Heroes of Sontar, by Alan Barnes
Oh now, this one is an absolute hoot. Regular readers might remember that back in the early days¹ of Big Finish Folly (well… June, to be more precise) I wasn’t very impressed by the tone of Castle of Fear, also penned by Alan Barnes. Too much misplaced comedy, I thought at the time. But Castle of Fear did manage to redeem itself in the end, and so the nagging sensation of worry at listening to a collection of Sontarans fall over themselves could easily be shunted aside as I came to this play. And, as it turned out, a slice of comedy was just what the Doctor ordered to make everybody’s favourite walking potatoes more palatable.
The squad of Sontarans in question have been sent on a secret mission to the planet Samur, which marks the furthest extent of Sontar’s great war against the Rutans. Once a tranquil paradise, the whole planet is now bombed-out and deserted, covered in a horrid semi-sentient purple moss that devours all other living matter (except Sontarans. Hmmm…). The Doctor has also come to Samur, with the intention of allowing the crew to chill out after the events of the previous story, but as ever the Tardis is playing silly buggers and has landed them in exactly the wrong time. Now the crew must battle against Sontarans, deadly moss, and the machinations of the mysterious Witchguard, to save Nyssa and regain access to the Tardis.
A tall order, obviously. And one can never accuse the Sontarans of possessing a height advantage. Quite gloriously, this squad of spuds is based on the characters of Dad’s Army, right down to the Arthur Lowe voice of Major Thurr and the imprecation “Stupid boy” that appears late on. In other hands, this might sound overdone and ridiculous, but contrasting Sontaran battle logic with Dad’s Army-style comedy does actually work, and there is a reason within the story for the Sontarans to be portrayed in such a way. Humanising them like this also makes their struggle to carry out their orders that much more sympathetic – especially Trooper Vend (based on Ian Lavender’s character, I suspect), who almost has to compete with Turlough to prove himself the most cowardly.
The Witchguard, on the other hand, are very 2-D villains and have been lumbered with those kind of processed voices that are difficult to listen to. Nowhere near as bad as the Sea Devils in one of the Bernice Summerfield audios, but still hard to make sense of in heavy traffic. Of the other characters – we’ve already covered Turlough and his frantic attempts to save his skin, which are themselves a bit one-dimensional but work because of Trooper Vend – Nyssa has to do the dying swan routine, and Tegan herself out-Sontars the Sontarans themselves, pausing only to bewail the fate of her slingbacks.
Not too much by the way of subtlety, though Nyssa has a very effective moment of reflection with Tegan, swearing her to silence about what she has seen in the Doctor’s future, but I don’t think subtlety is required in this story. Nevertheless, it’s a great opportunity for Big Finish to show the depth of range of the stories they produce, and they don’t disappoint.
¹Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end etc etc etc.