Doctor Who #284: Terror of the Autons Part 4

"The military mind at its most scintillating! Faced with a problem they blast it off the face of the earth."TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.23 1971.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor defeats the Master's plan to initiate an Auton invasion on Earth.

REVIEW: Non-fan parents might well object to some of the material in this episode, namely the plastic daffodils that shoot Saran Wrap at your face. That's a pretty dangerous and easy to replicate scene for kids. Choking hazard aside, it's interesting that the Nestene programming is presented as a puzzle the viewers can figure out, the Doctor Who equivalent of a Punch and Judy show (look out, Jo!). The final confrontation with them is an explosive bit of action with mascots going flying and UNIT soldiers getting smoked. The HAVOC stunt team also throws in high fall and the Doctor and Jo jumping from a moving van for good measure. A properly exciting climax, the weakest element being the materialization of a giant Nestene octopus between two radio telescopes, an effect that never really achieves anything.

It's also the Doctor's first onscreen meeting with the Master, face to face, and it's a great Sherlock/Moriarty relationship. It's not just about resolving the plot for them, it's about enjoying the challenge of fighting someone on one's own level. Or to be nearer the truth, about BEATING someone on one's own level. Both men are arrogant enough to think they can outsmart the other, and become quite contrary when the other gets the upper hand. The Master gets particularly flustered when his plans start to fall apart. At his best, though, he's suave and stylish, and where his tissue compressor will later look unfortunately phallic, here it is really a cigar that fits his elegance quite well. The Master is "turned" rather too easily for my tastes, as if he'd never thought of the consequences of the Autons invading Earth or of a post-invasion exit strategy. It may speak to his wanting to pit his wits against the Doctor's more than actually seeing the planet laid waste. This pattern will be repeated, in fact. The Master brings aliens to Earth only to join forces with the Doctor to stop them in the end, before making his escape, of course. In this case, he puts a mask on poor Rex Farrel and sends him out, hypnotized, to be shot. The coda reveals that the Doctor is looking forward to facing the Master again, and that's the kind of relationship they have. After being bored and impatient with UNIT, humanity and on some level, the threats they've faced, he now has a more personal stake in the next series of adventures. Maybe there's a perverse attraction to interacting with a member of his own race, brought on by his (now shared) exile. And of course, it's a fourth-wall-breaking announcement that the Master will be back and we're in for a fun ride.

And let's not forget Jo Grant, the other new addition to the cast. There's a fun bit where the Doctor laments that escapology wasn't part of her training, just before she shows him that she's freed herself. And in general, she's quick and smart, while retaining the capacity for getting into trouble. Don't put your nose in that daffodil, Jo! Don't blurt out UNIT's plan, Jo! Don't sprain your ankle, Jo! (A classic, that one. It's practically an homage to previous companions.) She's no Liz Shaw, but despite the weak gams, she's no Susan either.

VERSIONS: The Target novelization has a few small differences. For example, the Master has some help deciding to help the Master from the Brigadier's gun. The Autons are run by a council, and in the illustrations, a giant Nestene cephalopod actually appears. The book also names the Nestene planet Polymos.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The Master lacks motivation to slingshot the Nestenes back to, uhm, Polymos, but this is an otherwise fun episode, with lots of action an two Time Lords satisfyingly facing off.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: High - The introduction of several important characters and the imaginative return of old monsters makes this a must-see piece of the Doctor Who tapestry.

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