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"You see Doctor, you're my intellectual equal...Almost."
―The Master
Terror of the Autons
Series: Doctor Who -
TV Stories
Season Number: Season 8
Story Number: 55
Doctor: Third Doctor
Companions: Jo Grant (Introduction)
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Captain Mike Yates (Introduction)
Sergeant Benton
Enemy: Nestene
The Master (Introduction)
Setting: Earth; circa 1970s
Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: Barry Letts
Broadcast: 2nd January - 23rd January 1971
Format: 4 25-minute Episodes
Previous Story: Inferno
Following Story: The Mind of Evil

Terror of the Autons was the first story of Season 8. It was notable for being a "gentle reboot" of the Pertwee era, offering a number of elements which would remain prevalent for the next three seasons. It marked the debut of three new recurring characters, Jo Grant, Mike Yates and the Master. Furthermore, it was the first story in which Sgt. Benton's portrayer, John Levene, was given an annual contract, rather than employment as a day player. It also introduced what became UNIT's standard, green uniforms — the replacements for what Barry Letts disparagingly called the "chocolates" of Season 7 — and a new UNIT laboratory which would be used by the Third Doctor until the end of his exile.

It also featured the first return of the Autons since their debut in Season 7, and the first direct contact between the Doctor and his people since the end of Season 6. It was one of very few stories — and the first since The Tomb of the Cybermen — in which each new episode drew more viewers than the one that had preceded it. Finally, it was also the only televised Doctor Who story to be at least partially adapted as a non-parodic comic strip.



The Master Arrives.

An evil Time Lord called the Master arrives on Earth at a circus run by a man named Luigi Rossini and steals a dormant Nestene energy unit from a museum. He reactivates it using a radio telescope and uses his hypnotic abilities to take control of a small plastics firm run by the Farrel family, where he organises the production of deadly Auton dolls, chairs and daffodils.

Humanoid Auton dummies distribute the daffodils - designed to spray a suffocating plastic film over their victim's mouth and nose - by giving them away free to members of the public in a fake promotional campaign.

The Master plans to activate the flowers with a signal from the radio telescope, which he will then use to bring the main Nestene Consciousness to Earth. The Doctor manages to persuade the Master that the Nestenes will have no further use for him once they arrive. The two Time Lords now must work together to send the Consciousness back into space...


Episode One

Circus manager Luigi Rossini sees a horsebox materialize in the field near the circus tent. Out steps the Master, who quickly overpowers him via hypnosis. He enlists Rossini into helping him steal a Nestene meteorite (leftover from the previous invasion) from a nearby museum.

Liz Shaw having returned to Cambridge, the Brigadier assigns UNIT trainee Jo Grant to be the Doctor's new assistant. She immediately makes a bad first impression when she extinguishes a small fire on the Doctor's lab bench, destroying the Doctor's dematerialization circuit. Dismayed at her lack of qualifications, he attempts to fire her but cannot bring himself to do so.

The Master appears at a deep space radio telescope, overpowering Professor George Phillips and his assistant Goodge. He then connects the Nestene meteorite to the telescope and transmits a signal.

Investigating the theft of the meteorite and the disappearance of the scientists, the Doctor arrives at the radio telescope. Outside the control tower, a Time Lord arrives, 'inconspicuously' dressed in a dark suit and bowler hat while hovering in the air, to warn the Doctor of the Master's arrival on Earth, and alerts him to a booby trap inside. Disarming it, he opens Goodge's lunchbox to find his shrunken corpse inside.

At a small plastics firm, production manager James McDermott confronts the owner, young Rex Farrel, about the mysterious Colonel Masters and the new line of products he has commissioned them into producing.

The Doctor correctly surmises that the Master is in league with the Nestenes, and obtains a list of nearby plastic factories. Jo, against the Doctor's will, goes off to investigate, and arrives at the Farrel factory. She is quickly discovered by the Master and hypnotized. She returns to UNIT with a crate that apparently onced contained the Nestene meteorite, but as she begins to open it the Doctor quickly realises that it's a bomb. The Doctor shouts for someone to stop her, but Jo is determined to open the crate.

Episode Two

The Doctor throws the box out of the window, and it explodes in the river. He identifies that Jo has been hypnotized by the Master, and attempts to work through it.

