1872. After finding a strange signalling device on the moon, the Doctor and Peri travel to the depths of the English countryside to track down the source of its transmissions.
But they’re not the first aliens to arrive on the scene. Old enemies of the Doctor are drawing their battle lines in the forest and the local humans will be lucky to escape the conflagration unscathed.
For hidden within this village is a deadly secret – a secret that could destroy the entire Sontaran race… and reveal the terrible mystery of their creation.
And just like that, we’re at the end of the ‘lost’ Season 23 released by Big Finish, filling in the gap between the end of Revelation of the Daleks and the beginning of The Mysterious Planet. It is safe to say that this run of stories comes to an absolutely cracking story written by Andrew Smith.
The story is structured really nicely and keeps the listener guessing. In true Classic Doctor Who fashion, despite the Sontarans being named in the title, one does not appear until the final moments of the first part, leaving us with a weird sense of unease about the village that the Doctor and Peri arrive in once they follow the homing beacon to Earth in 1872. Once the Sontarans are revealed, however, the story keeps building and building, and it is to Smith’s credit that the story never really feels overstuffed and times peppers its twists and reveals really nicely throughout the story. The twist at the end of Part 2 is particularly well executed and, I must admit, I was fully expecting Major Thessinger to have met a sticky end at the hands of the Gentleman, and the reveal that it was instead Barclay is a wonderful piece of misdirection. I think this was doubly shocking for me as I think given his seemingly worshipping attitude towards his experience of combat in the Crimean War, I suspected that Thessinger was going to have something to do with the Sontarans, rather than having the hero’s ending he ultimately earns. Whilst it would have been lovely for this story to be televised, it may have ultimately suffered with a rapidly diminishing budget, which would have made the space battles much less impressive than they were in my imagination.
The First Sontarans is an origin story for the Sontarans, but it feels different to other villain origin stories that we have seen in Doctor Who, such as Genesis of the Daleks and Spare Parts, with there being no real evil mastermind behind their creation. It also feels unique in the fact that we don’t go back and see the actual birth of the Sontaran idea, which I must admit that I went into this story expecting, but rather deal with the fallout of the decisions of their creators. Smith creates a creation story where the Sontarans were created through necessity by the Kaveetch to fight in the war with the Rutans, only for their own creations to turn on them due to their fixation on the idea of strength being right. The creators of the Sontarans are therefore not truly evil in their original intentions, but just trying to defend themselves against aggressors.
That being said, Andrew Smith gives us no truly good group in which to side with in this story. The Kaveetch, led by Anthony Howell’s Meredid Roath and Leandra, have been forced to flee Sontar, hunted by their creations and seeking the sanctuary of Earth, but they are not entirely innocent. Meredid creates some pretty horrendous weapons, that by the sound of the effect cause the Sontarans a significant amount of pain and the Kaveetch are as set on wiping the Sontarans out as the clone warriors are to wipe them out. Then there are the Rutans, who are hell-bent on destroying both.
The direction from Ken Bentley is on point as ever, and he gets really good performances out of both the main and guest cast. The story is bolstered by having Dan Starkey, who continues to play Sontarans on television and brings his distinctive voice to audio. Starkey gets the Sontarans, who are much more serious and effective than they are in the majority of their television appearances, but having a variety of Sontaran voices provided by Cameron Stewart and John Banks adds a feeling of the size of this army. Some more facets of the Sontarans are explained here, such as their hatred for the Rutans, which has been bred into them by their creators and that the Sontarans have a paternal instinct towards the new clone batches, to the extent that Jaka is willing to lay down his life for them at the end of the story.
The rest of the guest cast are solid too. Anthony Howell and Lizzie Roper are superb as Jacob Gilley, actually Kaveetch scientist Meredid Roath, and Jane Ross, actually Leandra, respectively. Roper puts in a good performance when talking about the impact of running from the Sontarans, constantly checking over her shoulder for her attackers and the difficulties of living under an assumed identity. Equally, Howell really encapsulates the pain of having his creations turn against him effectively and the pain of what he has lost as a result.
The relationship between the Sixth Doctor and Peri is in a much better place than it was at the beginning of The Twin Dilemma and it’s nice to see this TARDIS team having fun together as they do when they originally land on the Moon and joke about putting footprints near the future Apollo 11 landing site. The Season of lost stories has served its purpose in bridging the gap between the end of Season 22 and the beginning of Trial of a Time Lord, giving us a much nicer dynamic in the TARDIS. Colin Baker utterly sells his near whisper of his companion’s name when he believes that she is dead, and when they are reunited in the TARDIS later it is a really touching scene. Notably, it is Peri’s quick thinking that gets her and Leandra out of their near-death experience and helps to save the Doctor from Jaka in the TARDIS.
Verdict: The First Sontarans brings the Season 22 Lost Stories to a close in a satisfying way, giving us a good story full of mystery and drama. 9/10
Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri), Dan Starkey (Fleet Marshal Jaka/Barclay), Anthony Howell (Jacob Gilley), Lizzie Roper (Jane Ross), John Banks (The Gentleman/Commander Lork) & Cameron Stewart (Major Thessinger/Commander Strek).
Writer: Andrew Smith
Director: Ken Bentley
Producer: David Richardson
Composer: Jamie Robertson
Release Date: 23rd July 2012
Behind the Scenes
- This is the first Big Finish audio play to feature both the Sontarans and the Rutan Host.
- Writer Andrew Smith’s original script featured scenes taking place on the Mary Celeste, however, removed these for the adaptation. He stated that he felt highly disturbed that, following his research for writing the script that he knew every detail about the crew died on the ship.
- Smith has said that he was commissioned to write a story including the Sontarans by Eric Saward during production of Peter Davison’s last season. It is understood that his story was replaced with The Two Doctors, written by Robert Holmes.
- Dan Starkey has played and voiced Sontarans on television and Big Finish audios since their return in 2008. He has also appeared in Last Christmas.
- Anthony Howell has appeared in a number of Big Finish audio plays, including The End of the Line, Plight of the Pimpernel and The Valley of Death.
This is war.
This is nothing of the kind!Field Marshal Jaxa and the Sixth Doctor
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