Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The First Sontarans written by Andrew Smith and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: 1872. After finding a strange signalling device on the moon, the Doctor and Peri travel to the depths of the English countryside to track down the source of its transmissions. But they’re not the first aliens to arrive on the scene. Old enemies of the Doctor are drawing their battle lines in the forest and the local humans will be lucky to escape the conflagration unscathed. For hidden within this village is a deadly secret – a secret that could destroy the entire Sontaran race…and reveal the terrible mystery of their creation.

Softer Six: It’s the final sixth Doctor Lost Story so this is a good time to look back at the previous eleven stories and see just how well he was served over this season and a half of stories. It has been delightful to be able to enjoy stories that were taken from us through various circumstances. Some of them would have never have made it to the screen in the way they are presented here (Point of Entry is far too adult and talky for 80s Who, Paradise Five’s gay villains most probably would have been vetoed) and some of them were a spot on aural recreation of the series at the time (Leviathan and The Guardians of Prophecy sound like soundtracks of missing stories that have suffered an archive wipe of the actual episodes). The majority of the stories have been superb with only The Hollows of Time, The Macros and Power Play falling short of expectations. Its been a terrific gift to fans of the sixth Doctor to be able to enjoy some of the material that Colin Baker may have played at the time. It proves to be a useful bridging of the more acerbic, angst ridden relationship between the Doctor and Peri in Revelation of the Daleks and the gentler, more mature friendship we see in The Mysterious Planet. Clearly a great deal of time and an awful lot of adventures have taken place in this gap for them to have softened towards each other and whilst the sharper, insulting sixth Doctor was in evidence in The Nightmare Fair, come The First Sontarans the Trial of a Time Lord/Big Finish Doctor has grown into existence. Its definitely a shift in his favour.

Its great to finally hear the sixth Doctor showing Peri some of the wonders of the universe and he proudly declares they are walking on the surface of the moon. Its gorgeous to hear them laughing together and having fun, discussing how naughty it would be to plant their footsteps on the moon for Neil Armstrong to find! How long has Peri known him if she doesn’t recognise that he thrives on things that aren’t wise or safe? The Doctor prefers to leave the Marie Celeste mystery alone because it is a fixed point in Earth’s history and there are all kinds of bizarre explanations. He finds cock fighting barbaric and disgraceful. The Doctor’s coat is described as looking like ‘every headache I’ve ever had.’ Like the first Doctor in The Gunfighters, the sixth Doctor is not aversed to a glass of milk. He doesn’t like people entering his personal space and is more than a match for a Sontaran in battle. There’s a wonderful moment where the Doctor gets on his moral high horse and calls Roach’s work unethical and gets a torrent of abuse about how the Sontarans murdered his child and left him homeless. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Time Lord! He’s sympathetic to any species that are driven from their homeworld by Sontaran invaders. He appreciates the genius involved in creating the gun specifically designed to kill Sontarans but refuses to stand by and watch the Caveetch commit genocide via any method. The Doctor ponders why he can never get a straight answer to a straight question from his adversaries! His is a name that is spoke of reverently by the Sontarans as a great warrior and a target that they long to bring down to avenge their people for previous battles. Rather wonderfully the Doctor blocks the Sontaran listening devices with his rendition of the Lady in the Lake in a dreadful cod Scottish accent (which we get to hear an agonising snippet of!). He refuses to lose anybody in this tale and rushes to the zero room to save Leandra.

Busty Babe: Every time she steps out of the TARDIS is a wow moment, even if she doesn’t say wow every time. She really does appreciate all the wonders he has shown her and she’s lost for words when she sees the Earth filling the sky from the moons surface. Bless, the Doctor has to explain to Peri what being in high dudgeon means!  Not so much an offworlder as an offtimer. I love the fact that Peri is a seasoned enough traveller now to be trusted by the Doctor to head off to the spaceship in orbit and be useful. She goes from being an ally to a prisoner in a second as soon as Jane reveals who she has made a bargain with. The Doctor is genuinely bereft when he thinks that Peri is dead and calls her the bravest of souls although this turns out to be a big con – he realised that she was disguised in Sontaran armour all along.

Standout Performance: Dan Starkey is the voice of the Sontarans these days in exactly the same way Kevin Lindsay was in the first few stories they appeared in.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘A Sontaran on nineteenth century Earth?’
‘Do you intend the genocide of the Sontaran race?’
‘Revenge wiped out my people…’


