Tonight sees the broadcast of Doctor Who: War Of The Sontarans, the second part of the six-part Flux serial, on BBC One in the UK and on BBC America in the US. So what did we think? Spoilers of course. Though the first thought you'll just be spoiling history.
1. Yes, The Crimean War Was Real And It Was All About Palestine
The Crimean War is one of those conflicts that when we were kids sounded very exciting and another example of the great action of the fading British Empire, nostalgia on toast. But now looks incredibly problematic and what on earth were we thinking? Fought in the middle of the 19th century, it was the closest we got to a World War before having one. Russia fought against an alliance of France, the Ottoman Empire, the United Kingdom and Sardinia, and was fought over, surprise, surprise, Palestine. Or rather the rights of minorities in Palestine. As long as that minority were Christians. And those Christians were the ones who were warring between themselves. The French promoted the rights of Roman Catholics, and Russia promoted those of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Of course territory, as ever, was the actual cause, with the decline of the Ottoman Empire, the expansion of the Russian Empire, and the British and French preferring Ottoman over Russian to maintain a balance of power across Europe, so we got involved as a way to make sure no one was winning too much. Also why Britain entered the Europan Union. The churches actually worked out their differences, but French Emperor Napoleon III and Russian Emperor Nicholas I refused to back down and kept the conflict going, breaking out into full-blown war. across Europe, Russia and the Middle East. This was fuelled by the Crimean War being the first major conflict to use modern technology – including explosive naval shells, railways and telegraphs, as well as being documented extensively in written reports and in photographs, which exposed logistical, medical and tactical failures, and the success of Florence Nightingale's approach to treating the wounded. It led to the collapse of the Russian Empire, a modernisation of the country and the setting of the state for the Russian Revolution sixty years later. I mean, it literally sounds like the plot of a satirical nineties Doctor Who novel, if it was set on another planet. So let's see what The War Of The Sontarans brings shall we?
2. Mary Seacole Is Real Too, Just Don't Mention Her To Florence Nightingale Fans
Mary Seacole is a historical figure revived in recent years, a contemporary of Florence Nightingale, a British-Jamaican healer and businesswoman who set up the "British Hotel" behind the lines during the Crimean War. She described this as "a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers", and provided succour for wounded servicemen on the battlefield, and nursed many of them back to health. Hoping to assist with nursing the wounded on the outbreak of the Crimean War, Seacole had applied to the British War Office to be included among the nursing contingent but was refused, so she travelled independently and set up her hotel and tended to the battlefield wounded. She became popular among service personnel, who raised money for her when she faced destitution after the war. In 1858 a four-day Fundraising Gala took place on the banks of the river Thames, to honour Mary Seacole with crowds of about 80,000 attended, including veterans, their families and the royal family. Schools of nursing in England were only set up after the Crimean war, the first being the Florence Nightingale Training School. As a result, Seacole is arguably the first nurse practitioner. After her death she was largely forgotten for almost a century, but was subsequently recognised for her success. Her autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857), is one of the earliest autobiographies of a mixed-race woman. She was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991. In 2004, she was voted the greatest black Briton. However, those who champion Florence Nightingale's role in the Crimean War and beyond have criticised the attention given to Seacole in recent years. Basically, it's the battle of The Two Nurses.
3. The Cloister Bell Chimes
The clanging sound echoing in the TARDIS is the Cloister Bell, first heard in the TARDIS back in the final story of The Fourth Doctor, indicating the presence of The Fifth Doctor as The Watcher. It has been used since in the modern Doctor Who era to indicate that something is very wrong with time. It's another Doctor Who story, Pyramids Of Mars, that reminds us that the present can be rewritten by attacking the past. It seems that Dan being written out of time, and Yaz too, but they are just displaced…
4. The Charge Of The Lazer Brigade
The Charge of the Light Brigade was a failed military action involving the British light cavalry led by Lord Cardigan against Russian forces during the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854 in the Crimean War. Lord Raglan had intended to send the Light Brigade to prevent the Russians from removing captured guns from overrun Turkish positions, a task for which the light cavalry were well-suited. However, there was miscommunication in the chain of command and the Light Brigade was instead sent on a frontal assault against a different artillery battery, one well-prepared with excellent fields of defensive fire. The Light Brigade reached the battery under withering direct fire and scattered some of the gunners, but they were forced to retreat immediately, and the assault ended with very high British casualties and no decisive gains.
