A First-Timer Watches Doctor Who: “The Poison Sky”

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Donna is definitely the funniest companion so far, but why does she have such an unfortunate wardrobe? White orthopedic sneakers with pinstripe dress pants and a blue velvet blazer? On the TARDIS? In the middle of a war? It hardly seems appropriate. Someone give that woman a pair of cool boots!

“The Poison Sky” brings us back to earth, where the Sontarans are attacking, a pipsqueak nerd has released poison gas into the air, and a clone of Martha is walking around doing evil things. This episode concludes the drama started in “The Sontaran Stratagem,” with the Doctor doing his best to thwart the Stonaran’s plans while bickering with human military personnel who want to save the planet—but keep making things worse. This story arc feels like meat-and-potatoes Doctor Who: the villains are funny-looking and funny (rather than disturbing) and the whole war is fought somewhat tongue-in-cheek. These were not the most affecting couple of episodes, but they had some fun moments.

Most importantly, “The Poison Sky” is a coming-into-her-own for Donna. She was scared to attack the Sontarans solo, but the Doctor convinced her she could. For Donna, companionship with the Doctor is about achieving her potential. When we first met her, she was pretty worn down: trapped in a suffocating job, trapped in a dishonest relationship. Travelling with the Doctor is about expanding her horizons both out in the universe and within herself. In this way, Donna may be the most reasonable companion so far. Rose and Martha happily confronted aliens right off the bat, drooling over the Doctor without expressing fear. But Donna has a more realistic reaction to near-death experiences: freaking out.

On that note, what was with Donna’s mom and the axe? When Donna’s grandfather is trapped in his car—which is filling with ATMOS gas—her mother grabs an axe and bashes him out. Donna is shocked. “I can’t believe you’ve got an axe,” she says. It was a badass moment—yet at the end of the episode Donna decides not to tell her mother about her travels in the TARDIS. Just as Donna spent most of her life being underestimated, she’s now underestimating her mother. I’m curious to see if this issue is revisited—something tells me there’s more to mom than Donna thinks.

In recent episodes of Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor hasn’t been subtle about his distaste for soldiers. His attitude seems harsh, but episodes like “The Poison Sky” provide a framework for that bias. As the Sontarans begin their attack, David Tennant’s Doctor becomes so frustrated with the UNIT military commander that he actually screams at him—a rare moment when the Doctor seems openly frustrated with the small-mindedness of humans. Still, one commander’s stubbornness is no reason to hate all soldiers.

And I know she’s not back for good, but I’m glad Martha is sticking around for at least one more episode. Even if she’s been flown off in the TARDIS against her will.