Saturday, January 2, 2010

Doctor Who Review - Story 77 - 4C "The Sontaran Experiment"

When we last left our intrepid time adventurers the Doctor and his companions Harry Sullivan and Sarah Jane mith had just saved the remains of the human race from the Wirrn, a race of six-foot tall space flies. Orbiting Earth in their space-ark on board the Space Station Nerva the humans need a trans-mat (think Star Trek teleporter) beam to get down to the surface, however something's wonky with the one on the station, so the Doctor and his buddies decide to beam down to Earth and fix it.

When they get there they notice that London in the far, far future is much less inhabited than they remember. In fact, it's grown over and looks a lot less like London and more like Dartmoor where the episode was filmed. They soon discover that they are not alone, and in fact there are other humans there who have been drawn to the dead planet by a distress call. The 'astronauts' are from one of Earth's many colonies, and when informed that there are a bunch of "super-humans" on board Nerva they aren't too impressed. They are, however, paranoid and turns out that they've been hunted by some monster since they arrived, and several members of the original crew have vanished.

Mister Potato Head? Oops sorry, it's just Styre the Sontaran

After all three explorers are separated by various stupid plot devices (Harry falls down a crevasse, Sarah Jane just falls in with one of the astronauts, they all discover that they're being manipulated by an advance Sontaran scout and his tin robot. Sontarans are a returning alien race in the Whoniverse, looking quite like potatoes with eyes, they're all clones of one-another and a most militaristic race indeed. They been at war with their solar-system neighbors the Rutan host for centuries, but are in this time period, search for other planets to invade. The scout, who is called Styre, has been sent by the Sontaran Empire to text the limits of the human race prior to a massive invasion. He freely experiments on the astronauts, starving, torturing and forcing them to perform ridiculous strength tests to discern whether or not they'll be a factor in their invasion.

This is a Sontaran

The single sontaran is no match for our intrepid gang, and all is set right. There is a singularly hilarious moment when the Doctor actually fights Styre in hand-to-hand combat, however apparently Tom Baker had broken his collarbone in an earlier stunt, and was replaced in the sequence by a stunt-man.

Thankfully this story was only two episodes, and while it showcases the BBC's ability to shoot an entire story on location (and conveniently not have to move the TARDIS prop) it's brevity is matched only by it's complete silliness. Sontarans alone, while in number are quite strong, are pretty weak, though still strong enough to capture several frail humans. In the revived series Sontarans would be redesigned to look a bit less silly and have been pumped up in strength, but still fall short of being a "classic" villain race like the Daleks or Cybermen.

Still they have a decent amount of collectibles, though most are based on their more recent appearances. The current Character Options line of 5 inch figures sports a number of different Sontarans, including named characters and generic army-builder "troopers". There's even a 4 pack with three Sontarans and a Donna Noble figure from last season's "The Sontaran Stratagem." Being a "classic" alien race they've been made into all sorts of odds and sods, including this 3 inch metal figurine that I found on eBay:

This review would not be complete if I omitted a couple of salient pieces of trivia (oxymoron much?). First, the TARDIS does not make an appearance in this episode at all. Secondly, the entire hour of story was filmed on location with no interiors at all. There are a few shots of the inside of Styre's space pod, but it's not a full set. Strangely the Sontarans don't have communication devices in their ships either, Styre uses a separate view screen to talk to his superiors, which becomes unintentionally funny when you realize that both Sontarans are being played by the same actor in the same costume. It's also a continuation of the long "arc" story that began with Robot our first review. The story ends with the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Ian beaming back to Space Station Nerva. Of course, their beam doesn't quite reach the station right away, and we're set up for an epic six-part episode that we'll be reviewing next.

This story is also too short to have much future impact on the Doctor or his mates. There's very little character development here, though there are a few funny moments with Sarah Jane and Harry, it's clear that the writers were kind of in a quandry because of the casting of Baker. Baker was much younger than they had expected, so they had created the character of Harry Sullivan to be the younger, more action oriented character. In fact, Sullivan is also a medical doctor so he serves many of the same functions as our main Doctor.

Our next story promises much, much more, just from it's title alone: next up - The Genesis of the Daleks

Happy New Year & Housekeeping

Happy New Year

Good morning folks, it's the Year of our Lord Two-Thousand and Ten. Or "twenty-ten" if you're so inclined. At first I was annoyed at people who were shortening the pronounciation of the year, but in the end I don't really mind so much. That said "Twenty-Eleven" sounds silly.

My wife and I spent our New Years at Disneyland, right in front of the castle in the Hub, watching the fireworks and lights. It was an amazing time that I'll not soon forget. We stayed up late, walked through the crowds and had a great time. We even rode Pirates and sat in the Tiki-Room! We indulged in our favorite park food and played in the silliness that is New Years. We weren't able to get a set of special 2010 Mickey Ears though, they were sold out early in the day. Did you know though that Disneyland and DCA publish special maps for New Years only? Got one, but by the end of the evening it was trashed, we'll keep it anyway though. Enterprising collectors may have snagged a bunch and put them on eBay already, not me.


I have yet to send out my end of the team trading as I promised. That's not a shock. December was a roller-coaster month for us, one minute we were flat broke, the next we were doing OK. Regardless that's not an excuse, I'm just being very lazy. My "resolution" for 2010 is to be less so. I will get out my end in the next few days, if not a week. If my birthday rolls around (it's January 16) and I haven't shipped, then feel free to come out and flog me.

As my followers know, I'm moving away from being a sports-card blog and more into general collecting of stuff, which is what I do anyway. I've never focused on any one thing in collecting in all my years, and to start now would be an effort in futility. So if you're expecting keen commentary on the latest Topps Baseball set, you're probably going to need to look elsewhere. If, however, you're interested in reading my retro reviews of Doctor Who stories, or finding out about Disney Vinylmations, or whatever else comes to mind, then this is your place in 2010.

I don't promise to be more prolific in writing columns than I already am, were I being paid I could pump one of these out each day, but alas...

So here's to the new year, let it bring you everything you want and nothing you don't.