By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
Remember that moment in the Predators trailer when Adrian Brody was targeted by dozens of predators’ red triangles and it never appeared in the movie? Well, that’s how I feel about the title of this story featuring the sixth Doctor and Peri (Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant). Such a title suggests strongly that this will be Genesis of the Daleks for the potato-headed soldiers that have been updated for the twenty first century for the tenth and eleventh Doctors.
The Doctor and Peri find a transmitter on the surface of the moon in the year 1872 that keeps saying ‘We are here’. Landing in London, the Doctor is recognized as a time Lord, but who exactly knows him? By the end of the first episode he finds himself in a prison cell face-to-face against a Sontaran. This Sontaran is voiced by Dan Starkey, who has appeared on screen in all of the new Doctor’s encounters with the Sontarans, this is a smart move, tying this into the new era. However, using the image of the poorly devised Sontarans from the Two Doctors isn’t so smart. In that story they were super tall and military buffoons, like something out of the Carry On movies, completely out of character for this species that first appeared in the Jon Pertwee era that had cemented themselves as dwarf-like aliens.
It turns out that the Sontarans are in fact being dissected by a husband and wife team, part of the Kaveech, a race that has developed a weapon that is Sontaran specific. Making them ex-partners is a nice twist, as the wife, Leandra, blaming her husband, Meredit, for the death of their children, is exactly what I’m looking for in a character. This gives them an identifiable connection with the audience and something I applaud. The Doctor’s horror is well founded but I must admit that I was bored by the end of the second episode. Although the actors give their all, the story lacked direction, but then everything spins out of control and the reason for the title , The First Sontarans, is revealed. This fills in the Sontaran background nicely; adding a new dimension to them, which is what a returning alien should do in a story.
Add to that the return of the jellyfish Rutans and the story suddenly takes off in a new direction. And, as a monster, the Rutans are always welcome back with their strange other-worldly sound effects that were last heard on screen in the Fourth Doctor story Horror of Fang Rock.
The Doctor and Peri have the relationship they should have had on the show, good friends that bounce off each other well, and the entire cast is excellent. I wonder if this story could have benefitted from a slight trimming of episodes. Nevertheless, by the end of the story I felt the Sontarans had been complimented well in this adventure and I had listened to something different akin to a twenty first century upgrade.