THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
NOVELS "THE DEVIL
GOBLINS FROM NEPTUNE"
AND "DEADLY REUNION."
THE SPRAY OF DEATH
DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD
3135) RELEASED IN
The DOCTOR IS STILL
AND UNABLE TO USE
THE TARDIS, BUT THE
LOOKING OUT FOR HIM.
THEY SEND WARNING
THAT THE MASTER
HAS ARRIVED, AND
THE DOCTOR SOON
DISCOVERS THAT THE
THE NESTENE AND ITS
ONCE AGAIN, THE EARTH
CAN THE DOCTOR AND
GRANT SAVE IT BEFORE
BBC AUDIO CD (ISBN 1-4
IN AUGUST 2010.
Geoffrey Beevers, who
played The Master in
the classic TV series,
reads Terrance Dicks'
published by Target
Books in 1975.
2ND JANUARY 1971 - 23RD JANUARY 1971
With Doctor Who’s first colour season a resounding success, Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts sought to open their second season at the helm with another Nestene serial from the legendary Robert Holmes. “The Spray of Death” went through numerous revisions before finally becoming Terror of the Autons. As Caroline John had fallen pregnant, the script was amended to accommodate not only a new female assistant in the sparkling Jo Grant, but a new UNIT officer in Captain Mike Yates, so as to serve as a not-quite romantic foil for her. However, top of Holmes’ shopping list of ingredients was the Doctor’s nemesis: the Master.
Borne of the imaginations of
Dicks, Letts and Holmes, the
Doctor’s arch-nemesis was
created to try and infuse the
wholly Earthbound series with
new zest. As the Doctor and
the Brigadier’s relationship
had developed in such a way
as to invite comparison to
Sherlock Holmes and John
Watson, it was decided that
the logical thing to do would be give them their own Moriarty: a Time Lord of the same – if not greater – intelligence as the Doctor, but one so hell-bent on destruction that he is forever fated to overlook the little things and thus come undone. In a move reminiscent of the current television series, the character would appear in most of the season’s episodes as he and the Doctor would play out their deadly game over all five serials before the villain’s capture
in the season finale.
Accordingly, Terror of the Autons is the Master’s story through and through; so much so that, had it come later, it would have been in danger of being seen as a ‘best of’ compilation. His penchant for disguise, his powers of hypnotic suggestion, his propensity for shrinking people with his amusingly phallic ‘tissue compression eliminator’ and even his vast intelligence (he got a higher classification than the Doctor in his cosmic science degree, apparently) are all showcased in this serial in vivid and memorable ways. Take disguises, for example – one only need look at the sequence in Episode 3 where the Master poses as a phone engineer to tick that box. Hypnotism – see how he uses Jo Grant to try and blow up her colleagues, and on her first assignment too. The way the Master completely overwhelms his victims’ will through a combination of charisma and brute mental force is perhaps the character’s most disturbing feature here - to see Rex Farrel casually watch his father’s business partner have his face smothered by a plastic chair and talk about mass murder so very matter of factly is horrifying in the extreme.
Of course, some ‘critics’ like Mary Whitehouse considered the terror in Terror of the Autons to be too terrifying to be transmitted. The heat-activated plastic troll doll that murders Farrel Senior is undoubtedly one of the series’ greatest behind the sofa moments, and the “peel off the peeler’s face” scene was deemed so very disturbing that questions were even asked in the House of Lords about its appropriateness. But as they say, all publicity is good publicity, and despite the onslaught of zealots and do-gooders calling for the horror in the programme to be curtailed, Terror of the Autons pulled in around eight million viewers each week and to do this day remains one of the most fondly remembered Jon Pertwee serials – it’s certainly up there amongst my favourites.
