Is that the Master?
Sue: Ooh, I like the Autons, but I can’t remember if I like Robert Holmes or not.
Me: It’s complicated.
Our story begins at a circus.
Sue: An old-fashioned 1970s circus. This brings back memories.
Me: Ah yes, this was back in the days when you could torture lions for entertainment purposes.
Sue: I feel sad now. This story has lost a mark already.
Suddenly, a wheezing, groaning sound fills the air.
Sue: The TARDIS sounds a bit funny this week. Hang on a minute – eh???
And then, ladies and gentlemen, the moment we have all been waiting for (especially Sue) arrives.
Sue: Is that the Master?
Sue: For ****’s sake! Is it the Mad Monk, then?
Me: No, I’m just kidding. It is the Master.
We do our Master dance. It’s exhausting, I can tell you.
Sue: Now that’s what I call a TARDIS! It blends into its surroundings perfectly, and he can probably park it on a sixpence. I bet it’s really comfortable inside as well.
Meanwhile, at UNIT HQ, the Doctor is introduced to Josephine Grant.
Sue: She’s new but I know she is a companion. I just know that. So where the hell is Liz? Does the Doctor have two female assistants now?
When Jo delivers the classic line, “I didn’t say I’d passed!”, I make sure that Sue knows how far this show’s influence has spread.
Me: They did the same joke on Misfits last week. It was practically a verbatim copy, except they said, “I didn’t say I’d c****ing passed!”.
The action switches to a space radio telescope.
Sue: That’s not a bad attempt at chroma, I suppose. There’s some blue fringing around the edges, but I’ve seen worse. You should see some of BBC News 24′s weather reports – they make this look like Avatar.
As a scientist prepares to take his lunch break, the Master interrupts him.
Sue: I remember those thermos flasks. The slightest knock and they would shatter. You’d end up with 18 yer in your coffee. Still, they were much better than all that modern double-wrapped plastic rubbish you get these days. I’m pretty sure mine was tartan…
Something else she recognises is the sphere the Master has hooked up to the telescope’s transmitter.
Sue: I recognise that thing.
Me: You should, it’s the Nestene meteorite from Spearhead from Space. Do try to keep up.
Sue: Good grief, it’s like we’re watching Lost. Should I be taking notes?
Back at UNIT HQ, the Brigadier informs the Doctor about the stolen Nestene meteorite.
Sue: Ah, now that’s the uniform I can remember the Brig wearing. This looks strangely familiar. And at least they’ve mentioned Liz. Hang on, does that mean Liz never got to travel in the TARDIS? That’s not fair. I’m not happy about that at all. She was the best companion since Barbara. She deserved a lot more than that.
When the Doctor investigates the radio telescope, he is visited by a Time Lord.
Sue: Who the hell is this? Is it Roger Waters? What the hell?
The Time Lord informs the Doctor that his arch-enemy, the Master, is in town.
Sue: Hang on, when did the Doctor last meet the Master? Have we skipped an episode? I thought this was the first time they met? I’m really confused now. And who is this bloke? And why doesn’t he need a TARDIS to get around? What the **** is going on? And while we’re at it, when does the Time War start? How long do I have to wait for that to happen?
Me: A while yet, love. About four years by my watch.
The Doctor slowly edges the door open to avoid setting off a booby-trap the Master has left behind.
Sue: Just use the bloody window, you idiot!
The Doctor manages to defuse the Master’s bomb before it can detonate.
Sue: Bomb my arse. It’s a bloody thermostat!
But when the Doctor opens the scientist’s lunchbox, he recoils in horror.
Sue: Perhaps the Doctor just hates egg and cress?
And then we witness the full horror for ourselves.
Sue: EH? Oh, wait – didn’t the Master do something similar to David Tennant once? Didn’t he shrink him to the size of a canary or something? That’s one hell of a power he’s got there.
Back at UNIT HQ, the Doctor dismantles the Master’s bomb.
Sue: Jo has this rock chick thing going on; I like that. She reminds me of Suzi Quatro a bit. But why is the Doctor wearing gloves that wouldn’t look out-of-place on a member of Slade?
Ignoring the Doctor’s orders, Jo sneaks off to investigate a nearby plastics factory. She is immediately apprehended by the Master.
Sue: Is Jo this ditzy every week? She’d better not be.
