Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sontaran Therapy

Can one love a Sontaran?

Can affection transcend repulsion?

I did.

And of course it can.

My initial attraction to horror was that it was populated with people who were as ugly as me. I fitted in with them. Their problems were possibly worse than my own. There was comfort in that.

Between the ages of four and eleven, I wore a grotesque, oversized, cloth eye patch. It went on when I rose and came off when I retired. Its purpose was to cover my right eye (the good eye) entirely so that my left eye, which was yielding just 25% vision, would be forced to pick up its game. To help it do that, I was fitted with thick, black-rimmed spectacles with the magnification properties of an observatory telescope.

My name was promptly changed to "Cyclops" and my preferred fashion accessory became a blue, plastic Batman helmet that was all the rage at the time and is now a collector's item.

I was no junior beefcake.

In our house, Dr. Who was a Sunday afternoon tradition. I joined the show when Patrick Traughton was coming to the end of his doctoring. The first time I saw him, he was fighting Sea Devils. My immediate dilemma was that I supported The Doctor, but sympathized with the monsters, even when they were taking lives on a grand scale.

No matter what villainy these so-called "devils" embraced, they had my unconditional backing.

And so did The Doctor, of course.

The Time Warrior marked the introduction of Elizabeth Sladen as "Sarah Jane Smith" (now going strong in The Sarah Jane Chronicles); she was The Doctor's new companion (after Jo).

It also marked the first appearance of a Sontaran, one of the first Dr. Who creatures since the Cybermen and the Daleks to possess real staying power. The Sontaran to beat in this episode announced his hideous credentials in a dramatic headwear removal scene that may have given Darth Vader ideas.

This fellow's name was -- wait for it -- Linx! (rhymes with sphinx). Sure that nobody was watching him, the shy spaceman ducked into a corner and took off his bulky, steel helmet, revealing a grotesque mug that could best be described as Humpty Dumpty Gone Terribly Wrong.

What made Linx special to me was his attitude. His optimism. His self-confidence. I had none of the latter at the time, so Linx became a square screen mentor to me, at least for the four weekends this episode took to play out. Finally, I was watching an ugly guy on TV who had plans, intelligence, a spaceship, cool facial scars, and a rude head that he'd learned to live with.

At eleven years of age, I was having a shocking time living with my own head, my eye patch, and those gruesome glasses, so it was enormously comforting to watch this Sontaran warrior give the humans a run for their money.

And NOT be concerned with his appearance.

That's the part that worked for me. You could be ugly and still have a life. In the Middle Ages. In space. Or, as in my case, in a small, quiet suburb of Melbourne.

When Jon Pertwee's Doctor defeated Linx, I was bummed, but I was happy for the human race, too. I was sure that the Sontarans would return again one day.

My optimism was rewarded two years later when one of Linx's countrymen, Field Major Steyr, arrived on Earth to get right what poor old Linx had gotten wrong. This would be Tom Baker's first but not last encounter with the outer space Humpty Dumpties (which I write with the greatest respect, of course), and it was a classic.

The Sontaran Experiment, just a two-parter, takes place entirely on location, giving the Sontaran military man a chance to appreciate the windy British countryside.

In a clever development that keeps the gene pool pure, the same actor who portrayed Linx (Kevin Lindsay) also portrayed the Field Major.

One wouldn't think it possible, but the Field Major was even uglier than his compatriot. His head looked like a semi-punctured dirigible and he had dark circles under his eyes. I worried that he'd been spending too much time talking to his Sontaran mates back home on the interplanetary TV screen he'd installed in a rock face.

Like Linx, Steyr could give two shits about his appearance. He had bigger and better things to focus on than his hairstyle or acne. Admittedly, acne was becoming a focus of mine, but thanks to TV mentors like Linx and Steyr, the demons of teenage stress never did manage to wrestle me to the canvas of self destruction.

A bunch of Sontarans returned to avenge the annihilation of their brothers in The Invasion of Time. They didn't count on meeting a guy (Tom Baker) who'd already tangled with their kind, so they failed miserably in their effort to do wrong once again.

These jokers were also butt ugly, confirming once and for all that there was something nasty in the water on their distant planet.

Today, I have Linx and his brethren to thank for the self confidence I do possess.

I never did get a whole lot better looking, but I certainly got a whole lot of free therapy to deal with that reality from those homely, Sontaran go-getters.

As a token of thanks, I'm prepared to send each of them a stolen set of sonic screwdrivers for Xmas.

If anybody has their mailing address, please PM me.


  1. I'm curious about what you thought of the Sontarans in the current series. The parallels between your own awkward childhood and the awkward human ally they enlisted are pretty striking.

    Sheesh, an eye patch? I'm curious if that actually worked.

  2. Yeah, I agree with that comment, Shon. I assume you're talking about "The Sontaran Stratagem"? Monsters do tend to target others who perceive themselves as such. I guess it's about taking advantage of low self esteem.

    The eye patch did its job. The left eye will never be as good as the right, but it was greatly improved. Blocking the right eye fooled the left eye into thinking that it was now on its own, so it pulled up its socks and got to work. The condition has been called "lazy eye". I had an extreme version of it.

    I appreciate that someone's reading. Thank you.

  3. That address would be : 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Oh, wait. That's the Munster's.

    Sorry. I'm no help.

  4. Herman Munster could do with one, too.

    He can always give it to Grandpa.