His spaceship crippled in an inter-stellar battle, the Sontaran warrior, Linx, is forced to crash-land on Earth.
He arrives in the Middle Ages, a time too primitive to provide the technology he needs to repair his ship. Allying himself with the local robber chief, Linx uses his powers to 'borrow' scientists and equipment from twentieth-century Earth. Doctor Who tracks down the missing scientists and journeys into the past to save them.
But can he defeat the ruthless Linx and his savage human allies before the course of human history is changed forever?
This was the Season 11 debut story - from Pertwee's final season, broadcast December 1973 - previously available on VHS cassette (1989) and currently available on DVD (released in 2007 and re-released as part of the 'Sontaran collection' last year). This unabridged reading across 4 CDs of the Terrance Dicks novelisation of Bob Holmes' scripts - first published by Target in 1975 - is by Boba Fett himself, Jeremy Bulloch; not to forget that he played the important supporting role of Hal the Archer in the telly version of this tale. So we have several layers of 'cult appeal' here. The story is pure Holmes-spun gold, of course, but Bulloch's performance is nothing short of splendid; while Dicks' limitations offer the usual drag factor on this work, Bulloch's energy and skill paper over the cracks.
The main highlight was that it introduced Sarah Jane Smith but it is a good yarn in its own right. The Doctor is drawn into all this by the Brigadier, who is trying to stem the flow of vanishing scientists and when he follows the trail back to the Middle Ages, Sarah Jane is hidden aboard the TARDIS. The Doctors job is to rescue the scientists and stop a stranded Sontaran, Linx, and his unwitting ally, Irongron, from altering history. And that's the set up. Not complicated but, by George, is it fun here!
Bulloch makes the team of Irongron and Bloodaxe come to life with such intensity that it is easy to forget that the same actor is portraying the two men. Irongron is a vicious, treacherous thug but no coward, while his dim-witted henchman, Bloodaxe, is sincerely in awe of his leader which makes for the occasional comic moment. Bulloch also gives us a stirring portrait of Linx, reflecting the gruff, rasping tones we heard in the television episodes.
As you would expect with Holmes, there is rich irony underlying the plot. Irongron took his castle through force of arms and so is our bad guy here but lets not forget that's how the Norman barons occupied England in the first place. Sir Edward, the 'good guy' (only in relation to Irongron and only because we do not see him doing anything really bad), is back from the Crusades, which was a racist bloodbath; and his wife, Lady Eleanor, secretly orders Irongrons' assassination without any hesitation whatsoever (although Sir Edward is subsequently disgusted by this tactic).
Dick's is a plodder not an innovator and his gaffes (uninspired writing and poorly chosen words) are probably due to laziness based on lack of respect for the source material. When Linx and the Doctor finally fight, Dicks cannot resist characterising their wary movements in relation to each other as "shuffling"; if you watch the telly version, you'll see what he's getting at. But used as it is in the prose version in a crucial scene, it kills any dynamic tension stone dead.
Still, this is a worthy audio release, thanks to the genius of Bob Holmes and the gifts of Jeremy Bulloch.