a real world point of view
|Terror of the Autons|
|Novelised as:||Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons|
|Featuring:||The Brig, Mike Yates, Benton|
|Main enemy:||The Nestene Consciousness|
|Main setting:||England, the 1970s|
|Number of episodes:||4|
|Premiere broadcast:||2 January - 23 January 1971|
|Doctor Who television stories|
|Inferno||The Mind of Evil|
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. 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 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.
Episode one Edit
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 a nearby museum.
Liz Shaw has returned to Cambridge, so the Brigadier assigns UNIT trainee Jo Grant as the Doctor's new assistant. She immediately makes a bad first impression when she extinguishes a small fire on the Doctor's lab bench, destroying his dematerialisation circuit. Dismayed at her lack of qualifications, he attempts to fire her but cannot bring himself to do so.
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.
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. Disarming it, 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.
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 out of the window seconds before it explodes in the river. He attempts to work through Jo's hypnosis.
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.
At UNIT, the Doctor frees Jo from the Master's control. She tells him about the office she was in and also about the bomb. The Doctor realises this must be the work of the Master. 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 gives him a new sample product, a demonic-looking plastic doll. He takes it home and puts it on window sill near a radiator, where it comes to life and kills him.
UNIT scouts spot the missing Professor Philips at Rossini's circus. The Doctor goes to investigate but is quickly captured; the Master left Professor Philips at the circus to lure the Doctor there. The circus's strongman Tony is menacing him inside a trailer, but Jo (who followed the Doctor) knocks him out. Professor Philips, having been hypnotised by the Master, enters with a grenade in his hand. The Doctor attempts to reason with him, and Philips detonates the grenade outside, killing himself.
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. They are rescued from the mob by an arriving police car. The Brigadier and Captain Yates arrive at the circus, 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 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. Jo and he escape from the car, relentlessly pursued by the Autons. The Brigadier and Captain Yates arrive and rescue them.
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 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 replaces the cord on the Doctor's lab telephone.
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.
The Master telephones the Doctor in his lab 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 EditThe 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.
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.
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 drop dead.
The Master escapes from the control room, but is cornered inside the bus by UNIT troops. He emerges with his hands up, 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 disguise. The real Master drives away in the bus. 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.
- The Doctor - Jon Pertwee
- Jo Grant - Katy Manning
- Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart - Nicholas Courtney
- Sergeant Benton - John Levene
- Captain Mike Yates - Richard Franklin
- The Master - Roger Delgado
- Rossini - John Baskcomb
- Professor George Philips - Christopher Burgess
- Museum Attendant - Dave Carter
- Time Lord - David Garth
- Auton Leader - Pat Gorman
- Mr John Farrel - Stephen Jack
- Auton Voice - Hayden Jones
- Mrs. Farrel - Barbara Leake
- Policeman - Bill McGuirk
- Radio Telescope Director - Frank Mills
- Goodge - Andrew Staines
- Telephone Mechanic - Norman Stanley
- Strong Man - Roy Stewart
- George McDermott - Harry Towb
- Brownrose - Dermot Tuohy
- Auton Policeman - Terry Walsh
- Rex Farrel - Michael Wisher
- Troll doll - Tommy Reynolds
- Film Cameraman - John Baker
- Assistant Floor Manager - Bruce Best
- Film Editor - Geoffrey Botterill
- Circus Sequences provided by Robert Brothers
- Script Editor - Terrance Dicks
- Studio Sound - Colin Dixon
- Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire
- Stunts - HAVOC
- Visual Effects - Michealjohn Harris
- Make-Up - Jan Harrison
- Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson
- Writer - Robert Holmes
- Production Assistant - Nicholas John
- Producer - Barry Letts
- Director - Barry Letts (not credited)
- Studio Lighting - Eric Monk
- Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson
- Costumes - Ken Trew
- Designer - Ian Watson
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 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
- While working on the TARDIS dematerialisation circuit, the Doctor sings "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire", a song by the Ink Spots.
- The Doctor says that he regards military intelligence as a contradiction in terms.
- 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
- Jo's uncle pulled some strings to get her a job at UNIT.
- 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 had a working title of The Spray of Death.
- Although credited, 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.
- Both Christopher Burgess (Professor George Philips) and Andrew Staines (Goodge) previously appeared in TV: The Enemy of the World, in which they played Swann and Benik's sergeant respectively. Furthermore, they would later appear in TV: Planet of the Spiders together, in which they played Barnes and Keaver respectively.
- 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.)
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
- 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 beginning of Episode Three, the actual interior of the 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 it picks up the Doctor, a human hand is clearly visible for a few seconds.
- The Doctor tells Jo that Captain Yates had the job of clearing up the mess caused by the Autons soon after his own arrival on Earth. (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 Usual. The Autons also appear in AUDIO: Brave New Town and TV: The Pandorica Opens.
- The materialisation sound is heard when the Time Lord appears to warn the Doctor.
- The Master and the Doctor will battle again many times, in the near future and well beyond.
- Part of the Master and the Doctor's relationship is explored in PROSE: The Dark Path.
- This is the only story in which Autons not personifying a human speak.
- The Fourth Doctor and the Master would later confront one another on top of another radio telescope on 28 February 1981. The Doctor slipped and fell, resulting in his regeneration into his fifth incarnation. (TV: Logopolis)
Comic strip adaptation Edit
The opening scenes of episode 1 were adapted as a comic published in September 1990, 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 April 1993, in Australia/New Zealand June 1993 (BBC catalogue #4957), and in US/Canada 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
- 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.
- Terror of the Autons at the BBC's official site
- Terror of the Autons at BroaDWcast
- Detailed synopsis of Terror of the Autons at the Doctor Who Reference Guide
- 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