Jo is taken inside the factory.
Sue: It sounds like there’s a swarm of bees in this office. Why is Doctor Who always so bloody noisy?
Jo is swiftly hypnotised by the Master.
Sue: Not mind control again! Bloody hell. Get a new gimmick! Having said that, the Master does have very piercing eyes. It’s very good casting. Is the character based on Omar Sharif?
The episode concludes with a brainwashed Jo trying to set off a bomb at UNIT HQ.
Sue: She’s not having a great first day at work.top
Sue: Jo just punched that solider in the balls! You go, girl!
Luckily, Jo is overpowered and the bomb is chucked out of the window (“nice explosion”) and then we return to the plastics factory where Colonel Masters (“couldn’t he have come up with a better pseudonym? Does he want to get caught?”) is demonstrating a new line of products.
Sue: I thought inflatable chairs were all the rage in the 1970s but this bloke looks like he’s never seen one before. Did Doctor Who invent inflatable chairs? Is that one of its claims to fame?
But this chair is special. This chair kills.
Sue: Isn’t it a bit dodgy having a household object murder someone like that? Watchdog would have a field day.
But there is one man the Master can’t influence – the factory’s retired founder, John Farrel. So he gives him an ugly doll to take home with him instead.
Sue: You know, that doll definitely rings a bell. Have you shown this story to me before?
We then get into a debate about whether this is a genuine childhood memory or she is simply dredging up that time I made her watch 30 Years in the TARDIS, almost 18 years ago to the day. Which is a bit scary.
As the heat in Farrel’s car builds up, the toy sitting on the back seat begins to stir.
Sue: Open a window, you daft arse!
Back at the factory, the Master plots the Doctor’s downfall.
Sue: That’s a bit cruel.
Me: What? Wanting to destroy the Doctor?
Sue: No. Torturing elephants.
Me: The Doctor seems quite happy to see tortured elephants. Look, he appears quite charmed by the sight.
Sue: That’s another mark off.
As the Doctor investigates the circus, Sue is drawn to his radiant complexion.
Sue: The Doctor looks very tanned in these scenes. Has he just been on holiday? He looks practically orange. Did David Dickson model himself on Jon Pertwee’s Doctor?
The Doctor is apprehended by Tony the Strongman.
Sue: Isn’t that whatshisname from the racist Cybermen story?
Me: Yes it is. Which is a good job too otherwise people would have accused you of racism.
Sue: The only racist thing in this room is your Doctor Who DVD collection.
Meanwhile, back at the Farrel house, an evil doll is about to commit murder.
Sue: What the ****? Why would you chromakey a bloody kitchen? Are they pushing the envelope or are they just lazy? It’s hard to tell.
As Jo investigates the circus, the Master keeps his eye on her with his remote surveillance cameras.
Sue: I haven’t seen this many caravans since My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.
Jo rescues the Doctor but they walk straight into a gang of angry circus performers. The police arrive to break up what quickly turns into a riot.
Sue: It’s like the Dale Farm evictions.
Jo and the Doctor are taken away by the police. But something isn’t quite right. The Doctor peels off the policeman’s mask to reveal the Auton beneath.
Sue: The police are the bad guys now? That’s a bit strong for children’s television, isn’t it?
Me: Questions were raised in the House of Commons.
Sue: I’m not surprised. That was pretty irresponsible. Good though.top
Sue: Why are UNIT driving around in an Austin Maxi? Shouldn’t they have a jeep or something?
When Yates realises that bullets can’t stop the Autons, he decides to run one over instead. It goes flying over the edge of a cliff.
Sue: That’s a dummy – oh wait – bloody hell, it’s not a dummy! That was an incredible stunt! That was brilliant. I love how it got straight back up when it hit the bottom – that was very scary.
Back at UNIT HQ, the Doctor is ranting and raving about UNIT’s lack of progress.
Sue: The Doctor can be a right arsey bastard when he wants to be. He is very aloof and unapproachable in this one.
But at least he has nicked the Master’s dematerialisation circuit.
Sue: So he’s trapped a megalomaniac on Earth? Thanks for that.
As the Doctor laughs at this hilarious turn of events, the Autons make their move, disguised in their big plastic heads (although why the big plastic heads couldn’t have been their real heads isn’t entirely clear).
