Big Finish: Doctor Who - THE FIRST SONTARANS Review

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Andrew East checks out the Sixth Doctor 'lost story', The First Sontarans.


Now THAT was good!

The First Sontarans was the last 6th Doctor Lost Story release. I have listened to the first series (The Nightmare Fair through to The Macros) and whilst entertaining, they didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Indeed, some were pretty awful (Mission to Magnus and The Macros weren’t great and The Hollows of Time spent its duration pretending it wasn’t a Master story, whilst simultaneously hinting that it very much was a Master story). The stories of the first season were weighed down by years and years of fan expectation. The Nightmare Fair and Mission to Magnus had already seen the light of day as novelisations and, Fair, as a fan produced audio. The Hollows of Time and The Song of Megaptra had been detailed in various fan publications and DWM. One of the most effective stories in that first season, Point of Entry, was, tellingly one which, as far as I’m aware, wasn’t well known as a possible ‘lost story’. But The First Sontarans was a story I was completely unaware of prior to its inclusion in the range (and I think this was probably true for most people).

The revelation, in the extras, that this story was bumped for Robert Holmes' The Two Doctors, makes sense but is incredibly frustrating as The First Sontarans is amazing, in a way that The Two Doctors is not. Okay, so the latter gave us Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines, a marvellously OTT performance from Jacqueline Pearce (no, really!) and lots of Sunny Spain. But, had The First Sontarans gone to screen, we could have had a truly original genesis story for one of the show’s top tier monster as well as a proper Sontaran vs Rutan battle!

It is a brilliant script. Andrew Smith's teenage TV contribution, Full Circle, was merely the beginnings of a great writer. I know he left writing behind and had a successful career in the police force, but I am glad Big Finish have tempted Smith back to writing for Who. I have also met him at a Big Finish convention and he is a lovely man.

The banter between the 6th Doctor and Peri is wonderful. The bickering on TV between these two characters is often criticised and, to be honest, it does sometimes lend a slightly uncomfortable atmosphere to Season 22. By the time of Season 23, it had been softened to almost non-existence. What Smith has managed to do is find a happy medium between the two TV relationships and one which is genuinely funny.

The main crux of the story – the genesis of the Sontarans – is cleverly written to be very different to those seen/heard for the Daleks and the Cybermen. Whilst those stories show the first steps of the iconic monsters, The First Sontarans reveals how they came into existence many years ago. Being told the story would, one would think, be less interesting than being shown, but Smith has built an exciting adventure where it is the ramifications of that creation which are driving the story. The revelation that the Sontarans are hunting down their creators is chilling and the other twists and turns (which I won’t spoil here) in the script keep it rattling along. One interviewee in the extras comments on how each episode ramps up the tension and the scale until the story is truly epic, and this is very true. Contrasting with this epicness, though, is a tragic ‘human’ story. It involves parents losing their children and I do think that since having children of my own, storylines like this affect me more deeply than they used to.

The Victorian era is also an unusual setting for a monster origin story. It works brilliantly although it is possibly another reason it was passed over in favour of modern day Seville, seeing as we also had the 19th century set The Mark of the Rani in the same season. It is interesting that the Sontarans and Rutans crop up in a historical period yet again. Quite why they prove so popular as the go to monster for pseudo-historical stories I haven’t quite fathomed but they do seem to have trampled their war all over the history of our paltry little planet (and are still around in our far far future!). There is mention of time travel technology, but this history spanning war certainly emphasises how epic the Sontaran vs Rutan battle has been. Has anyone, I wonder, attempted to do a chronology of the war from the combatants point of view? I would be fascinated to see how the various plots, plans and experiments fit into the grand scheme of the war; Linx’s visit to Earth is the result of an emergency landing and unplanned; the Sontarans in this story are only here tracking down the Kaveech; but by the time of The Sontaran Strategem, they actively want our planet and are still trying to assess its use by the time of The Sontaran Experiment.

It's interesting too, that the original brief also included the mystery of the Mary Celeste, which was discovered, abandoned in November 1872. Quite how this would have fitted into the final product (or have tied in with The Chase) we will never know, although Andrew Smith seemed quite happy to have had the chance to excise that element from the plot for the audio version.

The performances are all top notch, especially John Banks and Dan Starkey as the Sontarans. Interestingly, seeing as he seems to be at Big Finish every other day at the moment, this is Starkey’s first audio foray as a Sontaran (after his sterling work on TV). I never liked his performance in The Sontaran Strategem, the voice just sounded off, but since then, his Strax has been absolutely perfect. His audio Sontaran voice is just as good.

It’s a good story for Nicola Bryant too, as Peri gets lots to do and does it well. Contrast this with the way her character was treated in stories such as Timelash and I wonder how much her role would have been ‘adapted’ to fit the character we had in Season 22 rather than the more enlightened companion role we are now more used to on TV and in Big Finish’s rehabilitation of various characters. The visual image of her disguised as a Sontaran trooper is hilarious. Height-wise she’s perfect, but I wonder what extra bumps she would have been trying to disguise from the genderless Sontarans.

The First Sontarans is probably my favourite of all the Lost Stories I have listened to. It is energetic, clever, funny, heart-wrenching and original. Highly recommended.

A primary school teacher and father of two, Andrew finds respite in the worlds of Doctor Who, Disney and general geekiness. Unhealthily obsessed with Lance Parkin’s A History, his Doctor Who viewing marathon is slowly following Earth history from the Dawn of Time to the End of the World. He would live in a Disney theme park if given half the chance.

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