We’re back, and living through a timeline devoted to the glory of Sontar. (Ha! wait… ho?)
The TARDIS crew wake up from their impending doom and find that they’re on Earth, Sevastopol, during the Crimean War (1850s thereabouts). Time is all wonky, however, and it leads to Dan getting pulled back to 2021 Liverpool and Yaz getting pulled away to parts unknown; the Doctor promises to find her. The TARDIS doesn’t appear to have any doors, though, and then it disappears on the Doctor. She meets Mary Seacole (Sara Powell) and General Logan (Gerald Kyd), who aren’t involved in the Crimean War that history remembers—they’re fighting the Sontarans, who they remember having always been on Earth. The Doctor realizes that the Sontarans were able to get through the Lupari shield before the Flux hit, and have been using this opening to rewrite human history. The Doctor meets a Sontaran soldier named Svild (Dan Starkey) that Mary has been treating, and asks him to return to his commander and request a parlay… because she knows where the Doctor is.
Vinder survives Outpost Rose’s destruction and finds himself in some sort of stone temple. A diamond node asks if he can repair something. He learns that he is in the Temple of Atropos, on the planet Time, and is taken to a central chamber with six Mouri (sort of priest-like figures?) displayed on pedestals in a circle. They can only be seen when a person steps into the circle, but two Mouri are missing. This is what he is meant to “repair,” though he obviously has no idea how. Yaz eventually arrives at the same place and meets Joseph Williamson, who doesn’t want to talk to her at all. She tells the node that she can repair whatever it is asking her to repair, and follows, meeting Vinder and trying to figure out what this place is about. They are told by the node that Time is getting out of control in the absence of the two Mouri figures.
Dan, meanwhile, has arrived on a present-day Earth that has been completely taken over by the Sontarans. He’s saved from being caught out after curfew by his parents, Eileen and Neville (Sue Jenkins and Paul Broughton), who came to check on him when they couldn’t make contact following the invasion. Dan decides that he can maybe figure out how to stop the aliens given his recent experiences, takes his dad’s wok, and sneaks onto a Sontaran ship at the Liverpool docks. Back in Sevastopol, the Doctor and Mary Seacole follow the Sontaran soldier back to base where his people remain out of sight behind a large shield. The Doctor asks Mary to stay there, in hiding, and write down everything she observes them doing. Then she goes for her parlay with their commander, reveals that she’s the Doctor and that there won’t be any fighting. Unfortunately, General Logan feels differently on that count and arrives with all his men—both armies go to war, and the humans get mowed down.
The Doctor returns to Mary and they sneak aboard a Sontaran ship to learn more. Once there, the Doctor makes contact with Dan across time; she realizes that the Sontarans are trying to invade Earth’s history to take it over from the beginning, and the Crimean War is a pilot program of sorts. She tells Dan to stop the Sontarans in present day while she works to stop them in the 19th century, but Dan is almost captured until Karvanista shows up to rescue “his human,” and they argue their way to a solution: using the ship they’re on as a battering ram to destroy the Sontaran fleet and ejecting themselves out a waste shoot to prevent their own deaths. The Doctor gathers a small group of humans to use Mary’s data to their advantage—they agree to secretly board the Sontaran ships and disconnect their “environmental” top ups that keep them safe in Earth’s atmosphere. Once it’s done, the Sontarans make a “strategic” retreat, but General Logan has rigged the ships to explode, killing them in revenge. The Doctor is furious, and admits that people like him make her wonder why she bothers with humanity at all sometimes.
The TARDIS arrives again and the Doctor heads to pick up Dan, telling Karvanista that she’s not done with him, but that he’s also got to look after the Earth in her absence while she tries to figure this whole thing out. She and Dan arrive at the Temple of Atropos to find that Swarm and his sister Azure have beaten them there. What’s more, Yaz and Vinder have been hooked into the Mouri pedestals at the temple, and with a click of his fingers, Swarm can send pure time coursing through their bodies. Swarm goes to activate the temple as the Doctor pleads with him to stop…
This is all moving along at a startling (but engaging) clip. Though it does contain a few marked plot holes, the overall structure of this thing is coming together in a fun way, and I’d say this episode is better than the premiere. It’s actually more fun and clearer overall. Plus, the separate threads for our three main character was a genuinely delightful way to spend the week?
