The Sontaran Experiment

Region 1

Region 2
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 77, starring Tom Baker)
  • written by Bob Baker & Dave Martin
  • directed by Rodney Bennett
  • produced by Philip Hinchcliffe
  • music by Dudley Simpson
  • 2 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: Beaming down from the Ark in Space to the abandoned planet below, the Doctor, Sarah, and Harry make further discoveries about the history of its population and the sinister experiments still taking place on the surface....

DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), co-writer Bob Baker, and producer Philip Hinchcliffe.
  • "Built for War" featurette on the history of the Sontarans (40 min.), with Sladen, Bob Baker, actor/stuntman Stuart Fell (Sontaran),
    script editors Terrance Dicks, Anthony Read, and Eric Saward, and actors Colin Baker (the 6th Doctor), and Nicola Bryant (Peri).
    This covers the making of "The Sontaran Experiment", "The Two Doctors" (story no. 141), and many other Sontaran related tales.
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery sound effects montage (5 min.)

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

This is a bit of an oddball story, the only one as short as two parts between 1964's "The Rescue" (story no. 11) and 1981's "Black Orchid" (story no. 121). It's also one of the few to not feature the TARDIS in any form at all, beyond the title graphics of course. Add to that the fact that it all takes place on outdoor locations, without any real studio work or even any indoor locations either. How does the oddball measure up? Quite well actually. It doesn't attempt to offer as much as "Robot" or "Revenge of the Cybermen", so it is essentially playing it safe in many respects, but what it does do, it does well.

Even without the TARDIS, the regulars make a visually satisfactory entrance via transmat beam, a device that gets its fair share of introduction, explanation, and demonstration throughout the first episode. The story is also quite expert at creating a creepy, lonely atmosphere full of fear of the unknown, and draws this tension out as long as possible, until all the guest characters are finally revealed.

This story complements "The Ark in Space" (the previous story) really well, as it recaps the background of that story's setting and proceeds to extend that story and flesh out more of the details of its interplanetary social setting. The contrasting visuals between the two stories also support each other - as characters in one setting can talk about the other setting with the audience having a clear picture of it in their minds.

Episode one is more geared towards suspense than action, and what limited action it does get works well. Even without a visible beam effect for the Gal-Sec weapons, director Rodney Bennett and the cast and crew do such a good job in the first episode that one really can't complain there. However, firearm effects are a disappointment through the rest of the story, letting down many of the action sequences in which they heavily feature in the second episode. The visual literacy is clear enough throughout, but the lack of good beam effects and powerful sound effects render such sequences dull.

Stuntman Terry Walsh has plenty to do in this one, playing Gal-Sec astronaut Zake in the first episode, and doubling for the injured Tom Baker throughout the lengthy climax. Kevin Lindsay returns to play the other members of the cloned Sontaran species that feature in this story, although the new easier-to-breathe-in mask makes it difficult to believe that Sarah would mistake him for Linx before he begins to speak or display his gestures. All the cast put in good performances, and the series' regulars are exemplary as usual.

Dudley Simpson also continues to make the music for this short story excellent and interesting. The music is very, very minimal as the story begins, emphasizing how devoid of civilization the setting really is, using only the shortest of stings where absolutely necessary. Gradually, as the characters become more populous, the music develops around them and intertwines with some very distinctive sound effects for the robot's scanning habits and other Sontaran technologies. The best parts are in the re-use of the fourth Doctor's embryonic theme after his victory, and the variations on it as he first sets out to deal with Styre and his robot.

Music by Dudley Simpson
Re-recordings based on several cues from this story feature in the final track, "The Doctor's Theme", on:
Audio CD - Pyramids of Mars
Classic Music from the Tom Baker Era
Heathcliff Blair

More info & buying options

The conclusion gives everyone something important to do. The finish has the right energy, but lacks a certain finesse. The story feels like it could have gotten better had it gone on a little longer, and further explored and escalated the plot. But it is what it is, as is, just an intriguing little coda to "The Ark in Space", another quick notch on Tom Baker's rapidly growing belt of achievements.

In the end, "The Sontaran Experiment" is a modest little side-order amidst Doctor Who's usual main course offerings, fairly high in quality and style, but not altogether very profound in its story content.

This story has become available on DVD and VHS video. Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC for North America
PAL for the U.K.

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "Genesis of the Daleks"

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