New to Doctor Who or returning after a break? Check out our guides designed to help you find your way!



Terror of the Autons was the first serial of season 8 of Doctor Who. The story featured the introductions of Katy Manning as Jo Grant, Richard Franklin as Captain Mike Yates and Roger Delgado as the Master, the latter becoming a very prominent character in Doctor Who mythos.

It was notable for being a "gentle reboot" of the Pertwee era, offering a number of elements which would remain prevalent for the next three seasons. 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 Sergeant John Benton, was given an annual contract, rather than employment as a day player. It also introduced what became UNIT's standard khaki uniforms, the replacements for the custom-made beige uniforms of season 7 which Barry Letts disparagingly called the "chocolates", as well as 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.

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


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.

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


Episode one[]

Master's Tardis Debut

The Master's TARDIS arrives on Earth...

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, where it is on display as part of an exhibition.

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 three 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 as a businessman in a discreet suit and bowler hat, complete with umbrella, but hovering in mid-air. He warns the Doctor of the Master's arrival on Earth and alerts him to a booby trap inside the door he is about to open. His warning delivered, the Time Lord vanishes, briefly reappearing to wish the Doctor good luck. 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 which are against the factory's normal protocols. Farrel goes looking for the colonel and finds him in the process of activating Autons.

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 padlocked crate that apparently once contained the Nestene energy unit, but as she begins to unlock 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[]

The Doctor throws the crate through the window, into the canal, where it explodes harmlessly.

McDermott Murdered by Nestene Chair

The Master's Nestene chair suffocates McDermott.

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, collapses and suffocates the hapless McDermott. 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 shows Farrel a new sample product: a demonic-looking plastic doll, and flings it on the back seat as Farrel leaves. The doll is activated by heat and suddenly comes to life as the heater warms the car's interior, but Farrel takes notice of the heat and switches it off; the doll becomes dormant again. However, at his home Farrel leaves the doll 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 dead 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 one of the officers to show his warrant card but is met with blank eyes. He peels off a face mask and reveals that the "policemen" are Autons in disguise...

Episode three[]

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.

Incompatible Dematerilisation Circuit

An annoyed Doctor learns his TARDIS is staying grounded.

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 from a call box, and 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[]

Daffodil Nestene Autojet

The Doctor and Jo witness the daffodil come alive.

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 breathes hard 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. On his way up to the control room, the Master pushes a scientist off the railing to his death. 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 decoy 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.


Uncredited cast[]


Uncredited crew[]


Terroroftheautons title

The Doctor with Jo and Mike.

Story notes[]

