The Doctor Who Ratings Guide: By Fans, For Fans

The Return of the Sontarans

Produced by
Reeltime Pictures

Sophie Aldred, Carole Ann Ford, Brian Croucher, Jan Chappell. Written by Terrance Dicks.

The Plot: A Rutan is aboard the sailing yacht The Tiger Moth and the Sontarans are in pursuit, placing the human crew in danger.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge

Nearly ten years after The Two Doctors, the Sontarans return.... Not a lot of money was spent on Shakedown, but it rarely shows. HMS Belfast doubling as the interior of the Tiger Moth and the Sontaran War Wheel are just two examples of this. The Sontarans themselves are redseigned, with new heads, uniforms, less bulk and more characterisation (both good and bad.)

Terrance Dicks' script is in the style of many Doctor Who tales, that of alien invasion. This is no bad thing, if relatively simple and undemanding. His characters are variable, the worst offender being the Sontaran Lt.Vorn. His stupidity begs the question of how he got to that position in the first place. More palatable,and more like a Sontaran than any other, is Steg, whose presence alone signifies authority.

The Humans: Mairi played by Sophie Aldred, a screamer and complete contrast to Ace. Zorelle played by Carole Ann Ford, an aristocrat and alcoholic--a complete contrast to Susan. (Isn`t that a surprise? Not really no, given the writer.) Two who come off better are Brian Croucher`s Kurt and Jan Chappell`s Lisa Deranne, two believable, uncliched and fascinating characters.

Coupled with great direction and excellent music, Shakedown is just as enjoyable as a piece of stand-alone science fiction as it is a Doctor Who spin-off.

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 11/9/04

An early spin-off effort was Shakedown - a collaboration between DW and B7 personnel, organized by Dreamwatch Magazine.

Starting very well with Mark Ayres fabulous music this promises to be pretty good. There's some great spaceship models too, and then the crew of the Tiger Moth are introduced to us. A diverse group full of DW and Blake's Seven actors, who don't really gel all that well - but that's probably the idea.

The characters are shown to be together, but not of the same purpose. There's some miscasting going on, and some real standouts too. Sophie Aldred initially stands out as Mari, princess, complete with slinky gown. But her relationship with the ordinary Nikos brings her character down. Carole Ann Ford is very convincing as a bitchy, self-obsessed socialite. But her acting is a bit over the top. Michael Wisher is the everyman engineer, a very small part - which is a shame, as he is the best actor on show here. Brian Croucher is the millionaire Kurt, and is the worst performer by far. He seems embarrassed to be there, and lacks conviction in every scene. The best part and performer, alternatively, is Jan Chappell as Captain Deranne. The owner of the yacht she oozes confidence and control. She is the one who you want to see again.

HMS Belfast doubles as the interior of the solar ship. It provides a rather cold, if unconvincing atmosphere to the production. It always looks like the interior of a sea ship, and there were many times I completely forgot I was supposed to be in space. The SFX is excellent, the solar ship and Sontaran vessel are wonderful models and look great on screen. The direction is good, the action scenes particularly standing out, especially when the Sontarans board the Tiger Moth.

The slightly redesigned Sontarans are the enemy. They look okay, but the voices leave a great deal to be desired. Steg (Toby Aspin) is fine, but Vorn (Tom Finnis) is terrible - just terrible. If there was a vote for "Worst Alien Voice", the one you don't want to hear in a Big Finish Production - then this is it. Like Brian Croucher's Kurt he brings down every scene he is in.

The story is a simple one, and not one of Terrance's best. Terrance Dicks plays to the confines of the solar ship pretty well. The Sontarans are also depicted well, even if they are not really that nastier and meaner than TV. But it is the dialogue that is so clumsy in places, the delivery of the actors doesn't help - but it's rather naff too much. The ending's a bit trite too, all that destruction then the happy couple go off on further adventures - didn't like that very much.

One of the real plusses of the story is the Rutan. With a claustrophobic setting the Rutan thrives. It moves between bodies, giving the production its main tension, as one by one the crew go down. The way the Rutan is presented is also good, that green light moving from place to place, body to body. It provides the production with the claustrophobic atmosphere so important to a closed set like this.

Of great interest too is the Making Of Documentary. These things really show the motives behind these productions. You have to admire the enthusiasm of everyone involved. There's a bit too much playing up to the camera (you can only laugh once or twice at a Sontaran picking his nose), but everyone seems keen to do their very best, in spite of the finished performances.

Shakedown in the end provides a quite entertaining hour of drama. Apart from Vorn and Kurt, there is enough to like within. The rest of the cast, the story, the FX and the music. A worthwhile, if flawed production. 6/10

A Review by Finn Clark 21/5/13

I quite liked it. It's pretty good, in its low-budget way. Terrance Dicks delivers.

It's another straight-to-video movie made by Doctor Who fans during the TV show's long hiatus. As with other such films (e.g. Downtime, Cyberon), it's lurking in the dark twilight between a fan film and a professional production. Some of these things are unwatchable, while others are merely terrible. Shakedown, though, is okay. It's a bit slow and cheap-looking, but it has a well-defined plot, clear characterisation and even jokes.

