Season eleven of Doctor Who started with the introduction of two of the most important additions to the show’s mythology: Sarah Jane Smith and the Sontarans. Sarah would be the Doctor’s companion for eighty episodes – more than every Doctor after Tom Baker played the role! – and get more return visits in the show than any other companion, and that’s before we factor in her incredibly entertaining spinoff series. Elisabeth Sladen only had a handful of small television parts before winning the part of Sarah Jane. One of these was playing a student activist in a third season Doomwatch that the BBC wiped. Sarah is one of everybody’s favorite companions. She’s smart, determined, resourceful, and once she accepts that she’s somehow traveled back to the 12th Century, she’s immediately putting battle plans together to raid the enemy castle and kidnap the Doctor, whom she thinks is behind this adventure.
But it’s actually a Sontaran by the name of Linx who is behind this, and honestly, Sarah is kind of overshadowed by how hugely entertaining this character is. Writer Robert Holmes decided not to think of Linx as an anonymous “alien monster” but a really fun villain with an understandable motive and an unwavering belief in his moral superiority. And even he doesn’t get all the best lines!
When I first read Terrance Dicks’ novelization of this story for Target Books, I wasn’t all that impressed, because the bandit Irongron was such a stupid and boring villain on the page. But David Daker is having the time of his life in the part, and he chews up the medieval dialogue with perfect relish. Daker and Kevin Lindsay, who plays Linx, are a perfect double-act, each finding something the other can offer them but neither at all pleased by their ally’s attitude or personality. I really like how Robert Holmes sidelines the Doctor to build the worlds of the Sontaran Empire and the politics of medieval England. It’s an incredibly fun story.
Our son needed a quick and dirty history lesson about why there are so few knights and soldiers around that bandits like Irongron’s crew could take over a castle, and he got a lot more squirmy than usual at the beginning of the second episode, but he really enjoyed both of the action scenes in that episode. He was also on the lookout for any nonsense from renegade Time Lords: when Irongron’s men find Linx’s spherical spaceship in the forest, he asked out loud: “Is that a TARDIS?” I kind of wish I hadn’t immediately told him no.