Terror of the Autons part 1

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    Craig @craig

    Ahh, the third Doctor, the Master, Jo Grant and the Brigadier. Once again, this is a Robert Holmes script and it features the first ever appearance of the Master, played by the wonderful Roger Delgado.

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    I just worked out that I was 13 months old when this was first broadcast, so it is before my original viewing experience. Still loving it though.

    We’ve jumped into a couple of Doctors and companions adventures with 4 and 7, and then saw a regeneration episode for 5. Only natural I suppose to cover the introduction to a companion then, and here we do with Jo Grant.

    One thing about this period that (in my experience anyway) throws a few people, is jarring scene transfers. A few people I’ve tried to introduce it to suggest it seems a little piecemeal in approach, and I think I know where they are coming from. Once you get used to the approach though, there is a lot to like.

    If you’ve only ever seen the AG years, the one thing you can understand is how the Doctor loves his bizarre lifestyle travelling through time and space. With the Third Doctor, he is denied that freedom and confined to Earth. Hence, he’s more than a little grumpy and prone to pick arguments with authority figures.

    Jo’s introduced as a wide eyed novice to the spy world of UNIT. I love the little confrontation with the Brig as he suggests that, if the Doctor wants rid of her, he should be the one to do it. The little gleam in his eye suggests he knows that this is a battle he will win. What’s astonishing considering the legends that have built up around the Brig and the Doctor is how little time they actually spend together even in this, their most active partnership. In the scenes they do share there is a growing understanding in their little games of one-upmanship however.

    Jo replaced the Third Doctors original companion, Liz Shaw. It was a shame it was all done off screen, but the reveal that Liz had stormed off complaining that all the Doctor wanted was someone to hand him his test tubes still makes me laugh, because it just seems to sum up Liz. Having a scientist as a companion was a great idea, but showed some of the problems in writing for a companion like that. She was either baffled by the weird science of the Doctor, or they were exchanging technobabble. In many ways the companion is there to ask the stupid questions, and I sometimes wonder if Jamie and Jo are so well remembered because that’s what they did so well.

    It’s hard to believe that easily swayed plastic factory owner Rex Farrell is played by Michael Wisher, who went on to play an altogether more domineering character in Genesis of the Daleks:

    Above all though – Delgado. He has few words here, but perhaps the quietness is all it needs? It’s hard to equate the Master of this period to the modern lunatic. Poor Goodge. Our first introduction to tissue compression elimination, and the delights of leaving a shrunken corpse as a calling card. He never even got to eat the egg he didn’t want!

    Anonymous @

    @phaseshift – one quick question – who was the Time Lord played by David Garth?  At first glance I thought he was the Master in disguise, but obviously he turned out not to be.  Did I miss the explanation of exactly who he is on Gallifrey, and how he relates to both the Doctor and the Master, or was it not explained in this first part (and might be explained in future?).

    stevethewhistle @steve-thorp

    About a week before I watched this episode, I watched “Spearhead From Space”, the first of the Jon Pertwee episodes and the debut of the Autons. Unfortunately, the picture quality of this DVD is not as good as SFS.

    The humour of the series is still going strong and I can see that there are good bits to come, although I thought that the acting seemed a bit stilted and rushed compared to SFS. The squid (or is it it octopus) reference is probably lost on people who didn’t see SFS. (I am not sure if it is O or S, my memory problems + a bottle of wine!)

    I thought that the bomb “cliff-hanger” was a bit contrived and that the episode was a bit rushed, and that the fairground sequence seemed too contrived.  I hope that I am proved wrong and that we return to the circus.

    I also thought that the effects of the turning radio-telescopes wasn’t very realistic and the black outlines around actors’ faces was off-putting when compared with, not just current effects, but what was done on SPS.

    A friend of mine thought that “The Happiness Patrol” (Which, unfashionably, I like) looked cheap and tawdry, and I was thinking the same about this.

    However…………. (three more episodes)    THE STORY RULES!!

    BTW I have never been a big fan of the Master, and what happened to the glowing eyes?



    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    Just put him down as a general Time Lord jailor. He was the character I mentioned on my Time Lord blog with a natty taste in Savile Row gear and no inclination to help hunt a renegade at all.

