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 became the Doctor's new companion, while the Master made 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 John Levene, playing Sgt. Benton, 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 was 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 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-satirical comic strip, in DWM 164.
The Earth is endangered by a renegade Time Lord known as the Master, who steals a dormant Nestene energy unit from a museum. He reactivates it using the facilities of a radio telescope, then uses his hypnotic abilities to take control of a small plastics manufacturer, Farrel Autoplastics, where he organises the production of deadly Auton artefacts, including plastic dolls, chairs and daffodils.
The Master has an evil scheme to destroy humanity and to silence his old foe, the Doctor, forever. He plans to awaken the awesome power of the Nestenes, a ruthlessly aggressive alien life form.
The Nestenes can control anything made of plastic, including killer Autons: plastic mannequins, faceless but possessing a shared consciousness. The Autons form an army of invasion, easily controlled by the Master himself. This is the terrible threat facing Earth — the terror of the Autons.
Episode one Edit
International Circus manager Luigi Rossini (real name Lew Russell) witnesses a horsebox materialise out of thin air in a field near his Big Top. Out steps the Master, who quickly overpowers him by hypnosis. He enlists Rossini to help him steal a Nestene energy unit (left over from the previous invasion) from the National Space Museum.
Liz Shaw has returned to Cambridge, having decided the Doctor doesn't really need her, so the Brigadier assigns UNIT trainee Josephine Grant as the Time Lord's new assistant. She immediately makes a bad first impression, by extinguishing a small fire on the Doctor's lab bench, thereby ruining six months work on his malfunctioning dematerialisation circuit. Dismayed at her lack of qualifications, he insists that the Brigadier reassign her. The Brigadier concedes, but only if the Doctor will tell her himself. The Doctor attempts to fire her, but faced with Jo's kindly and innocent disposition, he is unable to bring himself to do so.
The Master infiltrates a deep space radio telescope at Beacon Hill, overpowering Professor Philips and his assistant, Goodge. He connects the stolen energy unit to the telescope and uses it to channel power from the Nestene Consciousness in space into the surviving unit.
Investigating the theft of the energy unit 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 discrete suit and bowler hat but hovering in mid-air, to warn the Doctor of the Master's arrival on Earth and alert him to a booby trap inside the door he is about to open. His warning delivered, the Time Lord vanishes. Disarming the trap, the Doctor opens Goodge's lunchbox, only to find his shrunken corpse inside.
At a small 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 to manufacture.
The Doctor realises that the Master is in league with the Nestenes, and the Brigadier (based on previous experience of their methods) obtains a list of nearby plastics factories. Jo is assigned to investigate some of these, including Farrel Autoplastics. On arrival, she is quickly discovered by the Master and hypnotised. She returns to UNIT with a crate that apparently once contained the Nestene energy unit, but as she begins to unpadlock it, the Doctor realises it's a bomb and shouts for Yates and Benton to stop her. But Jo is determined to open it...
Episode two Edit
The Doctor throws the crate through the window, into the river, moments before it explodes.
At the plastics factory, McDermott confronts the Master about his interference with production. 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.
At UNIT headquarters, the Doctor frees Jo from the Master's control. She can remember very little about what happened to her, but the Doctor realises the bomb must have been the work of the Master. However, Jo cannot even recall at which factory she met him, due to the amnesia induced by the post-hypnotic suggestion.
The factory's retired owner, the elder Mr Farrel, is very upset over the death of Mr McDermott, who Rex claims had suddenly died while trying out the plastic chair and at the presence of "Colonel Masters." When an attempt at hypnotising Farrel senior fails, the Master surreptitiously turns his car's heater to its hottest setting, then gives Farrel a new sample product, a demonic-looking plastic doll that is activated by heat, flinging it on the back seat as Farrel leaves. The doll suddenly comes to life, as the heater warms the car's interior, but Farrel takes notice of the heat and shuts it off, causing the doll to become dormant again. However, at his home he leaves it near a radiator. The doll comes to life a second time and kills him, lunging at his throat with its fangs. His wife screams when she happens upon his murdered body.
Sergeant Benton locates the missing Professor Philips' car, and the subsequent enquiries lead UNIT to Rossini's circus. The Doctor insists on investigating it personally, despite the Brigadier's offer of an escort. Jo is ordered to remain at HQ. However, eager to prove she's not as useless as advertised, Jo hides in Bessie, the Doctor's vintage car, and so accompanies him without his knowledge. At the circus, the Doctor investigates the Master's TARDIS, which is disguised as a horsebox, but he is quickly captured by Rossini; the Master left Professor Philips at the circus to lure the Doctor there. Meanwhile, trying to find the Doctor, Jo sees Professor Philips. She telephones the Brigadier at HQ, who tells her to stay put until he arrives. But Jo again disobeys and goes to find the Doctor. The circus strongman, Tony, is menacing him inside a trailer, but Jo sneaks into the trailer and knocks Tony out by shattering a vase on his head. The Doctor is upset that Jo didn't listen to him, but she points out that he needed her to rescue him.