The secret is that Terrance Dicks knows how to write this kind of thing. He's an old TV pro, unlike Lance Parkin and Marc Platt, and he cut his teeth on making drama on a limited cast, set and budget. It's not deep, but it doesn't forget to keep moving and it gets the job done. The storyline involves a space yacht (eh?) crewed by Jan Chappell and Michael Wisher, and infested with rich scum passengers (Carole Ann Ford, Sophie Aldred, Brian Croucher) who think money and privilege mean you don't have to care about anyone except yourself. Well, maybe Croucher's not that bad. Anyway, the good news is that soon a battleship rolls up (literally), blasts a hole in the yacht's sails and sends a boarding party to shoot everyone. The Sontarans have arrived! What's more, they're chasing a Rutan.

This is a joint Doctor Who and Blake's 7 fan indulgence, by the way. Chappell and Croucher are from the latter show, not the former.

The characters are fun, although the women tend to be better than the men. (Dicks the feminist! Ahem.) Chappell, Ford and Aldred are more memorable than any man except Croucher. Ford is the most entertaining. She's playing the biggest bitch on the ship and she's having a ball with it, coping far better with this unexpected call out of retirement than did Sladen and Watling in Downtime. I particularly enjoyed her irritation at being notified that they're UNDER ATTACK FROM A BATTLESHIP. That was funny. Chappell's in no way overshadowed, though, playing the lead role and carrying it off well. Both she and Croucher had proper acting careers before, during and after their most famous roles (if you're an SF fan), unlike more than a few Doctor Who companions. They're both good.

Aldred's not great, but she has a fairly thankless role and she looks creepy late in the film with that cracked-lip make-up. Seriously, that freaked me out a bit.

As for the Sontarans, they're great too. There's a Comedy Idiot Sontaran (Lieutenant Vorn) who speaks with a cockney accent that reminded me of Derek Deadman in The Invasion of Time. "This ship is now under Sontaran controhw." He's so stupid that he doesn't recognise a Rutan even when it shapeshifts in front of him into a ball of light and flies off, despite the fact that he's (a) a Sontaran (b) on a mission to hunt down a rogue Rutan. Uh-huh. That's a bit of a stretch, Uncle Terry. There's also a moment of broad comedy when his superior (Commander Steg) gives him "you are an idiot" orders and then puts his forehead in his hand.

Steg has a more upper-class accent and knows what he's doing. He gets a fair amount of characterisation, which is good even though it's the usual warmongering "death or glory" Sontaran stuff. He even gets to be cool in his death scene, which impressed me. The only bit I disliked was Terrance's Obligatory Creepy Old Man moment, which reminded me that this man likes putting rape references in his Doctor Who novels. Terrance rips off Holmes's "differently-shaped thorax" scene when his Sontarans notice Aldred's breasts, but then goes into "get the hell out of here, you disgusting old bastard" territory by turning Steg into a lip-licking groper. What is this? One moment Steg doesn't understand the difference between genders, then the next he's a sex pest. (Do Sontarans even have genitals? Would they regard sex with humans as bestiality?)

That disturbed me more than any rape reference in Terry's novels. It's the difference between reading about something and seeing it.

The production is okay. Crucially, and astonishingly, the aliens look good. Cyberon and Downtime's alien menaces are unintentionally hilarious, but these Sontarans and Rutans are fine. The rubber masks for the former had to be redesigned, but I quite liked that. Their only problem is that the actor's mouth doesn't look as if it's part of the latex. Meanwhile there's some CGI for the Rutan that's cheap but still better-looking than the effects in Horror of Fang Rock, while in addition there's a simple but serviceable effect when people get shot.

The spaceships are more of a problem, both inside and out. The opening model shot reminds me of Red Dwarf, while the Sontaran War Wheel looks tacky. Gold often looks like that. It's like a Christmas tree ornament. As for the interiors, they were mostly filmed on location in HMS Belfast, which sounds like a good idea except that surely it shouldn't have looked that spartan? It's a luxury space yacht with a passenger list of millionaires! Where's the caviar and peacock feathers? Besides, Kevin Davies's direction occasionally makes it look like a home video shot in a warehouse.

Even the novelisation's good. It was Terrance's last Doctor Who novel before nuking his reputation with The Eight Doctors. It's fun and original, the latter being a bit of a rarity with Uncle Terry. I also like its approach to expanding a 55-minute video into a novel (i.e. as the middle section in a bigger story), while curiously is itself is now the middle book in a Virgin trilogy, with McIntee's Lords of the Storm (which I quite liked) and Terry's Benny sequel, Mean Streets.

Overall, you could do worse. It's not brilliant and it could have been sharper, but it's watchable and doesn't drag too often or too much. It also has genuinely good bits. The Mexican stand-off scene is strong, as is the finale. I also quite like the goofiness of the idea of a space yacht. Why haven't Big Finish used Terrance? You'd think he'd have been perfect for them.

"I win, Rutan. I win."