Sue: You know, I’m sure I’ve seen this one before.
Me: It’s not something you would forget in a hurry. Even after 40 years.
Sue: Have you ever shown me this episode?
Me: No. I didn’t own the VHS release (it went out of print and became ridiculously expensive) and it’s only just been released on DVD.
Sue: Then I must have seen this when it went out. I would have been nine.
Me: You looked like a young Amy Pond back then.
When a civil servant called Brownrose turns up to stick his oar in, the Doctor tries to convince him that he’s even more of a Tory than he is.
Sue: Hang on a minute. What the hell just happened there?
I pause the DVD. It’s time to discuss one of the most controversial scenes in Doctor Who‘s long history.
Sue: I told you this Doctor was aloof and unapproachable. He hangs around gentlemen’s clubs drinking brandy and being a bit of a twat.
Me: Unless he’s bluffing.
Sue: If this was Troughton, maybe. But I can imagine Pertwee hanging around Conservative clubs. So that’s why he dresses like he’s always on his way to a Masonic Lodge. I’m starting to go right off him now.
And then a telephone engineer arrives to install a new phone in UNIT’s HQ. It really is all go this week.
Sue: “Why such a long flex?” asks Yates, as he checks out the telephone engineer. Is the actor playing Yates somebody’s son?
Me: Yes, I’m sure he’s somebody’s son.
Sue: No, what I mean is, is he the son of someone working for the production team? I can’t work out how else he got the part.
A little later, Jo makes a telephone call on this brand new phone (just so we remember it’s there).
Sue: Did Jo just call somebody a dolly scouts-man? What the hell is that supposed to mean?
Meanwhile, the Doctor is performing an autopsy on the doll.
Sue: Is the doll the Autons’ version of a cybermat?
Me: Yes, you specialist, you.
Sue: And is it just me, or is the Brigadier a bit thick this week?
The episode concludes with an exasperated Doctor taking out his frustrations on everyone else.
Sue: The Doctor is a bit of a cock in this one. I don’t like him. He just told all his friends to **** off and leave him alone. What a ****.
And then the telephone rings (yes, you know, the brand new one) and the Doctor receives a call from the Master.
Sue: If he really wanted to be evil, he should have reversed the charges.top
Sue: Didn’t the actress who plays Jo marry Tony Blackburn?
Me: No, that’s Tessa Wyatt.
Sue: They could be sisters.
As then Mike Yates does this:
Sue: I think that may have been the campest scene in Doctor Who so far.
Me: So far, yes.
Meanwhile, on the Autons’ publicity coach tour of death.
Sue: Would it really have killed them to shoot that scene outside? They shot everything else outside so why revert to chromakey now? It doesn’t make any sense.
As the Doctor tries to work out what activates the Autons, Sue believes she has it sussed.
Sue: Do hot beverages set the Autons off? Yates was making cocoa and the old woman was making tea in her chroma kitchen. Maybe that’s the connection.
Finally, the Master and the Doctor meet face to face.
Sue: That’s a very big cigar.
The scene crackles with electricity as the two adversaries butt heads.
Sue: That was a great. It was almost worth the wait.
While UNIT battle the Autons, Sue is impressed by the action-packed finale.
Sue: Nice stunts.
As the Nestene Consciousness begins to materialise above the telescope (“It looks like a giant hand”), the Master has a sudden change of heart.
Sue: Are they really saying that the Master just realised that his plan was completely rubbish? That really undermines him as a villain, you know.
With the Nestene repelled, the Master appears to surrender. But when he goes for his gun, Yates shoots him down.
Sue: Is the Master dead already? Does he regenerate into another actor?
But it isn’t the Master, it’s poor old Rex Farrel in disguise.
Sue: Why does the Doctor smile when the Master escapes like that? Is he a masochist or something?
The episode concludes with the Doctor suggesting that we haven’t seen the last of his arch nemesis.
Sue: So, does the Master come back every season?top
The Final Score
Sue: What did the circus have to do with anything? It was pointless, and so were the scenes of animal cruelty. Marks off for that. And marks off for Pertwee turning into a Tory. But apart from that, it was very good. Short. Colour. Nice. It had a good script, some good acting, the direction was OK and the stunts were amazing. The chromakey was over-used but at least they were trying. I’ll give it -
The experiment continues…top
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