Terror of the Autons

The Master

I am usually referred to as the Master.

Oh? Is that so?

Universally.

The Master and Rossini

Synopsis

A renegade Time Lord, the Master, plans to destroy the Earth and silence the Doctor forever using the Nestene Consciousness and the Autons.  Aided by the Brigadier and his new companion, Jo Grant, the Doctor is the only one who can stop them.

Review

Terror of the Autons almost acts as a soft reboot for the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who.  It serves as an introduction for such key characters as the Master and Jo Grant, as well as firmly establishing the “UNIT family” to provide the Doctor’s support.  It is a good story, if not as good as Spearhead from Space, which introduced the Autons at the start of the previous season.  There are some great moments, full of horror and a sense of unease, a charming and well-portrayed central villain and some good performances, even if the story does feel extremely similar to Spearhead and the overuse of colour separation overlay really do undermine it.

One of the weakest parts of this story is the titular villains and the fact that this story feels very similar to the plot of Spearhead from Space.  The Autons are really rather sidelined as the Master’s heavies for the majority of the story, however, I can understand how this happens.  The Nestenes, sadly, are rather a one-dimensional alien race and so they can easily lapse into this role, but this does not mean that they don’t contribute to one of the best moments – the stunt where one of the Auton policemen is knocked down a steep incline, before getting back up and ascending the slope.  Sadly, however, for the majority of the story, they lack their previous feeling of threat, no matter how creepy they look as the Auton policemen or the big-headed promotional mascots handing out murdering daffodils.   I think this might have something to do with the fact that they move around silently, without the creepy sound that accompanied them in Spearhead from Space.  Ultimately though, there’s not really very much you can do with the Autons, and here they serve as a narrative shorthand as something familiar for the audience to hang onto when a lot of the show seems a bit up in the air, introducing a lot of changes.

Autons

The story also suffers from an overuse of what was at the time a new and emerging technology, then known as colour separation overlay (CSO), but now known as blue screen.  Barry Letts was a particularly forward-thinking individual, both as a producer and a director, and using this new technology did also help with storytelling on a show like Doctor Who, however, the issue that crops up here, and in multiple other stories, is in its overuse.  In this story, CSO is used to show the inside of a lunchbox, a kitchen and a quarry, to name but a few, which sadly just takes you out of the story.  It is obviously a product of its time and by and large I do excuse it, but there are in occasions in Terror of the Autons where it really spoils it.

Brig Doctor Daffodil

Robert Holmes’ script can feel highly derivative of his earlier story introducing the Nestene Consciousness and the Autons, however, it is full of some horrifying ideas and concepts, helped along by Barry Letts’ direction, featuring some of the best uses of everyday items as a source of the terror.  One of the most famous and at the time controversial of these is the conclusion to the second episode, where policemen appear to rescue the Doctor and Jo from the Master’s hypnotised circus troop, only for one of the policeman’s masks to slip and reveal that they are Autons.  This was highly controversial at the time as it was seen to be undermining the police and did attract complaints at the time.  Equally, moments like the Doctor being strangled by some telephone cable and Jo nearly being suffocated by one of the plastic daffodils are really horrifying and really toe the line of what was acceptable for Doctor Who at the time.  Another famous moment involves a plastic armchair quickly enveloping and suffocating McDermott in the plastic factory, and the camera lingers on this for a surprisingly long time.  Scenes like this really do stick the memory and are definitely part of Terror of the Autons‘ strengths.

Finally, the elephant in the room.  Roger Delgado is superb as the Master, effortlessly oozing class and charm in every scene he appears in.  The Master is a direct parallel for the Doctor, acting as the Moriarty to his Holmes, and it is telling that after his smooth introduction to Rossini, we see the Doctor being completely horrible to his new assistant Jo Grant, and actually a bit bumbling.  They are perfect mirror images of each other, and I love the way that Pertwee bristles when he is reminded by the Time Lord who appears in Episode One that the Master received a better final result than him.  The chemistry shared by Pertwee and Delgado is superb and improves the story considerably as the actors bounce off each other fantastically.  Of the other new additions, Katy Manning stands out as Jo, who is a distinct departure from her predecessor, Liz Shaw.  Whilst she may not have the scientific acumen of Liz, Jo is determined to prove herself and is resourceful in different ways.  Manning gives Jo great enthusiasm and the scenes where she is frustrated by being treated like a child by the Doctor and UNIT in general are really well played.  As much as I miss Liz, Jo Grant is a fantastic companion for the Doctor, more in the vein of the standard question asking companion but benefits from Katy Manning’s performance.

