He Was a Friend at First (Terror of the Autons)


The Doctor is so irritated at Mike and Jo that he's begun
voluntary conversion into a Cyberman just to stop feeling
emotions about them.

It's January 2nd, 1971. Dave Edmunds is at #1 with "I Hear You Knocking." It's unseated the next week by Clive Dunn's "Granddad," a piece of Victorian nostalgia by one of the stars of the sitcom Dad's Army, which holds #1 for the next three weeks. Lower in the charts are the Jackson 5, Neil Diamond, Glen Campbell, and Andy Williams. But the real action starts at number ten in the first week, rising up to a peak position of #2 the final week "Granddad" is on top, namely T. Rex's chart debut with "Ride a White Swan," recognized as the real start of glam rock. Tat Wood argues that Terror of the Autons is an equal partner in the start of glam rock, which is an interesting argument, if not one I'm completely sold on. But in any case, glam will serve as the primary musical accompaniment to the Pertwee era from here on out.

In other news, we've done a season transition, which means six months to catch up on. Deep breath: The US withdraws from Cambodia. Thor Heyerdahl's Ra II expedition is completed successfully. The Aswan High Dam opens in Egypt. The largest rock festival of all time happens on the Isle of Wight. Jimi Hendrix dies of an OD in London. Janis Joplin follows suit in LA. The US's ridiculously meager and pathetic version of the BBC, PBS, begins broadcasting, which will turn out to have profound ramifications for Doctor Who as, with minimal budget, importing BBC shows is a cost-effective policy for them, resulting in Doctor Who's US debut in 1972. The October Crisis begins in Canada when, in a series of events that seems deeply bemusing given Canada's current stereotypical reputation, Quebecois separatist terrorists kidnapped the British Trade Commissioner and held him for 60 days.

Which catches us up to 1971, where a stairway crush at a Scottish football match between the Old Firm results in 66 deaths. (For those playing along at home, the Old Firm refers to Celtic and Rangers, two Glaswegian football teams whose sporting rivalry serves as a proxy rivalry for Catholic/Protestant sectarian disputes and thus, by extension, for the Troubles that continued to calmly rear their heads. Harold Wilson's flagship venture, the Open University, began. And the worlds first ODI cricket match is played between Australia and the UK.

Whew. I miss when Doctor Who was on for 3/4 of the year, you know? So, Terror of the Autons. On the one hand, this is one of the most beloved of Pertwee stories, full of classic scary moments and, furthermore, the debut of three classic characters in Jo Grant, Mike Yates, and the Master. On the other hand...

I've talked before about the Pertwee backlash of the 1990s. This story is what we might call exhibit A in this regard. That's down largely to Paul Cornell's full-throated, bomb-throwing savaging of this story in DWB... oh God, I need to cover this, don't I? All right. So, in the late 70s and early 80s, there were some major Doctor Who publications. The most significant being Doctor Who Magazine - the officially licensed one - and The Celestial Toyroom, the newsletter for the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. So in protest against those, Gary Leigh started up DWB, the Doctor Who Bulletin, which rapidly became a quasi-professional fanzine, and eventually relaunched as Dreamwatch, one of the major sci-fi genre magazines period.

During its fanzine days, DWB became, essentially, the dissident Doctor Who publication. Notorious for its hatred of John Nathan-Turner, the magazine was the major place to put contrarian commentary on Doctor Who in general. And so in 1993, Paul Cornell, by then one of the hot stars of the Virgin New Adventures line, published a review of Terror of the Autons that can be found online here. I'm going to go ahead and recommend reading it before proceeding, because it's pretty crucial.

The crux of Cornell's objection is what we talked about last week with Inferno - the way in which the conflation of Pertwee and the Doctor has given the character an egotism he previously lacked. Cornell further identifies this egotism with the newly in power Conservative party - and if we're being honest, there's some logic to that. However, sorting out that logic requires some care, because the British Conservative party can be confusing for Americans who expect it to behave more or less like the American Republican party. This is almost, but not quite, completely wrong.

That said, the British Conservative party of 1970 - and I think we can fairly surmise that Cornell was talking primarily about that institution - was still very much a party of the establishment. And the standard argument against conservatives - that they only help those who already have power and let the rich get richer - applied here. In Heath's case, the two policies most associated with that tendency were his abandoned plan to move towards indirect taxation (which, because it taxes consumption instead of income, ends up being a regressive tax due to the fact that poorer households tend to have to spend a larger percentage of their income) and his aggressive attempts to curb the powers of unions.

So why is Pertwee's Doctor a Tory? Well, look at him. Not just the velvet smoking jacket and frills, although the fact is that this Doctor is visibly an aesthete, but things like the line Cornell highlights in which the Doctor speaks confidently and off-handedly about how gentlemen only talk about money. Or, for that matter, his downright nasty attack on Jo after she innocently tries to help him when he apparently sets his lab on fire, "You ham-fisted bun vendor!" It's worth looking at the nature of this attack - at the fact that he specifically attacks her based on her perceived (working class) job. That's the thing that Cornell finds problematic, and honestly, he's right to. There is something deeply uncomfortable about the continual smug superiority of the Doctor in this era.

(This is probably the point to stave off some angry comments when I point out that Pertwee's dandy/aesthete image has different resonances when taken in the context of glam rock than it does on its own and we're going to deal with this. But keep in mind, glam rock is starting in this story - whatever redemption of Pertwee's character it might bring, that's not in play yet.)

So let's put our cards on the table. Going back to what people like about this story - and there's a lot to like - one thing of note is that the core cast as it exists in this story - the Doctor, Jo, the Brigadier, Benton, Yates, and the Master - remain intact basically for the next three seasons. That's not as many episodes as Hartnell or Troughton got, but it's as many years as either of them got, and something we've never seen Doctor Who do before - take a production team and just continue with one approach over three years. The thing about the approach is that no two people seem to agree on what the approach is. Or, indeed, to agree on the approach from moment to moment.

