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Terror of the Autons (TV story)

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Terror of the Autons
Autons attack
Novelised as: Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons
Doctor: Third Doctor
Companion(s): Jo
Featuring: The Brig, Mike Yates, Benton
Main enemy: Nestene Consciousness, Autons, The Master
Main setting: Tarminster
Key crew
Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: Barry Letts
Producer: Barry Letts
Release details
Story number: 55
Number of episodes: 4
Season/series: Season 8
Premiere broadcast: 2 - 23 January 1971
Premiere network: BBC1
Format: 4x25-minute episodes
Production code: EEE
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Doctor Who television stories
Inferno The Mind of Evil
Memorable moment
New assistant, Jo Grant - Dr Who - BBC sci-fi02:09

New assistant, Jo Grant - Dr Who - BBC sci-fi

Another memorable moment
Death by plastic chair - Doctor Who - Terror of the Autons - BBC02:39

Death by plastic chair - Doctor Who - Terror of the Autons - BBC

One more memorable moment
Escaping the grenade - Doctor Who Terror of the Autons - BBC02:13

Escaping the grenade - Doctor Who Terror of the Autons - BBC

Terror of the Autons was the first story of Season 8 of Doctor Who. It was notable for being a "gentle reboot" of the Jon Pertwee era, offering a number of elements which would remain prevalent for the next three seasons. It marked the debut of three new recurring characters: Jo Grant, Captain Mike Yates and the Master. Jo would become the equivalent of the Doctor's companion, while the Master would easily make himself the most persistent archenemy of the Doctor for the remainder of this season, and a major antagonist long after his first appearance.

Furthermore, it was the first story in which Sgt. Benton's portrayer, John Levene, was given an annual contract, rather than employment as a day player. It also introduced what became UNIT's standard, green uniforms — the replacements for what Barry Letts disparagingly called the "chocolates" of Season 7 — and a new UNIT laboratory which would be used by the Third Doctor until the end of his exile.

It also featured the first return of the Autons since their debut in Season 7, and the first direct contact between the Doctor and his people since the end of Season 6. It was one of very few stories — and the first since TV: The Tomb of the Cybermen in 1967 — in which each new episode drew more viewers than the one that had preceded it. Finally, it was also the only televised Doctor Who story to be at least partially adapted as a non-parodic comic strip, in DWM 164.

The Autons and the Nestenes would not appear on television again until Rose, the first episode of the revived series, in 2005.

Synopsis Edit

The Earth is in terrible danger when an evil renegade Time Lord known as the Master arrives at a circus run by a man named Luigi Rossini and steals a dormant Nestene energy unit from a museum. He reactivates it using a radio telescope and uses his hypnotic abilities to take control of a small plastics firm run by the Farrel family, where he organises the production of deadly Auton dolls, chairs and daffodils. The Master has an evil scheme to destroy humanity and silence his old foe, the Doctor, forever. His plan is to awaken the awesome power of the Nestene - a ruthlessly aggressive alien life form.

Once mixed with plastic, the Nestene will form into faceless automatons, a willing army of destruction easily controlled by the Master himself. This is the terrible threat now facing Earth - the terror of the Autons.

Aided by the Brigadier and his new companion Jo Grant, only the Third Doctor can combat their evil power, but first he must defeat the Master...

Plot Edit

Episode one Edit

Master's Tardis Debut

The Master's TARDIS arrives on Earth...

International Circus manager Luigi Rossini (aka Lew Russell) sees a horsebox materialise in the field near the circus tent. Out steps the Master, who quickly overpowers him with hypnosis. He enlists Rossini to help him steal a Nestene meteorite (left over from the previous invasion) from the National Space Museum.

Jo Meets the Doctor

The Doctor meets his new assistant.

Liz Shaw has returned to Cambridge, having decided that the Doctor doesn't really need her, so the Brigadier assigns UNIT trainee Jo Grant as the Time Lord's new assistant. She immediately makes a bad first impression when she extinguishes a small fire on the Doctor's lab bench, damaging his dematerialisation circuit. Dismayed at her lack of qualifications, he insists that the Brigadier reassign her. The Brigadier concedes, but only if the Doctor tells her himself. The Doctor attempts to fire her, but seeing Jo's kind and innocent disposition prevents him from being hard on her.

The Master appears at a deep space radio telescope, overpowering Professor George Phillips and his assistant, Goodge. He connects the Nestene meteorite to the telescope and transmits a signal.

Time Lord Messenger Warns Doctor of Master's Presence

A Time Lord messenger warns the Doctor of his foe's return.

