This the one where Joe Orton causes Edward Tudor-Pole to regenerate into Worzel Gummidge after hitting him with a spear. From space.
You don’t believe me? Fine, then this is the one where a disembodied alien intelligence tries to take over the world by controlling plastic. Will they succeed? No but they make a decent attempt at it.
Along with the following Doctor Who and the Silurians, these two stories I have seen many times. No doubt I will also watch them many more times as well in the future.
This story may feel like the start of a new era. Which it is. It is, effectively, the first reboot of the series and it goes in with all guns blazing. Pee-ow! Pee-ow! Pee-ow!
Goodbye, Patrick Troughton. Hello, Jon Pertwee. Adiós, Jamie and Zoe. Hola, Lethbridge-Stewart, Liz Shaw and UNIT. Hello, colour. See you later, black-and-white, don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya (joke courtesy of some random American sitcom).
Brigadier Bridgeable-Stewart and his UNIT chums had appeared previously in The Invasion and before that just the Brig in The Web of Fear where he was just a humble colonel. Both great stories in their own right. Who knew that they would be the blueprint for the colourised era of Doctor Who? They had just been ingredients in these two stories but now they are a major part of the recipe and this analogy is getting away from me, isn’t it? Sorry. They were part of the changes that producers Derrick Sherwin and Peter Bryant made to freshen up the series.
Another change, this time a really big ‘un, was to have the Time Lords exile the Doctor to Earth for the crime of meddling with primitive civilisations like…um…Earth. Earth is the Time Lord’s version of the naughty step. This was a ground-breaking change at the time. Doctor Who is a series based upon the premise of time travel and alien planets but in 1970 it came to a end and the show was shackled to the Earth (until the next producers promptly changed things back again). This left the production team with a problem: if the Doctor can’t go the aliens, then the aliens must come to the Doctor. Too many alien invasions of Earth might test even the most enthusiastic fan. Luckily, they found a way around that.
A more lasting change, or rather a revealing of previously unknown information, was that the Doctor had two hearts. This was a change on a profound level. It changed our entire notion of the Doctor. Before he had been more or less human, his heart had been referred to in the singular quite often in fact. Not any more.
So what of the alien intelligence then? This is the Nestene Consciousness, a disembodied sentience that arrives on Earth following a meteor shower crashing through the atmosphere layer. These meteors being plastic polyhedrons with parts of the Nestene inside.
Every good incorporeal intelligence needs henchmen and this one is no different. So we have the Autons, expressionless and lethal with orangey skin. They are very much the Katie Price of the Whoniverse. But unlike the orange fame vampire, their hands flips open to reveal a neat little gun. The humans barely have enough time to say “Du bist sehr schön” before the hand flips down and they are zapped.
The Autons are rightly celebrated here for what has become one of the most iconic moments in Doctor Who history. That moment, when disguised as shop mannequins, they break through a shop window and start zapping innocent people. All that in around 120 seconds. No wonder Russell T Davies pinched this scene for the modern episode Rose. Happily he didn’t pinch the awful 1970s fashion.
As cool and iconic as the Autons may be, despite their awful sense in clothes (when they aren’t wearing designer 1970s tat, they are content to wear boilersuits with scarves which are so last year, dahling!), they are also boneheads. Their plan is to replace all the important people in the country with plastic duplicates. This is a great plan. Can’t see anything wrong with that. But where it fails is the disposal of original human bodies. I assume that they need the originals as a back-up in case the Auton duplicate gets videoed by a tabloid newspaper with copious amounts of drugs and in the company of women of the night. So, if they need to keep the original in a safe place, why do they keep them on display at Madame Tussands? Do they not have a secret HQ to stash them away? Oh, wait, they do!
Jon Pertwee is the newly minted Third Doctor in this story. Very foppishly-dressed compared to his previous incarnations, this Doctor seems to be the most stylish of the lot so far.
Yes, Pertwee does have a few ‘comedy’ moments which would be better suited in a Carry On film but this is a case of the production team hiring a comedy actor and then writing the part to suit. That face he pulls when the tentacles of the Nestene Consciousness strangles him…overkill. In time, Pertwee’s Doctor becomes more serious. As it is, he is very much feeling his way into the part.
So what of the companions? Some say that the Brigadier and, to a lesser extent, Liz Shaw are not proper companions. Rubbish! Of course they are!
Liz is unlike any previous companion (and arguably most of the futures ones as well) in that she is her own woman. She doesn’t take any crap from the Doctor or anybody else. She is intelligent and uses it in an empowering way that the previous intelligent Whogirl Zoe didn’t do.
Lethbridge-Stewart. A legend in his own lifetime. A dry sense of humour. A good strong leader. Priceless and a huge gift to the Whoniverse. He is Fox Mulder to Shaw’s Dana Scully. At least in this first adventure.
All in all, a great story. It is never in a hurry and doesn’t artificially try to increase the excitement. Everything that happens happens when it has to happen. A leisurely affair. So leisurely that we do not get to see the new Doctor’s face until over halfway through the first episode.
The Doctor is dead. Long live the Doctor!