Back at the plastics factory, Mr McDermott confronts the Master about his apparent domination over the Farrel factory. The Master invites him to sit in one of their new products, a self-inflating plastic chair, which comes alive and smothers him. Rex Farrel is impressed with its effectiveness, but the Master realises that they should explore smaller products.

The factory's retired founder, the elder Mr Farrel, is Rex's father. He is very upset over Mr McDermott's death and the arrival of "Colonel Masters." After his attempt at hypnotizing Mr Farrel fails, the Master gives him a new sample product, a demonic-looking plastic doll. He takes it home and puts it on the radiator, where it comes to life and kills him.

UNIT scouts spot the missing Professor Philips at Rossini's circus. The Doctor goes to investigate but is quickly captured, as the Master left Professor Philips at the circus to lure the Doctor there. The circus's strongman Tony is menacing him inside a trailer, but Jo (who followed the Doctor) knocks him out. Professor Philips enters with a grenade in his hand, but the Doctor manages to work through his hypnosis. Philips detonates the grenade outside, killing himself. The Doctor and Jo find the Master's TARDIS (the horse box) and are confronted by an angry mob of circus employees, led by Rossini. They are rescued from the mob by an arriving police car. The Brigadier and Captain Yates arrive at the circus, see what is happening, and follow them. Instead of being taken back to UNIT, the Doctor and Jo arrive in a remote quarry. The Doctor discovers that the policemen are Autons in disguise.

Episode Three

The Doctor struggles with the two Autons, causing the car to veer and crash. He and Jo escape from the car, relentlessly pursued by the Autons. The Brigadier and Captain Yates arrive and rescue them.

Back at the lab, the Doctor replaces his non-functional dematerialization circuit with the one he stole from the Master's TARDIS, but they are incompatible. The Doctor's frustration is abated when he realises that as long as he has the Master's circuit, he's stuck on Earth too.

The Master is pleased with the factory's latest product, a realistic-looking plastic daffodil. The Autons, led by Farrel, don enormous carnival masks and matching yellow suits and tour the countryside handing daffodils out to the public.

The Brigadier is alerted to a rash of unexplained asphyxiation deaths all over England. Jo's memory is jogged by the mention of Mr Farrel among the casualties. They meet Mr Farrel's grieving widow and take the doll for examination; meanwhile a mysterious repairman replaces the cord on the Doctor's lab phone.

The Doctor and Brigadier investigate the now-abandoned plastics factory and discover a leftover plastic daffodil (and narrowly elude an Auton). Meanwhile, Jo and Captain Yates accidentally reactivate the troll doll with the heat from the Doctor's Bunsen burner, which they borrowed to make cocoa. The doll attacks Jo, but Yates blows it to pieces with his gun.

The Master telephones the Doctor at his lab to say goodbye. He activates a signal and the Doctor's phone cord comes to life. It wraps itself around him, and starts squeezing him.

Episode Four

The Brigadier hears the Doctor shouting for help and disconnects the phone, cutting off the signal. The Doctor tells the Brigadier that the Nestenes can put life into anything made of plastic. While examining the daffodil, the Doctor and Jo accidentally discover that it is activated by radio waves. The daffodil sprays an asphyxiating film over Jo's nose and mouth, though the Doctor manages to spray it off in time. The daffodils are to be activated by a signal from the Radio Telescope; the unexplained deaths were shortwave radio users who activated theirs prematurely.

The Master arrives at the Doctor's lab armed with his TCE, ready to kill him. The Doctor shows that he is holding the Master's dematerialisation circuit, which would be destroyed if he used it. Jo breaks the stalemate when she blurts out that UNIT has identified the coach bus and is planning an airstrike. The Master then alters his plan, kidnapping them and leaving them tied up in the bus to be killed in the strike. The Brigadier and Benton see this and cancel the airstrike just in time. The Doctor communicates to UNIT by tapping a Morse Code message on the bus brake pedal, while Jo impresses the Doctor with her skills at escapology. The bus then escapes to the radio telescope. Rex Farrel, who is now free of the Master's control, realises where he is, and tries to stop the bus by crashing it into a field near the radio telescope, but the Master hits him on the back, and he falls over. While the bus is moving, the Doctor and Jo escape from it. The Master escapes from the bus and heads to the control room, killing a scientist on the way.