Nonsense, what you need, Doctor, as Miss Shaw herself so often remarked, is someone to pass your test tubes and tell you how brilliant you are.

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart

Verdict: Terror of the Autons works really well as a soft reboot of the Earthbound stories of the early Pertwee era, even if the story feels like a retread.  Roger Delgado’s debut as the Master cements this as a really strong story. 8/10

Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), Roger Delgado (The Master), Richard Franklin (Captain Mike Yates), John Levene (Sergeant Benton), Michael Wisher (Rex Farrel), Harry Towb (McDermott), David Garth (Time Lord), Frank Mills (Radio Telescope Director), Christopher Burgess (Professor Philips), Andrew Staines (Goodge), John Baskcomb (Rossini), Dave Carter (Museum Attendant), Stephen Jack (Farrel Senior), Barbara Leake (Mrs Farrel), Roy Stewart (Strong Man), Dermot Tuohy (Brownrose), Norman Stanley (Telephone Mechanic), Bill McGuirk (Policeman), Terry Walsh (Auton Policeman), Pat Gorman (Auton Leader) & Hadyn Jones (Auton voice)

Director: Barry Letts

Writer: Robert Holmes

Behind the Scenes

  • This story introduces Katy Manning as Jo Grant, Roger Delgado as The Master and Richard Franklin as Mike Yates.  This story also marked the start of John Levene working under an annual contract.
  • The story marks the debut of a new UNIT uniform and a lab for the Doctor, which would remain until the end of his exile.
  • The Autons return following their debut in Spearhead from Space.  They would not return until Rose after this story.
  • The set of the Farrel’s home contains the famous round window from the children’s television show Play School.
  • Whilst filming the escape from the Auton policemen, Katy Manning sprained her ankle in one of the first scenes she shot on the programme.
  • Terry Walsh was injured when he was rammed by one of the cars, which remains in the finished story.
  • Harry Towb had previously appeared in The Seeds of Death, whilst Michael Wisher makes his second appearance in Doctor Who.  Roy Stewart previously played Toberman in The Tomb of the Cybermen and both Andrew Staines and Christopher Burgess in The Enemy of the World.

Best Moment

Almost any moment that Delgado is on screen, but probably his introduction.

Best Quote

The human body has a basic weakness.  One which I shall exploit to assist in the destruction of the human race.

The Master

The Doctor and Jo

The Girl in the Fireplace

TGIF Doctor and Reinette

What’s a horse doing on a spaceship?

Mickey, what’s pre-Revolutionary France doing on a spaceship?  Get a little perspective.

Mickey Smith and the Tenth Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor, Rose and Mickey arrive onboard a deserted spaceship three thousand years in the future.  What has happened to the crew?  And why has the ship got gateways into the life of Madame de Pompadour, a French lady from the 18th Century?

Review

The Girl in the Fireplace is not only a superb example of what Doctor Who can do but is a fantastic example of television in general.  It is definitely in my top ten episodes of the revival and probably in my top ten episodes of Doctor Who of all time.  I say this as someone who loves Moffat’s work under Russell T Davies and his work whilst showrunner with a very few exceptions, and this has a lot of his tropes perfectly executed – we’ve got a bit of mucking about with time and some sharp, witty, and frankly brilliant dialogue.  I think if I am looking for an episode of Doctor Who to pick me up, this is one of the first I will turn to.

You think I fear you.  But I do not fear you even now.  You are merely the nightmare from my childhood.  And if my childhood nightmare can return to plague me then rest assured, so will yours.

