If Spearhead From Space was a hard reset for Doctor Who, then Terror of the Autons was a much softer one. It does not need to introduce us to a nwe Doctor, nor the new situation in which he finds himself. However, this is offset by the departure of one character and the introduction of three new ones. This version of the cast is known as the UNIT family, and it has come together for the very first time in Terror of the Autons.
The first new character is surely familiar at some level to all fans of Doctor Who, regardless of how much attention they have paid to the classic adventures. In so many ways he is the archnemesis of The Doctor. Where The Doctor wishes to help people wherever he can, this new enemy seeks only to dominate. The two of them battle on nearly equal ground, as both are renegade Time Lords even as their outlook on the universe vastly differs. I am of course speaking of The Master, portrayed throughout Jon Pertwee's run by the magnificent Roger Delgado.
Despite the title of this particular adventure, I came away with the distinct impression that this was not so much about the Autons as it was about introducing this new adversary. A great deal of time is spent establishing the character. His methods, a rough layout of his psychology, how The Doctor and he regard one another, and so on. The Master's tools of choice tend not to be traditional weapons, but rather his magnificent wit and charm. He is quite capable of convincing people to follow him through sheer charisma and deception alone, though this is often not enough to succeed. When it does fail he resorts to his second option, hinted at by the name he uses. The Master is a top tier hypnotist, capable of using it to force people to do things that they normally would never dream of. Should he encounter a will too strong to be hypnotised in such a manner, he will usually then resort to physical violence. The Master is insane yet methodical, and one moment within this serial in particular tells us rather a lot about how he regards The Doctor, almost behaving as though this initial confrontation was a deadly duel of wits.
MASTER: You see, the bomb was by way of being a greetings card, a small little gallantry on the eve of battle.
Next, I feel obliged to discuss Liz Shaw. Liz presented a problem for the writers, that was best illustrated during the beginning episode of The Silurians. When the Brigadier is giving out instructions to the main characters, he assigns himself the military oriented duties, The Doctor the scientific ones... While Liz Shaw, a scientist brilliant enough to be sought after by UNIT for what would eventually become The Doctor's job as scientific advisor, is sent off to interview the people working in the facility. To be frank this kind of job was beneath her talents, but that's the problem I'm trying to illustrate. it makes sense for Liz Shaw to be present as UNIT would certainly want someone with her credentials working for them, and yet she can't possibly hope to match up to The Doctor. This would lead to them discarding Liz between seasons, which had nothing to do with the fact that she was pregnant at the end of the previous year as the decision was taken before that discovery. Liz was sent back to Cambridge in universe for similar reasons to why she was written out. Her character was frustrated that her abilities were not being put to good use, or at least this is the implication we get from a line by the Brigadier. She was too intelligent and independant to play second fiddle to The Doctor. I did not discuss her departure during Inferno for one simple reason. We do not see her depart at the end of it.
Instead a new character was introduced. This would be someone that wouldn't be scientifically oriented, and nor would it be a military type either. They wanted someone that wouldn't fall into the same trap as Liz Shaw, someone that could play second fiddle to The Doctor while still being useful in other ways. To this end they created Jo Grant, new assistant to The Doctor despite her lack of a scientific background. To be frank she got the role through a combination of nepotism and the Brigadier's desire to stick her where she could do the least amount of harm. Jo then ends her first episode hypnotised by The Master into trying to set off a bomb intended to kill The Doctor.
A third new character was also introduced. Captain Mike Yates. There isn't quite as much to discuss related to Yates as compared to the others, as he remains largely a background character in most of his appearances. He is intended as a potential love interest for Jo, but other than this the only other point of note is a marvellous action taken by him in the third episode.
As given away in the title, the Autons reappear within this story. Even given the focus on The Master, I feel that the title is still particularly apt. The previous attempt by the Nestene Consciousness was rather to the point and lacked true appreciation for what they were truly capable of. Enter The Master. Suddenly, the mundane is that much more frightening. As stated at one point by the Brigadier, ther's a lot of plastic around. Anything made of plastic can in theory be used as a weapon by the Nestene. This story delves much more into how truly terrifying that actually is. Where the previous story focused on the doppleganger ability they possess, this one is a bit more unnerving. The Nestene don't need to use anything large to kill people, when smaller and innocent seeming items could easily suffocate a person before they even knew what was happening.
Terror of the Autons is a must see adventure, that I strongly recommend to fans of the new series in particular. I exclude fans of the classic series because they either have already seen it, or have it on their to do list before reading this review. The people that need to know whether to watch or not are the latest generation of fans, and to them I have to answer with an emphatic yes.
Tags: Relative Dimensions