Sue: So is that it, then? That’s the regeneration?
Me: No, this is the title sequence.
Sue: But it’s a massive spoiler. It ruins the Doctor’s big entrance. Oh no, not Robert Holmes again!
The action begins at a radar tracking station.
Sue: This is lovely. Although if I’d seen this in 1970, it would have been in black and white. We couldn’t afford a colour telly.
Me: I could turn the colour down, if you like.
Sue: No, please don’t.
A technician identifies a meteorite shower on his radar screen.
Sue: It looks great, but it sounds terrible. The acoustics are so bad, I can barely understand a word he’s saying. And this background hum would drive you crazy if you had to work there. No wonder this guy is sweating – he’s having a nervous breakdown. And he looks like James Blunt.
I tell her they shot this story on location on 16mm film, with hardly any preparation; I don’t tell her they did this to get around a BBC strike – she would have called them scabs and written the whole thing off. Anyway, she eventually agrees to cut the acoustics some slack, which is a good job too, because the sound in the next location is even worse!
Sue: (Pointing at Liz Shaw) Is she the new assistant? She looks like a spy.
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart asks Liz to join UNIT, a paramilitary organisation that’s been set up to tackle extraordinary situations.
Sue: Like Torchwood, only less gay?
Meanwhile, in a cottage hospital down the road, the director is doing everything he possibly can to hide the Doctor’s new face.
Sue: Why bother? We know what he looks like – his face is in the title sequence. You can’t miss it!
Sue adores the handheld camerawork in this episode – “It feels very modern” – and she can hardly believe her eyes when we suddenly track backwards down a very narrow corridor.
Sue: This looks like Das Boot! Who directed this?
Me: Derek Martinus.
Sue: He can come back again.
The Doctor wakes up and takes a good look at himself.
Sue: Yeah, I’d be disappointed if I were you, pet. Troughton was so much more attractive, although you had to concentrate quite hard to see that.
Me: We’re still watching an era of the programme where you weren’t supposed to fancy the Doctor.
Sue: Well, they’re certainly succeeding.
Me: Although a lot of women do find Jon Pertwee irresistible, apparently.
Sue: Now you’re just taking the piss.
The Doctor is mumbling incoherently about his shoes.
Sue: So has this Doctor got a shoe fetish, like the Second Doctor had a hat fetish? That could be interesting…
The Doctor is kidnapped. Even worse, Sue thinks she’s spotted a flaw with Spearhead’s hitherto impeccable production values.
Sue: The make-up on these extras is appalling. Look at their shiny faces! Obviously the make-up department weren’t used to working in colour. They needed more time to practice.
The Doctor manages to escape from his captors, even though he’s been bound and gagged and placed in a wheelchair.
Sue: You see, this is the problem I’m going to have with Jon Pertwee. He’s too silly. It’s going to be Benny Hill-style slapstick every week, isn’t it? The production values are great, and the direction is excellent, but it’s literally going downhill, now.
Sue: When Jon Pertwee’s head appears in the title sequence, it looks like Darth Vader’s helmet.
Sue: I think the real reason I didn’t watch Doctor Who when I was little is that it was on the BBC, which meant it was too posh for our house. We were an ITV family. We probably watched Randall and Hopkirk instead, because they weren’t so upper class. Everyone in this episode of Doctor Who sounds like they went to public school.
Me: Well, you’re middle class now, love, so you should be fine.
Liz doesn’t believe the Brigadier when he tells her that he’s thwarted alien incursions before.
Sue: It’s just like Mulder and Scully, this, but with even more sexual tension.
Me: What do you think of Liz?
Sue: I don’t like her.
Me: What’s wrong with her?
Sue: She’s too posh. I’m surprised she isn’t eating a cucumber sandwich as she drones on and on in that plummy accent of hers. I won’t be able to relate to her. I’m sorry.
Meanwhile a poacher named Sam Seeley has found (and kept) a mysterious sphere that crash-landed near his cottage at the beginning of the story.
Sue: Oh, it’s them!
It’s an Auton.
Sue: It’s the monsters from Christopher Eccleston’s first story. Rory turned into one; or one of them turned into him, I’m not entirely sure. Yes, I do remember them. They’re made from plastic.
Me: Do you remember what they’re called?
Sue: (Uncertain) The Deadly Dummies?
Sue: Okay, calm down.
Me: (Pointing at Sam and Meg Seeley) Well, at least there are some working class characters for you to relate to now.
Sue: Yes, their cobbles are very nice. But they’re not coming out of this very well, are they? This programme doesn’t seem to like working class people very much.
A surgeon arrives at the hospital in a red vintage roadster.
Sue: So does the Doctor steal this guy’s car? And does he cover his tracks by spray-painting it Daytona Yellow? What a jerk!
The Doctor takes a post-regenerative shower.
Me: Look, Sue! Naked Pertwee!
Sue: Sorry, but that really isn’t doing anything for me. Oh look, he has a tattoo.
Me: Fans have come up with plenty of theories to explain that.
Sue: Why can’t they just accept the fact that the actor has a tattoo?
Me: Because that would shatter their hermetically-sealed fictional universe. Look, let’s just say you had to explain the tattoo in the programme itself, what would you do?
Sue: I don’t know. Maybe it’s the mark of a Time Lord, or a Time Lord criminal. Something stupid like that.
Me: You see! You do think like a fan!
She decides to change the subject.
Sue: Why doesn’t the Doctor steal that nice MG Midget over there? It’s less conspicuous. Or maybe he’s trying to be like Steed in The Avengers. Or maybe he’s a fan of The Prisoner. He’s basically copying both of them.