As was the case with many of the third Doctor’s stories, I happen to
have read the Target novelisation of this story before ever seeing it
on video. When approaching a story this way, I’ve invariably found the
television serial something of a let down after letting my imagination
run riot when reading the book, but this production seems to be the
exception to the rule. I loved Terror of the Autons on the screen every
bit as much as I loved Dicks’ novelisation; the performances are so
very enthralling that, even in 2011, the four grainy episodes are still
unconscionably riveting. Right: The Radio Times introduces the Master
Roger Delgado is particularly mesmerising as the Master. The story goes that no-one else was ever in the frame for the part; from day one Letts said that the Master would be played by Delgado, and even with the benefit of hindsight (and having seen the like of Sir Derek Jacobi and John Simm tackle the part) it is difficult to imagine anyone else as the Master. Delgado has the same sort of association with the Master that Tom Baker does with the Doctor – up until the renegade’s recent return to television, the man on the street would’ve recognised Delgado as the Master; the definite article. Who knows, perhaps he still would.
The only real criticism that I could level at this
story is the almost comical cheapness of it –
something that was hardly within the control of
those making the programme. After spending
many a sleepless night in fear of the Nestene
monstrosity depicted on the front cover of the
novelisation (see right), the final episode’s
electronic scribble couldn’t be described as
anything other than pitiful, and the extensive
use of Colour Separation Overlay throughout
is even more dispiriting. Necessary scenes I
can forgive – shots of the Master’s shrunken
victims, for instance – but a domestic kitchen?
I’m surprised that the director didn’t see “EXT
QUARRY” in the script and just plonk his stars
in front of a blue screen (though that would’ve
been so ironic a move that it would’ve almost been laudable).
Fortunately this DVD’s producers have had a
few more resources to throw at the featurettes
that complement the forty-year old feature.
The bonus material on offer here is even a
little more bountiful than on the Spearhead
sister disc, as the programmes celebrate the
television debuts of the Master, Jo Grant and
Mike Yates, as well as the lethal, eponymous Autons. The flagship feature, Life on Earth,
runs to just over half an hour and documents the conception and production of the serial via the reminiscences of actors Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, and Richard Franklin; script editor Terrance Dicks; and producer Barry Letts. The feature also compares this era of the show, and particularly Terror of the Autons, with the Russell T Davies era, with then-producer Phil Collinson even likening the endearing third Doctor and Jo dynamic to the tenth Doctor and Rose’s unique love story.
Above: Life on Earth’s New Kids on the Block: (L-R) Jon Pertwee, Barry Letts and Roger Delgado
Every bit as enthralling is The Doctor’s Moriarty, a twenty-minute feature that sees regular DVD pundits Christopher Bidmead, Rob Shearman and Joseph Lidster look at the Master’s role in the television series between his debut here and 2007’s Last of the Time Lords. The feature is probably the disc’s most lovingly-crafted – beautifully redolent Target-style artwork from Chris Achilleos, amongst others, is used together with a selection of clips to illustrate the Master’s fiendish exploits to stunning effect. The panel of Master experts – one of whom can claim to have written the definitive Master piece – also offer some shrewd and incisive musings on the Master’s merits. Shearman, true to form, hits the nail on the head when he says that the Master is at his most effective when you’re desperate to like him, citing Roger Delgado’s heartbreaking performance in the first half of The Sea Devils as a case in point. Inevitably poor Anthony Ainley doesn’t come off quite as well as earlier Masters, as Lidster
in particularly takes great delight in dissecting every implausible coincidence, impossible escape and unnecessary disguise that plagued the 1980s interpretation.
Plastic Fantastic is far shorter and glossier, taking a look at the success of the Autons and what sets them apart from other monsters, with Mr Shearman again leading the charge. The disc is then rounded off with all the standard accoutrements, including a thoroughly charming commentary featuring the effervescent Katy Manning and fallen heroes Nicholas Courtney and Barry Letts.
