The Plot: Planet Samur was once a peaceful haven. Pilgrims journeyed across the seven galaxies to meditate in the courtyards of the vast Citadel that spanned its equator. It was Samur’s misfortune, however, to find itself situated on the furthermost frontier in the eternal war between the amoeboid Rutan Host and the belligerent, troll-like Sontarans … Twenty years after detonating a bacteriological weapon over Samur, rendering it uninhabitable, the Sontarans are back: a select platoon of seven has landed here on a secret mission, carrying sealed orders given to them by Fleet Marshal Stabb. The TARDIS has landed here, too, bringing the Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Nyssa into the second great Battle of Samur. Fighting not only the Sontarans, but mystical mercenaries… and a deadly, decades-old curse.
What in the name of Rolf do you think you’re playing at?
This four-part story by Alan Barnes launches a second trilogy featuring the Fifth Doctor with cowardly alien teenager Turlough, bolshie Australian air-hostess Tegan and Nyssa, last survivor of the planet Traken and currently looking for a cure to ‘Richter Syndrome’. In the previous ‘season’, which saw the very welcome return of Janet Fielding as Tegan, it was established that Nyssa, after leaving the Doctor and the others, stayed on ‘Terminus’ to continue to work as a scientist. The Doctor and the crew have now bumped into her many years later and one of the most successful aspects of this release is the way that it explores the change in the ‘family’ dynamic within the TARDIS as she is now a much more experienced and mature person than when she left, even though to them this is hard to accept as of course she, relatively speaking, has in fact not been gone for very long at all.
The end of the previous series felt a little flat as it didn’t really tie up all the loose ends with regards to Nyssa’s role so it is very satisfying to see that this is going to be much more integral here. None the less the emphasis here is quite rightly on the fact that Robert Holmes’ humourless spud-head warriors the Sontarans make their Big Finish debut – in a surprisingly jolly story. The team of Sontarans featured here, as ever at war with the Rutans, are in fact a particularly useless bunch and Tegan has great time bossing them around no matter how often the TARDIS crew are threatened with execution. The real threat on the planet Samur is in fact a type of weaponised moss that is taking over all life forms on the planet and consuming it – when Nyssa becomes a victim, a ticking clock in introduced so that the Doctor and his fairly dysfunctional team have to work together to find the antidote. In a nice scene towards the end, when it looks as though Nyssa won’t make it, we are provided with references to the later life of Nyssa and her family as established by Paul Cornell and Mike Maddox in the classic Big Finish audio, Circular Time, one of the best of the productions featuring Peter Davison (briefly reviewed here).
This isn’t a story that relies too much on Who continuity however, its plot and themes drawing on a variety of pop culture references such as the classic home guard sitcom Dad’s Army, Akira Kurosawa’s much remade and hugely influential Seven Samurai and, perhaps most surprisingly of all, John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars (to give it its official title), which also features a desolate planet where a small group of stranded soldiers fight supernatural forces that take over their victims. Here the planet has been rendered barren by a Sontaran form of ‘Agent Orange’ named Z/002, despoiling and ravaging a place once known for its peace and tranquility into a moss-ridden mausoleum apparently haunted by the ‘witch guards’, seven ghostly figures out for some obscure revenge.
While there are some nice scares and a real sense of jeopardy for Nyssa, there are also plenty of laughs, especially at the expense of the Sontarans who find that Tegan in particular just refuses to take them seriously – leading to some classic exchanges:
The vexatiousness of the females. How do you bear it, Doctor?
Usually I just do what I’m told.
This is a highly enjoyable season opener, very well plotted by Barnes who brings lots of humour and some pathos too as we see the band of Sontaran no-hopers get a second chance at greatness and bringing to the fore the arc elements introduced last year.
The future is looking good for the continuation of the stories featuring the Fifth Doctor and his companions.