Best known as the mortal enemies of the Sontaran Empire (you’d be disappointed if you’d been battling someone for more than 50,000 years to only be considered a minor irritation), Rutans – or Rutan Hosts – are famous in the Doctor Who universe for having the highest mention-to-appearance ratio*, only appearing once in the long history of televisually documented encounters but being mentioned on numerous occasions. Mostly by Sontarans.
The only recorded encounter the Doctor had with a Rutan took place when his Fourth incarnation visited a delightful holiday spot called Fang Rock, and it was his investigation into the deaths of the lighthouse keeping team there which uncovered the ability and methods of the Rutans. It also uncovered their true appearance – that of a mis-shapen cloudy green jellyfish with a lightbulb underneath. In fact, I could swear I won a marble that looked exactly like that Rutan in a playground game when I was 7…
As their appearance suggests, they are essentially amphibious but can happily function on dry land – and are even able to cling to sheer surfaces – like the side of the Fang Rock lighthouse. Their voice doesn’t quite go with the appearance, sounding a little like small man trapped in a tin box.
Tactically, they are similar to Sontarans in that they have a habit of sending down single scouts ahead of a larger number of soldiers. But these scouts were just as dangerous and more cunning than a Sontaran would be. The Rutan scout discovered in the lighthouse, for example, targeted specific humans, killed them and then impersonated them in an effort to disguise its presence.
Knowing that the Rutans’ home planet, Ruta 3, was an icy world, the Doctor killed the scout by rigging a weapon to overheat him before he could be rescued, and dealt with the mothership by reflecting the light from the top of the lighthouse at it using a diamond. A pretty blingin’ end.
What do we learn after all of this? That jellyfish and potatoes do not play well together. Also, as a species, they may get less love than Sontarans, but they’re much more interesting…
First (and only – and therefore best and worst) appearance: The Horror of Fang Rock (1977)
Sworn Enemy: Sontarans.
Strenths: Victim impersonation, electric tentacles. Great sense of humour.
Weaknesses: Extreme heat, sea shanties, the plays of Bertholt Brecht **
*This statement is based purely on speculation to make a point. Please don’t be mean and picky about it if it’s not quite true.
**Well, if you swallowed the first unsubstantiated bit…
Leather jacketed baked potatoes with a general disposition to violence and long-lasting warfare, often quoted as being short, stocky and unbelievably powerful due to the extreme gravitational pressure on their home world: Sontar. Their chief impulse is to die with honour in battle, and therefore frequently try to construct reasons to fight anything that steps in their way.
These warriors are a neat little combination of the genetic integrity of a GM tomato and the tactical awareness of a lemming, and their frequent wars often resulted in huge losses to their number. Their solution was simply to clone waves upon waves of warriors to battle their perpetual enemies, the Rutans (incidentally, large green light-up jellyfish).
Over the course of the Doctor’s many travels, the Sontarans have cropped up a number of times – usually on earth, which they seem to view as a marvellous little maternity ward for their baby Maris Pipers.
Their first appearance being memorable because the Sontaran causing havoc in late-medieval England wasn’t beaten by the Doctor at all, but by a quick-witted archer who managed to hit the one point of weakness on the Sontaran body: the probic vent (a small aperture at the back of the “neck”).
Since then, they have been discovered performing nasty experiments on humans (imagine Mr Potato Head swapping your limbs around), using a group of Vardans as a smokescreen for their attempted invasion of Gallifrey, a brief but baffling visit to a Spanish villa (with a captive Second Doctor and a small troupe of savage Androgums) and most recently when Mike from the Young Ones improbably joined forces with an obnoxious teenage genius to gas the world using sat-navs.
One lone Sontaran was discovered trying to destroy some nuclear power stations and was sent packing by Sarah Jane Smith and her school-age friends using some high heels and a little persuasion. She probably used her lipstick. I mean, why not?
First appearance: The Time Warrior (1973/4)
Most baffling appearance: The Two Doctors (1985)
Known weaknesses: Probic Vent in the back of their “neck”. Also known to get nervous at the sight of coleslaw or butter. In fact, any popular jacket potato dressing.