Posts Tagged With: war of the sontarans

Doctor Who: Flux – The Executive Summaries (part 1)

You remember this, don’t you? The silliness that comes between stories; those miniature reviews knocked off in cafes and spare moments that evolved, gradually, into skits and songs and random observations. Pack ’em up, parcel ’em off and lo and behold, the editor at The Doctor Who Companion rolls his eyes and pastes them into this week’s communal writeup.

It didn’t start out this way. There was a time when I was trying to do this properly, to give decent opinions that reflected how I actually felt about an episode, all neatly packaged into condensed three-paragraph summaries. Somewhere along the line, I got bored. Or just fed up. Or a combination of both. It’s not easy, being one of the few DWC writers who actually enjoys the show at the moment. You feel like you do in primary school when they ask the class to vote for an end-of-term video, and you stick your hand up for The Famous Five while everyone else votes for Labyrinth. It’s not that you’re wrong, you’re just a minority.

This time around, I elected not to actually share my opinion of the stories, at least not with any transparency. Oh, certain things slip through. You can feel the scorn, particularly when it was something I really didn’t like. But there are advantages to hiding behind a metaphor: you can just tell people that you’re having a laugh, and to take everything with a grain or two of salt. Besides, it’s far more fun being a little creative. “Are we poor?” my children sometimes ask me. “No,” I tell them. “We’re bohemian.”

These are quite long, so I’ve elected to give you the first two today and the rest in a future installment. There are links to the communal write-ups on the DWC website, if you wanted to read something more sensible, or something that affiliates with your own views. But before we do that, we need to drop in on Matt Strevens’ office.

The Halloween Apocalypse

“Right, Chris. What sort of state are we in for the new series?”

“Matt! Matt, I was thinking. Do you think you could ever make a Zygon sexy?”

“I – I don’t – “

“I mean they’re sort of very distinct, aren’t they? They have a peculiar shape. It’s a bit phallic. But I’m just remembering Coneheads, that Saturday Night Live sketch with Dan Aykroyd, and I was wondering, if you got a Zygon to lounge in just the right way – “

“Chris – “

“I’m just remembering the Katy Manning photoshoot, and – “

“Chris! Can we focus?”

“Fine, yes, sorry, yep. Series 13, then.”

“Series 13. What are we planning?”

“Right. I thought in episode one we’d blow up the universe.”

“Okay, so high stakes. Like it. I presume you mean some sort of threat that overshadows the whole series and that the Doctor deals with at the last minute?”

“No, we actually blow it up.”

“…Right, and then?”

“Don’t know. Something.”

“It’s kind of a narrative cul-de-sac, isn’t it?”

“Only a little bit. And besides, we introduce a bunch of other stories and characters first. I’ve got scenes in the Arctic, scenes in Victorian London, scenes in a desolate alien prison that looks like the edge of hell – “

“Where are we planning on filming that?”

“Swindon. Then we’ll bring in all these new people and have them dig tunnels and stuff. And there’s this woman who knows the Doctor but they haven’t met yet.”

“That’s kind of been done to death, Chris.”

“Yes, but she gets touched by an Angel. And then there’s this fella, Dan. He works as a formula one driver.”

“That sounds prohibitively expensive.”

“All right, he works in a food bank.”

“Better.”

“And he’s kidnapped by a six-foot dog. From the North.”

“Yorkshire or Lancashire?”

“Is there a difference?”

“I – never mind. Are you going to explain who all these people are and what they’re doing?”

“No! That’s the brilliant part. We just leave the audience to figure it out.”

“And then fill in the blanks later.”

“If I remember, yeah. The thing is, they’re always complaining I’m too heavy-handed and obvious. This’ll really fox ’em.”

“The thing is, Chris, you’re not exactly good with dialogue.”

“I know! That’s the joy of it! We throw enough ideas at people, they won’t even care. Give ’em the old razzle-dazzle. How can they see with sequins in their eyes?”

“Chris! Sit down. This really isn’t the time for a soft-shoe. And my office isn’t big enough.”

“Sorry.”

“Anyway. You need to have some​ dialogue. How are you going to cover for your complete inability to string a sentence together?”

“We turn up Akinola and blame it on poor post-production.”

“I’ll have to smooth things over with the sound editors, but all right.”

“Meanwhile I’ve got this big bad villain who escapes from his cell and dissolves people.”

“Please tell me he doesn’t snap his fingers.”

“No, but I had this idea about a PELVIC THRUST OF ANNIHILATION, and – “

“Chris!”

“Right. I’ll redraft. So there’s a bit of a chase and there’s the bit where Dan discovers the TARDIS and Yaz and the Doctor have a bit of banter.”

“And then we blow up the universe.”

“Precisely, Matt. Precisely.”

“I assume we keep this a closely-guarded secret so people’s jaws drop when it happens?”

“No, not at all. I’m planning on telling everyone in all the interviews.”

“Won’t they be disappointed?”

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

“You’ve obviously never met Lance Armstrong. Fine, I think we’re done here.”

“Brilliant. Are there any Smarties left?”

“No. You ate them all.”

“Really? I hadn’t even noticed.”

“I had.”

DWC write-up

War of the Sontarans

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

Brigadier General, 

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. 

My recommendations:

  • 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.

Sontar-HA!

Cordially yours,

First Corporal Erskib, Mrs.

DWC write-up

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God is in the detail (13-02)

Well. Since you ask me for a pile of intrigue, a meticulously curated collection of theories and rumour, I shall oblige. Pay close attention, dear reader. For this week we bring you that selfsame list of VERY IMPORTANT CLUES AND SIGNS from ‘War of the Sontarans’. Now sit up straight and pay attention. We’re in for a rough ride, and we’re not even going via Birkenhead.

We open at the beginning – to be precise, that moment they materialise (without explanation) in the Crimea and the Doctor has another one of her freak-outs. The first thing she sees is a floating house, which mysteriously isn’t being held up by balloons.

So far, so generic. There’s something a bit Harry Potter about it, isn’t there? Is this a good time to point out that we’ve got fifteen visible windows there, corresponding TRANSPARENTLY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY with the fifteen canonical Doctors? The fact that the Doctor’s childhood home was alluded to in the ‘Heaven Sent’ / ‘Hell Bent’ two parter?

Yes, but why am I bringing that up? I want you to look at that layout. It’s not an accident. To a layman, the design is merely idiosyncratic. To someone prepared to look a little deeper, those splintered rafters and protruding boards hide a wealth of symbolism. All right, that’s pushing it. They hide letters. Six, to be precise.

From left to right: E-N-E-V-H-A. Which we might rearrange to form…ooh, I don’t know, ‘Heaven’? A word that features twice in Peter Capaldi’s run? Look me in the eye and tell me that’s a coincidence. Go on. And don’t blink.

Numberplates next. I love a numberplate.

The ancient Volvo dates from December 1978 (the year I was born, no less) but if we break down the content of this plate we find something very interesting. For a start, GGF is a transparent reference to the Glass and Glazing Federation (you see what I did there), and whose headquarters lie on Rushworth Street in Southwark – a district used in ‘The Shakespeare Code’, ‘The Lazarus Experiment’, and ‘The Bells of St. John’. In other words, the Carrionites are back, only this time they’re in the WiFi. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Episode 736? ‘The Fires of Pompeii’. Oh look; it’s Capaldi again. As if this weren’t enough of a clue, take a look – no, a good look – at the framing of this shot, because it’s not an accident. You have fence posts littered along the left hand side – nine of them, to be precise, before the car obscures the tenth. Note two things: the post that appears to be awkwardly slotted between the first and second, just over the back, but which actually pertains CLEARLY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY to the Ruth Doctor. Also note the puddle. The reflection. You know, the mirror. In other words, the parallel universe in which this is all taking place.

Lastly, we’re taking a look at some pen marks.

I know, I know. I know what you think it means. It’s the world’s least convincing bumper sticker, isn’t it? Or t-shirt design. Or, I don’t know, something that Yaz has scribbled on a hand she presumably never washes, probably the same one she uses to pick her nose.

But think about something. Specifically, let’s think about Scrabble. Because if you translate these letters into their respective Scrabble points a curious thing happens: assuming that a W is worth four points, a D two points and a T solitary point, the number sequence you get reads 44122. Which, coincidentally, is the zip code for Beachwood, Ohio – birthplace of Samuel Glazer (Glazer!), who co-founded the legendary Mr Coffee brand. As seen here.

And also here. And here.

So here you have three films. One has an eccentric time traveller who’s also a doctor. The others both feature John Hurt losing his abdomen AND THE FIRST TIME THIS HAPPENED PETER CAPALDI’S DOCTOR SAID IT WAS REALLY OFFENSIVE. I don’t think you need a degree in rocket science to see where this is going, do you?

There’s more. Total the tiles together and you get 13. I swear; these things just jump out at me.

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Review: Flux Part Two – War of the Sontarans

Smoke rises over a blood-soaked battlefield. Corpses lie scattered near spilled bayonets and broken guns, bereft of both life and dignity, gaping wounds mixed with mud and rain. Somewhere, a crow caws its lament for the dead. A lone rider emerges from the distance. The helmet is removed. It’s a Sontaran, the one we saw in the trailer last week in an episode we knew was already titled ‘War of the Sontarans’. So much for the big reveal.

Perhaps I shouldn’t grumble. One of the best cliffhangers of early seventies Who (yes, even better than the faceless policemen or the PATTERNED FLOOR OF DEATH) was Pertwee’s exclamation of “Daleks!” when the soldiers he met in the jungle spray-painted an invisible enemy into existence; the effect was marred somewhat by the fact that this occurred at the end of episode one of ‘Planet of the Daleks’. Although was the Dalek itself the reveal? Or was it the fact that they can turn invisible now, the sort of shock factor that predates ‘Remembrance’ by some fifteen years? And does it really matter anyway?