The events were the subject of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's narrative poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade", published just six weeks after the event, courtesy of those telegraph wires I mentioned. Its lines emphasise the valour of the cavalry in bravely carrying out their orders, regardless of the nearly inevitable outcome. Responsibility for the miscommunication has remained controversial, as the order was vague and Captain Louis Nolan delivered the written orders with some verbal interpretation, then died in the first minute of the assault.
The Doctor's reference "Half a league onward" begins that poem, best known for the line that follows "all in the valley of Death rode the six hundred." Against Sontarans, any number would have been wiped out.
5. Weeping Moirai
The Moirai are locked in place in the Temple Of Atropos like living golden statues. Hang on… "quantum locked" That's the Weeping Angels who we saw last week. All time flows through the Moirai, without them time goes crazy. Weeping Angels feed on people's temporal potential, sending them back in time so die in another era. Is this the new origin of the Weeping Angels? I reckon so. Will Naz and Vinder end up as statues? Atropos was originally one of the Greek Fates – also known as Moirai.
6. From Too Many Doors To No Doors
It was in Father's Day that the Doctor ran to the TARDIS to discover it was just now just a wooden and concrete box. We get a similar jolt, running round the TARDIS to find the door, discovering there is none. LAst week, the TARDIS was overflowing with internal doors, now it had no external doors and before you know it, has been hijacked and is spouting crystals. Was one the forerunner of the other?
7. Blasts From The Past
A second week and another specific reference from the RTD era, the Sontaran officer mentioning the Shadow Proclamation. And from the classic series, Commander Lynx who first staked his claim on Earth, was in the 13th century, in the Third Doctor episode, The Time Warrior. And the killing off of Sontarans was a little like the death of at the hand of Harold Saxon and the Silurians by the Brigadier. People do people.
8. Rewriting The Past From The Future
We knew that Swarm knew the Doctor from the Dark Times. But he also seems to know her from the present. As he increases numbers, with The Passenger joining his sister Azure, in the Temple of Atropos on the planet Time – Azure snatched out of the present-day when she was hiding or kept prisoner in another identity – she knows everything now. And Swarm knows intimate details about Yaz. He may be someone the Doctor knew, or maybe will know. Or already knows…
9. Scousers Vs Sontarans. Especially Those From Bridlington.
Whether it's a cannonball to a wok, those probic vents come in handy. Birkenhead is a town in Wirral, Merseyside, England, along the south bank of the river Mersey, opposite Liverpool. The Mersey Railway connected Birkenhead and Liverpool, with the world's first tunnel beneath a tidal estuary, and the shipbuilding firm Cammell Laird and a seaport were established. In the second half of the 20th century, the town suffered a significant period of decline, with containerisation causing a reduction in port activity. Hence why it's a place where people get drunk a lot and hit Sontarans with frying pans.
10. Doctor…Who, What, Where, Why and Why?
No mention of the Weeping Angels from last week – unless it's the Moirai. Or how Claire knows the Doctor. or what happened to Dan's love interest Di. Or where the Flux came from. Or who Swarm actually is. We do have the industrialist from 19th century Liverpool in the Temple. Why or how, just add that to the list. We're a third of a way in, and no closer to these answers. But at least we got the dog back. But what the hell was that weird black and white house at the beginning?
Next Week: Cybermen.
War Of The Sontarans
During the Crimean War, the Doctor discovers the British army fighting a brutal alien army of Sontarans, as Yaz and Dan are thrown deeper into a battle for survival. What is the Temple of Atropos? Who are the Mouri? The Doctor has an unexpected encounter with one of her deadliest enemies when the Sontarans become a new faction in the Crimean War. As the British army goes into pitched battle with the warlike aliens, the Doctor and her companions seek the help of renowned nurse Mary Seacole (Sara Powell), while an ancient temple hides mysterious secrets
The Doctor: Jodie Whittaker
Yasmin Khan: Mandip Gill
Dan Lewis: John Bishop
Skaak/Sontaran Commander Riskaw: Jonathan Watson
Mary Seacole: Sara Powell
Vinder: Jacob Anderson
Eileen: Sue Jenkins
Joseph Williamson: Steve Oram
Swarm: Sam Spruell
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Jamie Magnus Stone
Executive Producer: Matt Strevens
Executive Producer: Nikki Wilson
Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall