Doctor Who: Flux, Part 2 - WAR OF THE SONTARANS Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

Doctor Who: Flux, Part 2 - WAR OF THE SONTARANS Review

Tony wants to ride a horse!
After the multi-threaded introduction to this series in Episode 1, The Halloween Apocalypse, the second episode really needed to calm down a little and focus on some structure and some storytelling.

It does that in spades. Sontaran war-spades.

I’m going to be completely honest with you – I wasn’t entirely sold on the new Sontaran design in the stills, or the performance of Jonathan Watson as the lead Sontaran in the first episode.

This time out, though – oh, absolutely, yes please.

The arrival of the Doctor and the New Fam somewhere other than in deep space being attacked by the Flux is a touch convenient as a way into the episode, but as soon as we meet Mrs Seacole (Sara Powell), things start looking up very fast. When we get the shot from the trailer, of the Sontaran on horseback, things get even better. And when Mrs Seacole reveals that the British army aren’t fighting the Russians but the Sontarans, we are very much off to the races in terms of story hooks.

As the Doctor, Yaz and Dan work out between them, something weird and probably Fluxy is going on with time, because the Sontarans have no business being in the Crimean War. When both Dan and Yaz summarily disappear – again, you could argue, with a hefty pinch of convenience for the storytelling – it leaves us free to focus mostly on the Crimean storyline, with interpolations from the other strands at peak intervals to pull the storytelling together.

As it turns out, there IS no Russia in the reality into which the Doctor has popped. No China, either. There is only Sontar in all that territory. It’s a genius piece of story-thought, that if the Sontarans were going to invade, they’d play it like a game of Risk and take the greatest available landmass. After all, as a clone race significantly technologically ahead of the time, it’s not like they’d have any difficulty whatsoever defending that amount of territory.

The joy of seeing Dan Starkey return to our screens in a Sontaran uniform, and rock the new version just as much as he did with Skorr the Bloodbringer and Strax the… erm… Lactically Endowed is simply epic, and we relax as soon as we hear his voice. It’s OK – the Sontarans really are back.

In this episode, the fun of the Sontarans being a cloned species allows for the elevation of the tradition of one or two actors playing multiple individual troopers, and between them, Watson and Starkey bring the two invading Sontaran armies to highly animate life. Plus, for their return to mainstream Who, the Sontarans really needed an escalation in numbers and warfare, and by all the gods, they get it. Multiple Sontaran ships, squads of running Sontarans, executions of prisoners, Sontarans on horseback, Sontarans facing the ‘mercy’ of their commanders for dishonouring the species, and Sontarans actually going about the business of war. Full-on, historical battlefield war. It was Starkey as Skorr who highlighted one of the smaller issues with The Sontaran Strategem/The Poison Sky. “This isn’t war – this is sport!” he opined, mid-rampage.

Yeah. Well, this is freakin’ war, plain and simple.
Except of course, it actually isn’t. It looks like war, and sounds like war, and makes you go “Oh my gods, the Sontarans on a battlefield – it’s war!” - but Skaak, leader of the Crimean Sontarans, still categorises it as “good sport,” and as we later find out, the whole Crimean engagement is more or less a dress rehearsal, a test run for a multi-fronted temporal crusade against the history of the Earth.

OK, granted, you have to pause there and go “But if the single assault that’s furthest back in time succeeds, all the other fronts will be redundant, won’t they? You’ll have won?” But shush now, there are Sontarans all over your TV screen, doing almost all the things you want the Sontarans to do. We’re still missing a televised Sontaran/Rutan throwdown, but other than that, this is all the Sontarans you could want, with a plan that makes at least as much sense as their last endeavour did, trying to turn the planet into a clone world.

Let’s step away from the Crimea for a second, because while, beyond any shadow of doubt, this is an episode that BELONGS to the Sontarans, there’s other important stuff going on, too. First of all, there’s Dan back in Liverpool – the Sontarans are there too, having taken over the planet just before the Lupari ships protected it. Apparently, they arrived in Liverpool six hours before they turned up everywhere else – which makes some sense of the time disturbance that Karvanista ran into, that let him get ahead of his own fleet.

Now they’re everywhere, and we meet Dan’s parents, who deliciously school him in the art of Wok Fu to down Sontarans. Then, having sent them back home, he’s off on his own, one man and his wok against the might of the Sontaran army.

That, by the way, is a thing you really feel in this episode, and that perhaps was a little missing from The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky. Might. Numbers, technology, and a gritty determination to kill things that stand in their way. We’ve been waiting more or less since The Time Warrior to see what the Sontarans could really do. Sure, they more or less conquered Gallifrey in The Invasion Of Time, which we have to admit is none too shabby, but they’ve rarely felt like they’ve met the potential of their species. Here? Yes, pretty much – at least until late in the game, and we’ll come to that in due course. Here – and rather more in Liverpool than in the Crimea - the Sontarans feel like a force be properly reckoned with. Partially that’s because it’s in Liverpool that we see them resort to simply executing rule-breakers, in as callous a way as, for instance, the Daleks in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. This is an episode that sees the Sontarans really stomp up and take Doctor Who by the scruff of the neck.

