Doctor Who Series 13 started off on a pretty good stead with The Halloween Apocalypse, so there was pressure on episode 2, Flux: War of the Sontarans, to continue the trend. Did it?
Jonathan Appleton was certainly impressed in his review:
“Swarm and Azure are proving to be effective villains, genuinely creepy and unsettling, even if the ‘evil from the dawn of time’ stuff doesn’t feel terribly original. They seemed more camp in this episode (and not just because of the shoulder pads) but stayed the right side of that, and how wonderful to have a proper ‘how will they get out of that?’ cliffhanger in modern Doctor Who, even if the Next Time trailer did rather rob that of tension.”
And what did the rest of the DWC think? We rounded some up from the battlefield…
Flux: a vast improvement, but can Chris Chibnall stick the landing?
Jodie is getting stronger and showing greater range of emotion. The general obeyed her ‘Do Not Shoot’ command. Her emerging from the mist before the stand off with Skaak was nicely Oncoming Storm. Great directing. Some moral authority answering the General’s claim ‘for revenge’ with ‘for your guilt.’
Man with a Pan
Dan Lewis seems almost too good at being a companion, with so little time in the Doctor’s company. What’s his backstory/previous knowledge? He doesn’t say ‘the TARDIS’; he says ‘your TARDIS’.
When he’s teleported, he doesn’t say ‘WTF just happened?’; he says, ‘I’m home.’ He hears of the blackout and immediately thinks of the Lupari ships’ shield.
He’s brave but not foolish (doesn’t try to stop the execution because he knows he’d die and not get the info he’s seeking which might actually help the Doctor), quick-thinking, at ease.
I was surprised to find myself moved by Yas’ WWTDD moment – but is she in danger of doing a Clara, dying from over-confidence and over-identification with the Doctor? She does win this week’s award for stating the obvious: ‘we are in the middle of a battlefield.’ But redeems herself by asking, ‘Is history being re-written?’ Better, but still stands silent and lets others talk.
The trail suggests she’s important next week, both her police uniform, and one like Vinder’s. And she gets a Weeping Angel in the back of her police car.
The Doctor’s Wife
Thank God the TARDIS’ plastic things are melting, but interesting cliffhanger – that the Doctor might have to choose between Yas and the TARDIS after Swarm’s threat that escaped Evil Time will harm the TARDIS, unless Yas can channel it. Shame the jeopardy was destroyed by the trailer for next week.
Vinder is a bit meh here, but it looks like it will be his story next week. That ‘next time’ trailer had him awarding some honour to Yas/someone else in his uniform.
Mary ‘I don’t understand any of this’ Seacole: This week’s instant companion, and she’s great. Funny dialogue and timing, steals every scene. ‘If we all of us waited to be sent for, we would none of us find our purpose.’ Courage, stepping through forcewall, observing alien ships, calm self-confidence: ‘I can do that.’ Slight concern that she starts strong and commanding, and ends up too readily deferring to the Doctor but yes, I hope we’ll meet again.
Kavanista is still funny, but not just humour like shaking himself dry. Nice shared wordless nod after banter with Dan.
Williamson: PC Yas shouldn’t have let him wander off in a vulnerable mental state, but maybe we’re supposed to think he’s less than mentally sound, when he’s stronger than everyone else.
General: who? Apart from the echo of the Brigadier and Silurians, played with some power by Jodie, there wasn’t much to him.
These Sontarans are the best since Linx: real characters, battle-scars, played with sheer relish. Shame their battle strategy is rubbish and they’d lose a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel competition with stormtroopers. As the Doctor says, ‘not very bright.’ But remember, Doctor Who tells children two important things: the monsters are real; the monsters can be defeated.
Swarm, Azure and the Passenger: getting the band back together but with more glam than ABBA. I described him as louche, but he occasionally veers into camp. And often beautifully scary. And intriguing: ‘Why did she choose you – any of you, so unremarkable?’ Is there envy here? Best baddie for ages. Ashad was good, but Swarm’s a notch or three up. Is the Passenger incognito – an ally? The Master? He does love his disguises. Or is it Ryan? Frank will be happy.