Investigating the theft of the meteorite and the disappearance of the scientists, the Doctor arrives at the radio telescope. Outside the control tower, a Time Lord arrives, 'inconspicuously' dressed in a dark suit and bowler hat while hovering in mid-air, to warn the Doctor of the Master's arrival on Earth and alert him to a booby trap inside. His warning delivered, the Time Lord disappears. Disarming the trap, the Doctor opens Goodge's lunchbox to find his shrunken corpse inside.

At a small local plastics factory, production manager James McDermott confronts the owner, young Rex Farrel, about the mysterious Colonel Masters and the new line of products he has commissioned them into producing.

Master Revives Autons

The Master brings the Autons back to life...

The Doctor correctly surmises that the Master is in league with the Nestenes, and obtains a list of nearby plastic manufacturers. Jo, against the Doctor's will, goes off on her own to investigate. By chance, she arrives at the Farrel factory. She is quickly discovered by the Master and hypnotised. She returns to UNIT with a crate that apparently once contained the Nestene meteorite, but as she begins to open it the Doctor quickly realises that it's a bomb. The Doctor shouts for someone to stop her, but Jo is determined to open it.

Episode two Edit

The Doctor throws the box through the window seconds before it explodes in the river. He attempts to work through Jo's hypnosis.

McDermott Murdered by Nestene Chair

The Master's Nestene chair suffocates McDermott.

Back at the plastics factory, McDermott confronts the Master about his apparent domination over the Farrel factory. The Master invites him to sit in one of their new products, a self-inflating plastic chair, which comes alive and smothers him. Rex Farrel is impressed with its effectiveness, but the Master realises that they should explore smaller products, noting that a simpler plastic device could kill humans with more efficiency.

The Doctor Helps Jo Overcome a Hypnotism

The Doctor tries to make Jo remember meeting the Master.

At UNIT, the Doctor frees Jo from the Master's control. She tells him vague details about the office she was in and also about the bomb. The Doctor realises this must be the work of the Master. However, Jo cannot placate the Master's presence on Earth, due to the mind wiping effect of his post-hypnotic suggestions.

The Master's Gremlin Doll

The Master gives Mr Farrel an evil doll.

The factory's retired founder, the elder Mr Farrel, is very upset over Mr McDermott's death and the arrival of "Colonel Masters." After his attempt at hypnotising Mr Farrel fails, the Master sneaks into his car and turns his air conditioner to its hottest setting. He gives Farrel a new sample product, a demonic-looking plastic doll that is activated by heat. Farrel is annoyed by the Master's insistence to pawn off this product on him. Just wanting to go home and rest, he lets the Master fling it in his backseat and drives off. The doll suddenly wakes up as the car's heater toasts the vehicle's interior, but Farrel takes notice when he begins to sweat and shuts it off, causing the doll to go dormant again. However, Farrel brings it inside his home and it ends up on window sill near a radiator. Having discussed the matter of this Colonel Masters having a negative affect on their son's mentality with Mrs Farrel, she exits the room to make tea. The doll comes to life a second time and kills Mr Farrel, lunging at his throat with its fangs. His wife screams when she happens upon his murdered body.

Circus Thugs Torture the Doctor

The Doctor suffers torturous treatment as Rossini's captive.

UNIT scouts spot turf marks at the site of the missing Professor Philips' car. This leads to the discovery of Rossini's circus. The Doctor insists on investigating himself, despite the Brigadier's offer of an escort. Jo is ordered by both the Doctor and the Brigadier to remain at HQ. However, eager to prove she's not to be coddled and disregarded, Jo has hidden herself in Bessie's backseat, and soon leaps out to spy on the Doctor. The Doctor goes to investigate the Master's TARDIS, which is disguised as a teal horsebox, but is quickly captured by Rossini; the Master left Professor Philips at the circus to lure the Doctor there. Whilst trying to find the Doctor, Jo sees Professor Philips enter the teal horsebox. She phones the sighting in to the Brigadier at HQ. He scolds her for disobeying the order to stay behind and tells her to stay put until he arrives. Jo again disobeys and goes to find the Doctor. The circus's strongman Tony is menacing him inside a trailer, but Jo peeps in through a reflection and gets the Doctor's attention. She sneaks into the trailer and knocks Tony out by shattering a glass over his head. The Doctor is also upset that Jo didn't listen to him, but she rebuts that he needed her around to be rescued.

However, Professor Philips, having been hypnotised by the Master, enters with a grenade in his hand, poised for a murder-suicide. The Doctor attempts to reason with him, knowing Philips is still on some level trying to resist doing something against his nature. Philips shakes loose from the trance and tries to abandon the grenade outside, but it detonates. The Doctor and Jo mourn his wasteful death.