While Mary Seacole and the Doctor are creeping on board a Sontaran ship in the Crimea, Dan is giving us some proper Donna Noble energy, wandering around, working out how to open Sontaran doors, blagging the sons of Sontar whenever possible, and in a fun sequence, giving us a vocal equivalent of the scene with Donna from Partners In Crime, he and the Doctor saying the same things at the same time to comic effect over the Sontaran communication network. The timely return of Karvanista to rescue his idiot adds more fun and above all, more space-kickass credentials to the dog that – let’s not forget – is supposedly the only Division agent left alive.

Anyone getting suspicious about that, by the way? The bad-tempered Lupari that just HAPPENS to be the last Division agent alive, and that the Doctor has been trying to track down and interrogate about her Timeless Children origin story just also HAPPENS to be assigned to protect Dan Lewis, a bloke from Liverpool who more or less does the kinds of thing the Doctor would do (pretending to be a museum guide just because it makes people happy), or which, otherwise, could be the displacement behaviour of someone with a life more or less on hold (*Cough* Ruth from Fugitive of the Judoon…). I’m not saying. I’m just saying…

For those who have questioned Jodie Whittaker’s performance as the Doctor, you could do a lot worse than look at her in War of the Sontarans. Grave when dealing with the idiot who proposes taking on the Sontarans in battle, snappy when addressing the captured Sontaran, authoritative and curious, with a “Come along” thrown away as if by long, long habit, and a plan that depends on being the smartest person in the room.

If there’s a quibble – one single quibble – with this episode, it’s with the solution that depends upon the Sontarans being really, REALLY stupid. All the Sontarans in the Crimea – all of them – go back to their ships to recharge for the SAME 7 and a half minutes? Really? Because these tactical masters can’t figure out a shift rota? They’re really leaving their whole operation on standby for a critical window of opportunity?

Now granted, it’s no stupider than, say, building a Death Star, and leaving a golden window of vulnerability the size of a porthole in it, that will explode the whole thing if you hit it, but there is really no NEED for the Sontarans to be QUITE that stupid in this episode. Take operations down to a skeleton crew, by all means, and then you boost the achievement of the Doctor and Mary Seacole in getting the job done of draining their supplies. But to have ALL of them recharge simultaneously is the one major teeth-sucking moment of “Really?” in War of the Sontarans.

And then, entirely apart from all the Sontaran action, there are Yaz and Vinder in the Temple of Atropos. On the planet… Time. O…K, possibly that could have done with once more through the think-tank, but it’s an interesting concept. A species through which all the time in our universe has to pass, like a temporal filter – and they’ve been broken by the effect of the Flux.

Jacob Anderson’s Vinder, to be fair, is still struggling to make an impact after two episodes, though we learn a little more about him and his backstory in War of the Sontarans. He feels like a character more or less marked out for a heroic, universe-saving plunge into extinction, but while he’s here, he’s pleasant enough to look at while he stands around pointlessly shooting people. Yaz though has learned the lesson of many of the best companions – most recently, probably Clara Oswald. When in doubt, ask what the Doctor would do, and, within all practicable limitations, do that.
Swarm and Azure continue to exude more menace than practically anything we’ve seen in the Chibnall era of Doctor Who so far, which, given how many properly badass Sontarans we see in this episode, is really saying something. Somehow along the way, they’ve picked up a third member for their band, Passenger, whose role so far is to be huge and enigmatic while Swarm gives us some properly dangerous posh god sneering villainy.

The drawing together of all the threads to this Temple of Atropos is beautiful, especially because in the Doctor and Dan’s case, it’s so clearly not an accident that it makes us wonder about the degree of accident involved in getting Vinder and Yaz there too. And we’re left on another classic cliffhanger – not the fingers about to snap and flood Yaz and Vinder with the power of time, but the snap having HAPPENED, meaning either something horrifying or something impressive has to happen at the start of Episode 3 if things are to progress with the right amount of satisfaction.

The episode has Twitter all a-buzz too, with the black and white sections of what may be the Doctor’s buried or erased memories showing a strange house, making older and geekier fans cry “Lungbarrow!” (Younger and less geeky fans – Google is your friend).

What’s equally notable but much less remarked upon is that the 19th century Liverpudlian from The Halloween Apocalypse turns up in the Temple of Atropos, has a bit of a gibber with Yaz, and then naffs off again without any explanation. It’s an off-kilter moment that presumably, once the Flux arc has come to its end, will make much more sense than it does right now.

All in all, War of the Sontarans is an episode that lets the Sontarans mostly shine brighter than they’ve done in decades and really raises their Who-villain status. It has possibly the most Doctorish Doctor we’ve seen in Jodie Whittaker’s time in the Tardis (that eyebrow-raise when revealing her identity to Skaak? Perfection). It has a properly bonkers time-war plan, and absolutely scads of Sontarans doing Sontaran things that we’ve wanted to see throughout Doctor Who history. And it has a shudder of menace in Swarm and Azure, and a sentient, miserable superdog coming to the rescue.

This is high quality Who of the best popcorn-chewing kind, and if Episode 3 looks like being a touch more chilling and cerebral, well that’s no bad thing either.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad