THE FIRST SONTARANS
THE MASTERS OF LUXOR
I love a Doctor Who audioplay, but Big Finish have rather flooded the market of late. It’s hard to keep up with all the releases across the various ranges. Even if you have the money, it’s unlikely you have the time to listen to all of them. So I’ve been cherry-picking those that tickle my fancy. Big Finish have recently started a sneaky tactic, though; they release the first episode of many of their upcoming releases as free podcasts. The swines! Get me into a story with a single episode ending on a cliffhanger…
Thus I have just listened to the final three releases in the third series of BF’s Lost Stories range. I can’t say that I’ve been a determined follower of this series; while it’s fascinating to learn about stories that almost made it to TV, some ideas sound more entertaining than others. Some make me wonder how the production team could have let such a winning idea go; others make question how the writer ever thought they had a chance with it. This latest run has, however, ended on a particularly intriguing run of stories, and I was drawn in once again.
The First Sontarans is written by Andrew Smith, the man who was once the boy who gave us Full Circle, in 1981. I’m very fond of that serial, and it’s a shame Smith never had any more scripts commissioned for the series. It seems that The First Sontarans didn’t make the cut simply because the season it was submitted for – the 22nd, in 1985 – already had a Sontaran story lined up. Robert Holmes’s The Two Doctors was that year’s Sontaran escapade, and while I’m a fan of that gruesome story, I can’t help but feel that Smith’s contribution would have made a better serial.
As the title suggests, The First Sontarans deals with the spud-heads’ origins. However, it has very little in common with such stories as Genesis of the Daleks or the Cyber-origin tales Spare Parts and Rise of the Cybermen. Beginning on the Moon, before heading to 19th century England, this story transplants the Sontarans into a historical setting, much as their first appearance, The Time Warrior, did in 1973. The sixth Doctor and Peri find themselves embroiled in a war between the Sontarans and the Kavitch, the latter having made their homes on Earth to escape the conflict. However, one Kavitch scientist, Roach, has been experimenting on his enemies to find a way to win the war. It’s very similar to this year’s A Town Called Mercy, only this was first submitted back in 1984!
The First Sontarans rises above every Sontaran story on TV save the very first, due to some beautiful performances and excellent writing. Significantly, it brings the Rutans into the fold, not only upping the danger in the story itself but bringing all the elements of the mythology together. It’s bizarre that in all these years we’ve never seen the Sontarans and Rutans meet in battle in the series. The revelation of the relationship between the Sontarans and Kavitch isn’t such a shock; still, I won’t spoil it here for those who haven’t heard it. Suffice to say, it’s very fitting and the eventual reveal is perfectly played. How it fits in with the various stabs at exploring the Sontarans in the expanded universe I don’t know, but as far as I’m concerned, Smith’ s account is the true history of the Sontarans.
Following this, the series jumps further back in time, to the most famous of all unmade stories: The Masters of Luxor. Well known among fans as the story that was almost made as the second ever serial, The Masters of Luxor (aka The Robots) became famous when the full script was published back in the 90s. It’s a fascinating glimpse at how the series might have progressed, and is perhaps a purer vision of Doctor Who, free of the dreaded BEMs that were initially forbidden by the production team. Anthony Coburn followed up the evolutionary themes of his own script for the very first serial (An Unearthly Child/The Tribe of Gum/100,000 BC, delete according to taste) by extrapolating human evolution further into the future, and questioning what it means to be human.
Nigel Robinson adapts the original script, bringing it more in line with the series as we know it. In fairness, the scriptbook release did the same, although to a lesser degree (changing Sue/Suzanne for Susan, for instance). Robinson’s version refers back to earlier Lost Stories release Farewell, Great Macedon, in a laudable attempt to fit this story into continuity, and plays down the most intriguing element of the original, the Doctor’s discussion of God. Although religious overtones are still present in this story – it does, after all, concern a man playing God in his attempted creation of a new, perfect being – the downplaying of it on the Doctor’s side loses something. Surely the whole point of these Lost Stories is to see how the series might have been had things progressed differently. Changing them to fit the format we know seems to be missing the point.
Luxor is a slow, verbose, thoughtful sort of story, and could probably stand to lose an episode or two. It is, however, superior as science fiction to The Daleks, the story that eventually took its place in the line-up. This is a fine production, in the enhanced audiobook style previously used for the First Doctor Lost Stories set and The Companion Chronicles. William Russell and Carole Ann Ford are both excellent, as always, in their original roles; and, although I’m not taken with Ford’s version of Barbara, Russell’s Doctor appeals to me. Joseph Kloska is also very impressive as the third cast member, portraying the ultimate android, the Perfect One, full of self-assured, masculine arrogance.
Finally comes the second Doctor adventure The Rosemariners. Written by Donald Tosh, script editor through much of William Hartnell’s tenure, it’s a corking space adventure. The Troughton stories were famous for their monsters, and The Rosemariners is no exception; however, I don’t think the Yeti, Ice Warriors or Quarks quite compare to carnivorous, motile rosebushes. The Rosmeariners are the humanoid natives of Rosa Damascena, under the thrall of the evil Rugosa (a fabulously sinister turn by Clive Wood). Rugosa has plants of every description, including, yes, Dalek-bred killer roses. Quite how this would have been visualised is anyone’s guess, though they did manage to make a seaweed monster work, so maybe they could have pulled it off. It’s a wonderfully out-there script, covering mind-control, scientific elitism and alien dopplegangers.
Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury do the bulk of the acting, performing not only their familiar characters of Jamie and Zoe, but also much of the supporting cast. Hines brings the second Doctor to uncanny life in the way that only he can; you could easily walk in on someone listening to this and assume it was an genuine recording of Patrick Troughton. Other than the two stars and Clive Wood, David Warner attends as Professor Biggs, a new ally for the Doctor; he is, as always, a joy to listen to. I feel Big Finish missed a trick by making this another taking book-style production. Other than the necessary impersonation of Troughton, having Hines and Padbury robs this of much of its urgency and vitality. It would have worked better, I feel, as a full-cast audioplay, something achievable with only a handful more actors. Nonetheless, it’s a very appealing production, bringing to life an imaginative story with real verve.
Big Finish have announced a final series of Lost Stories for next year, featuring only the first, second and third Doctors. I’ll start putting some pocket money aside.