WARNING: Significant spoilers follow
The Sontarans have had somewhat of a mixed history in Doctor Who. They first appeared in a Third Doctor story, which also featured the debut of Sarah Jane Smith. They were then kind of in and out throughout the old series, and eventually reached a low-point in “The Two Doctors”, where they were entirely superfluous to the plot. They’ve been somewhat better executed and better used in the new series, though I could really do without the “Sontar HA!” business.
Surprisingly, they’ve never had an “origin” story, like “Genesis of the Daleks”. We know that they are clones made by the millions to fight a species called the Rutans, who’ve only appeared in one Who story back in the day. This story aims to correct that.
The story concerns the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) arriving on Earth in the 1870s. They quickly learn that all is not as it seems, and in short order discover the Sontarans, the Rutans and a new alien race called the Kiveech all running around doing stuff. It seem that the Kiveech have developed a weapon to destroy the Sontarans and the Rutans want it. Given that the Kiveech are refugees from their homeworld, their desire for revenge is understandable.
Then we get the surprise that their homeworld is, in fact, Sontar, and that’s where we get the story telling us how the Sontarans came to be. It is, surprisingly, a satisfying revelation, which is something that’s far from guaranteed in a story like this. That the Sontarans were made to fight the Rutans was something we already knew. The devil is in the details, however, and the details here work and work well.
Baker and Bryant were their usual great selves, and great performances by the supporting cast, particularly Dan Starkey, who’s played many a Sontaran on the new series, and Cameron Stewart, who sort-of stole the show every time Major Thessinger was “on screen”. The writing, by Andrew Smith is tight and well-paced. At no point did I find myself lost in the story or getting distracted by the outside world, which happens more frequently with audio stories than visual ones, at least in my life.
I must also praise Big Finish for using the Rutans. We had only one appearance by them in the original series (“The Horror of Fang Rock” from the Fourth Doctor era), and I’m not sure why we haven’t seen them in the new series. I can only imagine how wonderful they’d look these days. Still, at least we get them here, and that’s a nice touch.
I’ve often described the audio stories as being a lot like watching an old school episode. All you have to do is close your eyes and you’re there. That really is the case with this particular story. This story is one I’d be inclined to recommend to anyone who has even a passing familiarity with the old series. Even if you don’t know who the Sontarans and Rutans are by the time you start, you’ll know by the end, and that’s no bad thing.
For the curious who’d like to try before you buy, you can go here and get episode one of this four episode story for free! Enjoy!
Next time: William Russell returns as Ian and Carole Ann Ford returns as Susan in “The Masters of Luxor”!