War of the Sontarans is 90% a really good stand-alone Sontaran story and 10% a continuation of the Flux story arc, and it works really well! It’s nice seeing the titular potato-headed foes get a classic series inspired makeover and feel like a threat again (while still retaining the absurd humour aspect as well) and while it’s not exactly a flawless episode it was very entertaining! Let’s take a look…
The Doctor, Yaz and Dan wake up in the middle of the Crimean war with no memory of how they got their or how they survived the Flux attack. To make things more confusing they soon realise the British soldiers are not fighting Russians but instead Sontarans…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
As sexy as an alien potato man can look…. which isn’t much, but there you go.
Let’s get straight to the titular part of the story and talk about the newly redesigned Sontarans: don’t they look great? Almost entirely a callback to their original series appearance (ignoring the weird tall yellow Sontarans from “The Two Doctors” anyway…) but modernised just enough. They even keep licking their lips all the time like Linx in the very first Sontaran story. Great stuff. They also have the usual military and honour-obsessed culture that they still had in their last full-on appearance in the Russel T. Davies era as well with none of the on-the-nose comedy we saw during Steven Moffatt’s time on the show.
The actual central story itself is good as well, set during the Crimean War though focusing on the efforts of Mary Seacole (Sara Powell) rather than the more obvious Florence Nightingale, which is also handy for audio drama continuity that I’ll get to in the appropriate section! The Sontarans have at some point in Earth’s history replaced Russia and China on the world map and are fighting the British army for the sheer fun of it while back in 2021 Liverpool is when they actually invaded Earth to begin with, building temporal ships to go back down Earth’s history and have a bit of a laugh. After The Doctor has a funky dream about the poster to “The Cabin in the Woods” she, Yaz and Dan wake up in the middle of the battlefield, which is a bit anticlimactic after the cliffhanger from last week but hey-ho, soon Yaz and Dan vanish leaving the Doctor to befriend Mary and a put up with British General Logan (Gerald Kyd) She eventually figures out what’s going on while at the same time (erm, sort of) Dan is back in 2021 and with the help of his parents (played by Sue Jenkins and Paul Broughton) and the returning Karvanista (the dog-like alien from last week…) he takes down the Sontarans in 2021 while The Doctor does the same in 1855. The Doctor manages to do it peacefully until General Logan blows up the fleeing Sontaran fleet “for his men”, much to The Doctor’s anger.
During all this Yaz arrives on a mysterious temple on the planet known only as “Time” and meets Vinder (Jacob Anderson, I can’t remember if I’ve already named his actor or not yet on this blog…), who was also mysteriously dumped on the temple. They discover strange female priests stuck to pedestals and floating triangles asking them if they can “repair” them. Then the big bads of the Flux story Swarm and Azure arrive alongside a rather large bodyguard with a black mask and begin devouring the scenery with their cartoonish villainy in the best possible way. I still love their look and adding a large masked henchmen is all the better! They kill two of the female priest-like people and put Yaz and Vinder in their place just in time to taunt The Doctor and Dan, who soon arrive. Swarm claims with a click of his fingers an overflow of time will destroy Yaz’s mind and then clicks, just as the end credits roll…
Our lead trio is reunited… briefly!
The only thing I didn’t really like was how the Sontarans in the Crimea were defeated. Chris Chibnall added a new wrinkle to the Sontaran’s lore by claiming they need to head back to their ships and restock on certain gasses from their home world that gets distributed throughout their suits while they’re on Earth. I mean, just leaving the armour as, well, armour for going into battle would’ve been fine, but I could get on board with it except that the entire army go back into their ships to “refuel” for seven and a half minutes. The ENTIRE ARMY. You’d think a clone race that only live to fight would think of the tactic to have half the army restock followed by the other half, or even quarterly so they could continue the fight without interruption. It such an obvious flaw that it took a lot out of the otherwise great job to make them a militaristic threat again…
Hats off to the special effects team for giving us a good big battle scene on a TV budget!
The main Sontaran commander here makes mention of “Commander Linx laying claim to the planet Earth”, a callback to the very first Sontaran story “The Time Warrior”, featuring the Third Doctor (one of the first Doctor Who stories I ever watched and a personal all-time favourite of mine, probably explains how happy I was seeing their return to form here…) Apart from that no direction mention was made, though the Sontarans do shout “Sontar-ha!”, a war cry that was introduced in the Tenth Doctor two parter “The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky”.
As I alluded to earlier in the review The Doctor had met Florence Nightingale in the Seventh Doctor audio story “The Angel of Scutari”, which also included scenes of the TARDIS being stuck in the middle of the battle of Sevastopol. Also looking at the Doctor Who wiki briefly I see there was a Twelfth Doctor audiobook where he met Mary Seacole herself and helped with an alien virus in her “hotel”… Damn, that’s a strong connection alright! It’s titled “The Charge of the Night Brigade” and is unlikely to appear on this blog as I find Jacob Dudman’s Twelfth Doctor impression too distractingly off… Erm, anyway, that’s it for continuity with this story!
It’s Vinder! … Let’s hope he does something a bit more interesting soon…
“War of the Sontarans” was a really fun story. It’s first and foremost a return to form for the titular aliens that includes a fun plot stretched across two eras of Earth’s history. It also features more arc building, with more mysteries on top of mysteries and more super cheesy cartoon villainy from Swam and co. Only a weak resolution to the Sontaran plot knocks the story down from top marks, but even given that it was a fun hour of TV.