Doctor Who Rogues Gallery: The Sontarans

Some of the most enduring monsters from all of science fiction are the ones that can be most easily parodied in a schoolyard situation. Want to be a Dalek? Stiffen your arms and advance threateningly. Cyberman? Stiffen your arms and advance threateningly. Sontaran? Tuck your chin into your sweater, advance threateningly, and proudly claim to have taken over the school for the glory of Sontar. See? Easy.

The most disturbing thing about the Sontarans as a theatrical creation is they are sort of human-ish, but also very different. So when a helmeted Sontaran emerges from his pod in medieval Britain (The Time Warrior), wearing a metal helmet not unlike those of a knight, he’s simply thought of as a Saracen with magical powers:

Take the helmet off, however, and those egg-heads and (in the early designs) slavering wet mouths are quite disturbing, especially when placed upon stocky bodies. They have a lot in common with the Judoon, being a funny head on a serious frame, and very single-minded. But while the Judoon dogmatically chase individuals, Sontarans are proud empire builders, with delusions of chivalry swimming around their outsized skulls, who live only to battle and prevail. They come from a planet where the gravity is stronger than here, so their necks have to be that fat to avoid their heads snapping off if they trip over, and of course they’re stockier than humans, capable of greater feats of strength and stamina.

There’s something of the British skinhead about them too (they were first designed during the early years of skinhead culture); a race of crop-headed hardnuts, strutting around boasting about how hard they are, and who they can beat in a scrap. Take out the stuff about honour and dying in battle, and replace it with a soundtrack of Jamaican ska, and the two are practically indistinguishable.

Oh, apart from one weakness: as they are clones, the Sontarans take nutrition from a “probic vent” at the top of their spine. It’s their belly button, esophagus and Achilles heel at the same time. A firm whack on the vent, or a blockage, will knock them out for a little while. And if you douse them in “coronic acid,” they won’t thank you. Otherwise they’re tough as rubber walnuts.

The Sontarans are also interesting in that they are rational in a way other races are not. They speak as fast as humans do, and appear to be unafflicted with any kind of science fiction throatal cooties that might make them hiss or rasp their words out. They might look like Humpty Dumpty with attitude, but they talk like you or I. This somehow makes them seem more wily and warm than Daleks or Cybermen. It also makes them a lot more pompous:

And as you can see it does not do to thwart a Sontaran, but you can play with their sense of pride a bit, and who knows, it might just buy you enough time to get around the back with a flip flop or something.

This is my favorite Sontaran exchange, which speaks volumes about their value system:

It’s almost as if they are so confident of victory they do not feel the need to rush into battle. They do love to savor their triumphs, the violent little windbags. And why not, they damn near succeeded in invading Gallifrey, and even the Daleks never managed that.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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