THIS STORY TAKES
BIG FINISH AUDIO
OF THE SNAKE" AND
"KISS OF DEATH."
BIG FINISH CD#146
RELEASED IN APRIL
Samur was once
a peaceful haven.
across the seven
galaxies to meditate
in the courtyards of
the vast Citadel that
spanned its equator.
It was THE PLANET’s
to find itself situated
on the furthermost
frontier in the war
between the amoeboid
Rutan Host and the
TwO DECADES after
Sontarans are back:
a select platoon of
seven has landed ON
THE DEAD PLANET WITH
sealed orders FROM
Fleet Marshal Stabb.
The TARDIS ARRIVES ON
SAMUR too, bringing
the Doctor AND HIS
COMPANIONS into the
second great Battle
of Samur AND PITTING
THEM not only AGAINST
THE Sontarans, but
and a decades-old
Heroes of Sontar
It’s remarkable, really, that it’s taken over a decade for the Sontarans to make their first Big Finish appearance. Robert Holmes’ race of fanatical clone warriors have long been regarded as being up there amongst the Doctor’s most reputable recurring rivals, and what’s more they have a sound to them that’s as every bit as short and as distinctive as their potato-headed look. Now it seems that Big Finish are trying to make up for lost time, as not only does Heroes of Sontar do a terrific job of inducting the pugilistic trolls into the medium that Big Finish enjoys dominion over, but it also breaks new ground for its antagonists, Alan Banes’ script inflaming and amusing as it goes.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of this play is that is isn’t framed as a run-of-the-mill Doctor Who story. Each episode may end with a cliffhanger and be encapsulated by the signature tune, but its narrative is recounted from a Sontaran point of view. The first episode especially plays out like a Sontaran spin-off; the Doctor and his entourage are just the guest stars who wander in part way through. This innovative approach allows Barnes to present the listener with distinct Sontaran personalities that eclipse even those borne of Christopher Ryan and Dan Starkey’s recent, dynamic performances on television. This story’s seven eponymous heroes may be clones, but each is clearly defined with unique faults and even virtues.
“Sontar, Sontar, we fight for Sontar, the glory of Sontar, the death of our enemies is why we live!”
In the past, I’ve been most scathing of supposedly-identical Sontarans looking and sounding dissimilar to one another, but to his credit Barnes folds these palpable differences into his play; indeed, its whole plot is predicated on the conceit that there isn’t just one Jango here - there are seven Sontaran houses, each with their own DNA to doll out. These seven houses have sent the unwitting runts of their litters to the planet Samur to put paid to a curse that’s apparently curbed Sontaran expansion for years, whereupon they encounter the Doctor and his companions, and are forced into an unlikely alliance with them.
This brilliant premise allows Barnes to instil his story with just as much humour as he does drama. His Sontaran “heroes” are comically and tragically flawed in the same way that the members of Walmington-on-Sea’s notorious Home Guard were, comprising a motley crew of pen-pushers, cowards, doom-mongers and even one particularly “stupid boy”. And so for every moment of poignant reflection on “the old lie” here, we are treated to Turlough’s finest Captain Mainwaring impression. Every distressing instance of Sontaran belligerence is met with one of Tegan’s most acerbic put-downs (“You lot need to Sontaran up!”, “For the sake
of Rolf…” et al). Even Nyssa’s touching near-death confession to Tegan is lightened by the revelation of two of her children’s preposterous names.
“Unique in the Force, each of you is...”
That’s not to say that Heroes of Sontar is just an outer-space audio episode of Dad’s Army, however, because it’s not. Barnes may use great wit to epitomise his Sontaran characters’ distinguishing traits, but where he goes with these traits often borders on the chilling. For me, Derek Carlyle’s portrayal of Trooper Vend damn near steals the show as the tale takes him from being so cowardly that he can’t do anything other than live as a slave to military dogma, choosing death before dishonour every time, to a point where he’s courageous enough to voice his fears – at which point his fellow soldiers promptly shove a suicide pill into his gob and launch into a rendition of their surprisingly-catchy and lyrical battle anthem (an anthem that it’s hard to imagine being whittled down to just “Sontar-ha!” as the years wear on!)
Barnes then complements his incisive character drama with some wonderfully spooky and terrifying Who staples. With its populous apparently dead, Samur serves as a suitably eerie backdrop for the pseudo-supernatural tale of sword-wielding spectres and war crimes that follows, and its “Witch Guard” pose so effective a threat that they could easily have vied for the story’s title, had the Sontarans not been fleshed out so magnificently.
And under Ken Bentley’s staunch
supervision, the production itself is
incredibly polished. Jamie Robert-
son’s sound design successfully
complements grandiose Sontaran
posturing with the cold and ghostly
desolation of an apparently dead
world, and Big Finish’s humble but
very reliable troupe of supporting
performers (John Banks, Duncan
Wisbey, Alex Lowe, Andrew Fettes
and the abovementioned Derek Carlyle) do a staggeringly good job of bringing the story’s
scores of Sontarans to life - all those hours analysing The Time Warrior have certainly paid off. Most importantly of all though, there is a real thrill to be had in listening to Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson and Sarah Sutton performing together once more. The script may not do anything particularly pioneering with them, but it doesn’t need to – just hearing them all spar again, armed with some electric dialogue, is more than enough for me.
Overall then, the Sontaran’s first incursion into the audio medium has been both a successful and a surprising one. Steering clear of the latter-day classic series’ tendency to use the race as general-purpose storm troopers, Heroes of Sontar offers us a fleeting glimpse into seven Sontaran souls - and it turns out that they aren’t all the same after all.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2011
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This story makes it clear that for Nyssa, the events of Cobwebs and the stories that follow it take place after the events of Circular Time: Winter. It is for this reason that she does not volunteer her marriage and children to the Doctor – she is trying to protect the timeline.
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