The Sontaran Experiment

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077 – The Sontaran Experiment
Doctor Who serial
Sontaran Experiment.jpg
Styre examines the results of Experiment 5: Fluid deprivation
Directed by Rodney Bennett
Written by Bob Baker
Dave Martin
Script editor Robert Holmes
Produced by Philip Hinchcliffe
Executive producer(s) None
Incidental music composer Dudley Simpson
Production code 4B
Series Season 12
Length 2 episodes, 25 minutes each
Date started 22 February 1975
Date ended 1 March 1975
← Preceded by Followed by →
The Ark in Space Genesis of the Daleks

The Sontaran Experiment is the third serial of the 12th season of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was originally broadcast in two weekly parts on 22 February and 1 March 1975.


Following on from The Ark in Space, the time travellers teleport down from the Nerva space station to Earth, ostensibly uninhabited. However, the system is not functioning well, and the Doctor begins repairing it. The other two explore the surrounding area, but Harry falls down a crevasse and Sarah goes to seek the Doctor's help. He is nowhere in sight.

Roth, an astronaut, finds Sarah. He is obviously distressed, and explains that he has been tortured by an alien that lives in the rocks, together with its patrolling robot. He takes Sarah towards the astronauts' campsite, but refuses to approach the campsite, suspecting the astronaut Vural of collusion with the alien.

Three of the astronauts have captured the Doctor. They believe Nerva to be a legend, and tell him in turn that they had picked up a distress signal from Earth. They came to investigate, but their ship was vaporised when they emerged, leaving nine of them stranded. Then they began to vanish one by one. They blame the Doctor for this. Roth appears and the astronauts chase him, while Sarah frees the Doctor. Roth loses the others and meets up with Sarah and the Doctor. The Doctor also falls down a crevasse, and the robot returns, capturing Roth and Sarah and bringing them to the alien's spacecraft. The alien is Field Major Styre of the Sontaran G3 Military Assessment Survey, who has been experimenting on, and killing, the astronauts. Roth tries to escape but is shot dead by Styre.

Styre reports back to his Marshal via a video link. The Marshal is impatient for the intelligence report (without which an invasion of Earth cannot take place), but Styre admits that he has been delayed in his experiments.

Styre subjects Sarah to a series of terrifying hallucinations. The Doctor, free from the hole, has reached her and rips off a hallucinogenic device from her forehead, but she falls unconscious. The Doctor, enraged, attacks Styre, but the Sontaran easily fends him off. Styre shoots him unconscious (believing it to be fatal) when he runs away.

The robot, having captured the three remaining spacemen, brings them to Styre's ship, where it is revealed that Vural had tried to make a deal with Styre in exchange for his own life. However, Styre intends to experiment on Vural anyway. The Doctor recovers, disables the robot, and meets Sarah and Harry. He confronts Styre, goading him into accepting hand-to-hand combat. While the two fight, Sarah and Harry free the three astronauts, and then Harry climbs towards Styre's ship to sabotage it. Styre almost wins the fight, but Vural attacks him, saving the Doctor at the cost of his own life. Styre, now low on energy, heads back towards his ship to recharge, but the sabotage causes it to kill him.

The Doctor informs the Marshal that not only has Styre's mission failed, but that the invasion plans are in human hands. This is enough to ward off the invasion, and the three can return to Nerva, or so they think.


Hound Tor on Dartmoor was used for location filming

Working titles for this story included The Destructors. These two episodes were initially part of a six-episode arc, but Philip Hinchcliffe made the decision to split the arc into the four-part Ark in Space and this two-part story, sharing the same director and budget. To save money, Hinchcliffe decided that Ark would be entirely filmed in the studio and this story would be entirely filmed on location. He also settled on the Sontarans because they could re-use the Sontaran costume from The Time Warrior and therefore save the expense of designing a new alien. This was the first two-part serial to be broadcast since 1965's The Rescue and the last until 1982's Black Orchid.

