THIS STORY TAKES
BETWEEN THE TV
STORIES "THE ARK IN
SPACE" AND "GENESIS
OF THE DALEKS."
BOB BAKER &
EITHER 'THE SONTARAN
EXPERIMENT' DVD (BBC
DVD1811) RELEASED IN
OR 'BRED FOR WAR' DVD
BOX SET (BBCDVD2617)
RELEASED IN MAY 2008.
from Nerva Beacon,
the Doctor, Sarah
and Harry find
themselves on Earth
in the far future,
by the human race.
But it soon becomes
clear that they are
not alone: a
shipwrecked crew of
Galsec colonists are
being hunted down,
one by one. What is
the creature that
lives in the rocks,
and what is the
purpose of the lethal
tests it is conducting?
Can the Doctor ensure
the safety of the
Earth for the future
The Sontaran Experiment
22ND FEBRUARY 1975 - 1ST MARCH 1975
We have been lobbying for it for a while now, and finally the BBC and 2 Entertain have come through – more Doctor Who DVD releases per year! Not only that, but it appears that “off-month, special value edition” releases such as this one will be significantly cheaper than the regular DVD releases. I think the original idea was to release these additional stories with little or indeed no bonus material, but it appears that the Restoration Team just could not help themselves. Whilst relatively speaking, “The Sontaran Experiment” is a much more spartan release than we have become used to, it still has much more in the way of bonus material than the early DVD releases (such as the preceding “Ark in Space”) did.
What I like most about this release is that the special features are not a haphazard collection of fiddly three-minute featurettes and blurry studio footage. The special features here are mostly consolidated in one forty-minute, top-class documentary - “Built For War – The History of the Sontarans” - which does exactly what it says on the tin. It is a very thorough job too, covering absolutely everything from the Sontarans’ initial appearance in “The Time Warrior” all the way through to “The Two Doctors” and even the infamous skit, “A Fix With Sontarans”! And on top of that, the Rutans (the sworn enemies of the Sontarans) are given a few minutes’ examination.
The documentary is linked together by some new footage of a Sontaran wandering across Dartmoor, which I think is quite an inspired way of presenting the programme, even if it does come across as (deliberately) laughable. For me, Terrance Dicks steals the show with his amusing Sontaran anecdotes; I particularly like the one about how Robert Holmes could only be bothered to write the first two pages of “The Time Warrior” novelisation, so he just said to Dicks “finish it!” Bob Baker is also rather interesting, though some of his stories were just plain wrong! Sontarans having sex through a hole in the neck…? Please...
On top of the documentary, the disc features a wonderful commentary with Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane), Philip Hinchcliffe (Producer) and Bob Baker (Co-Writer); as well as the standard (but nonetheless brilliant) production subtitles. Hinchcliffe is particularly interesting to listen to on the commentary track, especially bearing in mind that this was the first Doctor Who story that he produced, and he had to face the difficult problem of his lead man breaking his collarbone!
However, the serial itself is not one of my favourites. It is a competent enough affair, obviously cobbled together by the Bristol Boys at very short notice when Christopher Langley’s six part “Space Station” fell through and a two-parter was needed to supplement the four part “Ark in Space”.
“The Sontaran Experiment” has always been famous for being the only Doctor Who story to be shot entirely on location, and in fairness the story was shot beautifully by director Rodney Bennett, giving the season a bit of visually diversity and viewers a welcome change from the overused interior of Space Station Nerva. However, in contrast with the relatively bright location, Baker and Martin’s script is very dark. The Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry beam down from Nerva to the abandoned Earth, only to find lone a Sontaran assessing the empty planet’s strategic potential. More than that though, this Sontaran – Styre - is a scientist of savage cruelty; a walking metaphor for a Nazi war criminal if I ever saw one. Styre puts the Galsec colonists through a series of concentration camp style experiments - most horrifically
I felt, he lets one of them die of thirst, just so that he can measure how long the process takes.
In contrast to the dour tone of the story, Tom Baker’s performance is full of energy and enthusiasm, even after the “You unspeakable abomination!” scene in which he damn near breaks his neck and has to hand over much of the action to stuntman Terry
Walsh (who pulls a double-header here, also playing the colonist Zake). The Doctor’s interaction with the colonists is particularly amusing, but it is the ending that I found truly inspired. The Doctor ridicules the bureaucracy of the Sontarans – he prevents Styre giving them his report, and so their own red tape prevents them from invading the Earth! Ingenious.
The visual feel of the story is also quite impressive. The infamous robot seems unimaginably
crusty by today’s lofty standards, but it is still a memorable prop nonetheless. I thought it was strange that the Galsec colonists should wear space suits, though. To me, they looked too much like Sontarans with those big, round necks. The Sontaran himself is once again realised superbly – in their first two serials, their realisation was absolutely superb (I do not know what the hell happened in “The Invasion of Time”!) Styre even has little hairs around
his neck and mouth - phenomenal for 1974, really. It is just a pity we had to wait right until the end of the first episode to get a proper look at him!
I do not know if the Restoration Team will be able to keep up this high standard of budget releases, but I certainly hope so. I honestly expected to find just the two twenty-five minute episodes and a menu! As such, “The Sontaran Experiment” DVD blew me away; hell, “Built For War” justifies the purchase price alone. Nevertheless, I think the reviewer on the official BBC website put it better than I ever could: “Not unlike a Sontaran, BBC DVD's first 'budget' release is compact but powerful,” which just about says it all really.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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