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The Sontaran Experiment

Reviewed by Alistair Hughes


'Oh, it's you again. Can't say I'm delighted, it's no use pretending ...'

My memories of The Sontaran Experiment were of an extended fight sequence between the Doctor and Styre; a 'brawn rather than brain' encounter in the same mould as Captain Kirk's interminable fist fights on studio planets. In actual fact, the fight isn't that long at all and there is far more food for thought in these two episodes than you'd expect. The depiction of future human colonists regarding the world of their origin with contempt is not a new concept in science fiction (Isaac Asimov's 'Robot' series, for example), but Vural's bitter little speech conveys this attitude very effectively: '...while you were dozing away our people kept going, and they made it ... You did nothing for 10,000 years while we made an empire! So don't give us any of your 'Mother Earth' rubbish!'

Brutality seems to be a theme, with the 'thing in the rocks' torturing everyone to death and hairy South Africans with drench guns ready to thump and abuse the Doctor at the slightest excuse. The bleak Dartmoor backdrop and complete ab'sence of any interior scenes further enhances the raw qualities of this serial, setting the mood perfectly for the guest villain, Field Major Styre. The Sontarans have always been my favourites, perhaps because they look so completely alien. The Daleks and Cybermen are clearly robotic in appearance, the Ice Warriors and many others are reptilian, the Yeti appear bear-like and the Sontarans look ... well, definitely different. Appearance aside, Styre (and Linx before him) is definitely one of the most callous and brutal characters ever to appear on the programme. His contempt for anything non-Sontaran shows in everything he does, and Styre's total dedication to his obscene experiments seems just an excuse for blatant sadism.

Balancing this, the humour and interplay between the three leads works well. Harry's total inability to stop calling Sarah 'old thing' and the Doctor's flippancy while facing Galsec interrogation is welcome comedy relief. The Sontaran robot also (unintentionally) lightens the proceedings, bearing an unmistakable resemblance to those mobile irrigation units seen patrolling crop fields in summertime. Many feel that the conclusion to this story is less than convincing, but once again there is more here than meets the eye. The Doctor states earlier that the Sontarans are very methodical, something which he may be able to use against them. And so finally the Sontaran fleet finds itself rendered powerless by its own dependance on military procedure. They cannot, by their own ruling, invade Earth without Styre's completed report, and the Doctor has effectively cancelled the possibility of them ever receiving it. By exaggerating a human trait, being pedantic, an effectively alien race is made to appear even more inhuman. And so we are presented with another surprisingly thought-provoking aspect of this enjoyable 'mini-story'.

This item appeared in TSV 49 (November 1996).

Index nodes: The Sontaran Experiment