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Doctor Who - War of the Sontarans & Once, Upon Time - Review

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Episode: "War of the Sontarans"
Directed by: Jamie Magnus Stone
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Air date: 7 November 2021

Starting from the short recap, the Doctor, Yaz and Dan manage to escape getting erased by the Flux and they travel back in time to Sevastopol during the Crimean War. It doesn't take long for both of the companions to suddenly be transported away through time with the Doctor unable to follow them in the TARDIS. The Doctor realizes that the Earth history is changing. The Russian empire appears to be replaced by Sontar and the Sontaran army is battling against humans. The Doctor learns that Sontarans used the chaos of the Flux to invade Earth just seconds before Lupari ships shielded the planet. Despite the Doctor's efforts to stop the bloodshed the British commander General Logan leads his army in a battle against Sontarans ending in a massacre. With the help of Mary Seacole and the remaining forces, the Doctor figures out a way to force Sontarans to retreat, by poisoning their supply system. Despite them already leaving, the General uses the opportunity to blow up the Sontaran ships as revenge for the massacre. Meanwhile, Dan finds himself back at home in Liverpool, however in a world taken over by the Sontarans. He manages to infiltrate their base of operations and even contacts the Doctor who asks him to stop the Sontaran fleet. He's saved from Sontaran units first by his parents and then by Karvanista. Karvanista takes charge in ramming one of the ships into the rest of the vessels, ending the Sontaran offensive. The Doctor shows up and invites Dan to the TARDIS to go after Yaz. They end up on the planet Time, unknown to the Doctor, where Yaz and Vinder are imprisoned by Swarm and Azure who attempt to take control of time itself.

I really enjoyed getting to know Dan throughout the hour. He adapted to the circumstances much better than I would expect. Not willing to stand back and watch his world disappear he enters the Liverpool docks, to try to figure out a way to stop the Sontarans. No plan. Just a pan. Brave? Stupid? Both? Definitely a companion in the making. The brief meeting with his parents took me by surprise but it led to a few moments of levity in an otherwise intense story. And speaking of humour, Karvanista is definitely growing on me. His interactions with Dan were fun and unique. Definitely my favorite pair of the hour. Their constant bickering and taking credit for each other's actions were just very entertaining to watch. On the other hand, Yaz's plot in the episode started of like a typical companion adventure. Boldly facing the unknown and trying to fix what's broken, even befriending Vinder and together working with him to fix the temple's mainframe on the planet Time. Unfortunately things take a dark turn soon, when Swarm and Azure arrive and take control of the temple. It's clear that there's nothing that Yaz or Vinder can do against them and they're left fighting for their lives. In fact, Yaz is about to be killed as the episode ends and considering the situation, I'm seriously wondering how the Doctor could save her this time.

Speaking of, the main story of the hour was the Doctor's time in Sevastopol. It was great to meet the wonderful and courageous Mary Seacole. Her presence and help made a big difference in the end. Unfortunately, in contrast to her important actions, we were also introduced to General Logan. Another one in a very long line of people who think they're the smartest person in the room and simply refuse to listen to the Doctor's advice, no matter the logic, until it's already too late to save most of his men. To be honest, it's hard to feel for his character, especially when he proves more vengeful than the enemy by the end of the episode. Of course as the audience we know significantly more about the Doctor to understand why she shouldn't be dismissed. But even without that knowledge, when someone offers a chance to do things better, to save and protect people, instead of just starting another fight, why wouldn't you at least try to listen? There's always that one guy... Still, the Doctor had a chance to shine a couple of times in the hour, which is always a great thing to see. Her brilliance is not only shown in the way she forces Sontaran fleet to retreat but also earlier, when she tricks a scout to learn everything she needs to know and to cause a necessary distraction. Great hour for Jodie Whittaker and the Thirteenth Doctor.

Finally, a few thoughts on the Sontarans. While not the smartest group, they were certainly a significant threat during the episode. In fact, this might be the most dangerous they've been on New Who yet. Personally, I still prefer their presence in "The Sontaran Stratagem" / "The Poison Sky" and of course I'd always be happy to see Strax. Having said that, this felt more brutal, strategic, even successful at times. Back in season four, during the two-parter the Doctor seemed far more in control, despite their extensive operations on the global scale. Here the Doctor encounters the fleet after they've already conquered an empire, making the challenge harder to navigate. But not impossible. A solid episode overall, Flux has been pretty memorable so far.

