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Recap / Doctor Who S39 E2: "Flux Chapter Two: War of the Sontarans"

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Sontar-HORSE!
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The one with Dan's wok.

"War of the Sontarans"note  is the second episode of Series 13, and the second installment in the Flux story arc. It was written by Chris Chibnall and debuted on November 7th, 2021.


After the cliffhanger from the last episode, the Doctor and her companions find themselves in mid-1800s Sevastopol, in the midst of The Crimean War. However, this war is not being fought against the Russians; instead, the British army is marching against the Sontarans, who apparently have been on Earth as long as anyone can remember. With her companions pulled away by a mysterious force, the Doctor and Mary Seacole find themselves faced with the task of protecting Earth from the alien threat.

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This episode contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Aliens in Cardiff: Dan's parents tell him the Sontarans first landed in Liverpool before everywhere else in the world.
  • Alien Space Bats: The Sontarans are in the process of creating this, using an invasion force of timeships to infiltrate Earth's history and convert it into an outpost of the Sontaran Empire from the beginning of time onwards.
  • And This Is for...: The British general has explosives set up under the Sontaran ships to avenge his men, even though they were retreating. The Doctor snarls that he's only trying to soothe his guilty conscience for having led them into a hopeless battle.
  • Any Last Words?: The Sontaran commander in the present tells some captured humans that if they have any last words... they should keep them to themselves. He then orders them executed without further discussion.
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  • Apologetic Attacker: The Doctor when using Venusian Aikido on the young soldier escorting her at riflepoint off the battleground.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: The Doctor's dark side rears its ugly head after once again, someone kills aliens mid-retreat. She has this to say to General Logan:
    The Doctor: Sometimes men like you make me wonder why I bother with humanity.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The Sontarans' reason for choosing the Crimean War as one of the first points in the timeline to invade. So much carnage, so much potential... and their commanding officer has always wanted to ride a horse.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: The Doctor takes advantage of Mary's talents for observation, meticulous note-taking, and functioning without sleep by having her spy on the Sontaran camp and take note of troop movements. She then uses Mary's note to figure out that the Sontarans have to go into a hibernative state for 7.5 minutes every 27 hours, providing the perfect opportunity to sabotage their ships.
  • Badass Fingersnap: Swarm threatens to do this in the final scene of the episode, stating that when he does so, the entire force of time will flow through Yaz and Vinder, utterly annihilating them. The episode ends right as he does so, not showing us the results.
  • Barrier Maiden: The Mouri are apparently six of these, as they are described as being the only thing stopping time from running wild, whatever that means. All we know for sure at this point is that the Flux damaging their temple is a very bad thing.
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    • Dan's parents show up to save him from the Sontaran squad chasing him.
    • Karvanista shows up in the third act to save Dan from a squad of Sontaran executioners and help him destroy the invasion force.
  • The Big Guy: Passenger, the third member of Swarm and Azure's mysterious group; he hasn't yet had the chance to do much other than stand in the background and look intimidating.
  • Blatant Lies: Dan says that the "time bomb" was his plan and Karvanista is just trying to take the credit - mostly just to annoy Karvanista.
  • Blood Knight: The Sontarans, as per usual.
  • Break the Haughty: General Logan rejects the idea that a woman knows anything about fighting, and has the Doctor escorted from the battlefield at gunpoint, but after his men are massacred he comes to her pleading that he has no idea what to do next. He's then willing to listen to her lecture (though doesn't understand much of it).
  • Buffy Speak: Dan's parents call the probic vent a probic "thing", though one wonders how they learned the first part of the name without help.
  • Butt-Monkey: Dan Starkey plays a more intimidating Sontaran than Strax, but he still inherits Strax's tendencies to be made fun of. He is captured by the British in a demeaning way, the Doctor takes the piss out of him, then his commander kills him for being a turncoat (at his own request since he was ashamed of himself).
  • Call-Back:
    • The injured Sontaran in the British Hotel mentions the Shadow Proclamation.
    • The Doctor addresses herself as the Lord President of Gallifrey, something the Sontarans should remember.
