Sunday, 4 May 2008

Doctor Who Series 4, Episode 5: The Poison Sky

First things first: I spazzed this review out as soon as I finished watching the episode, so I could get it posted onto, so forgive me if this seems to be written in a slightly different manner from usual. They only got a mini version of it though, while you lovely people get a fuller, more complete one...

Doctor Who has never been good at following up on a good opening. Too often in the past, we’ve been set up and then let down by lacklustre resolutions and lazy deus ex-machinas. This episode was slightly different, in that the super-handy world saving device came into play but didn’t feel forced in the least. After the Sontarans released their strangely ineffective gas into the atmosphere (seriously, couldn’t they have made it a little bit more potent? Would’ve saved on a lot of effort in the long-run) they follow up by taking over the factory where the Doctor, UNIT, and the Marclone are all in residence. This episode may have had a little bit of padding at the sides, but all in all managed to deliver a satisfying conclusion to a two-parter which already is one of the more successful story arcs of the entire series so far.

The main theme here is that of trickery. More than once, Helen Raynor’s witty and intelligent script (never thought I’d say that, she wrote last years awful "Daleks In Manhattan" episodes) leads the audience into something which seems to make no sense, only to turn on us and reveal that this was the point all along. Case in point? The Rattigan Academy. When it was introduced last episode it seemed as if it were being shoehorned into the episode for little reason apart from using up extra running time. How wrong we were – it turns out that this is what we were meant to believe all along, so when the inhabitants of the academy (dressed, distractingly, in Star Trek red-shirts – I honestly expected a massacre to happen) turned against Rattigan and moved on, it gave the skittish imp a reason to sacrifice himself at the end. Which he did, in another moment that tricked the viewers, as we expected the Doctor to find an escape from nowhere when, in fact, there was none. Rattigan’s kiss-off “Sontaran – HA!” didn’t seem cheesy either, something Dr Who has been terribly guilty of in the past.

And speaking of, this episode was reasonably Martha-free. Freema Agyeman has had a short thrift with Torchwood and Dr Who since her return, never getting much to do – possibly for the best, but still. Her impression of an emotionless clone was unsurprisingly accurate, as that’s what she played for most of the third season, but she still did a reasonable job of acting when she was called to, at the end. Her whole clone subplot seemed like a bit of a waste of time though, really, and far more interesting was Donna, who went from useless idiot who can’t work out how to break a car window to mallet-wielding Sontaran beater. The scene where she thwacks out a Sontaran guard with a rubber mallet alone gets this episode an A-rating. It helps that she’s surrounded by a family that you can actually care about. Rose’s family was annoying, Martha’s family hysterical, but Donna has Bernard Cribbins for a grand-dad, who puts in another tremendously affecting performance this episode, waving Donna off at the end in a realistic and emotional manner that tugs at the ol’ heart-strings no end.

There were a lot of little moments here amongst the madness which made the episode damn entertaining, from the casual sexism of the Sontarans to the return of the big skyjet thing from the end of Series 3. Whilst this episode brought in a lot of continuity from episodes past, it also managed to put in a few touches that hint towards the future. I don’t know if anyone else saw this – but was that Rose who appeared on Donna’s computer screen moments before the Doctor spoke to the Sontarans? If so, then the ending of the episode suddenly makes much more sense. Going back to this episode though, there were a fair few moments that seemed out of place. Ross, who was so well introduced last week, snuffs it pretty casually this episode, with only Tennant seeming to care about his death. Likewise, the whole point of the Sontarans infiltrating the military base was to protect their Martha clone, but we never got told why they needed to clone her in the first place. The infiltration scenes thus came off as an excuse for the BBC to execute another (admittedly impressive) battle sequence. It also grated a little to see the soldiers fight back with their "convinient guns". What, they only just realised they had them? I was hoping they were going to bring out some swords, so personally that was a letdown. Oh, and the Sontaran weapons – awful special effects. Awful. Much better was watching the Doctor ‘fix’ the Earth’s atmosphere, and the Sontaran spaceship, equipped with a… well I’ll say it – a pretty damn phallic laser cannon.

“The Poison Sky”, against all odds, was a witty, intelligent, and entertaining episode, packed with fun moments and great character development for everyone involved apart from Martha (naturally). We had some superb acting from Tennant and Tate, as well as several members of the supporting cast, and to top it off the episode ends with a small cliffhanger which may or may not have been caused by Rose. Sadly, Martha IS back in the Tardis, but you can’t have everything, can you?

Episode Rating: A.

Stray Points:

  • The brigadier is still alive?
  • In the scene where the parts of the world with nuclear capability launched nuclear missiles at the Sontarans, North Korea was amongst them?
  • I was worried we wouldn’t get to see the Sontarans get their comeuppance – no such worries! They got hella killed!
  • Line of the episode: "Are you my mummy?"

Next week: A father-daughter reunion.


  1. totally agree about your line of the week x