Sunday, April 27, 2008

Defending the (in?)defensible...? The Sontaran Strategem

I sometimes wonder about my critical faculties: do they occasionally just cease to function? Go on strike? Rebel?

Cloud will frequently comment that I am remarkably unobservant for someone who originally studied as an art historian, let alone someone deepily addicted to visual culture in its many forms. It's as if I can be both capable of spotting little details at fifty paces as well as missing the bleeding obvious straight in front of my nose. Equally, my ability - even dedication - to enjoying certain things even when they may seem patently obviously pants on closer inspection (and very much declared thus by those around me) has an almost legendary reputation. I, after all, was possibly one of the only people semi-behind the sofa defending the dalek two-parter from last year's NewWho S3. By Helen Raynor. Even though on reflection it undoubtedly constituted a weak link in an otherwise admirable season.

Anyway, this is all by way of leading to some initial thoughts about 'The Sontaran Strategem'.

You know what: I really rather enjoyed it. And this was despite knowing that Helen Raynor was back on scripting duties. I was even excited by the cliffhanger ending (cliffhanger endings, even/especially when they seem to give us a Doctor and/or earth-in-peril have always been a bit rubbish but you know what, you go with it!)*

Okay, there were too many moments when you wanted to send everyone concerned with presenting/ directing/ scripting the character of Martha back to the school for even getting basic characterisation and performance functional let alone consistent to the development over last season and through her Torchwood experiences. And yes the Sontarans are as much amusing as they are scary (they always were potato-headed shorties). And yes Murray Gold doesn't know when to let go of a syrupy theme (Donna seeing lovely gramps) and the director/script writers reinforce this by unncessary flashblacks... but ... but...

It's no good. I enjoyed it. I'm as a pissed as hell that next week I won't get to see the ep until the Monday night (events and scheduling of a family get-together beyond my control but with a delightful and more than wonderful substitution on the cards). Sigh. Maybe by then everyone will have had their fill of ranting about how 'bad' it was. Already Anna and Marie are at best ambivalent and bored (and both, unnervingly, cross with Tennant's performance as the Doctor -- I'm more with those commenting at Marie's that actually Tennant was more back on form this week). And Donna continues to impress, which has to be worth something. I'm just going to have to resign myself to being ever so slightly less critically minded than others are - or would prefer me to be. Call it my inner child combined with adult delight: I just can't not enjoy it as much as I can.

Let's review the story, flawed as it is, properly after I see the second ep in this two-parter.

* Yes, I know. Smash the bloody windows...


Anna Lowman (annawaits) said...

It certainly improved as it went on - I like the American kid and the Sontarans - but the first half hour was very poor, I thought....

chrissie_allen said...

Yep, totally agree with you Rullsenberg. I thought it was quite a hoot; after all when you watch the doc you really have to go with the flow to a certain extent.It's fun when you view it with two engrossed children under eleven and they're asking questions about the (admittedly)dotty plot;then afterwards the six year old presents you with a fantastic sketch of the particular episode's villains! Shucks, that's just brilliant you know! What it's all supposed to be about really:)

gray said...

I cringed at the Sontaran Strategem.

The Sontarans said the right things (assessing the military value of everyone and everything; saying they were warriors prepared to stand up and fight anyone) yet they seemed like a parody of themselves.

The dialogue between the Doctor and Staal is a direct rip off from the Jon Pertwee story "the Time Warrior"; and then Dave he hits a squash ball against a wall to stun the Sontaran.

UNIT were also a parody of themselves. That stupid Colonel. A bit of fluff compared to Lethbridge-Stewart.

The dialogue was awful. Predictable
jealous girly talk when Donna and Martha meet; tired, worn out "beware getting close to the Doctor, it's dangerous" blah blah.
At one point I awaited Sontaran Fartos of the 10th fleet introduce himself: Fartos the flatulent.

And the most toe curling moment of it all: the "Sonta-hah" chant and hand punching at the end.

Dr.Who has certainly changed since I first watched it. Thing is, Saturday's story doesn't hold a light up to the first story I saw, as a little kid back in 1975: "the Sontaran Experiment"

Jane Henry said...

Lisa. I thought I was in a minority of one! I really enjoyed it (though all my kids were shouting by the end, break the window!!) I was never very scared by the Sontarans as a child (Sea Devils/Ice Warriors/Daleks/Cybermen yes - Sontarans just seemed silly even then) so I thought they were pantomime villains, but I didn't mind. And given how much I hate my sat nav system I did enjoy Atmos taking over the driving as it were.

I thought Daleks in Manhattan was the weakest of last year's episodes, but this was a significant improvement from that.

What did annoy me was how antagonistic the Doctor was towards Unit. He and the Brig used to have their differences, but you always felt it was a relationship based on mutual respect. Here the Colonel was just an upper class twit. And you might have thought the Doc would have asked about the Brig at least? I thought it got better when he went off with Ross - I'm not advocating that children are encouraged to think warfare is a good thing, but I also think it is lazy and uninformed to have anti army prejudices laboured in the way they were.

I liked Donna and Martha getting on with each other, and I particularly liked it when the Doctor got the wrong end of the stick when she said she was going home.

So overall I enjoyed this. Perhaps my critical faculties have deserted me too???(bit worrying for an editor, that...)

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Hi Jane: you see I think it is QUITE possible (maybe even necessary) to be able to occasionally turn off the critical faculties and that this doesn't preclude being able to apply them where appropriate. Remembering a friend from uni who temporarily found that she stopped being able to enjoy the old movies she had loved to that point because she was getting trained into being on critical duty 'all the time', I'm mindful there are advantages and joys in being able to indulge.

Mind, yeah, the anti-war /army thing was laid on a bit thick (though not as much as the slavery from last week). A greater toleration/understanding would have been nice rather than the simplistic approach here.

Jane Henry said...

Good point about the critical faculties thing Lisa. I spent the best part of ten years editing children's fiction and I got to the point when I couldn't read ANYTHING at all without hearing my inner editor wittering incessantly in my head about character flaws and plot structures. Then I read Harry Potters 1-4 back to back when I was breastfeeding and suddenly I just was enjoying it for what it was, not for what it wasn't. I can now happily ignore the inner editor most of the time (unless there is something really clunking), which is much nicer. Mind you the inner editor does go into overdrive on my own stuff but that's another story...

Rob said...

If you can't turn off your inner editor sometimes you'll never be an opera fan, or be happy watching Bollywood movies. As a huge fan of both, I got on just fine with TSS, fkawed though it was.