Doctor Who #393: The Sontaran Experiment Part 2

"It's a mistake to clutter one's pockets, Harry."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.1 1975.

IN THIS ONE... A Sontaran conducts stress tests on humans until the Doctor calls him out in a duel, deflating the entire situation.

REVIEW: Sarah's confusion, thinking this is Linx instead of Styre, would be more understandable if the two of them actually looked alike, but despite being played by the same actor, Kevin Lindsay, who thankfully still does the breathing tongue, Styre's is a much weaker make-up than Linx's was. He looks pale and dry where the other was dark and hairy, and doesn't even have the same number of fingers! The mask isn't as expressive either, the mouth coming off as always smiling. Too bad, though one wonders how long they could have kept the clone idea going before Lindsay stopped answering the BBC's calls. As far as personality goes, Styre's not far off Linx, arrogant and sadistic, but through him and his fleet commander, Baker & Martin give the species an obsessive-compulsive streak that interfere with their war-making, so ultimately out of character. In fact, everything Sontaran in this story - and there's a lot bunched up in the sole episode Styre has to make his mark - is complete rubbish.

First, the script can't decide if the Sontaran invasion fleet is on some edge of the Terran Empire, or if it's about to invade Earth itself. Most of the evidence points to Earth, but that is a patently ridiculous notion as it's currently uninhabited. So let's say they ARE about to attack humanity somewhere, fine. Their plan, despite their billion-man army, is to have a single Sontaran lure and down a smallish human ship to Earth, capture the survivors, and run various tests on them to see how fast they drown, starve, survive with weight on their chests, or succumb to fear. And they dare not attack before all the results are in! Some warriors! It makes them cowards, it makes the impressively ill-informed (among Styre's findings is the fact that we eat food!), and it's hard to see how these specific experiments will be used to fight humanity (drowning?!). And they're such terrible warriors that the Doctor can tire Styre out with a bit of sword fighting action, forcing the alien to return to his ship so he can plug into an outlet and recharge. The Doctor's sent Harry into the ship though, and with crossed wires, Styre instead drains himself, causing him to deflate like a balloon. Not an expression, it's what actually happens. It's terrible.

Not that the episode is a complete waste. The Doctor takes his fast-talking skills to new heights and convinces the Sontarans that they've been tricked into studying an inferior servitor class and that their results are useless. Sarah is forced to face her fears, and thought the rubber snake could be silly (I don't dislike it, personally), I do like how they represent whatever agoraphobia she might have with vertigo-inducing camera work. Harry does some good force field acting. The sonic screwdriver, overused in this episode, nevertheless creates a neat control-melting effect. Styre asks of Sarah's scream why she makes that disagreeable noise. However, two episodes is not enough to give a real sense of closure to the guest characters. Vural sacrifices himself so quickly, it scarcely has an impact. The tortured Roth, by far the most interesting character there, doesn't have an arc. It's all over before it's had time to begin.

VERSIONS: Ian Marter's Target novelization has a number of differences. The characters land on Earth in the TARDIS instead of using T Mat. Nerva's name is changed to Terra Nova, and Styre's as Styr. The Doctor has a dream about rats getting into the TARDIS. Harry thinks the Sontaran is a golem. The robot, called a  Scavenger, is more sophisticated, and Styr's weapon is integrated into his armor, his ship larger and piloted by another robot. Harry finds a couple of hibernating Sontarans inside the ship. Sarah destroys a patrol robot with the sonic screwdriver. Par for the course when such a short story gets the same page count as a 6-parter. On an amusing note, the DVD's subtitles translate Sarah's "Linx" as "Yikes". Jeepers!

- The finale is nonsense and doesn't help the Sontarans any.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - The 2-episode template is, at this point, a failed experiment, even as a kind of epilogue to a 4-parter. The plot doesn't have room to breathe (making us wait for the monster in the only cliffhanger, and rushing through the rest), but even if it did, I'm not sure it could have explained all the inconsistencies.



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