All this week we have been looking at the Sontaran stories, but there was a little gap there, a hole in our Sontaran Week, and we need to Fix It. I thought long and hard about whether to just ignore this one altogether. After all, it is pretty disposable, not being a regular Doctor Who episode but just a little sketch in somebody else’s show. What’s more, that “somebody else” turned out to be a monster in real life, so this is a tricky subject to say the least. But nothing is achieved by brushing evil under the carpet. Whether we like it or not, A Fix With Sontarans is an unpleasant little footnote in the history of Doctor Who, and we can’t rewrite history, not even this troubling one line.
I’m going to keep this brief, but an explanation of what this is all about is probably necessary for overseas readers. When I was a child, one of my favourite shows was Jim’ll Fix It. The format was quite simple: children would write in (by post, of course, long before the days of email) about some kind of a wish they had, something they wanted to do. Then the host, Jimmy Savile, would “fix it” for them and their dreams would come true. Sort of. A few years ago our childhood memories were tainted by revelations of what Savile was getting up to behind the scenes and elsewhere. It turned out that A Fix With Sontarans was the day the Doctor came face to face with a real monster, and didn’t even know it.
So in this particular show, an eight-year-old boy called Gareth Jenkins wrote a letter about his love for Doctor Who:
I like Dr. Who very much because I have got Colin Baker’s Doctor Who suit made by my Nan and a tent TARDIS. Please could I see Colin Baker and go inside the TARDIS.
Yours sincerely Gareth Jenkins (Age 8)
Accordingly, it was “fixed” for him to have a little adventure in the TARDIS. Just to get the elephant out of the room so we can look at what actually happened on screen, Jenkins since confirmed that Savile showed no interest in him.
This episode of Jim’ll Fix It went out between the second and third episodes of The Two Doctors. The timing was spectacularly bad, just a few days before it was announced that Doctor Who was going on hiatus. The sketch itself is only about 8 minutes long, so we’re not going to be getting into themes and deep meanings here. Yes, I know Time Crash was also about 8 minutes, but this was a different world. It didn’t have a genius writing the script, and the need to include a child who wasn’t an actor meant that he couldn’t be asked to do much other than repeat what the Doctor says.
The Sontarans pop up near the end, somehow already inside the TARDIS, and just do a generic monster job. They happened to be the monster costumes that were easily available at the time, and it tied in with what was happening in Doctor Who, so it made sense. They have nothing to do that any other monster couldn’t have done, but I suppose the same could be said about The Two Doctors as well. Interestingly, though, we get a recap of the deflating head moment, last seen in The Sontaran Experiment at this point, with added green slime. We can’t read too much into this, but perhaps it could be taken as some kind of an indication of how Doctor Who was viewed within the BBC at the time: silliness and icky monsters.
Colin Baker plays the Doctor of course, but Nicola Bryant was on holiday at the time, so the most interesting aspect of the sketch is how it represents our one tiny glimpse of how the Sixth Doctor would work with Tegan as his companion. The answer is badly. There was clearly a problem with Six and Peri, which started off akin to an abusive relationship, and always retained those undertones. Six and Tegan has a different vibe, because Tegan is more difficult to force into the downtrodden wife role, and she is quick off the mark with trading insults:
DOCTOR: I’ve regenerated.
TEGAN: That’s nice for you. Not much of an improvement.
But typically the script forces her to back down and slot into the obedient assistant role pretty quickly, relegated to fetching a box for Gareth to stand on while he does his mini Doctor stuff, while Tegan is made to look useless in comparison with an eight-year-old. So it’s just a tantalisingly brief glimpse of Six plus Tegan, and it turns out that it is just squabbling turned up to eleven, followed by the companion getting belittled. When people write about this they often talk about how well Tegan stands up to Six, and how it shows how Six could have worked with a different companion, but frankly they must all be watching something different. It turns out that even Tegan can’t make much difference to the Sixth Doctor/companion relationship, which highlights the degree to which the Doctor’s portrayal has gone astray at this point.
