Shakedown: Return of the Sontarans

Shakedown: Return Of The Sontarans

This is a fan-made production whose storyline may be invalidated by later official studio productions.

The solar racing yacht Tiger Moth, a sleek (but vulnerable) spacecraft, is readying for its berth in a solar sailing competition. But en route to the starting point, the Tiger Moth is attacked by a Sontaran War Wheel and forced to accept a boarding party. The Tiger Moth’s captain, Lisa Deranne, is already unhappy with the delay, but matters become worse when Sontaran shock troops storm her ship, taking her crew and herself prisoner (except for chief engineer Robar, who is working safely below decks during the attack). The Sontaran commander, Steg, is on a mission to find a Rutan spy who escaped from the Sontarans and stowed away aboard a ship from the space station which was also the Tiger Moth’s last port of call. Steg will stop at nothing to find and destroy the Rutan, whose intelligence could turn the tide in the age-old Rutan-Sontaran war. One by one, beginning with Robar, Lisa Deranne’s crew is killed off, and it becomes evident that the Rutan is indeed aboard the Tiger Moth. But which party would make a more deadly ally – the shapeshifting Rutan, or the merciless Sontarans?

written by Terrance Dicks
directed by Kevin Davies
music by Mark Ayres

Cast: Jan Chappell (Captain Lisa Deranne), Brian Croucher (Kurt), Michael Wisher (Robar), Carole Ann Ford (Zorelle), Sophie Aldred (Mari), Rory O’Donnell (Nikos), Toby Aspin (Commander Steg), Tom Finnis (Lieutenant Vorn), Jonathan Saville (First Sontaran Trooper), Keith Dunne (Sontaran Trooper), Derek Handley (Sontaran Trooper), Julian Jones (Sontaran Trooper), Stephen Mansfield (Sontaran Trooper)

Review: Easily my favorite Doctor Who fan video spinoff ever, Shakedown truly captures the elements that made its inspiration great: the budget doesn’t matter. The actors and the dialogue (from a suspenseful and, quite frankly, very funny Terrance Dicks script) will carry the show. Shakedown demonstrates that atmosphere is not a quantifiable commodity that can only be purchased with a seven-digit budget – atmosphere is instead generated by the story and the performances. That said, the production values aren’t too shabby. Some very nice, Red Dwarf-ish model work shows off the delicate, lovely Tiger Moth, and whoever did the lighting deserves a medal, as it often disguises the telltale modern-day signs of the location (the redressed bowels of an actual ocean-faring ship). And finally, Mark Ayres gives the whole show a tremendous boost with what may be his second-best score to date (next only to The Innocent Sleep).

Blake’s 7 veterans Jan “Cally” Chappell (starring as Lisa Deranne) and Brian “Travis II” Croucher (as rogue-ish crew member Kurt) are easily the two most appealing members of the cast. Carole Ann Ford, who sharp-eyed Doctor Who fans will remember as the Doctor’s first companion when the series launched in 1963, hams things up to an annoying degree – but her character is meant to be an irritating vamp, so it’s not a violation of anyone’s suspension of disbelief. Sohpie Aldred, the queen of Doctor Who fan videos, plays about as un-Ace-like a part as she could ask for.

Fortunately, there isn’t much guesswork involved for those who aren’t lifelong Doctor Who fans. Along with the late Robert Holmes, writer Terrance Dicks was one of the architects of the Sontaran/Rutan mythology in Doctor Who, and was able to insert several pieces of backstory for the uninitiated. A good test of this was whether or not my wife would be able to watch it without me pausing to fill in more details of Who mythology. I did have to explain a couple of things, but to my surprise, the script did most of that explaining for me.

What quality really stands out for me that makes Shakedown my favorite among the many fan-produced dramas? What puts Shakedown in the top bracket, above such decent productions like Downtime and big missteps like Mindgame? The humor. The script is laced with several moments of laugh-out-loud verbal comedy, and the cast frequently does us a great service by not playing it too tongue-in-cheek. The thought of Carole Ann Ford slapping a Sontaran’s head lightly and referring to him as a “potato head” is still amusing even after the tape has stopped, and other touches – namely Kurt mentioning that his knowledge of the Sontarans comes from some old fellow he met on Metebelis 3 named “the Dentist, or the Physician, or something” – are equally amusing. Shakedown has many moments of high drama, but doesn’t insult the audience by taking itself so dreadfully seriously. To give another example, Downtime was a decent story, told with a great cast and decent production values, but took itself so seriously and relied so heavily on past Who continuity as to be terribly dreary to watch.

I highly recommend Shakedown to any Doctor Who fans out there who are looking for the cream of the fan-produced-spinoff crop. The show’s ending has a distinctly series-pilot-ish feel to it, and it’s a shame that no one seemed to seriously consider extending Shakedown in such a manner.