Aw, come on! I just wanna stroke your hair!
"It's absolutely typical of Harry. How anyone in his right mind can fall down a whacking great subsidence like that...
— The Doctor begins to despair of his new companion already.
The Doctor decides to do a favor for the people of the Nerva Space Station
, and beams down to Earth to check out if it's safe to re-colonize. Landing on an old teleport pad, the Doctor, Sarah and Harry find a rather... smooth and barren Earth. Nevertheless, the Doctor claims they're actually in the centre of what used to be London, and encourages Harry and Sarah to go sightseeing while he does some work on bringing the teleporter back up to spec.
Harry promptly falls down a crevasse — which, in his defense, had been deliberately concealed with branches. Faced with this worrying evidence that the planet isn't as deserted as it's supposed to be, Sarah hurries back to the Doctor, only to find that he's disappeared. While she's away, Harry finds and begins following a passage that seems to lead out of the crevasse, so when Sarah returns, he's disappeared too.
The Doctor has been captured by a group of astronauts from one of Earth's interstellar colonies, which are apparently still going strong. They're in an unfriendly frame of mind: they landed in response to a distress call, only for their ship to be destroyed and several of their crewmates to mysteriously disappear. As a stranger wandering about without a plausible explanation for his presence, the Doctor immediately becomes the focus of their suspicions.
Meanwhile, Sarah meets the setter of the pit-trap, who saves her from being captured by a robot that's roaming the area (which is what he set the trap for). His name is Roth, and he's one of the missing astronauts. He's also clearly deranged, and Sarah is not sure how much to believe of his story, which involves being captured by the robot, tortured by its alien master, escaping, and being afraid to return to his crewmates because one of them, Vural, was also captured and is now serving the alien.
Though he won't go near his crewmates, he shows Sarah where to find them, and creates a distraction while she rescues the Doctor. The Doctor, Sarah, and Roth go back to the crevasse to look for Harry, where the Doctor goes down into the crevasse. While he's down there, Sarah and Roth are captured by the robot and taken to the alien.
The alien is, in fact, Field Major Styre of the Sontaran Military. Sarah is terrified, recognising him as a Sontaran like Linx from her first story
(and briefly thinks that he is
Linx, because of Sontarans being a clone species who all look alike). Linx shoots Roth, and takes Sarah off to be tortured.
Harry has been watching this, and tries to rescue Sarah, only to find she's imprisoned behind some kind of forcefield. He heads off to find the Doctor, and along the way finds another of the missing astronauts, who has been chained up and deprived of water for days. Harry tries to help him, but he dies rather gruesomely of thirst
The Doctor finds the same passage out of the crevasse Harry used and, retracing Harry's path, finds Sarah being exposed to a device that forces her to hallucinate her fears. He's able to disable the force field and free Sarah from the device, but is shot and left for dead by Styre.
When the Doctor recovers, he collects Harry and Sarah and they head off to see what Styre is up to now.
The remaining three astronauts are captured by Styre's robot, and it's revealed that astronaut Vural really is
working with Styre in hopes of sparing his own life. Which doesn't work, as Styre now tortures all three astronauts. Because he needs to figure out the various resistances of humankind in order to report back to Sontaran Command on if Earth can be taken over easily. You know, despite it being abandoned. The Doctor shows up and challenges Styre to mortal combat, and the pair begin to fight. Vural dies trying to help the Doctor.
Sadly, the Doctor doesn't beat Styre in combat, but he buys enough time for Harry to mess around with Styre's space ship. Battered but not defeated, Styre flees back to his ship to feed on energy ... only to melt and explode from whatever Harry messed with. The Doctor then speaks directly to Sontaran Command and plays a few mindgames with them — convincing the Sontarans that the Earth isn't something to mess with right now. The day saved, despite only two of the original nine astronauts remaining alive, the Doctor and companions hop back in the teleportation pad to go back to Nerva Station and let them all know that the Earth is just fine and dandy now.
This is only two-part adventure in the 1970s, which wouldn't happen again until "Black Orchid
" in 1982. It's also one of very few not to involve the TARDIS even by implication: the Doctor and companions arrive and leave by transmat beam.
- Appeal To Audacity: The first astronaut to start considering that the Doctor might be telling the truth does so on the basis that his story is too ridiculous to be a plausible lie.
- Art Shift: Second Doctor Who episode shot entirely on video.
- Berserk Button: The first time in the Fourth Doctor's tenure that he actually seems genuinely furious. The Doctor has been stable with everything else that had happened in the episode so far. But what sets him off? Discovering Styre has been mentally torturing Sarah Jane.
Styre: Very touching...
