Doctor Who: Mannequin Mania – DVD Review

Plastic fantastic

Release Date: 9 May 2011
1970-1971 * PG * 192 minutes * £29.99
Distributor: 2entertain
Cast: Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Roger Delgado

Mannequin Mania collects two tales featuring the plastic-lovin’ Autons. “Spearhead From Space” saw a show threatened with the axe radically reinvented as a full-colour, Earth-based action-adventure series with a more grown-up tone. Tapping into our unease with synthetic materials, the Autons are a fab creation, though their boiler suit and neck-scarf outfits do bring to mind Tony Hart playing Jason Voorhees. Boffin assistant Liz Shaw is so sarky she’s annoying, and the perfunctory climax, where Pertwee gurns like a loon as he’s strangled by octopoid tentacles, is risible in the extreme. But scenes of mannequins busting out of shop windows to slaughter pedestrians still pack a punch, and top-of-the-line Auton Channing is sublimely creepy. Shame it looks so dull… a studio strike made this the only classic Who shot entirely on film, and the results are a little drab.

That can’t be said of “Terror Of The Autons”; with its garish colours and focus on tacky consumer products, it couldn’t be more representative of The Decade That Taste Forgot. It gives the Doctor a new nemesis: The Master! Here, the Doctor is given a new nemesis: The Master! Roger Delgado is note-perfect from the off, combining menace with urbane charm. It’s a series of loosely-strung-together incidents, with world domination secondary to the game of one-upmanship; as the Doctor foils one fiendish trap after another, we’re forever rushing to the next murderous setpiece. Writer Robert Holmes has a ball imagining new ways to psychologically damage the under-tens, armchairs and plastic flowers into objects of terror in ways the modern shows probably wouldn’t dare (it’s rather a shame the new series doesn’t exploit this side of the Autons). The climax is feeble, with the Master easily talked into a U-turn, and image quality is poor (long story…), but it’s all such outrageous fun that it doesn’t really matter.

Extras:

“Spearhead” first came out in 2001 with scant extras, so Who fans will probably end up buying it again to get “Terror”; start making your placards for the march on 2entertain HQ now. This reissue adds a second commentary (by the producer and the script editor), and two featurettes – a Making Of (19 minutes) with some amusing anecdotes, and a somnolently dry piece on the challenges of the move to colour (23 minutes). There’s nothing earth-shattering on “Terror” either; highlights include “Life On Earth” (34 minutes), which ropes in RTD’s right-hand-man Phil Collinson to compare and contrast two differing takes on Earth-based Who. “The Doctor’s Moriarty” (19 minutes) wheels out talking heads from three eras to discuss the Master, while the somewhat underwhelming “Plastic Fantastic” is 11 minutes of Auton chat, mostly by new series writer Rob Shearman. The commentary is suffused with sadness, since two of the participants (Barry Letts and Nicholas “The Brig” Courtney) are no longer with us.

Ian Berriman