Sunday, 7 June 2009

Doctor Who: Terror of the Autons

Part One

"Now look at it, you hamfisted bun vendor!"

A circus, and the clear sound of a TARDIS materialising- and it's not the Doctor! Oh to be watching these genuinely in context, with no appreciation of what's going to happen next. Because this is a milestone- the first story to actively exploit the fact the Time Lords have been introduced and show features a new character who's explicitly a Time Lord from the beginning. Plus Delgado is great, especially in this opening scene. Such charisma.

The Doctor sings "I don't want to set the world on fire" before he, er, does. And what on Earth has he done to his hair? The scene introducing Jo is fun and, much as I have reservations about the idea of a ditzy blonde replacing our capable scientist Liz, I like the actress and I like the character, if not necessarily what she represents. The lovely Katy Manning is great here.

We're also establishing a new tone- lighter and more kid-friendly. and this is for the best. Impressed as I was with last series, I imagine the kids would have enjoyed it rather less than I did. Still, at least Liz gets a mention; she's "gone back to Cambridge". There are some obvious other changes too- UNIT's new uniform, this new chap Captain Yates.

Another TARDIS sound sees a Time Lord appear before the Doctor dressed as a city gent- how very Robert Holmes to puncture their godlike aura from The War Games in their very next appearance! We're told the still unnamed Time Lord planet is 29,000 miles away, and given an introduction to the Master in a way which nicely establishes his rivalry with the Doctor. His trap for the Doctor establishes him immediately as a threat and the shrunken scientist, Goodge, gives him a quick effective set piece.

I like the way it's implied Yates has been around some time by getting him to give a brief synopsis of Spearhead from Space for Jo's benefit. Also nice is how the Doctor denies UNIT the technology from the Doctor's bomb. And how Farrell's office is the absolute epitome of the 70s. Shame these Autons look crap.

Part Two

"He sat down in this chair here and... just slipped away."

Before the marathon I'd always loosely thought of this story as "traditional" Who. But this time round those elements that seemed "traditional" seem very new and fresh in context. L think the core of it all is Holmes' script, with its irreverance and frequently dark humour. This is an episode that features Death By Chair and Death By Doll, both played at least partly for laughs, and this sort of thing is far more typical of what we'll come to see as "traditional" Who over the next few seasons and of Holmes' writing style than is usually acknowledged. The Doctor is often flippant or casual about characters' deaths in this story, which seems a little uncomfortable in context but, again, that's Robert Holmes. "Never cruel nor cowardly" is someone else's idea entirely, but at least for the moment he's script editor."

On less pontificatory matters, Roy Stewart is back. As, er, another strong and silent type, as even the Doctor points out. Also, we get a great couple of lines ("Gentlemen never talk about money." "Nonsense! Gentlemen never talk about anything else!"), our first example of CSO'd windows to make it look as though a car set is moving, and nasty Auton police. Holmes really seems to be having fun here, pushing it as far as it'll go.

Part Three

"You know, Jo, I sometimes think that military intelligence is a contradiction in terms."

The Brig saves the Doctor's life from what is, oddly, our first scene with actual Autons, and the Doctor proceeds to spend five minutes being extremely rude to the Brig before setting out to bugger right off in the TARDIS? Hmmm. yes, he fails, but it looks as though he may have been about to leave his friends in the lurch. Plus, he really is very, very rude here. There's a very revealing line: "What's wrong with being childish? I like being childish!" This isn't just, as is often claimed, Pertwee's performance (which seems fine to me), but the script. I wonder if, in context, this will end up as a character arc for the Doctor, chafing increasingly against his exile? It'll be interesting to see, because he really is so much of a mardyarse here (I'm a Leicestershire country boy. Please indulge me.) that it's almost like watching The Twin Dilemma at times. Characterisation-wise, that is!

Ironic that the Master is now also exiled. And interesting that the Doctor seems to belong to a London club where he hob nobs with Lord "Tubby" Rowland.

Incidentally, as a British civil servant there are certain aspects of this era that make me want to go "oi"!

Pertwee has a phone conversation with the Master, his first contact with him... interesting to watch this for the first time after seeing The Sound of Drums! Cue the gurning...

Part Four

"As a matter of fact, Jo, I'm rather looking forward to it."

Once again the Brig's plan seems sensible- bomb the baddfies now to avoid civilian casualties later- and the Doctor throws a hissy fit. But once again, I get the impression we're supposed to think that.

Jo says "Hello Greyhound. This is Trap One." I wonder if that phrase will assume any later significance?

The Doctor rather conveniently gets the Master to realise he's doing a Tobias Vaughn and switch sides. A shame- that's not a very satisfying way to end. And I can't help noticing how the Doctor pretty much allows Farrell to die!

In spite of certain misgivings about a nastiness in trhe Doctor's chatracter creeping in, I must admit I enjoyed that very much indeed, and even the bits I had to officially disapprove of I couldn't help but enjoy- that's the magnificent nauightiness of Robert Holmes. The Doctor is a complete arse in this, but you have to laugh. And I have to say, in spite of this story's reputation, although the baddies' plan didn't make too much sense, I'd say the plot did. If that makes sense. 4/5. But it's only my conscientious misgivings about where the Doctor's character is going that stop it from being higher. It'll be interesting to see where this "the Doctor as an arse" arc goes. Somewhere, I hope!

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