Checking out Classic Who: Terror of the Autons

Sometimes the changes behind the scenes can be as dramatic as a regeneration in front of the camera. The transition from the production team behind the Second Doctor to the team in charge of the Third Doctor started soon after Patrick Troughton regenerated. When viewers tuned into the beginning of Season 7, they found a new title sequence and virtually a new show, with only the Brigadier providing a link to the earlier seasons.

The Doctor is now stranded on Earth as punishment from the Time Lords for the previous six seasons of interfering. To the Time Lords, interference is a dirty word – they’d rather just observe and do nothing. His TARDIS is disabled. Luckily the Brigadier finds the Doctor soon after he lands on earth, and hires him to work for UNIT.  Behind the scenes, this was a way to save money. Instead of the Doctor traveling and having different sets each episode, he stayed in one place and had the aliens come to him. Terror of the Autons continues the arc of Season 7 where the Doctor is trying to fix his TARDIS while consulting for UNIT.

During the previous season he worked with a scientist by the name of Liz Shaw who left before the start of the episode. The Doctor seems to be fond of Liz and spends part of episode 1 pouting to the Brigadier that she’s gone. I’ve heard through fandom, social media, and podcasts that Liz Shaw is a great, smart companion, so it’d be worthwhile to check out Season 7 on Hulu Plus.

Even though the Doctor is stranded, the Time Lords are still watching. Early use of green screen special effects. (Image Credit)

The Doctor’s new companion isn’t a scientist. When Jo Grant introduces herself to the Doctor, she explains that she’s a fully qualified agent, with expertise in code breaking, safe cracking and explosives. But later the Brigadier mentions that Jo Grant has relatives in high places. I really hope Jo got the job on merit and not because of her family. Perhaps the Brigadier said that to placate the Doctor? It takes nearly two episodes, but eventually the Doctor does warm to Jo, so in the end it all works out.

The reason why I picked this episode is because of The Master. NuWho fans know the Master as played by John Simm and later Michelle Gomez. But this is where it began for the character. The Master is introduced in the first scene when his TARDIS materializes at a fair ground. His chameleon circuit works as his TARDIS looks like a camper van. Almost immediately he takes control of a circus manager by hypnotizing him. This new character is powerful, controlling and charming.

Just like The Doctor, The Master has style (Image Credit)

Part of the fun of this new character is watching how he operates. The audience knows his plan, but the Doctor has to figure it out piece by piece. The Master’s plan to conquer Earth involves the circus, radio telescopes, a plastic factory, and the Autons, an alien nuWho fans will remember from “Rose.” The Autons and the Nestene were in the Third Doctor’s story as well, Spearhead from Space. But the main driver of the plot is the Master, while the invading aliens are just a means to the end.

I really enjoyed this story. I will even admit to being impressed with the special effects. Perhaps stranding the Doctor on Earth to save some money behind the scenes paid off.


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