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Doctor Who: Terror of the Autons (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Terror of the Autons originally aired in 1971.

That jackanapes! All he ever does is cause trouble!

– nice to see the Doctor taking the Master seriously

I think you can make a fairly credible argument that Jon Pertwee’s first season of Doctor Who stands out as one of the best years the show ever produced. Facing the challenge of migrating from black-and-white to colour, and forced to tell stories entirely set on present-day Earth, the writers and producers managed to craft a season of television that I think stands quite well when measured against the very best of vintage BBC science-fiction. Sure, there may have been walking shop-front dummies, lizard people, animal men and haunted space suits, but the stories were surprisingly mature and relatively clever. The writers used the framework of Doctor Who to tell four very good and very philosophical stories exploring both bold science-fiction high-concepts (alternate universes) and also moral quandaries (how humanity relates to the unknown).

Terror of the Autons is the first story in Jon Pertwee’s second season. I’m actually quite fond of it, and it’s packed to the brim with iconic imagery, so it’s very difficult to be too critical of it. After all, any adventure that left so large an impression on the public imagination must have something to recommend it. However, there’s a very clear sense of regression here. It seems, from this first serial of Pertwee’s second year, that the agenda has changed somewhat.

Terror of the Autons is arguably more indicative of Pertwee’s time in the lead role than any of those stories from his first year. It’s exciting, it’s fast-paced, it has a decidedly man-of-mystery feeling to it, but it also feels somewhat light and a little insubstantial. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it just feels like a definite regression.

Master of the Whoniverse?

Master of the Whoniverse?

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