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Posts Tagged ‘Sontarans’

Sixty Things I Like About Who: #31 – 37

December 23rd, 2009 No comments

Part one of “The End of Time” premieres this Friday in England (and Saturday in the U.S.), but first here are seven more things I found notable about Doctor Who.

#31:  “The Girl in the Fireplace”

I’m not at all afraid about Steven Moffat taking over from Russell Davies as Who‘s executive producer. Not only did he create one of my favorite Britcoms (Coupling) and establish his bona fides as a Whovian with his affectionate spoof “The Curse of Fatal Death,” but out of the four stories he’s written for the new series, three of them have been out-of-the-park homers. (Or whatever it is they’d call the equivalent thing in a cricket match.) And while I don’t regard the fourth (“Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead”) as highly as do other fans, it’s still one of the better stories.

But we’re discussing “The Girl in the Fireplace,” which was hands-down the best episode of season two. In it, the Doctor landed aboard a seemingly abandoned spaceship only to find its clockwork robot crew taking an unhealthy interest in an 18th century girl named Reinette. For reasons which only became clear to the viewer in the story’s final moments, they sought out her brain to serve as a replacement computer for the damaged vessel.

The robots opened several “time windows” to various points in Reinette’s life, and the Doctor soon discovered that the clock moved much more quickly on his side than on hers. First encountering her as a very young girl, his subsequent visits saw her mature into a beautiful woman…the historical figure Madame de Pompadour. The two shared an intimate bond, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Of course, when the Doctor invited Reinette to travel in the TARDIS with him, one knew that it couldn’t end well. (It never does, unless you’re Billie Piper.) Betrayed by time itself, the Doctor’s heart was broken, and mine with it.

#32:  The London Eye

In the episode “Rose,” the Nestene Consciousness used the massive Ferris wheel known as the London Eye to transmit a control signal to its army of Autons. Retroactively, that made it the first Doctor Who location I’ve ridden in!

#33:  The Cult of Skaro

Introduced in the episode “Doomsday,” the Cult of Skaro added a bit of personality to the Dalek menace. Unanswerable to the Dalek hierarchy and given license to further their race by any means, they adopted such unorthodox alien concepts as assigning themselves names.

For their next appearance they holed up in the basement of the Empire State Building, experimenting with Human/Dalek hybrids. The Cult’s leader, Dalek Sec, made the heretical argument that they were not superior to all other races as always had been their presumption. After all, he reasoned, for all their conquests the Daleks had been reduced in number to only four survivors. This did not make him popular around the water cooler.


In the ensuing firefight between the Daleks and their demi-human offspring, Sec and two of his followers were killed. The remaining Cult member, Dalek Caan, made repeated attempts to break through the “time lock” that cut off the battles of the Time War from the rest of history. This had the effect of rendering him both insane and precognitive. In the end, he too recognized the deficiencies of his own species and secretly aided the Doctor to defeat the Dalek Empire.

#34:  Extra-Special Effects

In the old days it was said that part of the charm of Doctor Who was the cheapness of its creaking, wooden sets and monsters made of cellophane. Something would be lost by making it look good.


From snarling CGI werewolves to massive space fleets, the new series has been big on visual spectacle. And while I would never discount the importance of writing and acting to a good slice of British sci-fi, dazzling special effects are a welcome addition.

#35:  The Toclafane

Deadly pawns of the Master during his year-long reign over the Earth, the Toclafane were small, metal spheres outfitted with spikes and laser emitters. Giggling with glee, they killed “because it’s fun.”

As the Master placed as much priority on humiliating and hurting the Doctor as he did taking over the universe, the Toclafane were chosen and named for maximum psychological effect. “Toclafane” was itself the name of a Time Lord myth akin to the Boogeyman. Even more chilling to the Doctor was his realization of the creatures’ true nature: they were the last remnants of the human race itself from the year 100 Trillion. Unable to escape the encroaching darkness of the end of everything, the despairing men and women regressed to childhood and built themselves into cyborg shells. Each Toclafane sphere housed a desiccated human head, fearful, mad and taking pleasure only in death. Creepy stuff.

#36:  Irrational Fears

Doctor Who has long had a mandate to make children deathly afraid of unlikely things: store dummies, puppet dinosaurs, bubble wrap and Colin Baker.

The new series demonstrated its intention to uphold tradition by having a character eaten by a plastic trash bin in its very first episode. Since then, it has caused otherwise well-adjusted children to pee themselves over the following:

  • Shadows
  • Scarecrows
  • Statues
  • Santa
  • Satellite navigation systems
  • Skeletons wearing spacesuits
  • Angels
  • Beetles
  • Water
  • Crayon drawings
  • Gas masks
  • Television sets
  • French fries
  • British comedians
  • Fat people
  • Old ladies
  • People who repeat what you say
  • Billie Piper’s new teeth

#37:  U.N.I.T. Schools the Sontarans

In the two-part story “The Sontaran Stratagem”/”The Poison Sky,” the warriors of Sontar used their technology to jam conventional U.N.I.T. weaponry. But with a change of ammunition–and an assist from the aircraft carrier Valiant–U.N.I.T. severely kicked some Sontaran ass.