Doctor Who: The Sontaran Experiment
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The Doctor (Tom Baker), Sarah Jane, and Harry return from the space station Nerva to Earth 10,000 years in the future. The desolate landscape that once was the site of Piccadilly Circus has become the testing ground for the human race.
One of the more suspenseful stories of the Tom Baker-era Doctor Who, 1975's The Sontaran Experiment pits the Time Lord and his companions against a ruthless alien carrying out experiments on the survivors of a decimated Earth. The first Doctor Who serial to be shot entirely on location (in Dartmoor) and solely with video cameras, The Sontaran Experiment picks up where the previous serial, The Ark in Space, left off, with Baker's Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter, who also wrote the serial's novelization) visiting a future Earth abandoned by its inhabitants save for a small band of space colonists who are being hunted by an unseen force and its robot servant. The alien a Sontaran warrior (the race was previously encountered in the Jon Pertwee serial The Time Warrior) is capturing the colonists and subjecting them to horrifying medical and psychological experiments, and the Doctor and friends soon find themselves among its new test subjects. A short (only two episodes) but gripping and effective story, The Sontaran Experiment has received its share of positive and negative reviews from the fan community, but remains an entertaining entry from the Baker years. The single-disc DVD of The Sontaran Experiment offers surprisingly fewer extras than other recent Doctor Who releases; commentary is provided by Sladen, producer Philip Hinchcliffe, and co-writer Bob Baker, while a featurette, "Built for War," traces the history of the Sontarans via interviews with Sladen, Baker, sixth Doctor Colin Baker, writer Terrance Dicks, and others. A brief photo gallery and the by-now standard production notes subtitle option round out the extras. -- Paul Gaita
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This was the first Doctor Who shot completely on location, as well as the first Doctor Who story shot on video tape. It was also the story that Liz Sladen credits as changing her mind about leaving the show. She stayed on for Season 13 before finally exiting the program.
Great for both casual fans who just want to enjoy the story as well as those serious fans who want to know more about the production, sets and filming of the series.
Doctor Who stops off on Earth (far in the Earth's future when it is no longer inhabited) to make repairs to some equipment that he has based there. Sarah and her friend come along for some R&R in the beautuful English countryside but they run into a "hole-trap" right away! Pretty soon some human astronaults show up and they are very suspicious of the TARDIS trio because some of their crew members have been killed.
The facts ultimately show that it is Styre, the Sontaran, along with his devilish mobile robot, who has been torturing and killing off the astronaults. He had lured them to Earth with a fake distress call and then destroyed their space ship after they had landed. Styre is conducting "experiments" on humans to detect all their mental and physical inferiorities, (e.g., by water deprivation, by mashing them, etc.), so that his tribe can invade the galaxy and exploit these weaknesses. His superiors are awaiting his final report prior to the invasion.
But Doctor Who has other plans for the Sontarans!
The Sontaran, Styre, looks like a giant russett potato with arms and legs and dressed in a cool space suit, and is actually made up quite good. His robot is also a timeless work of tinsmithing art. The cinematography in this entry is spectacular and the action is constant.
If I have a singular critique of this one it's that it is one of the shorter Doctor Who episodes, having only two parts. Still, it's very worthwhile television. My highest recommendation.
--no TARDIS, the Doctor and companions Sarah & Harry are Transmatted to the surface of a nearly uninhabited future Earth leaving the TARDIS behind on a spacestation, then transmatt again at the end. The story maybe historical in the fact the the famous Police Call-Box never appears This is followed by the second and last time that this happens in Genesis, in which they are intercepted by the Timelords, then leave with a Timering, catching up with the TARDIS in the final story Revenge of the Cyber-men.
--Another omission that may confuse the unintiated in viewing this story arc is that upon the climax the Doctor claims to be the Human "warrior class" to confuse the Sontaran advanced scout, but there is no referance that would establish otherwise if you are just starting out. In fact in the 70's when alot of American was just meeting the Timelord for the first time this may have been their first encounter with the series. I was one of those people, but it was "Revenge" that hooked me with the Cyber-men and eventually the arrival of the TARDIS.
Inspite of this it is a fun story, some pretty location, no quarries and the retrospective extra with the Sontarans is well done.
All these together (along with the video-action-doc filming style and the outdoor setting with ambitious scifi set-prop work which WERE deliberate) make this story as it turned out quite unique. Plusses - Elisabeth Sladen threw even more of her usual energy and authenticity into this episode, and the oversize props (almost mini-sets) the production could afford because it was using no interiors really get a chance to shine. The spherical scout ship, Styre's space-phone, the torture devices ... all better than average for DW in this era. The traveling robot was a potential gem, but the forcibly shortened story cost it a lot of screen time.
Baker also pressed his way through several episodes a few years later with a very badly dog-bitten face (during Mary Tamm's tenure as Romana).