Although the serial was the third to feature Baker, it was actually the second shot, hence the out-of-sequence production code. This was only the second serial in the history of Doctor Who (the first being 1970's Spearhead from Space) to be shot entirely on location, in this case at Hound Tor on Dartmoor. However, unlike Spearhead from Space and the location material for other serials, the production was mounted entirely on videotape using early portable video equipment, rather than on the usual 16mm film. This use of location video was remarkable for the time, but technical problems are evident in the final programmes.[1] This was also the first and only Doctor Who story where there were no interior scenes at all.[citation needed] During shooting, Baker broke his collarbone.[2] However, because part of his costume was a large scarf, he could conceal the neck brace he had to wear following the injury. For action scenes, he was doubled by regular stunt performer Terry Walsh, shot from several face-concealing angles.[3]

Cast notes[edit]

Glyn Jones, who played the astronaut Krans, wrote the First Doctor serial The Space Museum.[4] The Sontaran Experiment contains the last major role played by Kevin Lindsay before his death in 1975 of a heart condition.[3] He found the heavy Sontaran costume so difficult to manage that he could not leave the Hound Tor location for breaks, and also could not perform the fight scene - a stand-in, Stuart Fell, was used instead. Terry Walsh not only played a minor role as an astronaut, but doubled for Tom Baker in parts of episode two, after Baker broke a collarbone during filming. This meant that the climactic fight was performed by two stand-ins rather than the original actors. Most of the actors playing the GalSec astronauts were South African. This was specified in the casting, as the writers, Bob Baker and Dave Martin, were interested in language change and reasoned that the multi-linguistic influences on South African English might resemble future developments of the English language.[5]

Broadcast and reception[edit]

Serial details by episode
Episode Broadcast date Run time Viewers
(in millions)
"Part One" 22 February 1975 (1975-02-22) 24:27 11
"Part Two" 1 March 1975 (1975-03-01) 25:00 10.5

The two episodes were combined into a single 50 minute omnibus broadcast on BBC1 at 6:25 pm on 9 July 1976[9] and was seen by 8.2 million viewers.[10] The story received criticism from Mary Whitehouse (of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association) for its depiction of "helpless adults in a state of terror".[citation needed]

Paul Cornell, Martin Day, and Keith Topping wrote in The Discontinuity Guide (1995) that the serial "succeeds despite its obvious limitations". They praised the look of the all-video location recording, but commented that "neither the robot nor the deflection of the Marshal's invasion plans are wholly convincing".[11] In The Television Companion (1998), David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker said that the premise of a Sontaran surveying humans before conquering the Earth was "silly", but they praised the "atmosphere and imagery" achieved with tension, location filming, and direction.[12] In 2010, Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times described The Sontaran Experiment as "short, taut and sadistic" and wrote that "impetus and panache prevail over problems with plot logic".[13] DVD Talk's Stuart Galbraith gave the serial three and half out of five stars, writing that its "best assets are its appropriately confined telling".[14]

Commercial releases[edit]

In print[edit]

Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment
Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment.jpg
Author Ian Marter
Cover artist Roy Knipe
Series Doctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
Publisher Target Books
Publication date
7 December 1978
ISBN 0-426-20049-7

A novelisation of this serial was written by Ian Marter, who appeared in the serial as the Doctor's companion Harry. It was published by Target Books in November 1978. The novelisation differs from the TV version by having the travellers arrive in the TARDIS. The Sontaran plan here does not involve war with the Rutans but a planned conquest in alliance with another clone species.

Home media[edit]

The Sontaran Experiment was released on VHS in October 1991 as a double video with Genesis of the Daleks. In October 2006, it was released on DVD on its own or part of the Bred for War box set, along with The Time Warrior, The Invasion of Time and The Two Doctors.


  1. ^ "The Sontaran Experiment". 2006-08-12. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ Wiggins, Martin (Production text commentary writer) (9 October 2006). The Sontaran Experiment (DVD). London, England: BBC Video/2 entertain. Event occurs at episode 1, 12:06–13:06. Retrieved 2007-03-29. 
  5. ^ Wiggins, Martin (Production text commentary writer) (9 October 2006). The Sontaran Experiment (DVD). London, England: BBC Video/2 entertain. Event occurs at episode 1, 12:06–13:06. Retrieved 2007-03-28. 
  6. ^ Shaun Lyon; et al. (2007-03-31). "The Sontaran Experiment". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 2008-07-31. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  7. ^ "The Sontaran Experiment". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  8. ^ Sullivan, Shannon (2007-08-07). "The Sontaran Experiment". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; Topping, Keith (1995). "The Sontaran Experiment". The Discontinuity Guide. London: Virgin Books. ISBN 0-426-20442-5. 
  12. ^ Howe, David J & Walker, Stephen James (1998). Doctor Who: The Television Companion (1st ed.). London: BBC Books. ISBN 978-0-563-40588-7. 
  13. ^ Mulkern, Patrick (7 June 2010). "Doctor Who: The Sontaran Experiment". Radio Times. Retrieved 24 March 2013. 
  14. ^ Galbraith, Stuart (16 June 2007). "Doctor Who: The Sontaran Experiment". DVD Talk. Retrieved 24 March 2013. 

External links[edit]

Target novelisation