Auton Police Escort

An Auton kidnapper is unmasked.

The Doctor and Jo find the Master's TARDIS (the horse box) and are confronted by an angry mob of circus employees led by Rossini. Rossini furiously accuses the Doctor of robbing the caravan and killing the scientist with the grenade, entranced into thinking it's one of his men. He clubs the Doctor over the head with a bat before he can react and the mob swarms toward him and Jo. They are rescued from the mob by an arriving police car. The Brigadier and Captain Yates arrive at the circus moments later, see what is happening and follow them. Instead of being taken back to UNIT, the Doctor and Jo arrive in a remote quarry. The Doctor, suspicion aroused, asks to see the officers' warrant card, and is met with blank eyes. He peels off a mask and discovers that the policemen are Autons in disguise.

Episode three Edit

The Doctor struggles with the two Autons, causing the car to veer and crash. He and Jo escape from the car, relentlessly pursued by the Autons. The Brigadier and Captain Yates arrive and rescue them.

Incompatible Dematerilisation Circuit

An annoyed Doctor learns his TARDIS is staying grounded.

Back at the lab, the Doctor replaces his non-functional dematerialisation circuit with the one he stole from the Master's TARDIS, but they are incompatible. The Doctor's frustration is abated when he realises that as long as he has the Master's circuit, he's stuck on Earth too.

The Master is pleased with the factory's latest product, a realistic-looking plastic daffodil. The Autons, led by Rex Farrel, wear enormous carnival masks and matching yellow suits. They tour the countryside, handing out thousands of these daffodils to the general public.

The Master in Telephone Engineer Disguise

Captain Yates is surprised to see a repairman in the Doctor's lab.

The Brigadier is alerted to a rash of unexplained asphyxiation deaths all over England. Jo's memory is jogged by the mention of Mr Farrel among the casualties. They meet his grieving widow and take the troll doll for examination; meanwhile a mysterious repairman (The Master) replaces the cord on the Doctor's lab telephone. It seems like the Doctor has simply ordered a longer flex because he paces about on the phone, but the repairman's behaviour suggests otherwise...

The Doctor and the Brigadier investigate the now-abandoned plastics factory and discover a leftover plastic daffodil (and narrowly elude an Auton). Meanwhile, Jo and Captain Yates accidentally reactivate the troll doll with the heat from the Doctor's Bunsen burner, which they borrowed to make cocoa. The doll attacks Jo, but Yates blows it to pieces with his gun.

Nestene Telephone Attacks the Doctor

The Master's telephone trap binds the Doctor.

The Master telephones the Doctor in his lab. The Doctor suspects his foe is speaking to him and asks what he wants. The Master simply called him to say goodbye. He activates a signal device and the Doctor's telephone cord comes to life. It wraps itself around him, and starts squeezing the life out of him.

Episode four Edit

Daffodil Nestene Autojet

The Doctor and Jo witness the daffodil come alive.

The Brigadier hears the Doctor shouting for help and disconnects the phone, cutting off the signal. The Doctor tells the Brigadier that the Nestenes can put life into anything made of plastic. While examining the daffodil, the Doctor and Jo accidentally discover it is activated by radio waves. The daffodil sprays an asphyxiating film over Jo's nose and mouth, though the Doctor removes it in time. The daffodils are to be activated by a signal from the Radio Telescope; the unexplained deaths were shortwave radio users who activated theirs prematurely. Although he knows the cause of the deaths, Doctor is puzzled by the fact the film on Jo was not found on any of the bodies. Feeling a hunch, he huffs a few breaths on the plastic, and it dissolves away into nothing. The carbon dioxide expelled from the victim's lungs acted to rub out the evidence of murder. Moments after reaching this conclusion, a man greets the Doctor from his lab's stairwell. He turns around to face his old enemy.

UNIT Observes the Master

UNIT must abort the airstrike when Jo and the Doctor are held hostage.

The Master arrives at the Doctor's lab, armed with his shrinking weapon. The Doctor shows that he is holding the Master's dematerialisation circuit, which would be destroyed if he fired. Jo breaks the stalemate when she blurts out that UNIT has identified the coach bus and is planning an airstrike. The Master alters his plan, kidnapping them and leaving them tied up in the bus to be killed in the strike. The Brigadier and Benton see this and cancel the strike just in time. The Doctor communicates to UNIT by tapping a Morse Code message on the bus brake pedal, while Jo impresses the Doctor with her skills at escapology.

Change the Polarity

Sensing betrayal, the Master helps the Doctor repel the Nestenes.

