Big Finish Folly, Part 138 – Terror of the Sontarans, by John Dorney and Dan Starkey
The Tardis materialises on an abandoned mining & research installation on an inhospitable planetoid deep in the middle of nowhere. But the place isn’t as abandoned as it first appears – a motley assortment of prisoners have been locked up in cells below the surface, and when Mel accidentally winds up locked in with them, the Doctor must find the controls to release her. But who locked these people up, and why? And what has driven the jailer mad? Field-Major Kayste has come to find out – and nobody will like what he discovers…
Those pesky Sontarans are always experimenting on the lesser races. So it makes sense for this planetoid to have become a sort of outback testing station. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that something else might come and experiment on them in turn…
When the Doctor and Mel arrive it should be a fairly straight-forward base-under-siege type of story and, indeed, it does stay that way for a while, using familiar tropes to light our way through the plot (dark corners, bloodstained walls, an escaped prisoner, an unseen menace, general creepiness, power-outs, and video diaries from long-vanished administrators…), but the added twist here is the Sontarans themselves. Dorney and Starkey are using this play to delve deep into the Sontarans’ psyche; they are the stars as much as the Doctor and Mel.
The results are mixed. While it’s always fun to hear the Sontarans bluster about through a scene, hopelessly lost without a battle-plan, they tend to turn one-note panic when presented with an examination of their own motives or personalities, and the writing has to be strong indeed to make something more of them. This is best heard in Heroes of Sontar, with Peter Davison’s Gang of Four, where the Sontarans had a distinct Dad’s Army flavour; the comparison and deconstruction of the two military titans works in favour of the spuds. There doesn’t seem to be such a hook to hang Kayste and his gang from here.
The other problem – as even Heroes of Sontar had to face – is that if the Sontarans aren’t actually the story’s primary antagonists, then the real enemy has to be more than powerful enough to defeat them. As they are a brutal military force, then their enemy must be less physical and more psychic. Such are the Rutans, for example, able to steal bodies and minds. This story’s bad guys work along similar (silicon) veins, invading minds and effortlessly pulling apart bodies atom by atom to see what makes them tick. But… they’re not interesting.
Terror of the Sontarans is, at the end of the day, a play that doesn’t quite deliver on its initial promise.