The Doctor, Sarah, and Harry teleport down to Earth from the Nerva space station. As they expected, the place is deserted, and the teleport receptors need adjusting. While the Doctor gets to work, Harry and Sarah explore. But the three of them soon discover that Earth has visitors–the crew from a space ship that arrived in response to a distress signal some time ago. When they arrived, their ship was vaporized, and since that time, members of the crew have been disappearing. But it seems the crew weren’t the first to arrive on Earth, and with a full-scale alien invasion planned, they won’t be the last…
SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!
“The Sontaran Experiment” is a two-part story by established Who writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin. The second story of the season, “The Ark in Space,” was originally given a six-episode block, but producer Philip Hinchcliffe preferred to divide the block into two separate but related stories, “Ark” getting four episodes, and this story the remaining two. I think that was a good call; six episodes would have been to much for “Ark.” But it leaves “The Sontaran Experiment” feeling a bit like a filler. The TARDIS crew have come to Earth to do a job, which they do, though they are sidetracked for a little while.
The story is okay, competent enough, but not Baker and Martin’s best. Bringing back the Sontarans is understandable; they were script editor Robert Holmes’ invention (see “The Time Warrior”), and they work well as monsters. However, Sontarans are supposed to be warriors, so the idea of a solitary Sontaran going to Earth to conduct experiments on humans is a little incongruous. Sure, strategically they want to discover human weaknesses so they can exploit them. But let’s face it, they would probably swarm the Earth and blow everybody up. They’re hardly going to try dehydrating them, or scaring them to death, so the information Styre is gathering is ultimately pointless.
Also, the Doctor’s plan to defeat Styre, though it works, is a bit convoluted. Sontarans supposedly feed off of energy, so he has Harry enter the Sontaran ship and mess with the energy machine so it feeds off of the Sontaran. I suppose with only two episodes, it’s hard to develop a more creative solution, but that just seems a bit too easy. I will commend the fact that Styre hinted at this solution when he noted that humans depend on chemical and organic food for energy, which suggests he doesn’t.
A good piece of continuity is the fact that Styre’s gun blast didn’t kill the Doctor because he had some plating from the Nerva rocket in his inside coat pocket. I remember seeing the Doctor take that in episode four of “The Ark in Space,” and I wondered what relevance that might have to the story. I don’t know if that was planned, but it certainly worked out well.
Sadly, the Sontaran costume doesn’t look as good as it did in “The Time Warrior.” Indeed, I doubt it’s the same costume. The original only had three fingers on each hand, while Styre has five. For a clone race, that’s a bit of an oversight.
To sum up, what makes “The Sontaran Experiment” worth watching is the fact that it ties up “The Ark in Space.” You can watch it as a stand-alone, and it’s entertaining enough for that, but there are too many references to the previous story. You would feel as if you’re missing something. So watch it to find out what happened next, but don’t expect too much.