Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions
Written By: Cavan Scott & Mark Wright
RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)
Release Date: February 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bartle for Doctor Who Online
"The TARDIS has landed in a war zone. The Doctor, Romana and K9 find themselves traipsing through an inhospitable battlefield. Strange lights flicker in the sky, and stranger creatures lurk in the darkness.
When rescued from an attack by a Sontaran tank, the time-travellers discover they’re facing a far more dangerous foe than the battle-hungry clones. This terrifying fight has been going on longer than anyone can remember… and shows no signs of stopping.
With the TARDIS missing and their luck running thin, the Doctor and his friends’ only hope of survival is to uncover the truth about what is happening on this planet. If they can discover the secret of the eternal battle they might just survive… but it might just mean the end of them all."
One of the aspects I have disliked intensely about the series since its return is its treatment of classic villains. The Cybermen have effectively become that “pathetic bunch of tin soldiers” that the Fourth Doctor chastised them about being so long, long ago. I was not particularly enamoured on the re-design of the Silurians or their overall return, either. Even the Daleks had a wobble in Victory Of The Daleks but the least said about that the better.
I have a sense of trepidation about the Ice Warriors returning in the new series too as I felt the one monster threat in Cold Blood served them well but once they are an army? Who knows!
And then there are the Sontarans. One of my favourite villains from the classic series reduced to comedy foils time after time again. I didn’t mind Strax the first time around but the law of diminishing returns meant that the comedy wore thin and it just made me yearn for that particular race to return to their strangely honourable and war mongering selves of old.
So in all honesty going into this one my hopes weren’t high. Could these be the Sontarans that waged a brutal war with the Rutans or will they reflect the more comedic variety of recent times?
Well the honest answer is neither really, here they are something a little different. Writers Mark Wright and Cavan Scott have been very clever in this story. In the midst of a very bleak environment, combatting an endless and futile war, they manage to humanise the Sontarans without weakening them from the original approach to this race in the seventies.
Big Finish always manage to revisit a classic foe and put a different spin on them. The narrative tactic they adopt is to split up our TARDIS team, on this occasion the Fourth Doctor, Romana II and K-9, and pair them with two different Sontaran warriors who both are unusually open in reflecting on their respective roles in the ongoing battles.
Which brings us to Dan Starkey. Dan of course is famous for playing the aforementioned Strax, the Paternoster Gang member who provides nearly all the light relief in the stories he has featured in. Here, with the exception of some vocal work by John Banks, Dan provides nearly all the Sontaran voices and in some scenes is actually talking to himself! Quite the feat!
Between them they manage to inject an impressive sense of pathos as we uncover what the Sontaran sense of honour truly means to them and it doesn’t necessarily translate to dying in battle as recent serials would have us believe. This race does not fear their ultimate end, but neither are they actively seeking it out.
And what of the regulars? Well you would never expect nor receive less than a top notch performance from Lalla Ward and John Leeson and their on screen chemistry is easily replicated once again here. Tom Baker's’ love for doing these audios again shines through and he seems to be having enormous fun throughout, without going overboard. He gets the tone just right and is a shining beacon in what is, at times, a very bleak tale.
I am a big fan of what Jamie Robertson has done with the score of this one. I adore the music of Season 18, and here he recaptures some of those synth infused moments perfectly. Interestingly The Beast of Kravenos was also set supposedly in Season 18 but the same approach to the music would have felt distinctly out of place in the Victorian setting. Here it is applied with careful consideration to enhance the right moments.
Tales with a zombie theme have been done to death (ridiculously obvious gag) but here they are given an interesting spin. But although key to the story, as is the futility of war, these are merely the backdrop for the characterisation and interaction between the Sontarans, the humans (who are perhaps underserved within the relatively short running time) and the TARDIS team.
So essentially a character piece on a long established race, but one which has managed to make it so that, arguably the most one-dimensional of all the Doctor Who adversaries, can now be appreciated through new ears.
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