Sunday 28 August 2011

279 Terror of the Autons: Episode One

EPISODE: Terror of the Autons: Episode One
TRANSMITTED: 02 January 1971
WRITER: Robert Holmes
DIRECTOR: Barry Letts
SCRIPT EDITOR: Terrance Dicks
PRODUCER: Barry Letts
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who: Mannequin Mania Box Set - Spearhead from Space / Terror of the Autons
Episode Format: 16mm b&w film recording recoloured using 525 off air video

Like Spearhead from Space & Inferno, I've seen Terror of the Autons recently when it was released as part of the Mannequin Mania Box Set in May. So I know what's coming here....

At the Rossini Brothers Circus a Tardis materialises disguised as a modern horse box. From it emerges the Master who hypnotises Luigi Rossini (aka Lew Russel) the Circus' owner and forces him to co-operate in robbing a museum to gain the last remaining Nestene Energy Unit. The Doctor is working on the Tardis creating a lot of smoke from the dematerialisation circuit. A young woman who he Doctor mistakes for the tea lady enters and, believe the circuit is on fire, douses it with a fire extinguisher ruining the Doctor's work. She is Jo Grant, who is his new assistant assigned by the Brigadier. She brings him a report of the robbery, which concerns him. At a nearby radio telescope, technician Goodge complains to Professor Philips about the lunch his wife has made him. The Master arrives, shooting Goodge with an advanced weapon, linking the sphere to the telescope & hypnotising Philips. The Doctor & the Brigadier are arguing about Jo: The Doctor says he needs a scientist while the Brigadier quotes Liz Shaw as saying he needs someone to pass test tubes and say how brilliant he is! Jo brings them a report of a disturbance at the telescope. They go to telescope, meeting Captain Mike Yates who's already there. As the Doctor climbs to the control cabin he sees a Time Lord, dressed in a suit, hovering in mid air. He has brought the Doctor a message: The renegade Time Lord known as the Master is on Earth. The Master has booby trapped the door with a Volatiser grenade rigged to some string: the Doctor dives in the door and catches it. When Captain Yates comes through the door he's sat on the floor dismantling it. They find a Goodge's shrunken corpse in his lunch box. The Master goes to see Rex Farrel, the head of a plastics firm. The Doctor & Captain Yates tell Jo about the Nestenes. The Brigadier starts a search of plastic factories which Jo takes part in. The Master hypnotises Farrel. Jo visits Farrel plastics where she is caught, hypnotised, interrogated and sent back to Unit hq with instructions & no memory of anything that happened. Philips' car is found with the Unit box for the energy unit inside. Mr McDermott comes to see Farrel, concerned at what's going on at the factory and Masters arrival. He wants to summon Farrel Sr to straighten the situation out but Rex doesn't want his father involved. The Master is busy in the factory activating Autons. The Unit box is brought to their HQ. Jo tries to open it with her skeleton keys but the Doctor realises it's a bomb......

As a season opener introducing a pile of new characters it does the job perfectly, returning a memorable foe from the first Pertwee season to our screens.

Quite a lot to get through today......

Here's how the story has it: Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks got talking and compared the Doctor/Brigadier relationship to Sherlock Holmes & Doctor Watson. This led to the question of who was the Doctor's Moriarty ? Terrance Dicks is reported as naming the character The Master, continuing the academic theme of the Doctor's name, while Barry Letts knew who he wanted to play him: Roger Delgado. A very well known television actor who, famed for his role as Spanish ambassador Mendoza in the ITC Sir Francis Drake series he'd acted with Barry Letts many years ago. Indeed he'd recently (1969) he'd appeared in an episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) with Nicholas Courtney. (and a young, thin clean shaven Brian Blessed. The episode is the 11th of the series: "The Ghost who Saved the Bank at Monte Carlo" which is well worth a watch). He appeared on the Radio Times cover, surrounded by the rest of the cast, to promote this story an incident that led people to believe Jon Pertwee was departing Doctor Who which annoyed the lead actor somewhat. When a special cover was used to promote the tenth anniversary story, The Three Doctors, Barry Letts made sure Pertwee was in the centre of the picture.

And because Robert Holmes is writing the Master's first appearance, he indulges his love of killing characters in interesting ways and gives the Master one of his little signatures: Killing people by shrinking them. Here he uses a short stick with a glowing end but it's clearly an earlier version of his Tissue Compression Eliminator. Curiously the Master's next death by shrinking won't be seen for a good long while yet, he doesn't do it again while Pertwee is the Doctor reserving it for Robert Holmes' later Doctor Who script The Deadly Assassin.

Needing a replacement companion for Liz Shaw, Letts & Dicks created the character of Jo Grant along what they saw as more traditional lines: her job was to scream and ask the Doctor to explain things. Reportedly the short sighted Katy Manning was the last actress they auditioned for the job.

Captain Mike Yates was created to fill the gap between Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, still without a first name, and Sergeant Benton. Benton, an enlisted man wasn't even some rank grades beneath the Brigadier. The British rank system runs thus for officers:

Field Marshal
Second Lieutenant

with the enlisted men beneath that.

Sergeant Major

Yates plugs the gap nicely. Two actors were in serious contention for the role: Richard Franklin and Ian Marter. Marter was unable to commit to a long term engagement but Barry Letts remembered him and cast him in the next story he directed, The Carnival of Monsters, before casting him as companion Harry Sullivan in Tom Baker's last story.

Several of the rest of the guest cast also have form with Barry Letts: Christopher Burgess, playing Professor George Philips was Swann in The Enemy of the World and returns as and Barnes, the deputy leader of Lupton's little gang in Planet of the Spiders. Andrew Staines, appearing in just this episode as Goodge, was also in The Enemy of the World as Benik's Sergeant, is the Bernice's Captain in Carnival of Monsters & is Keever, another member of Lupton's gang in the Planet of the Spiders. We also spot Who regulars Dave Carter as the Museum Attendant and Michael Wisher as Rex Farrel (see The Ambassadors of Death for both) while David Garth, the Time Lord, was previously Grey in The Highlanders.

Like the Silurians & Ambassadors of Death this episode survives as 16mm film from BBC Enterprises and low grade NTSC video tape. These were combined for a recolour in the early 1990s that was released on video, a second unseen recolour that was scheduled to be part of the aborted 1999 repeat season and a third recolour that was released on DVD. However a short segment, of Jo meeting the Doctor, survives as 625 line video thanks to being used by Nationwide in their article on Katy Manning's departure from Doctor Who in 1973.

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