While the Autons hold off a UNIT force led by Yates and Benton, the Doctor and the Brigadier confront the Master in the radio telescope control room as he opens the signal for the Nestene invasion force. The Doctor convinces the Master that he'll be expendable once the Nestenes arrive. The Master is persuaded. Together they reverse the radio signal, expelling the force into deep space. With the signal cut off, the Autons simply collapse. Unfortunately, the Doctor and the Brigadier had to turn their backs on the Master while they operated controls on opposite ends of the room- and the Master has darted out the door.

The Master's Scapegoat

Rex is sacrificed as the Master's proxy while the actual Master flees.

The Master escapes from the control room, but is cornered inside the bus by UNIT troops. He emerges with his hands up. The Doctor warns the Brigadier the untrustworthy Master is trying to trick them. He feints a surrender to lower his enemies' guards, but quickly draws a pistol. Captain Yates is quicker and shoots him dead. The dubious Doctor examines the body and reveals it is actually Rex Farrel in a latex mask. He was hypnotised to become a scapegoat and callously thrown to the wolves. The real Master drives away in the bus.

Third Doctor Cheeky Grin

Victorious, the Doctor is delighted to face the Master again.

When the Brigadier reports UNIT found the Master's coach but no sign of the villain, Jo suggests he has fled the planet. However, the Doctor has proudly outsmarted him. The Master will not be leaving Earth so soon. Though left to believe he recovered the dematerilaisation circuit to his TARDIS from the Doctor, the Doctor has actually given him the faulty one belonging to his own TARDIS, keeping his adversary's identical TARDIS component as a bargaining chip. Now that both he and the Master are stranded on Earth, the Doctor admits that he will rather be looking forward to their next meeting.

Cast Edit

Crew Edit

References Edit

The Doctor Edit

  • The Doctor intuitively leaps to the conclusion that Jo is opening a bomb when he sees her trying to open the box.
  • The Doctor uses the term "Touché".

The Master Edit

  • The Time Lord who appears to the Doctor informs him that the Master is on Earth, and the Doctor recognises him by that name.
  • The Master has special abilities including hypnosis that can make people act against their usual nature.

Music from the real world Edit

Military Edit

  • The Doctor says that he regards Military Intelligence as a contradiction in terms.

Species Edit

Science Edit

  • The Doctor discovers that carbon dioxide from the lungs dissolves the film that the daffodils shoot at people's faces.


  • The Master's TARDIS is disguised as a horsebox, and uses a Mark Two dematerialisation circuit, as opposed to the Doctor's Mark One. It isn't compatible with the Doctor's TARDIS.

United Nations Intelligence Taskforce Edit

Terroroftheautons title

The Doctor with Jo and Mike.

  • Jo's uncle pulled some strings to get her a job at UNIT.

Weapons Edit

  • This story features the first appearance of the Master's Tissue Compression Eliminator.
  • The Doctor boils away the contents of a weapon of the Master's so that the Earth military cannot get hold of and try to duplicate it.

Story notes Edit

  • This story is notable for not giving a screen credit to a director. This is due to the BBC at the time prohibiting producer Barry Letts from also receiving screen credit for directing the serial.
  • This story had a working title of The Spray of Death.
  • Although credited for episode three, Bill McGuirk (Policeman) does not actually appear in the story as his scenes were cut prior to broadcast.
  • This is the first story to feature Mike Yates, Jo Grant and the Master.
  • The Radio Times programme listing for episode one was accompanied by a black and white photograph labelled "DOCTOR WHO in The Terror of The Autons" showing the Doctor demonstrating his steady-state micro-welding equipment to the Brigadier, with the accompanying caption "Old allies — Brigadier and Doctor — meet an old enemy: 5.15". That for episode two was accompanied by a black and white photograph labelled "DOCTOR WHO in The Terror of The Autons" showing Jo being rescued from the angry circus mob by two policemen, with the accompanying caption "Jo Grant finds it's a tough life as the Doctor's assistant: 5.15".
  • Terry Walsh (Auton Policeman) is uncredited on-screen for episode two, but is credited as "Policeman" in Radio Times.
  • In episodes one and two, Jon Pertwee is credited as "Doctor Who", while in episodes three and four, he is credited as "Dr. Who".
  • When filming the Doctor and Jo's escape from the Autons in the quarry in episode three, one of the cars accidentally rammed into Auton actor Terry Walsh and knocked him off the top of the hill he was standing on. However, because he was able to stand back up and continue working almost immediately after his fall, the incident was kept in the finished episode.
  • When Michael Wisher (Rex Farrel) "died", his motionless proved so convincing that the crew briefly wondered if the heat of the mask he was wearing had made him pass out. (DWM 311)
  • While filming the Doctor and Jo's escape from the Auton Policemen, the short-sighted Katy Manning tripped and sprained her ankle. Production assistant Nicholas John took her to a hospital and joked about having to replace Manning. Manning took this seriously, but when Jon Pertwee found out, Pertwee told off John for upsetting his new co-star. (DWM 311)
  • Nichoals Courtney had a sudden attack of depression during filming, so his dialogue was re-written to reduce the Brigadier's involvement. However, Courtney was able to return to filming within a few days. (DWM 311)
  • Hayden Jones (Auton Voices) was originally hired to do the voices and play the Telephone Mechanic. However, after he won the large role of Lenny Vosper in the next serial, the part of the mechanic was recast to Norman Stanley. (DWM 311)

