War of the Sontarans
Episode 2 of Doctor Who Season 13 is a massive step-up for The Flux storyline after a messy, chaotic opener. There’s much better pacing and some genuinely menacing Sontarans. Is Doctor Who back on track?
Following the Flux event at the end of the previous episode, The Doctor awakens to find herself with Dan and Yaz thrown out the Tardis on a planet littered with bodies and rubble. They’re in the middle of a battlefield, and more specifically the middle of the Crimean War.
The year is 1855, right here on Earth, with the British fighting the Russians. Or at least, they should be. In reality, the Russianns no longer exist and in their wake are Sontarans, including those on horseback too.
Meanwhile, Officer Vinder awakens to find himself in a strange temple after the Flux Event. A floating Priest Triangle, complete with an urgent voice, brings him down to the main chamber to try and repair a contraption that seems to house beings known simply as Mouri.
Down on Earth, both Dan and Yaz suddenly disappear as, according to the Doctor, Flux and vortex energy collide to whisk them through time to Earth further along the timeline. For Dan, he shows in the middle of his street in present day Liverpool, complete with a Sontaran ship above Anfield stadium.
Sontarans march the streets, chasing after Dan and with an aim that would make a stormtrooper blush. Anyway, Dan’s parents show up and save the day, bashing the Sontarans in their weak probic vent spot in the back of the neck. So naturally, a wok is the perfect weapon in this skirmish.
For Yaz, she’s aboard the same temple we saw Officer Vinder on earlier in the episode. Just like before, a priest triangle appears and asks Yaz if she can repair. After checking her palm, and noticing letters “WWTDD” (what would the doctor do) she proudly proclaims that she can.
Yaz is led down to the main chamber where she meets Vinder. It seems the holograms are part of a larger whole, the Mouri as mentioned, who are Guardian priests of the Temple of Atropos. According to the spinning triangle, they’re from a planet responsible for harnessing and controlling time. Anyone else sensing this is Time Lord doing on Gallifrey?
Back with the Doctor, she realizes that time has been rewritten and distorted. On a map, Russia and China have been replaced with Sontar. Only, the General and his British legion still appear to retain information about Russia. Alongside the Doctor is Mary Seacole, who’s there to nurse the wounded – including a chained Sontaran.
The Doctor decides to negotiate with the Sontaran, allowing him to leave in exchange for a parlay. The crux of the issue here comes from the Doctor telling this Sontar soldier about the Doctor’s whereabouts. The main purpose of this whole ruse is to find where the Sontar camp actually is. And it happens to be hidden behind a camouflaged veil.
The Doctor tasks Mary Seacole to keep watch of the camp, where thousands and thousands of Sontarans bustle about below. Commander Skaak is the one in charge here and he makes quick work of the disgraced Sontaran soldier when he returns with news about the parlay.
When the Doctor eventually meets the Sontaran commander, she learns that the creatures used their psychic command to time their attack right before the Lupari shield took effect on Earth. All of this was meticulously planned to take advantage of the carnage and take over Earth.
Given how much conflict this world has seen, Commander Skaak decided on the Crimean War as a start. Unfortunately, the British soldiers show and disrupt this parlay, arresting the Doctor and starting this bloody conflict. Only, it’s much closer to a massacre than a fight, as the Sontarans make short work of these soldiers.
In the present, Dan and his parents head down to Liverpool waterfront. Now, this happens to be the first place the Sontaran soldiers appeared, six hours before everywhere else. It would seem as if they all arrived after the Karvanista ships encased the earth. This is being colloquially referred to as the Three Minute Eclipse.
Unfortunately, Dan’s parents are killed but there’s no time to mourn. Recording everything he’s doing, and still with a wok to hand, Dan heads aboard the Sontaran ship and begins messing about with the controls.
As luck would have it, he manages to communicate with the Doctor, who sneaks aboard a Sontaran ship of her own with Mary Seacole. Now it turns out they’re using the Crimean War as a pilot scheme for what’s ultimately going to be an attack through the whole of human history. The Sontarans are about to go on a Temporal offensive. Only, their chat is interrupted by the Sontarans themselves, realizing that there are intruders.
