Season 8 opens with another Nestene / Autons story, a relatively tightly plotted four episodes written by Robert Holmes again. There is a noticeable difference in style between his stories and the rest – he seems more inclined to break out of the rigid structure of the old 1960s episodes, and his characters are written with more naturalistic dialogue. Even the grumpy old Doctor occasionally makes a joke.
Orchestrating the Nestene’s plot to return to Earth and control all our plastic is none other than The Master (the actual Master, this time!), in his first ever appearance. I’m only familiar with the Master from the more recent Doctor Who series, but the character here is similarly evil, devious and cunning. More than that, though, he’s an intellectual equal for the Doctor, and from the looks of things, he’s going to be sticking around for a while. Arguably, the Netene and the Autons aren’t the focus here – there’s still the odd scary moment, like the little troll doll coming to life, or the fake policeman pulling his rubber mask off – they’re just part of the Master’s plot. But this is the sort of focus the series needs to avoid becoming stale, since we’re still stuck on Earth for the time being.
Doctor Who continues to have big ideas – alien invasion, deadly plastic sculptures, armed forces having shootouts and saving the country from a genocidal Time Lord – but budget cuts are becoming more apparent. We still don’t see inside the Doctor’s Tardis, and the Master’s Tardis only ever appears as a caravan! UNIT seems to ditch the jeeps for this story, and instead the Brigadier and his troops drive around in a little car. It’s quite amusing, actually. Elsewhere, bluegreen backdrops are used extensively, sometimes in place of actual sets. It’s fine, it’s just noticeably more dated than something like Spearhead from Space, which should always look good due to how it was shot.
So, apparently, Liz Shaw left. I didn’t realise she wasn’t returning. I don’t have much to say about her as she wasn’t in it for long, but I liked that she was clever enough to keep up with the Doctor and take initiative herself. By contrast, the Doctor’s new assistant, Jo, is just there to look pretty and get kidnapped. An unfortunate downgrade, but I will give her a chance.
I like The Master. He’s the villain the show needs, and he’s a pleasure to watch. Granted, he does look like magician crossed with General Zod, but given he has the power of hypnosis, this seems entirely appropriate. I’ll be interested to see what his inclusion brings to the show going forward.