One way we've started to look at the Pertwee era is in terms of the Brigadier as an almost Pythonesque (and for once we're using that term to mean something other than "stupidly zany") character who continually highlights the absurdity of the situation. This was Robert Holmes's invention back in Spearhead From Space, and served to give Pertwee's Doctor an immediately necessary object - a foil. What Holmes does in Terror of the Autons, then, is to expand on this technique with two new characters who work the same way the Brigadier does.

Cornell correctly identifies one of these characters in Jo Grant. Jo is a hilariously brilliant companion. But to understand why what Holmes does with her is so brilliant, you have to understand the counter-narrative - the person who manifestly isn't on the same page as Holmes here, Terrance Dicks. See, it was Dicks who decided that Liz Shaw had to go (though the pregnant Caroline Johns probably would not have returned anyway) because she wasn't working as a Doctor Who companion.

Dicks is a puzzling figure, as I may have alluded previously. Unquestionably one of the most skilled writers in Doctor Who, Dicks falls somewhat short of the legacy one might expect him to have given that for several reasons. First, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and Terrance Dicks's Doctor Who writing career spans the years from 1968 to 2008, leaving little room for absence. Second, a 40 year career is going to have a lot of turkeys no matter who is doing the writing. Third, Dicks's long-term association with the show and frequent appearances at conventions and on DVD documentaries mean that his accounts of the behind the scenes aspects of the show are frequently disseminated. And they're... well, aside from the fact that Dicks has as much of a gift for a memorable phrase in his storytelling as he does in his writing, and as much of a willingness to use that phrase over and over again (a neither cruel nor cowardly sound, for instance, or the fact that the Doctor never wheezes or groans), Dicks is, when telling stories about the series, not always the most sympathetic figure.

There's a fair case to be made that this is just another facet of Dicks's skills as a raconteur - that he quietly and self-depricatingly sends himself up with stories he knows don't make him look too good because they're better stories. Certainly fact-checking Dicks's accounts often turns up some problems, suggesting he bends the truth. But in any case, in interviews, he's prone to doing things like publicly identifying himself as a supporter of the British Empire. Or saying point blank that he thinks the only real job of a Doctor Who companion is to ask the Doctor to explain the plot and to get kidnapped. Accordingly, he claims, with a pride that is thoroughly irksome, that he ditched Liz in favor of Jo because Liz was too smart, thus single-handedly seeming to confirm every accusation of sexism leveled against the Pertwee era.

And on paper, Jo looks the part. She's designed as an unintelligent blonde bimbo with no demonstrable skills who got assigned to UNIT because of her powerful uncle and who the Brigadier has decided to foist of on the Doctor because he's a raging egoist who isn't going to listen to a scientist like Liz anyway and, as the Brigadier puts it, just needs someone to hand him test tubes. Watching Terror of the Autons, then, one gets the distinct feeling that Robert Holmes reacted with a deep horror at this idea and, in characteristic Holmesian style, proceeded to mock it ruthlessly without anybody noticing. (It's astonishing how many Robert Holmes scripts make sense if you hypothesize them as deliberate insults.)

So what we get is Jo Grant as a parallel to the Brigadier - another character who is far too sane for the world she's in. Just as the Brigadier is a sane, level-headed military type in a world in which that makes no sense as a reaction, Jo is the plucky, well-meaning ditz. Except she's in a world full of complicated science, thrilling adventure, and mortal peril. And she approaches it, basically, by unceasingly being plucky and ditzy. Holmes establishes this beautifully in the first episode of Terror of the Autons, where Jo is found by the Master and sheepishly rises from her hiding place and calmly says "Oh. Hello!" It's perfect - the companion walks into her first moment of mortal danger and is utterly unfazed by it.

This is a brilliant turn - take the character Terrance Dicks designed to be a useless bimbo and make her into yet another subversion of the entire structure of the show. And Katy Manning is more than game for it, proving every bit as capable as Nicholas Courtney in selling illogical reactions based on character integrity. The two of them are both essentially ontological forces in the narrative - you can do anything you want in a Doctor Who story featuring Jo or the Brigadier so long as Jo's a ditz and the Brigadier is completely and utterly composed. They become hard limits of how the narrative can be stretched, and because they're absolutely ridiculous characters, the narrative delightfully skews around them.

The other character Holmes does this with, as Cornell notes, is a bit more of a mixed bag. The Master is a... vexed Doctor Who character. Much of this is down to the fact that it is possible to write a very good Master story, and it is possible to play the part of the Master very well, but for some reason these two things hardly ever happen in the same story. In this case, Cornell is somewhat on target - Delgado hasn't found his feet with the role yet, and part of the problem is that Barry Letts, as director, is working at cross purposes with Holmes as a writer. Letts wants the Master to be all sneering menace. Holmes wants the Master to be hilarious.

Let's note that the Master's plan makes no sense. No. Not only no sense. A sort of sprawling anti-sense that makes Cybermen schemes look efficient. In this case his overt plan appears to focus primarily on messing with the Doctor - indeed, he admits that he's in this more to play with the Doctor than for any particular goal. Reading the script, the Master is clearly meant to get many - indeed most of the good lines. Delgado swallows the delivery on many of them, but they're there.

Given that Holmes has already created two versions of this character, it makes sense to assume that the Master is meant to be a third. But the sort of character he is is, perhaps, the funniest of the lot. If Jo is always ditzy and the Brigadier is always level-headed, the Master is always scheming. In any scene that the Master appears in here, he is coming up with an evil plan. As a result, the Master becomes a preposterously baroque trickster figure - one who simply keeps the plot going via utterly insane twists and ideas. No matter what, he has to complicate the plot via insane schemes.