    • One spanning all the way back to the Third Doctor era: the leader of the Sontaran invasion in the Crimea claims that the Earth has rightfully been Sontaran property ever since Commander Linx first laid claim to it.
  • The Cavalry: Karvanista shows up to rescue Dan from a Sontaran firing squad.
    Karvanista: I've still got a Human in this fight! (opens fire)
  • Cliffhanger: Just like last time, the episode ends on one. Swarm reveals that Vinder and Yaz have been made into Mouri, which will cause the entirety of time to flow through them and utterly destroy them. As Azure counts down from five, the Doctor begs Swarm to stop, but he simply snaps his fingers to start the process as the episode ends.
  • Cliffhanger Copout: How did the Doctor and her friends escape being dissolved by the Flux at the end of the last episode? We don't know, nor do they. They just happen to have been dumped in 19th century Crimea, with the TARDIS sealed up.
  • Cold Ham: Carrying on from last chapter, Swarm has only gotten hammier. He still doesn't raise his voice though.
    Azure: My name is Azure, and this is Swarm.
    Swarm: *theatrical hand gesture* Translations, but that'll do.
  • Conqueror from the Future: The Sontarans travelled from the 21st century to some point long before the Crimean War to invade.
  • Continuity Nod: As in "The Christmas Invasion", The Doctor convinces an alien army occupying Earth to leave in an attempt to minimise bloodshed. A human then blows up the aliens' vessels as they retreat, earning the Doctor's disgust.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Legions of Sontarans vs 19th century British forces is about as one-sided as it sounds. The Sontarans massacre them effortlessly, while the British can barely make a dent in their forces in return.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Swarm is a good deal sassier in this chapter.
    Swarm: Yazmin Khan. Does the Doctor know you're out this late by yourself?
  • Delayed Ripple Effect: The people during the Crimean War say that Sontarans have always been around but Dan's parents in 2021 say they only landed three days ago.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Swarm and his companions have apparently been to the temple before, so the Mouri were quantum-locked to keep them safe. However, the lock has a proximity sensor that responds to beings other than those three, so Yaz and Vinder being dumped there provides a way past the safety feature.
  • Distinction Without a Difference: The commander takes great pains to point out that the Sontarans aren't retreating, they are "strategically withdrawing".
  • Easily Thwarted Alien Invasion: A fleet of spaceships built by a warrior race that mastered intergalactic travel can be blown up by 19th century explosives.
  • Enclosed Extraterrestrials: One of the functions of Sontaran armour is to filter out gases from Earth's atmosphere that are toxic to them.
  • Epic Hail: The Doctor uses her sonic to resonate the cameoflage shield around the Sontaran base, as a signal to parley.
  • Escape Pod: Karvanista intends to get Dan out of the Sontaran ship in one but they end up using a garbage chute instead.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Enter Dan's mum and dad, saving their son from the Sontarans. Is Eileen worried about Dan? Not really...
    WHERE THE 'ELL 'AVE YOU BEEN!?
  • Fascists' Bed Time: Anyone out after curfew in Liverpool is assumed to be a spy or La Résistance and shot at. Fortunately the Sontarans show their usual marksmenship when shooting at Dan.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Mary Seacole allows a Sontaran POW to be kept in the back room of the hotel, and attempts to treat his wounds despite his protests, claiming a respect for all life as her motivation for doing so. As the Doctor says, in real history she treated the Russians the same way, with the same disapproval from the British Army.
  • From Bad to Worse: The situation with the TARDIS is only getting steadily more concerning: not only is dark liquid still leaking all over the interior and the Cloister Bell still chiming, but for most of the episode the door to the ship is straight-up gone, and when they finally get it open, spires of crystal have started jutting out of the walls and floor. The Doctor outright says that the ship is somehow being corrupted, and the ending shows that someone else is apparently now in control of its flight paths.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: Dan's parents have grabbed some cookwear to bash the Sontarans with. Dan is lent a wok when he decides to infiltrate their base.
  • Have We Met Yet?: Swarm knows Yaz and Vinder, even though they've never met from the latter's perspective.
  • Historical Domain Character: This season's "celebrity historical", seeing the Doctor teaming up with Mary Seacole.
