Torchwood: The Great Sontaran War (Big Finish Review)

Sontarans are coming back to the Doctor Who universe in a big way, with the second episode of series 13 (AKA Flux), War of the Sontarans, featuring their first big villainous return since 2009’s The Sontaran Stratagem, complete with new redesign. As such, this latest Torchwood release from Big Finish feels like something of a swansong of that last Tennant-era design, with Dan Starkey playing a Sontaran in the vein of Commander Skorr, and of course one member of The Paternoster Gang – Strax.

The fact that we’re getting Sontarans back in Torchwood is something of a fun surprise. And being a James Goss script, this was always going to have plenty of humour and an abundance of character work; you only have to look at the fabulous cover art from Lee Binding, that juxtaposes Torchwood main character Ianto against Starkey’s Major Kreg holding a basket with a cat in a Mumbles caravan park, to know this is going to be quit a fun piece.

“There will be no weakness. There will be no…cups of tea.”

Fortunately, The Great Sontaran War delivers on every [war] front. It is a brilliant fish out of war story, that sees lone Sontaran Major Kreg relocated to a a caravan park in the Mumbles area of Swansea, under the watchful supervision of Ianto. While there are plenty of laughs – the story is packed with satirical commentary of the internet’s obsession with cats, bargain basement tea bags and the fascination with tinned soup – it actually has plenty of heart too; though with Goss writing this, that’s not that surprising. The story is something of a meditation on humanity, through Kreg’s unwilling eyes. Take out the humour, which Dan Starkey can deliver in spades, and we’re left with an almost mournful reflection on loneliness.

While it’s not the strongest Ianto solo-Torchwood tale from Big Finish (this year’s Coffee and 2018’s The Last Beacon remain my personal favourites), Gareth David-Lloyd perfectly captures the lack of belonging he feels with his sister and the team, a theme recurring in the TV series at the time. He also plays the straight man to Starkey’s Sontaran really well; the grim desperation to keep him from raging war and bubbling frustrations over Kreg’s actions and proclamations are a delight.

This isn’t a story that gives us something radically new from Starkey. Kreg isn’t that much different to Strax or Storr, but he remains effortless fun and has great rapport with the whole cast. And a cat. The inscrutable Group Marshall Cat is as much a character as Ianto, Kreg or the other residents of the caravan park. Hearing Kreg’s attempts to train him, to demand love and obedience are fun, and Goss sprinkles enough jokes that cat owners (like myself) will surely appreciate.

The Great Sontaran War certainly plays on expectations too. Nigel Harrison’s caravan park manager Mr Higgins is a piece of work, the sort of Brexit-loving, foreigner-hating man that you presume Kreg will get on with like a house on fire. Among the many sub plots Goss weaves in is the poor treatment of ‘fruit pickers’ which gives Kreg a startling fresh perspective on humanity and allows him to build into a sort of anti-hero as the story progresses. Similarly his relationship with Kaye Brown’s Betty Appleby grows from antagonistic to something much more heartfelt – two lonely souls finding something in each other, which is both unexpected and delightful.

The illusions to the titular ‘great Sonataran War’ are sprinkled throughout the story, culminating in another unexpected, and long-awaited battle with the oft-mentioned Rutans -with a twist, brought alive thanks to the strong direction from Lisa Bowerman. Even at the very end, Goss’s script doesn’t play as expected and like many of his stories is just BEGGING for a sequel. Seriously, I would listen to a whole range of stories spinning off from where The Great Sontaran War gloriously ends.

Now excuse me. I’m off for a cup of hot leaf interrogation…

Torchwood: The Great Sontaran War is available to purchase at the Big Finish site here, and goes on general release on the 31st December 2021.

 

The Extras…

Nine minutes of behind the scenes discussions accompany this Torchwood release. Gareth David-Lloyd reflects on Ianto’s situation in this story and how that motivates his ‘pet project’ with Kreg. Dan Starkey draws on the fish out water story in which Kreg finds himself in, while Nigel Harrison, Kaye Brown and Farshid Rokey all offer their own perspectives on the characters they are playing.

Writer James Goss talks odd pet-rearing techniques with the cast. Director Lisa Bowerman and Goss also delve into the two main characters and the unique relationship they share in this story. The Britishness of caravanning is a hot topic for all involved, with the cast and crew sharing experiences of childhood trips to caravan parks. But best of all, has to be Goss’s final interview with a surprise member of the cast. It’s not to be missed!

Synopsis

The Great Sontaran War has raged across the cosmos for millennia and finally it is coming to the Earth.

Major Kreg has been dispatched to carry out a strategic assessment of the planet. He will learn about the dominant life form, decide what the world has to offer, and discover the ultimate value of the human race.

For Torchwood, there is only one place to put him. Welcome to the Mumbles Bay Caravan Park.

Cast

Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones)
Dan Starkey (Major Kreg)
Kaye Brown (Mrs Betty Appleby)
Nigel Harrison (Mr Higgins)
Farshid Rokey (Jamal)

Production Credits

Producer Alfie Shaw and James Goss
Senior Producer David Richardson
Additional themes by Ben Foster
Cover Art by Lee Binding
Director Lisa Bowerman
Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Music by Blair Mowat
Script Editor Tim Foley
Sound Design by Toby Hrycek-Robinson
Written by James Goss
Theme Music by Murray Gold

Recommended Listening

Torchwood: The Last Beacon

Torchwood: Believe

The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 1

 

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