Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

The Sontarans are coming!

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coverage of series 4, 2008

  1. The stars are coming out | Be my guest | The definitive episode guide | A Noble calling | Little monsters? | The Godmother (5 April)
  2. Roman Holiday (12 April)
  3. Ood, glorious Ood! (19 April)
  4. The Sontarans are coming! (26 April)
  5. Friend or foe? (3 May)
  6. Child of time (10 May)
  7. Who-dunnit? (17 May)
  8. Spine-chiller (31 May)
  9. Dark man (7 June)
  10. Stay sharp! (14 June)
  11. The Doctor's women (21 June)
  12. Red Alert (28 June)
  13. Never Mind the Daleks Here's Davros! (5 July)
  14. Doctor Doctor (20 December)

coverage of other series
S1 | S2 | S3 | S4 | Specials | S5 | S6 | S7 | S8 | S9 | S10


Mind the Potato-Head

General Staal (far right) is ready for war as his Sontaran scout ships detach from a command ship and hurtle towards Earth, in an image RT has specially commissioned learn visual effects comany, the Mill

Last seen 23 years ago, the Time Lord's deadly potato-headed enemies are back. RT speaks to the former Young One who's brought our cover star, General Staal, to life


STAAL MATE Christopher Ryan (below right) is an old pro when it comes to ugly brutes. As well as this week's Sontaran General Staal (right), he played Mentor Kiv (below) it in The Trial of a Time Lord in 1986

This week's new two-parter not only sees the return of previous companion Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) but also the reappearance of old adversaries the Sontarans, and an actor who's been here before. Christopher Ryan was in Doctor Who in 1986, opposite Colin Baker's Doctor. Then he played Lord Kiv, which involved sitting immobile covered in make-up, with, he recalls, "a sluggish, reptilian tail".

Now, 22 years later, Ryan is back, with another intensive make-up job, as Sontaran General Staal, chief of a warlike race of clone creatures: short, stocky, aggressive.

Each morning it took three hours to get the costume on. "It was actually quite relaxing," says Ryan. "The prosthetics team was brilliant. The quality of work is amazing and done under such pressure. It's quite frightening coming into Who — like running alongside a speeding train and having to jump on and be up to speed. So having the make-up put on was a break."

Famous as Mike the Cool Person in The Young Ones, Ryan, now aged 65, talks to RT during a break from theatre work. He says Staal lives "for war, glory and honour. He's single-minded. It's good to be able to have a go every now and again, let anger and frustration out. In a controlled way, of course. But I was glad to have that opportunity."

For research, Ryan bought DVDs of 1970s Sontaran stories, as well as the new Doctor Who, which he had to watch on a portable DVD player. "I got rid of my TV years ago. Reality stuff started and there were things in my life that needed attention and I thought, 'I wonder if I can live without a TV?' And I found that I could. It'll be interesting to see how it turns out," Ryan says of his Sontaran role. "Although I don't know whether I'll get to see it."

The Sontarans have challenged the Doctor four times before, first in the 1970s, in Jon Pertwee's The Time Warrior (see above), and finally in the 1980s. They persisted because they were memorable: cool, powerful, crazed, even with a head that resembled an over-baked potato.

"We loved the way they looked," agrees Neill Gorton, special make-up and effects supervisor at Millennium FX. "It was very much about going back to the 70s, to recapture that look and feel in the faces, then go a bit crazy with the bodies."

The former rigid mask is now made of flexible foam rubber to allow freedom of expression, any armour, though it looks unyielding, is made of a firmer foam rubber, with medieval echoes in its design. And 1112 Sontarans are the same size. "They're a clone race and come from a planet with high gravity, so they're short and stocky. Russell T. Davies, Who supremo] was keen they should all be five feet tall," says Gorton. "The hard part was the casting. We went all over the country to find people who could fit inside the costumes."


A Sontaran is sculpted in clay over a cast of the actor. The final costume is then moulded out of foam rubber


Remember this hide-behind-the-sofa moment from The Time Warrior (1973)? For Jon Pertwee's Doctor, it was more of a hide-behind-a-cart moment ...

The Time Lord has tracked a Sontaran officer to his medieval hideout. After whole episode of suspense about what horror might lurk under the helmet

Sontaran revealed his potato-head ne first time — to 8.7 million viewers. Then his tongue poked out. The in's children cringed. Cue credits.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Griffiths, Nick (2008-04-26). The Sontarans are coming!. Radio Times p. 12.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Griffiths, Nick. "The Sontarans are coming!." Radio Times [add city] 2008-04-26, 12. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Griffiths, Nick. "The Sontarans are coming!." Radio Times, edition, sec., 2008-04-26
  • Turabian: Griffiths, Nick. "The Sontarans are coming!." Radio Times, 2008-04-26, section, 12 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=The Sontarans are coming! | url=! | work=Radio Times | pages=12 | date=2008-04-26 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=5 March 2024 }}</ref>
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