Above: The Doctor’s Moriarty: The Master
On the whole, I couldn’t have been any happier with the Terror of the Autons DVD release. This serial is one that’s been anxiously sat atop my DVD wish list for many years now, and having again delved into a tale of trolls and circuses; hardboiled eggs and widow’s grief, I can now remember why. This adventure entertains from the most minor character up, many of them vested with a level of life and personality that they could easily have done without, and it offers moments of terror so acute and horrifying that they would live on in infamy for decades thereafter. Most remarkably of all though, this story is about the coming together of a unique family comprised of eager heroes and playful villains; gung-ho soldiers and naïve little girls. This story marks the beginning of the UNIT era proper, and just like Doctor, I look forward to it – every time.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008, 2011
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Doctor Who and the
Terror of the Autons
“I am usually referred to as the Master… universally.”
Terror of the Autons, the first serial of Doctor Who’s eighth season, may stick in the memory for many reasons. The return of the Autons, be they blank-faced or sporting creepy smiley masks and clutching daffodils. The introduction of sweet sidekick Jo Grant. The chilling use of CSO to bring an ugly troll doll to life. The story is noteworthy for several reasons, but one, of course, is of prime importance to Who fans. This is the story that introduces the Master.
Robert Holmes, the now legendary scriptwriter, was
responsible for the original serial, and therefore the
introduction of this hugely significant character. Yet it
was producer Barry Letts and script editor Terence
Dicks who came up with the concept for the Doctor’s
recurrent archenemy. It’s entirely appropriate then that
it was Dicks who novelised this story, putting his own
indelible stamp on the Master’s debut. It’s true that
Dicks churned these out at a rate of knots back in the
day, but thankfully Terror of the Autons is one of his
better efforts, one which clearly benefited from a lot
of time and care. The story is expanded somewhat,
not altering the plot, but providing flashes of character
background and extended scenes. There’s plenty of
meat on the bones in this story, making it a satisfying
An odd side effect of Target’s programme of novelis-
ation is that Jo gets two introductions. Not only is she
introduced here, in the prose version of her televised
debut, but she had also been introduced previously in
Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, the heavily
rewritten novelisation of Colony in Space. It’s not something that causes much of a problem,
even for someone following these classic Pertwee-era adaptations, but it must have been
highly confusing for young readers at the time. It’s a fine introduction here, though, throwing
the hapless junior UNIT agent in at the deep end as the Master flexes his hypnotic muscles.
Dicks, naturally, captures the Master excellently, providing images of him perching like a bat
on an observatory roof, or grasping his associates’ arms in an inhumanly strong grip. He’s a
formidable opponent in this tale, even if he does switch sides rather suddenly and with little
their side of the bargain.
The Nestene, and their plastic servants, are in some ways served
well by the prose medium, yet suffer in others. The appeal of the
Autons is so utterly visual that mere descriptions of them will never match up to the sight of them marching through the streets. The
Nestene itself, however, only benefits from the medium. On screen
we got little more than a blurry pinkish blob, poorly CSO’d onto a
transmitter tower. In the novelisation, the vague cloud of energy
materialises into a hideous space monster, a Lovecraftian horror
“part spider, part crab, part octopus.” It’s such a wonderful image
that it became the focus of all the covers provided for the novel
over the years, including the classic Chris Achilleos cover used again for this audio release.
An audio book, of course, is only ever as good as its narrator. It is a good thing, then, that Geoffrey Beevers returns to read this story, resuming his now traditional post as reader of
Master novels. As always, he provides an excellent reading, putting astonishing amounts of
personality into each character through such minor variations in tone and voice. Naturally,
he excels, as usual, in his portrayal of the Master, but it’s also a particular pleasure to hear his brusque Brigadier. Beevers’s reading of Dicks’s lively prose is amply supported by the BBC’s excellent sound work, with everything from subtle birdsong to the pomp of a circus providing atmosphere. There’s also a spooky, almost Torchwood-like theme at the open
and close of each disc.
Altogether, this is highly significant story is something of a must for a fan of the Master, the third Doctor or BBC Audio’s ongoing range of novelisation readings.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2010
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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