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Terror of the Autons Reviews

Cameron Pritchard:

I think this has to be undoubtedly one of the best stories of the Pertwee era. It is, after all, a very special story, introducing the Master and Jo Grant as well as bringing back the Autons and getting Season Eight off to a great start. After reading the novelisation and a two-part article in DWM, I expected that this story was going to be brilliant, and I was not mistaken. I only wish that Made in Singapore (featuring the return of the Autons), had been made. It sounds absolutely brilliant.

Terry Shore:

Roger Delgado put in a stunning performance as the Doctor's adversary, and I found him to be at his nastiest ever. The Autons made another wonderful appearance, and I noticed that they could talk, and their wearing of masks to imitate people was used well, especially in the cliffhanger conclusion of Episode Two, where the Doctor and new companion Jo Grant discover that the policemen are Autons.

This story had an all-star cast. Michael Wisher (Rex Farrell), had recently appeared in The Ambassadors of Death as John Wakefield, Harry Towb (James McDermott) had played Osgood in The Seeds of Death, and Christopher Burgess (Professor Phillips) was Barnes in Planet of the Spiders.

Over all, I found Terror of the Autons to be a really brilliant story. It had all the action and wit of a great Robert Holmes adventure.

Clinton Spencer:

This was a Pertwee story I had been looking forward to. If it were anywhere near as good as Spearhead from Space it would be a classic in my books. Sadly, I was met with a huge disappointment.

To me, it turned out as a poor rehashing of Spearhead from Space, made only to cash in on the success of the Autons. The huge amount of CSO was terrible, and the story seemed as if a savage editor had attacked it - it was that jumpy! The cliffhangers were pathetic - the Doctor getting strangled by his telephone cord had me on the floor laughing - and the Auton leader's voice sounded very much like a certain pepperpot shaped creature.

The only saving grace was the introduction of the Master; a brilliant performance by Roger Delgado. I loved the 'hypnotised' music too.

I believe this story would have been far better as a six-parter, but sadly it wasn't. What a disappointment! Give me the book any day.

Graham Howard:

When one thinks of recurring monsters in Doctor Who, Daleks and Cybermen tend to be the first to come to mind, along with maybe Sontarans and Ice Warriors, all of which have appeared in several stories. There are however, a small number of monsters or aliens that for a variety of reasons have only ever appeared twice (not counting cameos). The Yeti, Ogrons, the Mara, Sil are a few of these. Incidentally, it is interesting to note that many of these 'pairs' of stories feature the same regeneration of the Doctor. Of all the 'paired' stories I can think of, Spearhead from Space and Terror of the Autons are probably the best (although should the missing Yeti episodes ever turn up I suspect I would have to revise this opinion).

It is difficult to say whether I liked Terror of the Autons better than Spearhead from Space as they are both very good stories in their own right. Although the plots are in some ways similar, they are original enough not to be thought of as 'carbon copies'.

The Autons themselves are, in my opinion, easily one the best monsters/aliens to have appeared in Doctor Who, although I confess a slight preference for the design and use of the Autons as they appeared in Spearhead from Space. The Spearhead from Space Autons also seemed more material to the plot than their counterparts in Terror of the Autons, which seemed to take something of a supporting role to the Master. However, the 'terror' aspect was much further developed in Terror of the Autons with the Nestenes' affinity for plastic being graphically demonstrated with lethal telephone cords, chairs, daffodils and dolls. As is well known all of this was considered too frightening by many parents in 1971, and other groups were also perturbed by certain aspects of the story (e.g. the police were somewhat displeased at the depiction of killer policemen, albeit Auton ones). Of course the story is also famous for prompting questions in the British parliament when it originally screened. It is said the then production team acknowledged that they may have gone a little 'too far' with this story and resolved to be more restrained in future series.

For me the star of the story is the Master who is perfectly portrayed by Roger Delgado. From watching just this one story it is easy to see how Jon Pertwee might have been a little worried about being upstaged by the Master who is arrogant, ruthless and evil, while also displaying charm and hints of a dry sense of humour, at times almost disguising or allowing the viewer to excuse his actions. To his credit Delgado maintains a consistency of character in all his stories, although I would claim Terror of the Autons to be one of his best. From his opening line 'I am usually referred to as the Master' Delgado indisputably is 'the Master'; Anthony Ainley seems little more than a pretender by comparison.

Robert Holmes has given the Master some marvellous lines: 'The human body has a basic weakness. One which I shall exploit to assist in the destruction of humanity'. Or in telling the Doctor he is now to die: 'It is a shame you can't be around to share in the chaos and destruction with me' (following the activation of the daffodils and the following Nestene invasion). From many actors the above lines would have sounded corny, but they are delivered so convincingly by Delgado, that they work. In another scene the Doctor has again escaped death. Rex Farrel asks if he still intends to destroy the Doctor to which the Master replies: 'Of course - and the more he struggles to postpone the moment the greater the ultimate satisfaction.'

Another strength of the story is that even relatively minor characters such as Rex Farrel's parents and McDermott are well portrayed, such that the viewer does genuinely feel for them when they are casually destroyed by the Master (I did anyway!).

Jon Pertwee's Doctor is still very much the unwilling exile, at one stage being seemingly prepared to depart in the TARDIS, had the Master's dematerialisation circuit worked (compare this with his 'the TARDIS brought me home' comment at the end of Planet of the Spiders). At times he seems somewhat abrasive and rude, and although this is not unheard of, he seems to lack the humour that normally accompanies such behaviour. However the Pertwee that is known and loved fortunately predominates.

In conclusion, Terror of the Autons is a worthy successor to Spearhead from Space and an excellent introductory story for the Master, Jo, Captain Yates and the 'UNIT family'. If the Nestenes/Autons ever do return hopefully they will do so in a story of comparable quality to Spearhead from Space and Terror of the Autons.

This item appeared in TSV 28 (April 1992).

Index nodes: Terror of the Autons