Written by: Helen Raynor
Directed by: Douglas Mackinnon
Epic, funny and moving, this episode gobbles down huge slices of cake, but still ends up with a full plateful. It does a sterling job of dramatising the Doctor’s morality, showing us that war is a terrible thing: the Sontarans' callous slaughter of UNIT troops is appalling, especially after the beautifully played death of UNIT grunt Ross, which reminds us that every casualty is a human tragedy. Yet shortly thereafter, we’re invited to delight in their fightback, as they unpack the rocket-launchers and Mace makes his glorious line-in-the-sand speech, demonstrating that he’s not just some beribboned buffoon - and that while the Doctor may not approve of their methods, that doesn’t mean that the People With Guns aren’t heroes.
The other major triumph is Donna - this episode will surely have converted scores of open-minded doubters. As she knocks out a Sontaran, you realise that while we’ve seen companions do this kind of thing countless times before, this is one of the few occasions where it’s actually come across as incredibly courageous. That’s a major strength of this character.
In an episode chocka with punch-the-air moments, you’re spoilt for choice, but I’m plumping for the arrival of the Valiant.
When an ecstatic Captain Price kisses Colonel Mace full on the mouth – then realises what she’s done...
Some plot elements – hacking into missile control systems, an alien plot involving launching Earth’s own nukes – recall “World War Three”. And there’s even more preposterous deadlocking, as the Doctor “deadlocks open” all the Sontarans’ transmat systems! (Huh?) But who gives a gnat’s chuff?
You probably haven’t seen Christian Cooke (Ross) before, but you’ll be seeing him again – he plays the central character in ITV’s forthcoming The Last Van Helsing.
Donna: “Back of the neck!”