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Review #3142: Classic Doctor Who: “The Sontaran Experiment”

Posted on the 18 November 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: John Keegan

Written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin
Directed by Rodney Bennett

This serial is an odd little side trip in the continuing adventures of Season 12, where every serial leads directly into the next (again, not unlike the classic First and Second Doctor eras). This time, the transmat system on Nerva Beacon from “The Ark in Space” sends the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Harry to Earth, which is still recovering from the long-term effects of the solar flare that led to the Nerva Beacon in the first place.

Review #3142: Classic Doctor Who: “The Sontaran Experiment”

Despite supposedly being uninhabited, there are some humans running about, and they are not happy. A strange robot is chasing them around, and if you get caught, you don’t come back. Since this is a rather short serial (it could easily fit into the time of a standard NuWho episode), and it’s right there in the title, by halfway through the story, it’s clear what is happening.

Well, somewhat clear, because while the titular Sontaran is indeed conducting experiments, it’s mainly to discover what the weaknesses of the human race might be, so that the invasion of Earth might go without a hitch. While one might later assume that the Sontarans intend to use this knowledge against the various human colonies throughout the galaxy, it still sounds odd that the Sontarans would need a Mengele-esque scout to prepare the way for invasion of an empty world.

It’s also a story that ends a bit too easily, largely because there’s no time to play out the concept in a more satisfying way. The Doctor basically tosses a bluff at the Sontaran military leadership, claiming that the humans being experimented on were a weak “slave class”, and thus not at all representative of the more powerful humans that managed to take down their scout. While later revelations would establish the Sontarans as very regimented in their thinking, and therefore unlikely to step outside of protocol, it is a bit convenient.

It does establish, however, that the Sontarans are all clones (even if Styre looks significantly different from Linx, the original Sontaran from “The Time Warrior”). Styre’s clinical experimentation on human weakness, while a bit basic in retrospect, is suitably chilling. It made me wonder how a modern take on the story would proceed, since it could be covered in a single episode.

Considering that I’ve already started in on the next serial, which has a far greater following among fans and provides the first real epic of the Fourth Doctor era, it’s easy to dismiss this particular story as a bit of an afterthought. Even so, it did serve as the second serial produced with Tom Baker as the Doctor, filmed before “The Ark in Space”, so it served to give him a little more time to settle into the role.

Writing: 1/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 1/4

Final Rating: 6/10

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