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24 September 2014

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Terror of the Autons

Production Code: EEE

First Transmitted

1 - 02/01/1971 17:15

2 - 09/01/1971 17:15

3 - 16/01/1971 17:15

4 - 23/01/1971 17:15


The Master arrives on Earth at a circus run by a man named 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.

Humanoid Auton dummies distribute the daffodils - designed to spray a suffocating plastic film over their victim's mouth and nose - by giving them away free to members of the public in a fake promotional campaign.

The Master plans to activate the flowers with a signal from the radio telescope, which he will then use to bring the main Nestene Consciousness to Earth. The Doctor manages to persuade the Master that the Nestenes will have no further use for him once they arrive. The two Time Lords then work together to send the Consciousness back into space.

Episode Endings

Jo Grant, having been hypnotised by the Master, tries to open a metal box that has been brought into the lab at UNIT HQ. The Doctor shouts for someone to stop her - the box is a bomb!

The Doctor and Jo are investigating Rossini's circus when they are surrounded by an angry mob of carnival folk. A police car comes to their rescue and they jump in. As they are driven away, a suspicious Doctor attracts the attention of one of the policeman and reaches forward to rip away a plastic face mask, revealing an Auton beneath.

The Master, disguised as an engineer, installs in the UNIT lab a new telephone with a lengthy cord. Later, he calls the Doctor from a phone box. When the Doctor answers, the Master uses a signalling device to cause the plastic cord to come alive and start to strangle him.

The Doctor reveals that the Master is now trapped on Earth like himself and confesses that he is quite looking forward to him turning up again.


Doomwatch (The Devil's Sweets).

Adam Adamant Lives! (The Sweet Smell of Disaster).

Groucho Marx (military intelligence being a contradiction in terms).

The Power Game.

Dialogue Triumphs

The Master : "The human body has a basic weakness. One which I shall exploit to assist in the destruction of humanity."

The Doctor : "I sometimes think that military intelligence is a contradiction in terms."

The Master : "I have so few worthy opponents. When they're gone I always miss them."

The Doctor : "Death is always more frightening when it strikes invisibly."

The Master : "He sat down in this chair here and just slipped away."

The Doctor : [Replies to the statement that 'Gentlemen never talk about money'] "Gentlemen never talk about anything else."

Dialogue Disasters

The Doctor : "You ham-fisted bun vendor!"

Jo : "You're a dolly Scotsman, Mr Campbell."


The Doctor doesn't carry cash. He can crack safes, knows Morse code [and possibly goes to the same club as Lord 'Tubby' Rowlands]. He knows details of the Civil Service. He was sentenced by a 'tribunal', who still preside over his welfare (see The War Games). A Time Lord appears with a TARDIS dematerialization noise, floating in mid air [using a Time Ring, or wearing a TARDIS?].

Jo has done courses in cryptology, safe breaking (she carries a bunch of useful keys), escapology and explosives. She failed her General Science 'A' level, and relatives in high places got her the UNIT job. Liz has returned to Cambridge, apparently deciding that the Doctor didn't need the help of a scientist.

The Master's TARDIS is disguised as a horsebox, and uses a Mark Two dematerialization circuit, as opposed to the Doctor's Mark One (cf The Time Meddler). These are non-compatible (unlike the Monk's and the Doctor's TARDIS circuits in The Daleks Masterplan', which are semi compatible).

The Master can hypnotise people silently, though a strong will can resist. He carries a device that shrinks victims, a volatiser (bomb) and grenades. He can create effective disguise masks, and fake security passes. His degree in Cosmic Science was higher than the Doctor's. [He makes the first of several references to stolen Time Lord files (see 'Colony in Space', The Sea Devils). The Time Lords seem to be unable to catch and deal with him.]

Yates cleared up after the last Auton invasion. UNIT has researchers to investigate alien finds, and agents in the field. A duty officer is in charge of security at HQ. The Brigadier's transport is a small blue car. He can order TV warnings and get the police to undertake national operations. There is a water source outside the window of the Doctor's lab (cf The Three Doctors). There is another UNIT lab [and another HQ].

The Nestenes are mutually telepathic octopoid cephalopods, and thus do have a physical existence [which flatly contradicts Spearhead from Space]. They can send themselves by radio across space, changing the structure of plastic to energise it and make it quasi organic, and exist as programs within it. Their spheres are 8½" across. [The ball of energy on the radio telescope is a sign that much more energy is being transmitted into the nearby Autons.] The Lamadines are a species with nine opposable digits who pioneered steady state micro welding.

There is a National Space Museum.