Reinette

One of the strongest parts of this episode is in the casting of Sophia Myles as Reinette, who gives a superb performance as Madame de Pompadour, and she has clear and believable chemistry with David Tennant.  Obviously, I must mention that Tennant and Myles did date for a short time following working together on this episode, breaking up in 2007.  However, when you have a story that hinges on the central premise of two characters falling in love and telling this story in 45 minutes, this chemistry is essential.  On a side note, a large part of my issues with Tennant’s first series as the Doctor and Rose is that Tennant and Billie Piper don’t have that chemistry.  The two obviously get on well as friends, but there’s something lacking that stops me buying into that whole ‘they both love each other romantically’ element of their story.  The chemistry between Reinette and the Doctor also means that you ultimately believe in both the Doctor’s decision to come and save her, knowing that this means being separated from his TARDIS and Rose and Mickey, as well as the final scene, where he comes back for her, only to find that she has passed away.  Sophia Myles’ Reinette also feels like a strong heroine and we fully root for her defeating the Clockwork Droids.  Her speech when she speaks about being resigned to taking the slow path whilst hearing her own future screams is beautifully played, as is the scene when the Doctor manages to fix the link to the ship.

TGIF Doctor and Arthur

Steven Moffat’s writing is also fantastic.  The story itself, despite its obvious links to The Time Traveller’s Wife, is different enough, and the reveal of the twist is really superb.  I love the fact that the Doctor and his companions never solve the mystery of why the Clockwork Droids are stalking Reinette, and the way the episode is directed by Euros Lyn withholds this reveal well.  We see the exterior of S.S. Madame de Pompadour on multiple occasions as a transition shot between scenes, but this never spoils the twist.  Moffat’s script fizzles with what we now see as his trademark wit but packs a lot of emotion into this story.  I love the fact that the Doctor reasoning for wanting to keep Arthur is that he allowed Rose to ‘keep’ Mickey!  The story also has some fantastic pacing and ties up the story beautifully with no loose ends.  One of the most powerful scenes in a story that is full of them is the mind reading scene where the chemistry between the two actors really helps but the writing is fantastic and the twist is very cleverly done.

TGIF Reinette

I feel that this is one of Tennant’s best performances as the Doctor to date, and there are some really great moments here.  Obviously, this story allows Tennant to utilise his Casanova experience, but he has lovely moments like when he sees the clockwork mechanism in the Clockwork Droid’s head which is quintessentially Doctor-y.  Additionally, the scene where the Doctor acts drunk when Rose and Mickey have been captured by the Clockwork Droids is great.  Ultimately, the highlight of this story is how he plays the scene where the King tells him that Reinette has died, he reads the letter and tucks it into his pocket is beautifully played by all involved, and the following scene where he reads the letter in the TARDIS is heartbreaking.

The Clockwork Droids are a really good adversary for the Doctor and his companions, with their intentions no doubt honourable but misguided in their attempt to repair their ship.  Before the story even begins, they have murdered the entirety of the crew of the S.S. Madame de Pompadour and their search then turns to Reinette, believing that the ship can only be fixed with her head once she has reached the correct age. The Droids are very creepy, with their wigs and masks and I really like the idea that they would break any working clocks in the room to disguise themselves.

Verdict: I don’t think I can overstate my fondness for The Girl in the Fireplace.  It is one of the finest episodes of Doctor Who since the revival, if not of all time. 10/10

Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Sophia Myles (Reinette), Ben Turner (King Louis), Jessica Atkins (Young Reinette), Angel Coulby (Katherine), Gareth Wyn Griffiths (Manservant), Paul Kasey (Clockwork Man), Ellen Thomas (Clockwork Woman), Jonathan Hart & Emily Joyce (Voices)

Writer: Steven Moffat

Director: Euros Lyn

Behind the Scenes

  • The story follows School Reunion directly, however, when Steven Moffat wrote the story he had not had the chance to read the end of the story, hence the lack of animosity between Rose and Mickey.  There are also no references to Torchwood, as Russell T Davies did not ask Moffat to put any in.
  • This story was originally second in the series order, however, due to the experimental nature of the story, it was moved to fourth.
  • The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger was an inspiration for Moffat whilst writing this story but the finished product is structured differently.
  • Russell T Davies was inspired by the Turk, an 18th Century robot, when devising the Clockwork Droids.
  • The Girl in the Fireplace was nominated for a Nebula Award and won the 2007 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.

