The Episode Four Syndrome


Terror of the Autons title card.

Title: Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons
Televised as: Terror of the Autons
Written by: Terrance Dicks
Teleplay by: Robert Holmes
Televised in: January 1971
Published in: May 1975
Chapters: Ten through Twelve

Something I’ve mentioned quite a bit over the past two months, particularly when it comes to a Malcolm Hulke story, is how the final episode of any given TV serial is usually given short shrift in the novelization.  Hulke especially was good at condensing the final episodes of serials such as Doctor Who and the Silurians, Colony in Space, or The Sea Devils, into just ten or twelve pages of text, even after lavishing chapters and chapters, often more than a full quarter or third of the book, just on Episode One alone.

Even with Terrance Dicks, in books such as The Auton Invasion or Day of the Daleks, the Episode Four page count tends to be much shorter than that of Episode One.

Which brings us to the closing chapters of Doctor Who and the Terror of the AutonsUnusually for a novelization, the last episode, here Episode Four, is given expanded treatment in the text.  Unlike a standard Hulke book, where onscreen action (usually chases and escapes) were condensed in favor of dialogue and character beats, in this novelization Dicks adds more action, and more moments of tension, to what had been the grand climax on television.

The UNIT soldiers and the Autons had a few brief skirmishes in Episode Four of Terror of the Autons.  In the book, though, Terrance runs over the top of the trench with a hand-held camera and starts filming the action from the midst of the mud and the blood and the severed limbs.

The Autons fought with savage, inhuman ferocity. They were blown up with grenades, exploded by anti-tank guns, ripped apart with machine-gun bullets. Yet still they fought on. An Auton wasn’t harmless unless it was literally destroyed, shattered into tiny fragments.
Soldiers were blasted by wrist-guns, and smashed to the ground by savage chops from the Auton’s powerful arms.
Severed Auton arms lashed about like dying snakes, spitting death until they too were shot to pieces.

When UNIT troops blow up a battalion of Auton Daffodil Men late in the book (with no corresponding scene on TV to show how this happened), Dicks writes that the aftermath, in which the brightly-colored Daffodil Men were destroyed, “looked as if a seaside concert party had been wilfully massacred”.  Also, number one, I don’t want to know how that particular comparison sprung into Terrance’s imagination.

Chapter 10 in the book ends with the Master, along with the Doctor and Jo who he’s recently kidnapped, expecting to be bombed to smithereens by a UNIT-ordered RAF air strike on the Auton motor coach where the Master is hiding out.  They “all waited silently as the shriek of the jets reached an earsplitting crescendo, and the bombers swooped down to attack”… except that moment wasn’t present on TV.  Stock footage of RAF bombers, yes; two nervous Time Lords and Katy Manning looking nervously at the sky, no.


The Doctor and Jo’s subsequent escape from the Auton motor coach, in the book, is complicated and prolonged by an Auton firing energy bolts at them, through its handy wrist gun.  The Doctor and Jo also take a little bit longer to recover after their fall from the moving vehicle; on TV, Jo sprains her ankle (because all female companions sprain their ankles in Doctor Who), but, in the book, it’s the Doctor who remains sore and winded for a few more pages and Jo’s ankle remains happily unimpaired..

But even while Dicks is expanding on the TV action for the closing chapters of the novelization, there are still room for his trademark little character asides.  The UNIT team gets a little more room to breathe in print, for one thing.  We learn that Captain Yates (in his debut TV story, but not his debut novelization) has an aunt Ethel, who has a bunch of deadly plastic Daffodils in her home.  There’s also said to be a bowl of plastic flowers in the Cabinet room at 10 Downing Street.

Jo, in a vast improvement from how Dicks had portrayed her in the first chapters of the book, develops great intuition and memory at the end, identifying Rex Farrel as the Master’s accomplice, because she recognized his picture from the mantelpiece at is parent’s house (after the Doctor and Jo had paid a shiva call to to the widow Farrell in the middle chapters, following Farrel Senior’s death at the hands of Auton plastic in Episode Two).  However, the book does not capture one nice moment in Episode Four, presumably added for TV after Holmes’ scripts were turned in, when the Master reflects on the domineering iron will of Farrel Senior, whose death he’d previously orchestrated.



The Master (Roger Delgado) hands poor Rex Farrel (Michael Wisher) a flower, but his ultimate intentions for the poor sap don’t include much happiness.

