Friday, February 4, 2011

Terror of the Autons

Terror of the Autons is the first story of Pertwee's second season. Notable for the first appearances of Jo Grant and The Master as well as being the second outing for the plastic fantastic Autons or should we call them Nestenes?

It does recycle some ideas from Spearhead from Space, for example instead of weak-willed plastics factory owner Hibbert being under the mental dominance of the Auton Channing, we've got weak-willed Rex Farrel (Michael Wisher) under the mental dominance of the Master. Both men are confronted by colleagues wondering what the hell is going on and both these colleagues are killed as a result. But Spearhead from Space works so well as an introductory story that it is worth borrowing. After all, RTD was to do it again in Rose just sans UNIT.

In fact you might argue that both stories main role is to introduce us to a new Time Lord. In the case of Spearhead from Space it's the Doctor and in Terror of the Autons, it is The Master.

Roger Delgado is my favourite incarnation of The Master.**

He's charming, dangerous and intelligent without ever going too OTT. He underplays what could have been quite a hammy role deliciously. Other actors who have played the part often over-egg the pudding and forget that it makes The Master less of a threat.

Delgado's Master is definitely most terrifying because he is so cold, calm and on the surface civilised, but he's a ruthless murderer. One scene that particularly stood out for me on this watch was where he tries to style out his failure to kill the Doctor when talking to Rex Farrel (Michael Wisher). The surface is all calm but underneath he's clearly furious.

The confrontation between The Doctor and The Master in the UNIT Laboratory is excellent. There's a real sense of two old adversaries meeting up again for the first time in some time. There's an edge despite the politeness.

[Digression Alert: Can I just say that the Brigadier should sack whoever it is that makes UNIT's passes because the bad guys seem to find it shockingly easy to knock up believable copies so they can swan about in the HQ to their heart's content]

As for the other new character Jo Grant (Katy Manning), I think we'll need to see how she beds in over time. Jo Grant is very...enthusiastic. If anything reminds me of how Bonnie Langford will later play Mel Bush: all blundering high-spirits and a little too much 'oomph', but there's also a charm to Jo Grant that balances that oomph a little and having heard Katy Manning talking about her choices when playing Jo, such as pitching her voice higher, you appreciate the skill in the performance more. It'll be interesting to see how Jo works out.

But Jo's likeable enough and certainly makes a more sensible partner for the Third Doctor than poor over-qualified Liz Shaw. A point the script itself makes when the Brigadier dismisses the Doctor's demands for a properly qualified assistant by saying: "Nonsense; what you need, as Ms Shaw herself so often remarked, is someone to pass you your test tubes and tell you how brilliant you are. Miss Grant will fulfil that function admirably."

The usual UNIT weirdness is going on. Sometimes UNIT looks like a huge multinational military organisation and sometimes it doesn't. This difference is sometimes noticeable in the same story. So whilst the fire-fight between UNIT and the Autons at the end looks quite impressive the fact is that the Brigadier's choice of official vehicle - a small blue Austen - is remarkably cheap and nonmilitary.

I'm going to write a separate blog on UNIT at some point* but poor old UNIT privates seem to die in quite large numbers in this episode and it does make you wonder how they explained the casualty rate to both their superiors and to their soldier's families.

I've probably re-watched Terror of the Autons more than any other Doctor Who story recently and each time I enjoy it a little more. The odd thing I've missed mentioning up until now is how much of a dick the Doctor is to the Brigadier at points in this story. So much so that Jo even brings it up. The Third Doctor can be an ungrateful bugger sometimes.

Also, the 'Tubby Rowlands' story is clearly the Doctor winding up civil servant arse of the week Brownrose (Dermot Tuohy) more than it is an indication that the Doctor's gone all establishment. It's an attack on behalf of the Brigadier really.

I really enjoyed watching it this time around. Pertwee's performance is fun. He definitely pings off of Jo Grant better than he did Liz Shaw, which helps I think.

I should also flag up my theory that The Master is here to prevent the Doctor from being too bored during his exile. The way The Master flips so quickly at the end and the Doctor's final reaction to The Master being trapped on Earth seems to be a hint in that direction to me even if unneccessary deaths in the course of a game seems very un-Doctorish. Anyway I throw it out there as a theory. I will come back to it later.

*10/07/2014 Update: I still haven't done this. Perhaps I should?

*21/07/2017 Update: Still haven't done this. Quelle Surprise.

 *28/01/2018 Update: Still haven't done this. Hey ho.

**21/07/2017 Update: Missy runs him damn close now btw. Michelle Gomez was tip-top.

**28/01/2018 Update: Michelle Gomez is pretty much equally enjoyable. A little more batty, but equally well acted, although kudos to John Simms calmer, older Master in the final Capaldi season. That review to come later.

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