This is exciting isn’t it? A new box set from Big Finish that introduces the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Doctors to New-Who monsters! The Fifth Doctor against the Weeping Angels, the Sixth Doctor with the Judoon, Seven meets the Sycorax and the Eighth Doctor is amidst the Time War with a new batch of Sontarans. Today, we’re reviewing the final story in this box set, The Sontaran Ordeal.
An instant of the Time War brings centuries of conflict to the planet Drakkis, and the Eighth Doctor is there to witness the terrible results.
A Sontaran fleet, desperate to join the epic conflict, follows in its wake to take advantage of the fallout. But when Commander Jask is beamed down to the ravaged surface, there is more to his arrival than first appears.
Soon, an unlikely champion joins forces with the Time Lord to fight for the future of her world, and together they must face the Sontaran Ordeal…
Lets start off with a fact, shall we? This is probably the earliest point in the Time War that we’ve yet to delve into ever. How exciting is that? Now, if you read this site often, you know I have a huge soft spot for Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, especially with the magic that Big Finish has done to this somewhat illusive incarnation of the Time Lord. So, being given the opportunity, both through The Sontaran Ordeal and The Eighth Doctor: The Time War box set due late next year from Big Finish, to hear the Eighth Doctor involved in arguably one of the most important historical events in Doctor Who, is a great delight. But I digress…
Considering what we know about the Doctor’s regeneration after his eighth, I have to admit it’s refreshing and different to make the Eighth Doctor much less of a warrior and more of a peacekeeper. That’s how we begin this tale; with the Eighth Doctor pleading to keep the Time War away from the planet Drakkis, but seemingly to no avail. It seems as if Big Finish’s rendition of the early days of the Time War portrays her as a cruel and unforgiving mistress.
After the titles, we’re given some information that really helps understand how a Time War works, and it’s absolutely harrowing. The Doctor manages to save a Paladin of Drakkis, Salana Teel; a warrior who seems to hate violence. Remind you of anyone?
Of course, bringing the Time War to a planet will have its consequences; and unfortunately for the people of Drakkis, the consequence that they have been given is that the Sontarans decide to pay the planet a visit. Commander Jask is the first Sontaran sent by his fleet to teleport onto the planet, but there’s something really odd about his arrival that leaves both the listener and the Doctor perplexed.
It’s not long before the Doctor and Salana are literally following in the footsteps of Commander Jask; a scene which helps the listener understand some more about Drakkis by being an expositional scene into the culture and history of the planet. It doesn’t last long though, before an unwarranted guest makes an appearance and adds a little action into the proceedings.
Davros said to the Twelfth Doctor that compassion is his greatest weakness; and I think it’s safe to say that compassion is the defining characteristic of the Eighth Doctor, which I think is in part why I love this incarnation so much.
One thing that I must praise Andrew Smith, the writer of The Sontaran Ordeal, for doing, is expanding the culture of the Sontarans; especially in a way that seems extremely relevant to the New-Who variations. Some information about exactly what a Sontaran “Ordeal” is really helps understand events of episodes further along in the Doctor’s timeline, especially A Good Man Goes To War. I must admit that this detail pleased me more than it should have done; thanks Andrew!
There’s an event that is somewhat reminiscent of The Fires of Pompeii and it means that the Doctor has to go on a recovery mission. Whilst on this mission though, the Doctor encounters a Deadlock, which, as we all know, means the Sonic Screwdriver can’t open it. Somehow though, the Eighth Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver does work on Deadlocks, which baffled me as it means that the Sonic Screwdriver really can act as a magic wand.
Jask and Salana get an expositional scene talking about the Time War, which I must say is rather enjoyable; especially hearing about the Time War from the point of view of a Sontaran, a race we know from The Sontaran Stratagem was disallowed to partake in the event. One thing I’ll give to Jask, he’s extremely persuasive.
In my opinion, the inclusion of the Sand Serpents was totally unneeded and just felt like a way to add tension in a few scenes that people who aren’t too accustomed to the Classic Era of the show would have found maybe slightly ‘slow’ (even though some of the slower scenes in Big Finish are some of the most rewarding).
Josette Simon’s performance of Salana is probably my favourite thing about this episode; she plays a mother who has lost her sons due to the war that the Time War brought to her planet and she is far from happy about it. Salana proves to me why I think a mother would make a great companion to the Doctor; as they have a sense of compassion and care that are unparalleled.
Dan Starkey, who plays Jask (as well as Strax in the TV show, alongside countless other Sontarans) is also another brilliant performance; Jask is a Sontaran who is reluctant to fight with the Doctor, and I think Andrew Smith has written him perfectly. Jask is the character that I think Strax should have been on the TV show, instead of the buffoon that he currently is.
An element of The Sontaran Ordeal that really interested me was just how loyal the Sontaran’s are to their love of warfare and especially honour. If you took the honour away from the Sontaran’s, you’d just have potato Daleks; it’s their honour that really sets them apart from any other Doctor Who monster, and I think Andrew Smith uses their honour perfectly to add another dimension to the story.
I never thought that I would sympathise with a Sontaran; but I must confess I have a soft spot for Jask; considering the Sontaran’s are obsessed with glory for serving the Sontaran Empire, some Sontaran’s are a bit mean to their comrades. By a bit I mean a hell of a lot.
The final act of The Sontaran Ordeal probably contains the biggest shock in all of the Classic Doctors, New Monsters box set. Something that inevitably will send shivers down your spine and a shock that I refuse to spoil for you, dear reader. Unfortunately for you, it means I’m going to have to cut this review somewhat short, as I can’t talk about the last ten minutes.
Overall, The Sontaran Ordeal is a rather fun romp with some dark undertones; it sets up the early days of the Time War, and I for one cannot wait to hear more of it with the upcoming Eighth Doctor box set. I wouldn’t call it the best story in the box set, but that doesn’t mean that the story is bad; the quality of all four releases have been immensely high and I cannot wait for the second series of Classic Doctors, New Monsters to be released, whenever that may be.
Should you want to purchase The Sontaran Ordeal, it’s currently available as part of the Classic Doctors, New Monsters box set from Big Finish which can be purchased here for £20.00 for either the CD or the download.