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The Sontaran Experiment is a serial in the Britishmarker science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was originally broadcast in two weekly parts on February 22 and March 1, 1975.


On a future Earth recovering from devastating solar flares, the Fourth Doctor, Harry Sullivan, and Sarah Jane Smith discover Styre, a Sontaran warrior, conducting experiments on astronauts he has captured during their investigation of the rejuvenated Earth.


Following on from The Ark in Space, the time travellers teleport down from the Nerva Space Station to Earth, ostensibly uninhabited. However, the system is not functioning well, and the Doctor begins repairing it. The other two explore the surrounding area, but Harry falls down a crevasse and Sarah goes to seek the Doctor's help. He is nowhere in sight.

Roth, an astronaut, finds Sarah. He is obviously distressed, and explains that he has been tortured by an alien that lives in the rocks, together with its patrolling robot. He takes Sarah towards the astronauts' campsite, but refuses to approach the campsite, suspecting the astronaut Vural of collusion with the alien.

Three of the astronauts have captured the Doctor. They believe Nerva to be a legend, and tell him in turn that they had picked up a distress signal from Earth. They came to investigate, but their ship was vaporised when they emerged, leaving nine of them stranded. Then they began to vanish one by one. They blame the Doctor for this. Roth appears and the astronauts chase him, while Sarah frees the Doctor. Roth loses the others and meets up with Sarah and the Doctor. The Doctor also falls down a crevasse, and the robot returns, capturing Roth and Sarah and bringing them to the alien's spacecraft. The alien is Field Major Styre of the Sontaran G3 Military Assessment Survey, who has been experimenting on, and killing, the astronauts. Roth tries to escape but is shot dead by Styre.

Styre reports back to his Marshal via a video link. The Marshal is impatient for the intelligence report (without which an invasion of Earth cannot take place), but Styre admits that he has been delayed in his experiments.

Styre subjects Sarah to a series of terrifying hallucinations. The Doctor, free from the hole, has reached her and rips off a hallucinogenic device from her forehead, but she falls unconscious. The Doctor, enraged, attacks Styre, but the Sontaran easily fends him off. Styre shoots him unconscious (believing it to be fatal) when he runs away.

The robot, having captured the three remaining spacemen, brings them to Styre's ship, where it is revealed that Vural had tried to make a deal with Styre in exchange for his own life. However, Styre intends to experiment on Vural anyway. The Doctor recovers, disables the robot, and meets Sarah and Harry. He confronts Styre, goading him into accepting hand-to-hand combat. While the two fight, Sarah and Harry free the three astronauts, and then Harry climbs towards Styre's ship to sabotage it. Styre almost wins the fight, but Vural attacks him, saving the Doctor at the cost of his own life. Styre, now low on energy, heads back towards his ship to recharge, but the sabotage causes it to kill him.

The Doctor informs the Marshal that not only has Styre's mission failed, but that the invasion plans are in human hands. This is enough to ward off the invasion, and the three can return to Nerva or so they thought.

Cast notes

Glyn Jones, who played the astronaut Krans, wrote the First Doctor serial The Space Museum.

This is the last major role played by Kevin Lindsay before his death in 1975 of a heart condition. He found the heavy Sontaran costume so difficult to manage that he could not leave the Hound Tormarker location for breaks, and also could not perform the fight scene - a stand-in, Stuart Fell, was used instead.

Terry Walsh not only played a minor role as an astronaut, but doubled for Tom Baker in parts of episode two, after Baker broke a collarbone during filming. This meant that the climactic fight was performed by two stand-ins rather than the original actors.

Most of the actors playing the GalSec astronauts were South African. This was specified in the casting. The writers, Bob Baker and Dave Martin, were interested in language change, and reasoned that the multi-linguistic influences on South African English might resemble future developments of the English language.


  • This serial forms part of a continuous series of adventures for the TARDIS crew, beginning from the end of Robot and continuing through to Terror of the Zygons, although the Virgin Missing Adventures novel A Device of Death takes place in a possible gap between Genesis of the Daleks and Revenge of the Cybermen, and the Past Doctor Adventures novel Wolfsbane is set in another such gap between Revenge and Zygons.
  • No part of the TARDIS appears in any portion of this serial, as the crew travels entirely by transmat beam.
  • The Sontarans are firmly established in this serial as a clone race, evidenced by Sarah thinking that Styre is Linx from The Time Warrior. Although the same actor who played Linx also plays Styre, the make-up and coloring are different (although the Marshall in this serial looks exactly like Styre). Styre also has five digits on each hand rather than Linx's three; incidentally, this is the only story in which the Sontarans do not possess the usual three digits upon their hands.
  • This serial, along with The Time Warrior was referred to in the 3rd episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures.


  • Working titles for this story included The Destructors.
  • Although the serial was the third to feature Baker, it was actually the second shot, hence the out-of-sequence production code.
  • These two episodes were initially part of a six-episode arc, but Philip Hinchcliffe made the decision to split the arc into the four-part "Ark in Space" and this two-part story. But they shared the same director and budget. To save money, Hinchcliffe decided that "Ark" would be entirely filmed in the studio and "Experiment" would be entirely filmed on location. He also settled on the Sontarans because they could re-use the Sontaran costume from "The Time Warrior" and therefore save the expense of designing a new alien.
  • This was only the second serial in the history of Doctor Who (the first being 1970's Spearhead from Space) to be shot entirely on location, in this case at Hound Tormarker on Dartmoormarker. However, unlike Spearhead from Space and the location material for other serials, the production was mounted entirely on videotape using an Outside Broadcast unit, rather than on film as was more usual for the time.
  • During shooting, lead actor Tom Baker broke his collarbone. However, because part of his costume was a large scarf, he could conceal the neck brace he had to wear following the injury. For action scenes, he was doubled by regular stunt performer Terry Walsh, shot from several face-concealing angles.
  • This was the first two-part serial to be broadcast since 1965's The Rescue and the last until 1982's Black Orchid. It only became a two-part story after new producer Philip Hinchcliffe realised that two six-part serials had been commissioned for the season. He decided to split one of them, creating the four-part studio-bound Ark in Space, and this all-outdoor story - but keeping to a single budget and director for both.
  • The scene of the two colonists trying to lift the Sontaran gravity bar off another colonist is what drew the attention of Mary Whitehouse to the series, she would go on to criticise the violent and horrific elements in the programme, most notably in the next story Genesis of the Daleks and The Deadly Assassin.

In print

A novelisation of this serial, written by Ian Marter, was published by Target Books in November 1978. Marter played Harry Sullivan in this serial, making him the only Doctor Who author to have ever written adaptations of serials in which he personally appeared. The novelisation differs from the TV version by having the travellers arrive in the TARDIS. The Sontaran plan here does not involve war with the Rutans but a planned conquest in alliance with another clone species.

Broadcast, VHS and DVD releases

  • The story was repeated on BBC One as a 48min omnibus in 1976 (09/07/76) at 6.25pm. *This story was released in October 1991 as a double video, together with Genesis of the Daleks.
  • On 9 October, 2006, it was released on DVD as the first of the "standard edition" DVD range. Among other bonus features, it has a commentary by Elisabeth Sladen, co-writer Bob Baker, and producer Philip Hinchcliffe. It also includes Built for War—a documentary about the Sontarans in the classic series, a Photo Gallery and Production Information Text.


External links


Target novelisation

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