Recap / Doctor Who S8 E1 "Terror of the Autons"

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The human body has a basic weakness. One which I shall exploit to assist in the destruction of humanity.
The Master

The one with a killer phone cable and the first appearance of an iconic villain.

Although a theme that had been explored before, with the Meddling Monk ("The Time Meddler") and the War Chief ("The War Games"), the introduction of the Master as the main villain for every story of season 8 saw a true Evil Counterpart for the Doctor — a Moriarty to the Doctor's Sherlock Holmes, as the BBC Classics website puts it. Roger Delgado played his first known incarnation, yet not the first chronologically like William Hartnell — but that's a story for another time. It was also the debut of Josephine "Jo" Grant (Katy Manning), and Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin), both of whom would go on to have very prolific careers in the Big Finish audio range after their classic series runs.

The Master lands his TARDIS (which does have a working chameleon circuit) in a circus, and sets about his evil plan; first he steals a Nestene energy unit from a museum (see "Spearhead From Space"), then reactivates it using a radio telescope and finally takes over a small plastics firm using his powers of hypnotism. Using the firm's factory, he produces deadly chairs that engulf and kill, plastic daffodils that spray a plastic film over the mouth and nose, and deadly plastic dolls. Autons distribute the daffodils in a promotional campaign. The final phase will be to use the radio telescope to summon the Nestene Consciousness and activate the daffodils.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is investigating the mysterious deaths caused by the chairs and dolls with the help of Jo Grant, a young UNIT assistant who has been given her position thanks to a uniquely persistent relative. Jo falls under the Master's hypnotic influence and nearly blows up UNIT HQ with a bomb. Later, the Master installs a new telephone in UNIT HQ and the cord nearly strangles the Doctor.

Eventually, though, the Doctor persuades the Master that the Nestene Consciousness will have no use for him once they arrive, and they work together to repel the Consciousness into space.

After the Master pulls off a last-minute escape from UNIT troops, the Doctor notes that they are unlikely to have heard the last of him, and that actually he's quite looking forward to matching wits with him again.

Tropes:

