Released July 2016
Classic Doctors, New Monsters Volume One concludes with ‘The Sontaran Ordeal,’ the earliest glimpse into the Time War afforded yet as the great battle infiltrates real time and brings centuries of untold conflict to the planet of Drakkis, a peaceful world in the unaltered timeline.
Obviously the Sontarans are not new monsters, but those on display here are very much the post-2005 iterations, itching to find a way to insert themselves into the greatest war the universe has ever known. Writer Andrew Smith wisely doesn’t focus solely on their battling nature, delving instead into a new aspect of the Sontaran hierarchy and structure, the Ordeal as the fate of those who do not succeed in their conquests. Having disgraced himself by not emerging victorious, the defeated Sontaran is stranded on a planet empty-handed, expected to fend for and eventually sacrifice himself to prove his mettle. Commander Jask is the Sontaran facing Ordeal in this story, wrongly accused by an officer he knows has committed crimes in the past and will do so again and determined to clear his name. Considering the rather blunt nature of the Sontarans, Dan Starkey is able to convey an incredible amount of understated emotion throughout the story, adding a personal and empathetic sentiment to his plight.
The Time War is still relatively unexplored territory despite the two War Doctor sets that have been released so far. While those stories have been focused more on particular plots and machinations, it’s great- and horrific- to see some of the unintended consequences in real time. At the same time, it’s intriguing to see Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor as his usual optimistic and helpful self in the early days before he dares dream of becoming a warrior in ‘Night of the Doctor.’ Here he has no motivations other than humanitarian aims, throwing aside the Time Lords and the Daleks simply to help those caught in the crossfire of a conflict of which they have no knowledge. Josette Simon offers a standout performance as the paladin Salana, a mother who has lost her sons in this timeline due to the unnecessary conflict the Time War has brought upon Drakkis. She provides the true emotional core of the story, bringing a deep sense of both passion and compassion to events as she struggles to come to terms with everything that has happened.
In the end, ‘The Sontaran Ordeal’ is an incredibly engaging story, showing what happens to innocent bystanders during the Time War, fleshing out the Sontaran culture even further, and providing three characters that are very easy to support because of their personal and emotional situations. Andrew Smith perfectly blends together the styles of the classic and the modern television series, and while the inclusion of the Sand Serpents may be a small bit of superfluous padding, the overall intrigue is superb from beginning to end. It’s already known that the Eighth Doctor will be showcased in further Time War adventures, but ‘The Sontaran Ordeal’ is a fantastic tease of things to come as he still holds out hope for a better outcome, at the same time providing an incredibly strong conclusion to this set.