Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 292: The Mind of Evil, Episode Three
Terror of the Autons feels like an absolute age back – everything here feels much more to my liking. I think it’s Jo who highlights this best. We’re a far cry from the character who’d managed to ruin the Doctor’s experiment and get hypnotised by the Master all on her first day at UNIT. The Jo in this story is far more confident and resourceful, seizing her opportunity to end the prison riot and trying to make the most of the situation. It’s odd to say it, but I think Jo here feels more like the kind of Doctor Who companion that I’ve gotten used to in this marathon – they’re not always the sharpest tools in the box, but they often highlight why they’re such a boon to the Doctor’s life.
It’s also lovely to see how much her relationship with the Doctor has evolved since the last story. It was evident right from the start, in the way the pair first drove up to the prison. They’re comfortable with each other, and more than that, they’re happy with each other. What’s great in today’s episode is the moment the Doctor learns about the riot in the prison, and his first reaction is to jump up and ask after Jo’s safety.
All of this does make me wonder, though… just how much time has passed since the events of the second Nestene invasion attempt? It feels like the Doctor and Jo have spent quite some time together, getting used to each other. It could just be that after the events of Terror of the Autons, all their barriers were down and they were able to simply become good friends - but if feels like they've been together for a fair old while by this point.
Equally, today sees the revelation that Professor Keller - inventor of the machine causing all this trouble - is actually the Master. A few episodes ago we're told that the machine was installed at Strangmoor prison almost a year ago. Does this mean that the Nestene attack was even further back than that? I think the Doctor's tinkering with the Master's TARDIS simply prevented him from leaving Earth, as opposed to playing with time, so he could have nipped back twelve months or so to begin his work?
I'm still avoiding any real discussion of a UNIT timeline at this stage (I've still not seen enough to make any definitive statements on the subject), though the third volume of the About Time books suggests a placement of October 1971 for Terror of the Autons and somewhere in mid-to-late 1972 for this story (and the next few, too). For now I guess I'm happy to go along with that. Throughout Season Seven, it was implied that large stretches of time happened here and there, in which Liz simply assisted the Doctor with making repairs to the TARDIS, so I suppose the same could have been happening here.
'm also wondering if that's why UNIT have been given a task as comparatively mundane as looking after security at a peace conference (compared to fighting off aliens, anyway)? There's been little alien activity on the planet since the Master fled the radio telescope, so they're being reassigned to other tasks to justify their existence? I will be trying to piece together my own timeline later on in this era, but for now I'll keep monitoring events…