The Autons were robots that resembled plastic shop-window mannequins, animated by the Nestene Consciousness as soldiers. Though they were not the only creations of the Nestenes, they were the most easily identifiable and were utilised during every Earth invasion.
Appearance and abilities
Every Auton was a fragment of the Consciousness, since it existed in everything it controlled, with Autons actually containing a sliver of Nestene intelligence (AUDIO: Brave New Town, PROSE: Autonomy) to animate them, albeit still controlled by a central Nestene brain to fully control and guide them. Larger fragments were given to replicas to allow copying of brain patterns and memories to allow them to pass off as the originals, and in some cases like the Swarm Leader Channing a large portion of the Consciousness could be given to an Auton so that it could almost be individual, having something akin to feelings and being able to directly control other Autons. (PROSE: Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion) Although usually directed by the Consciousness, if its manifestation was damaged or disorientated, Autons units could become rogue and act independent. This could also occur with Autons left over from invasions that were randomly activated. (AUDIO: Brave New Town, PROSE: Autonomy)
The typical Auton did not look particularly lifelike. It resembled a mannequin, was robotic in its movements and mute, although the Nestenes might speak through an Auton leader, generating a robotic voice. It could also be used as an interface with allies. (TV: Terror of the Autons) Autons were primarily noted for the concealed wrist-gun within their hands, which could kill or vaporise their targets using psychic projections. (PROSE: Synthespians™) These were powerful enough to temporarily disable a weakened Dalek. (TV: The Big Bang) Some could also shoot a tranquillising gas from their hands. (COMIC: Plastic Millenium)
Despite their solid appearance, some Autons were metamorphic and could change the shape of their features and limbs. (TV: Rose) They were also excellent trackers, able to find other creatures by their brain-wave patterns, (PROSE: Synthespians™) and collected the energy units of a swarm after it landed. One Auton actually absorbed two energy units and Nestene blood into itself. (HOMEVID: Auton) Some Autons, if not all of them, also had superior hearing to that of humans. (TV: The Big Bang)
Autons were extremely long-lived, with one unit existing for almost two thousand years with no visible signs of wear, even with the link to the Consciousness broken. (TV: The Big Bang) While bullets had almost no effect on them, (TV: Spearhead from Space) they could be affected by radio signals (TV: The Big Bang) and disrupted by sub-etheric beams, which travelled through the telepathy dimension and interfered with the Nestene/Auton communication on the astral plane. (PROSE: Synthespians™) They were vulnerable to intense heat, as this caused them to melt, and they would also be deactivated if the controlling Nestene manifestation on a planet was destroyed. (TV: Spearhead from Space, Terror of the Autons)
In addition to the basic Auton, more agile and manoeuvrable models were made as duplicates of humans. The Swarm Leader was able to create the body of a planet's native life-form from scratch; (PROSE: Synthespians™) the first Auton created, Channing's human appearance allowed him to infiltrate Auto Plastics and organise the Nestene invasion. (TV: Spearhead from Space)
More sophisticated Autons could be created to copy and impersonate specific individuals. The originals needed to be kept alive to maintain the copy, although these were sometimes imperfect, looking and acting human except for a slight yellowing sheen or glint to the skin and a flat-sounding voice. When destroyed, the duplicates reverted to the appearance of a basic Auton, sometimes leaking Nestene blood. (TV: Spearhead from Space) One Auton copied Graham Winslet before reverting back to its basic form; however, it later appeared as Winslet with no apparent connection to the real man, although it may have only required a human appearance rather than Winslet's mind. (HOMEVID: Auton Trilogy) Occasionally if a copy wasn't necessary and an Auton simply needed to appear human, it could wear a plastic mask. (TV: Terror of the Autons)
Even more accurate Autons could be made, identical in appearance and actions to the originals. These units were implanted with false memories and actually believed themselves to be the real subjects they duplicated, being indistinguishable. The Auton copy of Rory Williams was even able to remember being erased from existence in the time field. (TV: The Pandorica Opens)
A number of famous figures were duplicated and displayed at Madame Tussauds, including General Scobie whose duplicate was intended to take his place and command the British Army. (TV: Spearhead from Space) Mickey Smith was copied to gather information on the Ninth Doctor. (TV: Rose)
Roman Auton duplicates taken from a memory print of Amy Pond mimicked humans perfectly and were used as sleeper agents until the Nestenes later asserted their influence, although the Rory Auton partially resisted this control. (TV: The Pandorica Opens)
When the Nestene Consciousness joined the Alliance, they produced Autons disguised as Roman soldiers in 102. These, believing themselves to be genuine Roman soldiers, tricked the Eleventh Doctor, who realised too late what they were. They imprisoned him in the Pandorica. One of these Autons, fashioned after the late and time-erased Rory Williams using the memories of Amy Pond, did not want to fire on her and tried to resist the call to arms. However he was unable to prevent himself shooting her fatally. (TV: The Pandorica Opens) Afterwards, the Auton helped the Doctor resurrect Amy with the Pandorica and save the universe.
The late 20th century development of plastics by humans created opportunities for invasions of Earth. One invasion was coordinated by a Swarm Leader known as Channing. Channing took over Auto Plastics and arranged for standard Autons to be mass produced and placed in shops across Britain. Channing also obtained a contract from Madame Tussaud's to make plastic "waxworks" of key government and military leaders. The attack was coordinated first thing in the morning. The Autons broke out of shops to attack key strategic positions whilst the facsimiles helped soften resistance.
