Doctor Who: The First Sontarans
Which came first — Sontaran or Rutan? Neither actually, as the Doctor and Peri find out in this, the final unmade Colin Baker story to be adapted for audio...
Writer: Andrew Smith
Starring: Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Dan Starkey, Anthony Howell, Lizzie Roper, John Banks and Cameron Stewart
Destined for the ill-fated Season 23 that never was, Andrew Smith's The First Sontarans is a surprisingly gung-ho action adventure from the author of Season 18's more cerebral Full Circle.
Opening on the surface of the Moon, with the characters speaking in tinny spacesuit microphones, the story soon switches track to a "we-don't-like-strangers-here" village in Victorian England, full of inbred squires, drunk yokels and...erm...potato-headed aliens. Voicing these, of course, is none other than the splendid Dan Starkey, who should be the son of controversial historian David Starkey, but probably isn't. Swiftly becoming one of the most heard vocalists in new Doctor Who, Starkey's rasping Sontarans tones have been gracing the series since 2008's The Sontaran Stratagem. Kevin Lindsay may have been the original and best Sontaran actor, but Starkey comes a pretty close second. He captures the childish hostility of these military-obsessed clones perfectly.
Alongside the Sontarans are, naturally, the Rutans. I say naturally, but they've only featured once in the TV series — in the terrifying Horror of Fang Rock, the series' most under-rated story ever. (Why is it never in anyone's top ten?) A question posed by director Ken Bentley in the documentary extra is why these two races have never appeared together. Budgetary considerations aside, I think the answer is that you simply don't need them together. Aesthetically, giving the Sontarans an unexplained Rutan War backstory in The Time Warrior was a characteristic stroke of genius from the pen of Robert Holmes. Instant history, instant credibility. While the Doctor was off having jolly japes with the Brig and his chums, the Sontarans and Rutans were fighting a long and bloody war out there in space somewhere. Like the Time War, it's best not to see it. However, here at last you do, and it works well. It would have been far too expensive to have ever been made, requiring three distinct alien races and a great deal of pyrotechnics, but it does its job very well on audio. (Rather better than a couple of bitchy Sontarans farting about in a derelict hacienda in Spain, in fact.)
The third alien race, and new to us, is the Kiveech, voiced by John Banks as Lork. Painted as a sympathetic race of refugees, their homeworld has been invaded by the Sontarans. At least that's what we're led to believe, until a midway revelation when we discover, rather shockingly, that their planet is actually Sontar. Hence — the origin of the Sontarans revealed at last. It's a moot point whether we need a Genesis of the Sontarans-type story, but we've got one now and it serves its purpose well. Andrew Smith's prose is taut, the storytelling fast and exciting. Unlike some Big Finish audios, the plot is straightforward enough to work easily in a sound-only medium and there are plenty of big bangs along the way.
Colin Baker is his usual excellent self (what a great audio Doctor he makes — let's just forget he ever appeared on the telly) while Nicola Bryant continues to demonstrate what a strong companion she could have made, if only the writers had played to the actress's strengths and not the character's weaknesses. As Major Thessinger, Cameron Stewart is a damn sight better than Michael Cochrane's attempt at doing a similar character in the self-consciously silly The Oseidon Adventure.
All in all, a great adventure — well written, well acted and well made. Yes, I can see now why they never made it. It would have stood out like a sore thumb.
Listen to the trailer here:
Doctor Who: The First Sontarans is out now.
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