It looked great. From the black and white cold open to the impressive scale of the docks, the Sontarans in Crimea, and That Shot: Dan-with-his-pan starts to climb a ladder and I think of Grace. Smooth cut to more distant Dan climbing crane, with swirling drone shot, leading seamlessly into stunning Space Shipyard CGI. First time I’ve ever wanted a large screen TV. Awesome. Showy cut from Azure sprinkling triangle dust to falling snow, ash and debris in Crimea. Kudos to all involved.
Segun Akinola’s music was better mixed this week. I adored the little jazz sting like a ’30s musical chorus line as the ‘Sontar Ha!’ cry rang out. Glorious. But he was more subtle, backing Jodie well with plain dark chords behind her war parley; accompanying the new-found steel. Parley bell echoing the cloister bell, the Star Wars chords signalling Kavanista before he arrived, to make an escape down a rubbish chute. (From Chewie to Leia in one week.) I love the ambiguity of Segun’s gently quoting Holst’s Mars, the Bringer of War as the Doctor and team attack the Sontarans ships – does it denote them, or her?
Humour slotted judiciously in, not too much or in wrong places. Some laugh-out-loud one-liners, and some visual rather than spoken gags, like the ceremonial handing on of the wok. And two playground games with catapults — if they are still allowed anywhere — and Wok Tig: one child liberates a pan from their kitchen, the rest play Sontarans, except one who gets to be Kavanista and save the day. His weapon a little harder to improvise though – maybe a feather duster? A mop? (Okay, kids: don’t try this at home. Or at school.)
For me, though, the biggest step up is to Show, Don’t Tell, and get us engaged and intrigued.
The curfew was mimed not info-dumped; Dan witnessed an execution, and showed us in his face the change from ‘gung ho hero’ to shock, acknowledgment that this is real, and steely resolve. There was a non-dialogue bit I missed on first view; the exchange of looks between Dan’s parents after ‘I’ve had some experience with aliens…’ Has he actually met aliens before, even a Doctor before (remember last week’s comment about a mate with a bigger TARDIS? Say, the Eighth’s? He is from Liverpool after all. Okay, I know, I’m dreaming.) But been sectioned for talking crazy? What is in his past?
As an artist, I read image not words, so really enjoy those things that are signalled in advance – children can see them coming but not so far ahead or obvious that they’re boring by the time they arrive. (Remember The Fires of Pompeii? Towards the end I laughed and said ‘of course!’ confusing my hubby as it was a good few seconds before we were shown the new household gods, Doctor, Donna, and the TARDIS. We had been shown the original carving at the start, and we know how narrativium works, so it had to be.)
In this episode we knew ahead the TARDIS had no door because we remembered which way it was facing (little echo of The War Games – gang being prevented from entering).
War Games vibe continues with the Doctor in a warzone having a gun aimed at her for treason, and the old map another lovely little homage. And while we’re on references, the Seventh Doctor keeps cropping up. The Black and White house made me think Gabriel Chase, the praise of rice pudding (though not unlimited), the immortals from the dawn of time, the echo of his Battlefield cry, ‘there will be no battle here!’ Swarm says the Mouri temple ‘was quantum locked against us after last time.’ Was it locked by the Doctor? Were the six Time Channellers the Doctor’s doing?
It’s a huge improvement that I’m asking questions – from ‘What’s happened to Claire and Diane?’ to ‘Will the Doctor mention a photo she’s seen on Dan’s phone.’… I may be hopelessly optimistic, but will definitely tune in next week.
I wasn’t sure what to think of this one going in. The Sontarans had de-evolved into a joke somewhat. As much as I liked Dan Starky and Strax, they weren’t a threat anymore. Fortunately, they’ve been reverted to their old warlike behavior here.
First off, this episode still feels like it was set-up similar to the first episode. That’s not to say there wasn’t stuff self contained here – but I ended the episode with a bunch of questions similar to the first. I’m willing to let that go given there are four more to come.
There’s stuff here that needs more info (mostly around Yaz, Vinder, Swarm, and Azure), and what’s going on with the TARDIS doors (either too many, or none). We’re not figuring that out now, so I’m content to let that come to me.
