Doctor Who: Terror of the Autons (part four)

Like many middle-aged American Doctor Who fans, I first found the series via the edited-into-a-movie omnibus versions that Lionheart syndicated in the mid-eighties. By that time, the BBC had wiped several of their color copies of Jon Pertwee episodes, and so five of the stories, including this one, were offered as black-and-white movies. I taped my copy off WGTV one Saturday night in 1986 and watched it so often I can still recite whacking great chunks of dialogue.

Color copies in various levels of condition – often poor – circulated for most of the episodes as well. A decade previously, Time-Life had successfully sold most of the Jon Pertwee stories, in their proper episode-by-episode form, to several PBS stations around the country. At least one person copied a 1977 broadcast of “Terror” on Chicago’s WTTW, and I landed a copy around 1991 or so. My eyes just about fell out of my skull when I saw it, not because the quality was so poor – it was probably fifth or sixth generation – but because it proved that the BBC’s black-and-white master copy had been cut by five or six seconds.

The black-and-white “Terror” that I’d seen a hundred times was one where the UNIT forces defeat the Autons pretty decisively. The shootout at the radio telescope at the show’s climax was kind of disappointing, but UNIT had the upper hand, for once. That’s because somebody decided to carefully snip out every shot in which a human gets blasted or knocked off the tower. It’s so nice to have a complete color copy of this fun story at last.

Our son also thought this was very fun in the end, giving this his thumbs-up “pretty cool” seal of approval. He thought the Autons’ daffodil was “crazy.” I remember reading about the daffodil around a year or so before I saw this story and thinking that was exceptionally grim when I was a teen: a weapon that kills you by gluing four square inches of clingfilm around your nose and mouth. Best not to linger on it. It’s no less grim in the cold light of middle age.

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