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    Spearhead was unusual in that most of it was proper film. It’s recently got a Blu Ray release because of that (I think the only BG series that can be upscaled to that quality). Not sure if the transfer will be kind to the tentacle acting at the end of it. Even the bog standard DVD transfer looks great compared to many serials of the period though.

    I also thought that the effects of the turning radio-telescopes wasn’t very realistic

    I’d visited Jodrell Bank as a young teenager before watching this, and yes, those radio telescopes here really do swish around don’t they?

    BTW I have never been a big fan of the Master

    Burn the heretic! 😈

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @phaseshift – I didn’t see this on first broadcast, either. Since I must have been about seven I’d probably reached still-Fascist Spain in my highly-educational world tour of dodgy dictatorships (courtesy H.M. Govt).

    I have a very clear memory of watching The Deadly Assassin five and a half years later, and having to ask who The Master was – and the faintly shocked reaction of everyone else. How could I not know who the Master was? Roger Delgado must’ve really made an impact.

    Because I have no memory of Delgado, I find that I’m considerably more tolerant of Anthony Ainley than many people my age. I liked his ‘yes, I’m evil – and I don’t care who knows it’ approach. Equally, I like John Simm’s ‘sanity is for wimps’ take on the Master, even knowing that Simm, personally, would rather have toned things down a bit. You can see them as a progression, with the Master getting more and more bonkers as he gets older.

    But you can understand, on watching Delgado, why a lot of people who saw him on first broadcast just don’t want any other interpretation. Nowadays, when it’s more acceptable to put genre performances up for a BAFTA, he’d probably at least have been amongst the nominees. It’s just a really brilliant performance; restrained, very precise, completely magnetic and believably powerful. Oh, and completely psychopathic. 🙂

    It’s interesting how many different ways they find to play the companion. Liz was definitely felt to have not worked – not because of the actress, but because she was also a scientist. Worse, she was a polymath scientist; the last time they’d had a scientist-companion, they’d made her expert in one area only (maths/physics) and made her someone with very little real life experience. Liz could discuss stuff with the Doctor as an equal – but the audience doesn’t need an equal. They need someone who can justify the Doctor explaining things. In English, since the audience doesn’t really speak techno-babble.

    They have, subsequently, had companions who are just as smart as the Doctor – they’ve either stuck to the ‘very little real-life experience’ (Romana) or ‘no knowledge of science’ (Donna) or ‘the Doctor’s pupil’ (Ace and possibly Clara). River, the only character since Romana who knows more than the Doctor, has never been a regular companion.

    Yeah, that Time Lord jailer seems to have no feelings at all for the humans that the Master’s going to murder along the way. And the bomb is ‘amusing’. Early signs from Robert Holmes, I think, that his take on the Time Lords wasn’t going to be ‘noble guardians of space and time’.

    • This reply was modified 10 years, 9 months ago by  Bluesqueakpip.
    Anonymous @

    I love this story. It’s Quatermassy, Unit Family Who at its best. My love of it comes largely from the Target novelisation though (this was, I think, the second or third Target book I read). The cover alone still gives me the willies right to this day:

    Target cover























    And this is kind of the problem for me. How could anything live up to that? Even David Attenborough would think twice about taking that thing on.

    And even the interior illustrations (see below) were enough to give you the heeby-jeebies too. There’s some classic Who horror here and left to a child’s imagination, it is horrific. But the show was just not able to really do it justice, I think.

    Aside from the disappointment of some of my most entrenched Who memories being slightly shat upon by production values, there are also another few things that irk me about this story. Chief among those is The Doctor himself. As I’ve said before, I love the Third Doctor — on paper — but when you see him as actually played by Pertwee, I just find him to be a colossal arse. He treats Jo really shabbily, I think (an unforgivable crime and my book) as he does the rest of the UNIT crew. (I’ve just done a major rewatch of the Pertwee years and I kept imagining Jo, Yates and Benton agreeing about what a knob the Doc was every time he moved out of earshot. I also imagined the older Jo in The Death of the Doctor inwardly lamenting at how come she didn’t manage to land the dishy version of the Doc, instead of the neck-rubbing, patronising fop she had to put up with.)

