Where now all those pretentious "professional" whovians who used to sagely scoff that a new series of Doctor Who mustn't be too much like the original one, or today's public wouldn't watch it?
Well, some of them seem to have landed the gig of making the new series, and after three whole seasons, it seems it's finally sinking-in that the old formula is actually still a winning one after all.
The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky is the third traditional-style story in a row and, far from being paranoid about Doctor Who lore, this tale embraces the show's history without fear of losing anyone. The Brigadier, the war with the Rutans, the Doctor's old job, it's all background to this tale, which I dare say new viewers took in without even noticing. Not to mention all the unobtrusive in-jokes – the thorax line, and the show's latest ambiguous contribution to the ongoing UNIT dating controversy. "Back in the 70s. Or was it the 80s?"
Anyway, the Sontarans are this season's returning villain, and they're using the GPS system to turn the world's cars into gas-bombs.
It's a brilliant hook, and played-out with guest-characters who actually remember the events of recent episodes too. (Donna's mum doesn't mention either the UFO or the Adipose she saw in Partners In Crime, but unlike Rose's mum forgetting the Autons, here there's no reason for her to mention them) Even Wilfred gets a line excusing why he was absent from The Runaway Bride, as does Martha regarding the growth-spurt in her medical knowledge in Reset, though these mopping-up explanations are a tad late now.
As usual, part one is much better than part two, and it's a real relief to see a story with a global catastrophe that just for once isn't blatantly aliens invading for all to see.
That said, the trappings of new Who are still proudly on display here, though they're becoming so samey now that I must admit I'm becoming a bit blind to them. For example, it almost went without saying that story four would be a two-parter featuring the return of a classic alien invading present-day Earth using zombies while the companion character revisits her family a few days after leaving, so I was barely surprised by such formulaic writing this time.
This was certainly the best (and third) way the companion has initially returned home. The Doctor's mistaken goodbye to Donna, her walking up her old road, and the unconditional forgiveness of her grandfather were all terrific scenes.
What did jolt me though was how my heart sank when, just as feared four episodes back, they actually did force Rose into a shot in the background. I haven't wound the DVD back to check, but there was a flash of her yelling "Doctor!" on a TV screen in the TARDIS with no sound. When she inevitably shows up at the end of the season, I again don't expect any explanation of why she was shouting "Doctor!" before even having made a connection. I guess I'm saying that, while foreshadowing future episodes in itself is a good thing, I can't trust them to make good on it after recent years.
If they want to foreshadow stuff better, then the Sontarans should have been the ones avoiding Earth in the alternate future at the start of Last Of The Time Lords. That said, I'm relieved to discover that at least one ATMOS car has appeared in the show prior to this one. Whew!
But hey, apart from that distracting split-second of Rose, the soldiers kissing at the end, and the ignorance of any repercussions for the poor old environment, (pop science isn't this team's strong-point either) I enjoyed this.