The Location of Gallifrey

UNIT Call-Signs

Season 6(b)


England, around Tarminster, [late Summer 1970 (The Doctor has been working on the circuit for about three months.)].


The Doctor has been to a circus. At some point, he angered the Master enough to make him want to kill his 'old acquaintance'. The Master's hypnotic skills were evident then, although he was not nearly as learned as he is now. [Their time together at the Academy wasn't very important to them (the first Doctor doesn't recognise him in The Five Doctors) so the antagonism must have arisen during unscreened later meetings.]


The Master's TARDIS is disguised as a horse box.

The Nestene energy unit in this story is blue, whereas in Spearhead from Space they were red.

Haydn Jones was originally contracted both to provide the Auton voices and to play the telephone engineer who turns out to be the Master in disguise, but the latter part was recast when Jones was given the more substantial one of Vosper in The Mind of Evil.


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 envisioned as a male character called the Master, and Roger Delgado was the only actor considered for it.)


Things portrayed by CSO in this story: a museum, the outside of a radio telescope, a lunchbox interior, a lab, the interior of two cars, a phonebox, a kitchen, a quarry and everywhere the killer doll goes.

Why does Yates, after checking the repair man's credentials, stare at his bottom?

How does the Master disguise himself as someone of a different height? And, indeed, why disguise himself at all?

In episode one the Doctor could have got to the volatizer by hopping in through the open window (which is how the Master must have got out having set the trap).

The Doctor intuitively leaps to the conclusion that Jo is opening a bomb at the end of episode one.

At the start of episode three, neither Auton policeman is killed, but only one returns to the Master and Farrell. What happened to the other one?

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Jon Pertwee

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart - Nicholas Courtney

Captain Mike Yates - Richard Franklin

Jo Grant - Katy Manning

Sergeant Benton - John Levene

Auton Leader - Pat Gorman

Auton Policeman - Terry Walsh

Auton Voice - Haydn Jones

Brownrose - Dermot Tuohy

Farrel Senior - Stephen Jack

Goodge - Andrew Staines

McDermott - Harry Towb

Mrs. Farrel - Barbara Leake

Museum Attendant - Dave Carter

Policeman - Bill McGuirk

Professor Philips - Christopher Burgess

Radio Telescope Director - Frank Mills

Rex Farrel - Michael Wisher

Rossini - John Baskcomb

Strong Man - Roy Stewart

Telephone Mechanic - Norman Stanley

The Master - Roger Delgado

Time Lord - David Garth


Director - Barry Letts There was no director credit on screen in view of the fact that Barry Letts was the series' producer.

Action/Stunts - HAVOC stunt group

Assistant Floor Manager - Bruce Best

Costumes - Ken Trew

Designer - Ian Watson

Film Cameraman - John Baker

Film Editor - Geoffrey Botterill

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Jan Harrison

Producer - Barry Letts

Production Assistant - Nicholas John

Provision of Circus Sequences - Robert Brothers

Script Editor - Terrance Dicks

Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson

Studio Lighting - Eric Monk

Studio Sound - Colin Dixon

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - Michealjohn Harris

Writer - Robert Holmes

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'That jackanapes! All he does is cause trouble.' Functional and memorably scary, but by no means an Auton story.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

The eighth season of Doctor Who gets off to a strong start with an adventure that sees the return of the Nestenes and their animated plastic mannequins, the Autons, which had been so successful in Spearhead from Space. Simon Lydiard, writing in A Voyage Through 25 Years of Doctor Who, dated December 1988, spotted a problem here: 'In almost every respect Terror of the Autons was a success, bar one - originality... It is... blindingly obvious that [it] is a thinly disguised rewrite of... Spearhead from Space. Nevertheless, it is still terrific entertainment.'

In fact, Terror of the Autons is not quite as effective as Spearhead from Space in depicting the threat of the Autons. They are very much reduced to the role of 'heavies' here, their function being simply to kill, and there are no detailed facsimiles like Channing and Scobie in the earlier story - indeed, at one point the Master actually states that the Nestenes will be sending forces to invade Earth, whereas in Spearhead from Space they created them in Hibbert's plastics factory.

The Autons in this story also move about silently, whereas in their debut they emitted an eerie buzzing noise that added greatly to their menace. There are however some memorable scenes featuring the Autons, the best being the one at the start of Episode Three in which two Auton policemen attempt to kill the Doctor and Jo in a quarry and one gets knocked down a steep incline by a car driven by Mike Yates; after a very long fall - an excellent piece of stunt work - it simply gets back to its feet and starts climbing up again. This is a powerful statement of how invulnerable these creatures are, and yet the idea is not developed further. Instead, the story concentrates more on introducing the new 'team' that will see Doctor Who through the next year of adventures.

