Companions: Jo Grant
Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: Barry Letts
Editor's Note: Hey, kids! I'm back with a quick quick intro to point out that Cassandra is on board to talk about some Autons today. It's a doozy of a story with a lot of moving pieces, and I honestly felt good about giving it up because there's still a bunch of great stories left to do so why not share the wealth? And with this story we're in the last four months of the blog! Hoo-rah!
But for now, I leave you with Cassandra...
Due to the nature of Doctor Who's production scheduling, and how a creative changing of the guard takes some time, Letts didn't really get a chance to make much of a mark on Season 7. However, with the advent of Season 8, there were quite a few changes.
Among these changes were the introduction of a gimmick of some sort to get new audiences tuning in to watch. This gimmick arrived in the form of the Master, a Moriarty to the Doctor's Sherlock Holmes. Letts and Dicks hoped that the Master might overtake the Daleks as the top foe for the Doctor, and aimed to include the Master in each of the 5 stories in Season 8.
Written by Robert Holmes and directed by Barry Letts, "Terror of the Autons" promises to be something fantastic, especially on a rewatch. I'm excited. Are you excited? Because I am.
But enough of all that, let's take a closer look, shall we?
I always forget how good this is.
I think amidst some of the other Robert Holmes stories ("Spearhead From Space", "Carnival of Monsters", "The Time Warrior", all of the wonderful work he did while script editor for Tom Baker and beyond, and of course, Caves) this one gets a little buried. I mean, it still gets some recognition, because it introduces one of the Doctor’s most popular foes, and a wonderful companion(s), but I feel like people don’t really talk about this one as much as the others.
And we are. Because not only are we presented with a new menace at the top of the episode, we also get a new companion! And who doesn’t love new companions.
I love how, whenever Robert Holmes tends to write a serial, you know it’s going to be a doozy. There’s always new things to be introduced, new foes, new companions, new Time Lords, new mythology, new insights into the Doctor’s past. I think that’s what I enjoy the most about this so far; we’ve only really gotten fleeting glimpses of Time Lords in the past. The Meddling Monk in Hartnell’s era, The War Chief and then the council on Gallifrey that sentences the Doctor to forcible regeneration and exile in “The War Games”. The Doctor’s past is shrouded in such mystery, and so it’s always intriguing whenever a story addresses it.
Okay so this episode is really fucking dark??
I mean, I should have known to expect such a thing, but I forgot just how gruesome this got, especially this part. I mean, people are just dropping like flies right and left in this. Then again, it begins with Jo trying to blow up UNIT (granted, she is under hypnosis, but STILL) and it… doesn’t really let up from that.
And have I mentioned that Delgado is dapper as fuck, because wow he looks great in that suit.
I think what’s most horrifying about the scariest and gruesomest moments in this is you can’t really protect yourself. I mean, in the case of hypnosis, you can’t really fight against yourself. Jo has to be knocked out of the way from blowing everyone up; and even then, what if the Doctor hadn’t been there to figure it out in time? And, in the case of Professor Philips, he tries to resist, but then he just ends up blowing himself up. Which is…. Yeeeeesh. They even show some blood, man. This is some dark Doctor Who. And in the case of the plastic… how do you protect yourself against a chair or a fucking doll? It’s over before you even realize what’s going on.
So now, the Doctor and Jo, who have just been nearly beaten to death by carnies, may I add, are stuck in the back of a rogue police car with Autons at the wheel. How are they gonna get out of this one?
I love how tongue and cheek the quarry scene is. I mean, Doctor Who films in quarries all the time, passing them off as alien worlds or vast deserts or wilderness, or what have you. I just love the fact that tradition of quarries in the show is brought into this scene. ‘Oh, the rogue police are driving the Doctor and Jo off somewhere, why not into a quarry? They’re probably gonna film in one anyway, might as well.’ That’s so funny to me.
And I feel like that really helps the episode. I mean, without it, it’s just a lot of people talking, making guesses, examining clues, trying to figure out what’s going on. But instead, we open with some exciting action, and then everything after is just a big old sigh of relief that they got out of there okay. It’s still a bit wheel-spinny, but since all the speculation and investigation got interrupted by a nice set piece, we don’t really mind all that much. Great stuff, great structure.
I mean, he almost gets his TARDIS to work; he claims he’s only taking it for a test drive, but what guarantee is there that he’d come back? That, if he had gotten it working after all, he’d even be able to? And I don’t think the Doctor is the point in his character development where he would choose to return. He feels hampered by UNIT, and I feel like he’s still using them as a means to an end, not staying out of affection or camaraderie with the Brigadier, or Jo, or anyone. That comes later.
The element of surprise part of horror is also used well here, because let me tell you. I’ve seen this story before, but when the Doctor and the Brigadier are poking around Farell’s office and the Auton pops out of the safe and fires at them, I jumped so much I nearly dropped my computer. That is some quality right there.
This part definitely holds up, but it’s also incredibly straight-forward.
I dunno, I find that this happens quite a lot when I review stories lately; I’m really engaged by the first three parts, but for whatever reason, the fourth doesn’t really do it for me. It’s not that I’m disappointed so much as I feel like I build it up in my head and it fails to live up to that, which is unfortunate.
I think my favorite part about all of this is the Doctor and the Master finally meeting face to face and having their big ol’ showdown at UNIT. I love that scene so much. And it’s so well-done; because everything has kind of been leading to this moment, there’s so much tension and suspense and drama built into the scene already. So they threaten and bluff and ohhhh god it’s so fantastic. How long has it even been since they last saw each other? How long has this really been in the works? I mean, we get a sense of that scope in the episode, but there’s so much history and so much left unsaid built into this confrontation as well. It’s just… Oh, it’s perfect. I can’t get enough of Pertwee and Delgado. And their chemistry is off the charts, it really is. They make such fantastic foils for each other, it’s breathtaking.
Also the Master pushes some poor unsuspecting scientist off the radio tower to his death, what the fuck is this story, man.
Like, that aspect genuinely shocked me this time around. It gets straight-up gruesome. But I think that kind of drives home the point that the Master means serious business and isn’t some fuck-around sort of ineffectual villain, at least in this. I mean, he actually does succeed at bringing the Nestene to earth. The Doctor and UNIT are literally too late to stop him; it is the Master who decides to pull the plug and work with the Doctor to stop them in time, after all. And then he gets away! The Doctor only wins by technicality, because the Earth is spared. That’s astounding. It’s really sad that the Master gets watered down in subsequent stories, because think about that. He fucking won and outsmarted the Doctor. That’s fantastic.
But at the same time… That’s really all it is. Straight up villainous double-act. Good old Robert Holmes. And if you take a moment to think about all the Holmesianisms that he displays here, this story really does rank right up with the best of them.