Monday, 9 September 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Sontaran Experiment

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"Maybe you've met my cousin, Phil Mitchell?"
Doctor Who - Season 12, Story Three - The Sontaran Experiment
Written 17/5/13

Robert Holmes was one of these smart people who don't like six-parters, and so to round off the previous story he made room for this two-episode affair that carries on the story of The Ark In Space, albeit in a different location and with a much different tone. After their first appearance the year before, the Sontarans return, this time with a more focused insight into their societal structure. While it may only consist of a few silly people running around in the countryside, I do rather enjoy this serial, and it continues a string of great stories in Baker's first season.
     Transmatting down from the Nerva, The Doctor and companions find a London that is much closer to a set of moors, with the only immediately appreciable life being plants. As Sarah and Harry wander around, however, they all discover that there is life on this planet - colonists from a seperate party have been kidnapped and brought back to Earth, where they've been experimented on. While they don't initially believe that the Nerva still exists, they are all forced to pay attention when their kidnapper (and torturerer) shows his face. It is Styre, a Sontaran on Earth in order to test humanity's physical limitations in order to prepare for an invasion. The Doctor tricks Styre, sabotaging his ship to kill him and then bluffing the High Council out of their invasion attempt. That done, they prepare to transmat back up again, and the story continues.
     With the same production unit as Ark, the location and studio filming is split heterolytically between them, meaning the that The Sontaran Experiment takes place entirely on some hills in Dartmoor. The environment does give it a very modern feel, as well as the direction style which is forced to adapt to the terrain. Most of the special effects are okay as well, even if Styre's helper robot does stand out like a sore thumb as an example of 70s kitch.
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The Doctor tries to fix some transmat pads.
     Styre himself provides an interesting villain, exposing the Sontarans distinct methods even to the point of absurdity. The question must be asked as to why the Sontarans are so invested in examining humans before they invade Earth when the planet is completely uninhabited and the only other humans in the galaxy are either strung out across a weak galactic empire or suffering from one of the largest hangovers you can imagine. Regardless, the way Styre passed off a lot of his natural sadism as "scientific endeavour" was quite fun.
     The danger with two-parters in the Classic Series is that despite the fact that its running time roughly matches a NuWho episode, the style of writing that the old series employed doesn't give it the same sense of hectic pace. Despite that, I'd quite like to see a few NuWho episodes like this - relatively relaxed, capable of carrying a single plot and sticking to its guns throughout. It isn't perfect, I'll give you that, but The Sontaran Experiment is a fun load-off from the two scare-fests that flank it, and that's worth its weight in gold.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Just like The Doctor, we revisit the Genesis of the Daleks.

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