“The Sontaran Experiment” follows directly from “The Ark in Space”. We’ve seen how the privileged elite representatives of the human race survived on Space Station Nerva, and now we get to see how those who struck out into deep space made it. There’s almost a class division here with the explorers that the Doctor encounters speaking very disdainfully of the sleepers. One wonders just how well the revived Earth will get along with the colonials if ever they meet. Not well, if the attitudes expressed by Vural are any indication.
The story is shot entirely on location, and the remote location works well to convey the idea of an Earth that was devastated and has slowly recovered. All signs of civilization are long gone. The Doctor’s remarks about being in the middle of London while surrounded by an empty moor are a nice bit of stage-setting, helped by Tom Baker’s delivery that leaves us uncertain whether or not the Doctor is just having some fun with Sarah and Harry. And the landscape is nice to look at as well, with plenty of rolling hills and interesting rock formations. It’s nice to see Doctor Who freed from the confines of the studio.
The return of the Sontarans from the previous season is also a good move. Lynx was an excellent villain in “The Time Warrior”. Styre, the Sontaran who is conducting the titular experiments in order to catalog human weaknesses, is played by the same actor but with a different mask and a different attitude. Sarah sees him for the first time and mistakes him for Lynx, but the two look quite different, so the moment doesn’t quite work. Styre is far more sadistic than Lynx, and subjects various humans to water depravation, exposure to fear, crushing pressure and other things that we don’t really learn about. He refers to killing various members of Vural’s expedition as having “used up” the humans, and he calls the Doctor a worm after gunning him down. He clearly sees himself as superior and human life as worthless, and so it’s a great pleasure to see him get his comeuppance in the end.
This is a two part story, the first in years, and the compact narrative keeps the story moving briskly along. It’s not quite as fast-paced as modern Doctor Who though, even if it is the same length as a modern episode. But it stands out as a story that jumps into the narrative and tells the story it has to tell without padding, and then ends. Not that I don’t enjoy the longer stories, but this is a refreshing change of pace.