13 December 2021: not really a review of Flux added.
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TERROR OF THE AUTONS
'"I'm your new assistant." "Oh, no!"'
Buy this Dr Who DVD: US
The first time we saw Terror Of The Autons, we thought it was rubbish: a sad rehash of the much better Auton story Spearhead, with horrible CSO as far as the eye could see. But on viewing it again, we're much more charitably inclined.
After the dark, adult while-we're-at-it-let's-blow-up-the-world tone of the previous season, this is certainly a change of pace. The new note is struck right from the start with the bright candy colours of the circus, and the establishment of the UNIT family continues the cosier theme. Nevertheless, it's not all sweetness and light. The UNIT body count remains as horrific as ever, the Autons although not as scary as the first time still send a chill down the spine, and the deaths by doll and by plastic chair are an uneasy combination of hilarious and gruesome.
And then there's the Master, of course. Overused as he later becomes, he makes quite the impression in his first story. He's probably at his most callous and menacing in Terror Of The Autons, and that's got to be a good thing. We still think the use of two villains in a story dilutes them both, but even if at the expense of the Autons this is an excellent story for the Master. (If only they'd used him sparingly, we might have continued to like him as much as we do here, instead of throwing cushions at the screen every time he sneers himself into view yet again.) With the Master and the Doctor's mirrored comments about each other's weaknesses, they clearly know each other very well, and the ambiguity of the relationship's also very clear. Intriguing stuff.
The so-called UNIT family is more of a mixed blessing. The Brigadier and the Doctor's relationship here is absolutely brilliant: there's a respect and a cameraderie between them that fair bursts off the screen. And we'll take as much of adorable Benton as we can get. (Double entendre intentional.) On the other hand, though, we also have to put up with walking Valium Mike Yates, the man with the personalityectomy. The feeble attempt here to establish him as romantic potential for Jo is the saddest thing we've ever seen.
And what about Jo, the Giant Leap Backwards, anyway? Well, the good news is that her rapport with the Doctor (and vice versa even more so) is immediate and obvious, not to mention rather sweet. But gah! What a moron. The horror of this is three-sided. First, we have to endure her featherheaded antics, which presumably are meant to make us smile indulgently but instead have us reaching for a sick bag. Second, we're forced to flinch at the volley of patronising comments coming her way, from the "my dear"s and "not this time"s from the Doctor to an actual "easy, love" from Mike Yates. Git. And third, just to rub it in, we're forced to remember that intelligent, competent, underused Liz Shaw was bundled out to make room for this airhead.
Still, although she might screw up royally by attempting to send the UNIT base into the next dimension, at least she manages to rescue the Doctor at the circus and later wriggles out of her bonds to free herself and the Doctor from the plastic van. These are heights of competence she's rarely allowed to scale again, so make the most of it while it lasts.
As for the plot, well. Shame about the CSO, and shame also that they changed the Auton design, since the smiling non-speaking ones were infinitely more terrifying. But there's still some good stuff here. The quarry scene's deeply scary, as is the shootout with the clown-headed Autons. And the notion of deadly plastic's a terrific wheeze, Mary Whitehouse notwithstanding. It's a pity it limps to an abrupt oh-dear-I-hadn't-thought-of-that conclusion, although Farrel masked as the Master makes an excellent epilogue.
As you'd expect from Robert Holmes, there are some great supporting characters: Farrel junior (played by Michael Wisher) and senior particularly stand out, with Holmes managing to put over their entire life story in a few lines of dialogue. As soon as the old man starts throwing his weight around, you know exactly what kind of a life hapless sonny boy has had. Farrel senior is no cardboard cutout, either: his conversation with his wife about his anxiety over the factory brings him alive, and it's a genuinely tragic moment when he's killed. That Time Lord envoy guy's a fascinating character, too. Even the minor character of the scientist springs to life by dint of a couple of lines about hard-boiled eggs. That's great writing.
You sit down to watch a rubbishy old potboiler, and the next thing you know, you've got an overlooked semi-classic on your hands. Who knew, eh?
MORAL: You can't trust an Auton like an old-time copper when you can't find your way home.
How, exactly, does the Doctor know that the box contains a bomb?
MAKE YOUR MIND UP
One minute the Doctor's saying the Master has complete control over human minds, the next he's saying that the control doesn't last, that some people resist, blah blah blah. Which one is it?
I'LL BE HERE ALL WEEK
"He sat down in this chair here and just slipped away." Bwa-hahahahahaha!
YOU SAID IT, BUSTER
"We can't just sit about waiting for something to pop up from Miss Grant's mind."
LE VICE ANGLAIS
"My word, you look very fierce!" Oo-er.
AT LEAST IT'S NOT HER COCCYX
"My ankle!" Sigh.
YOU'RE A DOLLY MARKSMAN, CAPTAIN YATES
How come bullets won't stop an Auton but stop the doll?
I TOOK AN A LEVEL IN GENERAL SCIENCE. I DIDN'T SAY I PASSED IT
If the daffodil plastic masks are dissolved by C02, how come they don't dissolve while the person's still breathing but do dissolve when they're not?
THINK IT THROUGH
"You will destroy the dematerialisation circuit from your own TARDIS!" "Where did you get that?" Um, from your own TARDIS?
OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR
In the originally-written ending, the Doctor says the battle will continue between him and the Master until either he destroys the Master or the Master destroys him. This was dropped as being too bloodthirsty, but given the number of deaths the Master's caused in this go-round, isn't the Doctor treating it like a game ("I'm rather looking forward to it") a lot worse?
Buy this Dr Who DVD: US