Doctor Who #281: Terror of the Autons Part 1

"What you need, Doctor, as Miss Shaw so often remarked is someone to pass you your test tubes and to tell you how brilliant you are! Miss Grant will fulfill that function admirably."TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Jan.2 1971.

IN THIS ONE... The Autons return to usher in a new era as Jo Grant, Captain Yates and the Master are introduced.

REVIEW: Sure, I'll grieve for Liz Shaw and her return to Cambridge in between seasons, but the new assistant isn't half-cute with her wide smile, wider eyes and artsy fashion sense. This is Jo Grant (Katy Manning), who will become one of the most important companions yet. She's green and makes her first mistake seconds into meeting the Doctor, but bless, he can't seem to be able to fire her when given the chance. Immediately endearing to him as she hopefully is to the audience. One shouldn't expect great things from Jo, as it seems she's the beneficiary of nepotism, but her skill set is unusual enough - cryptography, lockpicking (though it doesn't seem much of an achievement when you see the skeleton keys), and explosives. And she seems quite professional and dedicated as well. She's not alone in joining the UNIT gang though. There's also Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) who was apparently involved behind the scenes of Spearhead in Space, though his part here is minimal. And UNIT gets new uniforms, closer to those of the British army, and less like gray unitards.

There's another new member of the regular cast though - one that will prove much more important to the program in the long run - and that's the Master (Roger Delgado), an evil Time Lord who materializes early in the episode and starts hypnotizing everyone (an ability we've seen in the Doctor, though not on this level). This Master is a mirror of the Doctor, the perfect nemesis. He's also a renegade Time Lord with a titular "name". And he works WITH alien threats instead of against them. If the third Doctor is an older James Bond, the Master is very much a Fleming Cold War villain, using mind control and making alliances with other hostile powers, letting them take to fight to UNIT. The mirror even goes to the two men's way of speaking about one another. The Doctor says the Master's weakness is his vanity (he will want to make himself the master of the Nestenes), and a few minutes later, the Master says the Doctor's weakness is his curiosity (Jo is sent to snoop on him, though technically not by the Doctor). Both men are also stylish. The Doctor, a dandy (with a new velvet jacket to start off the season), and the Master getting himself a tailored suit after ditching his high fascist collar. They know each other, but we don't know any of the details, and the Master is dangerous enough that a Time Lord materializes sans TARDIS (see Theories) to warn the exile about it. Or is the Master's presence the reason the Time Lords sent the Doctor to Earth in the first place? Hm.

The Autons are in it too, of course, all thanks to the Nestene control unit from Spearhead, and because the Brigadier (stupidly) allowed it to be shown in an exhibit. An odd thing to have happened. You'd expect the damn thing to be under a microscope somewhere, in the same way the Brig was hungry to have his R&D boys check out the Master's "vaporiser" bomb. (The Doctor expects UNIT to do this kind of proto-Torchwood stuff to advance humanity's weapons capability, so he destroys it.) Maybe UNIT can get its hands on the Master's tissue compressor, which makes its first victim and leaves him in his lunch box. Freaky! Some pretty good CSO (compared to some of the "virtual sets" used at the plastics factory), but it feels a little like over-egging the pudding to me. Not only does the Master have enough tricks up his sleeve already, but turning people into dolls in a story that will also feature evil plastic dolls is too much of the same, yet confusingly different. And in barely related matters, this season's pinker opening credits? I preferred the red.

THEORIES: In Genesis of the Daleks, some years hence, the Time Lords will give the Doctor a Time Ring, a means of space-time travel than doesn't involve a TARDIS. Could this be what the unnamed Time Lord is to pop (and unpop) into existence? The materialization sound makes me think it isn't. Rather, I'd surmise that he is indeed using a TARDIS, but that it's chameleon circuit renders it invisible because that's what a flying TARDIS should do (it's that or a cloud). That would explain why the Time Lord appears to be floating in mid-air. He's just standing in the doorway.

- Lots of introductions and all of them important to one degree or another, so it's a good thing we already know the monsters. (Have you noticed? Every time the Autons appear, a new Time Lord - or incarnation - is introduced.)


Anonymous said...

Another small first (I think it's a first): the Doctor foils one of the Master's booby traps not by outthinking the Master or outsciencing the gizmo, but by jumping quickly enough to catch it. Just a little bit action-y in ways that neither Hartnell nor Troughton was, and I don't think Pertwee has been up to this point either.

Jo Grant will come to hold her own soon enough, I'm pleased to say. She'll be the first person to frustrate the piss out of the Master, by doing something that Liz probably would not have been able to.


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