Best Moment

The mind reading scene.

Best Quote

What the hell is going on?

Oh.  This is my lover, the King of France.

Yeah? Well, I’m the Lord of Time.

King Louis, Reinette and the Tenth Doctor

Clockwork Droid

The Macra Terror

the-tardis-crew-in-the-console-room-1552571850

This is an emergency! Control must be believed and obeyed!  No-one in the colony believes in Macra!  There is no such thing as Macra!  Macra do not exist! There are no Macra!

Control Voice

Synopsis

The Doctor, Ben, Polly and Jamie visit a colony that appears to be a happy holiday camp.  However, when they scratch beneath the surface, they find that the colonists are mind controlled by the Macra, crab-like creatures, who are forcing them to mine a gas vital for their survival, but fatal to the colonists.

Review

On the face of it, The Macra Terror seems like a kind of B-movie that you’d comfortably sit down to watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon.  There are more interesting ideas lurking beneath the surface, a bit like the titular aliens about the idea of conformity and mind control, which draw obvious parallels to Orwell’s 1984 and give an interesting insight into concerns at the time.  The story has certainly benefitted from being animated and I think that the quality of the animation really helps the story, even if the Macra aren’t a great or particularly memorable villain.  The parts that will stick with me are around some great performances from both the guest and main cast, especially Patrick Troughton who seems to be revelling in the chaos.

doctor-who-the-macra-terror-1552570328

Sadly, the titular monsters are the weakest part of the story.  The Macra feel like a rather generic monster and this really undermines the story especially in its later stages.  They are quite effective in the early parts of the story, where they are shrouded in mist and their glowing eyes are quite creepy.  Later on, sadly they are less interesting, but they still do add a sense of menace, such as when the Macra sneak up on Ben and Polly or when they come looming out of the gas when Jamie is in the old shaft.  As creatures that can only talk through the projections of the Controller, they are rather one dimensional beyond the feeling of threat.  Ultimately, the conclusion feels a bit anti-climatic as the Macra cannot pose more of a threat.   They are menacing enough, but they don’t really pose the Doctor enough of a real threat to be taken too seriously.

However, the underlying ideas of the story are interesting.  The mined gas being fatal to humans but vital to the survival of the Macra is a good idea, making the mind washing seem like a reasonable thing to see here.  I find the mind control a much more sinister aspect of this story – there’s something about gloriously happy people that I find inherently creepy.  Ian Stuart Black obviously takes inspiration from Orwell’s 1984, with the Controller feeling very much like Big Brother.  I particularly find the propaganda songs to be particularly creepy, and while the reveal that the Controller is really the Macra is not particularly shocking – it’s the sort of twist that almost always happens in stories like this – it is well done here.  The story also delves into propaganda, indoctrination and unquestioning obedience to authority, especially when it comes to the character of Ola, who is power hungry and therefore keen to make a stand against the Pilot when he starts to believe the Doctor about the Macra.

Bad laws were made to be broken.

The Second Doctor

The cast is especially good here, especially Troughton who seems to take a childish joy in teasing the authority figures and generally causing mischief.  A story which features a compliant group of colonists is practically perfect for the Doctor to unleash his inner rebel and his detestation of authority.  This story is notable for perhaps giving Jamie the first real action he has seen since joining the TARDIS team.  Ben and Polly are more sidelined here, possibly to prepare the audience for their imminent departure in The Faceless Ones, but Michael Craze does some good work with Ben, despite being subject to mind control for the majority of the story.  You can feel the conflict and anguish he is going through when he sells out his friends to Ola as he battles the Macra’s mind control.  Amongst the guest cast, Peter Jeffrey stands out as the Pilot, who gradually comes to believe that the Doctor is telling the truth, and Gertan Klauber is great as the unsmiling Ola, hungry for more power.