Episode: "Once, Upon Time"
Directed by: Azhur Saleem
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Air date: 14 November 2021

First, a summary of the plot. With only seconds to analyze the situation and make a decision, the Doctor puts herself and her friends in the middle of a time storm. She hides everyone in their own time streams and protects them from Swarm, while thinking of a solution to fix the Temple of Atropos. We watch the real memories (of past and the future) mixed with inserted images of the Doctor, Yaz, Dan and Vinder as the storm rages on. Dan remembers his time with Diane and gets a glimpse of a future adventure with Joseph Williamson. Yaz spends time with her colleague from work and her sister, but also discovers her memories are getting corrupted by a Weeping Angel who appears to be following her. Vinder has to relive the time when his promotion turned into demotion to a remote outpost after he tries to do the right thing and reveals the crimes of the dictatorial Grand Serpent. The Doctor remembers a mission from her life as the Fugitive Doctor incarnation (also known as Ruth). A mission to stop Swarm and Azure attacking the Temple of Atropos that involved three other Division officers, including Karvanista. While discovering her past, the Doctor learns about vessels called Passengers and manages to reach Mouri priests, asking them to return four Mouri to Atropos, to help stabilize time. Before coming back to reality, the Doctor also encounters a mysterious woman called Awsok who reveals that the Flux was intentionally caused by someone and it's the Doctor's fault. With the time storm ending and the Mouri back in the temple, the Doctor, Yaz, Dan and Vinder still have to confront Swarm and Azure who claim to have expected the Doctor's actions, but it didn't matter because the time's been broken long enough. They also admit to holding Dan's love interest, Diane, trapped inside the Passenger before they disappear. The Doctor brings Vinder back to his (now destroyed) planet, leaving him with a way to reach her. It's also revealed that throughout the hour we've been watching the story of Bel, a survivor of the Flux and Vinder's pregnant lover who is travelling across what remains of the universe, mostly controlled by the Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans, all while looking for Vinder. In the final moment of the episode, a Weeping Angel who's been following Yaz suddenly appears in the TARDIS and takes control of the console.

There were certainly a few moments in the hour where I felt mostly lost and out of place with the story, but luckily it was all brought together rather well by the end. While we didn't learn much through Yaz's past or Dan's memories, with the exception of a Weeping Angel's presence and Dan's (future?) meeting with Joseph Williamson, I found myself invested in Vinder's story and his character. He is a very skilled pilot, highly qualified, who saved the lives of his colleagues and earned himself a better position. Unfortunately getting closer to those in charge turned out to be far from the honor he might have expected. Instead he was treated like a grunt, someone who shouldn't be able to understand things around him and was supposed to sit quietly and blindly follow orders. When he overhears the Grand Serpent's criminal activity, he can't ignore it and do nothing, he wants him to be held accountable, regardless of his status. His superior warns him of the consequences but he stands by his choice to be a whistleblower and is punished as a result, moved to the remote outpost, where we met him back in the season premiere. What makes his story even more memorable is the moment when it finally overlaps with Bel's narration. We meet a brave and skillful fighter named Bel at the beginning of the hour and follow her adventures in the broken reality as she escapes from Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans, all while trying to find Vinder. She's also pregnant with his child and despite the worst of circumstances still remains hopeful that they will be reunited. I'm definitely expecting to be revisiting this couple before the season ends.

And then there's the Doctor. The more we learn, the more questions appear. We find out that the Fugitive Doctor used to work for Division and Karvanista was one of her team members. She was also working towards some kind of ending, trying to complete one final mission before she's finally...free? I'd definitely be interested in seeing more of her past, but not nearly as much as the Doctor herself. She's losing patience and is getting more desperate in trying to understand her life and who she truly is. Unfortunately, she still refuses to share her struggle with Yaz, not willing to discuss her state of mind and address any of her friend's questions or concerns. The Doctor always had his/her secrets, but this feels different and is starting to affect her relationships. I would honestly not blame Yaz for choosing to leave if the Doctor continues to refuse to open up about her search. This is all becoming too much for the Doctor to handle on her own and she could definitely use some help, as hard as it may be to ask for it.

Whovian notes and questions:
1. How good are you with recognizing the faces and the actors from different shows/movies? I completely missed the fact that Vinder is played by Jacob Anderson (AKA Grey Worm on Game of Thrones). It's been a while. Doctor Who had so many great actors make guest appearances on the show. Any favorites?
2. I found it rather interesting that Vinder knew what the TARDIS is, even if only as a story. Do you think it might be a common knowledge on his planet, his line of work or more of a personal/family story?
3. What are your current thoughts on the Division? It doesn't sound a like an evil organization exactly. The Doctor and her team were trying to save lives in her memory. "The usual." Curious on the overall goal of the Division for sure.
4. Do you feel like you're able to follow the story so far? Or are you (still) feeling mostly confused? Very often on Doctor Who we learn and understand things through the companion. This season Yaz is being very much excluded from the Doctor's struggle and thoughts.
5. Who is Awsok? A god-like being who can hijack anyone from time? Is she someone from the Doctor's past? Any theories? No spoilers, please.

Memorable quotes:
1. Dan: "I hope I never see you again". Karvanista: "Feeling's mutual."
2. The Doctor: "Sometimes men like you make me wonder why I bother with humanity."
3. Swarm: "There is no greater battle than this, the battle between time... and space. And time shall not lose. Time shall never surrender to space."
4. Bel: "Love is the only mission."
5. Awsok: "The Flux wasn't an accident. It wasn't a naturally occurring event. It was made. It was placed. Because of you."

What did you think about "War of the Sontarans" & "Once, Upon Time"? Any favorite scenes, quotes or theories? Feel free to let us know in the comments. As always, thanks for reading!

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