Roger Delgado
Roger Delgado

Terror of the Autons: Episode 4

Broadcast on January 23rd 1971 @ 5.15pm (8.4 million viewers)

‘Terror of the Autons’ features not only the return of the Autons who had debuted the previous year but introduces us to the archetypal villain for the Doctor, the Moriarty to his Sherlock Holmes, another renegade Time Lord from Gallifrey, the Master. Another addition to the Doctor Who family was the wonderful Katy Manning as new assistant to the Doctor, Jo Grant.

Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning - Doctor Who - Terror of the Autons
Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning – Doctor Who – Terror of the Autons

Jon Pertwee’s second season as the Time Lord therefore builds upon the successes of the first, maintaining the UNIT base of operations, adding a new recurring villain and toning down the companion to include less scientific language and make it easier for the audience to follow the action. All these aspects would continue throughout the season and what better way to open than with a development of a popular story from that previous year, once again brought to us by writer Robert Holmes.

‘Terror of the Autons’ develops the concepts put forward by the original Auton tale, with plastic being a more varied weapon than just shop window mannequins. As a result, telephone cables, chairs, dolls and even daffodils, all have the capacity to kill, taking the horror and threat into the home in a way that the programme had not explored before but as a result would incur complaints from some concerned sections of the audience. Curiously, the final defeat of the Autons and the Master occurs very abruptly, the Doctor easily appealing to the Master about the Nestene’s ability or not to differentiate between Time Lords and Humans.

Doctor Who - Terror of the Autons
Doctor Who – Terror of the Autons

Viewers had already seen a few Time Lords up to no good previously in the form of the Meddling Monk in ‘The Time Meddler’ and the War Chief in ‘The War Games’. However, the Master would become the epitome of the renegade villain, the equal of the Doctor in intelligence, ingenuity and ability. Undergoing a number of regenerations, the character is still going strong today thanks to Michelle Gomez’s portrayal which still maintains characteristics of the original incarnation. Roger Delgado was a perfect piece of casting, oozing villainy and menace in a suave manner which provided the perfect counter to Jon Pertwee’s Doctor and so the two characters would enjoy a continuing duel for the rest of the season.

Memorable Moment (Spoiler Warning)

The sequence of the UNIT troops engaging with the Autons is a throwback to similar battles against the Yeti in ‘The Web of Fear’, the Cybermen in ‘The Invasion’ and also of course against the Autons in ‘Spearhead from Space’. The stunt team Havoc provide a bit more excitement to this battle however with more explosive effects, weapons firing and soldiers being thrown about. The Autons themselves are very creepy with their over-sized heads and false smiles, again building on the blank masks that had been seen in their first appearance, another example of how the excellent ‘Spearhead from Space’ was enhanced for this story.

Also first aired On This Day…

  • The Romans : All Roads Lead to Rome
  • Torchwood : Sleeper

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