Terror of the Autons was the first story of Season 8. 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. It marked the debut of three new recurring characters, Jo Grant, 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 The Tomb of the Cybermen — 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.
SynopsisThe 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 agressive alien life form.
Once mixed with plastic, the Nestene will form into faceless automatons, a willing army of destruction easliy controlled by the Master himself. This is the terrible threat now facing Earth - the terror of the Autons.
Episode OneCircus manager Luigi Rossini sees a horsebox materialize in the field near the circus tent. Out steps the Master, who quickly overpowers him via hypnosis. He enlists Rossini into helping him steal a Nestene meteorite (leftover from the previous invasion) from a nearby museum. Liz Shaw having returned to Cambridge, the Brigadier assigns UNIT trainee Jo Grant to be 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 dematerialization 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. As Goodge is eating his lunch, the Master appears behind him, points his weapon at his back, and fires. He then 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 the air, to warn the Doctor of the Master's arrival on Earth, and alerts him to a booby trap inside. Disarming it, he 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 factories. Jo, against the Doctor's will, goes off on her own to investigate, and by chance arrives at the Farrel factory. She is quickly discovered by the Master and hypnotized. She returns to UNIT with a crate that apparently once contained the Nestene meteorite, but as she begins to open it the Doctor quickly realizes that it's a bomb. The Doctor shouts for someone to stop her, but Jo is determined to open the crate.
Episode TwoThe Doctor throws the box out of the window, and it explodes in the river. He identifies that Jo has been hypnotized by the Master, and attempts to work through it. Back at the plastics factory, Mr 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 realizes that they should explore smaller products.
At UNIT, the Doctor manages to free Jo from the Master's control. She tells the Doctor about the office she was in, and also tells him about the bomb. The Doctor realizes this must have the work of the Master. The factory's retired founder, the elder Mr Farrel, is Rex's father. He is very upset over Mr McDermott's death and the arrival of "Colonel Masters." After his attempt at hypnotizing Mr Farrel fails, the Master gives him a new sample product, a demonic-looking plastic doll. He takes it home and puts it on the 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, as 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 enters with a grenade in his hand, but the Doctor manages to work through his hypnosis. 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 ThreeThe Doctor struggles with the two Autons, causing the car to veer and crash. He and Jo 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 dematerialization circuit with the one he stole from the Master's TARDIS, but they are incompatible. The Doctor's frustration is abated when he realizes 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 daffodils out to the 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 Mr Farrel's grieving widow and take the 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 strong signal and the Doctor's telephone cord comes to life. It wraps itself around him, and starts squeezing him.
Episode FourThe 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 that it is activated by radio waves. The daffodil sprays an asphyxiating film over Jo's nose and mouth, though the Doctor manages to remove 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 demat 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 then 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, and 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
- 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 intuitively leaps to the conclusion that Jo is opening a bomb when he sees her trying to open the box.
- The Time Lord who appears to the Doctor informs him that the Master is on Earth, and the Doctor recognizes him by that name.
- The Master has special abilities including hypnosis that can make people act against their usual nature.
- The Doctor says he regards military intelligence 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 dematerialization circuit, as opposed to the Doctor's Mark One. It isn't compatible with the Doctor's TARDIS.
- Jo's uncle pulled some strings to get her a job at UNIT.
- First appearance of the the Master's shrinking weapon.
- The Doctor boils away the contents of a weapon of the Master's so that the Earth military cannot get a hold of and try to duplicate it.
- This story had a working title of; The Spray of Death.
- Although credited, Bill McGuirk (Policeman) does not actually appear in the story; his scenes having been cut prior to broadcast.
- While working on the TARDIS, the Doctor sings "I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire", a song by the 1930s-1960s vocal group The Ink Spots.
- This is the first story to feature Mike Yates, Jo Grant, and the Master.
- 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 envisioned as a male character called the Master, and Roger Delgado was the only actor considered for it.)
- 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)
- Ecomold (formerly Thermo Plastics Ltd), Luton Road, Dunstable (Farrell's Plastics Factory)
- BBC Television Centre (Studio 8 and 6), Shepherd's Bush, London
- 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).
- At the climax of the episode, the policeman turns around with a very normal face. Cut to the Doctor, then back to a very obviously fake face.
- The Doctor tells Jo that Captain Yates had the job of clearing up the mess caused by the Autons in DW: Spearhead from Space
- The Nestene Consciousness appear again in PDA: Synthespians™, Business Unusual and DW: Rose. Autons also appear in DW: The Pandorica Opens.
- Part of the Master and the Doctor's relationship is explored in MA: The Dark Path.
- Not counting those meant to pass as humans, such as Channing, General Scobie's replica, Mickey Smith (Auton) and Rory Williams (Auton), this is the only story in which Autons speak.
Home video and audio releases
- Released as a recolourised edition based on black and white and colour source material in the UK April 1993 and Australia/New Zealand June 1993 (BBC catalog #4957), US/Canada June 1995 (WHV catalog #E1276) in episodic format.
- This release was part of the 30th Anniversary celebrations releases.
- This was a color restored version of the story completed by the Doctor Who Restoration Team.
The Terror of the Autons DVD is coming out soon.
Novelisation and its audiobook
- Main article: Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons
- Terror of the Autons at the BBC's official site
- 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