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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

classic ‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “The Sontaran Experiment”

(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode… or unless you don’t care if it’s spoiled for you. this is a love fest only — all complaints and bitching must come from a place of love / previous: “The Ark in Space”)

I hate these guys.

The planet Earth around the year 13,000 or so looks pretty empty, at first glance:

It’s as if the Doctor, Sarah, and Harry transmatted down from Nerva and into an episode of Life After People. (“Trafalgar Square should be that way,” the Doctor breezily tells a stunned Sarah and Harry, “if this is Piccadilly…”) Of course, the planet isn’t empty: it’s almost as busy as Trafalgar Square, there’s so many stranded astronauts and mad-scientist Sontarans hanging around.

Which we discover about two seconds after Harry tells Sarah she’s “imagining things” when she thinks she sees something. (There’s been no life there for 10,000 years, he explains with faux patient male superiority, as if she hadn’t been there for the previous adventure in which the scouring of the Earth by radiation hadn’t been the entire reason for that adventure; there could be “mutations… creatures,” she counters, not unreasonably. Or even visitors, as the case turns out to be.) And so ensues a veritable round robin of missteps, capturings, and rescues among the three travelers, which is more hilarious the more I think about it.

Because Sarah — the jeopardy-friendly girl companion — is the only one who manages to stay out of trouble till the very end of the first episode. First it’s Harry falling down a hole (perhaps the remants of the Tube or the sewer system!), then it’s the Doctor stunned and captured by the stranded astronauts, who think the Doctor has killed one of their group.

And then it’s Sarah who rescues the Doctor! Only to have him instantly fall down the same hole Harry fell in (after berating Harry in absentia for being idiot enough to fall down the hole in the first place) and get knocked unconscious.

Then Sarah gets captured by the Sontaran — whom, the ugly spud concludes, has “no military justification,” but he experiments on her anyway, possibly to determine what decibel level jeopardy-friendly Earth girls can achieve when they scream. And then Doctor rescues her.

But then he gets stunned again.

And then Harry, who has managed to rescue himself out of the hole

shows up, first to try to help one of the astronauts being tortured by the Sontaran

(whom Harry is unable to help; all children’s shows feature characters who are tortured to death).

And then Harry tells Sara: “I’ll get you out of there if I have to knock [the Sontaran’s] bally head off and grab his keys.”

No, wait. Maybe Harry tried to rescue Sarah first, and didn’t succeed at that, either, leaving it to the Doctor? Aw, not that it matters. It’s like a game here, who can get conked on the head or experimented upon next and require rescuing. Even the Doctor gets to play!

It funny to think that what constitutes a quickie throwaway story in the old days — this is just two episodes, and stories that brief were rare — is as long as most of the stories of new Who. The show today crams a lot more story into its stories. These two episodes are mostly interesting for how it managed to tell a story at all on what is obviously the barest of budgets even for Doctor Who. There are no sets — everything is shot out in the open — and minimal props and minimal costumes.

Also interesting are a few tidbits that illuminate the mythology of the future. We’re somewhere around the year 13,000, and humanity has, in the 10,000 years since we abandoned Earth, spread across the galaxy and created an empire. (And Nerva has become a legend, a “lost colony.”) And yet the Sontarans — whom the Doctor implies are from another galaxy, since they’re getting ready to invade the Milky Way — know so little about humans that this Sontaran here is surprised to learn that while lack of water will kill a human in only a few days, we are also easily suffocated by immersion in water. I’m not sure that makes much of a difference when you’re presumably going to just blow planets of the sky with your death rays or something, but I suppose there’s no such thing as too much information.

Oh, and there’s this: For all that we have the image of the Doctor as a nonviolent sort of chap, here he actually fights the Sontaran. “I’m gonna take him on in single combat,” the Doctor tells Harry and Sarah. “It’s the only way.” It’s not often you hear the Doctor say that violence is the only answer.

Random thoughts on “The Sontaran Experiment”:

• I love Sarah’s little yellow rain slicker getup:

So cute!

And so practical for the modern girl adventure traveler:

Wait just a second!

Where the hell did that blue skirt come from? Borrowed it from one of the stranded astronauts, did she? Fashion may have changed enough in 13,000 years that a man feels comfortable wearing a skirt, but even if a skirt was practical astronaut wear, their ship was destroyed by the Sontaran and they appeared to have no supplies at all, never mind a wardrobe.

Or did the Doctor have the skirt in his pocket with all the other crap he hauls around?

• The Sontaran’s helper robot:

always makes me think of the Imperial probe droid Han and Chewie took out on Hoth:

• Tom Baker’s stunt double looks so little like him:

that it could be an alien plot in itself…

• I think I had a clock radio like this:

when I was a kid. A little smaller, maybe. But pretty much like this.

• I remember being totally freaked out by the Sontaran’s big ol’ deflatey head


• Great quotes:

“I lost my sonic screwdriver. I feel absolutely lost without it.” –the Doctor
“I found your sonic screwdriver.” –Sarah
“What would I do without you?” –the Doctor

“You unspeakable abomination.” –the Doctor, to the Sontaran
“Worm.” –the Sontaran, to the Doctor

“Never throw anything away.” –the Doctor
[two seconds later]
“It’s a mistake to clutter one’s pockets.” –the Doctor

“I shall kill you all now. But first, I have more important tasks to perform.” –the Sontaran

(next: “Genesis of the Daleks”)

MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

  • i think sarah’s actually wearing culottes (one of the more practical weird fashions of the 70s) which could easily fit under the pants of the yellow slicker outfit. perhaps the sontarans removed them from her in order to see what sort of skin ws under the shell. squick.

  • MaryAnn

    Nope, she’s still wearing the pants after the Sontaran is defeated. And even if she were wearing the blue thing (skirt or culottes) under the pants, taking off the pants at this point would require that she *know* that the three of them will not end up back at Nerva (where they will presumably get right back into the TARDIS and head off again), as is the intention, but on Skaro for another long (six-episode) adventure. :->

    There’s nothing wrong with her slicker pants, and there’s no reason for her to suddenly abandon them at this point.

  • Jackie

    Sarah seemed to leave a trail of discarded clothing across time and space (even in the 5 Doctors). Her clothing trail in Genesis (coming up next week) is a classic, including finding a perfectly fitting costume in a cupboard (mind you after a few days in the rest of the stuff, clean clothes must have been quite a relief!).

  • I’m rather fond of this story, and play Spot Tom’s Broken Collarbone when I watch it, heh (6th photo down, for example, rescuing Sarah). You’re so right about how much story they pack into an hour these days. Sometimes, though, I miss the longer stories – you really get to savour it, rather than what sometimes feels like wolfing down a meal.

    Maybe Sarah took off the rubber pants because they were getting too hot what with all that running about? I also agree that she’s wearing what I seem to remember were called knickers, back in 1970’s Canada, not a skirt. I longed for a pair of those back when I was kid! Funny thing to to call them, though, in light of what “knickers” means in Britain :-/

    And I think they got … Terry somethingorother to stand in for TB because he didn’t have to wear a wig? Both having that nest of curly hair.. (and TB with the broken collarbone)

    I didn’t grow up with DW (just started watching it a couple of years ago) so I don’t have that “marking my attractions to men” thing, but I must say I completely agree with the attractiveness of Tom Baker. Odd-looking, yes, but charismatic, charming, a little anxious, gentle, and a little dangerous when his temper flares. Is that his Doctor, or is that him? What was it that David Tennant said about him, the most brilliant bit of casting in television history? Yeah.

    And I think I need to go rewatch this story now!

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