Even if the acting on the Master isn't quite where Holmes clearly wants it, there's something genuinely compelling about his role in the script. Because the Master is a continual generator of bizarre schemes who is, in this story, given the delightful toybox of the Autons, the story becomes an unending stream of delightful ideas. As a result, deadly chairs, killer plastic daffodils, Auton impersonators of everyday figures like policemen, homicidal toy dolls and a lethal phone cord make up the main stepieces of the story.

Look at that list for a moment, and one of the things you'll notice is that we're in the version of Yeti-in-the-loo that actually works here - subversion of expected objects into uncanny ones. But here Holmes has thrown the process into overdrive. Instead of taking a single object and making it uncanny and scary, he's gone ahead and made everything scary. And more to the point, he's made what's scary change constantly through the story. Once the good guys encounter a given horror, that's it for that horror. The story moves onto the next. So it's not a matter of taking an individual object and making it scary - it's a matter of making it so that any object is potentially an object of horror. (This is what the uproar over this story, which focused mostly on whether it was acceptable to make policemen scary, missed. The story didn't make policemen scary, it made the entire world scary.)

Here we see one of the great instances of two creators meshing haphazardly. Holmes and Letts failed to see eye to eye on the role of the Master in creating this broad collage of terrors. But in terms of directing style, Letts is exactly on target, using cuts and editing to make the random objects seem genuinely uncanny and disturbing. So, for instance, when the Master impersonates a telephone repairman to install a deadly plastic phone cord, we know something is wrong not because the plot has explicitly told us anything but because the tone and pacing of the scene is telling us we're seeing something important happen as it's installed. And since we know anything can be scary, we read the phone wire as scary before we have any reason to know that it is.

Letts inadvertently (or perhaps deliberately) increases this sense further via what is usually taken as a flaw in this story - gratuitous overuse of CSO. CSO - what we call bluescreen most of the time, although Doctor Who's version defaulted to green so as not to conflict with the TARDIS - is a technique that defines 1970s Doctor Who, and quickly becomes part of the basic vocabulary of the show. But the bulk of CSO shots are ever so slightly off. Not in a huge and visible way - though you can generally tell by the halo of black lines surrounding objects - but in a significant way that makes the shots feel slightly unreal. But in a story like this, gratuitous overuse is strangely wonderful, making even more objects feel uncanny and strange.

The end result is a lurid collage of objects that flicker between representations of real things and terrors. Tonally and structurally, it's far closer to The Atrocity Exhibition than it seems imaginable for Doctor Who to be. It's a glitzy, madcap story with a delightful subtext about consumerism. And Holmes uses his unparalleled skill at writing ordinary people to give this lurid festival a sense of grounding in the real world. So we get intersections of media, consumerism, adventure narratives, and the everyday all feuding and overlapping.

So does that mean Cornell is wrong? Well, no. Really the only difference thus far I've had with him is that I think Letts executed Holmes's script a bit better than Cornell gives him credit for. But what Cornell gets spot on is that there's a sense of dissonance to this story - a sense that not everybody is on the same page.

Delgado still finding his sea legs aside, the most obvious problem among the supporting cast is Richard Franklin as Mike Yates. With it not being entirely clear why he's been added to the cast given that the show was not hurting for virile male leads, Franklin is already in some difficulty. The fact that he manages to give the strong impression that Yates is gay approximately once every three lines does nothing to improve matters. (Or perhaps it does, but that's another story.)

But the real problem is where we started - with Pertwee. Now, I've been hard on Pertwee already, and I'm going to get harder on him here. And so I want to stress that there are points in his tenure, including ones we've already seen, where he is sublime. But I said with Inferno that Pertwee is at his best when he's a bit unhappy with his material. Unfortunately, he's pleased as punch here, and simply struts about at the center of the production, a sort of unceasing stretch of egotism in the middle of all the interesting bits. Worse, he at no point seems to understand the show around him, a point shown by his bizarre attempt to bully Mr. Brownrose. There's a line in which the Doctor makes reference to talking to his boss "in the club the other day" to try to put him in his place after he's rude to the Brigadier and the Doctor. As scripted, the line is clearly intended as a bit of Troughtonesque bluster and fakery. With Brownstone making snooty assumptions about the Doctor, the Doctor bluffs his way to an authority he doesn't have. You can imagine Troughton delivering the line, visibly pausing to try to remember the name he wants to throw around, changing his demeanor slightly to stress the fakery of it, etc. Except Pertwee just delivers the line like he means it - as if the Doctor really does hang about bridge clubs talking to the nobility and joshingly calling them things like Tubby Rolands. Which isn't right for the Doctor at all, unless you assume it to be a sort of upper class British version of The Lodger. (But frankly, can you picture Pertwee in The Lodger? Even if the shower scene is a hat-tip to Spearhead, it's tough to see Pertwee in large swaths of that story in a way it isn't in other stories from the same season.)

Of course, all of this presumes Pertwee even cares about the show around him. Case in point, his flagrant stealing of Richard Franklin's lines in episode two. This is a complete dick move on Pertwee's part, and shows shocking contempt for his newest costar. (It's in the scene in which the Doctor is working on deconditioning Jo from the Master's hypnosis. Mike begins to deliver a line in which he trots out the old "but you can't hypnotize someone to do something they don't want to do" line and Pertwee interrupts him to steal the line, then has to pause in the line to remember the rest of it.)