Great Ideas: There is anachronistic technology, the Doctor is recognised as a Time Lord and people are discussing him in the shadows – something is definitely up with 1872. There was me thinking that the Sontarans must be behind all this so when one is imprisoned with the Doctor I started to questions everything I had previously suspected. A cellar of a large house adapted into a laboratory with the transmitter sending its message to the moon. Sontarans have been experimented on and murdered and there are jars full of the organic remains of the rest. It’s a grisly discovery and a memorable scene. Roach is a cellular geneticist posing as a local innkeeper. He is a member of the Caveetch race and his work is to ensure that they aren’t obliterated by the Sontarans. They invaded their world which had strategic value for them and although they fought back they never stood a chance (this is a well rehearsed story that sounds plausible enough until the truth is revealed). A few hundred escaped (‘rather a paltry number for an entire race’) and two of them found their way to Earth. They have assimilated perfectly into Earth society and know their duty to protect their established history. Now almost all of the original refugees have followed, called using the transmitter on the moon. They deliberately lured the Sontarans to Earth as specimens, to examine their physiology and work out a way to defeat them. They are working on a gun that uses technology that targets Sontaran cloned cell structures leading to total cellular collapse. It is bio specific so it only harms Sontaran clones and can be deployed against entire battalions or whole planets full of clones. They are constantly hunted down by the Sontarans and it has become a kill or be killed scenario, the difference being that the Caveetch are afraid. An entire Sontaran kill fleet is on a direct course for Earth and it doesn’t get much more threatening than that. Turns out there are many races that the Sontarans have upset and they are more than willing to enter into a bargain with the Caveetch to wipe them out. They provide the method and their allies, the Krelliban Confederacy, will replicate it on a large enough scale and pull the trigger. The Doctor has to bring the Caveetch up to date with current events on Krelibas because nowadays it is a Rutan slave world. I love the fact that nobody is pulling out that old chestnut of calling the Sontarans jacket potatoes but rather describing them as ‘like something from hell.’ I appreciate that the Sontarans are treated seriously in this story – its not that I am against monsters being poked fun at by the ridiculous Dad’s Army bunch that we met in Heroes of Sontar were a little too arch even for my tastes! The twist that the Caveetch homeworld is Sontar came out of nowhere and blew me away. They have erased all evidence of the Caveetch from Sontar after they drove them from the planet. The Caveetch travelled forwards in time to escape the clutches of their persecutors. Roach created the Sontaran clones, that is his tragedy. The Caveetch were living peacefully with their neighbouring worlds when the Rutans attacked. They bred an army of clones bred specifically for war, super strong, tactically brilliant and totally ruthless. It fits in completely with what we understand about the Sontarans and proves to be a terrific backstory that makes episode three (usually the filler episode in Who) the one to listen out for. Three million Sontarans were hatched within a week and replaced the Caveetch military, making a destructive impression on the Rutans. The Sontarans considered their creators a weaker species, not worthy of survival and turned on them. The Caveetch had too much tactical and psychological intelligence on them, it was a dangerous vulnerability they were not willing to allow to survive. Given the revelations about their gift to the universe, the genocide of the Caveetch has a pleasing touch of the climax of Genesis of the Daleks about it. Finally we understand why the Sontarans hate the Rutans so much, because they were bred to do so. Sontar used to be a beautiful world but now it is little more than a factory, functional and ugly, entire continents armoured. Fascinatingly Jaka is willing to sacrifice himself to save the hatchlings almost like a father protecting his young. I enjoyed the cheat at the end that made it appear that the Doctor failed to save Leandra when it is in fact Major Thessinger’s funeral.

Audio Landscape: Noisy revellers, a horse and cart, lighting a match, crackling fire, unsealing the astronaut helmets, birdsong, electric shocks, a zooming camera, a Sontaran banging on a cell, running footsteps, a distress beacon, an exploding photon grenade, a teleporter, Lork melting to death, the Rutan bubbling transformation noise, electric tendrils, guns firing and people screaming, Sontaran scout ships descending, Sontaran communication devices, Sontaran ships firing, bubbling vats in the clone hatcheries, the Sontaran ship blowing up.

Musical Cues: Jamie Robertson is on hand to make things as filmic as usual and adopts his memorable Sontaran war theme from The Heroes of Sontar.

Standout Scene: The end of episode two is awesome because it takes hold of everything from the first two episodes – the Sontaran/Cavitch conflict – and practically brushes it aside in favour a hidden threat…the Rutans are on the Earth too! It’s a transformation that gave me chills because finally we are going to be spoilt with a story where these two races and their much hyped war actually makes it into a story! Not only that but considering this takes place on audio the scale and their conflict can be as ambitious as the writers wants it to be. Also the truth about the origins of the Sontarans comes completely out of left field (its there in the title but that could mean anything frankly) and gives the Caveetch an important placing in Doctor Who history.

Result: A story I wish could have been made at the time because it clearly has a great deal to offer, The First Sontarans climaxes the sixth Doctor’s collection of lost stories on a memorable note. As script editor John Dorney points out in the special features this is a tale that grows exponentially more ambitious and epic as each episode progresses. What starts as a somewhat traditional Avengers-esque opening in a spooky village manages to build to an action packed climax on a scale that the production team would have trouble bringing to life now let alone in the eighties. Along the way the fascinating Sontaran backstory is finally publicised, a touching backstory for the Caveetch survivors and some memorable villainous performances especially from the incomparable Dan Starkey. What’s so satisfying as a Doctor Who fan is that in a series that seems determined to keep the two races apart and to mythologise their conflict in as cheap a way as possible, The First Sontarans goes out of its way to bring the Sontarans and the Rutans together and revels in them threatening to tear bloody chunks out of each other. Placing the Earth in the way only helps to ramp up the tension even more. Much like The Guardians of Prophecy this story is plot heavy and has a narrative that keeps evolving and surprising but what surprised me was the emotional undercurrent to the events that play out. I have an insane affection for The Two Doctors but even I have to admit this is a much better Sontaran story for the sixth Doctor and Peri. Exciting and epic, this is a story about three races with a long history that are all searching for a genocidal conclusion to their conflict so expect fireworks. After The Invasion of E-Space was such a disappointment, The First Sontarans proves that Andrew Smith’s Full Circle was not a one hit wonder: 9/10

1 comment:

Peakius Baragonius said...

So I'm looking to buy a Sixth Doctor Lost Story soon and the ones I'm interested in are Leviathan, Paradise 5, and this one. Do you have a favorite of the three, and/or which one would you recommend to someone trying out the line? As my budget's quite tight, it will be a while before I'm able to hear all of them...