Verdict:  The Macra Terror is a good piece of the Second Doctor’s era, now gloriously restored in animated form.  It is an enjoyable adventure, even if the titular monsters aren’t fantastic. 8/10

Cast: Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), Michael Craze (Ben Jackson), Anneke Wills (Polly), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon), Peter Jeffrey (Pilot), Terence Lodge (Medok), Gertan Klauber (Ola), Graham Armitage (Barney), Ian Fairbairn (Questa), Jane Enshawe (Sunaa), Sandra Bryant & Karol Keyes (Chicki), Maureen Lane (Drum Majorette), Graham Leaman (Controller), Anthony Gardner (Alvis), Denis Goacher (Control Voice), Richard Beale (Broadcast and Propaganda Voice), Robert Jewell (Macra Operator), John Harvey (Officia), John Caesar, Steve Emerson & Danny Rae (Guards), Roger Jerome, Terry Wright & Ralph Carrigan (Cheerleaders)

Writer: Ian Stuart Black

Director: John Davies

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The first story to feature the lead actor’s face in the opening titles, which would continue until Survival.  It would return in The Snowmen in 2012, until Twice Upon A Time.  This story also featured a new arrangement for the theme tune, but this did not debut until the broadcast of the second episode due to technical issues.
  • Sandra Bryant asked producer Innes Lloyd if she could be released from her contract due to a more attractive offer of work.  Her role was recast for episode four.
  • The Macra returned in Gridlock, forty years after this story was broadcast.  This is the third longest gap between appearances, behind the Great Intelligence and Alpha Centauri.
  • All four parts of the story are missing from the BBC archive, however, the story was completely animated and released in 2019.  This is the last four part story missing from the archives.
  • Peter Jeffrey went on to play Count Grendel in The Androids of Tara.  Sandra Bryant and John Harvey previously appeared in The War Machines, while Gertan Klauber had previously appeared in The Romans.

Best Moment

 

Best Quote

Oh, come now, we can’t have bad temper and differences of opinion in this happy-type colony!  Say you’re sorry, Ola.  Say you’re sorry, Pilot.

The Second Doctor

World War Three

World War Three Doctor and Harriet

I think you’ll find the Prime Minister is an alien in disguise!  That’s never gonna work, is it?

No.

Fair enough.

The Ninth Doctor and Policeman

Synopsis

With the Slitheen family planning to destroy the Earth to sell off for fuel and the Doctor, Rose and Harriet Jones trapped in Number 10 Downing Street, the fate of the human race is in the hands of one man: Mickey Smith.

Review

Like the first part of this two-part story, I find World War Three to be utterly frustrating in times, especially when there are more interesting elements, in my opinion, begging to be explored.  The second part has the same issues with tone, with the broadly childish characters of the Slitheen family plotting nuclear armageddon and repetitive Scooby-Doo style chase sequences.  There are also parts that feel a lot like padding to get the episode up to the 45 minute mark – the Slitheen constantly feel as though they are constantly undressing from their rubbery suits, which can only be down to the episode falling short.

One positive, however, is the development of the character of Mickey.  In his previous appearance, he has been portrayed as the idiot, however, this story takes the opportunity to really do him justice.  In my review of Rose, I spoke about how I dislike how easily Rose abandons Mickey in the episode’s closing moments, and here we get to see that the Doctor has re-evaluated him by the conclusion of this episode’s events, offering him the opportunity to come and travel with him.  His character has not made a jarring change but instead has made the first steps towards a more believable change.  Potentially there hasn’t been enough groundwork laid for it to be believable that Mickey is capable of saving the day, however, I enjoyed the opportunity for the character to be useful rather than just being there.  Noel Clarke deserves credit for making this version of Mickey seem like a logical progression rather than an overnight change though.

I just went down the shop and I was thinking, you know, the whole world’s changed.  Aliens and spaceships, all in public.  And here it is.  How can they do that? They saw it.

They’re just not ready.  You’re happy to believe in something that’s invisible, but if it’s staring you in the face – “Nope! Can’t see it”.  There’s a scientific explanation for that.  You’re thick.

We’re just idiots.

Well…not all of you.

Yeah?

