Confession: as you may know I got to part 2 of this two-part Helen Raynor story a little late: what can I say? If my boys will have a scrap about who gets my attention on a Saturday night, I have to work around it (for the record it was Cloud's interest in seeing 'The Last Days of Judas Iscariot' at the Almeida theatre that got me down there for a second visit... it was a real hardship to spend three hours in the theatre again.... mind, I could have done without the predictable nudges and grins from Cloud when Dougie came on stage... ah, what do I mean: I know that I love the teasing...Sorry, got distracted then!)
ANYWAY. Doctor Who. Thank heavens for the iPlayer is what I say, since even with Premier Travel Inn now having full Freeview availability with our other commitments during our visit I couldn't quite manage any of the weekend repeats. So it was Monday night before we caught the episode.
I have to admit, even as someone who was more positive than most about the last Helen Raynor 2-parter, I did wonder how this would pan out. There were a few bits in last week's ep that could have led to a disappointing conclusion [e.g. there were some worrying signs, mostly with the music, of how Donna's character is being played out - Murray Gold, STOP IT!] but I have to say that - again - the episode worked really well for me.
It's interesting that MediumRob thought the continuity refs would have confused many NuWho fans (though he was pretty on the money about the OldSkool having orgasms - even the Behind the Sofa reviews only capture half of that... if I ever got on Outpost Gallifrey I dread to think what they're saying there). I'd actually say that maybe doesn't give them due credit since one of the things that has come out of the relaunch is an extended amount of rediscovery of ClassicWho for a new generation. Sure, some are getting the back catalogue DVDs, but many more are at least brushing up via the BBC website etc on the history of the Doctor and his companions/foes. Sarah Jane has helped with that as well. It may not be fairly indicative but Anna for one was way more impressed than I anticipated she might be (given it was a Helen Raynor story) and she seemed to get plenty out of the cross-references.
So how did things work in this episode?
UNIT and the military thing - Raynor seemed less prone to bang quite as loudly as last week about the Doctor and guns and the military. Either that or I was too excited to pay it much attention. Loved the use of The Valiant; squealed about the Brig.
Martha and CloneMartha - bless her: writers, directors, even the actor herself just can't quite seem to enliven this character in the way that we would all wish her to be. Nevertheless, as CloneMartha (just the right side of hard but still way too un-Martha-like to fool the Doctor) she turned in a pretty convincing performance. She even managed a touching exchange with her (real) self before croaking. I best liked that Martha couldn't help herself when she snuggled up to the Doctor when he came back from the Sontaran ship. Tom is always gonna be a little second best isn't he poor lad?
Donna - shame that they don't always know what to do with her (Tate doesn't have to emote every episode to prove she can act: we get this) but aside from the somewhat pointless abandonment scenes in the TARDIS she's proving to be a very enjoyable companion. Right down to the thump on the arm before she too sits next to the Doctor with Martha, she continues to be a much more adult companion albeit with endearingly 'wow-ed' responses to the experiences she is now having ["back of the neck!"].
Sontarans - not given a lot to do but these potato-heads were never really scary were they? - just weird and potato-like. Anyway, what they did was well done and to give credit where it's due the Clone Feed gas thing was about the most convincing plot element Raynor has written in Doctor Who. It also reasonably explained why they were behaving in an un-Warlike way [plus, without being heavy handed, why do they want/need a new planet's worth of Sontarans? A lost planet anyone? That's four for four if you take it that the Ood had been separated from their planet by slavery].
Supporting cast - twatty 'genius' (read: moron) Rattigan redeemed himself with a glorious "Sontar-ha!" which just about justified the war-cries repetition through these two episodes. Bugger that they killed off Ross though: there's a real tendency in NuWho to bring in minor characters, make you like them, and then kill them off (Lynda with a Y anyone?).
Uncle Wilf - Bernard Cribbins is a god. Bless him still encouraging Donna and trusting in the Doctor despite everything.
The Doctor - ah, the Doctor. Although Doctor Who fans have coped (by and large) with the diversity of Doctors who have inhabited the role, it has to be admitted that for all his acting chops Tennant has divided some opinions about his Doctor. Too emo, too Essex, too pop culture, too wild, too ranty, too 'sorry' ... Well, I'm sorry, because I think that criticism is pretty much wrong. I'm not saying he's note perfect all the time, but he is so the right Doctor for right now ('course, it does no harm that, you know, he's perty with gangling height and rufflesome hair...). In this episode alone we had witty self-referential Doctor ("Are you my Mummy?" - okay, only witty for the audience but still), impressed Doctor (with UNIT), not entirely convinced he is always right Doctor (crossing his fingers at blowing up the gas), self-sacrificing Doctor (with the goodbye to the gang and transporting to the Sontaran ship). All delivered with conviction and charm. More please.
The 'Rose' arc - yes, Rose was there again in her one blink vid screen yell. I think the amount of attention this is getting (after the frankly-took-us-all-by-surprise first ep appearance as Bin Girl) probably negates us still being able to call these appearances 'subtle'. Nevertheless, it does given a certain frisson to spot and anticipate the weekly Rose reference whether in person/image/sound. She just can't quite get through can she? And will the Doctor still feel the same way - if indeed it was ever fully as so many read it - if she returns [those of you with spoiler awareness of what's to come can just Fuck Right Off. Sorry, but as much as I can I want to relish the series as it happens.] Don't get me wrong, I still choke at Doomsday's ending and the Rose references in The Runaway Bride. But after the debacle that was how the Doctor treated Martha (only just about recuperated in the new series in acknowledging how badly that worked out) I'm not sure they can go back to a great romance rekindled or separated again...
So, overall, good. As Rob says so far so good. Remarkably consistent and with The Doctor's Daughter ahead AND the Library story still to come... woo-hoo!