Monday, 30 September 2013

Doctor Who - The Monster Collection: The Sontarans

The Sontarans were the last great monsters introduced on Classic Who (BBC marketing aside, Davros is less a 'monster' and more an extension of the Daleks). Although the show would go on to feature many other bugged-eyed monstrosities from Zygons to Tractators to Haemovores, the Sontarans were the last original creation to recur on both Classic and New Who. Introduced in Jon Pertwee's final season, the stocky warriors with three fingers would reappear twice during Tom Baker's run, then again in the Colin Baker years, before getting the reboot treatment in 2008.

Some fans might not even think of them as a major "Doctor Who" enemy given Strax's role as comic relief in series six and seven. Maybe this set will help to remind those Whovians that a Sontaran is a fearsome enemy to be taken seriously.


"The Sontarans" is part of the BBC's 'Monster Collection' which pairs Classic Who stories with modern episodes featuring the same villains. As such, it's presumably aimed at casual or new fans who haven't already invested in complete series box sets of the David Tennant and Matt Smith years. There are no special features (documentaries, commentaries, deleted scenes) to make the purchase worthwhile if you already own these episodes, but for newcomers they present a nice introduction to the show's most famous villains.

"The Sontarans" set includes two stories: 1973's "The Time Warrior" and 2008's two parter "The Sontaran Stratagem"/"The Poison Sky". Both stories look and sound good, although the quality doesn't appear to be an upgrade over existing releases. The disc has a basic menu featuring an image of the modern Sontaran against an animated background. There are episode choices and a subtitles option.

The Stories

Kicking off Jon Pertwee's final season, "The Time Warrior" finds the Doctor investigating the disappearance of several scientists. Along for the ride is one Sarah Jane Smith, a journalist looking for a story who isn't so sure this mysterious Doctor can be trusted...

"The Time Warrior" is great Classic Who, with sword fights and disguises, aliens and robots, and a medieval setting for good measure. It's a wonderful introduction for Elisabeth Sladen, who would go on to be one of the show's most beloved actors, and firmly establishes Sarah Jane as a different kind of companion -- one who finds herself in trouble because, as a journalist, that's exactly what she's looking for.

Of course, it's the introduction of the Sontarans that warrants the episode's inclusion in this set, and as debuts go this one is strong. The Sontarans are articulate in a way Daleks and Cyberman are not, and their design allows the actor to use his eyes and facial expressions as part of the performance. The Sontaran helmet is interesting without being overdone, and it allows for a great reveal of the alien beneath it at one episode's conclusion. Linx is intelligent and driven, and his situation (stranded in Earth's past, desperate to return to his comrades in battle) could make him sympathetic under different circumstances. But when he starts meddling in human history, supplying would-be warlord Irongron with advanced weaponry in exchange for help repairing his ship, the Doctor has to get involved.

Unlike some Classic Who serials, "The Time Warrior" doesn't feel overlong or padded, and the most is made of its four episodes. It's a perfect episode to introduce new fans to mid-seventies Who.

This set's other story comes from series four of the current incarnation of the show. Former companion Martha Jones, now working with U.N.I.T., asks the Doctor to investigate a series of mysterious deaths. But as he and Donna look into strange goings-on at a London factory, it soon becomes clear the deaths are just a small part of a larger Sontaran plan.

"The Sontaran Stratagem" and "The Poison Sky" are a lot of fun, with quippy dialogue and fast paced action. U.N.I.T. (retitled the 'Unified Intelligence Taskforce') makes a welcome return, as does Martha Jones. General Staal is wonderfully over the top, and future Strax actor Dan Starkey appears as his second-in-command, Skorr. The secondary villain (a child genius who allies himself with the Sontarans in hopes of escaping Earth) isn't as entertaining as Irongron, but the identity of a Sontaran mole inside U.N.I.T. adds a lot to the story. The episode ends with a cliffhanger (leading directly into the next episode, "The Doctor's Daughter") which works slightly against it as part of a standalone collection.

The Bottom Line

While I can't imagine long time fans investing in these DVD sets, they offer a relatively inexpensive way to see more of the Doctor's most popular enemies. Of the "Monster Collection" sets available, I think "The Sontarans" has one of the best combination of Classic and New Who stories.

"The Sontarans" goes on sale September 30, 2013 and can be purchased here.

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