One of the unsung heroes of the end of the novelization is Farrel Junior.  Rex, it turns out, has inherited a bit of his father’s domineering iron will after all, in a way that is much better explained in the book than it was on TV:

Rex Farrel was slowly recovering consciousness. His body was one big bruise, but in spite of the pain he was full of a savage joy. For the first time in days his mind was clear. Somehow the shock of the threatened bombing attack, and the pain of the blow from the Auton leader had broken the Master’s hypnotic conditioning. Once again, Rex Farrel knew who he was, and what had been done to him. Now there was only one thought in his mind – to destroy the Master.

But Rex doesn’t get to live a newfound joyful life for long, as Terrance gives Farrell that little bit of iron only to cruelly snatch it away moments later.  The book adds the scene, only implied on TV, where the Master comes back to re-hypnotize Farrell as insurance for his own escape: “[H]e saw the face he hated most in the world gazing down at him. The nightmare was not over after all!”

In another Hulke-ian paragraph, after a disguised Farrell is killed by UNIT, who believed him to be the Master, Dicks gets in a last kick at the corpse:

Hypnotized, disguised, and finally sacrificed, he had performed his last service for the Master. Now he was free.


The writing’s not all perfect, of course.  There’s a rare continuity error in Chapter 10, where the Master throws a captive Jo to one side. And then, two paragraphs later, after Jo insults him from across the room, he releases her again, even though he’d never grabbed her back after the first time.

But, such quibbles are minor.  Freed from the constrains of a slim budget, Dicks, for example, finally gets to tell us what a Nestene really looks like:

It crouched beside the radio telescope tower, dwarfing it, a many-tentacled monster, something between spider, crab, and octopus. At the front of its body a single huge eye glared at them, blazing with alien intelligence and deadly hatred.

There’s even an Alan Willow illustration of said creature in the book, just as Dicks described it. Not on on TV, though, where the final Nestene was suggested only by blurred animation lines hovering in the sky, and not by the depiction of any octopoid spider-crab (perhaps the production team had learned their lesson after the limp-tentacled disaster seen briefly at the end of Spearhead from Space).  But, speaking of the soon-to-be-departed genius of Alan Willow, check out his illustration of the Auton policeman with the comical, expressive, emotive face at the end of Chapter 6. Great picture, but perhaps he didn’t quite get the brief about how flat and unemotional the Auton face-masks were supposed to be …


When the Master finally escapes from the Doctor at the end of the book, Dicks adds an interesting beat, reflecting the soon-to-be ongoing dynamic between the two men – the TV chemistry between Pertwee and Delgado adding an almost genial dimension to the Doctor’s and Master’s enmity:

The Doctor sat up slowly, shaking his head. He gazed after the coach as it rocketed away in a cloud of dust. For a moment, Jo was puzzled by his expression. Then she realized – the Doctor’s face held a sort of reluctant admiration.
“You know, Doctor,” said Jo suddenly. “I think you’ve got a sort of sneaking liking for him.”
The Doctor looked indignant. “Like him? I can’t stand the fellow. He’s ruthless. Depraved. Totally evil. In fact, a thoroughly bad lot. Only…”
“Only what, Doctor?”
The Doctor looked a little sheepish. “Well, I do sometimes think the cosmos would be a duller place without him.”

Jo gets nearly the last word in the book.  Poorly though the Doctor may have treated her in the Episode One material, by the end of the book Dicks has put her onto something resembling an even footing with him:

Jo knew that the Doctor would never give up his dream of repairing the TARDIS so he could roam once more through Space and Time as he pleased. But she couldn’t help hoping, for her own sake, that he wouldn’t succeed just yet.

Next Time: … will actually be the last time, as Target quickly shifts from the novelization of Jo’s TV debut story, to the novelization of her TV finale.

About drwhonovels

An incredibly languid sojourn through the "Doctor Who" canon, with illustrations from the Topps 1979 baseball card set.
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2 Responses to The Episode Four Syndrome

  1. There should be an episode where an advanced race of Nestenes infiltrate as plastic recreations of historical celebrities, but begin to take-on their personalities, like Lincoln or Presley. Like that episode of “Red Dwarf”.

    • drwhonovels says:

      To answer your thought in the most granular way… the extra who played one of the Auton Replicas at Madame Tussaud’s in “Spearhead From Space”, later returned to the series to play a very important MP in “Robot”, the guy who kept all the nuclear launch codes for all the major superpowers. This in retrospect makes the Nestene invasion seem like a much better idea than it was in the first place….

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