In 1971, for the entire month of January, children across the UK were terrified of the Autons.
That was because Doctor Who began its eighth season with a four-part story called The Terror of the Autons. Previously seen in Spearhead From Space, the Autons were plastic aliens who could disguise themselves as anything. That mannequin in the store? It might be an Auton. That strange looking man handing out flowers? Might be an Auton. Your favorite plastic doll? It might be an Auton waiting to kill you in your sleep.
In this case, the Autons had returned to Earth because of the machinations of the Doctor’s greatest foe, The Master. This serial featured the first appearance of The Master, with the Roger Delgado playing the role and becoming the series’s most popular villain since the Daleks. (This serial also featured the first appearance of Katy Manning as Jo Grant, who went on to become popular for entirely different reasons.) But as evil as The Master was, it was the Autons who reportedly kept viewers awake at night. Even after The Doctor (played, at that time, by Jon Pertwee) defeated them for a second time, you could never be sure whether that mannequin was harmless or if it was an Auton stalking you whenever your back was turned.
For modern viewers, it can seem strange to hear that people were ever scared by Doctor Who. But the Autons are an exception. The Autons are actually creepy.
The Master doesn’t seem to be too scared of them, though.
The Terror of the Autons would go on to be the first episode of Doctor Who to be cited in the House of Lords, when it was listed as a recent programme that might have a dangerous effect on the minds of the people watching. But who knows? Was that Lord Beaverbrook or was it…?
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