Doctor Who: The Sontaran Experiment (parts one and two)

“The Sontaran Experiment” is an oddball little curiosity in all of seventies Doctor Who, the only two-part serial of the decade. And it’s exactly what I’ve been talking about all through the Pertwee years: almost all of those six-part stories are too long, and would have been improved by paring them down and using the remaining episodes to do something else. That’s what they did here: it and “The Ark in Space” is a single production block. They videotaped this story as the location shoot, and then taped “Ark” in the studio.

Our son really enjoyed this, once he learned who the villain was. I set up the TV with him out of the room so he’d be surprised by the cliffhanger. Before that, he seemed a little bothered by the claims that there’s an alien in the rocks torturing people. It builds to a climactic fight between the Doctor and the Sontaran, Styre – and he’s a really nasty and sadistic piece of work – and the fight probably doesn’t look like all that much, but he just loved it. He was all wide-eyed and feet kicking as the two throw each other around.

There’s a fun little bit of backstory about the fight. The character of Harry Sullivan had been introduced because the producers were considering a much older actor for the Doctor, and so Harry was created specifically for fights like this. But Tom Baker was young enough to do the rough stuff, leaving Harry with a lot less to do in some of these stories. He’s really surplus to requirements in this one, actually.

But then Tom Baker had a nasty accident on location and broke his collar bone. That’s why there’s an obvious double for Baker in the fight scenes and a lot of the long shots, and why you frequently see Baker very still, with his hand wrapped up in his scarf. He had a big cast on his shoulder under his overcoat. But they didn’t do a quick rewrite and send Harry Sullivan into single combat with the Sontaran while the Doctor rewired and removed the critical macguffin in his ship. That’s what poor Harry was originally created to do!

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