The episode Terror of the Autons, the first episode from the second season featuring Jon Pertwee as the Doctor, is an important one in the history of Doctor Who for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it saw the introduction of the Master, another renegade time lord, and former classmate of the Doctor’s, one who had previously been a friend but could now play the role of arch-nemesis. Of course, the Doctor had encountered other time lords who were comparable – the War Chief and the Meddling Monk. The latter even had, as the Master did, a TARDIS with a working chameleon circuit. But neither was destined to have a regularly-recurring role as the Master would. The episode also introduced his weapon of choice, the tissue-compressor.
The episode also saw the introduction of Jo Grant and the return of the Autons or Nestenes, a threat that plays on the creepiness of mannequins and dolls. And for many of us today, it can be hard or impossible to remember a time when the dramatic spread of the use of plastic could be worrying.
The episode works well, apart from the suddenness of the Master’s change of heart about helping the Nestenes. By the end of the episode, thanks to the Doctor having stolen a component from his TARDIS, the Master is stuck on Earth, although he manages a clever escape. The episode ends with the Doctor saying that he is quite looking forward to his next encounter with the Master. I am quite sure that fans watching the episode felt much the same way. But it can be hard to imagine oneself back into the situation of seeing that episode for the first time when it first aired, if one has always taken the presence of the Master on the show for granted. It was a good move to bring his character back in the more recent series. I would love to see an encounter between the Master and River Song!
There isn’t really much to say about religion in relation to this episode – although I suppose one could compare the time lord who warns the Doctor that the Master is on Earth to an angelic visitation if one wanted to. Perhaps more interesting is the question of whether and to what extent all religious traditions and all television shows (not only sci-fi) gravitate in their storytelling to developing an arch-enemy almost but not quite equal to their central heroic figure. Do we sense that for good to be good, evil must be comparably evil? The logic of such an argument as a solution to the theological problem of evil is regularly questioned, but in the context of storytelling, it seems as though there may be something to it that resonates with human beings on a deep level. What do readers think?
The episode can be watched online: