A Beautiful, Um, Friendship?

Review of Terror of the Autons (#55)

DVD Release Date: 10 May 11
Original Air Date: 02 - 23 Jan 1971
Doctor/Companion:   Three, Jo Grant, with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Stars:  Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, with Nicholas Courtney
Preceding StoryInferno (Three, Liz Shaw, the Brigadier)
Succeeding StoryThe Mind of Evil (Three, Jo, the Brigadier)

How can you not love stories that you know in retrospect to be The Start of Something?  At the beginning of Three's second season, having been stranded on Earth sidekicking for UNIT for a year now, the Doctor needs a new "assistant" - and a new challenge.  Enter three new regulars:  Jo Grant, Capt. Mike Yates, and the Master.  I wonder if anyone at the time had any idea how big an impact their new villain would have...

This story is full of win. Not only do we get the aforementioned introductions (including the Master's hypnotic control of others, and his Tissue Compression Eliminator), but we get some key "rare appearances," too. For example, we have only seen another Time Lord or another TARDIS a couple of times before (in The Time Meddler and The War Games), and the Autons last appeared in Three's first adventure (Spearhead from Space). There's also lots more of the same things we've already come to love (e.g., the Brigadier and the Doctor snarking at each other with some glee).

Aside from all these classic, eminently Whosome moments (running up and down exterior stairs! a twisted ankle!), there are also a few lovely flash-forwards to modern episodes. The fact that the Autons are controlled by a large, round radio telescope ("Danger: Keep Clear of Radio Telescopes," reads one sign; Four obviously had forgotten that advice) immediately makes Nine's search for a transmitter in Rose a more obvious task. Later, when Three and Jo discover their driver is actually an Auton, I couldn't help but think of Runaway Bride.

There are so many little tidbits here to love, it's hard to reduce them to a couple of paragraphs, but there are two more that I just can't let pass without comment.  The first is how the Time Lord who comes to warn the Doctor of the Master's presence needles him about his poor academic performance ("well, uh... I, I was a late developer"). It puts me strongly in mind of Romana's similarly smug assertions at the beginning of The Ribos Operation. The other is the way that the denouement comes when the Doctor and the Master have to work together to save their mutual bacon - again - for the first time. That's the kind of timey-wimey loveliness you can only get by being a new fan of a (very) old show.
DVD Extras (highlights)
Life on Earth
To give this "making of" documentary a little extra kick, they've dipped into the archives to allow the late Jon Pertwee (Three) to have his say.  It's nice to get to see him reminisce about his time with Katy Manning (Jo), for example. Other nice tidbits are the discussion of how Manning, Richard Franklin (Yates), and Roger Delgado (the Master) were chosen for their roles; how UNIT served as the Doctor's family; and the similarities and differences between this era of Who and the modern one.

The Doctor's Moriarty
Having established the Doctor's relationship with UNIT, embodied by the Brigadier, it struck the production team at the time that the Brig had sort of fallen into a Watson role to the Doctor's Holmes. What could be more natural, then, than to throw an analog to Moriarty into the mix? Through recollections, we learn of the roots of the Master's character and some of its development over time. One of the most intriguing things to my mind was the discussion of how there had been a sort of "Reichenbach Falls" moment planned for the Master before Roger Delgado's untimely death.

Plastic Fantastic
I was pleasantly surprised at just how engaging I found this piece.  Going into it, I thought a bit about why living plastic is scary would be rather ho-hum, but it was very well put together.  The interviewees cover everything from the Gothic horror roots of the idea of technology as a focus of fear (think H.G. Wells, for example) to the '70s lifestyles that add a tinge of the macabre to the story (e.g., trust of strangers giving out something on the street, or the ubiquity of plastic in the home).  Be sure to check this one out.

At the end of the last episode, the Master has (surprise, surprise) escaped. The Doctor's new Companion remarks that he "[doesn't] seem very worried about it." He comes right back with, "well, I'm not.  As a matter of fact, Jo, I'm rather looking forward to it." And so the Doctor metaphorically walks off into the fog, ready for next time - as are we.

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