Doctor Who: Terror of the Autons Review
Back when he was the undisputed overlord of the entire Doctor Who universe, Russell T. Davies was often heard to say that he liked to reboot the series at the start of every season, treating each season opener like it was ‘Rose’ all over again (which explains the high turnover of companions). Barry Letts did a similar thing with ‘Terror of the Autons’, effectively rebooting the entire series to better suit his idea of how it should be.
When he took over as producer from Derrick Sherwin, Barry Letts didn’t really have much to do. By the time he came on board during season 7 all the work had been done and the season was already well into production. But with season 8 Letts was finally able to make Doctor Who exactly the way he wanted to do it. He was quick to abandon Sherwin’s gritty and down to earth approach to the series as well as ditching everything else he didn’t realty like such as the Unit uniforms and the Doctor’s companion, Liz Shaw. She’s been seen scurrying back to Cambridge without so much as a “ta ta, luv”. As undignified companion exits go this one has to rank somewhere along with Dodo’s trip to the country in ‘The War Machines’. So, with Liz gone the Doctor’s needs someone else to pass him his test tubes and tell him how brilliant he is.
Enter Miss Josephine Grant.
I’ve always liked Jo. Yeah, she’s a step back into the girlie teenage companions of old (basically Zoe without the massive brain). She’s sweet and innocent, a tad clumsy most of the time but never lacking in helpful enthusiasm. At this stage there isn’t really much of a character behind all that cuteness but it’s hard not to like Jo because of how loveable Katy Manning is. And despite The Doctor’s claims that he needs a scientist to help him, you can tell he loves playing the mentor role with Jo. After all, he loves showing off how unbelievably brilliant he is. One of the essential requirements of a good companion is to look suitably impressed whenever the Doctor does something amazingly clever.
‘Terror of the Autons’ feels less a sequel to ‘Spearheads from Space’ and more like a fun little remake. Robert Holmes takes his previous tale of invasion by plastic aliens and reworks it into a showcase for the Doctor’s favourite enemy, the Master, essentially reducing the Autons to little more than glorified heavies. The Master is undoubtedly Letts’ greatest contribution to the series and my favourite Doctor Who villain. It was a masterstroke (forgive the irresistible pun) to give the Doctor a new regular adversary, a foe who would be, to use a worn out cliché, the Moriarty to his Sherlock Holmes.
From the very start Rodger Delgado was Letts’ only choice for the role and it is not hard to see why. Unlike those that came after him, who tended to go as far over the top as was humanly possible (sometimes even beyond), Delgado’s Master is charismatic and sophisticated, a shameless charmer with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. And yet he is pure evil, utterly ruthless and more than happy to use adorable blonde companions as suicide bombers. It’s a shame Holmes’ script doesn’t give him and the Doctor much screen time together. Being best mates in real life it’s no surprised that Delgado and Pertwee play brilliantly off each other.
Oh, and there’s absolutely nothing rubbish about his beard. I’d mud wrestle a naked Maggie Thatcher to be able to grow one like that.
Along with the Master and Jo, there’s another new addition to the cast, Captain Mike Yates.
Right, moving on...
More than any of his previous contributions ‘Terror of the Autons’ feels more like a Robert Holmes story. All the classic Holmes trademarks are present and correct; endlessly quotable dialogue, fully realized characters, clever ideas and the type of behind the sofa scares that are guaranteed to get the likes of Mary Whitehouse drooling with middle-class disgust. So what if the plot is recycled. At least he was being environmentally friendly. That subversive sense of humour of his is clearly more evident here than it ever was in ‘The Krotons’ or ‘Spearheads from Space’. Just look at how he envisions the Time Lords. Previously, they seemed almost God-like in their power and attitude. Here they can’t get their co-ordinates right and dress like all their knowledge of humanity comes from watching The Avengers.
Notes and Quotes (and there’s a lot of them)
--This the first story in the show’s history to feature a quarry being used to double as an actually quarry and not an alien planet.
--More championship gurning from Jon Pertwee as he wrestles with that phone cord.
--Britain has a National Space Museum? No doubt to show off all the achievements of our space program.
--There’s a great big open window and yet still the Doctor leaps through the door to catch the volatizer. He’s just showing off, isn’t he?
--Jo claims to be trained in cryptology, safe-breaking and explosives. Call me cynical but I think she might be exaggerating slightly on that last one.
--I love the little musical cue that plays whenever the Master appears or does something very Master-ish.
--Unit HQ seems to have a moat. Have they moved to a castle since ‘Spearheads from Space’?
--Just how does the Doctor know that the box Jo is opening contains a bomb? “She did” is not an acceptable answer.
-- Death by inflatable chair. That’s a new one.
The Doctor: "You ham-fisted bun vendor!"
The Master: “I am usually referred to as the Master.”
Hugh Russell: “Oh, is that so.”
The Master: “Universally.”
--Think I’ve just spotted a major flaw in Unit security.
The Doctor: “May I say I think you look quite ridiculous in those clothes.”
--Ha, he’s one to talk.
Time Lord: “An old acquaintance has landed here on Earth.”
The Doctor: “Huh, one of our people?”
Time Lord: “The Master.”
The Doctor: “That jackanapes! All he does is cause trouble.”
The Doctor: “I refuse to be worried by a renegade like The Master. He’s an unimaginative plodder.”
Time Lord: “His degree in Cosmic Science being of a higher class than yours.”
The Doctor: “Yes, well, I was something of a late developer.”
The Doctor: “Liz was a highly qualified scientist. I want someone with the same qualifications.”
The Brigadier: “Nonsense, what you need, Doctor, as Miss Shaw herself so often remarked, is someone to pass you your test tubes, and to tell you how brilliant you are.”
Mike Yates: “She’s hypnotised?”
The Doctor: “Of course, why else do you think she’d try to blow us all to pieces.”
--Yeah, try to keep up, Mike.
Rex Farrel: “My father would never dream of it.”
The Master: “My dear Mr Farrel, don’t worry about him. You’re under a new thumb now.”
The Doctor: “Brigadier, your methods have all the refined subtly of a bull in a china shop.”
The Doctor: “You’re an insulting ruffian, aren’t you?”
The Doctor: “What’s your friend’s name?”
Hugh Russell: “His name’s none of your business.”
The Doctor: “Hmm, strange name.”
Hugh Russell: “Come, come, Doctor, gentlemen don't discuss money.”
The Doctor: “Nonsense, gentlemen never talk about anything else.”
Rex Farrell: “And you're not angry?”
The Master: “Because the Doctor's escaped again? No. He's an interesting adversary. I admire him in many ways.”
Rex Farrell: “But you still intend to destroy him?”
The Master: “Of course. The more he struggles to postpone the moment, the greater the ultimate satisfaction.”
“The Doctor: What's wrong with being childish? I like being childish!”
The Master: “Good afternoon, Doctor. I hope I'm not interrupting anything important.”
The Doctor: “No, no, indeed not. You've come here to kill me, of course?”
The Master: “But not without considerable regret.”
The Doctor: “How very comforting.”
The Master: “You see, Doctor, you're my intellectual equal… almost. I have so few worthy opponents. When they're gone, I always miss them.”
Four out of four degrees in Cosmic Science.