Great Moments In Television History: The Autons Terrify The UK


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…?

Previous Great Moments In Television History:

  1. Planet of the Apes The TV Series
  2. Lonely Water
  3. Ghostwatch Traumatizes The UK
  4. Frasier Meets The Candidate

The Airzone Solution? (1993, directed by Bill Baggs)


In the near future, the UK has become so polluted that people have to wear masks when they go outside.  (Save your COVID-19 jokes, the villain here is pollution not a pandemic.)  A mysterious corporation called Airzone claims that they have a solution but some are skeptical.  Journalist Al Dunbar (Peter Davison) and environmentalist Anthony Stanwick (Sylvester McCoy) are determined to investigate on their own and discover what’s actually going on at Airzone.  Unfortunately, Al discovers a bit too much and is murdered by the corporation.

However, Al is not prepared to let something like death get in the way of exposing Airzone.  His ghost appears to both his mentor, Prof. Oliver Threthaway (Jon Pertwee), and to local weatherman Arnie Davis (Colin Baker).  Freaked out by Al’s ghost, Arnie and his girlfriend, Ellie Brown (Nicola Bryant), launch their own investigation into the corporation and they discover that Airzone’s solution comes at a terrible cost.

This low-budget, straight-to-video production is best-known for featuring four actors who starred as the Doctor during the original run of Doctor Who.  In fact, when this film was first made, it featured every living Doctor with the exception of Tom Baker.  (Jon Pertwee would die just three years after the film’s release.)  Nicola Bryant, who played Colin Baker’s companion on Doctor Who, plays his girlfriend here while Michael Wisher, who played Davros, shows up as a duplicitous politician.  Even Alan Cumming, who was frequently mentioned as a possible Doctor should the series ever be renewed, has a small role.  If you’re a fan of Doctor Who, you almost have to watch this movie for the cast along.

But is the movie itself any good?  The special effects are cheap, the story is full of plot holes, and there’s a lot of dodgy acting from the supporting cast.  The movie never explains why Al Dunbar’s spirit appears to Arnie Davis instead of someone who could actually do something to stop Airzone.  Jon Pertwee’s role was reportedly added at the last moment and his appearances feel random.  In fact, the film is flawed in much the same way that Doctor Who was often flawed.  And like Doctor Who, it’s often fun despite those flaws.  It’s fast-paced and, despite its weighty environmental theme, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

All of the former Doctors acquit themselves well in their roles.  Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy, who were probably the best actors among the original Doctors, are the cast stand-outs but Colin Baker is far more sympathetic and likable here than he ever was on Doctor Who.  I’ve always felt that Colin Baker had the potential to be a good Doctor but he was sabotaged by some of the worst scripts and production decisions in the history of the series and The Airzone Solution? shows what Baker could have done with the role if he’d been given the opportunity.  Jon Pertwee was obviously not in good health when he appeared in The Airzone Solution? but he still hams it up with an entertaining gusto.

The Airzone Solution? will be best appreciated by fans of the original Doctor Who.  It’s not great but it’s worth it just to see everyone gathered together.

Mary Whitehouse’s Worst Nightmare: 8 Frightening Serials From Doctor Who’s Classic Era


“Tea time brutality for tots.”

That was the term that a woman named Mary Whitehouse used to describe Doctor Who in 1975.  Mary was the founder of the National Viewers and Listeners Association and, in her crusade to return Britain to decency, she often leveled her harshest criticism at Doctor Who, a show that she regularly claimed was too scary for television.

Did she have a point?  Of course not.  Even children who were scared of the Daleks when they were nine or ten eventually grew up to realize that all you had to do to escape those mutant bastards was run up a staircase.  Still, Doctor Who did occasionally have its memorable horror moments.

