Wednesday, 30 September 2015

203 - Terror Of The Sontarans


dwmr203_terrorofthesontarans_1417_cover_largeEnglish is a wonderful language. The same words said with different emphasis, or in different contexts, can have completely different meanings. Terror of the Sontarans is a case in point. On the one hand it means Sontarans being terrifying, and on the other, Sontarans being terrified. And they are both of those things in this story.
It’s a very odd story, written by John Dorney, and new series Sontaran stalwart Dan Starkey, and has a number of boxes to tick. First of all it has to fit in with the atmosphere of Season Twenty Four. Check!(for the most part). It feels claustrophobic like Paradise Towers, has a collection of larger than life caricatures as the supporting cast, has the Doctor as slightly bumbling rather than the omnipotent Seventh Doctor of Seasons Twenty Five and Twenty Six. It also has several quite disturbing scenes which would be quite out of character in Season Twenty Four. Also the Sontarans need to be got just right, and here they are hilarious because they are so humourless and literal. Check!
The problem I have with this story is that it takes way too long to get going. The Sontarans do not arrive until the end of Part One and not a lot really happens in Part Two. But Part Three is a cracker and Part Four does what is necessary to end the story.
The plot itself involves the Doctor and Mel picking up a distress call from a deserted mining station that the Sontarans have taken over and are using as an experimentation centre to find out the weaknesses of “lesser creatures”, like a factory version of The Sontaran Experiment. However it turns out that it wasn’t the victims that sent the distress call, but the Sontarans – and what can induce enough terror in a Sontaran that would make them commit an act of cowardice like sending a distress call?
Dan Starkey is superb as Skegg, the Sontaran whose mind has been destroyed by the horrors he has witnessed. It’s a great portrait of post traumatic stress and the way he is treated by his superior officers is horrifying. I like it when we see different aspects of Who characters and to hear a traumatised Sontaran is strangely fascinating.
There is a large supporting cast with a standout performance from Daniel O’Meara as Ketch. He is pretty much in the mould of Pex from Paradise Towers, and as the Doctor and Mel are separated for most of the story, like Pex, he becomes a companion to Mel. It’s a very different story, possibly hampered by the four-part story structure – but it doesn’t seem to “flow” all that well, and while Part Three gets it just right and ramps up the sense of mystery, horror and tension with the best of them, this isn’t a game of two halves, more a game of four quarters that may have played better as a game of two halves. There are some excellent performances but doesn’t quite hit the spot in all areas. 6/10.