Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Sontaran Experiment - "Never throw anything away, Harry. Where's my five hundred year diary? I remember jotting some notes on the Sontarans. It's a mistake to clutter one's pockets, Harry."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Sontaran Experiment - Details

Season 12, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #77) | Previous - Next | Index

Let's trot over to those other rocks, shall we?
Well, it's mercifully short, so it's got that going for it. Just a two-parter, there's not much room for padding. But the whole thing feels like a bit of a throwaway between the excellent "The Ark in Space" and "Genesis of the Daleks". I'm a bit mystified that the critical reaction to it is generally positive. From the linked site, "The Sontaran Experiment is a pleasing interlude between the two more substantial stories either side of it, and is memorable in its own right as an exciting and well-crafted adventure." Really? Neither pleased nor excited by it, I can only shrug and mutter chacun à son goût.

The premise of the story makes just about no sense. The Sontarans come across as being a laughably incompetent race of warriors if what we saw here was an example of their brand of strategy. Linx was a much better representative back in "The Time Warrior" when we were introduced to the Sontarans than Styre is here.

I'm struggling to think of a way to use this story as a launchpad to talk about anything. Failure, often more than success, should be seen as an opportunity to learn a lesson. But this one doesn't fail by being morally bankrupt, or cynical, or offensive, or even awful. It just kind of there. A quick by the numbers story shot entirely outdoors. The atmosphere is a bit relentless -- a lot of trotting around the same paths to the same gully, up and down, back and forth, without ever feeling like you've gone very far.

The lessons here: be interesting, make sense, don't be boring, are all Storytelling 101. The lesson for viewers is probably to watch "The Time Warrior" instead if you want to see a lone Sontaran on Earth. Or, more generally, sometimes you don't need to feel bad about skipping a story to move on to something better.

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