Doc & Co encounter South African astronauts, a Sontaran census taker and a sex booger
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The Doctor, Harry and Sarah Jane materialise on Earth in the year 16,087 after using a Transmat to leave the Nerva space station. The Doctor immediately sets about investigating the refractors to make sure they can return and recover the TARDIS, and the others go off to explore their immediate surroundings.
Little do they know, though, that the otherwise entirely unpopulated planet Earth is currently playing host to a handful of South African space militants and one curmudgeon Sontaran census taker and junior vivisectionist, who’s been torturing the extra-terrestrial earthmen in the name of science and galactic domination.
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After dropping in to comment on The Monster of Peladon, which was… crap, and then skipping several brilliant stories, I find myself commenting on The Sontaran Experiment, which is… also crap. While some longer stories are flabby and suffer from padding, and the shorter ones tend to be tighter, this one is too short, and there’s not enough time to build anything worth watching. The Ark in Space starts a plot thread that is completed in Attack of the Cybermen, and while The Ark is brilliant, as is the side quest of Genesis of the Daleks, Sontaran Experiment and Attack of the Cybermen are both crap. Crap enough, in fact, that I’m going to go so far as to suggest that the hallowed writers of this dear, dear show would have done better to shorten Attack to three stories, chuck out Sontaran Experiment altogether, and use the remaining three stories of the season to explore human recolonization of earth without any monsters getting involved. Could have been meaty and interesting.
1.5. Did. Not. Like. It.
To help new Doctor Tom Baker’s reception, Outgoing Producer Barry Letts commissioned veteran writers to bring back well regarded enemies in stories. Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s contribution involved aliens investigating potential opposition to a planned invasion and used Robert Holmes’ creation, the Sontarans. New Producer Philip Hicnchliffe and Script Editor Robert Holmes broke six part serials into four and two episode stories. So, “The Sontaran Experiment” was filmed on location in the same production block as the previous, studio story.
The Doctor and his companion beamed to Earth in a device resembling a STAR TREK transporter where a robot that would look at home in BLAKES 7 was menacing astronauts.upon whom Sontaran Field Major Styre conducted cruel experiments. The Doctor challenged both Styre and his findings before convincing a bureaucratic Sontaran Marshall without a report the invasion could not occur. Sarah Jane recognized the Sontaran, whom actor Kevin Lindsay portrayed when she met a lone clone warrior previously. For most of the story, she functioned as a damsel in distress for action man Harry and the Doctor to rescue while both companions were separated from the Doctor, captured or imprisoned, and escaping.
This story would enable copious Holmsian world building in DOCTOR WHO’s future. The solar flares that devastated the Earth were a puzzle piece the Doctor would discover on “The Mysterious Planet” and solve throught the “Trial of a Time Lord” in the story Holmes intended to tell before his death. The notes the Doctor consulted on Sontarans in his 500 Year Dairy, famously kept up by second Doctor Patrick Troughton, may have been written during Holmes’ tale “The Two Doctors. Finally, the story referenced the war between Sontarans and Rutans.
“The Sontaran Experiment” is a quick, fast-paced tale with an action-packed conclusion featuring no close ups because Tom Baker broke his collar bone during filming. Stunt double Terry Walsh filled in for the Doctor and defeated the Sontaran. The leading man’s absence later on doesn’t keep this tale from being enjoyable.
Like the titular troll, this two-parter is short, taut and sadistic. It dovetails with The Ark in Space – in a season so interlinked that Harry doesn’t even have time to change his clothes – and serves almost as a quick pallet cleanser before Genesis of the Daleks (Oh, we’ll definitely be getting to that!).
Reprising his role as the Sontaran Styre, Kevin Lindsay puts on a fantastic performance in the final time he would play a Sontaran before his passing in April 1975.
Happily, impetus and panache prevail over problems with plot logic. Quite why the Sontarans need to experiment on humans before invading their territories is unclear. Are they just responding methodically to sadistic urges? And the Doctor’s dismissal of the Marshal (“Brinkmanship, I think they call it”) is less than reassuring. We’re left worrying that Vira and her buddies, beaming down from the Ark, may soon have an almighty battle on their hands.
Overall, what do I think of this story? Well, as far as two parters go, it’s great! Unlike the Edge of Destruction (Descrussion) which was pretty weak and a few others we’ll discuss later, this is possibly the best short story we got in Classic Who. It’s unfortunate that many consider it filler, because I think it’s so much more. 3.6/5
This story is possibly the first glimpse I ever had of Doctor Who, way back when I was a child.. It’s certainly my earliest memory of the show. It was raw, the robot was intimidating, it was capturing people with ropes. I had no idea what was going on. I couldn’t wait to see more.
The real question of course is whether or not the story holds up today. The answer is, “Sure, I guess it’s okay”. It’s a small, quiet premise. It works fine, but not to the standards of its neighboring adventures. But that’s okay, because it’s not trying to.
Some of the experiments are wonky, but only in that you would expect, “being crushed by your unwilling friends” to be perhaps test #97, not test #5. In the end it just works fine. As long as you don’t look do closely.
Location notwithstanding, there’s nothing shining here, but there’s nothing detestable either. It’s just nice to see the Sontarans again. We also get a glimpse of what the Earth looks like at that time, and that of course is this story’s sole purpose: To let us know that the survivors of Nova will be just fine when they get home. I’m just glad it’s a two parter. This squatty excuse for an imperial probe droid gives the melty frog man a 2.3
Things I liked:
• Creepy ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ setting.
• Another big wobbly robot made of plastic and tinfoil.
