Story Recounted by Robert Holmes
There have been many stories involving a figure known as “The Master”. He tends to be a personal nemesis to The Doctor, setting himself apart from races such as The Daleks and The Cybermen. Terror of the Autons is one of the earliest incarnations of the rivalry between The Master and The Doctor. It is certainly the oldest in existence despite the claims of other stories to tell earlier tales of The Master, some positing a familial connection between the two men, others a life-long rivalry taken up after a broken friendship.
Some scholars debate the existence of the historical Master, believing The Master to be an evolving archetype in the mythology of The Doctor. They cite—in particular—the recurring elements of The Master from tales that occurred chronologically earlier. The figure of The Meddling Monk was a trickster of The Doctor’s race. A Master also appeared in The Land of Fiction. The War Chief was also a Time Lord who seemed to hire himself out to an alien race, in his case to help them develop better war strategies and technologies. Scholars who defend the historical Master tend to dismiss these theories of a developing archetype, insisting these other figures were separate individuals rather than evolving mythology.
It is, however, possible that the creation of The Master was inevitable. A strong hero tends to come with a specific, incarnational nemesis: Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty; Batman and The Joker; Coriolanus and Aufidius. These nemeses embody opposite concepts and philosophies, but in themselves are responses to the hero. The hero and villain are only separated by a thin line. They are opposite sides of the same coin, so to speak. Into this duality step The Doctor and The Master.
What is fascinating in this earliest story is how dismissive The Doctor is of his nemesis. There is the impression that the two have not yet met, although are aware of one another. In some ways, the Time Lords can’t be bothered to deal with each other. The other merely presents an interesting challenge, albeit an inconsequential one. They enjoy hunting one another. The attacks, however, do seem to grow more personal as the story progresses. This escalation may show in future stories.
As for the story itself, it continues from Spearhead from Space, yet lacks the emotional punch of that story. The loss of Liz Shaw is a disappointment and Jo Grant has yet to prove an interesting replacement. The Brigadier seems to have lost a bit of fire that was present in the previous stories. He doesn’t seem as interested in challenging The Doctor as he once did, and when he does, it is usually due to sheer bone-headedness.
In sum, Terror of the Autons fails to live up to the high standard set by Spearhead from Space, The Silurians, The Ambassadors of Death, and Inferno. While an enjoyable story (and quite short), it lacks the depth of previous ones.