When it comes to the Whoniverse, the Doctor has a seemingly unending list of villains and foes trailing behind him. While some are one-hit wonders, easily evaded and defeated, others continue to pop up throughout time and space. One such enemy may look like a hollow plastic dummy but they proved to be quite resilient. Do you know who this is?
Originally created by scriptwriter Robert Holmes, the artificial life form known as the Autons made their debut in Spearhead from Space in 1970. Along with being the first appearance of the Autons, this landmark episode was the first serial to be produced in color, and Jon Pertwee’s first outing as the Doctor. In this episode, the disembodied gestalt intelligence known as the Nestenes crash land on Earth in plastic meteorites. The centuries-old Nestenes quickly infiltrated the Auto Plastics company and subsequently manufactured their Auton shells.
They used these human-looking Autons to replace government figures but were ultimately thwarted by UNIT with the help of the Doctor. The scene of store mannequins coming to life and shooting people in Spearhead from Space remains one of the series most iconic moments. It is also an early example in how Doctor Who can turn everyday things into something terrifying. They later resurfaced in Pertwee’s second year as the Doctor in Terror of the Autons where the Nestene Consciousness also animated everyday plastic objects in addition to their Auton servants. This episode actually caused controversy over whether the program was too frightening for children.
Although they only appeared in two serials of Doctor Who’s original run, the Autons remain one of the most memorable monsters associated with Pertwee’s tenure. Throughout the late 1990s, they starred in a trilogy of made-for-video films that saw UNIT battling the Nestenes Consciousness. When Doctor Who was revived in 2005, the Autons were the first monster featured in the opening episode Rose. In this episode, retail worker Rose Tyler is inadvertently pulled into a plot to help Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor prevent the Autons from invading Earth. Much like the previous incantations of the Autons, the creatures resembled mannequins more than humans with very robotic movements.
However, more lifelike Autons fully capable of fooling humans can be created. As seen in the 2010 episode The Pandorica Opens with Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. The Nestenes and the Autons have also appeared in various Doctor Who spin-off novels and issues of Doctor Who – Battles in Time. More recently, the Autons and their unsettling faces have returned within the pages of The Thirteenth Doctor Year 2 #1. This issue, which is on sale now, sees the Tenth and Thirteenth Doctor join forces in a battle against the Autons and the Weeping Angels.
As Jodie Whittaker’s foray as the Thirteenth Doctor continues in both comics and on the small screen, who knows if the terrifying replicas will come stomping through the London streets one day soon.