  • Hollywood Tactics: No wonder their war with the Rutans is still going on after millennia if the Sontarans are this thick.
    • Though the British do use artillery, the two armies just Zerg Rush each other. Mind you given the primitive armament of their opponents, the Sontarans probably saw it as a chance to cut loose and enjoy themselves.
    • The entire army regenerates at once, instead of staggering their regeneration cycle so there will always be someone on guard.
    • They still haven't developed an armored hatch cover for the probic vent, and they're still lousy shots. Several squads blast away at Dan in narrow laneways or control rooms and never hit him.
  • Humans Are Bastards: The Doctor discusses this trope for a moment after the general blows up the retreating Sontaran troops, growling that men like him sometimes make her wonder why she bothers protecting humanity. Mary Seacole, for her part, thanks her for bothering, reminding her that not all humans are like that.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Dan engages in a few puns with his wok after bashing a Sontaran's probic vent with it.
  • Inherently Funny Words: "Sontar-HO". A brand of shame for disgraced Sontarans.
  • Kick the Dog: Azure destroying the Priest Triangles, which speak in an endearing, high-pitched voice.
  • Large Ham: The Sontarans are in top form, relishing in the war they created. Commander Skaak in particular has No Indoor Voice.
  • Let No Crisis Go to Waste: The Sontarans foresaw the coming of the Flux and figured it was the perfect opportunity to conquer Earth. They slipped in while the Lupari were forming the shield around Earth and intend to conquer Earth's past, so it will always have been under Sontaran rule.
  • Look Behind You: And it works!
  • Magical Underpinnings of Reality: It's claimed that the Mouri make time run the way it does.
  • Malaproper: Dan tells the Doctor that the Sontarans seem obsessed with Japanese food, as they are planning a tempura offensive. The Doctor informs him that "temporal" is a more likely word.
  • Mythology Gag:
  • Non-Linear Character: This is the case with Swarm and his companions, with Swarm dismissing Yaz as "linear" when she expresses confusion at him knowing who she is.
  • Not Me This Time: The Doctor assumes the Sontarans were responsible for the Flux when they mention using it as part of their invasion. The Sontaran clarifies that they have no connection to it, they merely saw it coming and took advantage.
  • Obviously Evil: Yaz doesn't have to be told that Swarm and his pals haven't turned up to 'repair' the temple.
  • Place Beyond Time: The planet Time is the place through which the natural flow of time for the universe is kept stable. The Doctor notes the temporal reading there is a flat 0, which shouldn't be possible.
  • Powder Trail: The British general does this to detonate the explosives around the Sontaran ships.
  • Ramming Always Works: Karvanista hijacks a Sontaran timeship and rams it into the docked ships still under construction. The resulting chain reaction not only destroys the vessels, but undoes the events that led to them being there in the first place.
  • Red Herring: When Dan lands back in the present day, only to find Sontaran ships parked in his hometown and squads of Sontarans patrolling the streets, the natural assumption is that this is the result of the Sontarans having taken over the world in the past and created a new present with them in charge of Earth. Nope, it turns out that the invasion force in the 21st century only arrived two days ago, occupying the planet after the Lupari put up their shield around the Earth; the actual situation is, as usual, rather more complicated.
  • Ret-Gone: Karvanista sets up a temporal implosion in the Sontaran ships being built in the present day. Doing so erases the invasion force from existence, never having happened at all.
  • Retraux: The Sontarans here hark back to their depictions throughout the Classic Series, featuring gray plate armor and hissing, lispy voices.
  • Revenge Is Not Justice: After the general blows up the Sontaran fleet, the Doctor calls him out for killing the enemy while they were retreating and ignores the general's excuse of avenging his men since she believes he was just trying to ease his guilt of leading his men to their deaths.
  • Rule of Cool: In-universe, the Sontarans chose to invade the Crimean War because Commander Skak wanted to ride a horse.
  • Series Continuity Error: The BBC closed captions spelled Linx's name as "Lynx", like the wild cat.
  • Shaped Like Itself: The title of the episode. War is literally all Sontarans ever do.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Doctor tells Mrs. Seacole to go "Half a league onwards", the opening lines of the most famous British artwork to come out of the Crimean War, Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade".
