Doctor Who episode 280: Terror of the Autons – Episode Two (9/1/1970)

Again, the episode plays a neat game of pitting the Doctor and the Master against one another without ever having them cross paths. At first this takes the form of the Doctor battling for the mind of his companion, de-hypnotising her, and freeing her from the Master’s control. Later, the same thing happens to the kidnapped scientist Philips, with a less happy outcome. Still, you’re left with a sense of the Master playing games with the Doctor (he describes the bomb he sent Jo to deliver as a ‘gallantry on the even of battle’), while the Doctor’s just trying to avoid a massacre.

In general, the Master is a much more fun villain than the very committed lot in the last season. Heenjoys dreaming up inventive murders, killing McDermott with a deadly chair, and Mr Farrel Sr with a malevolent doll. It’s quite Avengersy, and really good. And in between it looks like he finds time to do his paperwork. His influence also appears to have rubbed off on Farrel Jr who cracks a very off-colour joke about checking McDermott’s termination of employment.

Autons2

Equally Avengersy is the (entirely unnecessary) circus backdrop, which adds a bit of exotic colour to the story. The Doctor gets tied up by The Tomb of the Cybermen‘s Roy Stewart (who has one brilliant moment when he takes a swig of whisky from the bottle and looks at the Doctor as if daring him to comment). The Doctor’s responses in the interrogation with Lew Russell are almost exactly like something Steed would say:

THE DOCTOR: What’s your friend’s name?
LEW: His name’s none of your business.
THE DOCTOR: A strange name.

No wonder Pertwee seems to be enjoying himself more with this material, even if Barry Letts’ direction still favours his new cast members. In the scene where the Doctor is de-programming Jo, the camera stays on Manning and Franklin even when other people are talking, as if Letts is trying to imprint the new regulars on our consciousness. Later, Franklin and Manning share a scene together where Jo worries that she’s a rubbish companion, Mike patronises her, so she decides to defy him and the Brigadier, go and rescue the Doctor and find the missing scientist.

Aside from a bit of over-enthusiastic CSO (a phone box, a museum, a factory, a kitchen), this is all great fun, bounding along with massive confidence with Robert Holmes’ trademark cynical horror (a policeman’s face is pulled off to reveal an Auton) sitting oddly comfortably in Letts’ fizzy pop aesthetic. It seems to me more than anything I’ve seen so far this is the template for RTD’s version of Doctor Who.

Next episode: Terror of the Autons – Episode Three

One comment

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 279: Terror of the Autons – Episode One (2/1/1971) | Next Episode...

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