Thursday, 10 May 2018
Inspirations - Terror of the Autons
The first thing we ought to say about Terror of the Autons, before we mention the introduction of the Master, and the introduction of Jo Grant, and the introduction of Captain Mike Yates, and the first appearance of the Brigadier's smart new uniform, is that it doesn't actually feature many Autons.
They're hardly in it, and when they are seen they are mostly disguised. The disturbing half-finished faces of the ones we saw in Spearhead From Space are wholly lacking. The undisguised ones in this story have really blank faces, and in this guise are only ever really glimpsed or seen from a distance.
Indeed, the short scene where we see the Master creating the Autons, with Rex Farrell blundering in, was only added late in the day when it was realised that a story with "Autons" in the title did not actually feature them in the first episode.
Writer Robert Holmes, and producer-director Barry Letts, are more keen to explore the Nestenes' manipulation of plastic in its wider forms, so a variety of objects become deadly.
When Letts took on the role of producer, he had accepted on the condition that he could direct some of the stories - roughly one per season. He had directed the bulk of Inferno's studio - but that was only because Douglas Camfield had been taken ill. The run of stories making up Season Seven had been inherited, but Terror of the Autons opens the Eighth Season - a season which is the first to properly have Letts' stamp on it.
As well as the stories, and a seven episode format, Letts had also inherited the companion Liz Shaw. He and Terrance Dicks both felt that having two know-it-all scientists was a bad idea. The companion should be asking the sort of questions which the audience might want answered, and it did not seem right that Liz, with her dozen or so degrees, would ask these questions. Letts wanted a younger, more naive, companion. Thus Josephine (Jo) Grant was conceived, played by Katy Manning. She is no scientist. She's only just joined UNIT - more of an intern or trainee. We'll later find out that her uncle in the UN wangled the job for her. Her first meeting with the Doctor is a disaster, as she ruins his experiment trying to fix his dematerialisation circuit, thinking it was about to explode. The Doctor tells the Brigadier that he doesn't want a new assistant, but might accept someone else of Liz's abilities. The Brigadier sees through this, knowing that the Doctor really wants someone he can show off to - someone to pass him a test tube and tell him how brilliant he is.
This story sets Jo up as quite the peril-monkey. On her first mission, she gets hypnotised by the Master and sent back to UNIT HQ to blow up her colleagues. She later gets threatened by a murderous plastic doll, and is almost asphyxiated by a daffodil.
As for Liz Shaw - she gets written out off screen. It is mentioned that she has gone back to Cambridge. Caroline John would not have been able to have done a second season anyway, as she was pregnant during the making of Ambassadors of Death / Inferno.
Nicholas Courtney had always hated his UNIT uniform, and was glad that Letts agreed. He gets to wear conventional army uniform from this point on.
Previously, the Brigadier had been given a series of temporary seconds-in-command. This was also inherited, designed to show how big the organisation was without actually having to hire too many supporting actors. Letts decided to give him a regular second-in-command - Captain Yates - who might also act as love interest for Jo. The role was initially offered to Ian Marter, but he turned it down when he discovered that it would be an on-going one. It went instead to Richard Franklin. The dialogue is at pains to point out that a Brigadier should have a Major under him, rather than a lowly Captain, and we will actually see one in the following story
After his inclusion in Inferno, at Camfield's request, John Levene's Sergeant Benton becomes a fixture of the UNIT team from this point on. The UNIT Family is born.
As they developed the new companion, Letts and Dicks were talking about the way that the relationship between the Doctor and the Brigadier had parallels with that between Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. They realised that, now that the Doctor was stranded on Earth, he might benefit from a regular adversary who could play the Professor Moriarty role. As he would need to be as clever as the Doctor to be a credible threat, it was obvious that he should be a rival Time Lord - one who symbolised everything which the Doctor opposed. Letts knew exactly who he wanted for this role - his old acting chum Roger Delgado. Dicks then came up with the perfect name for the character - the Master. This, like Doctor, was another academic title, but also hinted at his desire to conquer and dominate. He was given a special attribute - a powerful hypnotic ability. His TARDIS would be fully operational, so he could leave Earth and reappear when required - bringing an array of alien invaders with him. As it was, this story would set up a mini-arc whereby the Master would be as trapped as the Doctor, as he would steal his dematerialisation circuit to try and get his own TARDIS working again.
Unlike the Doctor, the Master carries a weapon, but instead of a conventional gun it is a device which kills by compressing tissue - shrinking its victims.
This story is the first proper sequel in the series' history. Daleks, Cybermen and Ice Warriors had appeared more than once, but their stories were not necessarily pure sequels. The Chase had mentioned the Daleks specifically setting out to kill the Doctor because of his previous victories over them, and the Meddling Monk had reappeared in order to get revenge for what the Doctor did to him at the conclusion of their first encounter - but he had merely guested in a trio of episodes of someone else's story (the Daleks again). Terror of the Autons sees the Master get hold of the last surviving Nestene sphere from their first appearance (though technically there shouldn't have been any left behind) and he uses it to create some new Autons. This is all part of a plan to allow the Nestene Consciousness to attempt a second invasion. The Autons won't really be the weapons in this new campaign, as they were in the first. This time they will be used more as tools, enabling the Master to attack the human race by more subtle means. Holmes had clearly been thinking about the wider implications of household plastic items becoming weaponised. The Master takes over a plastics factory - just as Channing had done before him. Like Channing, he retains the boss, Rex Farrell, but keeps him under his mental control.
The first Nestene weapon we see is the black plastic inflatable chair, which smothers its victims. The Master uses this to stop someone from interfering in his running of the factory. He then uses a Troll doll, which is heat activated, to despatch the previous boss of the firm - Rex's dad John. Another attribute of the Master is penchant for disguises. he uses this to infiltrate UNIT HQ where he replaces the flex on the Doctor's telephone with a length of Nestene plastic. He activates this remotely to try to throttle the Doctor, first making a call to him - so that he can be present at the murder, even if not there in person. The Master's real scheme is to kill thousands of people in the Home Counties using realistic plastic daffodils, handed out in high streets across the region by the Autons, disguised beneath grinning carnival masks. These daffodils spit out a small square of plastic which covers the victim's nose and mouth, suffocating them. They will be activated by a short-wave radio broadcast. Holmes' initial story title was "The Spray of Death", but Dicks objected to this as the daffodils did not feature until quite late in the proceedings.
Letts came under fire for a couple of elements of this story. First of all, there is the climax to Episode 2, where a policeman's face is pulled away to reveal blank stare of an Auton. The police were unhappy, as they were trying to get children to trust officers, and it was felt that this would undermine their campaign. The other issue was the Troll doll. Some parents complained that their children were now afraid to take their teddy bears to bed at night - in case they came to life and tried to strangle them. Letts would take these concerns on board, and later would pull writers and script editor back from the more gruesome sequences they had planned. He would also be mildly critical of the Hinchcliffe - Holmes partnership, with its reliance on Gothic-style horrors.
Letts was always a champion of CSO - Colour Separation Overlay, also known as Chromakey. (It's pretty much called green-screen these days). It had been used in the first Pertwee season, but from this point on it is employed on a more frequent basis. Two scenes from the first episode of this story are done completely against blue-screen - with actors superimposed over photographic backgrounds. The first is the museum sequence where the Master knocks out a guard, and the second is that Auton scene mentioned above. In a later episode, John Farrell's soon-to-be widow hears his dying cries from her kitchen. And what a kitchen it is, apparently being the size of an aircraft hangar. That's the problem with these scenes - the photograph doesn't match the perspective of the foreground actors.
Another thing to say about Lett's direction in this is that he seems to love cutting. Try counting the number of scenes in each of these episodes, and compare with a Hartnell or Troughton story.
The story ends with the Master defeated - far too easily convinced at the last minute that he will die along with the humans when the Nestene arrive. Things are set up for a quick rematch however, as the Doctor still has his dematerialisation circuit.
Next time - yes, the Master is back (and we'll be saying this a lot over the next few entries...).