Doctor Who #392: The Sontaran Experiment Part 1

"Are you staying, coming, or going? Or going or staying or coming?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Feb.22 1975.

IN THIS ONE... Transmatting to Earth in the far future, the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry meet stranded astronauts on the run from a robot that's already brought some of their party to get tortured by an alien.

REVIEW: Four episodes completely in the studio buys the production two whole episodes on location, and those locations are rather well used. I don't know that these fields, hills, crags and ravines spell out "postapocalyptic Earth" - the Doctor's probably joking about it being London - but they do provide variety and are suitably devoid of 20th-century lifesigns. Nth-century lifesigns, however, are all over the place. A barely-seen Sontaran and his robot that looks more like farming equipment than anything in the Sontaran design aesthetic. A ragged band of humans with those "colony accents" the sleepers were going on about, showing that other escape plans did work, but also requiring us to believe space station Nerva is their Atlantis, a legend that was never found. This is a whopper. What kind of instruments do they have in this new "empire" that they - or the Sontarans - can't detect that huge station in orbit? "Lost colony" implies they didn't know it had been left at Earth, but might it not be where they'd check first? Whatever. I don't want to dwell on the stupid.

What? No, I don't mean Harry. Though he falls down a hole, he's still pretty resilient and resourceful in this. Is Ian Marter doing a lot of his own stunts? Looks like it! He's his reliable self, but what about Sarah Jane? There are still moments of wetness at the start of the episode, but left to her own devices, she actually reverts to the independent Sarah we know and love. When she can't find the Doctor, she attempts to use a large tree limb to get Harry out of the ravine, and gets poor, demented Roth to open up and help her. It might be natural for her to be spooked out in the open country anyway. She's a city girl, as she made clear in Invasion of the Dinosaurs. It's good that we see a little of the old Sarah because as she comes face to face with her first monster, her first, brash performance is evoked.

Harry's down a hole, Sarah's hanging with a man tortured by the Sontaran, and the Doctor is captured by the untrusting astronauts marooned on the planet. The TARDISeers have been split three ways, but this Doctor is far looser in this his policies about wandering off than past incarnations. He sits down to fix the buggy T Mat system and actually tells the other two to go exploring, and that's after setting off without waiting for Sarah (who unceremoniously materializes her bum in the air). He's a free spirit and so are his companions. He may grumble when they get into trouble, but he's not really expecting it or trying to prevent it. When he's in trouble himself, he shrugs it off with inappropriate good humor, which only gets him roughed up in this case. He talks like a wise-ass, but it's played sincerely, as if he doesn't know his comments will get such a reaction. Key speech of the day: A frivolous one about his love of clocks. That's some mad, mad fast talk about time travel, right there. And through the grins and jokes, he still knows something's not right and that Vural is spying on his own men for his Sontaran master. Hard to believe this set-up will only yield one more episode. Will the finale be a rush job? Stay tuned.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A perfectly acceptable series of explorations, stunts, captures and revelations (except for the Nervatlantis thing), shot in some nice country locations, but it's not particularly memorable.


Bob Buethe said...

That was the first Dr. Who episode I ever saw. A local TV station that had just gotten the broadcast rights in 1978 rented a room at an SF convention and played "The Sontaran Experiment" over and over. I guess that since it was only a two-parter, they figured it would give more people a chance to see the whole thing. I'm afraid I never did have much interest in the Doctor and his adventures, though, until Eccleston/Tennant/Smith.

Siskoid said...

I wouldn't call The Sontaran Experiment a gateway drug, so I'm hardly surprised.

Calamity Jon said...

It was Pyramids of Mars for me, an series I'm very interested in reading your thoughts about ...

Siskoid said...

It's a favorite of mine. Hopefully the pilgrimage won't have changed that. For me, it was The Hand of Fear. And then much later, it was The Hand of Fear again.


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