Author: Gary Merchant
Rating: All Ages
Word Count: 4,963
Author's Summary: A lone Sontaran Commander begins to question the meaning of the Empire
Characters/Pairings: The Sontarans
Recced because: It's the Sontarans, as you've never seen them before! Would be the tagline if this were a Hollywood movie as opposed to a Doctor Who fanfic. It would also be a particularly accurate tagline in this instance, where we are presented with tale of the Sontaran Commander Styne and his lonely quest to make sense of his own existence and that of his entire species.
It's one of the things about Doctor Who, something I've increasingly found myself thinking about as a fan. The programme' ideals and values as embodied in the Doctor are, broadly speaking, progressive and inclusive. And yet, you have at least a couple of alien species knocking around (Daleks and Cybermen, I'm looking at you) whose members are pretty much exclusively and irredeemably evil, and are viewed as such, by and large, by the Doctor. It's something the people making the original series were at least aware of and played with, most noticeably with the Ice Warriors in the first Peladon story (although they had reverted to type in the second one), and the likes of the Silurians had a degree of ambiguity. The Sontarans, though, occupied a unique position to my mind. They never did anything, really, that wasn't negative or, for lack of a better term, evil, but there was no indication they were inherently so inclined, the way the Daleks are. They're stone cold militarists with a callous disregard for collateral damage in the course of their operations, but on the whole it's a more down to earth sort of evil than that displayed by some of the threats the Doctor runs up against, more relatable.
And so we have the new series character Strax, who demonstrates that for all of being clones trained from birth as soldiers, individual Sontarans can and do break the mould and use their training for relative good. And this fic, written some seven years before Strax ever leapt from Steven Moffat's computer to the television screen, covers similar ground, but arguably in a more thoughtful and interesting way.
If the idea of a fic where all of the characters are Sontaran OCs doesn't appeal to you, I would urge you to give it a chance. It shows the potato-headed clone-soldiers in an interesting new light, and does so mostly through its portrayal of Commander Styne, who gradually comes to the realisation that something about his way of life and what he has been told by his superiors just doesn't make sense. That he does so in a halting and confused, convincingly Sontaran, way is a clever bit of characterisation by the author, as is the portrayal of the other Sontaran characters Styne encounters. Also noteworthy is the amount of interesting worldbuilding this fic manages to pack into relatively few words, casting unexpected sidelights upon the Sontarans, their way of life and their culture, and also suggesting the inequalities and corruption creeping into their supposedly implacable military structure.
And if you want to win those super-fan bonus points, look out for the references to the Sontaran appearances in the 1990s video spinoffs Shakedown and Mindgame (with something of a downer sequel to the latter story also provided in passing).
All in all, a strikingly different and original piece of writing that I hope you will take the time to read as well as offering words of encouragement to the author.
He turned to face his Lieutenant. “Tell me, Varg. Why do we fight?”
It was a standard question with a standard answer. “For the might of the Sontaran Empire.”
“Yes,” Styne continued, “but apart from that, why do we fight?”
Varg remained silent, staring at his superior officer. “I do not understand,” he finally replied.