Doctor Who - Documentary s08e04 Episode Script

Plastic Fantastic

The people I represent, Mr Farrel, can never have too much plastic.
Plastic is a great weapon, because it's everywhere.
Its history is actually strangely connected to the World Wars, and war in general.
I think a lot of it was used during armaments.
PVC was created, I think, during World War I.
And in 1930s, you end up with Bakelite, which was a very early form of synthetic plastic.
But the everyday plastic everyone knows today really emerged after World War II and became very much part of everyday life.
The '60s and '70s were so obsessed with plastic because it was just so present everywhere, in terms of clothing and furniture.
By the time we are watching 'Terror of the Autons', plastic had become very much a part of everyday life.
Tupperware parties had emerged around 1960.
So, there was a huge domestic connection between plastic and the home.
It had sort of overtaken porcelain, I think.
as like a way to store things, it was very much part of people's lives.
Adam Adamant in the '60s did a story which is actually quite similar, where a soap company is also trying to take over England with things like plastic daffodils.
And again, it's that sort of horrendous invasion of the sort of cheap and the easy and the very, very commercial.
Doomwatch, which was a show about, sort of Actually, quite a pioneering show about the ecology and scientist battling threats to the ecology, and they did a show about some kind of plastic virus.
That sort of fear of over-reliance upon plastic comes out again when planes fall out of the sky because the plastic is eroding.
DICKS: They got very worried for a time, that our themes would clash, so to speak, but since they were very, very serious, my God, they were serious, and we were fantasy and light-hearted, it never really arose as a problem.
What that lacks, really, though, is the sense of sort of black comedy that Robert Holmes brings.
He's not trying to say plastic is something which is genuinely dangerous.
He's actually just having fun with the idea that this is going to be a really nasty way of scaring kids.
In black and white Doctor Who in particular, a lot of the science fiction is held up to be quite sort of bright and shiny and new age and something which is very, very futuristic.
And suddenly, we're on Earth, and the most fundamental thing that everyone has around the house can suddenly turn out to be some sort of killing device.
In the late '60s and '70s, and throughout the '80s, there has been a dramatic decline in religious practice, so people didn't necessarily believe in God so much and therefore they didn't necessarily believe in the Devil so much.
Oh, well, I'll go make the coffee.
GAVIN: The concept of fear became deflected onto the home, so if you look at something like Rosemary's Baby, the fear is very much embedded in the landscape of the architecture.
The Devil's in your house, that kind of thing.
And I think in this episode of Doctor Who, you really have that sense that horror is about the things surrounding you.
SHEARMAN: 'Terror of the Autons' takes that to the ultimate level.
It is somewhere where the most innocent and most obvious things can suddenly turn out to be things which can kill you.
Whether it be a telephone cord wrapping itself around your neck, whether it be plastic flowers you might have in your kitchen, anything which is synthetic and ugly but very, very mundane can suddenly leap out and actually just kill you without your even knowing.
I mean, absolutely terrifying.
If you're going to pick a substance to attack the human race, it may as well be plastic.
Because science fiction is really a continuation of gothic literature from the late 18th century.
Things like Frankenstein through to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde through the whole 20th century, HG Wells and beyond, those kind of stories very much use technology and our fear of technology as a focus of fear.
So, plastic had become everywhere, but people don't know how it's made.
It's not natural.
And that lack of nature and a natural element makes people have something they don't feel necessarily comfortable about.
Plastic itself, which is meant to be something which is cheap and easy, but also which isn't very, very stylish, which is quite clammy to the touch, and something you have in your house, because you can't afford good stuff.
Unique, right enough.
Actually, it feels like Doctor Who has been invaded by monsters who live off bad taste.
GAVIN: Plastic was very much seen as new materials, new direction in life.
Sort of a different way of living that was more fun.
The brighter the colour, the more modern it was.
'Terror of the Autons' is a very peculiar story.
We've just come off a season where every single story has been about scientific complexes and places which have great technological advances, and we open with a circus.
And it's sort of bright and breezy and very, very plastic-y looking.
In a funny way, even though people will criticise 'Terror of the Autons' for having some fairly bad CSO, it actually still kind of lends itself to that sort of slightly synthetic feel.
And it's a very, very synthetic story.
It's very, very 1970s, for that matter.
It's very, very bad taste.
It's very, very colourful.
And actually, that makes it quite startlingly different.
Yes, well, that's our object.
To show the world the skill of the modern plastics industry.
There was a vogue in the '70s for awful things like plastic chairs.
You could get more smooth lines, stranger shapes, it felt more ergonomic.
It had that sense of being adapted to a modern way of living, as opposed to wood, which was all about artisan and craftsmanship.
