Big Finish Folly, Part 66 – The First Sontarans, by Andrew Smith
Earth, 1872: The Doctor and Peri almost literally trip over a transmitter beacon on the Moon. “We are here,” it is sending out to the cosmos. But who is “we”? And why have they come to Earth? The Doctor investigates, but Earth may not survive the answer…
Big Finish Folly’s previous encounter with the Sontarans was the pacey and bleakly humorous Heroes of Sontar, which added some much needed humanity to everybody’s favourite Maris Pipers of war. Andrew Smith’s Lost Story is a different affair: any humour is quickly shed in the first episode, with circumstances becoming ever more desperate for the few surviving refugees who have fled their homeworld to escape extinction at the hands of the Sontarans. Anthony Howell is well-cast as the conflicted scientist in this origin story, which takes its cues from Spare Parts and Genesis of the Daleks in giving the Sontarans a Frankenstein-like history.
Smith does not hesitate to increase the peril where necessary, wiping out hundreds of people at a time to reinforce the scale of warfare here. Yet just playing with the Sontarans themselves wouldn’t give the story much of a twist: from the end of the second episode there is fresh peril too, and the Sontarans themselves are faced with a titanic battle for survival. This actually allows Smith to play with the audience’s sympathies, as he shows that the Sontarans are also capable of some form of paternal instincts. Dan Starkey – who else? – gives an excellent reading as the high-handed Sontaran commander, and both Howell and Lizzie Roper play their own parts with the frustration of survivors living beyond hope.
It is probably just as well that this was replaced in the original TV schedules by the Two Doctors, as I doubt 1980s Who could have done justice to the scale of the story. As audio is effectively free of budgetary constraints, Smith fires the listener from horseback to outer space quite effortlessly. While still not as stunning as Spare Parts, The First Sontarans is nevertheless a brilliant origin tale and one that steps beyond the bounds of the Lost Stories range, belonging far more to the dynamism of the Main Range.