But even if Pertwee weren't missing the intended tone of his lines and bullying his costars, there'd be something wrong here. The problem is that this isn't just another counterpart to the Brig/Jo/Master approach, with the Doctor constantly and unceasingly being the Doctor. Except that the only reason the others work is because they're in orbit around the Doctor. For six years, that's what the Doctor was - the mercurial figure who would flit around and do whatever the narrative required. That's why it was interesting to send him to Earth in the first place - to force him to put in a real, long-term commitment instead of beating the bad guys and running. Pertwee's inverting of the character into a consistent star vehicle part wreaks (action by) havoc on the entire setup of the show.

Suddenly there's no center to the narrative. The Doctor should be the force of chaos that makes those other characters work. (Even the Master, one gets the sense, would not be pushed to quite so over-elaborate schemes if faced with an opponent less brilliant than the Doctor) Instead, he's a brilliant man surrounded by stupid apes that he grudgingly saves. And that's not who he is. It's who he complains about being when he's in a bad mood sometimes, but if the Doctor is just humoring our stupidity 24/7, that's not being a good guy. At the end of the day, the Doctor is supposed to like people.

But there are some useful checks to that. The first is that Katy Manning and Jon Pertwee got along extremely well from day one, with Pertwee being extremely protective of Manning. As one would expect, this gets reflected onscreen, with the Doctor being exceedingly warm and friendly with Jo. Since Jo is by any rational standard the least competent person around the Doctor, the fact that he is so warm with her mitigates helpfully against his disdain for everybody else.

The second ends up being Delgado who, as I hope I made clear, is quite a good actor who just takes a few episodes to warm into his part. And in episode four, he finally hits his stride for the first time when he gets his first big face to face meeting with the Doctor. And he nails it. He strides into UNIT headquarters holding his weapon like a cigar and being more decadent and pompous than the Doctor (including having the gumption to step on one of Pertwee's lines) and beautifully underplaying everything. Delgado is amazing in this, managing to turn every moment of calm understatement into a mockery of the Doctor. And Pertwee, who was supposedly a bit sensitive about Delgado getting better billing in the promotional material for the season than he did, rises to it, finding himself on the back foot and losing control of a scene for almost the first time since he took the part. As is usually the case for Pertwee, the adversity does him good, and his game is upped accordingly.

It's not entirely clear that this is a healthy position for the series to be in. It's suddenly flipped to where the major engine of interest and excitement in the show is the villain, while the Doctor is, absent the villain, kind of a pompous bore. The villain makes everything a lush, thrilling carnival of scares. The hero plays bridge with rich people and yells at the tea lady. It works. It's even very very good. But as Doctor Who, it seems to be stretching the concept to its breaking point.


David 9 years, 6 months ago

There's also the sense that Holmes really doesn't want to be writing for the Autons again and that these might as well be a new race of monsters. The Nestenes in Spearhead merely inhabited dummies and created doubles. The doubles thing is a case in point: aside from being murderous shop dummies, the main ability of the villains in Spearhead was being able to create near-perfect living replicas of people. But this is never used in Terror. If it were, the two policemen would be replicas and therefore wouldn't have faces to pull off. Holmes doesn't even want to keep the villains consistent between stories.

One thing: I must admit, Pertwee's "gentlemen never talk about anything else" line always comes across as a condemnation rather than something he agrees with or believes in. Given that the 3rd Doctor spends much of his time bullying those in authority around him, I get more of the impression of a man who went to a gentleman's club and hated it, pissing off as soon as he was able. Certainly he seems less establishment to me than Hartnell in The War Machines.

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David 9 years, 6 months ago

Then again, it's not unknown for Pertwee to visibly not understand the emphasis on his lines. See his cheery "Well done, Brigadier!" when the Brig guns a Silurian down (without showing any regret at the loss of life), and "That's a typical Sontaran attitude!" in The Time Warrior, when the line is written as a condemnation but Pertwee delivers it as if he's surprised that Linx is displaying that attitude (and therefore surprised that the Sontaran is, um, a Sontaran).

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Gavin 9 years, 6 months ago

I agree that Pertwee's "Gentlemen never talk about anything else" line is not meant as a compliment. At the same time, it's suggestive of a man who knows exactly what he's talking about.

Similarly, I completely agree that Pertwee mishandles the delivery of the the "Tubby Rowlands" bit and that it's meant to be an act. After all, the story is full of disguises and adopted identities. Further support, although not decisive: in the very next episode the Doctor calls Brownrose an "idiot." Not a pompous and annoying, but stupid - as one might describe someone one had fooled.

At the same time, it's not quite bluster - it's based on the kind of knowledge of this social world and how it operates that suggests an insider. Specific knowledge, too, which differentiates it from classic Troughton, who overwhelms his interlocutors without knowing who the equivalents of Lord Rowlands are.

Which makes sense, because this is how Holmes presents the Time Lords. Visually, there's the natty bowler-hatted figure at the opening. The conversation between him and the Doctor is redolent of exactly that sort of clubby atmosphere. The Master poses as that stereotyped perennial of the Daily Telegraph letters page, a retired army officer. (Is it in this story that the Doctor says "You might say that we were at school together"? If so, that's hitting the viewer over the head with it.)

So I don't think it's that the Doctor spends his time on *Earth* consuming gin-and-tonics in the club. It's that Holmes's conception of where the Doctor comes from is already heading in the direction of its depiction in The Deadly Assassin. (Not as negative as that yet, but give the man time.)

On another point, Jo Grant isn't as useless on paper as she comes across onscreen. On the page, this story's treatment of her character built around a progression from a first appearance as inept and the source of threat to the key moment in episode 4 in which she turns out to have valuable non-intellectual skills (specifically, escapology, but later stories would give her whatever the plot demanded, as long as it was a physical skill).

