I wonder if I may not be responding to this episode as the producers intended, as I find the Sontarans too cute to fear. Aw, who’s a good little Sontaran? You are! Yes, you are! No wonder they have some Napoleon Complex going on–locked out of the Time War and then tickled under the chin by Doctor Who fans. At least their unfinished clone was good and creepy.
Still, “The Sontaran Stratagem” brings up a theme that percolates throughout this season of Who–the Doctor’s antipathy toward warfare and weapons. This is far from the first time the Doctor has expressed such sentiments (although he’s plenty rude and not ginger about it here), but this episode allows several characters to expose the contradictions in that position. Colonel Mace, a bit tired of being picked on for having a gun, points out that the Doctor has his weapons–the TARDIS, the sonic screwdriver, even a squash ball–but he chooses to hide them or to avoid labeling them as such. General Staal the Undefeated (oh, that name’s just asking for trouble) passes on legend that says the Doctor led the last battle of the Time War (whether he started out leading it or just ended it remains up in the air, but the legend fits with other things we know). Even Martha (welcome back, Dr. Jones!) warns Donna that the Doctor is like fire–echoing Tim Latimer’s visions in “Family of Blood“–and that the people around him tend to get burned.
Is the Doctor really a pacifist? Or is Mister “No Second Chances” more opposed to the militaristic uniformity he thinks the Sontarans and UNIT share than to the actual application of force? Or is he leery about weapons because he practically is one? Or has he just gotten too many fund-raising solicitations from the NRA–is it just guns that bother him?
Interestingly–especially in an episode written by a woman and in which Martha and Donna do not engage in a war of words over a Time Lord (although Supertemp!Donna does call him a prawn, to my very great amusement)–General Staal refers to words as the weapons of womenfolk. I think I’d happily take those weapons, thanks, but will this uber-verbal version of the Doctor give the General his first defeat through the power of words? Whole theses have been written on, say, the contrast between the traditionally male versions of heroism sword- and arrow-wielders like Aragorn and Legolas show versus the more “feminine” heroism Frodo and Sam show by putting one foot in front of the other. It might be a little too pat to call one of those feminine and one masculine, but where does such a lens place the gun-hating, pun-loving Doctor? Where does the fact that the female Companions in modern Who have such close ties to their families play into this? Whatever the answer to that last question, if they don’t save Donna’s grandfather, I’m going to start cheering for the Sontarans instead.