This week two monsters which have both appeared in both the Classic and 21st Century eras of the television programme Doctor Who.
4. The Sontarans
The Pertwee era was a good time for returning monsters: the Ice Warriors and new inventions the Nestene, new inventions “the Eocenes” – these all had two stories.
The Sontarans though, considered as within the Pertwee era, are just another monster with a one-off appearance, with the potential to step up to the ranks of “returning monster”.
It’s helpful to their cause though that The Time Warrior (penned by Robert Holmes) is such a great story – and also that the next season would be that in which Tom Baker was the next Doctor.
With a new actor in the central role, after such an unprecedented long-lasting five-season stint for Jon Pertwee, Season 12 is chock-full of familiar Doctor Who furniture to reassure viewers this is the same show.
Season 12: five stories, one with UNIT, then The Ark in Space, then THREE stories with returning monsters – and one of them stars the Sontarans, (or rather a lone Sontaran, The Sontaran Experiment being in the tradition of the previous story).
Once the Tom Baker era had been launched with that season , it’s amazing for that the whole of the era that there wasn’t much recourse to what had gone before – the Time Lords and the Master yes, but there were then just two “returning monsters” for the rest of the era.
The Invasion of Time combined the planet of the Time Lords with Sontarans in what must be the only overt fanwank of the Fourth Doctor’s era.
Speaking of fanwank – when the Sixth Doctor met the Second Doctor, the Sontarans were on hand, (The Two Doctors).
The rhythm of 21st Century Doctor Who was to have at least one icon of the Classic era brought back each season: 2008 saw Davros and yes the iconic Sontarans. Was The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky the greatest ever story? Perhaps not.
More interesting stories for them perhaps were when they crossed over into Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures, for The Last Sontaran and Enemy of the Bane.
It’s appropriate that first monster that Sarah ever faced (in her first Doctor Who story The Time Warrior) should be one of the few Doctor Who monsters to crossover to her show.
It would be the Matt Smith era for the most surprising turn of the Sontaran story though.
3. The Silurians
If the Pertwee era was a good time for returning monsters, then Season 7 was a great season of this era.
The Nestene and Silurians of Season 7 weren’t “returning monsters” as such, as this was their first season, however this season would be a great foundation on which to build a new era. Of its monsters, one would return next season with The Terror of the Autons then another the season after with The Sea Devils.
Wait, isn’t this monster “The Silurians”?
And so, we speak now of the knotty tangles of this monster, a tangle which actually highlights another difference between Doctor Who and more traditional SF like, say, Star Trek.
The monsters of Doctor Who are usually defined and titled by the human’s perceptions of them, they don’t announce themselves as “Klingons” or “Cardassians”.
Ice Warriors, Yeti, Weeping Angels, it’s more often “say what you see” when they’re encountered, rather than “the Cardassians of Cardassia”. (Sontarans and Sontar being an exception to the norm.)
Doctor Who and the Silurians and The Sea Devils are this sort of thing in story-title form – “the Eocenes” is a useful phrase for these monsters. The Doctor says in The Sea Devils “Eocenes” would be more sensible than “Silurians” and that the “Sea Devils” are “another of their colony” – “a different species, completely adapted to life under water”.
So – the Eocenes – a useful collective phrase for both “Silurians” and “Sea Devils” – however, this week’s segment countdown uses “Silurian” in its title so people know what it’s talking about! (If The Two Doctors was Eighties Sontarans fanwank then Warriors of the Deep was Eighties Eocenes fanwank.)
A “different branch of the species” – that’s how the Doctor explains the somewhat different-looking Silurians of The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood (a return of the classic monsters was one element of the launch of the Matt Smith era).
Like the story that returned the Sontarans, it’s not the greatest Doctor Who story ever.
So, why are the Silurians above the Sontarans in this countdown then, also considering the Sontarans faced off to FOUR Classic Doctors, compared to just the Third and Fifth Doctors of the Classic era?
Six words – A Good Man Goes to War.
Sure, the Sontarans had their popularity boosted by the character of Commander Strax, but the Victorian adventuress pairing of Madame Vastra and Jenny meant that there is much love for the new version of the Silurians now. Will we ever see this couple return to the show?
Numbers 10, 9, 8, and 7 – Ood, Weeping Angels, Mara, Nestene
Next week: reviews of Miracle Day continue Tuesday and Thursday, while the countdown continues with number 2 next Saturday.