It just doesn't come across that way, due to some combination of direction and Katy Manning's performance. And never would, even though Jo overall does quite a lot of superspy stuff. Because Manning has a remarkable ability to project wide-eyed innocence in all circumstances, even when karate-chopping a guard into unconsciousness.

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7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194 9 years, 6 months ago

Maybe Pertwee's Doctor is "visibly an aesthete," but the connection between being an aesthete and being a Tory is not obvious. (Oscar Wilde was an aesthete socialist anarchist.) And he's already been established as hostile to traditional authority and to military ways of doing things. (And I still think the interrogation scene in "Ambassadors" deserves a mention.) His aversion to bun vendors seems more a scientist's aversion to the incompetent laity than a Tory's aversion to the working class. I also agree with David that "gentlemen never talk about anything else" sounds like a criticism of gentlemen. So I'm having trouble seeing the Pertwee-as-Tory-toff.

@Gavin: "conversation between him and the Doctor is redolent of exactly that sort of clubby atmosphere"

Well, yes -- but it has more the feel, to me, of member-chatting-with-EX-member.

"the uproar over this story, which focused mostly on whether it was acceptable to make policemen scary"

Policemen are scary already. :-)

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Gnaeus 9 years, 6 months ago

I think it's right to say that Gallifrey, even before it's named, is clearly a Vatican-meets-Oxford-College-meets-Tory-Party-meets-London-club-meets-public-school. They're Time Lords, for starters.

But there is also something very much of the aristocrat in the Doctor to this point. Hartnell at the start has open contempt for his companions, warming to a paternalistic, professorial oversight redolent of the idea of social-betters-looking-after-their-inferiors. Even Troughton in his brazen peculiarity, is very much an (English) aristo. Someone wrote that the difference between the British aristocrat and the British middle class person is in their attitude to eccentricities - the middle classes diguise them, the aristos revel in them.

And throughout the initial run of the programme the character does, basically, flip between these two positions - the revelling eccentric and the paternalistic, slightly disdainful patrician, occasionally combining both in surprising ways.

And this brings me on to something else... I think your description of Pertwee here is a little one-sided. While the Labour movement by the '70s is very much the established counter to the Tories, the Liberals are very much still around as a party, and while Labour has its working-class routes it also has its own remnants of the Whigs. The Third Doctor could just as easily be a Fabianist Labour man, say, or a Liberal, as he could a Tory. Clubs aren't the exclusive home of the Right in Britain, remember - just look at the founding membership requirement for the Reform Club!

Of course, Cornell misses this, too.

"Except Pertwee just delivers the line like he means it - as if the Doctor really does hang about bridge clubs talking to the nobility and joshingly calling them things like Tubby Rolands."
I just took it as Pertwee playing a rather better liar - or perhaps more critically, not overegging it in the sort of way that Troughton does.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 9 years, 6 months ago

Gavin - As I said, I think the line as Holmes wrote it is fine. It's another instance of Pertwee giving a questionable delivery. But more broadly, I think this gets at a subtler shift between Troughton and Pertwee. Pertwee's Doctor cares what authority figures think in a way Troughton's doesn't. Not in a way that involves changing what he does to suit them, but in a way that has an investment in proving them wrong and getting them to admit defeat. In a real sense, Pertwee's Doctor appears to seek their approval.

Gnaeus - If under Pertwee the Doctor demonstrated anything that ran counter to his newly found aristocratic tendencies, that would be one thing. But we don't. We see him speak confidently about how gentlemen behave, but he doesn't offer any comparable understanding of how, say, someone managing a failing manufacturing company might behave. And it's not like Holmes isn't putting ordinary people in the story. He packs the story with them. It's just that Pertwee doesn't warm to them.

7a1 - Discussion of Wilde will come in time. :)

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Tom Watts 9 years, 6 months ago

These analyses have contained great insights every time, so on the one hand thank you, but on the other hand... Oh, I don't know, I'm wondering if there are any US cultural commentators who trawl through Doctor Who to identify traces of "liberalism". Good criticism marred each time by paragraphs of sententious moralizing for the sort of people who can't distinguish Osama bin Laden and Michael Moore. This discussion of whether or not the Third Doctor is a "Tory" is unbelievably petty. It reminds me of those stories about schools in the Deep South which would remove books about Robin Hood for being "Marxist". As Gnaeus has said, they're Time Lords. The stories, which rather perversely I think (with reference to your review of Silurians) you take as part of a linked series where one story follows on from the next, are surely more like knots along a string: there's no way one can rationalise a world in which one alien invasion succeeds another while the passers-by breeze along unaffected, as you point out. The politics is obviously going to be as tangled and contradictory as the social and cultural forces which produce each particular show. But the politics of this blog, and your ninth paragraph here is as good an example as any, is almost defiantly unthinking. Lawrence Miles is a fabulous writer and critic, but you seem to be drawing on one of his silliest ideas, the idea that "Tory" represents everything that's stunted and bad, and that "Left" describes the carnival of everything aside from that. And if one reverses the terms, the silliness is obvious.

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Wm Keith 9 years, 6 months ago

I think we're worrying too much. Cornell's review was a product of 1980s Thatcher-hate. If there is one word which could be used to describe the Tories prior to 1975, it is "paternalistic". There's little doubt that the Third Doctor was paternalistic, and he certainly believed in working within the existing power structures rather than subverting them. He also believed in change where change was necessary. So, yes, the Third Doctor was a Burkean conservative.

Politics in Doctor Who is rarely left-right; more often it is anarchist-conservative. And if Troughton is the most consistently anarchist of the Doctors, then Pertwee is the most consistently conservative.