• Sadistic Sontaran – he’s enjoying the torturing a little too much. Never has a villain’s head deserved such a melty comeuppance.
• “Nerva is just a legend”. Are you kidding me? It’s a bloody big Space Station! Does your ship not have windows?
• Why did Styre bother luring the humans to earth – he could have just pulled an ‘Alien: Covenant’ and dissected the cryo humans on Nova.
• Harry’s dubious medical skills. Prematurely writing off the Doctor and Sarah as dead, and stuffing that dying guy’s mouth with a rotten cloth. The poor guy probably died of asphyxiation.
Benefit of the Doubt: the Doctor killing the wobbly robot with the Sonic. I’m assuming he unscrewed a couple of vital nuts and bolts rather than resort to New Who Sonic fuckwittery.
Question: Do we think this adventure takes place before or after the Time Warrior in the Sontarans’ timeline?
Summary: an enjoyable pacey romp, a total git of a baddie and an exciting final duel. What more can we ask.
Rating: 4.1/5 melty sontaran heads.
Mr Potato Head is back, and this time he’s brought the robot from the Smash commercial with him! So important is his report that this one piece of paperwork is capable of holding up an entire Sontaran battlefleet. Clearly The Marshal is the Sontaran equivalent of Sir Humphrey Appleby.
The new TARDIS team continues to gel in this story, and in particular Lis Sladen shows how talented she is as an actor. She gets Sarah’s relationship with Harry just right, and she looks genuinely terrified when Styre starts his experiments which subject her to fear. The only downside is that she is relegated to the role of ‘screaming female companion’, when we know she can do so much more. Tom Baker reports for duty despite a broken but carefully concealed collarbone, although it’s painfully obvious when he’s replaced by a much shorter stunt double.
Beating Styre by working out that he is affected by Earth’s gravity is original, although given that he’s outnumbered by at least six to one it does beg the question of why they don’t just jump him early on. I think it would have also made more sense if Harry had fought Styre whilst the Doctor sabotaged the spaceship equipment, but perhaps the writers wanted to give the new Doctor plenty to do.
Overall, this story fills the spot between Ark and Genesis nicely, and two episodes is just the right length for watching in a single sitting. 4/5
The regulars are up to their usual standards, with high points including Harry’s fury at Styre’s cruelty towards both the dehydrated Galsec colonist and the seemingly dead Sarah; until the Doctor stops him he is determined to go after Styre regardless of the danger. Another great moment is the first meeting between Styre and the Doctor, when Tom Baker delivers the line “you unspeakable abomination” with such conviction that he seems to genuinely loathe his opponent. It is perhaps not
Kevin Lindsey had been diagnosed with a heart condition shortly after (if not while) playing Linx, so the Styre mask was made looser and easier to breath inside of. But Lindsey had lost so much weight that the mask didn’t fit him properly, so the effect is even worse in the end result
The actor who plays novelised this story, and because the episode was so short, he padded it out with endless scenes of pain and torture.
The less said about the Sontarans plan the better
Random Points I liked
A short, well paced story
3.2 / 5.0
Two quick points. Season 12 can be viewed as a single narrative thread running from 'Robot" to 'Revenge of the Cybermen' and into 'Terror of the Zygons' which was held back so fans could start watching season 13 in the fall. There is a much later story called Attack of the Cybermen 10 years later with Colin, not Tom, Baker as the Doctor.
I like the question of the order of 'The Time Warrior' and 'The Sontaran Experiment; in the Sontarans' time line. The first thing Time Warrior LInx did upon landing on Earth was claim the planet and tis moons as Sontaran territory. Since he blew up and the end of that story, the Sontaran command might have wanted to conduct some experiments to see how easy it would be to take back their new planet from hostile natives. On the other hand, the aliens' second appearence occurs thousands of years from the Middle Ages and, unless they REALLY procrastinate, my thought could be all wring.
Paul Fauber @wordsmithpaul
Something of a filler story, allowing “Ark in Space” to be a taught four-episodes, rather than flabby six-parter. The Bristol Boys don’t really get the Sontarans as a race as Holmes does, but it goes quickly. The setting is a nice change from quarries.
The South African accents were to suggest language changes among “the colonies”. A nice idea rather poorly handled. One of the South African actors, Glyn Jones, wrote “The Space Museum” during Hartnell’s run. He also wrote the Target novelisation, which makes him and Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan) the only actors to novelise broadcast stories.
The Sontarans are identified as a clone race back in “The Time Monster” and it was planned to use the same costume. But the actor Kevin Lindsay had a heart condition which made the old heavy costume dangerous for him to wear, so they re-designed it to make the head lighter and easier to wear, so Sarah’s comments were meant to be true. In fact Styre looks nothing like Linx. They reworked the mouth and he has four fingers and a thumb rather than the two fingers and a thumb of Linx! However, it is a mistake to think a clone race must come from one or two originals. If there were a million originals who were endlessly copied then they would still be clones, but you needn’t meet two who look the same.
The Ark need not be in orbit around Earth. The Nerva Beacon appears to be in orbit near Jupiter (this is coming up in “Revenge of the Cybermen”). It might be that this is where the Ark is still, which is why they need to teleport to Earth. In this case maybe searchers missed it, expecting it to be near Earth. Certainly it would make little sense to leave the Ark in orbit around a planet about to be ravaged by solar flares!
Tom Baker’s injury on location means that stuntman Terry Walsh is rather obvious as the Doctor’s double of the “action” sequences!
I think a 3 is a fair score for an fairly average episode.