We could argue about this all evening. What is at least fairly obvious is that the Sontarans have had a bit of a refit. They’re still battle-hungry, they’re still a clone race (more on that in a moment), they’re presumably still at war with the Rutans and they still haven’t worked out a solution for that awkward Achilles’ heel (well, all right, neck). But the design has undergone a few changes. They’re a little taller, grubbier, wrinklier – age, as we saw last week, is a factor – and if the potato gags are still coming thick and fast on the internet, the potatoes themselves appear to be going off.

“Hey!” says Emily, watching from the armchair while I scribble notes. “That’s how you’d look if you shaved your head!”

The Sontarans are in the Crimea – where the Doctor’s just landed, in the company of Dan and Yaz – but we’ve barely recovered from the opening credits before the companions are zipped into the future, leaving the Doctor to tackle the alien menace on her own. Well, not quite. She’s joined this week by nurse Mary Seacole (a gaily frocked Sara Powell), who patches the wounds of both English and ‘foreign’ soldiers, and who keeps a Sontaran chained up in the back like a rabid dog, or perhaps the subject of some strange fetish. Well, it’s a long way from home.

Leading the fight is General Logan (Casualty’s Gerald Kyd), a man almost as well-defined as a rain-smeared street painting, and about as two-dimensional – and who sadly has nothing much to do except refuse the Doctor’s help, look deeply disappointed when his troops are mown down by Sontaran lasers and then undo a theoretically peaceful conclusion with the sort of dirty trick that would impress even Harriet Jones. It’s all done with patronising guff about knowing your place and the same awkwardness that pervades most of Chibnall’s encounters with faceless pillars of authority: they’re around to advance the plot, and nothing more. There is no sense of who this man is, where he comes from or why he’s making the decisions he has – guilt, we’re told, is the only rationale that fits, but it would have been nice to get a few notes about motivation, however brief. Instead there’s a lot of sneering, a bit of a rumble on the battlefield and then an enormous explosion, before Whittaker stomps off to her doorless TARDIS in a sulk. Powell, on the other hand, looks to be having a whale of a time – her backstory may be reduced to a brief paragraph of hurried exposition, but she throws everything into the role, whether it’s scribbling notes at the edge of a Sontaran encampment or listening to the Doctor’s plan with the rapt attention of a brown-nosing schoolgirl. “Hello dear!” she says to Dan over a monitor screen, two centuries in the future. “I don’t understand any of this.”

While all this is going on, Yaz is stuck on the planet Time, which is a silly name for a planet (“And yet,” notes the Big Bad, “here we are”). Time itself is bleeding out of the temple – a mysterious and unduly beige facility landing somewhere between a quasi-Lovecraftian TARDIS knock-up and one of the sets from Dune, guarded by robed avatars who keep phasing in and out of existence with varying degrees of intensity, according to how much the universe is currently falling apart. Yaz isn’t there long before she runs into Vinder, the outpost commander who narrowly avoided being blown into smithereens last week, and whose enigmatic CV has now been embellished with the single addition of ‘Disgraced’. There’s a whiff of chemistry between the two of them, which means he won’t make it past episode six. Come the finale, they’re part of the circle, as the gloating Swarm parades the room with the swagger of a Marvel supervillain, flanked by the rest of his gang. We still don’t know who he is, and to be honest it’s kind of difficult to really care.

For all that, there’s an impulsive silliness about this episode that actually works quite well. It’s largely thanks to Dan, who jumps straight into the messy job of saving the entire planet with a gusto that’s borderline alarming. He cracks the three fingers thing immediately, and barely even flinches when watching the execution of three unnamed intruders to the Sontarans’ dockland headquarters. Even when reunited with Karvanista, he takes every revelation in his stride with the air of a man who’s been doing this for years, presumably because Chibnall wanted him this way. Either Yaz’s sudden competence is contagious, or this is poorly-written foreshadowing for some fob watch twist. Also, I know it’s dark and the Sontarans are probably tired, but why is it they’re able to mow down an entire platoon of advancing British soldiers from the other side of a foggy marsh, but they can’t hit an unarmed Scouser from ten feet away? It’s like a scene from Star Wars, and at least that had a more interesting score.

But I wonder if perhaps it’s better this way. If perhaps we’re better off with silly: if grandiose and overblown and ridiculous is a lesser evil, an acceptable substitute for worthy-and-dull. And with that in mind, I leave you with this personal highlight: the sight of John Bishop in a clapped-out Volvo, with two people who are supposed to be his parents despite being only about ten years his senior (which is perhaps not such a stretch, given we’re in Liverpool), talking about an alien invasion. They’re telling him that the best way to knock out a Sontaran is to hit the back of the neck. “How’d you find that out?” asks an incredulous Dan.

“Fella in Birkenhead,” is the response. “He was drunk. With a mallet.”

There’s a delicious pause. And then a shrug. “Birkenhead.”

And I giggled. That can’t be a bad thing.

Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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