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Wm Keith 9 years, 6 months ago

On a different tack, I watched "The War Games" fairly recently and it struck me very forcefully that Troughton's strident impersonation of the War Office prison examiner was almost an impersonation of the Third Doctor. (It can't have been, because Troughton can't have known how Pertwee was going to play the role, even if he'd been cast. But Pertwee could have seen it).

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Tom Watts 9 years, 6 months ago

Fair points. I'd see the Third as the most paternal, rather than the most paternalistic. Maybe the paternal is more the problem. Cornell uses the word "Tory" as a shouty teenager might use the word "Dad". Frontier in Space is a good example of the right balance being struck between working within and subverting established structures of power. I can't help thinking that the Pertwee era throws up these issues because the concepts behind the stories are so much more consistently interesting than they had been. I'm just allergic to Troughton and the Troughton era I suppose, but it's easy to be anarchistic in the absence of solid walls, metaphorically speaking. Day of the Daleks is another example of a well-established world with some serious concepts to test the character against. With the exception of Enemy of the World, Troughton never seemed to operate in a credible political environment, where the choices are rarely straight forward.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 9 years, 6 months ago

Tom - in my defense, the Tory example isn't mine, and isn't one I'd reach for particularly. I just wasn't inclined to pass up Paul Cornell, critical darling of the Virgin, new series writer, and someone both Davies and Moffat have spoken of in awed tones, savaging a story to the extent he does Terror of the Autons. I mean, it's one of the most controversial Doctor Who reviews ever. And it's not completely off planet.

I don't think Cornell is wrong as such, although Wm Keith is on target to remember to read the word "Tory" there through Thatcher, a figure with which the show has a straightforwardly antagonistic relationship (thanks largely to the McCoy era, but less directly to the entirety of John Nathan-Turner's tenure). There's a venom behind Cornell's use of the word that doesn't port entirely fairly to Pertwee. (Although let's not forget that Thatcher's rise begins here. We're, what, a year out from Thatcher the Milk Snatcher now?)

But on the other hand, under the venom, his basic point it sound - Pertwee is more establishment and more conservative than any Doctor before him, and, equally important, than any Doctor since. For all that Cornell's phrasing is venomous and willfully inflammatory, he's got a point. I think it's very hard to convincingly say Cornell is wrong to find what he does in the Pertwee era. I think it's far more on target to concede the point and then move on to find more in the Pertwee era.

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Millennium Dome 9 years, 6 months ago

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Millennium Dome 9 years, 6 months ago

Lots of good things to agree with here, especially your praise for Nick C and Katy M, but I am going to agree with Tom Watts about Cornell's use of "Tory": as a young radical lefty, writing in 1993 when the Conservatives had been in power for 13/14 years... Cornell is clearly using "Tory" as a four-letter-word.

As my other half reminded me last night, Heath's government of 1970-74 was much more Thatcherism part 1 except pro- rather than anti-Europe, until it all collapsed in the face of a miner's strike. He only became a paternalist, one-nation Tory as a reaction to his successor and as part of his twenty year sulk about being ousted.

Oh, and the suggesting that tackling the power of the 1970's British Trades Unions was a policy that would only "help the rich get richer" is just plain wrong. If nothing else (and on topic, if completely trivially) we would have had a complete "Shada" if it wasn't for the crazy powers of the unions to shut down the entire BBC at a moment's notice over a demarcation dispute over who got to move a prop clock on a completely different show. (And that's without going into the contribution union pay demands made to the inflation that will shortly annihilate Graham Williams ability to make the show on a budget.)

Anyway, you are quite right when you say that the tome is right off for the Doctor. For me, the ending where - the Master having just murdered at least a half-a-dozen people and quite possibly many more - the Doctor say's he's "Looking forward" to another encounter. He's anticipating with pleasure another bout of people being killed in the crossfire, eh. Nice.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 9 years, 6 months ago

Well, and here I'll confess that as a pile of issues amasses, eventually I just have to put my finger on the scale as the one who's writing this and thus gets to be the absolute authority on the universe as long as we remain within this domain name. ;)

Which is to say, yes, unions on both sides of the pond overreached badly and destructively in the 1970s. On the other hand, I wish to hell they hadn't had their backs broken over the course of the 70s and 80s, because we could really use a strong labor movement right now. I also think the BBC union issues are somewhat unique. Remember that almost everyone working at the BBC is making less money than they could elsewhere. The same bizarre divisions that meant in 1985 that Doctor Who's overseas success couldn't be taken into account at all when deciding whether to keep making it.

I love the BBC, but the degree to which it is simultaneously a massive media corporation and a public service does allow for an abusive exploitation of labor whereby you're a poor public service institution when people ask for higher wages, but a massive media corporation when it comes to making as much money off of their labor as possible.

Which still doesn't mean the unions were right in the 1970s, but it does mean that I'm not without sympathy for them.

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Tom Watts 9 years, 6 months ago

Anyway, you are quite right when you say that the tome is right off for the Doctor. ... He's anticipating with pleasure another bout of people being killed in the crossfire, eh. Nice.

Does it feel wrong, though? Or do we feel it ought to feel wrong? Or maybe the problem is we've all seen an excessive number of philosophically and politically serious dramas and we're wronging the programme by reading it against them? People dying in the DW universe is mostly not a huge deal. I'm looking forward to seeing what you reckon to the Doctor's strange prejudice against Ogrons and his apparent disregard for their natural worth! I think Philip and I are at variance in terms of the pleasures we get from the show – and for me it's a "show". It belongs in the same cultural space as a Tod Slaughter movie or a Tom and Jerry cartoon (which are in no way trash, and can be food for much thought, but it would be absurd to worry too much about the moral implications of the mutilations visited upon Tom – at least, I think it would). Your comparisons of TotA to a cartoon are entirely apposite here. If something feels off kilter, it's probably that we're not reading it right.

