Sunday, October 7, 2007

Owns Auton Trilogy on Harddrive - Part One

There'll be no Spara-bashing this week, but he will get a mention. Over the years he's had some rather odd signatures on OG. For the longest time it was "I'm sitting on my watch to be on time" which we can all agree is the most unfunny thing since Summer Heights High was commissioned. While his moopy persona used all the sorts of jingoistic Chathamocity we'd expect ("Ben Chatham says: Keep Britain Smoothe!"), his two recent efforts on OG are... odd. Basically, the puport of them is "I am right and clever and you are not" but this translated from the original "Owns Stammers Howe Walker decades trilogy" and "Owns Auton Trilogy on DVD".

As if owning six pieces of generic merchandise somehow raises him up above such lesser mortals as Steve Moffat or Miles Ried.

But, no Spara-bashing, as I promised.

Since I own the decades 'trilogy' (worth it only for the pictures), the About Time quintology (worth it for everything except the pictures), 80% of the Handbooks (worth it for the novelization at the start), not to mention the Radio Times 20th Anniversary Magazine (worth for Saward writing the origin of the Doctor with his usual lethargy), it struck me I don't have the Auton trilogy!

Thus, maybe Spara possesses some incredibly secret that can only be gained from owning this merchandise!!

So, I did the Australian thing. And nicked them.

In fairness, I've never seen the boxset for sale, or even individual DVDs. A half-remembered viewing of the first film in some Drummoyne convention in years gone by is all I have, bar all the raving but utterly unhelpful reviews Doctor Who Magazine offered, which said that Auton 2 was the best thing since Androzani, but apart from mentioning Autons and a church, you'd be buggered trying to work out what happened in it.

So, I present the abandoned Bad Movie Report (please ignore the dust) that is...

AUTON!!! (1 of 3)

Once upon a time, everything was new. And as I start to look at Auton I wonder how much of 'newness' that RTD can boast of - as it was he, not Rob Shearman, that came up with the idea of Dalek, and it seems he was thinking about this home movie when he was scratching out that Season One pitch oooh, such a long time ago now.

The plot begins "decades" after ye old window dummy shopping trip massacre of Spearhead from Space, where all the nifty alien detritus left over after UNIT has saved the day is given the choice of being handed over to Torchwood for research and analysis... or shoved in a deserted warehouse and quietly forgotten. For once, Britain chooses wisely and soon all that Stahlman Gas, and Zygon tech is neatly packaged in cardboard boxes marked simply "Fragile" and then abandoned.

However, the warehouse has been rediscovered and a bunch of gormless, sarcastic civilian UNIT operatives are now looking through this Alladin's Cave of the Unknown Horrors of Outer Space, so they can catalogue this Bunning's Warehouse of the Damned. There is Dr Sal/Sally Arnold, the hard-working, obsessive woman in a labcoat Liz Shaw wannabe that was an old stereotype before Silent Witness made it big. Her gormless assistant, Jainee, who seems to have either taken UNIT's entire supply of tranquilizers, with her bug eyed schoolgirl stare at everything, and also Graham Winslet - the love child of Robson Green and Christopher Eccleston, a cardigan-wearing stock manager who prefers filing paperwork to the unfulfilling touch of a human being.

At first glance, this pathetic trio seem to be only thirty thousand times more sensible, realistic and reassuring as those chosen to guard over the alien artifacts than the biopolar bissexual nymphomaniacs of ol Cardiff town, but it appears that not getting any is literally getting to them. Winslet is going around looking for boxes marked after the serial code and author's initials of Spearhead in Space (AAA/RH/2961 - a gag which really gets old, and more so because I can't work out the relevence of 2961...), Sal's assistant has forgotten how to blink and Dr Sal herself is building a deep space satellite out of meccano.

The problem of this all is a Nestene Energy Unit - or purple plastic soccer ball - which no one seems to have connected to those shop dummy rampages in the 1970s. Despite the Third Doctor and Liz Shaw working out the whys and wherewithalls of the energy unit in less than an episode, Dr Sal has used every single method of scientific analysis known to mankind... and discover it looks a bit like plastic.