    But to be fair, the Doc does slightly redeem himself in this episode. His sheepish ‘late developer’ line suggests to me that his air of superiority really hides a Doctor with serious self-doubt. To give him his credit, Pertwee is the first actor to give his Doctor some real psychological layers, however infrequent they are actually shown.

    I always loved that little conference with the Time Lord too. It does show them up to be real callous sons of bitches. Capricious, intellectually advanced but morally stunted. As I say, very Oxford Don/Whitehall mandarin.

    Delgado really hits the ground running in this story — although we haven’t really seen anything yet. Again I thought in print that the tissue compression eliminator just seemed like a horrific weapon. On the screen, it just seems a bit silly. I also tend to wonder just how he managed to get any villainy done when his every appearance was heralded by that bizarre three-note signature tune. (Although to be fair, I was using it as my ringtone at one point.)


















    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    Gosh – your childhood sounds worthy of a Doctor Who adventure itself!

    My introduction to the Master was Deadly Assassin as well, although I’d read at least one book before that was shown (The Daemons) and it didn’t really resonate with me that it was the same person (I was still a bit young). My adventure of discovery with Delgado came later. I’ve said it before in argument with @htpbdet that I also think Ainley isn’t as bad as some make out. Delgado had a limited run of creatives carefully presenting a consistent approach. Ainley had about 5 or 6 script editors. When he had good material and direction he really delivered the goods. I still think Survival shows the work he and Sylvester put in to make their scenes gripping against the odds. When it was bad (Mark of the Rani springs to mind) he was bad.

    The way companions work (or sometimes don’t) always intrigues me. I thought Liz was great when I saw her as a teenager, but I’m not sure if I would have automatically been drawn to her as a child? Jo is often presented as the “typical airhead” even though some of her skills later become apparent. The ones that really stand out for me though are Jamie and Leela. Two of the less developed (in a technology sense) companions who seem to get away with being dumb, through being very clever in their own way. I think those two stand out as examples of how companions don’t necessarily have to be from a “contemporary” period to make the audience bond with them. I’d still love to see if the new show could introduce a companion like that, and what audience reaction would be like. My guess is that if they were bright, inquisitive “children” like Jamie and Leela, the younger audience would take them to them in an instant.

    Anonymous @


    My guess is that if they were bright, inquisitive “children” like Jamie and Leela, the younger audience would take them to them in an instant.

    Well, I for one took to Leela like a duck to water in Talons of Weng-Chiang.  And I haven’t been ‘younger’ for a few (ahem) decades.  😀

    @bluesqueakpip will have me for so blithely throwing away my Topic Dalek crown, but to continue with some more discussion of companions here on the Pertwee thread …

    My introduction to Jo Grant was via the Sarah Jane Adventures.  She really rocked the airhead hippy vibe in that two-parter.  Interestingly, what I saw in this first part of this story is that she wasn’t presented as so very airheady at all.  It’s implied that she got her U.N.I.T. job via her father, but so far she seems fairly intelligent.  Not a Liz, to be sure, but not a blithering idiot either.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @Shazzbot – I remember Jo in her last series with the Doctor. Judging by the way she is in this story (dragging the post vaguely on-topic), she must have been a bit like Rory – someone who matures and develops through her relationship with the Doctor.

    I’ve read in various printed interviews that the ‘ditzy blonde’ thing was partly Katy Manning herself – because contact lenses weren’t comfortable or cheap in 1971, she had to take her glasses off to shoot scenes. And Katy Manning is really, really short sighted; so Jo became very much the sort of character who will knock things over or run into stuff.

    I’m not sure if Katy Manning isn’t the reason behind the long-standing tradition of the Doctor grabbing the Companion’s hand and pulling her along; neatly spoofed in The Snowmen when the Smith Doctor complains: “No, I do the hand grabbing, that’s my job, that’s always me!” She was so short-sighted that apparently she was in real danger of running into a tree if Jon Pertwee didn’t lead her by the hand.