Doctor: (bares his teeth and rounds on Styre) You unspeakable abomination!!
- Bluffing the Advance Scout: The basis of the plot. The Doctor and his friends have to defeat advance scout Styre and persuade the Sontaran invasion fleet that the humans are too much trouble to bother with.
- But What About the Astronauts?: They're visiting the now (mostly?) empty Earth.
- Characterization Marches On: Sarah Jane is rescued from the fear experiment before hallucinating the clown.
- The Corpse Stops Here: The Doctor investigates a noise and finds the body of one of the astronauts who has been killed by Styre's robot. Being found by the still-warm body of their colleague makes a bad beginning to his attempt to persuade the surviving astronauts he's a friend.
- Coldblooded Torture For Science!: Styre's experiments.
- Denied Food as Punishment: The victim that Harry finds tied in shackles onto a rock. Being denied water, he lasts nine days and seven hours before dying of thirst.
- Drowning Pit: One unseen victim lasts less than 3 minutes in submersion before asphyxiation.
- Mind Probe: A device attached to Sarah's head makes tests her resistance to fear. She sees three hallucinations: a snake, a falling rock, and porridge devouring her leg.
- Squashed Flat: The gravity bar Erak and Krans hold above Vural is used to test the human body's resistance to compressibility.
- Creator Provincialism: Despite being so far in the future that they could have claimed to be anywhere and got away with it, the story is set in London yet again.
- Deadpan Snarker: After Styre casually kills Roth.
"Why did you make that disagreeable noise?"
- Deflector Shields: Styre sets one up to prevent anyone from releasing Sarah Jane.
- Gravity Is a Harsh Mistress: The gravity bar runs either on variable gravity, or complete disregard for the conservation of mass.
- Given the widespread use of Artificial Gravity on the series, it's likely the same technology was involved.
- Honor Before Reason: Styre can't refuse a duel with the Doctor, even though it allows Harry and Sarah Jane to release his prisoners.
- Hypocritical Humor: The Doctor is showing Harry the piece of metal that saved him when he was shot by Styre:
Doctor: Piece of the locking system on Nerva. Popped it into my pocket.
Doctor: Foresight. You never know when these bit and pieces will come in handy. Never throw anything away, Harry. (Throws it away) Now, I remember jotting some notes about Sontarans in my diary... (Searches himself)... It's a mistake to clutter your pockets, Harry.
- I'm Melting: Styre's head deflates like a kickball when he dies.
- Let's Split Up, Gang: The Doctor encourages Harry and Sarah to wander around and look at future Earth while he's repairing the transmat station. Then Harry falls down a large hole, and when Sarah goes back to get the Doctor he's disappeared...
- Look Behind You:
- Some of the astronauts get caught by the robot because when the Doctor tries to warn them it's approaching they think it's a trick to let him get away.
- Later, the Doctor does get away from Styre after tricking him into turning around by acting as if Harry is sneaking up behind him.
- Lost Colony: What the astronauts think Nerva is.
- Nobody Calls Me Chicken: How the Doctor tricks Styre into fighting him while Harry screws around with his golf ball spaceship. Being a Sontaran, Styre accepts without thinking of the possibility of him being distracted.
- People in Rubber Suits: The Sontarans, redesigned from their first appearance now mostly look like... happy smiling teddy bears? It is a bit weird when Sarah claims Styre and Linx are identical when the two costumes used in the different stories look so very different.
- Pocket Protector: When Styre shoots the Doctor, he is saved by a lump of metal in his pocket.
- Ragnarok-Proofing: After thousands of years, during which (if the Doctor's correct about their location) every visible sign of the great city of London has gone to dust, the transmat platform is still intact and operational apart from a few humorous glitches.
- Redemption Equals Death: Vural is killed while helping the Doctor distract Styre.
- Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Styre wants to kill Vural as a punishment for betraying his friends, but they try to save him. Somewhat later, he dies anyway.
- Robot Antennae: Styre's robot has two pairs, on either side of its face, in an arrangement vaguely suggestive of an animal's whiskers.
- Sequel Serial: This serial happens immediately where the last one left off, and contains a lot of references to it, but no characters appear in both (except Doctor and companions, of course).
- Spoiler Title: Completely ruins the story's sole cliffhanger. The writers were not happy.
- Stunt Double: Baker shattered his collarbone during filming, requiring all the action stuff afterwards to be filled in by a double in a wig.
- Torture Technician: Styre is a more resilient example.
- Weaksauce Weakness: Styre lists some of the human race's weaknesses and considers them Weaksauce Weaknesses compared to a Sontaran's strength.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Styre casually shoots Roth dead after deciding he's not necessary for the remaining experiments.