While the Autons hold off a UNIT force led by Yates and Benton, the Doctor and the Brigadier confront the Master in the radio telescope control room as he opens the signal for the Nestene invasion force. The Doctor convinces him that he'll be expendable once the Nestenes arrive, and together they reverse the radio signal, expelling the force into deep space. With the signal cut off, the Autons drop dead. The Doctor and the Brigadier discover the Master has disappered, and they chase after him. The Master reaches the bus, and he is trapped. He exits the bus with his hands up surrendering. As he pulls out a pistol, Yates shoots him. The Doctor looks suspicious, and peels off the face of the body. He discovers it is Rex Farrel disguised as the Master. The real Master escapes in the bus, but without his dematerialisation circuit he is trapped on Earth. Back at UNIT, The Doctor admits to Jo and the Brigadier that since they are now both stranded, he will rather be looking forward to their next meeting.




The Doctor gets to know Jo and Mike.
  • This is the first story to feature Mike Yates, Jo Grant, and the Master.
  • First appearance of the Tissue Compression Eliminator (as it would come to be called).
  • The Doctor says he regards military intelligence a contradiction in terms. He boils away the contents of weapon of the Master's so that the military cannot get a hold of it and try to duplicate it.
  • This is Jo Grant's first appearance. Her uncle pulled some strings to get her a job at UNIT.
  • This is the Master's first appearance. The Time Lord who appears to the Doctor informs him that the Master is on Earth, and the Doctor recognizes him by that name. The Master has special abilities including hypnosis that can make people act against their usual nature. (He hypnotises Jo)
  • The Master's TARDIS is disguised as a horsebox, and uses a Mark Two dematerialization circuit, as opposed to the Doctor's Mark One, they are not compatible.
  • The Lamadines are a species with nine opposable digits who pioneered steady state micro welding.

Story Notes

  • This story had a working title of; The Spray of Death.
  • Although credited, Bill McGuirk (Policeman) does not actually appear in the story; his scenes having been cut prior to broadcast.
  • While working on the TARDIS, the Doctor sings "I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire", a song by the 1930s-1960s vocal group The Ink Spots.


  • Episode One - 7.3 million viewers
  • Episode Two - 8.0 million viewers
  • Episode Three - 8.1 million viewers
  • Episode Four - 8.4 million viewers


  • The production team had initially envisioned the new regular villain for the series as a female character, possibly called the Controller, to be played by Susan Jameson. (The role was always envisioned as a male character called the Master, and Roger Delgado was the only actor considered for it.)

Filming Locations

  • St. Peter's Court, Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire
  • Hodgemoor Woods, Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire
  • Lee Valley Ice Centre, Leyton, London (Location of Rossini's circus)
  • Zouches Farm Relay Station, Caddington, Bedfordshire (Location used for exterior of Beacon Hill Research Establishment)
  • Church Lane car park, Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire
  • Queen's Wharf, Hammersmith, London (Exterior location of the Master's bomb exploding outside UNIT lab, in water)
  • Totternhoe Lime and Stone Co Ltd, Totternhoe, Dunstable (The quarry the Doctor and Jo are taken to)
  • Ecomold (formerly Thermo Plastics Ltd), Luton Road, Dunstable (Farrell's Plastics Factory)
  • BBC Television Centre (Studio 8 and 6), Shepherd's Bush, London

