Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews – Vol. 10.8
Now that Donna Noble has joined the crew of the TARDIS, let’s see what kind of trouble they can get into…
The Fires of Pompeii
This will forever be known as the episode that featured Amy Pond and the Twelve Doctor before they were cast in their central roles. To say that it is distracting is an understatement, but it’s worth rolling with it simply because it’s such a good episode. The episode deals with the dangers of causality and the morality of time travel. The Doctor decides to show Donna ancient Rome but a slight miscalculation lands them in the city of Pompeii. Not only that they’ve arrived on volcano day.
Before we even get to that dilemma, there’s more afoot in Pompeii than meets the eye (because of course there is). A local sisterhood of soothsayers have predicted the arrival of the Doctor and his blue box and believe that he brings chaos and death with him. In addition the Doctor discovers a sculpture that resembles a large circuit board, part of an energy converter. Upon further investigation the Doctor finds that the leader of the soothsayers is cursed and turning into stone. He deduces that the soothsayers are under the control of the Pyroviles, a volcanic alien race who are using the power of Mount Vesuvius to use their energy converter to change the human race into their own.
So far so Doctor Who. What makes this episode stand out is the point that the energy converter is the only thing preventing the volcanic eruption that flattens Pompeii and kills the entire population. The only way to prevent the Pyroviles from taking over the Earth and turning every human into stone is to allow the destruction of Pompeii. Donna is disgusted by the Doctor’s resignation to this event and insists tat they find a way to save the population using the TARDIS. This is the best kind of plot point – the one that makes the audience themselves question what the right thing to do. Fantastic episode.
Planet of the Ood
If there’s one species of alien who didn’t need a sympathetic back-story, it’s the Ood. They were introduced as a race kept in willing servitude. Their unusual appearance was juxtaposed against their unflappable politeness for comedic effect. The only time they appeared to be threatening was when they were held under the sway of Satan (which is fair). Perhaps because they’d been established as light-hearted figures that they could be effectively used in this episode.
The Doctor and Donna arrive on the Oodsphere where they find Ood Operations, the company responsible for selling the Oods as servants. With the Ood happy and willing to enter into this role few have taken issue with this arrangement, but the truth behind the enslavement of this race had never been explored. Like in Pompeii Donna takes exception to the circumstances, and it’s only when the Doctor detects something amiss. Donna’s discomfort comes with good reason, as they discover that the Oods originally carry their brains on the outside of their body and the company has been replacing them with the electronic translation devices.
As the story progresses the moral becomes pretty on the nose. Regardless of the initial impression of the Oods their servitude came at a heavy price. The discovery of a giant brain controlling the mass consciousness of the species brings things to a head and the confrontation results in an ironic punishment for those responsible. It’s a good episode, and one that tugs at the heartstrings. It’s effective, but between this and Pompeii it doesn’t seem like Donna’s having much fun.
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky
It had been about 20 years since the last appearance of the Sontaran’s, formally one of the Doctor’s greatest foes. The entire race is genetic clones designed for one purpose: warfare. Their race had been involved in a war for so long that they have dedicated their resources to nothing else for centuries. They have become single minded warriors who seek only a glorious death on the battlefield.
This encounter begins with Martha, now working as a member of UNIT, contacting the Doctor and asking him for help. She is requesting his help in investigating the ATMOS factory, a system of satellite navigation and pollution negation for cars. Atmos has been installed in almost every single car in the world, but the young genius that developed the system is hiding a terrible secret. He’s been working in conjunction with the Sontaran, and the ATMOS unit are capable of taking control of the cars they’re installed in and dispelling a toxic gas. Along with ATMOS the Sontaran are using human clones and mind control to prep Earth for an invasion.
With a clone of Martha taking her place and the alien invasion in full swing it is revealed that the Sontaran need to use Earth as a new breeding facility. Since the Sontaran’s are already controlling much of the planet infrastructure and drastically outclass the human armies it falls to the Doctor and Donna to use trickery to outwit the invaders. Fortunately this is the Doctor’s strong suit.
As far as double episodes go this isn’t one of the most ground-breaking adventures. It is good to see a return of a classic villain like the Sontaran but something about them feels a little goofy in the modern setting. Possibly due to their appearance and their single minded approach to the world they aren’t taken very seriously by the writers, something that is reinforced with the introduction of Strax in later seasons. They still work but the Sontaran in the older seasons could be downright terrifying – such as in ‘The Sontaran Experiment’.