Sunday, 21 October 2018

The Sontaran Ordeal written by Andrew Smith and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it About: An instant of the Time War brings centuries of conflict to the planet Drakkis, and the Eighth Doctor is there to witness the terrible results. A Sontaran fleet, desperate to join the epic conflict, follows in its wake to take advantage of the fallout. But when Commander Jask is beamed down to the ravaged surface, there is more to his arrival than first appears. Soon, an unlikely champion joins forces with the Time Lord to fight for the future of her world, and together they must face the Sontaran Ordeal…

Breathless Romantic: The Doctor considers the Time War cruel and senseless and can see the knock on effect it is having on the lives of the rest of the universe. The Doctor in this universe is cold, dark and angry and this was the first opportunity to see the usually cuddly eighth Doctor turned black by a conflict that was working its way through the multiverse like a piece of fruit slowly rotting. McGann plays this furious anger so brilliantly (think of his blinding anger at the end of To the Death) and with a really powerful reason to bring on this vitriol, it’s justified and necessary. One thing that he insists upon if somebody travels with him is that they never give up hope. The Doctor realises that you most certainly trust a Sontaran, even one that is one your side.

Standout Performance: It was a bit of a coup to score both Christopher Ryan (always a revelation) and Dan Starkey, so this feels as faithful as an ode to The Sontaran Stratagem could be. Listen to the moment that Sarana realises that she has been lied to and given false hope, Josette Simon is remarkable. It’s the most emotional moment of the set and it gave me goose bumps.

Great Ideas: Why would one Sontaran transport unarmed and unmanned into a wasteland on the fringes of the Time War? That’s a powerful image I would have liked to have seen on screen. The land between the cities is where they fought their bloodiest of wars, the Dead Lands have been poisoned by the city wars, scarred and (almost) lifeless. Jast is a guinea pig, testing a dangerous technology (a Sontaran teleportation device that can give them all access) in a deadly landscape. Ordeal is the worst thing that can happen to a Sontaran; stripped of their rank and sentenced to dishonour. This planet was ravaged in a battle in the Time War, this sector of space was contaminated by temporal flux, which is a type of instability that occurs when the Time War enters real time. Drakkis is a world that has been at war for as long as time is recorded but at the same time it has been at peace throughout its history. The records of the latter where made outside the infected areas on the planet. Depending on where you are on Drakkis, the history is completely different. The Sontarans want to join the Time War and have come to Drakkis to learn some of tis secrets, to find a way in. The Sontarans have an incinerator for the disposal of their dead. Charming.

Isn’t it Odd: I cannot have been the only fan to take a look at the details of this release and find myself double take at the use of the Sontarans. Classic Doctors, Classic Monsters more like. The gimmick here being that this involves the Sontarans during the Time War. Fair enough but it does work a little against the brand of what this set is trying to do elsewhere. I love the Sontarans so I have no objections to their appearance but if this is a love-in for the Russell R Davies era monsters then I would have opted for some of the more memorable creations in that period such as The Trickster, the Beserkers, the Reapers, the Krilliatines, etc.

Standout Scene:
Ever wanted to hear a Sontaran get eaten alive? Now’s your chance. ‘A better death than he deserved’, indeed. How they bring down Stenk is very satisfying. He's such a loathsome character that you really want him to get his comeuppance.

Result: A memorable foray into the Time War, The Sontaran Ordeal is a notable end to this box set. Something very odd is happening with the Time War and Paul McGann. Whereas the box sets that have taken place in the war to end all wars have been variable at best (and that’s being generous), he’s had several one-part adventures now that have taken place in other sets in the same period that have been excellent (this and the first River Song box set). So, what are they getting right that the Time War sets are getting wrong? They make the story more personal and emotional, which makes the story you’re listening to much more affecting. They deal with details on the periphery of the Time War, showing the impact of the almighty conflict rather than trying to chronicle the big events. They don’t feature Daleks. And because they afford McGann the chance to display quiet anger and not empty bitterness and sarcasm, he comes across as a dangerously vulnerable man, ready to snap and break because of the atrocities that are going on around him that he can do nothing about. And this story and Rulers of the Universe featured brilliant characters for the Doctor to support. River was a revelation in the final story of her first box set because of her proximity to the man she loves and Josette Simon works wonders with one off character Saran Teel here, showing precisely how a memorable protagonist can be conjured up in relatively little time. The Time War sets are plagued by Bliss, a vacuous companion who has failed to make an impression despite the work of some very talented writers. Simon’s performance and Smith’s writing marry beautifully. Andrew Smith is becoming the most accomplished writer for the Sontarans on audio and to have him (a classic writer) having a stab at an RTD era story is a pleasing anachronism all of its own. Unlike the other stories in the Classic series, New Monsters range I feel that the writer is genuinely trying to explore a fresh angle on the villains of the piece and given this is a race with a 40-year history that is quite an accomplishment. Featuring scenes of the Sontarans and their power struggle away from the main conflict helps as it establishes those characters in their own right, rather than just using them to contrast against the Doctor. The reason behind Jast’s dishonour is surprising and his reaction to the news he is dying is perfect. Big Finish is getting a bit of a reputation for its empty action adventures set during the Time War so it’s nice to be able to report that this is a more psychological affair, getting into the minds of characters and monsters affected. As a result this has more emotional substance, and offers something new: 8/10

No comments: