Funny, scary and The Time Warrior (1973)

Time Warrior

I thought it would be fun, identifying links to these disparate stories. And it is; it’s part of the appeal of watching Doctor Who randomly. But, blimey, it can be difficult sometimes. I can’t tell you how many hours I wasted trying to find something which linked Death to the Daleks with Aliens of London. (Mostly because I didn’t actually count those hours. But it was more time than a grown man should spend wondering about these things. Still, you’re guilty of that too right? Please tell me you are.)

And so it was that I let out a little cheer when my random Who generator spat out The Time Warrior right after it spat out The Sontaran Stratagem. Hooray! An easy one. And so with some delight,  I’m mixing it up a bit this entry and starting with…

LINKS to The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky: They both have Sontarans in ’em. And they both feature UNIT. Job done!

But actually, there are many more links. It’s clear that The Sontaran Stratagem owes much to The Time Warrior and lovingly celebrates it. Many of The Time Warrior‘s greatest hits are replayed. The word ‘thorax’, memorably evoked in the former gets name checked in the latter. When the Tenth Doctor indulges in some plot exposition about the Sontarans’ achilles heel, their probic vent, he paraphrases the time warrior himself, Sontaran office Linx, saying it means they must always face their enemies. “Isn’t that brilliant?”, he gushes like a fanboy. Then there’s the famous cliffhanger to The Time Warrior Part One, where Linx takes off his helmet to reveal an equally dome like head. General Staal performs an encore in The Sontaran Stratagem. (In fact it’s repeated often in Sontaran stories; it’s their signature move).

Let’s linger on that moment for a moment: it’s sometimes stated that the genius of that moment is that it’s a joke – Linx’s head is the same shape as his helmet. And as jokes go, it’s fine. But it’s not a strong enough joke to be the cliffhanger to the first episode of a story, nay a season.

Remember that when Part One of The Time Warrior was broadcast, we didn’t know what a Sontaran was. We had no idea what was under that helmet. And that’s what writer Robert Holmes and director Alan Bromley wanted us to be thinking about throughout those opening 25 minutes… WTF is under that helmet?!

That cliffhanger is what we’ve been waiting for. Even when the moment comes, Linx delays our gratification a little further, giving a little sheepish glance to either side to see if anyone’s around. The Doctor’s there too, spying on Linx, as fascinated as us. Then Linx finally pulls off that helmet, and reveals that grotesque, troll-like head. Do we laugh? Maybe. Are we thrilled? Definitely. It’s funny/scary.

The Sontarans have come so familiar to us now, they’re part of the Doctor Who furniture. I think we forget how impressive that combination of costume, mask and performance is. Linx, as played by Kevin Lindsay, brings lots of scary. A gravelly voiced brute and strong as he is cunning. He easily wins a dust up with Jon Pertwee’s karate loving Doctor. I’m one of the children he frightened, because he could outwit you and beat you up; a villain and a monster.

He’s is a long way from Strax, the Eleventh Doctor’s bumbling Sontaran ally. Strax is dumb and funny. He’s a reluctant nurse. He can’t go two sentences without wishing for a weapon or spouting some bolshie nonsense. He’s funny and hugely popular. But he’s the end result of a gradual toning down of the Sontarans. They’ve now all but lost their Linxy menace and become entirely Straxy figures of fun. And one can hardly blame New Who’s producers for this; Sontarans are after all war mongering potatoes. There’s fun to be had, so we should have it. (And it’s telling that the only classic Doctor Who monster to make the leap to childrens’ series The Sarah Jane Adventure is the Sontarans. Altogether more fun than Cybermen or Daleks.)

Writer Robert Holmes, the master, of course knew that too. He intended it, and it shows throughout The Time Warrior. After all, the first thing Linx does is plant a natty little flag on the earth’s surface and claim the planet, its moons and satellites, purely for us to laugh at his pomposity. Later on he calls the philosophy of the Time Lords “egalitarian twaddle”. And when he finds out that humans come in both male and female varieties, he says “it is an inefficient system. You should change it.”

Holmes knew how to make a monster funny/scary, and frankly you can have your Slitheen, your Judoon and your Graske, this is how you do it. But when the Sontarans next come back, I’m hoping for as much scary as funny.

NEXT TIME: Boom! Boom? BOOM! Battlefield.

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