Doctor Who #283: Terror of the Autons Part 3

"What's wrong with being childish? I like being childish!"TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.16 1971.

IN THIS ONE... Mrs. Farrel leads the Doctor to the right plastics factory, but the Master's out giving away plastic flowers. The evil doll attacks Jo, and the phone attacks the Doctor.

REVIEW: This serial continues to throw everything it thinks of at the screen, and possibly more, to the point where yes, I understand the folks who dislike its excesses. We've already got the evil doll and the Auton policemen (both of which are involved in effective action scenes), but Part 3 adds carnivalesque Auton mascots handing out plastic flowers (of death!), an animated telephone cord, and probably most what-the-heck of all, an Auton hiding in a safe just so it can lunge at the Doctor when he opens it. Not all Auton jobs were created equal. The Master stays one step ahead of everyone, of course, and you might like to compare his phone call to the Doctor (the first time they actually speak) and a similar moment in The Sound of Drums. Makes a good argument for converting to mobiles.

It doesn't look like the Master knows it yet, but the Doctor sabotaged his TARDIS in Part 2 and now muses about the exile he's forced on his nemesis. Not that the spare part he stole help the Doctor leave Earth, though again he tries to. So maybe the Master isn't quite a step ahead in every way. In fact, though it seems like the flowers are causing a deadly epidemic, the two related deaths that lead the Doctor to the right plastics factory are the two murders sadistically engineered by the Master. Had he been able to restrain himself, UNIT might still be clueless about the impending invasion.

But that's all plot stuff. What's more interesting about this episode is the development of the UNIT family. We have the Brig pulling rank and assigning himself to go with the Doctor in lieu of Yates, eager to show he isn't deskbound. We have Yates and Jo sharing private smiles, and the Captain offering to make hot cocoa with the Doctor's Bunsen burner. We have the Doctor's impetuousness and childishness, and Jo forcing him to be a little more adult, even if his pride gets in the way. We also have the Doctor terrorizing a low-level bureaucrat with apparent connections to higher-ups, but whether or not the Doctor is a member of a gentleman's club is a matter for conjecture at this point. He's the kind of man who would be, but I doubt he'd enjoy the company of stuffy old politicians, so he might be lying. Each member of the cast gets at least one nice character moment (and some action too, Yates is particularly useful, running over or shooting up Autons), which tells me this really is about this family of characters, not just about the Doctor and his assistant. It's not the kind of up-front soap opera subplots we can see in today's Who, but it's there and it's pleasant enough.

- Though it goes a little too far at times, Part 3 continues to use iconic imagery and character development to good effect.


Anonymous said...

The Doctor's bullying of Brownrose in this episode really strikes a bad note - although the latter may be a litle pompous and could stand to be taken down a peg, he has just brought them crucial information and you'd rather see the Doctor pick on someone his own "size".

We'll also see in later episodes that he suffers fools more gladly when he doesn't have UNIT there to back him up.

I watched a lot of these stories recently myself - some for the first time in over ten years - and was struck by how much of Doc3's stick-it-to-the-man behavior seemed cool when I was younger but embarrasses me on his behalf now.


Siskoid said...

Most definitely! I think it stems from the third Doctor's exile. He doesn't want to be there and it makes him uncooperative to a fault.


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