Timestamp #55: Terror of the Autons

Doctor Who: Terror of the Autons
(4 episodes, s08e01-e04, 1971)

Timestamp 055 Terror of the Autons


The Nestene and Autons are back. The normal title sequences are back. Liz Shaw is… not.

There are so many profanities, obscenities, expletives, and invectives I could throw out here; I guess Liz Shaw can now be the vice president of the Unceremoniously Canned Companions Club with Dodo as the president and founder. She was only around for four serials, but she deserved a lot better (especially as a strong female character) than to be written off in the off-season.

It’s infuriating!

The Doctor’s back as well, still in his fancy ruffles but with a toned down scarlet jacket. He’s still working on TARDIS and meets Jo Grant, the new assistant. Jo’s no Liz, but she’s very independent and has potential, and she did save the Doctor’s bacon from the mirror-universe-goatee-and-slicked-back-hair E-V-I-L that is the Master. I mean, if you’re gonna save the Doctor’s life, you get extra points for doing it against that guy.

The Master arrives in a TARDIS with a fully functional chameleon circuit, enthralls nearly everyone he meets like the vampires of legend, and steals a Nestene egg to invite the invasion force on down. The Doctor and his team investigate the strange signals from the radio telescope, and the Doctor gets a heads up from a random Time Lord. The Third Doctor’s run has been playing fast and loose with time travel vehicles, and this story is no exception: Time Lords can apparently travel without a TARDIS.

The Master takes the disguise of Colonel Masters and embeds himself in a local plastics factory. After killing the production manager with an inflatable plastic chair, he offs the factory’s retired owner with a demonic plastic doll activated by heat. The only way he could be more evil is by killing a puppy.

The Doctor follows the clues to the circus, but is captured by the Master’s hypnotized followers. Jo rescues him after smuggling away in Bessie, and the Doctor steals the dematerialization circuit from the Master’s TARDIS. One mob scene and thrilling Auton battle later, the escape with the Brigadier and Captain Yates. The dematerialization circuit is too new for the Doctor’s TARDIS, but the good news is that the Master is also stranded on Earth.

The Autons, disguised as cartoonish carnival figures, distribute plastic daffodils to the public as the disguised Master replaces the Doctor’s phone cable in his lab. The Doctor and the Brigadier find the plastic factory office to be abandoned with the exception of an Auton in the safe while Jo and Sergeant Benton dispatch the demon doll, and the Doctor gets wrapped up in a phone call. Okay, that phone cord bit was a good idea on paper, but quite silly in execution.

The daffodils attack Jo and try to asphyxiate her, and the Master arrives to confront the Doctor. He kidnaps the pair and places them in the bus that UNIT is about to bomb, but the Doctor communicates with Morse code through the brake lights on the bus and escapes. The Master starts to bring the Nestene invaders down to the planet, but suddenly understands that they will kill him as well. The Doctor and the Master work together to reverse the polarity of the signal and send the Nestene into deep space, and then the Master sacrifices his last follower to escape.

Let’s start with the negatives (aside from Liz’s canning), of which there are only two: There was a lot of blue-screening in this serial, which was probably reasonable for the era but got really distracting; The camera angles let us see a lot of the TARDIS interior, there’s no control room. Aside from the companion kerfuffle, my complaints are petty.

On the positives, this is a tight story told in four episodes that introduces a continuing conflict with a powerful enemy. I was riveted waiting to see how it resolved, and I want more.


Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.




15 thoughts on “Timestamp #55: Terror of the Autons

  1. Yeah, Caroline John being 8-months pregnant meant that they didn’t get to do a goodbye scene for Liz as they didn’t want to deal with the idea of Liz being an unwed mother on Doctor Who in those days.

    The going theory is that the Time Lord that speaks to the Doctor is in his TARDIS, but it’s chameleon circuit is locked to his body, so he can move and speak within it and the outside of the ship mirrors his movements. Of course, it could just be he’s just a projection and the Time Lords just created the TARDIS materialization sound, so the Doctor knew he was arriving rather than just plopping him in front of him in a way that might have been startling.

    I’ll be interested to see your opinion of this season as it goes on. I’ve never been a huge fan of this one even though I love the Master, but think that the next two are very good.

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