others arrive there as well from inside, with the soldiers right behind them; the Doctor locks the soldiers out, and quickly realizes they are in a ship. He sees that the Hath are cutting in from another door. He finds the ship’s log, which explains the history of the colony; it ends with the splintering of the human and Hath factions. Donna finds another number, this time electronic yet, and determines the numbers are the date, in an odd format; the Doctor recognizes it as the New Byzantine calendar. The dates count outward from the ship with the expansion of the colony. However, the earliest dates are only a week ago—the war has only been going on for seven days. The “countless generations” Cobb cited are correct, but only by merit of the progenation machines, which need little time to produce a generation—up to twenty or more a day. The colony isn’t in ruins; it is still waiting to be populated.
Martha meets up with them, but the troops on both sides are about to break in. They smell flowers, and follow the scent; they find an arboretum of sorts—the ship’s biological cargo. In the center they find the Source: a third-generation terraforming device, with the power to transform the world. The troops arrive at that moment, and the Doctor gets them to stop long enough to explain about the terraforming device. It is for bringing life, not ending it. The Doctor declares the war over, and smashes the device, releasing its terraforming powers. The soldiers lay down their weapons, but Cobb can’t accept it, and shoots at the Doctor; Jenny takes the bullet, and dies in the Doctor’s arms. He hopes she will regenerate, but there is no indication of it; and he is forced to let her go. He angrily confronts Cobb, and draws a gun on him, but puts it down, and tells him that “I never would.” He charges the soldiers to remember it, and make it the foundation of their society—a man who never would kill.
As the world transforms, they leave Jenny’s body in an empty church, where the colonists will give her a funeral. The Doctor concludes that Jenny was the reason for the TARDIS bringing them there. He leaves to take Martha home; Martha warns Donna that one day she too will choose to leave, though Donna denies it. On the colony world, Jenny suddenly revives in a burst of regeneration energy, though she doesn’t change form; she steals the colony ship’s shuttle and leaves the planet to explore the universe and follow the Doctor’s example.
The Doctor’s Daughter has proven to be one of the more controversial episodes of the revived series. Now that the Time War has been resolved for a few years, and Gallifrey’s fate is known, and the Time Lords have made multiple appearances, it’s difficult to grasp just how much stir the character of Jenny, the “Generated Anomaly”, created at the time. Was she a Time Lord (or Lady, as Donna points out—“What do you call a female Time Lord?”)? Could she, or did she, actually regenerate (given that she didn’t change form)? What happened to her afterward? Was this Russell T. Davies’ way of bringing the Time Lords back to the series—essentially by replacing them? Would we see Jenny again? Now, of course, we know that that wasn’t the plan, or at least that it didn’t work out that way; and although she has at least one appearance in the comics (The Choice, Endgame), Davies has since joked that she crashed into a moon and died immediately upon leaving the planet Messaline. Take that as you like; sources conflict on the matter.
I like stories that tinker with perspective, and this one does so in a unique way. As we near the end of the story, we find out that the scope of the story—in a temporal sense—is not at all what we were led to believe; and the net effect is that it somehow raises the horror level, rather than lowers it as one might have expected. The story also hints at—but never really addresses head-on—the question of what it means to be real; the Doctor challenges Jenny on whether she is a real person, and Donna defends her. The Doctor does it for his own reasons, but they aren’t good reasons; he thinks he’s doing it out of respect for the memory of his race (referring to the history and culture that Jenny lacks), but really I think he’s doing it because he’s become used to the idea that he’s the only one left. Throughout two incarnations, he has shaped his own identity around that point, and to take it away might leave him rudderless. To his credit, he does begin to come around near the end, and although calling her his daughter was essentially a throwaway line, he comes to take it very seriously. It’s all doubly interesting when we compare it to his reaction to the Master in Last of the Time Lords; there, he was willing to take on full, long-term responsibility for the Master, and was heartbroken at his death, all because it was another Time Lord—“You are not alone”. Here, he’s burned by that experience, and he WANTS to be alone with regard to other Time Lords, at least at first; but by the end, he’s just as heartbroken all over again. The first time he mourns; the second time, he very nearly snaps, drawing a gun—a gun! The Doctor, with a gun!—on the man who shot Jenny. He does pull back, but it’s a close call.
Two themes show up over and over this series. One is the rivalry between the Doctor and Donna. It’s a good-natured rivalry—unlike Clara Oswald some years later, Donna doesn’t want to BE the Doctor, she just wants to challenge his thinking. We saw it in The Fires of Pompeii, when Donna wanted to save everyone, or at least someone. It was less prominent in the other stories so far, but it shows up again in this story, with her conflict with the Doctor over Jenny. The other theme, I think, is that of “the man who never would”, as the Doctor describes himself. We saw it in Partners in Crime, where he tried desperately to save Matron Cofelia; in Planet of the Ood, when he refused to sacrifice the Ood for the humans; in The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, when he refused to fight back against the Sontarans in military fashion, and then hesitated to push the button at the end; and we see it here, spelled out when he spares General Cobb. I’d argue we’ve seen it at least as far back as the end of Last of the Time Lords. The real question is, how many shocks can a man like that take before he would? We’ll get the answer to that in the series finale, and in the specials at the end of this series.
References in this story: I’ve already mentioned how reminiscent Jenny’s death scene is of the Master’s (Last of the Time Lords). Martha tells Donna about the Doctor’s hand, and the events of The Christmas Invasion during which it was severed. The Doctor mentions having been a father before, which he has done in several stories both classic and new (The Tomb of the Cybermen, Delta and the Bannermen, Fear Her, The Empty Child, and any number of New Adventures novels, as they seem to favor reminiscing about Susan). Martha gets kidnapped on a semi-regular basis (Gridlock, The Sontaran Stratagem, The Choice although the latter involves many companions being kidnapped).
Overall: Not bad episodes, although the latter is perhaps still controversial. Jenny is an endearing character, and her actress is charming (and David Tennant must have thought so, as he married her). I should mention here, as I didn’t mention it before, that Georgia Moffett is also the daughter of Peter Davison, making her literally the Doctor’s daughter; there have been any number of jokes about that. The Sontaran Stratagem gave us Dan Starkey, if not his more famous character of Strax; and The Poison Sky is the first episode to feature Rose, Donna and Martha all in one episode (they previously managed it in separate parts of a two-parter, Army of Ghosts/Doomsday).
Next time: We take a detour into history for The Unicorn and the Wasp, before meeting another character with a huge impact on the Doctor in Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead! See you there.
All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.
The Sontaran Stratagem
The Poison Sky
The Doctor’s Daughter