Professor Philips, under the Master's hypnosis, enters, holding a grenade. The Doctor attempts to reason with him, knowing Philips is still on some level trying to resist doing something against his nature. Philips breaks loose from the trance and tries to abandon the grenade outside, but it detonates, killing him.
The Doctor and Jo find the Master's TARDIS (still disguised as a horsebox) but are confronted by an angry mob of circus employees led by Rossini. Rossini furiously accuses the Doctor of robbing the caravan and killing one of the circus hands with a bomb. He clubs the Doctor over the head before he can react, and the mob swarm toward him and Jo. They are rescued by an arriving police car. The Brigadier and Captain Yates arrive at the circus moments later, see what is happening, and follow them. But instead of being taken back to town, the Doctor and Jo arrive in a remote quarry. The Doctor, suspicions aroused, asks to see the officer's warrant card and is met with blank eyes. He peels off a face mask and reveals that the "policemen" are Autons in disguise...
Episode three Edit
The Doctor struggles with the two Autons, causing the car to crash. He and Jo escape from the car, only to be relentlessly hunted through the quarry by the Autons. But the Brigadier and Captain Yates arrive and rescue them.
Back at his lab, the Doctor replaces his non-functional dematerialisation circuit with the one he has stolen from the Master's TARDIS, but they are incompatible. The Doctor's frustration abates when he realises that, as long as he has the Master's circuit, the Master, too, is trapped on Earth.
Meanwhile, the Master is pleased by the factory's latest product, a realistic-looking plastic daffodil. The Autons, now wearing enormous carnival masks and matching yellow suits as an impenetrable disguise, tour the countryside handing out thousands of these daffodils to the general public.
The Brigadier is alerted to a rash of unexplained 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 away the hideous doll for examination. Meanwhile, a mysterious telephone engineer (actually the Master in disguise) replaces the cord on the Doctor's lab telephone. It seems the Doctor has simply ordered a longer flex because he paces about whilst 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 a killer Auton). Meanwhile, Jo and Captain Yates accidentally reactivate the doll with the heat from the Doctor's Bunsen burner, which they have borrowed to make cocoa. The doll attacks Jo, but Yates shoots it to pieces with his sidearm.
The Master telephones the Doctor in his lab. The Doctor asks what he wants. The Master has simply called to say goodbye. He activates a signal device, and the Doctor's newly installed plastic telephone cord comes to life. It wraps itself around his throat and starts squeezing the life out of him...
Episode four Edit
The Brigadier hears the Doctor shouting for help and pulls the phone cable from the wall, cutting off the signal. The Doctor reminds the Brigadier that the Nestenes can put life into anything made of plastic. Then, examining the daffodil, the Doctor and Jo accidentally discover that it's activated by radio waves. The daffodil sprays an asphyxiating plastic film over Jo's nose and mouth, but the Doctor removes it in time to prevent suffocation. They realise the daffodils are to be activated by a signal from the Radio Telescope; the wave of unexplained deaths were shortwave radio users who activated the daffodils prematurely. Although he now knows the cause of the deaths, the Doctor is puzzled by the fact that plastic film was not found on any of the bodies. On a hunch, he breaths on the plastic, and it shortly dissolves away into nothing. The carbon dioxide expelled from the dying victim's lungs acted to remove the evidence of murder. Moments later, a voice greets the Doctor from the lab stairwell. He turns around to face his old enemy.
The Master trains his Tissue Compression Eliminator on the Doctor, ready to shrink him to death. The Doctor shows that he is holding the Master's dematerialisation circuit, which will be destroyed if he fires. Jo breaks the stalemate when she blurts out that UNIT has identified the Autons' whereabouts and are planning an airstrike. The Master alters his plan, kidnapping them and taking them to the quarry as hostages, to prevent the airstrike. The Brigadier and Benton see this and cancel the strike just in time. But Jo now impresses the Doctor with her skills at escapology.
While the Autons are holding off a UNIT force led by Yates and Benton, the Doctor and the Brigadier confront the Master in the radio telescope control room where he hopes to open a channel for the Nestene invasion force. But the Doctor convinces the Master that he'll be expendable once the Nestenes arrive. Together they reverse the radio signal, expelling the force into deep space. With the signal cut off, the Autons collapse. Unfortunately, the Doctor and the Brigadier are overcome by feedback, and when they recover the Master has fled.
The Master escapes to the coach the Autons have been using. Cornered 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, but draws his tissue compression eliminator. Captain Yates shoots him dead. The dubious Doctor examines the body and reveals it is actually Rex Farrel, disguised by a latex facemask. He was hypnotised to be a scapegoat and callously thrown to the wolves. The real Master escapes in the coach.
UNIT later find the abandoned coach, but of the Master there is no sign. Jo suggests he has left Earth. But the Doctor has outsmarted him, having actually handed him the faulty dematerialisation circuit from the Doctor's own TARDIS, keeping the Master's. 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.
- Doctor Who - Jon Pertwee
- Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart - Nicholas Courtney
- The Master - Roger Delgado
- Jo Grant - Katy Manning
- Captain Mike Yates - Richard Franklin
- Sergeant Benton - John Levene
- Rex Farrel - Michael Wisher
- McDermott - Harry Towb
- Time Lord - David Garth
- Radio Telescope Director - Frank Mills
- Professor Philips - Christopher Burgess
- Goodge - Andrew Staines
- Rossini - John Baskcomb
- Museum Attendant - Dave Carter
- Farrell Senior - Stephen Jack
- Mrs. Farrell - Barbara Leake
- Strong Man - Roy Stewart
- Brownrose - Dermot Tuohy
- Telephone Mechanic - Norman Stanley
- Policeman - Bill McGuirk
- Auton Policeman - Terry Walsh
- Auton Leader - Pat Gorman
- Auton Voice - Haydn Jones
Uncredited cast Edit
- Writer - Robert Holmes
- Title Music - Ron Grainer and BBC Radiophonic Workshop
- Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson
- Circus Sequences by Courtesy of Robert Brothers
- Film Cameraman - John Baker
- Film Editor - Geoffrey Botterill
- Visual Effects - Michael John Harris
- Costumes - Ken Trew
- Make-up - Jan Harrison
- Lighting - Eric Monk
- Sound - Colin Dixon
- Special Sound - Brian Hodgson and BBC Radiophonic Workshop
- Script Editor - Terrance Dicks
- Designer - Ian Watson
- Director - Barry Letts (uncredited)
- Producer - Barry Letts
- Action by HAVOC
- The Doctor uses the term "Touché".
- The Doctor sings "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire".
- The Lamadines are a species with nine opposable digits who pioneered steady state micro welding.
- The Master's TARDIS is disguised as a horse box.
- Jo's uncle at the United Nations in New York pulled some strings to get her a job with UNIT.
Story notes Edit
- This story is notable for not giving a screen credit to its director. It was in fact directed by the show's then producer, Barry Letts, but BBC staff regulations in the 1970s prohibited a staff producer from also receiving a screen credit for directing. This was one of the ways in which producers were discouraged from engaging themselves to direct the programmes they produced, as this was potentially open to abuse. Letts obtained special permission from his boss, the Head of Series and Serials, to direct one story each season (because, obviously, he was being paid twice on each such episode: once as its producer, and a second fee as its director).
- This story had the working title The Spray of Death.
- Although credited on 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 stuntman Terry Walsh (who was playing one of the Auton policemen) and knocked him off the top of the hill he was standing on. However, because he was able to stand up and continue the scene immediately, and due to the resulting fall being so spectacular, the incident was retained in the finished episode. This was the car which appeared to be driven at the Auton by Richard Franklin (Captain Yates), but for the crucial shot of the impact another of the stuntmen was actually driving it: he was supposed to just miss Walsh, but slightly mistimed the stunt.
- When Michael Wisher (Rex Farrel) "died" in episode 4, his motionlessness was 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 in the quarry, on location, which was virtually Katy Manning's first scene in her first ever Doctor Who serial (all the location filming was carried out weeks before the studio scenes were recorded), the short-sighted Katy tripped and sprained her ankle. Production assistant Nicholas John took her to hospital, and joked about the producer having to replace her. Manning took this seriously, but when Jon Pertwee found out he told off John for upsetting his new co-star. (DWM 311)
- Nicholas Courtney suffered a sudden illness — an 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 (credited on-screen as Haydn Jones) (Auton Voice) was originally hired to do the alien voices and play the telephone mechanic. However, after he won the larger role of Lenny Vosper in the next serial, the part of the mechanic was recast to Norman Stanley. (DWM 311)
- When we see Farrell Senior and Mrs Farrell at their home in episode two, before the killer doll attack, part of the set furnishings for their sitting room includes a famous window (the round window) borrowed from contemporary BBC tv children's series Play School.
- Episode one - 7.3 million viewers
- Episode two - 8.0 million viewers
- Episode three - 8.1 million viewers
- Episode four - 8.4 million viewers
- 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.)
- A myth that the Doctor calls the Master by his real name (i.e. a Gallifreyan name) arose due to a remark made by the Doctor in episode one. But in fact what he says to the Time Lord, played by David Garth, is "that jackanapes" — a term of abuse.
