8.1 – “Terror Of The Autons”
A Nestene sphere is stolen by a mysterious mastermind and a new wave of Auton Invaders threaten the Earth. The Doctor and UNIT, along with new companion Jo Grant, have to fight to stop the invaders and The Doctor faces a more personal battle as an old adversary returns.
Season 8 kicks off with the sequel to the previous year’s opener “Spearhead From Space”. The Autons are back and this time they have a new Master. Robert Holmes delivers a great story with some superb debuts. Roger Delgado sets out his stall as The Master; all the appearance of a gentleman but brimming with menace behind the manners. “Moriarty to The Doctor’s Holmes”(TM) is the often used description of The Master and its a fair call. An intellectual equal, also from Gallifrey, he is The Doctor’s imperfect opposite in many ways. Delgado’s original Master was a welcome addition to the series and makes for a great recurring character. Katy Manning’s Jo Grant also joins the UNIT organisation in this story as does Richard Franklin’s Mike Yates. This now feels like the classic UNIT team line-up, with the Brigadier, Yates, Benton and Jo Grant. They feel like a real crew with a fuller recurring cast, rather than assorted random actors playing the UNIT faithful week to week.
We’re reminded of The Doctor’s banishment to Earth and whilst his theft of The Master’s dematerialisation circuit might not allow him to fix his own stranded TARDIS, it does mean The Master is also now trapped on contemporary Earth (whether you consider that the early 70’s or in the near future of them). Like “Spearhead From Space”, with its shop dummies coming to life, there are some great seminal moments in this serial. A plastic doll coming to life and making a killing, a plastic chair suffocating its inhabitant, plastic daffodils spraying film over the face to choke people to death and The Doctor being lassoed by living plastic rope. The cliffhanger of The Doctor and Jo’s police saviours turning out to be Autons, with a superb reveal of plastic face, still stands up today.
The Masters’ Tissue Compression Eliminator also makes its debut as his fave choice of killing method. Seeing a scientist from the radio telescope having been shrunk to death and left in his own lunch box is a chilling killing indeed. Watching this with my 9 year old son, he was in equal parts chuckling at the dubious CSO special effects but also quite taken with the story and a bit shifty about some of the deaths. It really does go for it with the whole “scaring the children with everyday things” tactic. As well as classic Autons we have the creepy big smiley faced plastic headed Autons handing out deadly daffodils and a slightly incongruous appearance by a Time Lord to warn The Doctor of The Master’s arrival on Earth. Roger Murray Leach’s seminal Time Lord attire was still some way off, and a bowler hatted, umbrella carrying gent just doesn’t cut it. There is a lot of CSO, and its fairly hokey, but that doesn’t infringe on the quality of this story.
“Terror Of The Autons” has a lot crammed into its four parts. We get a nice return of a popular enemy and some great new characters arrive who will go on to become some of the most popular (and oft revisited in books and Big Finish) companions that The Doctor has ever had. Letts and Dicks know exactly what they’re about and its a big TICK all round. A top notch 8/10.
Written and edited by Gavin Dunbar