Ratings Edit

  • Episode one - 7.3 million viewers
  • Episode two - 8.0 million viewers
  • Episode three - 8.1 million viewers
  • Episode four - 8.4 million viewers

Myths Edit

  • The production team had initially envisioned the new regular villain for the series as a female character, possibly called the Controller, to be played by Susan Jameson. (The role was always envisaged as a male character called the Master, and Roger Delgado was the only actor considered for it.)

Filming locations Edit

  • St. Peter's Court, Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire
  • Hodgemoor Woods, Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire
  • Lee Valley Ice Centre, Leyton, London (Location of Rossini's circus)
  • Zouches Farm Relay Station, Caddington, Bedfordshire (Location used for exterior of Beacon Hill Research Establishment)
  • Church Lane car park, Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire
  • Queen's Wharf, Hammersmith, London (Exterior location of the Master's bomb exploding outside UNIT lab, in water)
  • Totternhoe Lime and Stone Co Ltd, Totternhoe, Dunstable (The quarry the Doctor and Jo are taken to)
  • Ecomould (formerly Thermo Plastics Ltd), Luton Road, Dunstable (Farrell's Plastics Factory)
  • BBC Television Centre (Studio 8 and 6), Shepherd's Bush, London

Production errors Edit

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • All elements of CSO have a lot of flaring/fuzzing around the edges of the CSOed image (a museum, the outside of a radio telescope, a lunchbox interior, a lab, the interior of two cars and the coach, a phone box, a kitchen, a quarry and everywhere the killer doll goes).
  • Near the end of episode one, when Jo grabs the lock on the UNIT box as she attempts to find a key that will open it, the lock is obviously unlocked and slips open several times before Jo acknowledges her success.
  • Near the beginning of episode three, the actual interior of the TARDIS police box exterior prop can be clearly seen from the outside.
  • In episode four when the Doctor and Jo are being held prisoners on the coach, one of the Auton's hands is missing a white glove and as it picks up the Doctor, a human hand is clearly visible for a few seconds.
  • In episode four, as Jo walks around the bench with the deadly daffodil on it, a production assistant's hand puts the clear plastic face mask on the bench for Katy Manning to grab and cover her mouth with for the next sequence of her suffocating.

Continuity Edit

Comic strip adaptation Edit

  • The opening scenes of episode one were adapted as a comic strip published in Doctor Who Magazine in September 1990, which was published as part of a larger article on the production of the story.

Home video releases Edit

Video releases Edit

  • This story was released as a recolourised edition based on black and white and colour source material in the UK in April 1993, in Australia/New Zealand in June 1993 (BBC catalogue #4957), and in US/Canada in June 1995 (WHV catalogue #E1276) in episodic format.
  • This release was part of the thirtieth anniversary celebrations releases.
  • This was a colour restored version of the story completed by the Doctor Who Restoration Team.

DVD release Edit

This story was released as Doctor Who: Terror of the Autons


  • Region 2: 9th May 2011
  • Region 1: 10th May 2011
  • Region 4: 2nd June 2011

Special features:


  • It is only available in the UK and Australia as part of the Mannequin Mania box set, released with a special edition of Spearhead from Space.
It was released as issue 101 of Doctor Who DVD Files.

Digital releases Edit

  • Released in standard definition in non-continental iTunes stores (Australia, Canada, UK and US) as a collection of Doctor Who: The Classic Series.
  • Released in standard definition in iTunes stores (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, UK and US) as part of the Doctor Who (rather than Doctor Who: The Classic Series) collection Monsters: The Master, which additionally includes both parts of The End of Time, also in standard definition.
  • This story was released in BBC Store, opened for UK residents on 5 November 2015.
  • Was available for streaming in the US through Hulu Plus until early 2016.

External links Edit

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