(Just a reminder, especially since a recent spike in referrals to this blog has been "Doctor Who spoilers" - these reviews are spoiler-free. Sorry for the inconvenience).
Unfortunately, this is not going to be an unbiased review. In fact, I cannot claim any objectivity in this regard.
I am a total UNIT fanboy. My first Doctor was Jon Pertwee - a chance enounter with Day of the Daleks as a youth led me to fall immediately in love with the UNIT era. Yes, at times it's a little campy - and despite its calendar problems, a little dated - but I love this attempt to match Who more in line with its roots in 1950s British science fiction.
But "The Sontaran Strategem"...well, I'm hoping that Barry Letts and Terrence Dicks are beaming proudly, because this is a great 21st century updating of their approach, using current concerns about global warming and environmental safety and mixing in a healthy dose of typical Who touches.
A young genius has invented a way to eliminate harmful gases from car exhaust, and has been installed on many cars throughout the world. A reporter dies under mysterious circumstances....and the Doctor and Donna find themselves in the middle of a UNIT investigation.
One of the nice things about this script is that as the viewer asks questions, the Doctor asks those same questions. It's not a dumbed down script - in fact, up until the ending cliffhanger, it actually respects the intelligence of the viewer. There's a meeting between Donna and Martha that reflects the pathos of the Rose/Sarah Jane meeting, but without any sarcasm and contempt. (In fact, at one point Martha shares a very touching little speech, encouraging Donna in a way that I'm sure Martha might have appreciated had there been the opportunity).
There's also a great initial chemistry with the new "Brigadier", Colonel Mace - there is some acknowledgment of the Doctor's past, but in essence (and this is a kind of spoiler) - the Doctor's been drafted. It is refreshing, however, that a new Doctor/UNIT story would have - and need - a great tension between the Doctor's relatively pacifist/non-violent ways and UNIT's more militaristic stance. (Although some acknowledgment of Lethbridge-Stewart may be forthcoming in the second part, "The Poison Sky")
And of course, this episode reintroduces the Sontarans - a race that, quite frankly, never really engaged me. (Like many, I found it hard to take seriously a race who looked like walking Mr. Potato Heads). But the script actually takes them seriously - yes, they're small, but they're brutal. Geared totally for war. Unafraid of death. In fact, one of the big questions of the script is inherent in the title...but that would be telling.
There are, however, two small glitches - a war chant that threatens to break out into this song, and a cliffhanger that seems, well, too logical to resolve, but that's minor.
I love UNIT. And I loved this episode.
And now, because I can, a picture of Martha Jones in a tub of goo: