Magic Bullet Productions

25 Cool Things About "Terror of the Autons"
(and 25 Stupid Ones)
(It's a tie, folks!)
(But we're not telling you which is which) 
(We're expecting you to work that out for yourselves)

By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore

Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 438

1. Seriously, what is the point of the Audio Navigation Menu on the DVDs? It’s not much use for the blind since the stories themselves don’t have audio-description tracks, and for the rest of us, the only value is that you can find the Easter egg more quickly and you don’t have to listen to the annoying repeating clips on the main menu. Plus one of the options is “Subtitles,” which, for the sightless, seems rather cruel.

2.Terrance Dicks’ conception of Rossini has him as a “shifty, semi-criminal character” who is also a gypsy. As racial sensitivity, never particularly high in Letts-era Who, hits an all-time low.

3. Meanwhile, the infamous “ham-fisted bun-vendor” line has the Doctor showing off his ability to be tactfully conscious of class issues.

4. And Jo Grant was stipulated as someone who shouldn’t be too bright, since the team thought that Liz Shaw, as a Cambridge scientist, was overqualified. So we’ve got racism, classism and sexism all in the first episode. Hat-trick!

5. The infotext indicates that Jamaican-born Roy Stewart, who plays Tony the Strongman, as well as acting in a number of high-profile films and series, owned a gym and a restaurant and carved out a niche as a stuntman at a time when there were few non-white people in the profession. Bloody immigrants, coming over here, contributing to our economy and artistic and sporting cultures...

6.On the shortlist to play Jo was Guyana-born Shakira Baksh. While we love Katy Manning dearly, it would have been nice had we not had to wait till 2007 for the first regular non-white companion, plus it might have offset the abovementioned non-PC vibe.

7. Gabrielle Drake and Anouska Hempel were also on the shortlist, suggesting that someone on the production team was a fan of UFO.

8. The entire story is kicked off because the Brigadier decided to give a highly dangerous alien artifact, which was the focus of at least one invasion attempt, to the National Space Museum. Seriously, who put this man in charge of a military unit?

9. As eggs are an aphrodisiac, perhaps Goodge’s wife, who keeps slipping them into her husband’s lunch, is trying to tell him something.

10. While Philips’ line “oh, by the way, talking of eggs, I want a four-hour scan below the hydrogen line tomorrow” is yet another example of Holmes’ working secret fart jokes into his scripts.

11. Although the rest of the production team apparently did manage to stop him from working in a reference to the planet Kastritis later on.

12. But either missed the joke in calling a bureaucrat “Brownrose,” or else thought it was funny enough to let it through.

13. The script calls the Master’s weapon a “compression tube.” Take note, John Nathan-Turner.

14. Apparently, according to background detail given in the script, the Master escaped the planet of the Time Lords and fled to Earth “not without help.” The question of who, exactly, helped him is a bit of Master backstory which none of the production teams since have ever answered.

15. Mrs Farrell and Farrell Senior are both listed in the credits with their surname spelled with two Ls, but for some reason their son Rex’s surname only has one L.

16. If the Doctor is “the Doctor,” and the Master is “the Master,” then is the bowler-hatted Time Lord “the Certified Public Accountancy Qualification-Holder”?

17. Why doesn’t the Doctor just cut the string which stretches from the top of the door to the doorframe to the bomb to disable the booby-trap, rather than engaging in complicated shenanigans?

18. Barry Letts wanted to introduce full electronic scoring to Doctor Who, starting with "Terror of the Autons". However, producing a full score on the synthesisers of the day took so long that, after "Day of the Daleks", mixed scores returned-- but, during his tenure as executive producer on Season 18, by which point the technology had improved, full electronic scoring was reintroduced.

19. Unit Datingwatch: the Beacon Hill research facility's sign indicates that it operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Technology. The Ministry of Technology was established on 18 October 1964 under Harold Wilson, and merged with the Board of Trade on 15 October 1970 by Edward Heath, to create the modern Department of Trade and Industry. Even assuming that it took a few months to change all the signs, this story can't take place any later than mid-1971.

20. Whether intentionally or otherwise, the actor who plays the Director of Beacon Hill, Frank Mills, looks rather like Hugh Burden (Channing from “Spearhead from Space”).

21. The CSO on the sequence where the Master activates the Autons in the laboratory gives it almost a comic-book overtone, which actually works in a postmodern sort of way.

22. At a 1986 convention at Imperial College, Michael Wisher said that he had no memory of having worked with Harry Towb.

23. In the original script, and in Terrance Dicks' novelisation, the new plastic is given the trade name “Polynestene.” It is actually a bit of a shame that didn’t make it into the serial as well.

24. The Master’s original appearance in the circus thematically lead to him acting, effectively, like a magician, hypnotising people, conjuring up bunches of flowers and showcasing chairs and dolls which seemingly move on their own.

25. Originally, too, the circus was a full-on fun-fair, and the troll dolls were to have been handed out as prizes, which would have made thematic sense of the whole story.