But this is the end of Sontaran Week on the blog, so let’s focus on the monsters one last time. Almost every time the Sontarans have returned to Doctor Who we had the law of diminishing returns, and there is one line in A Fix With Sontarans that tells us the reason for that:
Sontarans? Well, next to Daleks and Cybermen, the most evil force in the galaxy.
…and there we have it, the third best monster. At least, that’s what they are if you treat them as generic monsters. Because if you look at that Top Three, you have three enemies that are actually entirely different to each other in nearly every way. Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans. Not a league table. They all need scripts that have a good reason for their inclusion, rather than the inclusion of one of the others instead, or any other monster for that matter. That’s what Doctor Who forgot during the Classic Series. But that’s not the fault of this little episode, the first “minisode”, I suppose. It was just a day where a Doctor Who fan’s dream came true, and he helped the Doctor defeat the monsters in the TARDIS. One of the monsters got away, but there are some problems that can’t be fixed by a Time Lord in a blue box. RP
The view from across the pond:
When a certain dwarf ran into a dragons’ lair bellowing out his name before getting himself and his friends destroyed in a classic online clip from the game EverQuest, “Leerooooooooy Jenkins!” became a name for the ages. There’s even a reference to him in the TV show Psych. Somehow, Gareth Jenkins doesn’t do as well. The poor little fellow seems totally out of his element when he boards the TARDIS wearing his Sixth Doctor outfit. Yes, we’re talking about that 10 minute mini-sode, A Fix with Sontarans. Hey, we’ve been paying tribute to the Sontarans this week, ok? We can’t ignore … Nathan? Did he really say his name was Nathan? Linx, Styre, Stor, Stike, Nathan… He also seems to have to think about it for a moment too. Nathan the Unremembered.
Ok, the story is crazy. There are Sontarans in the TARDIS and they are coming to the console room, where the Doctor is working on a plan to defeat them. He activates his Star Trek Transporter which beams Tegan onboard. Tegan looks great with long hair and she clearly knows where she is as she helps the Doctor operate the TARDIS. The interaction between them is funny and, for those who know the chemistry is largely based on teasing, the playful sarcasm works well even with a new Doctor. I would argue that having Tegan there simply to get a step stool for Gareth was unnecessary but she gets a minor victory when she tells the Doctor that he’s making up words when doling out responsibilities to young Gareth.
Gareth, who also got caught in the transporter beam, appears in the console room and announcing himself with a “boom” to which the Doctor complains, “Don’t do that!” Now, credit goes to Colin and Janet who are evidently trying to give young Gareth a good time while he gets to play the Doctor’s Mini Me. But he seems so rigid! The only time he seems to let his guard down is when he’s repeating after the Doctor and pressing buttons and swinging his foot playfully. The poor lad seems to be on display otherwise and doesn’t really know how to just be himself in the scene.
Meanwhile the Sontarans appear to look just like Stike and Varl but they lack any menace, instead standing around chatting about future events. When they die, it’s amazingly gross. Not only do they melt into green ooze, but at least one of them remains pulsing and twitching in his goo. It’s horrible. Sure, marvelous on the one hand, but admittedly horrible on the other. (Translation: I loved it, but I realize for some it would be deeply unpleasant!) Which again can’t help but question why the powers-that-be felt such gore was necessary. I’m not asking to appease Mary Whitehouse, but maybe being aware of the gore wouldn’t have been much to ask for.
Overall, this is not the Sontarans at their best but then this is a Sontaran named Nathan who I think previously tried killing all of humanity with some famous franks. For a 10 minute romp with these characters, it’s manageable. It’s no Time Crash but this was long before the series returned to such critical acclaim. At least it gave us a weird little romp with old friends. And who knows, maybe there are Sontarans out there going into battle calling out the name Garetttttthhhhhh Jenkins….. ML