Mickey Smith and the Ninth Doctor

Christopher Eccleston again does do the best he can with a rather subpar script.  The scenes with the Doctor trapped with Rose and Harriet Jones in the Cabinet Room are some of the highlights of the story with the Doctor trying to work out how to stop the Slitheen whilst Jackie questions whether he can guarantee her daughter’s safety.  There are other great parts of his performance as well, especially his broad grin when he re-enters the TARDIS at the end of the story and his speech to Rose about the Horsehead Nebula.  He is especially at his best when he is responding to Margaret Blaine’s incredulous reply to the fact that he believes that he can stop the Slitheen despite being completely trapped.  He even gets to bluff when he talks about triplicating the flammability of the alcohol which is a lovely moment.  Penelope Wilton as Harriet Jones also feels as though she’s doing the best with this story and the pair of them add some gravitas to this generally and at least keep me entertained for the majority of the episode.  Harriet Jones has some lovely moments, even minor ones like telling the Doctor to pass the drink to the left first, which demonstrates that even in a crisis she doesn’t forget basic rules of manners and etiquette.

Slitheen World War Three

The elephant in the room here is the Slitheen family from Raxacoricofallapatorius.  The reveal of their home planet is just the latest revelation about these ridiculous creatures that irritates me.  I appreciate that Doctor Who is a family show, meant to provide something for everyone, however, I feel that the flatulent, booty shaking villains are frankly just too childish even for this general audience.  They are pretty incompetent villains too, demonstrated by the fact that the very weapons that they use to incapacitate the experts are also capable of harming them too, and they seem pretty ineffectual at hunting too.  Only the policeman who hunts Mickey and Jackie really seems to know what they’re doing, and this isn’t helped by scenes that wouldn’t feel out of place in Scooby-Doo or a Benny Hill sketch.  Ultimately though, their plan is quite interesting: they want the UN to give them access to the nuclear codes under the pretence of an alien threat in space, then use nuclear weapons to destroy the planet and sell the remains off for a profit.  However, with the flatulence and ridiculous undressing scenes and desires to be naked, it’s difficult to take them as seriously as the story demands, undermining the threat and damaging the tone of the episode.  I will praise Annette Badland, who puts in a good performance as Margaret Blaine in spite of some pretty cringe-worthy dialogue as I think she’s the best of all of the villains in the piece.

I feel that this story also neglects potentially the most interesting element.  The story begins in Aliens of London with Rose returning home 12 months after she left with the Doctor, and shows in a limited capacity the effect that this has on those left behind.  This is the first time in Doctor Who history that this kind of issue is even flagged up, and it is surprising that Davies, with his more domestic storytelling, doesn’t focus on this more.  Jackie, despite her concerns, still seems to grudgingly accept that she can’t stop Rose travelling with the Doctor, and it still bugs me that there’s no lasting consequence on the relationship between Jackie, Rose and Mickey due to the fact that the latter was suspected of her murder for an entire year.  Whilst it’s nice to see this issue brought up in the show, I feel that it could have been handled a whole lot better.  That being said, however, the scenes where Jackie pleads with Rose in vain for her to stay and the moment where she looks at her watch for ten seconds after the TARDIS dematerialises are utterly heartbreaking.

Mickey and Jackie World War Three

Verdict: A story that has some more interesting ideas but fails on execution.  3/10

Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), David Verrey (Joseph Green), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Penelope Wilton (Harriet Jones), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Rupert Vansittart (General Asquith), Morgan Hopkins (Sergeant Price), Andrew Marr (As Himself), Annette Badland (Margaret Blaine), Steve Spiers (Strickland), Jack Tarlton (Reporter), Lachele Carl (Reporter), Corey Doabe (Spray Painter), Elizabeth Fost, Paul Kasey & Alan Ruscoe (Slitheen)

Writer: Russell T Davies

Director: Keith Boak

Behind the Scenes

  • This story is the first time in either Classic or New Doctor Who that the TARDIS is seen to have a working telephone.

Best Moment

The scene where Rose and Harriet fire facts about the Slitheen at the Doctor to work out where they come from and how to fight back against them.

Best Quote

I’ve seen this life of yours, Doctor.  And maybe you get off on it.  And maybe you think it’s all clever and smart.  But tell me, just answer me this: Is my daughter safe?

I’m fine.

Is she safe?  Will she always be safe?  Can you promise me that?

Jackie Tyler and Rose Tyler