Some months later, the Nestene made an alliance with renegade Time Lord known as the Master. Although the Nestene used standard Autons for this operation, the assault relied on deadly plastic daffodils. The Third Doctor convinced the Master to stop his alliance with the Nestene, as the Nestene would not distinguish between the Master and anyone else in their takeover, and the two worked together to fling the Nestenes back into space by "chang[ing] the polarity" whilst the transfer shift of the radio telescope that summoned the Nestene invasion force was still open. This caused the Autons to stop functioning. (TV: Terror of the Autons)
In 1989, the Nestene took control of Winston Blunt. He formed the Galaxy Plastics Inc and then killed himself. In his place, an Auton named Mr Dolman controlled the company. When an industrial spy, Max Fisher, disrupted operations, Dolman attacked and later killed him. An Auton copy of Max was later created. (COMIC: Business as Usual)
The same year, the Nestenes made another attempt to colonise Earth, using the computer game company SenéNet as cover and the unwitting aid of the Doctor's old enemy, the Pale Man. Autons were again used, but the main invasion was to be carried out by the Nestene Consciousness itself, which was to be transmitted through SenéNet's polymer cables into homes all over the world. The Nestenes also experimented on humans, converting them into Nestene replicas. The invasion was prevented by the Sixth Doctor. (PROSE: Business Unusual)
Also in the '90s, an Auton replica known as Alisha Hammerson set up the Hammerson Plastic PLC company. On New Year's Eve, 1999, she planned to replace several key figures in the plastic industry with Auton replicas so the Earth could be dominated and absorbed. The Seventh Doctor and Mel gate-crashed the party and broke the Nestene link, which deactivated her. (COMIC: Plastic Millenium)
After the Nestene's protein planets were destroyed in the early days of the Last Great Time War by a Time Destructor (PROSE: Natural Regression) and its suffering at the hands of fallout from a Time War skirmish, (PROSE: Revenge of the Nestene) it arrived in early 21st century London to use standard Autons to conquer the planet. When the Ninth Doctor came to investigate, it sent Autons to try to stop him. When Rose Tyler got in the way, it also sent an Auton duplicate of her boyfriend, Mickey Smith, to try to find out more. The Doctor removed the Auton Mickey's head to track down and confront the Nestene Consciousness. When the Nestene thought it was in danger, it activated the Autons to go on a rampage. When the Nestene was killed with anti-plastic, the Autons were deactivated. (TV: Rose)
In 2013, Autons placed in Hyperville by Miss Devonshire and the Nestene helped with the attempted takeover of Earth. Among the normal Autons, there were several varieties, such as Autons which could stretch their heads about a metre, an incredibly strong Auton, known as B-4, which could strangle victims and Auton replicas. All the Autons were destroyed by the Doctor and Kate. (PROSE: Autonomy)
In the same year, with the absence of the Doctor, the Autons almost conquered Earth with the help of businessman Simon Devlin. However, with the full global force of UNIT, the Autons failed. (AUDIO: Vanguard, Earthfall, Bridgehead, Armageddon)
A group of around twenty Autons in carnival masks once attacked the street in which Clifford and Jo Jones' lived. Clifford tried to contact UNIT, but failed, and Jo defeated the Autons by jacking their signals with electro hip-hop music created by the twins. (WC: Return of the Autons)
Post 21st century
When the Doctor's first eleven incarnations gathered to stop Adam Mitchell and the Master, the two unleashed an army of Autons, who attacked but left the Time Lords and their companions alive. After Adam Mitchell sabotaged the controls, the Autons shut down. (COMIC: Endgame)
The Eleventh Doctor speculated that the Nestene housed itself inside one of the spaceships orbiting Trenzalore by sending Autons to hijack the ships. The Autons later parachuted into Trenzalore — their weapons being removed to get past the Papal Mainframe's technology barrier — initially trying grab the Doctor from his home in Christmas and take him to his death, but they were blown off course by the crosswinds. The Nestene came up with a new plan, and tried leading the Doctor into a trap in the Devil's Elbows Canyon in the Outland, but the Doctor blew up the Lifeboat with boronite, and the Lifeboat sunk to the bottom of Lake Lagda while the Autons were still on board. One Auton was able to escape, but when it grabbed the Doctor's wooden leg in a struggle to hold on to a slab of ice, the Doctor forcibly unbuckled the leg from his body, and the Auton fell to the bottom of the lake as well. (PROSE: Strangers in the Outland)
In the video game Happy Deathday, played by Izzy Sinclair on the Time-Space Visualiser, an Auton was among a host of "every single enemy" that the Doctor had ever defeated, who were assembled by the Beige Guardian and pitted against the Doctor's first eight incarnations. (COMIC: Happy Deathday)
The Thirteenth Doctor suggested that a plastic-eating pathogen, later identified as Praxeus, were Autons but soon discarded the notion as she noted that they did not work on a bacterial level. (TV: Praxeus)
Behind the scenes
Although Autons have appeared several times in the 21st century incarnation of Doctor Who, since 2005 the word "Auton" has only been used in the credits in Rose, and never within a story until Under the Lake in 2015; instead they are called "Nestenes" or "Nestene duplicates".