Discontinuity, Plot Holes, Errors

  • Why do the Time Lords confine themselves to simply warning the Doctor about the Master's arrival rather than arresting and trying him? Surely his actions are no less criminal in their eyes than the Doctor's. The Time Lords often have ulterior motives, which involve letting events play out with minimal interference on their part. Also, keep in mind that The Time Lords weren't able to track down The Doctor till he called them to deal with the War Lords. It could be they have no way of knowing The Master's whereabouts, just that he's headed for Earth. They may have been planning to arrest him, but he keeps escaping before they can get there.
  • All elements of CSO have a lot of flaring/fuzzing around the edges of the CSOed image (a museum, the outside of a radio telescope, a lunchbox interior, a lab, the interior of two cars and the coach, a phone box, a kitchen, a quarry and everywhere the killer doll goes). Well you cannot expected a fairly new technique to be perfect
  • In episode one the Doctor could have got to the volatizer by hopping in through the open window (which is how the Master must have got out having set the trap)."The Third Doctor always likes to do it the most 'Secret Agent' way."
  • The ease with which the Doctor manages to convince the Master to change sides at the end of the story is a little unconvincing. The Master is supposed to be a genius and self-preservation is one of his greatest strengths. Surely he must have already considered the possibility of the Nestene Consciousness turning on him prior to this. That's probably why he got convinced so easily.
  • The Doctor intuitively leaps to the conclusion that Jo is opening a bomb at the end of episode one. (He's a rather smart fellow.)
  • At the start of episode three, neither Auton policeman is killed, but only one returns to the Master and Farrell. What happened to the other one? (The fact that we only see one on screen doesn't mean that the other isn't elsewhere nearby.)
  • Why does the Master try to blow up the radio telescope anyway? He needs it in order to carry out his invasion plans. (He claims that he didn't expect it to actually kill the Doctor, and refers to it as a "calling card" of sorts. Had it actually worked, he would've undoubtedly been delighted at the death of the Doctor and happily found a similar facility to carry out that part of his plan.)
  • The Doctor tells Yates to stand back while he defuses the volatizer. He might have clarified just how far back to stand. He says later that the volatizer had the destructive capability of a 15-megaton bomb.
  • Jo can't remember where she heard the voice that told her to set off the bomb. The Master only told her to forget meeting him. She was supposed to remember meeting Mr. Farrell and to return with a negative report, that everything was in order. (This is consistent. She remembers meeting Farrell, but it doesn't stand out from all the other plastic facilities she visited that day. She doesn't know which one she met the Master at.)
  • At the climax of the episode, the policeman turns around with a very normal face. Cut to the Doctor, then back to a very obviously fake face. The disguise probably deteriorates at some point.
  • The Doctor discovers that carbon dioxide from the lungs dissolves the film that the daffodils shoot at people's faces, ostensibly explaining why the film was not found on any of the victims. If that's true, why didn't the victims' own breath dissolve it in time to let them breathe again? If it's a delayed reaction, then the victims would already have suffocated and not have had any breath left to dissolve the film. The stuff probably absorbs the carbon dioxide then after a while it dissolves.
  • How does the Master disguise himself as someone of a different height? And, indeed, why disguise himself at all? (Disguising himself is prudent. He can't be sure how much UNIT knows, and therefore if someone there might be able to recognize him. His hypnotic ability is one method at his disposal to have also appeared taller to those he met. Also, a true master of disguise can appear to be a different height, at least to some extent, and of course it's easier to appear taller than shorter.)



DVD, Video and Other Releases

VHS Release

  • Released as a recolourised edition based on black and white and colour source material in the UK April 1993 and Australia/New Zealand June 1993 (BBC catalog #4957), US/Canada June 1995 (WHV catalog #E1276) in episodic format.
  • This release was part of the 30th Anniversary celebrations releases.


Main article: Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons

External Links

  • BBC - Doctor Who - The Classic Series - Episode Guide: Terror of the Autons
  • Doctor Who Reference Guide - Detailed Synopsis - Terror of the Autons
  • Doctor Who: A Brief History of Time (Travel) - A Brief History of Time (Travel): Terror of the Autons
  • The Locations Guide to Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures: Story Locations - Terror of the Autons
  • Terror of the Autons entry at Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film and Television
Season 8
Terror of the Autons  • The Mind of Evil  • The Claws of Axos  • Colony in Space  • The Dæmons
The Master - TV Stories
Terror of the Autons  • The Mind of Evil  • The Claws of Axos  • Colony in Space  • The Dæmons  • The Sea Devils  • The Time Monster  • Frontier in Space  • The Deadly Assassin  • The Keeper of Traken  • Logopolis  • Castrovalva  • Time-Flight  • The King's Demons  • The Five Doctors  • Planet of Fire  • The Mark of the Rani  • The Ultimate Foe  • Survival  • Doctor Who: The TV Movie  •
Utopia/ The Sound of Drums/ Last of the Time LordsThe End of Time

This article uses material from the "Terror of the Autons" article on the Dr Who wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.


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