    • The idea of Time being an evil force that will run wild if left unchecked is straight out of Sapphire and Steel.
  • Soft Water: To escape their soon-to-crash Sontaran vessel, Karvanista blows open a waste chute so he and Dan can be ejected over the water. Other than being disgusting, they're fine.
  • Stealth Pun: Karvanista says he "still has a human in this fight" instead of the better-known (on Earth, anyway) phrase "still having a dog in this fight."
  • Talking to Themself: The General and Mary Seacole express exasperation at the Doctor asking herself questions and not expecting others to answer her.
  • Teleport Spam: Swarm and Azure do this when Vinder tries to shoot them, simply dematerializing while the shot is in motion and reappearing somewhere else in the room. Azure even goads Vinder into shooting her, just because she feels like having some fun after Swarm does it a few times. That being said, given her psychic powers, it's not 100% clear if it's actual teleportation or psychic illusions.
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: Mary Seacole initially insists on being called "Mrs. Seacole" when the Doctor figures out who she is.
  • Third Act Stupidity: The Sontaran army decides to all recharge at exactly the same time, without leaving anybody at all on guard.
  • Time Is Dangerous:
    • The Priest Triangles, in their explanation of the Mouri's purpose, outright describe time itself as evil, saying that the Mouri are the only thing stopping the flow of time from wreaking havoc upon the entire universe.
    • Swarm converts Yaz and Vinder into replacement Mouri. He notes that they're inadequate for the task and figures a few seconds of exposure will probably kill them, engaging the system with a fingersnap at the moment the episode ends.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: When they're dumped in Crimea, the Doctor and co are already in the middle of the Sontaran temporal invasion and their effect on history has already been felt. When Dan is shifted back to the present, it's at the beginning of the invasion and the ships have yet to depart.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The episode literally ends with Swarm snapping his fingers, which would send the full power of the Mouri into Yaz and Vinder's bodies and kill them, while the Doctor watches helplessly. The promo for the next episode airing right afterwards shows both of them alive and well.
  • Traitor Shot: There's one of General Logan after the Doctor explains how to sabotage the Sontaran ships. It's no surprise when he comes up with his own idea of how to deal with them.
  • Trap Is the Only Option: And naturally the Doctor walks in anyway, because she has to find Yaz.
  • Trick-and-Follow Ploy: The Doctor sends the Sontaran prisoner back to base with important information on their Arch-Enemy the Doctor, so she can follow to where their base is hidden behind a cloaking field.
  • Vichy Earth: The Sontarans have taken over Earth in the modern day.
  • Vile Vulture: Invoked and discussed, Mary Seacole compares the scavengers to vultures when they steal from the dead soldiers.
  • Villain Has a Point: While the Doctor is right to call out the general for blowing up the Sontaran fleet as they were retreating, his reasoning for doing so is hard to argue with. The Sontaran leader said they'll be back and the humans were massacred during the fight against the Sontarans. The general blowing up their fleet was justifiable from his perspective, as he has only the Doctor's word that she would prevent further incursions, regardless of how well she did this time.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Dan and Karvanista seem to be going down this route. Dan likes trolling Karvanista, who in turn calls him "idiot" to his face, but they nod respectfully to each other when parting.
  • Weird Historical War: Due to historical meddling, The Crimean War is being fought not between the British Empire and the Russians, but the British Empire and the Sontarans, who are armed with Energy Weapons.
  • Wham Shot: The Doctor, upon hearing that the Sontarans have apparently been on Earth for quite a while now, demands a map. She examines it to find England, Jamaica and Crimea exactly as they were in our timeline's 1800s... but Russia and China have been almost entirely replaced by a new territory called "Sontar", revealing exactly how deep the Sontaran invasion has already gone into Earth's history.
  • What Would X Do?: Yaz has "WWTDD" written on her palm. In case the viewer doesn't get it, Swarm spells it out when taunting her: "What would the Doctor do?"
  • Women Are Wiser: Mary Seacole understand the Doctor's technobabble far better than General Logan.
  • You Have Failed Me: The Sontaran commander executes one of his own soldiers for being captured by humans, though in a twist the soldier requests it as an act of mercy for his failure.

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