Amongst the newcomers the greatest impact is made by the Master. Roger Delgado was the only actor ever considered for this part and one might therefore say that it was written for him. Whatever the circumstances, he makes it very much his own, giving a performance of great charisma and bringing to life the Doctor's evil nemesis with a degree of success that no-one could have predicted. The Master is charming, sophisticated, silver-tongued, witty and intelligent, yet at the same time cruel, callous and implacably evil. Arguably he is the most interesting character to have been introduced to the series since the Doctor himself.

Stephen Haywood's reaction, described in Capitol Spires Issue 1, dated spring 1993, was typical: 'The surprise of seeing a horse box materialise à la TARDIS is one of my lasting recollections, as is the dark mysterious stranger who turns out to be the Master... The Master of Terror of the Autons is just that bit more suave, self-confident and, more importantly, restrained [than in] later stories'.

The only less than successful aspect of the way the Master is presented in this story is that, although he has gone to great lengths to plan and bring to fruition the Nestenes' invasion of Earth, it takes barely a single comment from the Doctor to persuade him to change his mind and help to repel them back into space. The suggestion may be that his arrogance sometimes leads him to bite off more than he can chew; or possibly that he has a devil-may-care attitude and will switch allegiance to whichever side seems to be having the most fun. Perhaps, on the other hand, writer Robert Holmes could simply think of no other way in which to resolve the story.

Barry Letts' direction is excellent, although on the technical side a problem looms with the over-enthusiastic use of CSO. The scenes employing this effect look false and strained here, the objects moving about on the blue-screen background having a tell-tale line around them (a problem that would not be eliminated until technical advances were made later in the decade). Paul Cornell, writing in DWB No. 112, dated April 1993, disliked this and many other aspects of the story: 'In a show where there's obviously the ability to film exterior shots and cars, we get a CSO car interior. And a CSO wall. And a CSO kitchen. Indeed, the show becomes a comic strip visually at the same time as it does in dramatic terms... Often, we don't see who's speaking, and the incredible prissiness of not letting us see the Doctor dissect solid plastic... The mind fails to boggle.'

Aside from the Auton policemen, the most memorable images in the story are those of the carnival-masked Autons that distribute the plastic daffodils, the daffodils themselves and the black plastic chair that engulfs the hapless plastics factory manager McDermott and suffocates him to death. It was these instances of everyday people and objects turning out to be instruments of death that provoked the uproar - perhaps the greatest yet seen in Doctor Who - over the series' level of violence. Although simply a continuation of the theme established in Spearhead from Space of shop dummies turning out to be killers, this was far nearer to home. Children were supposed to be able to trust a policeman, not be frightened that he might turn out to be a killer Auton in disguise.

'What level of horror is acceptable in a teatime programme?' queried Sylvia Clayton in the Daily Telegraph of 18 January 1971. 'The present Doctor Who adventure makes this question pertinent by the very effectiveness of its attack on the nerves. These plastic monsters come from within the range of a child's domestic scene. There is a murderous mannequin doll with deadly fangs, a chair which inflates to suffocate the victim, a telephone flex which strangles the caller. Policemen with apparently normal faces whip off their masks [sic] to show a hideous non-face underneath. Small children of my acquaintance have found these devices terrifying in a way fantasy figures such as the Daleks and the Cybermen were not... Doctor Who is placed at a time when the smallest children will be watching, and adult frissions will be best left to Doomwatch.'

'Terror of the Autons is perhaps best remembered for precisely that - terror,' wrote Lydiard. 'It contained some of the most frightening moments in the [series'] history up to that point, and possibly beyond. Who can forget McDermott being "swallowed" by the inflatable armchair in Episode Two, or the unmasking of the Auton policeman at the conclusion of that episode?... In Episode Three, the Doctor opens a safe in Farrel's office to be confronted by an Auton... Most terrifying of all is the concept of the plastic daffodils which spray out a clear plastic film that covers the nose and mouth, thus suffocating the victim.' Chris Dunk, writing in Oracle Volume 2 Number 9, dated June 1979, went even further: 'I still think today that this is the most frightening Doctor Who story that I have ever seen, and it proved to me beyond a shadow of doubt that danger from "familiar" objects is much more real that something with which one can't associate. Especially to a child.'

Cameron Pritchard summed things up well in TSV 28 dated April 1992: 'I think this has to be undoubtedly one of the best stories of the Pertwee era. It is, after all, a very special story, introducing the Master and Jo Grant as well as bringing back the Autons and getting season eight off to a great start.'

< InfernoThird DoctorThe Mind of Evil >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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