  • 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. It was changed when it was pointed out that the plot element of the plastic flowers was not introduced until the third episode.
  • Episode three lost a big sequence where an unsuspecting policeman (Bill McGuirk) entered the Auton coach, fearing it had broken down. The Master defused the situation by explaining the company's daffodil distribution programme. The Policman informed the Master that his wife already had some of the daffodils and was given some by the Master. The Policeman noted Farrel Jr.'s nervousness and wondered why the staff were wearing the carnival masks inside the coach. He spoke to the Auton Leader, who didn't respond. Fearing that the "man" had collapsed, the Policeman removed the mask, only to find an Auton staring back at him, to which he is promptly murdered by the Autons. Even though the scene was cut, McGuirk was still credited.
  • 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". (original published text) 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". (original published text)
  • 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.
    • This differs from the account given by Barry Letts in the DVD commentary. He claimed that Walsh being hit by the car and falling down the hill was planned. He also added that Walsh wasn't initially supposed to do that particular stunt but pleaded with Letts to allow him to do it, even though he knew he wouldn't be paid any extra for doing it.
  • In the scene where the Troll Doll attacks Jo, Barry Letts had intended to film a shot of the doll running across the workbench. However Tommy Reynolds passed out due to the intense heat of being in the costume and so this idea had to be abandoned.
  • When Michael Wisher (Rex Farrel) "died" in episode four, 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 and 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 rewritten to reduce the Brigadier's involvement. A double stood in for Courtney on location, with filming arranged so the Brigadier was either seen only from behind, obscured by another character or strategically out of camera shot. (There is a scene in the finished version of episode three where Courtney's double is clearly shown to be wearing non-military white socks.) Fortunately, Courtney was able to return to filming within a few days. (DWM 311)
  • Barry Letts remarked in the DVD commentary that, following the cliffhanger where the Doctor and Jo discover the policemen who saved them are Autons, he received a letter of complaint from Scotland Yard.
  • Hayden Jones (Auton Voice), who is credited on-screen as Haydn Jones, 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 with 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 the contemporary BBC television children's series Play School (1964-1988).
  • In the original script, the Master's bomb went off when the Doctor tried to open the box by remote control. Terrance Dicks reworked it to make Jo more prominent.
  • Initially, the troll dolls played a much greater role in the story's climax, and explained the Master's interest in the circus, which would have been used to distribute the toys.
  • Originally, it was the Brigadier who was strangled by the phone cord, as he tried to tell the police the truth about the troll dolls.
  • In the original script, the daffodils (and the troll dolls) would be animated when the temperature reached a certain level — a level which would be obtained thanks to a fortuitous oncoming heat wave in Britain. Feeling that this made the story's setting illogical — it would make more sense for the Master to carry out his plan in a tropical locale — it was decided to replace this with a broadcast activation signal.
  • The Master originally used an Auton disguised as himself as a decoy in the climax.
  • The story originally ended with the Doctor avowing that the Master would stay on Earth "until I destroy him. Or until he destroys me". The BBC's Head of Serials Ronnie Marsh objected to this, as it made the Doctor seem too bloodthirsty. So it was changed to the Doctor saying that he's looking forward to their next encounter — which makes him seem callous, considering the carnage.
  • Robert Holmes claimed that the basics for the serial were all around him — a detergent company was giving away flowers, he remembered warnings about plastic bags killing children, and plastic chairs and ugly troll dolls were all the rage.
  • Barry Letts requested that the sequence where Yates yells to the Doctor, "We've got him now!", be reshot because Richard Franklin's performance was too over-the-top. Franklin was grateful for this.
  • A line cut from the script explained that the Master had been helped to escape imprisonment.
  • Robert Holmes was reluctant to write the serial, as he disliked reusing old monsters, preferring to create a new idea for each story.
  • The scene where the Autons pursue the Doctor and Jo in a quarry was originally meant to take place in a woodland environment.
  • Terrance Dicks added the scenewhere the Master animates an Auton because the title meant that an Auton needed to appear somewhere in the first episode.
  • The Time Lord originally explained to the Doctor that the Master had been helped to escape imprisonment.
  • Katy Manning revealed on Behind the Sofa that as an animal lover, she was upset filming at the circus and wanted to liberate all the animals.
  • The scene where Farrel Jr. interrupts the Master activating the Autons was added to compensate for the lack of Auton action in the first episode.
  • During the editing process, some dialogue between the Doctor and the Time Lord was cut that detailed events from the Master's past.
  • Before location filming, Katy Manning, who was still unfamiliar with television scripts (since she came from a theatrical background), learned everyone else's lines the night before.


  • 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 fan 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", which is an antiquated term of abuse. These instances of bowdlerised language in the 1963-1989 series reflect the broadcasting and timeslot norms of the era. Younger viewers who are used to looser standards of acceptable language in family-friendly shows often find this language to be a source of humour or as something to be ridiculed.

Filming locations[]

  • 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[]

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 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.
  • In episodes one and two, the safe behind Farrel's desk doesn't have hinges nor a combination dial; these only appear in shots of the office in episode three (the Master at the desk and when The Doctor and the Brigadier investigate the office)
  • 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 "Farrel" (with one 'l') on all episodes, but both of his parents (played by Barbara Leake and Stephen Jack) have their surname spelled differently throughout (with two 'l's).


Comic strip adaptation[]

  • 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[]

DVD release[]

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

Release Dates[]

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

Special Features[]


It was released as issue 101 of Doctor Who DVD Files.

Digital releases[]

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;
  • on Amazon Video (UK) as Season 55 of Doctor Who (Classic) series;
  • for streaming through BritBox (Canada and US) as part of Season 8 of Classic Doctor Who.

Video releases[]

  • 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.

External links[]