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14 May 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 499: The Invasion of Time, Episode Five

Dear diary,

Something strange happened during today’s episode. About halfway through, I turned to Emma and said aloud ‘I’d forgotten how much I really love the Sontarans’. It’s only strange because, looking back at what I’ve said on their previous two appearances in the programme, I’m not sure that’s actually all that true. I was full of praise for Kevin Lindsay’s Lynx during Episode One of The Time Warrior, but after that I was far more preoccupied with enjoying the lovely setting, meeting Sarah Jane, and realising that Jon Pertwee wasn’t all that bad. By the time The Sontaran Experiment rolled around, I barely mentioned the titular creature at all! I think what I really meant, in realising how much I loved the Sontarans, is realising how much I love a good comedy Sontaran.

I see a lot of complaints around the internet (and a lot of love, too, it has to be said) for the character of Strax - the Sontaran-turned-nurse-turned-butler who crops up in several of the Eleventh Doctor’s adventures. People seem to think that having a funny Sontaran character around really ruins the effect of the creatures as a whole (it doesn’t - if played right then it can serve to make a very nice contrast when some more vicious, cold-heated clones arrive to do battle. Oh, what I’d give to see a Sontaran story set in Victorian London, with Strax sneaking among the other Sontarans to sabotage their plan - they’d never notice: they all look the same!), but I think that ‘comedy’ in the Sontrans has always been a part of it.

That’s never more true than here in The Invasion of Time, though I suspect that they’re not really supposed to be funny here. There’s just something about the way that they move through the corridors of the Citadel that really makes me smile (and, of course, we get to see more of their graceful movement tomorrow, when one tries to jump over a sun lounger), and the - let’s be honest - ridiculous attempt at doing the voice just helps to add to the humour. But it’s not all unintentional. We’re told that these Sontarans are a part of the ‘Sontraran Special Space Service’ (in my head, it’s the Seventh Section of said service), and the Doctor comments that it’s a bit of a mouthful. Even the way that the cowing Castellan Kelner acts around his latest set of masters is inherently amusing.

Yet none of this takes away from their impact, really, because you can’t underestimate the effect of having four Sontarans on screen at the same time. It seems strange to think of it now, but this is the first time we’ve had more than one on screen (yes, yes, I know that technically there were two in The Sontaran Experiment, but since one was on a screen and there was only one of the present…), and it’s the most that we’ll see in one place for the entirety of the ‘classic’ era. Even though the helmets don’t look quite as good as they did the last time we saw them, there;s no denying that it does look rather imposing to have so many of them around. And then we get to watch one of them smash up the controls of Gallifrey’s defences on location! This is the kind of thing that I was longing for during The Sun Makers - it’s a very real looking set of equipment, so it looks all the more effective when we see someone attack them!

A few years ago, I was responsible for writing segments of the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space Role Playing Game. One of my jobs was to write background text for various aliens and creatures, to help add some colour to the various statistics needed to play the game. I was assigned various monsters - the Sontarans among them. We had to stick fairly closely to the televised material when creating our write ups, but we were allowed to embellish and add little things as we went along, subject to approval from those in charge! My comment about the ‘Great Sontaran Art’ renaissance was removed, but I did get to explain away the very tall Sontarans from The Two Doctors by claiming that all members of the Scientific core were unusually tall, and I got to retroactively make The Invasion of Time into a part of the Time War:

”The Sontaran War Council was furious at being denied entry to the Time War, which had started between the Time Lords and the Daleks. Locked out of the war, it became invisible to the Sontaran Race, who were considered no more than brutes. The War Council set about devising their own plan: if they could not join the already waging Time War, then they would start one of their own…”

I used the opportunity to make the whole Kartz-Reimer plot of The Two Doctors a precursor to this story, and went on to say that following their defeat at the hands of two incarnations of the Doctor, they decided to try something particularly daring, and invade Gallifrey…

”Using a ‘lesser’ race, and the Doctor himself, they forced their way onto Gallifrey, planning to steal the secrets of the Eye of Harmony – the heart of the Time Lord civilisation and the core of their power. The Sontarans planned to destroy the Eye and bring chaos to the Universe by unleashing the raw power of the Vortex upon it. The Doctor ultimately defeated them with the use of a de-mat gun, which wiped the Sontarans on Gallifrey out of time itself.

The Time Lords closely monitored any time travel technology that did make it into the war with the Rutans, and events were locked as they happened, to prevent the Sontaran race from altering history and causing havoc with the Universe.”

Now, clearly, the Sontrans in this story make no mention of the Eye of Harmony, but hey, who can blame me for wanting to devise a Sontaran battle strategy! It’s telling, also, that they come to Gallifrey looking for the Doctor. They’re not like Cybermen or Daleks, pretending to be emotionless killing machines. They’re the kind of creatures who would want to find the man responsible for their previous defeat, and make him pay for it! It’s making little connections between stories like this that I really enjoy about the universe of Doctor Who, and it means that I’m enjoying the events of this episode on a slightly different level to some of the others… 

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