13 October 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 286: Terror of the Autons, Episode One

Dear diary,

It almost feels like the first day back at school, this one. There's the Doctor, up to his usual tricks, the Brigadier is getting in the way, and Benton is pottering about in the background. We've got a few new kids in class this year, too, in the form of Jo Grant and Mike Yates, along with the new school bully - the Master.

It's confession time. I've never actually watched a full story featuring Rodger Delgardo's incarnation of the Master. I know, ok? I know. Everyone bangs on about how he's the best version of the character, and how he's so menacing and suave and wonderful, but for me he's simply in the wrong era. I've always been so dead-set against this period of the programme that I've never had any interest in checking it out. As if to make matters worse, I've seen every story to feature the Ainley incarnation at least twice!

I'm surprised to see him turning up so early into the story. His TARDIS - in the form of a horse box - materialises just over a minute in, and he's hopping out mere seconds later. He then doesn't waste any time setting himself up as this week's resident bad guy, hypnotising the circus owner, and setting off to steal a Nestene control device. As the story progresses, he shrinks at least one person (I'm assuming that they're dead after being shrunk?), takes control of a plastics factory, and revives some of the Auton bodies. It's a good start to the character, and I can see why people are so fond of him, but I'll reserve my judgement for now, and see what I make as the season goes on - there'll be plenty of chances to see him!

Making less of a great first impression on me is Jo, I'm sorry to say. I've found that it's an odd process working my way through this marathon - I move back and forth between dreading the thought of a certain story and being really excited for it. As I approached the Troughton era, I was dreading it. I'd become to close to Hartnell. Then, of course, it turned out to be simply fantastic. Fast forward a few months and I was dreading reaching Pertwee. And then I wasn't because I'd enjoyed The Invasion. And then I was again, 'cos I'd never been a fan. As Season Seven played out, though, I found myself really loving the style the series had taken on. All that left me with a bit of a problem…

I was loving the show being a bit serious, and having some pretty dark sequences (the more I think about it, the more the spread of the virus in Doctor Who and the Silurians is such a harsh image). I found that the Doctor and Liz worked well together, and everything just clicked for me. Suddenly, I was dreading Season Eight, and the introduction of a companion who - as the Brigadier puts it in this episode - is simply there to pass the Doctor test tubes and tell him how wonderful he is.

I've seen Jo's introduction before ('I'm your new assistant!' / 'Oh no…'), but it really feels like a let down after the introduction of Liz in Spearhead. There, we're being presented with a companion who doesn't especially want to be there, and could possibly be off doing something better. Here, Jo messes up the Doctor's experiment, and by the end of her first episode she's been captured by the enemy and brainwashed into wanting to kill the Doctor! Not off to the best start at the new job, is she? Thankfully, they have got the casting right - Katy Manning is simply fantastic right from the word 'go', and I think I can see myself being won over by her performance, if nothing else.

I'm also a bit dismayed at the look of this episode. As I say, the style of Season Seven ended up really drawing me in, and that stretched to the very real look of all the locations. The Doctor hard a different lab in each story - but they always felt like real places. The one he's based in today looks ridiculous! If anything, it all looks a bit too cartoon for me - and the bright colours of the set (that green door!) don't help… I know it's not around for long, so hopefully things will grow on me as time goes by. Pertwee's first 25 episodes did a lot to raise this era in my estimations, and I'd hate to see it all being for nothing…

Throughout Season Seven, I found myself making a note that simply said 'CSO' alongside many of the episodes. Colour Separation Overlay - or 'green screen' as we'd call it now - made its first appearance in Doctor Who and the Silurians, being used to give the shots of the dinosaur guard dog in the background mainly. I meant to bring it up there, but then I was swept along with the virus and the falling out between the Doctor and the Brig… It turns up pretty heavily in The Ambassadors of Death, too, when the Doctor is taken aboard that giant clam-like spaceship. Even Inferno uses it to provide the scene outside the Doctor's make-shift lab.

So, I told myself, having failed to mention it at all last season, I was to mention it at the absolute earliest opportunity this time around. Thankfully, today's episode gives me plenty of chances to bring it up! CSO provides the view from windows, the background to the museum, the effect of the Time Lord appearing in mid-air, the shrunken scientist in the lunchbox, and the room in which the Master is reviving his new Auton army. Some of the effects work a bit better than others, but that last one, with the Master, really put me off - the perspective of the background is all wrong! That, coupled with the oddly shiny Autons, knocked me right out of the story, and left me staring blankly at the screen.

This story is directed by Barry Letts, who was something of a pioneer when it came to the CSO process. He could see the benefit that the technology would have to making film and television, and will really push it to the limits during his time in the producer's chair. I'll be keeping an eye on how much more it crops up in this story, and seeing if anything can come across worse than that background…

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