I still don't concede that Pertwee is establishment. He's been confined to earth, and has made a shelter for himself within an establishment, but, and I don't mean to sound obtuse, this is the only time the limits of the character are explored with respect to the concept of an establishment. Say the Doctor works in MacDonalds. That doesn't mean he's MacDonalds – it's just an opportunity to see how he operates within a corporate environment. It's hugely interesting, and I wish the show had done more of it.

I like it personally when the Doctor's unlikeable. Not unlikeable in an awsome and remote way, as in Pyramids of Mars, but plain unlikeable, as in The Daleks or, maybe, here or in the Daemons. To be honest, and I don't know what others think, I wouldn't want to travel with any incarnation of the Doctor. I don't like him. I love the show, I love watching it, but the prospect of being inside it would be seriously unappealing. And that shouldn't be surprising. Who'd want to run away with someone else's Dad? It seems unnatural.

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Gnaeus 9 years, 6 months ago

"I also think the BBC union issues are somewhat unique."
I'm afraid you're wrong. Just consider that the National Graphical Association had a monopoly on the computer keyboard. There are a few old journos I know who told me that if they even went down onto the print floor and so much as *touched* some of the equipment in there, the entire printing room would strike, if not the whole of Fleet Street's presses. So no, it wasn't just the Beeb.

But the more important point is that you've misread class and political alignment in Britain. Yes, the Labour movement is, in theory, the movement of the working man. But look at some of the post-war Labour leaders: Clement Attlee, an Oxford man and barrister, who went to a boarding (independent) prep school; Gaitskell, who went to Winchester and Oxford, and became a lecturer; Wislon, another Oxford man and a lecturer... Blair, who went to Fettes.

All right, no major members of the aristocracy and far more working class men in the senior posts than in the other parties, but this is no party made up purely of the working man. But a fair number of men in the top ranks of the Labour party who were well within eligibility for the London clubs. And this before we get on to the existence of Labour and Liberal hereditary peers...

I think the key thing here is that, perhaps unlike in other countries, the British left-wing did not derive from an upsurge of popular revolt, but rather evolved out of the super-wealthy Whigs.

The point is: paternalism and a disdain for common folk is not the exclusive preserve of the Tory party. Cornell's point on this is hyperbolic sixth-form cant.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 9 years, 5 months ago

Gnaeus - Of course. Likewise, American liberalism was dominated by the Kennedy family for decades. And of course Cornell is being hyperbolic. But he's not disengaged with reality either.

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Wm Keith 9 years, 5 months ago

Americans, other aliens, and indeed my fellow Britons may find the following link of interest. It describes itself as a "political glossary". The writer (who is not me!) states his biases in the first paragraph.


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tantalus1970 8 years, 12 months ago

Regarding the overuse of CSO, although it looks silly today, remember that in 1971, not only were the vast majority of the audience watching in black and white (for the previous season, it was over 90%), but many of them would also have been watching poor-quality TVs and with poor reception (people forget now what a hassle it was to tune TVs properly; even now, I live in East London and the reception here is terrible). CSO wouldn't have been as jarring back then.

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GarrettCRW 8 years, 10 months ago

Chiding Doctor Who for "excessive" use of CSO/chroma key effects is terribly silly, IMO. It was one of the very few techniques that anyone shooting on video in the '70s could use. Frankly, Cornell would have *hated* the work of Sid and Marty Krofft here in the US, because they used it even more than Doctor Who in the '70s (and they simply could not have made Land of the Lost without it).

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Henry R. Kujawa 8 years, 5 months ago

Philip Sandifer:
"It's astonishing how many Robert Holmes scripts make sense if you hypothesize them as deliberate insults."

Fascinating comment.

"This is a brilliant turn - take the character Terrance Dicks designed to be a useless bimbo and make her into yet another subversion of the entire structure of the show."

I admit, I didn't like her at first... she finally grew on me by "DAY OF THE DALEKS". But in retrospect, as I got to like her so much later, re-watching her early stories, I enjoy her more than I did originally. And she really gets some great scenes in the next one.

This is probably a good place to note the differences between The Doctor's first meeting with Liz, Jo & Sarah. Liz & he hit it off right away, got to be good friends. Sarah HE took to immediately, perhaps seeing her deviousness & pluck as a mirror of himself. With Jo, it was "I'm your new assistant." "OH NO!" I know how he felt. But she really was so nice, she grew on him-- and me.

On the other hand, I once ran this story for a friend who had never seen the show (partly because HE reminded me a bit of Roger Delgado!!). His main comment was how "Of course their sexism is showing, the woman is kidnapped, hypnotized, trips when she's running..."

"Barry Letts, as director, is working at cross purposes with Holmes as a writer. Letts wants the Master to be all sneering menace. Holmes wants the Master to be hilarious."

Not sure I ever noticed that, though I've seen this many times since taping it in the 80's. (Though I haven't seen it in color since the eartly 70's. Honest, Philly's PBS station did not get these-- the independant UHF channel 17 did.)

"The fact that he manages to give the strong impression that Yates is gay approximately once every three lines does nothing to improve matters."

This is strange, as I never noticed that at all.

"You can imagine Troughton delivering the line, visibly pausing to try to remember the name he wants to throw around, changing his demeanor slightly to stress the fakery of it, etc. Except Pertwee just delivers the line like he means it - as if the Doctor really does hang about bridge clubs talking to the nobility and joshingly calling them things like Tubby Rolands."

Another excellent observation. Pertwee's delivery was so convincing, it did seem to fly in the face of WHO his character was supposed to be. I tend to put much of this down to the Time Lords having tried to mold him more into their own image.

"And in episode four, he finally hits his stride for the first time when he gets his first big face to face meeting with the Doctor. And he nails it."

