Wednesday, 9 May 2012

55: Terror Of The Autons - Plastic Fantastic!

Written by: Robert Holmes.
Companions: The Doctor, Jo Grant, The Brigadier, Captain Mike Yates, Sergeant Benton.
Monsters/Villains: The Master, The Autons, The Nestene Consciousness.
Brief Synopsis: With new assistant Jo Grant, the Doctor must stop a second attempt invasion by the Nestene Consciousness and their plastic pals the Autons who are being aided by an old enemy, the Master.
Rating: 6/10.

As I write this I'm on a train on my way to Cardiff for a fun-filled Doctor Who day, culminating with a special screening of the recently rediscovered lost episodes Airlock from Galaxy 4 and episode 2 from The Underwater Menace with companions Steven Tyler (Peter Purves), Polly (Anneke Wills) and Jamie McCrimmon (Fraser Hines). I cannot sufficiently express my excitement. But back to Terror of the Autons.

The wonderful Richard Franklin as Captain Mike Yates.
Lots of big firsts are to be had in this one. The Doctor gets a new assistant in Jo Grant. UNIT gets a new resident Captain in Mike Yates. The Doctor also gets an arch-nemesis, in the Master, and he's got the plastic fantastic Autons of the Nestene Consciousness in tow. With so much going on you might think this story could become a little overburdened; especially with only four parts. These new characters however are cleverly underplayed and forced to put their back-stories and explanations on hold while everyone involved gets on with the Auton crisis.

The Autons get a redesign, but like Patrick Troughton says, "I don''t like it."
Terror of the Autons is another great example of Doctor Who doing what it does so well, in both being current (for it's time) and making the everyday terrifying. Plastic had been around for quite some time before this, but it was the sixties and early seventies when plastic seemed to be everywhere, almost invading the whole world, replacing other materials for production of numerous everyday items. For a people that had rather suddenly found themselves living in a plastic nation, what could be more scary than an invasion of beings that can possess anything made of the versatile substance?

My only real bugbear with Terror of the Autons is that it's all a bit too obvious. As an audience we know what's going on but have to stand idly by while the Doctor and UNIT puzzle it out. What this story really does achieve is an impressive parade of imaginative plastic-related deaths, including:

Death by plastic chair. 
Death by animated novelty troll doll. 
Attempted murder of the Doctor by exceedingly long telephone flex.
And of course death by a substance shot from a plastic daffodil.
Jo Grant is the Doctor's new assistant. As I said in my last post Inferno, Liz Shaw unfortunately never got a farewell story, the Brigadier just mentions that she has returned to Cambridge. We are introduced to Jo as she ruins the Doctor's steady-state-micro-welding work on the TARDIS dematerialisation circuit with a fire extinguisher prodding the Doctor to call her and I quote, a "ham-fisted bun-vendor." The Doctor initially refuses her saying he needs a scientist, to which the Brigadier replies, "All you really need is someone to pass you your test tubes and tell you how brilliant you are." A relatively  young agent of UNIT, with experience in cryptology, safe breaking, explosives, and an "a-level in general science," Jo only got the job because she has relatives in high places. The Doctor wants to get rid of her but she only stays because he doesn't have the heart to chuck her; sounds like a lot of relationships my friends have had. Well the Doctor and Jo didn't do too badly so maybe there's hope for those couples yet.

Katy Manning as Jo Grant.
And of course this is the Master's first appearance in Doctor Who. When he arrives in his horse-box disguised TARDIS (with a working chameleon circuit) at the Circus ground we learn that he somehow knows Rossini's real name, he's physically very strong, and can hypnotise people. He likes to kill people by shrinking them down to doll size.

The Master's incredibly cruel tissue-compressor.
He's a member of the Doctor's race, a time lord and a master of disguise with a penchant for anagrammatic pseudonyms. I found myself wondering why the Master asks the aid of the Circus owner Rossini in particular. Does he arrive there specifically because he wants a cool Evil-Circus-Gang or is Rossini just the first person he came across? Roger Delgado gives an excellent performance and from this point on becomes a popular if perhaps slightly over-used series regular.

Roger Delgado as The Master.
From even before their first on-screen meeting, we really get the feeling that even thought the Doctor and the Master are enemies, they have camaraderie. The Time Lord that arrives to warn the Doctor of the Master's arrival on earth we learn that they were at school together, with the Master's degree in cosmic science was of a higher class than the Doctor's. They know each other from their home and like the Doctor's previous meetings with his people, The Meddling Monk and The War Chief there is a oddly friendly relationship. I love how they are categorised by their weaknesses. The Master's is Vanity and the Doctor's is Curiosity.

This Time Lord has come 29 thousand light years to warn the Doctor.
There's a moment when Jo is hypnotised and tries to destroy UNIT with a bomb in a box, somehow the Doctor seems to sense that it's a bomb. I have no idea how. Also the substance that shoots from the plastic Daffodils is apparently dissolved by carbon dioxide. I might be wrong but surely if that was the case it would dissolve when one breathed out on it. Hmm?

The resolution of this one is a little weak too, as the Master realises that the Nestene's wouldn't work for him so he helps the Doctor avert their arrival. The Doctor removed the Master's dematerialisation circuit with hopes to use it for his TARDIS. It doesn't work but it means that like the Doctor, the Master is also now stranded on earth and I certainly must agree with the Doctor's sentiment, "I'm rather looking forward to it!"

Join me next time for The Mind of Evil.

1 comment:

Alan Stevens said...

“I found myself
wondering why the Master asks the aid of the Circus owner Rossini in

Because it fits
thematically. In this story the Master is playing the role of an evil
magician. He shrinks people, hypnotise them, bring inanimate objects
to life, and finally, does a disappearing act.