But I really loved the Sontarans here. They acted like they should, and despite a bit of a plot annoyance about them needing to recharge in their ships (that’s new), I thought they were handled well. I especially loved the throwback to Linx in the original Pertwee Sontaran story, The Time Warrior, as well as the reason for them being here – so their commander could ride a horse. I loved that. And of course we still get Dan Starkey: we have a race that isn’t just voiced by Nick Briggs!
The character interaction worked for me between nearly everyone – although I thought Dan’s parents didn’t look old enough. Liked Dan’s “everyman” feel here. Kind of reminded me of how Donna dealt with the Sontarans – “Back of the neck!”
The battle scene here looked like something we’d see in a Star Wars movie or Lord of the Rings. Whittaker’s era already looked good – this new series has even upped that game even more.
This episode is a 10/10 for me.
There’s a danger this might be my favourite episode of the entire Chiball era. There’s a few I thought had strengths, but this had several. Plenty of classic tropes (mad general, historical figure in the form of Mary Seacole, temporal energy reset, broken TARDIS, dodgy planet from the beginning of time), and some great effects as well as costumes and set dressing.
I also thought Jodie Whittaker had some decent moments here and there, with a range of character being shown. Poor Yaz had little to do, apart from be the honey in a trap and meet Vinder. I didn’t know quite what to make of ‘WWTDD’ and I’m probably with Swarm in my assessment of poor Yaz. Swarm is growing on me as a serious nasty, though why not just kill the Doctor and be done with it? Perhaps there’s a need to have her remember him, which will then let her know how to stop him?
Meanwhile, John Bishop has become James Bond as Dan takes on a spacedock full of Sontarans armed with his parents’ wok. How does this fit with his backstory if we ever get it?
In the end, there was a good in-episode story with the Sontarans, the bigger story got some steps forward, no sign of Claire, and only a glimpse of the Victorian tunnel builder. I’m guessing one per week for a couple of weeks, some unexpected help (the latest Master incarnation? Daleks? Davros?).
I find myself looking forward to next time!
The big advantage to doing one, over-arching story across six episodes, is that it allows you to keep setting things up, building the drama.
My biggest compliment goes to the cold opening. I thought we’d see the Sontarans joining the Crimean war as history unfolded, or intruding, etc., not actually being half of the Crimean war. That was an excellent opening. Moffat level stuff.
As for the rest of the installment, we had our ups and downs.
Sontarans have taken over the Earth in present day, but thanks to those probic vents that have suddenly gotten a lot more exploitable, one guy with a wok and his dog can take them down way too easily.
Sontarans have taken over the Earth during the Crimean War, but thanks to ALL of them scheduling their rest period at the exact same time, they’re easily dispatched. TOO easily.
Dan and the Doggie make a good team. Back door pilot?
I guess it was nice that Mary Seacole got a nod here, but honestly, I enjoyed Jordan’s article about the great lady more. Since time was partially rewritten, we didn’t get the full scoop on her accomplishments, which is a shame. I couldn’t help but feel she was a bit wasted here.
Then we had the curious case of the Mouri.
Last week, with Swarm, I found the notion of an ancient enemy of the Doctor she doesn’t remember to be fascinating. One point for the TCEU (Timeless Child Expanded Universe).
But bringing in the Mouri… who are basically… in control of time? Time flows through them?
In any other show, being introduced to these beings might be interesting. But in a universe where the Time Lords have basically lorded it over time since the beginning?
The Doctor having no memory of her past is one thing. Now we’re getting a whole new “everything you know about time is a lie” now? On the face it, this development seems almost as unlikely as Dan’s folks taking down a squad of Sontarans with cooking utensils.
Yaz got some screen time, but I’m a bit sad that she’s still painted as the insecure sidekick with written reminders on her hand, while newbie Dan is the humble action hero taking down a Sontaran fleet.
I’m still not sure why Vinder’s here.
