There are quite a few stories in my Top 50 that appear in it because they bring back vivid memories of how I felt watching them as a child. Usually they remind me of how excited or scared I felt or sometimes both.
The story at number 33 in our countdown is a classic example of this. I was only five years old when Terror of the Autons hit our screens and what a way to be introduced to the show. I remember it scared the willies out of me. I remember my Dad actually saying to me that it probably wasn’t a good idea for me to watch Doctor Who as I was too young and it was a bit scary but that made me want to watch it even more. And so watch it I did and I’ve never looked back.
And I actually couldn’t have picked a better story to start my Doctor Who journey as it is genuinely one of the most disturbing stories in the history of the show.
It has friendly neighbourhood police constables who turn out to be faceless killers. It has nice, innocuous plastic daffodils that become death spraying weapons that would give the Triffids a run for their money. And then there’s the poor fellow who gets suffocated to death by his own chair! No-one saw that coming!
And then there’s that doll. Even viewed today, the scene where the doll, which looks hideous in the first place, wakes up and wriggles around before doing a Chucky on all and sundry, is amazingly effective. Really creepy and disturbing. You can imagine what effect that had on a five year old boy, who up to this point had been watching the likes of Trumpton and Camberwick Green and whose whole life was suddenly turned upside down. I had nightmares about that doll. And although it genuinely freaked me out, I loved it! Even today, I can’t watch the doll scenes without feeling a slight chill down my spine…
And then, of course, we mustn’t forget that this story introduced the Doctor’s arch rival the Master. Roger Delgado is suave and utterly convincing as the cunning Time Lord who had embraced the Dark Side, to mix a franchise, and who is determined that everyone must bow to his will. Delgado is simply spellbinding in this and steals every scene from Jon Pertwee, something I never thought possible. To go back to my recollections of him as a child, I remember thinking he had such a striking appearance, with that beard (which only became “rubbish”, to quote the Fifth Doctor in Time Crash, when Anthony Ainley turned him into a pantomime villain) and eyes that would burn into you. And as an introduction story for the Master, Terror of the Autons gives us everything we need to know about him. Cunning and clever, bold and utterly evil. I became a fan instantly!
I love Terror of the Autons. If I hadn’t ignored my father’s advice and sat down to watch Doctor Who on that Saturday night back in 1971, I might not have been writing this now. So thank you for scaring the crap out of my five year old self and for changing my entire life from that point on. — Steve
The implacable journey moves ever onward with #32 next week.