Monday, August 18, 2014

The Doctor gets his Doctor Doom - Terror of the Autons

We start the second series with Pertwee in the main role with the same bad guy as the first, The Autons. This would strike me as a really odd decision except they've added Master, who sees his debut here and proceeds to be the bad guy for the entire season.

We also meet Jo Grant, the Doctor's new companion after Liz Shaw's one and only series. Liz is not even given a decent goodbye, but is written out between seasons because she went back to Cambridge. But at least the Brigadier gets the decent line of “what you need, Doctor, as Miss Shaw herself so often remarked, is someone to pass you your test tubes, and to tell you how brilliant you are.”

I liked Liz, at the very least I liked what Liz represented. Someone who came into the Doctor's adventures almost as an equal. It's a concept that would later become Romana, who from my brief exposure to I felt was the concept taken too far. But Liz was the concept done right, a perfectly capable and rather brilliant human scientist, who only got out of depth once things got a little trans-dimensional.

Yet the writers never seemed to get her quite right. She was fantastic in Spearhead from Space, but after that no one seemed to know how to handle her, and she sort of bobbed around the outskirts, defending the Doctor's decisions or being kidnapped. The actress at least got a decent role playing evil Liz in Inferno. As a result she seemed to be cast aside as the production team decide to bring back the classic companion. Someone who has to have everything explained to her. And Jo is that in spades.

However, we're given the most horrible way to introduce a new companion. First make her out dumb. There's a moment of ingenuity when, going against orders, she infiltrates the factory the Master is using but she immediately cocks it up, then gets mind controlled. Things do start to turn around after the mind control though, with the Doctor suddenly appearing quite protective of the girl.

I've read that maybe this was written as some sort of rebellion at the departure of Liz and the disregarding of any feminism Doctor Who was managing with the likes of Zoe and Liz, and that may be the case, but the director certainly doesn't let that fly, and Jo is off to one of the worst starts of a Doctor Who companion ever. Go read my thoughts on The Daemons and you can see she doesn't get much better by the end of this season, though by the time of The Three Doctors things have improved.

Pertwee continues to solidify his place as one of my least favourite Doctors, treating Jo as a tea lady when they first meet, and being outright hostile to her being his assistant, leading to the Brig's line, and then not being able to fire her. Actually that last one does fit with the Doctor, and I can see Troughton doing the exact same thing. But Troughton would somehow pull it off to not have it come across like he couldn't stand her, then be a coward. However, Pertwee does get one really good line in Terror that I can almost here coming from the lips of Smith. “What's wrong with being childish. I like being childish.” Sums up the Doctor perfectly. Unfortunately not Pertwee's.

We also get the introduction of Captain Yates – someone who is tackled as being around forever, if I didn't know any better I'd suspect I'd missed a serial - and Benton starts getting more work to do as well. Clearly we're beefing up UNIT's role other than the Brig and some random actors every now and again. Yet Yates feels unneeded. I got the distinct impression he was meant to fancy Jo, but he completely slaps her down at one point when she gets whiny. I wonder if that was just real world feelings accidentally leaking through?

However, amongst all these new introductions we have a story, and if I'm honest the show doesn't spend that much time with the introductions. But I figured more of my time was spent on them because the story ends up being 'What if the Master ran Spearhead from Space?' and the answer is, things get a little bit weird.

For the first time it feels like Doctor Who is being made cheaply. Sure the effects haven't been all that, but up till now Who has felt a product of its time. Yet Terror feels a step backwards in budget and design. The return of Nestene Conciousness all the way forward in the debut of New Who had Mickey being eaten by a bin. It was ridiculous but it worked because it was played for laughs, but when the Master does it with a plastic chair here, it was meant to be scary. But there's nothing scary about a man being eaten a chair. This was quickly followed by the first truly ridiculous man in a rubber suit, and worse is that he's meant to be a child's toy, and the Master's main plan involving killer daffodils. I actually quite like the plan itself, but on top of everything else he's using daffodils to pull it off. Just the daffodils would have been fine, but after you've just watched a telephone wire nearly kill the Doctor in an end of episode cliffhanger, daffodils might be a step too far.

For a serial that sees the d├ębut of one of the top three enemies of Doctor Who, it's a wonder that The Master became the mainstay of the whole show based on this. More than that he becomes the Anti-Doctor. The Daleks might be his biggest enemy, but the Master is his greatest. Yet as the finale unravels he changes side with little rhyme or reason. The Doctor points out that the Nestene won't want to work with him and the Master seems to go “shit hadn't thought of that” and is suddenly helping the Doctor. Then again he's got an entire season being the bad guy here as well, so maybe that helps turn him around. Delgado definitely did a better job in The Daemons than he did here. Terror of the Autons certainly hasn't alleviated my problems post-Inferno, even with its slight change in the setup with all the new characters and a long term bad guy.

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