26. Philips was to have been the one distributing the dolls to the fun-fair workers who would then have give them out as prizes, which provides Philips with a rationale to be at the site; with the setting changed to a circus, there’s no reason for him to be there, and his role in the story is redundant.

27. Whatever the Doctor says, neither Farrel nor Jo Grant act against their natures while under hypnosis-- Jo is eager to prove herself as a member of UNIT, and opens the box in order to do so.

28. In the novelisation Farrel is a weak-willed man who is dominated by the Master. In the televised version, the Master is the facilitator whereby Farrel can exact revenge on his father and McDermott.

29. The relationship between Farrel and McDermott is scripted and played so as to suggest a kind of quasi-sibling rivalry between the two men over the business and their respective relationships to Farrell Senior.

30. While one appreciates the copyright issues involved, it would have been funnier had the troll doll had the familiar shock of brightly-coloured hair.

31. Serials with Amusing Production Codes: This one is obviously meant to be frightening, as it’s serial “EEE.”

32. Although the thought that it was originally supposed to be a seven-parter is particularly frightening. Robert Holmes had difficulty enough filling four-parters.

33. Quite why the production team went to the trouble of hiring a midget to play the troll doll, since all its scenes involving movement were done on CSO, is mystifying.

34. Why the Brigadier and his men drive around in an Austin Maxi rather than a more conventional military vehicle also seems strange. Does it really cost more to hire a Jeep for a day?

35. The Auton masks in this episode are much, much better than the pathetic excuses seen in “Spearhead from Space.”

36. The Robert Brothers’ circus gets a mention on the end credits, while Portmeirion doesn’t get a mention on the credits of “The Masque of Mandragora,” despite Clough Williams-Ellis, not unreasonably, asking for one. It’s who you know, innit?

37. It has to be said, there’s some very impressive stuntwork throughout the story, not least Roy Scammell’s forty-foot drop off the radio telescope and the fall Terry Walsh takes in Episode Three down the quarry face. This is what people did before CGI, ladies and gentlemen.

38. Why is there an Auton in the safe? It’s bloody obvious: because if UNIT, or anyone else for that matter, turn up to search Farrel’s offices, they’ll see the safe door and open it on the grounds that it’s a likely place to find incriminating evidence, and get a nasty surprise. Consider the question you raise on the commentary track to be answered, Barry Letts and Katy Manning.

39. "Spearhead from Space" Recyclingwatch: Despite knowing the threat to Earth from the Autons, the Doctor still tries to sod off in the TARDIS at the first possible opportunity.

40. "Spearhead from Space" Recyclingwatch, part II: a scene in which a policeman was killed by an Auton was supposed to have appeared, and was only cut because of problems with the CSO.

41. And part III: the Doctor gurning while a Nestene attempts to strangle him.

42. Oh, what the heck: the Autons land, take over a plastics factory, subvert and kill the owner, impersonate authority figures and attempt an invasion. The main difference is that “Spearhead” consists of three episodes of the Autons saying “can I have my ball back, please, mister?” while at least here we have the Master’s antics to entertain us.

43. Terrance Dicks, on the commentary track for “Spearhead,” derides the appearance of the Nestene creature, saying “why the Autons thought a giant octopus was the best way of occupying the Earth I can’t think”. And yet, in "Terror of the Autons", which he script-edited and later novelised, the Doctor casually asserts that the Nestenes' basic form is "analogous to a cephalopod."

44. "Web of Fear" Recyclingwatch: spherical artifact found in museum leads to rematch between Doctor and a small number of uncommunicative alien synthetic creatures with an intangible leader following eccentric invasion plans. Plus Lethbridge-Stewart.

45. The Doctor describes the Master’s Nestene autojet as “vicious, complicated and inefficient.” Which about sums up “Terror of the Autons” itself, really.

46. The Auton "invasion", despite having the help of a Time Lord, would have involved only 450,000 deaths, which is 0.75% of the British population (and they don’t even manage that). This is not exactly an effective way of taking over a planet.

47. And what exactly do they want to invade the Earth for? Our ready supply of polymer compounds?

48.Captain Yates coldly fires three bullets at point-blank range into the Master, before adding “well, that’s the end of him!” on television, but not in Terrance Dicks’ heavily bowdlerised, sanitised and cosied-up novelisationm, where the Master is shot by a nameless group of "tired and battle-weary" soldiers. Why Dicks thinks it’s OK to watch this sort of thing but not read about it is something of a mystery.

49. The Doctor tells the Brigadier that the booby trap left by the Master at the Beacon Hill Research Establishment had the destructive capacity of the 15 megaton bomb. If that had gone off then the Master would have had to have found another radio telescope to open a channel for the Nestenes’ daffodil activating signal.

50. Considering the number of people killed during the Master’s first brief sojurn on Earth, the Doctor’s assertion at the end of the story that he is “looking forward to” their rematch seems a little callous.

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