    • This reply was modified 10 years, 9 months ago by  Bluesqueakpip.
    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    Oooooh – cover envy. That’s new! I had the rather less scary:

    Still the same internal illustrations though.

    I don’t find Pertwee chimes with much of my ideal of the Doctor, but I think I appreciate him a lot more than others. I think there is at least some explanation that he’s being difficult because he’s in the last place he wants to be. He is no Six, who dials the unpleasant aspect to 11 with no apparent reason. His relationships with companions always seemed to have bad starts but grew with some affection to become enjoyable.

    Anonymous @

    @phaseshift — I quite like that cover too. It’s got a nice 50s B-movie meets Marvel Comics vibe to it.

    And Pertwee is definitely not on the same level of unpleasantness as Six. As I say, I think it helps that Three lets his guard down sometimes and lets us see that the bluster is for show and that we actually have an unusually emotionally vulnerable and self-doubting Doctor sometimes.

    I wouldn’t say Three is actually unpleasant, just a bit of a pompous knob sometimes. And I can’t help but imagine Jo sometimes giving him the finger the moment his back is turned….

    Anonymous @

    @jimthefish @phaseshift – is it significant, I wonder, that the great eye in both of your covers of ‘Terror of the Autons’ bears a resemblance to the big eye of the Atraxi in The Eleventh Hour, darting back and forth behind Amelia’s wall crack?

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    I don’t know if it was deliberate or not, but I think it’s worth noting the real influence that this period had on the three reboots for the show after cancellation. I think there is a real reason and rationale behind it.

    It’s generally known now that the BBC had some thoughts of cancelling the show towards the end of the Troughton run. It’s well regarded by fans, but it wasn’t the force it was in terms of Audience anymore. What probably saved it was the advent of colour, and people felt a fresh approach to the show might make it a good showcase.

    Hence Spearhead from Space relaunched the show in colour (another Robert Holmes script with Autons) and after a mixed reception to some stories in its first series, suddenly found its feet during this period. Audiences really grew again. Pertwee did a lot of that himself promoting the show at all kind of events, and Baker carried that approach forward.

    All the attempts to relaunch appeared to have looked at Spearhead for inspiration. For the McGann movie you had nicking the cloths from the hospital, motorbike races, a contemporary setting, the Master, etc. For RTD he took the Autons in a contemporary setting for Rose, and for SM, he had another clothes lift from a hospital, contemporary setting and a thrilling drive with a Fire Engine (Pertwee once joked it was about the only vehicle he hadn’t driven).

    I think Spearhead is seen as one of those successes in changing the direction of a show, but it just depends upon the elements you take from it.

    UNITgirl @unitgirl

    “What’s astonishing considering the legends that have built up around the Brig and the Doctor is how little time they actually spend together even in this, their most active partnership. ”

    This may not be the best story to judge that, as some of Nick Courtney’s lines and scenes were re-written and given to Richard Franklin, to take some of the pressure off Nick while he was recovering from the mini-breakdown he had when filming started.

    ScaryB @scaryb


    Great summing up at the start. Apologies for repeating some of your thoughts in episode 4 thread (been working backwards!)

    The Target novel covers are FAB!  The FX in the episdoes must have been a massive letdown compared to your imaginations. But that was the 70s. You had to bring a lot of belief-suspension with you.  No HD to highlight flaws in set design tho.   And the fact they’re on location is nice, not studio bound.

    I remember watching this at the time, and I thought Delgado was stunning.  Powerful, creepy, intelligent, those eyes (!) and the voice (!!!). A bit Dick Dastardly but with a lot more charm and danger. Couldn’t wait for him to come back.

    Brig and the Dr may not have a lot of screen time, but those scenes crackle, and they allow the viewer to see some of the layers in Pertwee’s character (and the Brig for that matter) as they spar with each other.

    One thing that’s not been mentioned is the shock effect of the Vworping noise at the start. The Doctor is earthbound remember.  That’s a TARDIS noise!!  Hadn’t been heard in the show for quite a while. WTF…? (And if that noise is actually because the Dr left the brakes on (ref River) – how come a) the Master’s does it too? b) Civil Servant TimeLord also makes the noise and he doesn’t even have a TARDIS?!)

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