An Auton causes a UNIT Land Rover to crash into a tree, and Sue is horrified when the camera peers through its blood-splattered windscreen.
Sue: That was too gruesome for kids, although it probably didn’t look that bad in black and white, so only rich kids with colour televisions would have been traumatised by it. So that’s okay.
The Doctor realises that the meteorites aren’t meteorites at all.
Sue: Okay, I admit it, I’m warming to him. He’s a lot nicer than I thought he would be. He’s got a certain charm.
Meanwhile a disgruntled plastics factory employee is scared out of his wits when a mannequin springs to life and walks up behind him.
Sue: That was scary. This is a walk in the park compared to some of the rubbish I’ve seen. Are they all as good as this, Neil? Watching Jon Pertwee’s stories could be a lot easier than I thought.
Sue: The Autons are lousy shots, but at least they can run. Is this the first time we’ve seen a monster in Doctor Who that doesn’t shamble about aimlessly? I’m impressed.
Ransome seeks refuge in a UNIT tent.
Sue: He’s sweating so much, he looks like he’s been swimming.
The Doctor asks Liz to retrieve the TARDIS key from the Brigadier.
Sue: The Doctor is a smooth operator; he has a calming voice, and Pertwee is taking the part very seriously. I think I like him. He definitely isn’t what I was expecting.
UNIT decide to interrogate Sam Seeley when he offers to sell them a “thunderbolt”.
Sue: If this was an episode of 24, they would have shot that poacher in the kneecaps by now.
As soon as the Doctor recovers the key to his TARDIS, he’s off like a shot.
Sue: So the Doctor legs it? I’m not sure how I feel about that. That’s the sort of thing William Hartnell would have done.
But the TARDIS won’t dematerialise and the Doctor is forced to evacuate its smoke-filled interior.
Sue: Does the Doctor dress like this all the time? It’s not very practical, is it? It’d be fine if he was going to a casino, but not much else.
Back at the cottage, Sam’s wife, Meg, is rummaging through her husband’s belongings.
Sue: She’s looking for his porn stash.
Sam admits that he’s been hiding an Auton sphere in his cottage, and the Doctor sets off to retrieve it.
Sue: Shouldn’t he ask him where he’s hidden it? Or does he have to search the whole cottage?
It doesn’t matter, because an Auton has beaten the Doctor to it.
Sue: Did that Auton just kill a dog? I’m not very happy about that!
When Meg Seeley discovers an Auton ransacking their cottage, she immediately reaches for her shotgun.
Sue: You go, girl. You see, this is why we need a shotgun.
Me: No, the reason we need a shotgun is here (warning: you can’t “un-see” things so click that link with extreme caution).
Sue: He’s probably just taking the piss.
Me: Yeah, probably. But I have bought a shotgun. Just in case.
Meg fires a shotgun at the alien, but the Auton isn’t fazed.
Sue: Shoot it in the head! Has she never seen a zombie film?
And then the episode concludes with an Army General answering the door to… himself.
Sue: That was a creepy cliffhanger. So is this the Autons’ plan, then? They’re going to take over the world one waxwork exhibit at a time? It’s going to take them ages.
Sue: I bet Madame Tussaud’s Civil Servant Exhibit went down a storm with the British public. Who needs Ghandi and Elvis when you’ve got a permanent undersecretary to gawp at?
The Autons are poised to infiltrate the highest echelons of society with an army of plastic replicas.
Sue: It’s a creepy idea. And it explains a lot. Like, why David Cameron looks so plastic.
But what really impresses Sue is the story’s pace.
Sue: It doesn’t mess about. This is why four-part stories are the perfect length for Doctor Who – there’s no padding. Are all the Jon Pertwee stories four parts?
Me: Not really, no.
Before she can dwell on this, Liz Shaw says, “I can hardly keep me eyes open”.
Sue: Her accent’s slipped. She’s not as posh as she likes to think she is. I’m starting to warm to her now.
Meanwhile homicidal shop window dummies are terrorising pedestrians in Ealing Broadway.
Sue: This must have terrified the kids. I bet this is why Russell did it again when he brought Doctor Who back; at least he could afford to break some glass. I like the way the Autons still have the price tags hanging off them as they massacre everyone. It’s a brilliant concept.
The Doctor heads for the plastics factory with a jerry-rigged contraption that will hopefully immobilise the Autons.
Sue: Is he still driving around in a stolen vehicle? The Doctor is a TWOCK-er!
The Doctor and Liz approach the Nestene incubator, but before they can zap the Consciousness, they are thwarted by a dodgy lead.
Sue: Just plug the cable back in, you dozy mare!
And then the Doctor fights a giant octopus.
Sue: Okay, this isn’t great. They’re showing too much of the monster, although it probably looked okay in black and white.
While the Doctor gurns for his life, Liz connects the lead into the machine and the Nestene Consciousness is destroyed.
Sue: Why didn’t he use the sonic? Doesn’t he have a setting for that yet?
Later, back at UNIT HQ, the Doctor and the Brigadier decide to formalise their relationship.
Sue: Come on, Doctor, show Liz inside your TARDIS. You can’t bang on about it and then not take her inside, you tease.
Sue: That was wonderful. Good direction, a decent script (Robert Holmes has come on in leaps and bounds), and some of the performances were really nice, too. I’m going to give it:
Me: Oh dear, it’s all gone a bit Moonlighting.
Sue: It was four parts, it moved, and it was in colour. What more could a girl ask for? If all the Jon Pertwee stories are like this, we’ll be fine.