Terror of the Autons DVD Cover

Terror of the Autons – Review

Looking back at series 7 of Doctor Who we can now appreciate what a radically new incarnation of the show it was: all new cast (the Brigadier excepted), a new producer, a new setting (or at least, constraint) on Earth. And colour. It’s all the more impressive, then, that it comprises four substantial and constently solid serials. The Pertwee era had launched itself with flying colours – the adventurousness of the old show married to the whimsy and flair of The Avengers.

Ham fisted bun vendor
Ham fisted bun vendor

Given how good it was, it’s not surprising there are fewer changes in this, the first story of series 8. But that’s not saying much: there’s still a brand new companion, and the introduction of one of the Doctor’s most famous adversaries. (And for the sake of continuity, there’s a returning villain too, with the autons being written again by their creator Robert Holmes in his fourth Doctor Who script.)

Unfortunately, almost all of the changes here are for the worse; heralding in the mediocrity that was to taint most of the remaining terrestrial/UNIT yarns (the occasional outstanding exception, such as The Dæmons and The Sea Devils aside). In the place of the brilliant and brash Liz Shaw, in bumbles Jo Grant and simultaneously extinguishes the Doctor’s dematerialisation circuit (‘Three months delicate work and now look at it, you ham-fisted bun vendor’) and all of the advances in the representation of women in the show that Liz exemplified.

"I just called to say goodbye"
“I just called to say goodbye”

Much as I admire Katy Manning, the role she was asked to play, as a young actor, was as a muddle-headed nincompoop whose main role was in showing up the Doctor’s genius. and as Simon Guerrier argues to counter his itchy space-trotting feet in this new globe-bound format.

Nice TARDIS
Nice TARDIS

The Master, and Roger Delgado in particular, I admire greatly but even so, this is a poor introductory story – he’s playing second fiddle to a reappearance for Holmes’ successful autons from the last series’ Spearhead From Space. The Time Lords sending an emissary to warn the Doctor about his presence (in – what – an invisible TARDIS – or a Time Lord shaped TARDIS?) is another example of soggy storytelling. The Time Lords who tried and exiled the Doctor have suddenly found a soft spot for him? (And the emissary’s TARDIS is capable of popping as well as wheezing…)

Is that the bus from Delta and the Bannermen they've borrowed?
Is that the bus from Delta and the Bannermen they’ve borrowed?

Parts of this story are simply embarrassing – the deadly inflatable chair, the daffodils (the sellers of which make The Happiness Patrol’s candyman look well-judged). As far as I’m aware, it contains the only cliffhanger derived from getting tangled up in a telephone cable (remember those?) It’s a classic example of bringing a monster back for an encore because they happened to appear previously in a well-crafted story; yet there’s nothing new for them to do.

"Plastic should be warm and dry"
“Plastic should be warm and dry”

Instead, Holmes tries to derive menace from a ‘sinister’ plastic toy but in doing so over-taxes the special effects department’s CSO capabilities. In retrospect its astonishing that a story that deliberately introduces The Master as a long-running villain could be so devoid of menace. It’s interesting to see how it began, but it’s some time before the Master realises his full, evil, potential.

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