DOCTOR WHO: THE EARLY ADVENTURES is a series of audio dramas from Big Finish which evoke black-and-white memories of 1960s episodes of the show for long-time fans, while at the same time introducing new fans to the ‘classic feel’ of the series back in those early years, featuring Doctors and companions they’ve probably never encountered before.
Telling the previously untold story of the Doctor’s first meeting with the eponymous potato-headed clone warmongers, THE SONTARANS by Simon Guerrier performs a beautiful balancing act of catering to both long-term fans and more recent followers of the show, with a sprinkling of knowing references to time destructors and other Sontaran stories, while at the same time being a self-contained rip-roaring adventure in its own right.
The story begins when The First Doctor and his companions arrive on an asteroid with a view, populated by a squad of humans and a squad of angry Sontarans. There will be bloodshed, because that’s what Sontarans do, and before long, they set about wiping out the humans, driving home to message “Do Not Mess With The Sontarans”. Unfortunately, it turns out that the humans are on the asteroid to do exactly that. They’re not big on life expectancy.
Emulating the early days of Doctor Who, “The Sontarans” has a pretty straightforward plot structure. From the moment the TARDIS crew experience their initial encounter with the Sontarans until the conclusion involving a dirty great space cannon, it’s essentially one big chase, with an enemy that’s ruthless, dogged, and a very good shot, packed with thrills, spills, big holes in the ground, pools of lava, and a modest revolution along the way to keep the story spinning in new directions. Oh, and torture. There’s quite a bit of science fiction torture in this story, as Steven (played, as he was on-screen, by Blue Peter’s Peter Purves) gets captured by Sontaran leader Slite (Dan Starkey), and forced to reveal all sorts of secrets…
There’s a fine balancing act at play in the pacing of this story too, as on the one hand, it belts along, and feels like a fast listen, and on the other it’s full of memorable and sensible plot developments. You believe in the situations and the people here, and there are no moments when you feel things have just been thrown in for the convenience of moving the plot along. Guerrier’s a better writer than that, and the end result is a couple of hours that fly by while you’re running away from Sontarans while learning about them too.
Purves, as well as playing Steven, gives a great version of the First Doctor with a twinkle in his voice, and is also on narration duty in this story. Meanwhile, fresh from playing the ‘good’ Sontaran Strax in the most recent series of the TV show, Starkey strengthens his grip over the whole Sontaran race, playing no fewer than four different members of the species here, and one of the human crew to boot, getting lots of difference into every performance, so you can genuinely forget it’s all the same man.
The Sontarans is a great story with more than a dash of cat and mouse along the way (beware – you might be wrong as to who’s the cat). Even if you’ve never heard of the Sontarans, you’ll still have a runaway good time.
DOCTOR WHO – THE EARLY ADVENTURES: THE SONTARANS will be available to buy exclusively from Big Finishuntil January 31st 2017, after which date it will be available from Amazon.co.uk and other leading audiobook retailers