  • All There in the Manual: The novelisation reveals that Tony the Strongman is on the run from the law.
    • More background is given to Luigi Rossini and his circus.
    • A scene cut from the script is retained in the book. It sees the Master use the term “polynestene” to describe the material that the killer chair is made of.
    • The Nestenes and Autons are led by a High Command.
    • The Doctor recognises the messenger as a member of the High Council. It is also stated that the messenger was present at the Doctor's trial.
    • The Doctor says the Xanthoids use volatalisers in their mining operations.
    • The Nestene planet is named as Polymos.
    • The Doctor recognises the Master's TARDIS because it is in better condition than the other circus vehicles. The Master drives it along on the coach tour.
    • While at the circus, the Doctor tries to untie his bonds using a technique he learned from Harry Houdini.
    • The Doctor identifies George Philips' weapon as a Sontaran fragmentation grenade.
    • The novelisation states that the Auton leader's features are more "finished" then the others.
    • The Doctor reflects that if the Time Lords ever catch the Master they will reverse his timeline so he never existed.
    • Mrs Farrel is given the first name of Mary.
    • Goodge is given the first name of Albert.
    • McDermott is said to have founded Farrel Plastics with Rex Farrel's father.
    • Yates says his aunt has some of the plastic daffodils.
    • The Nestene's arrival is signalled by the appearance of a creature similar to the one the Doctor destroyed at the climax of Spearhead from Space. This was filmed but the effect was deemed unconvincing.
    • The Brigadier suggests mass producing the machine the Doctor used to destroy the Autons before but the Doctor points out it has to be used at close range and the Autons may have evolved a defence
  • Arm Cannon: The Autons.
  • Artistic License Multiple Sciences: The plastic film that's used to smother people is dissolved by carbon dioxide, even in the low concentration of normal breath. Even ignoring just how carbon dioxide could dissolve plastic, it should dissolve while people are choking, as all of the oxygen in their lungs is being converted into carbon dioxide. That way, the film would release its victims before it could kill them. Possibly excusable if there's a time-delay between the film's release and its becoming vulnerable to breath.
    • Ironically, if you think about it, it might prove Liz Shaw's point from Spearhead From Space - that despite it being like plastic, it isn't.
  • Attack of the Killer Whatever: The story has killer inflatable chairs, killer plastic daffodils, killer Brand X Troll-dolls, killer advertising eyesores... Robert Holmes cited his inspirations for the story as the preponderance of cheap disposable plastic fad items that began to really take off in the '70s, and realising you would only need four inches square of plastic sheet to suffocate someone.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: The Master dons a suit with an orange tie to disguise himself as a businessman, and arguably spends more time in disguise than in his Nehru jacket attire in his debut. If you can't already tell, the Master of Disguise act will become his trademark. He is a "Master", after all.
  • BBC Quarry: For once, it isn't doubling as an alien planet.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: An Auton hands a daffodil directly to the camera.
  • Characterization Marches On: Jo karate-chopping Benton — her character was originally envisioned as an Emma Peel-Expy.
  • Continuity Nod: The Doctor tells Jo that Captain Yates had the job of clearing up the mess caused by the Autons during their previous invasion.
  • Decoy Getaway: The Master hypnotises Rex Farrel, dresses Farrel in his clothing and a Latex Perfection Roger Delgado mask, and sends him out to do a Suicide By UNIT. While the Doctor and UNIT are distracted, the real Master slips away.
  • Desperate Object Catch: How the Doctor disarms the Volataliser booby trap.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The Time Lord representative wearing a bowler and three piece suit, when we'll later see Time Lords traditionally dress in ornate robes with odd hats. However he states that he's trying to blend in "unlike some". However, the ability to effortlessly float in mid-air under his own power he demonstrates is something no other Time Lord does, except the Tenth Doctor under very unique circumstances. note  Possibly justified if he was a projection.
  • Education Through Pyrotechnics: The Meet Cute between the Doctor and Jo Grant. The Doctor is singing "I don't want to set the world on fire..." when his equipment blows up, producing copious amounts of smoke. Jo grabs a fire extinguisher and douses the laboratory bench, only to get shouted at by the Doctor for ruining three months of work.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • The Master's first scene establishes him nicely.
    • Jo blundering in to the Doctor's experiment.
  • Fake Shemp: Nicholas Courtney was doubled for the quarry scene, as he was suffering from depression at the time.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • Goodge’s wife keeps slipping eggs into his lunchbox. Given that eggs are a known aphrodisiac, maybe she's planning to tell him something.
    • Philips’ line “oh, by the way, talking of eggs, I want a four-hour scan below the hydrogen line tomorrow” is an example of Robert Holmes’ working secret fart jokes into his scripts.
  • Gonk: That troll doll.
  • Latex Perfection: The Master's disguise masks. Possibly justified as Auton tech.
  • Long Bus Trip: Liz Shaw has departed between seasons, and is said to have returned to Cambridge after telling the Brigadier that the Doctor didn't need a lab assistant, he just needed someone to pass him his test tubes and tell him how brilliant he was.
  • The Master: For the very first time.
  • Moral Guardians: this story caused one of the biggest violence/horror controversies in the show's history. In particular, it was claimed that the ep 2 cliffhanger with the Auton policemen would make children fear and distrust the police, and that the murderous troll doll had left children scared that their cuddly toys would strangle them in their sleep. Barry Letts has said that the reaction did convince him that they'd gone overboard, and to self-censor more in later seasons.
  • No Ontological Inertia. Played straight. The Master awakens a dormant meteorite containing the Nestene Consciousness, which animates a group of Autons (plastic automata) he created, which go on to create second-generation Autons that also come alive with the Nestene Consciousness. When the Autons take care of the first phase of the invasion, the Master uses a radio telescope to broadcast some kind of energy that allows a Nestene mothership to instantly materialize in Earth's sky. When the Doctor reverses the polarity of the telescope, not only does the mothership disappear, but every Auton falls lifelessly to the ground. Justified in that the Autons are not independently intelligent, but are directly controlled by the Nestene Consciousness.
  • No Pronunciation Guide: The Doctor pronounced the word Cephalopod "Kephalopod."
  • Not Himself
  • Not My Driver: The cliffhanger to Part 3 has the Dramatic Unmask of an Auton posing as the Doctor and Jo's cab driver just long enough to kidnap them and lead them to an Auton ambush.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Played with. The Doctor instinctively treats Brownrose as one, even though he's actually being quite helpful.
  • Our Monsters Are Weird: The Master has murderous plastic daffodil monsters and an inflatable chair that eats people.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Nicholas Courtney suffered a sudden illness - an attack of depression - during filming, so his dialogue was re-written to reduce the Brigadier's involvement. However, Courtney was able to return to filming within a few days.
  • Reverse Polarity: The Doctor does this in order to make the thingamajig do somethingsomething so that the Nestene will return to space.
  • Rogue Agent: The Master is a rogue Time Lord, so it makes sense for the Time Lords to use another rogue Time Lord, the Doctor, to stop him.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: A rare sympathetic example: Jo gets into a position she really isn't qualified for thanks to a connected relative.
  • Second Face Smoke: Circus owner Rossini blows cigar smoke in the Doctor's face.
  • Sequel Episode: To Spearhead from Space.
  • Shout-Out: The Time Lord's appearance hovering in mid-air is a Shout Out to Rene Magritte's painting Golconda, showing similarly-dressed men falling like rain.
  • Somebody Else's Problem: The Time Lords know how dangerous the Master is, so they just let the Doctor know he's in the area and proceed not to give him any help at all.
  • Stuffed into the Fridge: The Master kills a scientist by shrinking him, and then makes a point of stuffing the tiny body in the scientist's lunchbox for the Doctor to find later.
  • Tied Up on the Phone: a telephone cord is actually an agent for the Autons and tangles up the Doctor.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: When Jo rescues the Doctor from the Master's caravan, he chastises her for not staying put. Not even a "thank you".
  • Villain Exit Stage Left: UNIT do chase after the Master, but give up when they find his abandoned vehicle. The Doctor is completely unconcerned about the likelihood of the villain returning. "As a matter of fact, Jo, I'm rather looking forward to it."
  • When Props Attack: All the Auton-possessed object scenes have huge amounts of this, but especially the doll sequence.
  • Worthy Opponent: The Master calls The Doctor and previous adversaries this in part four.
  • The X of Y


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