So, she decides to get the Star Wars satellites to look at it and tell her what it is, and Jainee suddenly starts mocking the Energy Unit and noting how 'no one loves it'. Proving she has had too much coffee and not enough sleep, Dr Sal starts laughing her head off like she's watching Dylan Moran in Monster - so intensely, in fact, she doesn't notice the Energy Unit is starting to flash burble with that endearing gurgle noise.

Meanwhile, Winslet is having a justifiable bitch that after three weeks of being lost in a maze of cardboard boxes - like the ABC trying to recreate the vaults from Raiders of the Lost Ark - he's finally found a bunch of crates from Spearhead all marked AUTON and the palsied harridan who got him to do it is refusing to answer her phone while she mucks around with deep space satellites.

The sphere is flashing. The computer shows that the sphere is sending messages into deep space and something in deep space sending messages back. Dr Sal reacts with true professionalism... by getting Jainee to write down the time. These research scientists don't even have a clock?!?

From this moment on, everything becomes slightly predictable. The pouting, bald Flacco-esque Auton inside the crate starts to twitch. Jainee finally loses it and decides to snog the glowing alien artefact. And Winslet straightens his tie.

BANG! There is a flash! SCREAM! Dr Sal is screaming! BANG! A fist punches up out of the crate in front of the startled Winslet... what could possibly be happening?!?

The credits finish with Dr Sal and Winslet sitting on a box dressed in white decontamination gear surrounded by angry UNIT troops. In the brief time it took for Nicholas Briggs to get his handle up on the screen, Jainee was flash fried by the Energy Unit, which blew itself to smithereens. Dr Sal has passed out, woken up, set off the alarms and quarantined the whole base. Now UNIT have arrived and she and Winslet expect to be dealt with ruthlessly by UNIT's cigarette smoking man...

Except, well, he's not smoking a cigarette.

Yes, it's time for the Substitute Doctor to arrive, and this time it's Just Lockwood played with frosty sarcasm by Michael Wade. Lockwood is not quite human, knows all about aliens, has few people skills, is possibly psychic and generally the sort of guy that can save the world. He's a cross between Lovejoy, Avon and the Doctor, and he's got a League of Gentlemen gentleman as his assistant, Grant Markham, sorry, Dan Matthews.

Lockwood quickly realizes that there is something off here. Why would Winslet, a man with no personality or social life, a man with a rule book instead of a cerebral cortex, dilly around the place when the evacuation order was sent? Why would Dr Sal be so moronic to hook up an alien sphere to the information super highway? And since Winslet does not mention the Auton coming to life, and since we never see Dr Sal's alien encounter with the exploding sphere, we're left unsure who to trust.

Dr Sal tries desperately to justify her actions - if only she said, "If I didn't do that, we wouldn't have a movie!" - and Lockwood notes she has "turned on a fan and thrown some excrement at it" before losing his rag entirely and shouting, "GOD SAVE US FROM MAVERICKS!" This phrase, I think we all agree, should be framed and hung in the Torchwood Hub, perhaps with a 'No Shagging Aliens' symbol and a 'please keep all body parts out of the glowing alien objects' notice.

Lockwood also notes that the Energy Unit is unlikely to have self-destructed, after going to all the trouble to phone a friend, why blow up? And he's right, the Energy Unit is now the contents of a used tissue, shuffling up and down corridors and into and out of air vents, somehow killing people with electric shocks (off screen - we only ever meet the victims afterwards, not even an 'it's too quiet' scene betwixt squaddies). But when the blob finds the isolated Winslet and reforms into the Energy Unit, it's not difficult to work out what's happening.

Lockwood, Dan and Dr Sal muse over events and it shows once again that despite all the attempts in the late 1990s to make Doctor Who like The X-Files, it was doomed to failure. If the Doctor can bring down a government by insulting the Prime Minister, it's unlikely any conspiracy could stop him, and the fact is everyone in the story KNOWS what the alien monster is, and the viewers most likely know what the monster is up to. No suspense or conspiracy, unnerstand?

