Meet Major Kleg and Group Marshal Cat in a suitably hilarious and moving swansong for the now classic 2008 Sontarans ahead of next week’s War of the Sontarans
Events since The Great Sontaran War was first announced have inevitably added a certain wistful element to this Torchwood release. Last night’s Halloween Apocalypse featured a cameo appearance by a whole new breed of Sontarans. And when the military obsessed aliens return to Doctor Who in all their glory this Sunday that whole new design and approach will take centre stage. Not just new armour and new prosthetics, but a greater focus on the Sontarans genuine viciousness and cruelty.
Even more significantly though, while Dan Starkey appeared last night, and will still be on hand this week as Svild, the role of the primary Sontaran passes to Jonathan Watson. Starkey has played most of the various members of the clone race since 2008. And he does so again as Major Kleg in The Great Sontaran War. It overlays James Goss’ story with a sense of being the swansong for a very particular take on the Sontarans. Remarkably, by coincidence or design, you couldn’t ask for a better story to see them off with.
Stranded on Earth, one lone Sontaran has to come to grips with the ultimate fish out of water experience
As the story begins, Torchwood have already defeated the latest alien invasion of Wales. They’ve captured a lone Sontaran reconnaissance scout, Major Kleg. Being brought to the middle of a desolate nothingness (aka the Mumbles in Wales) by Ianto Jones, Kleg expects to be executed. Instead he’s set up with a new home in a caravan park, and a perception filter disguise. Not to mention a cupboard full of minestrone soup and bourbon biscuits. He’s as non-plussed by this turn of events as you’d expect. But the listener might speculate that Jack has either met or heard of the Paternoster Gang’s Sontaran butler Strax. Ianto’s mission appears to be an attempt to ‘straxify’ Kleg as a potential ally.
James Goss is a writer who dances back and forth over the line between comedy and darkness with gleeful abandon. So as you’d expect, much of The Great Sontaran War is utterly hilarious. Much of the comedy flows from Kleg’s decision to adopt a cat (because “the internet seems to be mainly about them”) whom he names Group Marshall Cat. Kleg navigates all the challenges of cat ownership in the most Sontaran way imaginable. In fact, scenes with the Group Marshall, and Kleg’s growing appreciation of cats generally (of higher potential than humans, he concludes, and we should kill them all before they out-evolve and crush us), are some of the funniest material Starkey has had as a Sontaran.
James Goss’ finely balanced script, and Dan Starkey’s skillful performance sets a delightful tone of whimsical cynicism about life on Earth
But of course, this is Torchwood. A world that’s a little more grey, and a little less kind, than in Doctor Who. Starkey’s subtle skill in his various performances is easy to overlook, but he makes Kleg quite distinct from Strax. There’s a melancholy at the heart of Kleg, and there are scenes which see him grapple with a kind of depression. While his darkest moments are treated as just as real as any human’s crisis. If Strax retreated from his situation into a kind of grumpy self-delusion, Kleg is an outcast from the Great Sontaran War who knows exactly what he is, and what glorious purpose he’s lost.
The Major’s interactions with his fellow caravan park residents reflect the same mix of light and darkness. At first he hates humanity in a vague, general way. On principle, you might say. But soon he begins to involve himself in the petty squabbles, and meager hopes and dreams, of his neighbours. His always seeing every issue, from capitalism to immigration, through the prism of the Great Sontaran War, and not always in the way you might expect, adds humour. But there’s a dangerous edge throughout. A possibility that he might just be learning to hate the human race in a more passionate, personal way.
The Great Sontaran War provides a satisfyingly bittersweet sunset for this particular type of Sontaran to march off into
It’s this factor which gives The Great Sontaran War its complexity and heart, compared to Strax’s various appearances. Thanks to a superbly judged performance from Dan Starkey, you’re never quite sure if this will all end in the Major successfully adapting, going on a murderous rampage, returning to the stars, or just ending it all. But both script and performance are delivered with such heart, you just want Kleg to be okay. Or to at least find whatever form of happiness a Sontaran can. Ultimately, the ending provides a satisfyingly bittersweet sunset for the Davies/Moffat era Sontarans to march off into.
Torchwood: The Great Sontaran War
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.
Meanwhile, The Great Sontaran War is almost unprecedented in being a Big Finish story with its own merchandise. You can get your official Mumbles Bay Caravan Park t-shirts, hoodies, etc. here.