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Doctor Who: Terror of the Autons

BBC Worldwide // Unrated // May 10, 2011
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted May 10, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The Show:
Jon Pertwee is my Doctor.  It was his incarnation of the long-lived Time Lord that I was first exposed to, and though I only saw one complete story (along with several random episodes) before my local PBS station stopped airing the show, I've always felt an affinity for his era of the show.  There are a lot of great Pertwee stories, and one of my absolute favorites has just made it to DVD in region one:  the season opener for his second year as The Doctor:  Terror of the Autons.  Not only does this adventure bring back the Nestene Consciousness, it also includes the first appearance of The Doctor's plucky (and quite attractive) companion Jo Grant.  Oh yeah, and our hero's greatest nemesis is introduced too:  The Master!

The Doctor is still stranded on Earth by the Time Lords with a faulty TARDIS, but that doesn't stop him from trying to repair his time machine.  Some time has passed since the last adventure (Inferno) and The Doctor's assistant, Liz Shaw, has left to go back to Cambridge.  He's been complaining to the Brigadier to get another aide, but when the UNIT leader finally relents, he gives him a bubble-headed novice trainee, who was assigned to UNIT through family connections.  The Doctor is furious at first, but her innocence and charm, not to mention her plucky spirit, soon win him over.
Meanwhile in the country side, the owner of a small circus hears a strange noise and when he investigates he discovers an unfamiliar horse carriage.  Out steps a tall, dark, and sinister looking man who declares that he is The Master, and quickly hypnotizes the carnival barker into doing his bidding.  The first step:  steal a mysterious object in a museum that is on loan from UNIT.

The object turns out to be the Nestene Consciousness, an alien entity that can inhabit and animate anything made of plastic.  The Doctor defeated the previous year, but couldn't bring himself to 'kill' the inert orb that grew dormant once it had been disconnected from an energy source.  The Master has grand plans to kill thousands of people and then open the way for the alien Nestene to invade Earth.  But first, he decides to kill The Doctor.
There's a lot going on in this story and it ends up being a wonderful romp, even though the conclusion is a bit of a let down.  The aspect of this story that makes it one of my favorites is the way both The Doctor and The Master are portrayed.  The Doctor, though we all know he's the good guy, comes across as petty, arrogant and a bit of a bully.  He throws a temper tantrum when a bureaucrat asks UNIT to look into a series of mysterious deaths and is constantly complaining. The Master on the other hand is suave, cool, and collected.  He even admires and compliments his enemies that manage to (temporarily) best him.  Oh yeah, and he'll commit murder at the drop of a hat. 

These characters with personalities that don't match their true nature makes the show a lot of fun, but the creators took it a step further.  There is a lot of very subtle humor in this story that you don't necessarily expect from an episode of Doctor Who.  The Doctor is a part of UNIT.  He has the weight of a well-trained military organization behind him and can call (or cancel) an airstrike.  The Master?  He controls a circus.  One with a mute strong man.  And he travels around in a rented bus.  Yet he's the one who nearly destroys the Earth.
His method of disrupting Britain is wonderfully bizarre too:  he's giving away plastic flowers that will turn deadly when given a signal.  The idea that a kitschy plastic flower could be deadly is amusing, but the fact that the only people who would die are those that would actually want a plastic flower in their house (for free or not) is hilarious.  It's almost as if the creators are saying "don't feel too sorry for them... they got what they deserve."

The most substantial complaint about this story is that the ending is rushed and pretty much just pulled out of nowhere.  It is a significant flaw, but the rest of the adventure is so enjoyable it's easy to overlook the misstep at the end.
The DVD:

This four-episode adventure arrives on a single disc.
The mono soundtrack has been cleaned up and is very good.  It is nice and clear with no hiss or background noise to take away from the story.  Being a mono track, there's really not much more to say about it.
The full frame video has been cleaned up by the Restoration Team and it looks good.   There are a few spots where whites bloom and colors bleed (especially the Doctor's purple jacket) but the serial was most likely recorded that way.  The videotaped segments aren't as sharp as the filmed exteriors, but that's to be expected.  This is an average looking Doctor Who disc.
There are a solid set of extras along with this four episode adventure.  There's a commentary track featuring Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney and Barry Letts which is just as much fun as the story itself.  The group has a great time reminiscing and it would be a mistake not to listen to this one.
The video extras include Life on Earth (33 min) which looks at The Doctor's extended UNIT family in the early Pertwee years, and compares that with the current Doctor Who series.  The Doctor's Moriarty (19 min) examines The Master including his origin and how he's changed over the years (and between stories.)  Finally we have Plastic Fantastic (11 minutes) a fun look at plastic and its role in society.  All three are enjoyable (though the last one is only marginally so) and well worth checking out. 
There is also an 'info-text' option for each story.  This is something that the other Who releases have and I'm a big fan of them.  This pop-up text options allows viewers to read about the shooting schedule, changes between various story incarnations and the final version and learn about the history of the supporting actors.  It's well worth watching, though it can be distracting so watch the story without it once.

The extras are wrapped up with a photo gallery, Doctor Who promotional material for Sugar Smacks (featuring a maniacal looking Jon Pertwee drawing), and other products, and the usual Radio Times listings.
Final Thoughts:
This is a great Doctor Who story.  It introduces a new companion, The Doctor's main foe, and wraps all of that up in a fun story with some very subtle humor.  Highly Recommended.   
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Highly Recommended

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