After a very stilted scene ('What IS Auton?!') that was clearly done only so they could use it in a trailer, the good guys find a huge storage vault marked AAA/RH/2961. Since this means that the stuff inside was considered FAR too dangerous to put into cardboard boxes, our heroes decide to open it anyway. Using his retinal scan and some psychic passwords, Lockwood finds a poky room containing...

* The Doctor's ECT Auton killer machine
* Another Energy Unit
* the Nutrient Tank full of slime from the end of Spearhead from Space

What's REALLY embarassing is that all it is covered in transparent plastic packaging. IT'S A FUCKING NESTENE PEOPLE! And you wrap it up in PLASTIC CLING WRAP?! As Lockwood and the others wonder what to do, the second Energy Unit starts to flash and all those Autons break out of their coffins, leading to an old 'shoot the slowly-advancing monsters as they kill off all the non-speaking parts'.

The new Autons aren't really that impressive, really. They lack the evil buzzing noise of the originals, the plastic blob-faces of the second ones, and the nifty plastic noises the Eccleston era ones have. Worse, they have ventilation holes drilled into their cheeks, giving them dimples and, along with their wide, guppy-like mouths, these have to be the campest Autons ever. Even the Gay Carnivale ones in Terror of the Autons felt butcher and more ruthless than these ones... even the guns don't make the right noise!

Luckily, the production team remember that the best thing about the Autons was that they move like humans, able to run, bow, jump and be ninja-like (something Kieth Boak forgot... but it's one of his more forgivable crimes). The scenes as they smash through cardboard boxes like a car in an 1970s cop show, and then get the runaround in the smoke and chaos redeem these Autons slightly - until one of them shoots Dan in the head and, despite all the laws of god and reason, just burn his face slightly. It doesn't even knock him unconscious.

Meanwhile, Lockwood has decided to go to plan B - B for Base Under Siege as he and Dr Sal lock themselves in a room with the Doctor's laser thingamagig and bitch at each other. Then, for no reason really explained, Lockwood starts to meditate.

The Autons have killed all the troops bar Ramsey (an almagamation of tough-but-good soldier stereotypes which as Lockwood notes, is right out of a WW2 flick) and Dan. The scenes of them brooding over their situation are, tragically, not enlivened with an exchange of:

RAMSAY: We can't use the communicators! The Autons will hear us!

Meanwhile, Auton Winslet - now more Robson Green - starts laughing to himself in a subtle, non-over-the-top manner as he realizes he needs Lockwood to open the vault so he can get at the Nestene goodies within. So, in less time than it takes to actually type this up, he has knocked on the door to Dr Sal's hideout and done the "Hey! I'm a friend! Let me in!". Barely does Lockwood have the time to tell Dr Sal that he should have mentioned earlier that their enemies is a shape-shifting body snatcher then they are captured.

Winslet takes Lockwood back to the vault and threatens to kill Dr Sal unless he opens the door. Lockwood's smug reaction is priceless, as he gloats over Dr Sal and reminds her what an utter bitch she has been to him througout the movie. However, Lockwood notes that the Autons cannot kill him - they need his psychic password, not just his eyes. Unfortunately, the Nestene Consciousness is something of a badass in the telepathy department and a staring competition between Lockwood and Winslet begins.

At that moment, Dan and Ramsay begin their Boys Own rescue firing completely ineffective bullets at the indestructible Autons - a scene full of slow mo, close ups, and generally giving the impression that some French expressionist film director handled this one sequence. The distraction allows Dr Sal to escape, snatch up the Doctor's gadget and zap Autons dead (it's not half as impressive when you can't hear the evil buzzing break down).

Finally Lockwood surrenders and opens the vault. Winslet useses some evil camera techniques to absorb the two Energy Units and the slime from the nutrient tank, but before he can explain WHY the hell he is doing any of this, or even WHAT he is doing, Dr Sal arrives and zaps the last of the Autons.

