Jon Pertwee’s second series as the Doctor is one of the best in the show’s history. It’s very rare you get a series without a weak story, but this was a remarkably consistent and high quality run. Roger Delgado debuted as the Master and featured in all five stories. We were also introduced to a new companion as Jo Grant replaced Liz Shaw. Jon Pertwee was again on top form and everything knitted together nicely for a hugely entertaining series.
The series began with Terror of the Autons, the Autons’ second appearance after featuring in Pertwee’s debut in Spearhead From Space. They were being controlled by the Master who had cunningly infiltrated a plastic factory. This along with The Dæmons, was the standout story of the series. We got a real flavour of how devious and sly a character the Master was, and his chemistry with the third Doctor was instant. Also, the Autons played their part as a strong villain who posed a true threat. The only thing I didn’t like about this opening four part story was the Master’s getaway as he used an employee as a puppet wearing a mask. The mask was a bit silly but apart from that little detail, this was a perfect way to kick start the series, and kick start one of the most iconic bad guys in television.
Moving on to The Mind of Evil and the series continued to produce strong scripts. The Master was this time utilising a mind control machine, which even he then lost control of. At six parts long, this story admittedly did drag in places, I think four would’ve sufficed. However there were still some great moments and once again I was gripped by the Doctor and the Master’s on-screen camaraderie.
Next up was probably the low point of the series in The Claws of Axos, but even that is a compliment to the series as a whole, as this story isn’t bad at all. The concept is good, I enjoyed the Axons, in particular the opening part where they offered Earth a life changing gift in exchange for permission to seek refuge on the planet. It was a moral dilemma that was intriguing to watch the humans work out whether or not to trust them. Of course, when watching classics you have to look past the dated special effects as much as possible, but even for the seventies, some of the effects were poor. At one stage, it was clear a so called enemy was just two men under a blanket and it took me out of the moment briefly. The story didn’t finish as strongly as it started but it’s still a passable one.
Colony in Space was the fourth story and oppositely to The Claws of Axos, this story started slowly but finished excellently. Similar to The Mind of Evil, six parts was perhaps too long, three of four would’ve been fine. The colony in the end floated into insignificance when they had featured prominently for the first five parts. The final part was superb though as Delgado and Pertwee gave us a stunning show of their acting ability. Their “To rule or to serve” debate was fascinating and set the tone for the two characters’ futures throughout the show. It’s a shame this wasn’t the focus for longer as the colony’s storyline did drag and wasn’t all that interesting.
The series ended just as it started, in true style. The Dæmons was a story that was well before its time. It was brilliant to see the Doctor’s faith questioned, something that hadn’t really been done before. Replacing the scientist Liz Shaw with Jo Grant at the start of the series, who trusted faith and superstition more than science certainly helped this story. Throughout the series there was the odd line where Jo questioned the Doctor’s complete trust in science but it was the focus here. The Master gave his best performance to date here too, his true evil side really shine through. Not one moment of this five part story dragged or got boring. Tonally, it was a masterpiece, the first two parts in particular really did have a creepy feel. The special effects were also excellent for the seventies, especially when the gargoyle was blown up but then put itself back together. It’s a very hard story to flaw. The acting, the script and the direction were all top notch and successfully iced the series eight cake.
For a debut season, Roger Delgado absolutely nailed the Master, he was flawless. The dry sarcasm and wit he could install in his delivery of one liners made his relationship with the Doctor so entertaining to watch. There is a degree of pantomime to his performance, in some respects it is quite camp, but it never gets too much or to the point where it’s irritating. The balance between a cold, evil mastermind and an old friend of the Doctor is perfect. You can tell the two have a great deal of respect for each other deep down, would never directly destroy one another but take the greatest deal of pleasure in taunting and distressing their counterpart. The only thing that annoyed me about the Master wasn’t Delgado’s fault. The incidental music that plays over the scenes where he appeared was truly terrible. Sometimes it made serious scenes laughable and it’s a shame Murray Gold wasn’t around back then to produce something more fitting for such a fine actor.
Katy Manning was also debuting as Jo Grant. Despite some questionable acting (there was a lot of that in the seventies), she’s a character who I really like. She often showed tremendous bravery, no more than in the concluding part of The Dæmons where she offered to sacrifice herself in place of the Doctor. Her chemistry with the Doctor certainly grew as the series went on after a bit of a shaky start. I’m glad she stayed on for series nine too as her character hadn’t completely developed by the end of series eight.
Obviously some stories are better than others. Terror of the Autons and The Dæmons do stand out, however it’s rare to get a whole series where the quality is so consistently high. The Master reappearing in each story never grew tiresome, in fact the only thing that did was the other characters’ shock at seeing him each time he popped up. With such a threat in each story, every one was gripping. Having a whole series with the same villain, especially someone as powerful and relevant as the Master is something I’d like to see the modern series attempt. Not every series of course, but it’s no coincidence series eight is so strong with the Master appearing throughout.