Released February 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW
The Fourth Doctor Adventures has never shied away from the use of nostalgia and classic foes to tell its tales and crisply recapture its intended era, and the sixth series is already proving that it will be no different. And while there have been some instances in which a nod to continuity or recurrence have not enhanced the script in any meaningful way, ‘The Eternal Battle’ is unquestionably enhanced by the presence of the Sontarans as it explores the futility of war when the TARDIS lands in a Sontaran war zone where strange lights flicker in the air and stranger creatures lurk in the shadows.
The Sontarans have always been a unique presence within the Doctor Who universe, imbuing the prospect of a glorious death into their way of life rather than seeing death simply as a means to an end like other combative foes. Yet when the Sontarans here find the ability to die taken away as fallen foes and comrades become reanimated, ‘The Eternal Battle’ offers a deeper and better-rounded look into the mindset and motivations of this classic race than practically any story since ‘The Time Warrior’ has, managing to portray them in a surprisingly sympathetic light along the way even after stating that pacifism is blasphemous.
Season eighteen on television was a more sombre one than earlier Tom Baker years, the themes of entropy and decay ever-present as the Doctor’s demise drew nearer. Though the unending warfare and undying combatants indisputably fill that more morose remit, the second episode takes that sentiment a step further as the truth behind the failed ghastly experiment as its overseers succumbed to inevitability becomes known. All the while, it’s the Sontaran point of view that drives home the horror of what is happening even more than the Time Lords’, and the fact that the Sontarans are written completely seriously without a hint of the comedy that has recently come to be associated with them sells the situation perfectly even as events become more cosmic than innately personal in scope.
Fortunately, writers Cavan Scott and Mark Wright have also managed to imbue some welcome moments of humour into their script. This is partly brought to life by Tom Baker’s ever-energetic performance and his ability to turn from serious to flippant in the blink of an eye, but it’s K9’s observational retorts that take centre stage as his literal processing of these fantastic events help to explain the plot while keeping events moving fluidly. Alongside Baker and Leeson, Lalla Ward is also superb as the script allows her to instil a greater sense of fortitude and determination in Romana than was often present on television, and Romana’s trademark rapport with the Doctor is recreated perfectly. By now, Dan Starkey is synonymous with Sontarans, and he continues to astound with the subtle variation he can bring to so many of the cloned warriors, this time highlighting an understandable weariness as an altogether different type of individual honour manifests.
Big Finish has had great success with developing the Sontarans in recent years across all of its ranges, and that trend gloriously continues with ‘The Eternal Battle.’ At times harrowing and always emotional, this is a story that perfectly encapsulates the Fourth Doctor era and the unique threat of the Sontaran menace when put in a wholly unexpected situation, one that could easily sustain a more classic four-part structure given its fascinating components.