Meanwhile, Vinder and Yaz find themselves in the presence of our trio of enemies. Swarm, Azure and Passenger. They show up in the temple and claim to be ready to repair this contraption. The Priest Triangle suddenly swings in and realizes that they’re banned from the place. However, Swarm wipes out the triangle, and a couple of the time-locked priests standing on these pedestals.
The Doctor meanwhile, decides to use the Sontaran’s weakness against them. Given they need to recharge for 7.5 minutes every 27 hours, they decide to sabotage the ships before that and make sure they can’t restock with crucial gasses. In doing so, it essentially dwindles the fleet and renders them useless. It works too, and with Skaak unable to fight, he decides to make a “strategic withdrawal.” Basically a retreat, let’s be honest here!
Only, the commanding British officer has the last laugh. He sets up gunpowder alongside all the Sontaran ships (in 6 minutes? okay let’s run with it) and blows them all sky high on the verge of the Sontarans retreating
There’s actually a really nice moment here, where the Doctor is, well, the Doctor. She calls him out for his cowardice and reminds him that they were retreating. This whole sequence is quite reminiscent of The Christmas Invasion, where Harriet Jones fired on the retreating Sycorax.
With this time period saved, the Tardis materializes and the Doctor skips forward to collect Dan in present-day Liverpool.
Karvanista appears to save Dan at the last second. He knows about the Sontaran’s plan and intends to stop it too. He joins up with Dan as they use the ship as a battering ram to take out the entirety of the dockyard. In order to get away, they use a waste-pipe to tumble down and into the water below.
With the Sontarans gone, the Doctor invites Dan along for the ride. Something seems to be corrupting the Tardis though, with that strange black goo appearing once more. Interestingly, they’re taken aboard the same ship that our trio of enemies are on.
As the Swarm starts monologuing, the Doctor is wise to what he’s saying and reminds him that there’s no such planet as Time. Could they be referring to Gallifrey though, I wonder? Anyway, the Mouri have been repaired, sort of, with Yaz and Vinder both being used as placeholders.
As Azure counts down from five, Swarm intends to blast Yaz with the full force of time energy. As he clicks his fingers… the episode comes to an agonizing end.
The Episode Review
Well, that was a massive step-up from the first episode. With a more controlled story and a better pacing (thanks in part to a slightly longer run-time), Doctor Who storms out with one of Chibnall’s best since taking over as show-runner.
The idea of a continuous story spread across six episodes allows for much better pacing, as seen with this episode where the Sontarans return. They’re actually a threat too, and their design, leaning in much closer to that seen in Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker’s era, is much better and certainly more menacing.
Now, there are a lot of throwbacks to RTD’s era here too, which are a little annoying if I’m honest. I’m all for nods to the past but directly ripping off lines and using nostalgia-bait for brownie points, doesn’t really sit well and it feels vapid and shallow.
The other, more minor issue in the grand scheme of things, comes from the simplistic dialogue. I appreciate that a story like this needs exposition but the hilarious way we’re introduced to Yaz and reminded, out of nowhere, that she’s still a police officer, shows how poorly the companions have been handled throughout Chibnall’s tenure.
There are numerous other examples, including a slightly strange reaction from Dan to his parents being killed in front of him. He immediately shrugs it off and starts joking around and cracking light quips. Beyond that though, the story itself is pretty enjoyable and to be honest, Dan’s parents could well be brought back, especially if time is about to be rewritten.
Those are the only gripes here though, surprisingly, and if you’ve been following my recaps you’ll know I’ve been massively critical of this show for the past 2 or 3 seasons. This chapter though was great. The stand-out is arguably when the Doctor is shocked and appalled that the Sontarans are blown up with gunpowder, which reaches back to that caring, assertive side of the character that’s been sorely missing for a while.
This Flux concept has been a nice way to close things out on a high and Jodie Whittaker does a great job here, lapping up much improved scripts and dialogue. If this is a sign of things to come, 13 may not be an unlucky number after all.