Doctor Who: Terror of the Autons (s08e01, pts. 1 – 4)

3 out of 5

Directed by: Barry Letts

Noteworthy, and with enough kookiness – an attacking telephone chord! – to keep it fueled for four parts, but rather an unfocused hodgepodge of half-baked ideas.

It should be a major deal: the Doc interacts with not one, but two other Time Lord, and yet, this is handled like they’re sort of everyday cameos. It should also be a major deal that the heavies from season 7’s opener, the Autons, have returned, but they’re this time relegated to a Bond-ish villain, overwrought, “take over the world” plan, and also somehow made second tier to that everyday-cameo-ing Time Lord.

But that Time Lord is The Master, and he’s played with wonderful, sweet beard-stroking debonair by Roger Delgado. The Master – out of some rather cloudy affectation for evil – has it in his mind to, also, take over the world, and has buddied up with the Autons to do so, sneaking sneaky devices into various plastic contraptions (daisies!) that can be triggered as kill contraptions in order to herald their… yeah, taking over the world. Delgado’s mugging, and the speedy way the serial adds to the lore – Doc is warned of The Master by another visiting Time Lord; The Master has mind control powers; his TARDIS looks like a camper – enliven the otherwise convoluted (and mundane) evil plottings, and the aforementioned attacking telephone chord joins a pretty frightening child’s doll (and a hilarious overusage of rotoscoped backgrounds – like, you couldn’t build a kitchen set?) for visual punctuations.

The offhand tone of this serial is pretty clear right away: we’re told that Liz, the Doc’s first majorly competent companion, has moved on, and she’s replaced by the 70s version of a manic pixie girl via Jo (Katy Manning), who’s a bubble-headed secretary to which Doc can make disparaging remarks and then order around to get supplies and coffee. She starts to get a smidgen of personality by the last episode, but it’s a disappointing change, allowing the story to get away with all of its very illogical b.s. since it doesn’t have tuff cookie Liz to stand in the way and cast a pseudo-scientific eye upon it.

But again, you have a shorter serial, which generally means it moves pretty quickly – and it does – and the first appearance of a massively important character, The Master, bumping Terror of the Autons up to a must-watch, even if it’s truly just an average, silly episode.