Swarm and Azure maintained their villainous stature. I just wonder how dark things will get. You really never know with Chibnall. He gives us a slaughter on the battlefield, followed up with Scooby Doo hijinks a minute later.
Finally, Jodie. Usually, still breathless and helpless. I think for any other character, that might help sell urgency in a scene. But this is the Doctor. Do better.
There was a bit more steel in her performance in this one. That’s a step in the right direction.
This one had problems, but some good bits too. I think it’s fair to say this has been Chibnall’s best effort so far.
From: First Corporal Erskib, Location Scout for 14th Noble Batallion of the Outer Southwest Fringes of the Great and Indomitable Sontaran Empire
To: Brigadier General Prazan, Central Command
Subject: Field Report
I trust this report finds you well and in rude health, and that the war against the Rutans is going swimmingly. I am sure you have awaited this write-up of what the Sontaran Press have already dubbed ‘Wokgate’ with interest and anticipation, and I am hopeful that my thorough investigation of things will shed some light onto exactly what happened during the latest
failed conquest of strategic withdrawal from the planet known as Earth.
Before we go any further, I feel I must apologise for the incident with the cat. I honestly didn’t know it would explode. Had I been aware of this, I would certainly not have inserted the probe until you yourself had moved from splattering distance. No words have actually been said about the matter, but I am of sufficiently sound mind to determine that it was this unfortunate upset that has led to my recent demotion and subsequent reassignment to this backwater hellhole. No matter: I have learned my lesson. Res fiunt, as we say on Sontar – or, as the Judoon might have put it, ‘Ko Blo Ro So Fo Jo No-No’.
Investigating incidents on Earth is, you are aware, fraught with complications. Chief amongst them is the fact that we have been here before, on multiple occasions, and that it has never ended well. There are rumours that one deserter may still be living here in a time period we have yet to identify. We do not know precisely where he is, but there is a trail of confectionary bills. However, on this occasion, the mess was not difficult to spot: Commander Riksaw, for reasons of his own choosing, opted to begin his establishment of Operation: Outpost Earth in 19th Century Europe, supposedly because he had developed an affinity for the local wildlife. We have a word for people like that on Sontar, but sadly the inbuilt censorship filter will not allow me to use it in this missive.
It was all going swimmingly until the irritating human known as the Doctor blundered onto the scene. She used to be a girl, and now she’s a boy. I simply can’t understand how it all works and why things can’t stay as they are. One woman – sorry, one man on his own should not have been able to penetrate our defences, let alone muster enough firepower to blow them up. Where on earth did they get enough dynamite? How did they move it? My investigation has revealed that there was some help at hand: two humans, one of whom has the unenviable job of performing puncture repairs to the skins of wounded humans. Surveillance footage from the black box recording has revealed she has some spunk about her: sadly the human military general that accompanied her was about as interesting as a freshly-plastered wall, and about as two-dimensional.
I have seen the footage of the battle in a Crimean field, and this at least was a glorious day for the might of Sontar. Sadly our excursions some years later seem to have gone rather awry, owing to the antics of a rogue native who managed to knock out half a platoon with a cooking implement. This is the price you get for landing in Merseyside. We should have gone to Tijuana; at least that has a beach. I would also raise questions, Brigadier General, as to how half a dozen troops can empty their magazines from ten feet away without landing a single shot on target. The onboard ship’s computer – a sentient model I have named Angela – recommended a piece of Earth culture entitled Star Wars. After watching this piece of drivel I know more and understand even less.
- Up the border security on the secret military encampments – we’re a clone army; surely they can spare a few people to watch the perimeter
- Mandatory shooting range exercises to be introduced daily for all troops
- Can we please, please get the scientists to do something about the probic vent? Honestly, it’s embarrassing. I can’t even stand at a urinal without having to crane my neck every couple of seconds.
Signing off now, Brigadier General. While I wait for the dropship I am examining a little more of Earth culture, particularly its cuisine. I have learned of a local creature known as a poodle. I hear they’re delicious.
First Corporal Erskib, Mrs.
So War of the Sontarans feels like a big success for the Thirteenth Doctor era. That’s what we thought anyway. What did you think, a week on, DWC readers?