The Sontaran Experiment is an interesting detour, following on directly from the previous serial, but telling its own self-contained story. Human colonists who arrived on the deserted Earth have been attacked and experimented on by a Sontaran scout, in preparation for a galactic invasion. Big story, wrapped up in two parts. It’s refreshing!
What it shows is that you don’t need to spread a plot thinly over six episodes to make it good – brevity is often a virtue. The only reason most serials spread themselves so thinly is because of budget requirements. But I think The Sontaran Experiment also shows that you don’t need a big budget to tell a compelling sci-fi story either. This takes place entirely on some hills (no sets), and reuses some old costumes. And yet, it’s a compelling tale of human survival, Sontaran wickedness and Time Lord cunning.
I could have done without the Doctor’s Miraculous Escape From Death™, but for the most part he outwits the Sontaran, Styre, with skill and intelligence. He also gets angry, calling Styre an unspeakable abomination as he tries to throttle him one, which adds believability to the Doctor’s character. He gets some funny lines too, explaining to Harry how you should never throw anything away and then moments later telling him to never clutter his pockets with stuff. Meanwhile, Sarah Jane gets captured again. Sigh.
The Sontaran head prosthetic looks a little different from the last time it was used (despite Sarah mistaking Styre for Lynx) – more rubbery, but I think it’s an improvement. There’s also an excellent effect when Styre is killed and his head deflates like a balloon, which is wonderfully freaky. Sontarans are good villains, inhuman, remorseless, but bound by routine and procedure. His experiments on the human colonists are not malicious or evil, he simply does not care about them, blithely describing the procedures in his log, which makes them all the more frightening.