This I DID notice! Maybe the best scene in the whole story, the one you feel you've been waiting for the whole time.

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Henry R. Kujawa 8 years, 5 months ago

"It's not entirely clear that this is a healthy position for the series to be in. It's suddenly flipped to where the major engine of interest and excitement in the show is the villain, while the Doctor is, absent the villain, kind of a pompous bore. The villain makes everything a lush, thrilling carnival of scares. The hero plays bridge with rich people and yells at the tea lady. It works. It's even very very good. But as Doctor Who, it seems to be stretching the concept to its breaking point."

As I said earlier, after "THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD", Jon Pertwee was not my idea of a charismatic leading mad. Too egotistical to be likable. Fortunately The Brig was there to pick up the slack. But when The Master arrived... well... HE was more likable than the "hero"! Suave, cool, sophisticated, intelligent, well-spoken... so why the HELL is he KILLING all those people????? It's sick, that's what it is-- sick.

I was so impressed by Roger Delgado that back in 1975 I wound up basing one of my own characters on him. (Although he didn't travel thru time, he was the hero in my stories.)

"Because Manning has a remarkable ability to project wide-eyed innocence in all circumstances, even when karate-chopping a guard into unconsciousness."

Hmm. That reminds me of "Melody Valentine" (Tara Reid) in the movie "JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS". (another character I adore.)

Wm Keith:
"On a different tack, I watched "The War Games" fairly recently and it struck me very forcefully that Troughton's strident impersonation of the War Office prison examiner was almost an impersonation of the Third Doctor. (It can't have been, because Troughton can't have known how Pertwee was going to play the role, even if he'd been cast. But Pertwee could have seen it)."

Seeing as "THE WAR MACHINES" feels like a prototype for the UNIT era, I often wonder how The Doctor ever did get acquainted with that government type he spent most of the story dealing with? They almost seemed old friends.

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Josiah Rowe 7 years, 11 months ago

Small point, as I'm going through these entries somewhat belatedly: I believe that the not-TARDIS-blue colour which the 1970s production team used most often was yellow, not green. Green would probably have been a better choice, as yellow was prone to more visible "fringing".

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David Ainsworth 7 years, 10 months ago

Also late to the party here: I'm finding myself generating redemptive readings after going through your criticisms, so I'm not necessarily offering these alternatives with full conviction. But I wonder if the Third Doctor's odd relationship to authority figures doesn't follow directly from the conditions of his regeneration and exile? His people executed him and then trapped him on Earth. However much he likes human beings, he hates being unable to travel. This Doctor's tinkering with motorcars and his love of driving/flying could be seen as a displacement of his desire to hop in the TARDIS and be off.

And his mingled obsequiousness toward and contempt for authority figures could be seen as a natural projection of his feelings toward the Time Lords responsible for his exile. He doesn't really need the Brigadier, but the Brigadier represents some form of the Time Lord authority structure which he does require in the sense that only they can lift his exile. His increasing desperation to fix his TARDIS without Time Lord support implies that he sees the situation as an undesirable one.

On the other hand, he genuinely likes human beings. Three seems pretty emotionally distant, though, expressing himself through action but often insulting those he feels close to in an attempt to deny those feelings. Jo offers a rare reversal of this trait. Part of the problem is Pertwee's own skill at covering: one senses this emotional stiltedness is intrinsic to Pertwee and he thus covers so well that it doesn't read on-screen as acting.

His express admiration for the Master at the end of this story could be read as an ability to express emotional warmth only when its subject isn't in the room. More on that when I get to The Green Death.

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Nicholas Tosoni 7 years, 5 months ago

@Millennium Dome:

Apparently the line was softened in the final cut. The Doctor was supposed to say at the end, "Until I destroy him, or he destroys me!"

As delivered, though, I read it more as "he enjoys the battle of wits."

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Chris 7 years, 4 months ago

Personally speaking, I think the Doctor is an acquaintance of Lord Rolands and, being the most clubbable incarnation we have to date, probably spends all his time downing wine in congenial clubs in central London and the West End. I doubt if he spends every spare moment working on the TARDIS. Also, the Time Lord is a nod to the corrupt effete spymasters in 60's spy silms like THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM and THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, sending the Doctor to do their dirty work while refusing to sully their own lillywhite hands.

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Chris 7 years, 4 months ago

With the Master, there is the chilling prospect that blood is thicker than water and the third Doctor feels a kinship to him he doesn't normally with humans. This is the first time since Susan its been tested.

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JJ Glamma 7 years, 3 months ago

To be pedantic, the first ODI match was not played between Australia and the UK, but between Australia and England.

As is the case in many sports, UK cricketers play for their constituent countries, rather than for the UK as a whole. So Scots play for Scotland; residents of both Northern Ireland and the Republic play for Ireland, and English and Welsh play for England.

This is complicated somewhat by the English team being of Test Status (ie top-tier) and the others not; leading - when combined with ease of migration within the British Isles - to the case of Scottish and Irish players regularly playing for the English team. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom does not field a unified cricket team.

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Andrew Stevens 7 years, 2 months ago

Paul Cornell was a very young man in 1993, intoxicated by his own voice and taking an idea he had and, rather obviously, pushing it much, much too far. A little later, he wrote (on radw ca. 1996, I believe) that he would, given the chance, burn the entire Pertwee era. However, nobody seems to have pointed out that Paul Cornell, in his 40s rather than in his 20s, wrote this, in which he refers to the Pertwee era as "this wonderful period in the show’s history," and quite right too.

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Andrew Stevens 7 years, 2 months ago

Ah, pinned down when Paul Cornell announced that he had changed his mind on Pertwee.

He wrote a post on radw in 2003 where he announced "I love the Pertwee era."

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