Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by Derek Martinus
This serial is all about firsts: the first story for the Third Doctor, the first story with Liz Shaw as a Companion, the first story shot in color, the first story shot primarily on film, the first story featuring the Autons, etc. Add to that the fact that the series took a completely new direction in the process, and it’s almost like a different series altogether.
This serial actually does a very good job of exploring the consequences of the Time Lords’ edict at the end of “The War Games”. The Third Doctor isn’t simply tossed into the mix, leaving the audience to ponder the implications. Instead, nearly half the story is about introducing the Third Doctor and his transition from the Second Doctor’s almost absent-minded approach to things to a far more action-oriented persona.
I wouldn’t say that I’m embracing the Third Doctor quite yet, but this feels much closer to the NuWho Doctors that I’ve come to enjoy so much. Pertwee’s Doctor has his sense of whimsy firmly intact, but he’s not content to sit back and let a problem develop without taking action and exerting authority. My understanding is that the more Earth-bound nature of the Third Doctor forces him into more of the “action hero” mold, which is fine with me, so long as the solid science fiction concepts aren’t tossed out with the B&W bathwater.
That’s where the Autons and the Nestene Consciousness come into the picture. My first exposure to the Autons was “Rose”, the first adventure of the Ninth Doctor, and I thought they were silly. This serial does much more with less. They manage to rack up quite the body count before the Doctor can bring this latest alien invasion to a conclusion. The scene where they begin their rampage in the fourth episode of the serial is a classic for a reason. But the notion of an invasive non-corporeal hive consciousness is definitely interesting.
Part of the benefit here is the use of UNIT. It gives the Doctor the right kind of resources while the TARDIS is out of bounds. Liz Shaw is essentially his Companion, though in reality, it’s Liz and whatever UNIT assets are made available at the time (including most especially the Brigadier). To be honest, Liz doesn’t do much for me; the producers and writers seemed to be forcing an Emma Peel analogue into the show. “Doctor Who” does “The Avengers” isn’t a terrible idea, but it needs to vary on the familiar theme.
According to all the usual sources, this is apparently the only time in the classic run that the show was shot on actual film vs. tape. It’s a great way to introduce the show in color, though it can’t completely overcome the budgetary issues that led to cramped “hospital corridors” and the like. (In fact, the layout of the “hospital” is just plain weird if you stop to think about it for more than a second.) Pertwee is clearly still finding his footing as the Doctor, but it works, because they take the time to show him adjusting post-regeneration.
Perhaps the thing that works best for this story is the relatively short length. This serial is only four episodes long, so it feels like more of a pilot film for a reboot than just another serial. The story doesn’t force complications where they are unnecessary, just to stretch things out. Considering how much has to be covered in this amount of time, the storytelling is much tighter than usual, and all the better for it.
Final Rating: 8/10