Top positive review
on 27 November 2016
The planet Samur was the scene of an inglorious victory and the start of a long defeat for the Sontaran Empire. But Fleet Marshal Stabb has hand-picked seven ‘special’ Sontarans to finish the job. Heroes?! ‘Who do you think you are kidding...?’, it’s Stabb’s army! 5* (2 CDs, 4 episodes, 119 minutes + extras)
‘Dad’s Army’ meets “The Seven Samur-i” with a touch of ‘Blackadder’, in Alan Barnes’ comedy drama set among the moss-covered ruins of a world the Doctor remembers as a haven of peace and tranquil thought. Not things the Sontarans are big on, really. For them it was just an outpost in their interminable war against the Rutans, seemingly defenceless and there for the taking. But, as it turned out, only by the most drastic means. Because the people of Samur hired seven legendary protectors, cursed beings with a reputation sufficient to scare the helmets off a whole Sontaran division…
This is a great story if you don’t mind seeing Robert Holmes’ troll warriors sent up in every way imaginable! I wouldn’t agree that Linx in ‘The Time Warrior’ was a ‘buffoon’ (as the Writer’s notes describe him), but these Sontarans are definitely at the buffoon end of the clone spectrum. They’re also strangely familiar to fans of a certain classic British comedy series. In fact, you can play catchphrase bingo with ‘Sontaran-ised’ versions of the well-known sayings (I counted four), plus Tegan’s nickname of ‘Napoleon’ for Field Major Thurr! (Duncan Wisbey)
There’s a very good plot underlying the comedy, a mystery surrounding the Sontarans’ brutal victory at Samur and the resulting ‘curse’ that doomed them to defeat ever after. And the guest monsters (other than the Sontarans, who have never seemed so ‘human’) are genuinely quite scary when listened to in the right atmosphere, thanks to the great sound design by Jamie Robertson. And his ‘Sontaran Battle Chant’ is likely to linger for quite some time!
But it is principally a comedy, complete with comedy falls, what I can only describe as a ‘grunge tank’ moment and many, many quips and one-liners. The Doctor steps through it all with a mostly light and flippant air; his duel with Field Marshal Stabb (John Banks) is a classic brain versus brawn encounter and fully played for laughs. But his mission is urgent – there’s more than one weapon loose on this world and Nyssa is in its sights…
Sarah Sutton carries the main serious storyline as Nyssa suffers nobly to provide the background tension to the adventure, while Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson have many comic scenes and are great at playing them and shifting into the serious moments when the story demands it.
Two of those moments in particular are so well written that they may outlive the comedy in your memories of this story. There’s a terrific scene between Nyssa and Tegan when it looks as if it might *really* be the end, reminding us that this is the older Nyssa with fifty years of her own life outside the TARDIS, also brilliantly pulling in threads from an earlier (and much later) story in the Doctor’s life.
Turlough has an excellent sub-plot with Sontaran Trooper Vend (Derek Carlyle). It’s almost a friendship of a sort, certainly a meeting of similar personalities and underlines what unusual Sontarans these are. There are two outstanding scenes, one genuinely spooky in the deep dark below the ruins and a later sequence which builds superbly into the climax of the story. Unfortunately, this also contained what for me was the only misstep of the adventure and as discussing this involves a mild spoiler I’ve put it in the next paragraph.
** Spoiler: Turlough and Vend have been discussing human and Sontaran approaches to life and war, with reference to the quotation ‘Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori’. This culminates in a gripping and deadly serious sequence, which ends with the Doctor quoting Sassoon’s line that the idea is ‘the old lie’. In my opinion, inserting that line at that moment diminished the actions of a character who had just saved the lives of the Doctor and his friends. (Serious interlude over.) **
Alex Lowe (Sergeant Mezz) and Andrew Fettes (Corporal Clun) complete the excellent guest cast, all playing Sontarans – and some other characters that also fit the bill as ‘monsters’ (not the easiest to understand, but OK if you’re listening carefully.) So the TARDIS crew are the only ‘humans’ in the story, which is unusual but works well and allows the Sontarans to show their individuality – if they seem ‘different’, well, that’s why the Fleet Marshal chose them…
Maybe not ‘heroes of Sontar’, but certainly heroes of comedy with some deeper moments too, making for a great listen. Enjoy it ‘for the glory of Sontar!’ 5*
(Thanks for reading.)
(Disc 1 has a 9 minute suite of the incidental music after the episodes. The trailer for the next story and 13 minutes of interesting documentary tracks follow the episodes on disc 2. The CD booklet has cast photos and Writer’s and Director’s notes.)