In the best moment of the film, as Winslet is called to account for all the death in the story, he looks slightly puzzled and simply says, "It's what we do," as if any other answer would be patently absurd. I could say its a snide reference as the limp scripting Rob Holmes gave the monsters of Spearhead from Space (since he was ONLY introducing a new Doctor, companion and storyline format simultaneously), but George Telfer's acting really makes this scene disturbing - you believe it REALLY is nothing personal.

However, Dr Sal has issues to resolve (did I mention she is singlehandedly responsible for this massacre because she was so utterly stupid she never asked anyone else if they knew what AAA/RH/2961 meant?) and zaps Winslet with the laser, causing him to cough up an Energy Unit, then, diving behind a door, dissolves into a seething mass of pond scum.

Lockwood orders Sal not to follow Winslet inside, because then they would have to show his demise, which would cost money. Or maybe because Lockwood is somehow possessed by the Nestene Consciousness, who seems to fancy 'UNIT's creature' something rotten?

Either way, the heap of mucus our leading villain has become has now snuck up a drain pipe to the surface and is FREE TO CAUSE CHAOS ON EARTH!!!!!! But not now. Later.

The final scene has Lockwood bidding farewell to Ramsay and Dan, and offering Dr Sal a job on his containment team - and also telling her to stop feeling guilty and get over her horrible mistakes despite the fact he's been rubbing her face in them since he arrived in the film. Either way, as the Containment Team abandon the warehouse, I still think this would have made a better series than Torchwood.

Auton is unsatisfying on its own, since it seems to be part of a bigger story. As ever with fan films like this, it's being made FOR fans, so explanations for what Autons, Nestenes and UNIT actually are, are skipped over pretty quickly. It's also interesting that the events of Terror of the Autons are never referred to - bar the reactivation of an Energy Unit using a space transmission. It's just a pity Terror was so ruthlessly edited at the time (Rob Holmes got his revenge on Terrance Dicks by writing really REALLY long episodes after a bitch that his '14-page' scripts gave the production team heart attacks). Not only did we lose the crucial scene confirming that the Master is the War Chief, we lost two sequences that effect the plot of Auton very importantly - the one where the Doctor explains his ECT gadget can't work on Nestenes any more, since they've adapted to it, and the final scene where the only surviving Energy Unit explodes into goo when the Nestenes are banished from Earth. Unlike in Auton, the Energy Unit is definitely dead, not trying something clever. Even with those aside, you have to wonder WHERE the second Energy Unit came from, or even WHY it's in the story at all, since it gets eaten by Winslet minutes after he gets it.

The other notable thing is Lockwood Just Lockwood - although he seems to be a transparent Subsitute Doctor, the script originally featured the Brigadier as played by Nick Courtney. That would explain his knowledge of Autons and passcodes, but the only hint of Lockwood's origins is the scene where Dan gives a long speech that their commander has repeatedly saved their lives with no thought to his own safety. And that doesn't sound like Lockwood at all.

So, is this a vision of how Doctor Who should be made? Er... dunno, really. It's made with a view to be a Douglas Camfield/Graham Harper-style massacre in a base under siege, and everything that hasn't been stolen from Robert Holmes has been done in Dalek. Apart from some mild paranoia and body horror, there's nothing that hasn't been done by either the new series or the old. Auton, believe it or not, is fused to Season 7 of Doctor Who, the gritty Pertwee era of few jokes, lots of arguments and brooding menace, and it's not hard to imagine this being turned into a four parter, or maybe even a seven parter if the sequel movies are added.

Does owning this movie give me a greater understanding of Doctor Who?

Yes, a bit. Since I now know that even aeon-old Lovecraftian alien intelligences can be really dumb some days. Why does the blob go to all the trouble of reviving an army to break into a vault, when it could have just slithered outside, then straight down the chimney INTO the vault?

Still, compared to a Ben Chatham story, this is practically Renaissance art...

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