Doctor Who – The Sontaran Experiment

Those nice people at 2 entertain, the company that issues BBC DVDs these days[1] have decided to do something about the release rate of classic Doctor Who stories. Somebody worked out that at the current rate it would take a couple of decades to release all the surviving episodes[2]. But there’s a lot of work involved in each release – creating documentaries, locating archive material, recording commentaries and so on. So what they’ve decided to do is to add some more releases to the schedule. In contrast to the generous selection of special features on the usual “Special Editions”, these “Standard Editions” will have a more limited range of extras and have lower recommended prices. Well, that works for me. The first of these came out recently, and this is it.

The Sontaran Experiment is that rarity in the original series – a two part story[3]. It fits between The Ark In Space[5] and the superb Genesis of the Daleks. The Doctor, Sarah and Harry arrive on Earth by transmat beam. All they have to do is make some repairs to the receiver thingies so that the people on the space station can come down to repopulate the planet, which has long since recovered from the excess solar activity that sent them into suspended animation in the first place.

But even in a short story like this, things are never that simple. The planet is not as empty as it’s supposed to be. There are the survivors of a crashed space ship, who were drawn there by a distress signal, a rather nasty robot and an extremely nasty Sontaran. Sontarans are a cloned warrior race with all the appeal of a bad-tempered Vogon who’s been told his poetry is below the acceptable standards for his species. This particular Sontaran is evaluating Earth before an invasion can take place, and is conducting vicious and generally fatal experiments on his human subjects.

The Doctor and his friends face the usual Deadly Peril[6] before defeating the invader and persuading the Sontaran fleet to go away and invade some other planet. They then leave by transmat, expecting to return to the space station…

Extra features are, as I’ve suggested a little limited, but not at all bad:

  • A commentary by Elisabeth Sladen, producer Philip Hinchcliffe and writer Bob Baker
  • The ubiquitous on-screen production notes
  • A photo gallery
  • Built for War: A new documentary about the Sontarans, featuring clips from their various appearances in the series, interviews with some of the people involved and some general silliness. I believe at least some of the interviews were done as extra material while making another documentary, which is a good way of keeping the costs down. Nicely done, and as good as some of the background material on full-price DVDs.

Not a bad package at all. Lots more of these to come, I hear.

[1] Some sort of joint venture between the BBC and, err Woolworth
[2] Let us not speak of those whose tapes were wiped :cry: :cry:
[3] Or as I recall the Radio Times billing at the time “A two-way story”[4]
[4] Funny thing memory. I can remember an entry from a listings magazine from over 30 years ago, but can I remember what happened last week?
[5] A DVD that came out before I started reviewing things here. Hmmmmmm. Maybe some retrospective reviews are needed?
[6] So much so that Tom Baker broke his collar bone during filming

5 thoughts on “Doctor Who – The Sontaran Experiment

  1. Sam Judson

    [4b] I’m guessing no…

    On a completely different topic[7] if I was to say, want to read a doctor who book, never having read any, which one would you recommend starting out with :huh:

    [7] i.e. not different at all

  2. Les Post author

    Yes! You got the right answer and win our star prize of errr, nothing at all!

    Doctor Who books? I’ve never gone for the several million extra stories that have been published. Well, I did start one once (it came free with a magazine, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it), but couldn’t really get into it, possibly because it had continuing characters and storylines that required knowledge of several billion of the previous books.[8]

    For books about Doctor Who, my favourites are Doctor Who: The Legend Continues (good episode guide, loads of pictures) and The Discontinuity Guide (mistakes, contradictions, double entendres, background, general fun). Links and a bit more about them here.

    [8] Me? Exaggerate?

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