Here are eight frightening episodes from Doctor Who‘s classic era:

  1. State of Decay (4 episodes, 1980)

Everyone remembers this classic from the Tom Baker years.  The TARDIS materializes on a planet where the villagers live under the shadow of a dark tower.  Ruled over by three cruel lords, Zargo, Camilla, and Aukon, the villagers are forced to regularly sacrifice their young to appease their rulers.  The Doctor, Romana, K-9, and Adric investigate and discover that Zargo, Camilla, and Aukon are vampires!  After being defeated by the Time Lords, the vampires retreated into E-Space, where they found a new planet to rule.  Of course, that little tosser Adric wants to become a vampire.  Why Romana and the Doctor didn’t leave Adric behind on the vampire planet, I’ll never understand.

2. Horror of Fang Rock (4 episodes, 1977)

This underrated serial is also from the Tom Baker era.  The Doctor and Leela land on the Island of Fang Rock, just off the coast of England, in the early 20th century.   The inhabitants of an isolated lighthouse are being killed, one-by-one, by an alien known as a Rutan.  This episode is full of gothic atmosphere and, despite the Doctor’s best efforts, almost everyone dies.

3. The Talons of Weng-Chiang (6 episodes, 1977)

Of all the Tom Baker episodes, this is my personal favorite.  The Doctor and Leela find themselves in Victorian-era London, where they investigate a murder and discover that they are not the only time traveler in London.  When most people talk about this serial, they focus on the terrible giant rat and the wonderful supporting characters of Jago and Lightfoot.  What I always remember is the Peking Homunuculus, a psycho killer who looks like a puppet and squeals like a pig!

4. The Deadly Assassin (4 episode, 1976)

One final Tom Baker episode.  The Deadly Assassin is unique in that it features the Doctor with no companions.  When the Doctor travels to Gallifrey, he discovers that The Master (played by Peter Pratt) is still alive and determined to destroy the Time Lords.  Having used all of his regenerations, The Master is now not only at his most evil but also horribly disfigured and decaying, a sight to give nightmares to any impressionable viewer!

5/6. Kinda (4 episodes, 1982) and Snakedance (4 episodes, 1983)

Peter Davison was an underrated Doctor and never was he better than in Kinda and its sequel, Snakedance.  In both of these episodes, The Doctor must deal with the efforts of the Mara to possess his companion, Tegan.  Both of these episodes were more creepy than scary but, thanks to the performances of Peter Davison and Janet Fielding, they were effective nonetheless.

7. Spearhead From Space (4 episodes, 1970)

Jon Pertwee made his debut as the Third Doctor in this serial.  The Doctor is exiled to Earth just in time to deal with an invasion by the Nestenes.  Serving as the Nestenes’s invasion force are the Autons, life-size plastic dummies that come to life at inopportune times.  With their stiff movements and expressionless faces, the Autons were regularly cited as one of the Doctor’s creepiest enemies.

8. The Daemons (5 episodes, 1971)

The Third Doctor vs. The Devil!  The Master as a vicar!  A killer statue!  Not even the Brigadier’s order of “Chap with wings!  Six round rapid!” could lighten up the atmosphere of this Jon Pertwee classic.

The Doctor and friends

Halloween Havoc!: THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (Amicus 1971)


cracked rear viewer

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Hammer Films wasn’t the only British company cranking out the horrors back in the 60’s and 70’s. American ex-pats producers Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg formed Amicus Films in 1962 and after a couple of films aimed at the teen audience (with American rockers like Chubby Checker, Del Shannon, Freddy Cannon, and Gene Vincent) began concentrating on horror. The team specialized in the anthology genre, or “portmanteau” as the intelligentsia call them. I’ll stick with anthologies!

THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD was a 1971 effort written by Robert Bloch, forever known as “The Guy Who Wrote PSYCHO”. The nail to hang Bloch’s four tales on concerns the disappearance of famous horror actor Paul Henderson, who was last seen at the old house in the countryside. Inspector Holloway (John Bennett) of Scotland Yard (where else?) arrives on the scene and speaks with the local constable, who warns Holloway about mysterious doings past:

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In “Method for Murder”…

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