But also, after last week’s mattress falling and the little (deeply personal) rows, my heart absolutely will not take the Doctor telling Yaz she’ll find her, and Yaz’s responding “Promise?” before she vanishes. Or Yaz having “WWTDD” on her palm. I cannot, this is too sweet (and gay), I will die.
I adore Dan’s parents? I love how seamlessly this episode slots them in, and how quickly we get a measure of them in the midst of this sheer chaos? It’s been a striking difference between all the New Who show runners that really sets them apart; Davies was all about companion families and involving them, seeing what adventures with the Doctor did to the people on other side of the equation; Moffat mostly ignored family dynamics except in odd one-off moments; Chibnall has gone for a blend, making sure that families are relevant, but never getting them too heavily involved in the action. And that makes sense because the show has started taking an increasingly cavalier stance on how common alien activity is on Earth by this point? So it makes more sense for families and loved ones to be less put off by the Doctor’s existence.
As for plot holes, I’m gonna keep being annoyed that they come up with this whole plan to environmentally “starve” the Sontarans, but Mary Seacole had one soldier in her care for an extended period of time, and somehow he’s not… dead. Because that’s definitely what that logic intimates should happen if he’s got no hook up. There are a couple of those in here, and they’re just a little too glaring to fade into the background.
With Mary Seacole, we’re continuing the tradition of the Thirteenth Doctor meeting extraordinary women throughout history. Sara Powell is wonderful in the role (though the accent is a bit touch-and-go, which adds a level of cringe at times), but moreover, this episode is making a point of showing how the Doctor’s connection with women really is what powers her love for humanity. We can talk about how the series classically had women as companions for the purpose of having someone pretty for the Doctor to explain at, but from a story perspective, it’s kind of impossible to ignore that the Doctor generally prefers the company of human women.
And then we get this moment with Logan taking matters into his own hands, and the Doctor being reminded of the fact that some humans really make it difficult to care about us as a species. (Which… don’t we all, as humans, feel that way sometimes?) And Mary mentions that she’s glad the Doctor does care, and it couldn’t be a more pointed reminder of the fact that the people who make the Doctor lose all hope for us are pretty much always men. I’m sure some folks will take exception to that, but I think it fits as a journey for Thirteen to specifically have.
And then we get scenes with Dan, and we’re reminded that some guys are genuinely very good as a lovely counterpoint. I’m sad that we’re gonna miss out on more banter between him and Karvanista because they are the right kind of ridiculous as a team. But now we’ve got to wait and find out if Yaz can be saved from… temples, and pure time, and a planet called Time, and Swarm and Azure and their truly excellent tailor. (Give us the deets, y’all, I need a jacket like either of those.)
Stuff and Things
- Give us more of the Doctor’s mindscape(?), please, that house was good.
- Without a word, they call back one of the best jokes in season four’s “The Sontaran Stratagem” two-parter, when Donna looks at the hand-imprint door panel and laments its need for three fingers, to which the Doctor replies “…You’ve got three fingers.” Watching everyone muddle around said panel is a great callback.
- The Sontarans look a bit more like Classic Who Sontarans this time around, like burned baked potatoes. Also, I am still laughing over “I wanted to ride a horse.”
- SLINGSHOT, ugh, why is she perfect.
- Look, all I’m saying is that Swarm is setting himself up as this Uber-antagonist that has “danced” through time and space with the Doctor, and considers himself to be her greatest enemy, and… when the Master finds out about this, he’s gonna be pissed. (Not that he’s set to show up here, but that would be on-par for this sort of story: In the last serialized season, “Trial of a Time Lord,” the Master literally shows up to defend the Doctor because he’s so mad that anyone else thinks they’re allowed to give him a hard time. Sooooo….)
- So “Sontar-ha!” is a positive exclamation, but “Sontar-ho!” is a negative, and this is precisely what Doctor Who is for, thank you.
Next week we’re back for “Once, Upon a Time”—see you then!