The Fourth Doctor faces Sontaran zombies for the latest Fourth Doctor Adventure.
Stranded on a battlefield, the Doctor, Romana and K9 must ally themselves with a faction of Sontarans to survive. Turns out dying for the glory of Sontar isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, as their fallen comrades keep coming back to life to kill them.
Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and John Leeson reprise their television roles with the high-quality performances we’ve come to expect. Baker, in particular, sounds like he’s having an absolute blast getting to play Doctor Who as an octogenarian. His enthusiasm becomes infectious and lends much-needed vibrancy to a story with such a bleak setting. Ward and Leeson, who share a lot of scenes, have lost none of their terrific chemistry.
It’s always interesting when Big Finish deconstructs a monster that has become so familiar in Who lore. It’s easy, especially for New Who fans, to see Sontarans as comic relief – blustering Napoleon complexes with a naff weakness. Even at their most threatening, they can become clichéd. So for Big Finish to turn out such a sympathetic and thoughtful take on the Sontarans was a pleasant surprise. For lack of a better term, writers Cavan Scott and Mark Wright have humanised the Sontarans.
This is the first time we’ve seen their military strength up close without it involving running away. With that, writers Cavan Scott and Mark Wright have taken the opportunity to craft some fascinating Sontaran characters. By splitting up the Doctor and Romana, each with their own Sontaran companion, the audience can get two fresh perspectives. We learn how their sense of honour goes deeper than simply dying for their cause of conquest. Neither fear death, but they don’t seek it either, especially once they learn the horrible truth about their circumstances.
Starkey and Banks
Dan Starkey absolutely steals the show, figuratively and (almost) literally, as most of the principle Sontarans. His time as Strax has made his voice unmistakable but he does vary it enough to differentiate the characters. Whilst that is fitting for a clone race, John Banks also provides Sontaran voices to add a bit of variety. Starkey and Banks inject pathos and humour into the species without ever losing the zealous tone that characterises them.
Jamie Robertson, who has done the music for countless Big Finish productions, is on top form in this story. He perfectly recreates the synthesiser-led score that season 18 – when this story is set – introduced to the show. The incidental music comes in at just the right moments to break up the scenes and ramp up the tension. It’s also a nostalgic treat for any fans of the late Fourth Doctor era. Given last month’s entry opted for a more orchestral score, it shows how well Big Finish balances tone and continuity. The synths would have been incongruous in a Victorian setting, but here it’s both appropriate and carefully applied.
A Matter of Time
Admittedly, with each new Fourth Doctor release clocking in at only one hour, a few elements feel glossed over. Given more time, the conflict between the humans and Sontarans could be expanded upon. The human characters are pivotal to the story but we learn very little about them.
There’s also the issue of the Doctor seeming unconcerned about allying with a race of brutal conquerors. Granted, the Sontarans aren’t in a subjugating mood at the moment. And the Doctor has a few speeches about the folly of battle. But, given the motivations of the main antagonist, the story’s message was a little confused. More time could have helped, but the pacing is spot-on regardless and the story isn’t overly complicated.
‘The Eternal Battle’ is as much a character-piece as it is a war story. It devotes a lot of time to really fleshing out its guest cast and the emotional weight of events. While it would have benefited from more time, the story feels satisfying nevertheless and is undoubtedly one of the highlights of this Fourth Doctor series.
Blogtor Rating – 7/10
The TARDIS has landed in a war zone. The Doctor, Romana and K9 find themselves traipsing through an inhospitable battlefield. Strange lights flicker in the sky, and stranger creatures lurk in the darkness.
When rescued from an attack by a Sontaran tank, the time-travellers discover they’re facing a far more dangerous foe than the battle-hungry clones. This terrifying fight has been going on longer than anyone can remember… and shows no signs of stopping.
With the TARDIS missing and their luck running thin, the Doctor and his friends’ only hope of survival is to uncover the truth about what is happening on this planet. If they can discover the secret of the eternal battle they might just survive… but it might just mean the end of them all.
Written By: Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), John Leeson (K9), Dan Starkey (Field Major Lenk/Sergeant Major Stom), Jane Slavin (Captain Nina Albiston/Sycon Computer), John Banks (Brennan/Trooper Varn)
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs