Apr. 18th, 2018

purplecat: The Third Doctor (Who:Three)
In my mind the events of Spearhead from Space and Terror of the Autons often become confused. I suppose this is perhaps not terribly surprising, they both involve Autons and shenanigans in plastic factories. In particular the Plastic Factory politics aspect of Terror with the over-bearing father figure, and his murder by plastic doll, is more or less the same just a lot more vivid than the equivalent sequence in Spearhead where sacked employee Ransome breaks into the warehouse and comes to an inevitable sticky end, so much so that I tend to confuse the Farrels with Ransome and Hibbert (the Nestene's stoodge in Spearhead).

In general, in fact, Terror of the Autons benefits from more vivid characters and imagery. The master, obviously, is far more memorable than Channing - and this isn't just Delgado's performance but I think more care is given to developing the character where Channing was only ever intended to be a somewhat emotionless mouthpiece for the Nestene consciousness. The various plastic killer devices introduced throughout the story are also vividly memorable. On the downside the plot of Terror of the Autons is primarily driven by the Master's various attempts to kill the Doctor in elaborately complicated ways and his sudden switching of sides at the end does not make a whole load of sense (well not unless one assumes that the whole story is basically about the Master trying to get the Doctor's attention and, once he has it, he's not that interested in his allies. This is, I concede, is an entirely valid reading not to mention one with a large following in certain parts of fandom even if it is not, I think, the one the writers had in mind).

It's Jo's first story and, while not terrible (Jo is no shrinking violet), it isn't her finest hour either, with much being made of her getting into various scrapes often portrayed as a kind of goofy incompetance. As Tame Layman observed, there's potentially a lot that could be done with a trainee spy as the companion, particularly in the fairly action-oriented Pertwee era, but beyond her ability to pick various locks, Jo's skill-set it rarely used. She's definitely a companion who has risen in my esteem now I've seen a lot of her episodes and I think she suffered, when I first got into Who fandom, from comparisons to Sarah Jane which tended to highlight the latter's feminism and, in doing so, tended to downplay Jo's agency. Even so, she often feels a bit underused, and even in this, her introductory story, you feel her strong points are rather over-shadowed by her tendency to be accident-prone. She's another vivid new character but I would say that Spearhead was better for Liz than Terror is for Jo, though part of this clearly stems from the ways the two characters were designed.

It would be hard to pick between these two early Auton stories. They're both very solid. On the whole I think this one is the more watchable of the two even if the plot itself isn't quite a strong.

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