Filming locations Edit
- Lee Valley Ice Centre, Leyton, London (Location of Rossini's circus)
- Queen's Wharf, Hammersmith, London (Exterior location of the Master's bomb exploding outside UNIT lab, in water)
- St. Peter's Court, Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire
- Hodgemoor Woods, Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire
- Church Lane car park, Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire
- Zouches Farm Relay Station, Caddington, Bedfordshire (Location used for exterior of Beacon Hill Research Establishment)
- Totternhoe Lime and Stone Co Ltd, Totternhoe, Dunstable, Bedfordshire (The quarry the Doctor and Jo are taken to)
- Ecomould (formerly Thermo Plastics Ltd), Luton Road, Dunstable, Bedfordshire (Farrel's plastics factory)
- BBC Television Centre (Studio 8 and 6), Shepherd's Bush, London
Production errors Edit
- All elements containing CSO have a lot of flaring/fuzzing around the edges of the CSO 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). This was a limitation of the CSO technology at the time.
- Near the end of episode one, when Jo grabs the padlock on the zinc 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 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 that Auton picks up the Doctor, a human hand is clearly visible for a few seconds.
- In episode four, as Katy Manning walks around the bench with the deadly daffodil on, a production assistant's hand is seen placing a clear plastic face mask on the bench for her to grab and cover her mouth with, for the next shot showing Jo suffocating.
- All four episodes contain errors in the closing title credits. Rex Farrel's surname is consistently spelled F-A-R-R-E-L on all episodes, but both of his parents (played by Barbara Leake and Stephen Jack) have their surname spelled differently throughout. Script editor Terrance Dicks would go on to spell nearly all the names of the supporting characters incorrectly, in his subsequent novelisation of this serial: including Farrell Senior, Mrs Farrell, McDermott, and Professor Philips.
- The Doctor tells Jo that Captain Yates had the job of clearing up the mess caused by the Autons during their previous invasion. (TV: Spearhead from Space)
- The story is set, in part, in the fictional town of Tarminster. In TV: The Mark of the Berserker, Sarah Jane Smith visits a hospital in the same town. The town is also mentioned on the Harold Saxon promotional website, which states that Lucy Saxon's father was Lord Cole of Tarminster.
- The Nestene Consciousness and the Autons appeared previously in TV: Spearhead from Space and next again in TV: Rose. The Nestene Consciousness also appeared in the other media in PROSE: Synthespians™ and PROSE: Business Unusual. The Autons also appear in AUDIO: Brave New Town and TV: The Pandorica Opens.
- Part of the Master and the Doctor's relationship is explored in PROSE: The Dark Path.
- The Fourth Doctor and the Master later confront one another on top of another radio telescope on 1 March 1981. The Doctor slipped and fell, resulting in his regeneration into his fifth incarnation. (TV: Logopolis)
- A Northern Irish UNIT soldier named Francis Cleary was assigned to guard the Master's TARDIS at the circus. (PROSE: Who Killed Kennedy)
- Jo was 19 when she met the Doctor. (AUDIO: The Other Woman)
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
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
- Commentary by Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney, and Barry Letts.
- Life on Earth documentary
- The Doctor's Moriarty documentary
- Plastic Fantastic documentary
- Photo Gallery
- PDF: Radio Times Listings and Sugar Smacks material.
- 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.
Digital releases Edit
This story is available:
- in iTunes stores (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, UK and US) as part of the Doctor Who (not Doctor Who: The Classic Series) collection Monsters: The Master, which additionally includes both parts of the story The End of Time;
- in non-continental iTunes stores (Australia, Canada, UK and US) as a stand-alone season of Doctor Who: The Classic Series;
- in BBC Store (UK) as a standalone story or as part of Doctor Who bundle The Classic Series: Series 8;
- on Amazon Video (UK) as Season 55 of Doctor Who (Classic) series;
- for streaming through BritBox (US) as part of Season 8 of Classic Doctor Who.
Video releases Edit
- This story was released in colour, in episodic format, by combining the surviving source materials (a professional black-and-white film recording and an off-air NTSC colour video recording); it was released in the UK in April 1993, in Australia/New Zealand in June 1993 (BBC catalogue #4957), and in USA/Canada in June 1995 (WHV catalogue #E1276).
- This release was part of the 30th anniversary celebration releases.
- This was a restored colour version of the story, created by the Doctor Who Restoration Team recombining the BBC library's black-and-white telerecording with the colour signal from a non-professional NTSC off-air recording made in the USA by a fan.
- Terror of the Autons at the BBC's official site
- Terror of the Autons at BroaDWcast
- Terror of the Autons at Shannon Sullivan's A Brief History of Time (Travel)
- Terror of the Autons at The Locations Guide
- Terror of the Autons entry at Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film and Television