Terror of the Autons (1971)

The first story of Jon Pertwee’s second series sees the return of the Autons. But more importantly sees the debut of Katy Manning as Jo Grant and Roger Delgado as the Master. For some reason, Liz Shaw has gone. No Goodbye scene at all which I think is a real shame. So what they did was replace a smart scientist female who would think about things and replace her with someone who at the time was a bit dim (but this changed after a few stories). The introduction of the Master is underplayed somewhat. The scene is set in a circus and a smartly dressed man with a fantastic beard comes out of his TARDIS disguised as a horsebox and within 60 seconds has someone under his control. It’s well acted by Delgado and Rosini. Yet despite this rather dull setting the Master is instantly believable. The introduction of Jo is just as good but done differently. Jo is introduced to use as someone who is only there because she knows the right people (her uncle). She ruins the Doctor’s experiment in the belief that she is actually helping. With these elements introduced the story focuses on the Autons who are given a voice which is an improvement. However they do suffer from playing second fiddle to the Master.

Like Spearhead from Space the previous year, this story sees the Autons trying to invade Earth. However with the Master in it the story/plan is slightly more convoluted and this is done by the Master taking over Factory which sees Farrely Jnr. at loggerheads with his father . The death of Farrely Snr. is quite grim and got the show in a bit of trouble, he is killed by a cuddly toy which when it get warm comes to life. Then there is the death of McDermott who is a good friend of Farrely Snr who meets a sticky death by being killed by an inflatable chair. I remember the first time I saw this and it really did spook me. Another moment where Jo gets suffocated after getting to close to a plastic Daffodil. For these three moments, the story is a great one but there is more to this story. It’s about the Doctor and the Master. These two were clearly rivals on Gallifrey and it spills onto earth. The Master season has well and truly begun.

Jon Pertwee has well and truly settled down and feels like he has an equal in the Master. Pertwee always seemed like he got on well with Caroline John but his relationship with Katy Manning is different and as time goes on it gets better. It’s strange watching this and seeing Katy Manning as a young tiny person who is very niave. This is the only story where she is annoying. She ruins the Doctor’s experiement, gets hypnotised, tries to blow up the Doctor and UNIT HQ, almost dies from suffocation and this takes place all in the space of four episodes. It’s an indication that for a brief time, they didn’t know what to do with the character. But the best character is the Master. Roger Delgado is the best actor to play the Master and he shows why from the very beginning. Delgado plays the Master as someone who is smarter than the Doctor but doesn’t go for the quickest or easiest plan but the one that allows him to gloat over the Doctor and explain his plan.

Terror of the Autons is not as good as Spearhead From Space but it certainly does have some interesting moments. But perhaps it would have been better to just have either the autons or the master. There was enough plot for either to stretch into four episodes. Robert Holmes has written an enjoyable story and is on his way (at the time) to being one of the best writers in Doctor Who and it’s a shame that it would be 34 years before they would return. A good start to the eighth season of Doctor Who.


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