Terror of the Autons
Terror of the Autons was the first story of Season 8 of Doctor Who. It was notable for being a “gentle reboot” of the Jon 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, Captain Mike Yates and the Master. Jo would become the equivalent of the Doctor’s companion, while the Master would easily make 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 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 TV: The Tomb of the Cybermen in 1967 — 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, in DWM 164.
The Autons and the Nestenes would not appear on television again until TV: Rose, the first episode of the revived series, in 2005.
International Circus manager Luigi Rossini (aka Lew Russell) sees a horsebox materialize in the field near the circus tent. Out steps the Master, who quickly overpowers him with hypnosis. He enlists Rossini to help him steal a Nestene meteorite (left over from the previous invasion) from the National Space Museum.
Liz Shaw has returned to Cambridge, having decided that the Doctor doesn’t really need her, so the Brigadier assigns UNIT trainee Jo Grant as the Time Lord’s new assistant. She immediately makes a bad first impression when she extinguishes a small fire on the Doctor’s lab bench, damaging his dematerialization circuit. Dismayed at her lack of qualifications, he insists that the Brigadier reassign her. The Brigadier concedes, but only if the Doctor tells her himself. The Doctor attempts to fire her, but upon seeing Jo’s kind and innocent disposition prevents him from being hard on her.
The Master appears at a deep space radio telescope, overpowering Professor George Phillips and his assistant, Goodge. He 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 mid-air, to warn the Doctor of the Master’s arrival on Earth and alert him to a booby trap inside. His warning delivered, the Time Lord disappears. Disarming the trap, the Doctor 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 manufacturers. Jo, against the Doctor’s will, goes off on her own to investigate. By chance, she 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 it.
The Doctor throws the box through the window seconds before it explodes in the river. He attempts to work through Jo’s hypnosis.
Back at the plastics factory, 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, noting that a simpler plastic device could kill humans with more efficiency.
At UNIT, the Doctor frees Jo from the Master’s control. She tells him vague details about the office she was in and also about the bomb. The Doctor realizes this must be the work of the Master. However, Jo cannot placate the Master’s presence on Earth, due to the mind wiping effect of his post-hypnotic suggestions.
The factory’s retired founder, the elder Mr Farrel, is very upset over Mr McDermott’s death and the arrival of “Colonel Masters.” After his attempt at hypnotizing Mr Farrel fails, the Master sneaks into his car and turns his air conditioner to its hottest setting. He gives Farrel a new sample product, a demonic-looking plastic doll that is activated by heat. Farrel is annoyed by the Master’s insistence to pawn off this product on him. Just wanting to go home and rest, he lets the Master fling it in his backseat and drives off. The doll suddenly wakes up as the car’s heater toasts the vehicle’s interior, but Farrel takes notice when he begins to sweat and shuts it off, causing the doll to go dormant again. However, Farrel brings it inside his home and it ends up on window sill near a radiator. Having discussed the matter of this Colonel Masters having a negative affect on their son’s mentality with Mrs Farrel, she exits the room to make tea. The doll comes to life a second time and kills Mr Farrel, lunging at his throat with its fangs. His wife screams when she happens upon his murdered body.
UNIT scouts spot turf marks at the site of the missing Professor Philips’ car. This leads to the discovery of Rossini’s circus. The Doctor insists on investigating himself, despite the Brigadier’s offer of an escort. Jo is ordered by both the Doctor and the Brigadier to remain at HQ. However, eager to prove she’s not to be coddled and disregarded, Jo has hidden herself in Bessie’s backseat, and soon leaps out to spy on the Doctor. The Doctor goes to investigate the Master’s TARDIS, which is disguised as a teal horsebox, but is quickly captured by Rossini; the Master left Professor Philips at the circus to lure the Doctor there. Whilst trying to find the Doctor, Jo sees Professor Philips enter the teal horsebox. She phones the sighting in to the Brigadier at HQ. He scolds her for disobeying the order to stay behind and tells her to stay put until he arrives. Jo again disobeys and goes to find the Doctor. The circus’s strongman Tony is menacing him inside a trailer, but Jo peeps in through a reflection and gets the Doctor’s attention. She sneaks into the trailer and knocks Tony out by shattering a glass over his head. The Doctor is also upset that Jo didn’t listen to him, but she rebuts that he needed her around to be rescued.
However, Professor Philips, having been hypnotized by the Master, enters with a grenade in his hand, poised for a murder-suicide. The Doctor attempts to reason with him, knowing Philips is still on some level trying to resist doing something against his nature. Philips shakes loose from the trance and tries to abandon the grenade outside, but it detonates. The Doctor and Jo mourn his wasteful death.
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. Rossini furiously accuses the Doctor of robbing the caravan and killing the scientist with the grenade, entranced into thinking it’s one of his men. He clubs the Doctor over the head with a bat before he can react and the mob swarms toward him and Jo. They are rescued from the mob by an arriving police car. The Brigadier and Captain Yates arrive at the circus moments later, 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, suspicion aroused, asks to see the officers’ warrant card, and is met with blank eyes. He peels off a mask and discovers that the policemen are Autons in disguise.
The 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 out thousands of these daffodils to the general 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 his grieving widow and take the troll doll for examination; meanwhile a mysterious repairman (The Master) replaces the cord on the Doctor’s lab telephone. It seems like the Doctor has simply ordered a longer flex because he paces about on the phone, but the repairman’s behavior suggests otherwise…
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. The Doctor suspects his foe is speaking to him and asks what he wants. The Master simply called him to say goodbye. He activates a signal device and the Doctor’s telephone cord comes to life. It wraps itself around him, and starts squeezing the life out of him.
The 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 it is activated by radio waves. The daffodil sprays an asphyxiating film over Jo’s nose and mouth, though the Doctor removes 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. Although he knows the cause of the deaths, Doctor is puzzled by the fact the film on Jo was not found on any of the bodies. Feeling a hunch, he huffs a few breaths on the plastic, and it dissolves away into nothing. The carbon dioxide expelled from the victim’s lungs acted to rub out the evidence of murder. Moments after reaching this conclusion, a man greets the Doctor from his lab’s stairwell. He turns around to face his old enemy.
The Master arrives at the Doctor’s lab, armed with his shrinking weapon. The Doctor shows that he is holding the Master’s dematerialization 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 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. Together they reverse the radio signal, expelling the force into deep space. With the signal cut off, the Autons simply collapse. Unfortunately, the Doctor and the Brigadier had to turn their backs on the Master while they operated controls on opposite ends of the room- and the Master has darted out the door.
The Master escapes from the control room, but is cornered inside the bus 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 to lower his enemies’ guards, 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 a latex mask. He was hypnotized to become a scapegoat and callously thrown to the wolves. The real Master drives away in the bus.
When the Brigadier reports UNIT found the Master’s coach but no sign of the villain, Jo suggests he has fled the planet. However, the Doctor has proudly outsmarted him. The Master will not be leaving Earth so soon. Though left to believe he recovered the dematerialization circuit to his TARDIS from the Doctor, the Doctor has actually given him the faulty one belonging to his own TARDIS, keeping his adversary’s identical TARDIS component as a bargaining chip. 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.