I remember we had plastic chairs, which actually just always felt, as it says in the script, actually sort of rather clammy and not particularly nice to sit on but they were cheap.
And because, again, of that sort of bad taste thing, there's something really quite horrifying, even now, about watching McDermott die sitting on one.
It's actually, I think it's one of the most genuinely horrific deaths in Doctor Who, because it's funny, but because also, it's The camera even focuses upon the moment where he stops breathing, as it goes over his face, and he's struggling.
And it's just so obviously bizarre.
That sort of almost quite wet plastic coming over his face.
It's really quite horrifying.
But also because it's something that the viewers watching at the time sitting on their cheap '70s sofas will have felt could've happened to them behind their backs at that very moment.
You kind of ran out places to hide at that point, because you can't hide behind the plastic sofa.
There's nothing worse than plastic flowers, actually.
I mean, you know, there's wars, there's famine, there's pollution, but plastic flowers, the idea of something which is the inherent beauty of which is that it will die, but it smells nice.
And instead you say, here's something which looks like it might die, but actually it's a bit shinier, and it has no smell to it.
And of course, that's very 1970s.
People go out, and they have in their kitchen things which look almost like the real thing but not as good as.
And there's something really rather wonderful about the idea that this is actually what's been causing all these massive deaths across the Southeast of England, typically.
And you almost sort of feel that they deserve it.
These are people, who actually willingly have got plastic flowers in their houses.
They're the ones actually who deserve to asphyxiate.
The use of plastic flowers as opposed to real flowers has something playful about it.
It's quite kitsch for us today, but I think in a way, kitsch was obviously fashionable then.
Though artificial flowers have emerged since the 18th century, and you, in the earlier period, in the 1930s and late 19th century, you have a lot of China flowers.
So, I think a lot of that had been used in more genteel homes, we'll phrase it that way, throughout the 20th century.
I didn't have a troll doll in the '70s.
I was a boy, my parents didn't give me toys, they'd shut me in cupboards.
But my sister had a series of Gonks, which were quite small, little ugly things, with punkish hair you had on the end of key rings.
And she was quite fond of them even though they never seemed to smile, and they sort of glared at her.
The troll doll in 'Terror of the Autons' is like a massive Gonk.
And these things did exist, these sort of almost quite determined-to-be-punkish dolls, which were actually meant to be just deliberately ugly.
And I think, again, Holmes is sort of sending that up quite nicely, by actually having one of these things coming out and it looks like the ugliest creature of all.
The troll phenomenon was kind of fascinating.
I think that they're incredibly ugly and I think children are always drawn towards things that are playful and ugly at the same time.
So, it began with troll dolls, it moved onto Garbage Pail Kids stickers in the 1980s.
And if you look at 1980s horror films with Chucky, there's a whole kind of connection between toys that turn and I think that has a lot of resonance.
SHEARMAN: One of the most disturbing moments in an Auton story anyway was in 'Spearhead from Space', and it's the bit where there's a conveyor belt of dolls.
And they are sort of bundled down onto the conveyor belt and these machines are punching things into their eyes and And you know that they're just toys, you know that they are just plastic because they look human and they look sweet.
And they look, sort of, very, very safe.
There's something quite cold and horrible about that.
Part of the joy of 'Terror of the Autons' is that we do have this ugly, you know, thing with his one fang out, coming out at people and just rolling around and getting up and picking itself up.
I think the idea of a very, very sweet toy being a killer is possibly a bit more horrific.
I think in execution it would probably just look It just wouldn't come off as well.
Again, Doctor Who taking something everyday and turning it into your worst nightmare.
GAVIN: A plastic man or a plastic doll, um, is far more frightening than a real man as something scary because of Freud.
If you look at the concept of the uncanny or unheimlich which emerged in the 1930s, it's all about the idea of we're afraid of something that's like us but not like us.
We're afraid of our mirror image.
So dolls, clowns, any of those characters which feel human but they're inanimate are incredibly scary to human beings on a very deep psychological level.
So I think that the facelessness of the plastic characters is much more frightening than a normal everyday face, because it's like you but it's not you.
SHEARMAN: There's something in 'Terror of the Autons' as well about people getting something for nothing.
You're walking down the street, you basically trust that if people are giving you something and they've got big smiley, happy faces on, that it will be something which is safe and won't actually bother you.
And so, there is actually also Maybe it's a 1970s thing as well, where people more habitually felt that they could leave their front doors open.
That the people actually who are out there, who are smiling at you and giving you something which looks pretty, there might be something rather more dark and dangerous behind it.
1970s Britain, you walk down the street, you're given a plastic flower, nowadays you walk down the street and you're given a copy of a newspaper you'll abandon on the London Underground and you'll drown in that instead.
What's worse?