Doctor Who: Terror of the Autons

Doctor Who: Terror of the Autons October 26, 2012

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:

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  • Joy Amick

    I, too, would enjoy watching The Master and River Song enroll in a duel of wits. How engaging that would be! As far as story-telling goes regarding good vs evil, it seems no matter how bad evil is, they always have a flaw that good can take advantage of, so that good overcomes evil in the end. It may take awhile to get there, but it is a rare story-telling where evil wins out. In real life however, good folks do not always win in the end, and there seems to be a lot of unjustice in the world. As a Believer, I try to engage in peaceful actions and work toward justice – but it seems to be an uphill battle. Still this is the mandate given to me: The Lord God has told us what is right
    and what God demands: “See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern,
    and humbly obey your God.” Micah 6:8 (CEV)

  • Deane Galbraith

    This show has nothing on Inspector Spacetime.

  • Melkur

    I loved Terror of the Autons, right up until the point where the Master did the ‘right’ thing, it would have been better for the Doctor to have defeated him single handedly in some daring counter move. Daft really when you think about it, then again the Master’s future would continue to be filled with plans of questionable forethought, but i guess that’s why we love him. On the subject of the Monk, it’s nice to see that Big Finish took him on for the final 8th Doctor series. I’d like to see the War Chief return too someday.

  • Ged Sweeney

    Good piece, with only one obvious flaw. The Monk, The War Chief and The Master are the same Time Lord. The same way that Professor Yana and Harold Saxon are the same Time Lord. Every regeneration brings a new personality(same as the eleven Doctors). The writers made this perfectly clear at the time. In fact, acting as though Butterworth, Brayshaw and Delgado were playing three separate characters destroys the whole evolution of the character.