The Sontarans are a war-like species from the planet Sontar, and made their first appearance in Doctor Who in 1974 – some 47 years ago!
To say that the Sontarans are “war-like” is perhaps an understatement. They are war-obsessed, even going so far as to believe that there is no greater fate than to die in battle for the glory of the Sontaran empire.
But, to an extent, this is understandable. They are a clone species that has been bred specifically for war. Fighting is, in every sense, their raison d’être – their reason for being. This may go some way to explaining why their battle with the Rutans has lasted for so long, spanning whole centuries. Perhaps, on some level, the Sontarans enjoy the thrill of the fight.
In real world terms, the Sontarans were created by the writer Robert Holmes, who introduced a member of their race (known as Linx) in the 1974 story ‘The Time Warrior.’ In the adventure, a lone Sontaran finds himself trapped on planet Earth in the Middle Ages, and strikes a deal with a criminal gang who offer him protection while he repairs his ship. In return, he offers the bandits weapons and other hi-tech resources – but not before he’s kidnapped a scientist from the 20th century to assist with his repairs.
But in the context of the Whoniverse, the Sontarans were actually created by a race known as the Kaveetch. These were the original inhabitants of the planet Sontar, and they made the Sontaran clones in response to an attack on their planet by the tentacled Rutans. Unlike the Sontarans, the Kaveetch reproduced naturally, and were more human-like in appearance than their potato-headed creations.
Appearances notwithstanding, the Sontarans are a very technologically-advanced race. When the Doctor next encounters them in ‘The Sontaran Experiment,’ another lone traveller called Styre is carrying out scientific experiments on a group of stranded astronauts to better understand their strengths and weaknesses. As such, it is fair to say that the Sontarans are an intelligent and diligent species, if lacking in morals.
This callous streak is further demonstrated in their next appearance in 1978’s ‘The Invasion of Time,’ when a whole army of Sontarans tries to take control of the Doctor’s home planet Gallifrey. Led by the villainous Commander Stor, the Sontarans plan to destroy the planet, and indeed the whole galaxy.
But this time, Stor actually intends to wipe out his own race at the same time (using a super-powered grenade) and the Doctor is forced to use the deadly demat gun to thwart his plans. This is a piece of Time Lord technology that has the power to erase someone from the timeline, and indeed this is what happens to Stor – but the weapon also destroys itself in the process, and wipes the Doctor’s mind of recent events.
When he next encounters them in 1985’s ‘The Two Doctors,’ the Sontarans’ plans are (somewhat) less ambitious, but equally deadly. In the story, they kidnap a scientist called Dastari and end up floating around in Spain as they struggle to extract the so-called symbiotic nuclei from another captive – the Second Doctor. Apparently, Dastari is the only scientist capable of carrying out such a procedure and, if successful, the nuclei will grant the Sontarans the ability to travel safely through time. This is because the symbiotic nuclei (which is possessed by all Time Lords) grants the possessor the necessary molecular stability to pass through the time vortex.
On this occasion, the Sontarans are defeated by the rebellious Chessene (Dastari’s companion) and by the Doctor; one of the Sontarans tries to use the time module without the symbiotic nuclei, and dies.
It would be several years before viewers would see the Sontarans in action again, but they made a dramatic return in 2008’s ‘The Sontaran Stratagem’ and ‘The Poison Sky,’ written by Helen Raynor. This time, they are hell-bent on turning planet Earth into a mass cloning facility, and to do this they need to change the planet’s atmosphere.
Their plan for doing this, though, is somewhat complicated; once again, they are using a human scientist to help them achieve their ends, along with human clones and specially-created ATMOS devices, which have been attached to vehicles all over the planet. At the right time, the Sontarans plan to activate these and change the Earth’s atmosphere, making it suitable for Sontaran habitation – and deadly to humans.
Ultimately, the Sontarans are defeated by their one-time human ally – the scientist Luke Rattigan – who, with the Doctor’s help, ignites the poison gas and burns it away – taking himself and the Sontarans with him.
At the time of writing, ‘The Sontaran Stratagem’ and ‘The Poison Sky’ are the last ‘proper’ Sontaran adventures to date, although their presence has been felt in the years that followed. For instance, in 2012’s ‘A Good Man Goes to War’ we meet a warrior known as Strax, who is recruited by the Doctor to help rescue his companion Amy Pond. After a failed attack on a space station, Strax subsequently dies (and is subsequently resurrected!) in time to team up with a Victorian maid called Jenny and her Silurian partner Madame Vastra, and they form a group that becomes known as the Paternoster Gang.
Based in Victorian London, this unlikely alliance helps to protect planet Earth by investigating alien threats, and by providing occasional assistance to the Doctor. This is most notable in the 2013 episode ‘The Crimson Horror’ in which they rescue him from a fake confectionary factory known as Sweetville, and again in the 2014 episode ‘Deep Breath,’ where they help the newly-regenerated Time Lord to take on the clockwork robots.
So have we seen the last of the ‘real’ Sontarans? Not at all. They are scheduled to make a return in the show’s thirteenth season. Known as Doctor Who: Flux, the epic six part story will see the potato-headed clones crossing paths with the Doctor once more – although what, exactly, they will be doing remains to be seen.
Which is your favourite Doctor Who story featuring the Sontarans? And are you looking forward to their return in Doctor Who: Flux? Let me know in the comments below.
Doctor Who bag – order now from the Lovarzi shop!