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Doctor Who race
The Autons from their first appearance
First appearanceSpearhead from Space (1970)
Last appearance"The Big Bang" (2010)
Created byRobert Holmes
In-universe information
Home worldUnknown (possibly Polymos)
TypeLiving plastic automata
AffiliationNestene Consciousness

The Autons are an artificial life form from the British science fiction television series Doctor Who and adversaries of the Doctor. They were originally created by scriptwriter Robert Holmes for Jon Pertwee's first serial as the Doctor, Spearhead from Space (1970), and were the first monsters to be presented in colour on the series.

They returned for the following season's Terror of the Autons (1971), which also introduced the character of the Master, but they did not appear again in the original series. Holmes intended to feature the Autons for season 23 of Doctor Who in 1986 in a story entitled Yellow Fever and How to Cure It, which featured the Master and the Rani, but it was abandoned due to the programme being put on an 18th-month hiatus.[1]

Autons are essentially life-sized plastic dummies, automatons animated by the Nestene Consciousness, an extraterrestrial, disembodied gestalt intelligence which first arrived on Earth in hollow plastic meteorites. Their name comes from Auto Plastics, the company that was infiltrated by the Nestenes and subsequently manufactured their Auton shells in Spearhead From Space.

Autons conceal deadly weapons within their hands, which can kill or vaporise their targets. The typical Auton does not look particularly realistic, resembling a mannequin, being robotic in its movements and mute. However, more sophisticated Autons can be created, which look and act human except for a slight plastic sheen to the skin and a flat-sounding voice.[2] In Series 5 of the relaunched Doctor Who series, they are shown as being able to create fully lifelike human replicas, able to fool other humans.[3]


An Auton weapon, as shown at the Doctor Who Experience

The Nestenes are among the oldest beings in the Doctor Who universe, described as creatures which existed in the "Dark Times", along with the Racnoss, Great Vampires and Carrionites.[4] Eventually, they sought to invade the Earth (in Spearhead from Space), using more human-looking Autons to replace key government figures, although these plans were thwarted by UNIT with the help of the Doctor, who also destroyed their invasion form, a multi-tentacled cephalopod.

The Nestenes subsequently returned in the first serial of Pertwee's second year as the Doctor, Terror of the Autons, which also featured the introduction of the Master. In this attempt, the Nestenes also made use of more mundane, everyday plastic objects, animating plastic toys, inflatable chairs and artificial flowers in addition to their Auton servants. The Doctor convinced the Master that the Nestenes were too dangerous to be reliable allies, and they reversed the radio beam the invasion force was coming in on, sending it back into space. This would be The Nestenes and the Autons final appearance in Doctor Who's original run. They would not return again until the episode Rose in 2005.

Early drafts of The Five Doctors (1983) featured a scene where Sarah Jane Smith encountered some Autons and is rescued by the Third Doctor, but it was dropped before filming for reasons of time and expense.[5] A third appearance was planned for the aborted 1986 season during Colin Baker's tenure as the Doctor, but never materialized. Titled Yellow Fever and How to Cure It, it was supposed to be set in Singapore, with appearances by the Rani and the Master. The story, which was to be scripted by the veteran writer Robert Holmes, only exists in outline form.

The Ninth Doctor encounters the Nestene Consciousness

When the series was revived in 2005, producer and writer Russell T Davies chose the Autons as the first monster to be featured,[6] though the name Auton is never used onscreen. The Nestenes infiltrated Earth once more, using warp shunt technology, in the opening episode of the 2005 series. In "Rose", it was revealed that the Nestenes lost their food supply during the Time War when their protein planets rotted. Their intent was to overthrow and destroy the human race, as Earth was ideal for their consumption needs, being filled with smoke, oil and various pollutants. They were eventually destroyed when Rose spilled a vial of the Doctor's "anti-plastic" solution into the vat of molten plastic which housed the main bulk of the Consciousness, causing it to explode. The episode established that the Nestenes animate the Autons by means of telepathic projection, and also featured an Auton facsimile that could change the shape of its features and limbs. The Autons later appeared in a flashback sequence taking place during the finale of "Rose" in the Series 2 episode Love & Monsters, and again cameoed as a sketch in John Smith's "A Journal of Impossible Things" in the episode "Human Nature."

The Autons returned in the 2010 episode "The Pandorica Opens", alongside many other monsters from throughout the show's history, to trap the Eleventh Doctor. The Autons in this episode were programmed to believe they were the soldiers of a Roman legion, among them Rory Williams, using the memories of Amy Pond. They were very realistic and far more sophisticated than the average Auton, and their hands contained futuristic laser guns rather than projectile weapons. As in the 2005 appearance, the name "Auton" was not used in dialogue; the phrase "Nestene duplicate" was introduced here to describe the copy of Rory. Due to the influences of the cracks in time, the Rory copy possessed the personality of the real Rory and was able to resist the Nestene's control, later working together with The Doctor to save the universe.

The Autons were later mentioned in the series 12 episode Praxeus. According to an interview with writer Pete McTighe, the Autons were initially planned to appear before being scrapped at an early stage in development.[7]

Other appearances[edit]

The Nestenes have also appeared in the Doctor Who spin-off novels (which linked the Consciousness with the Great Old Ones of the Cthulhu Mythos, in particular as an offspring of Shub-Niggurath). In the Sixth Doctor novel Business Unusual by Gary Russell, the Nestenes utilized computer games and plastic toys in another bid for world conquest. They later reappeared in the novel Synthespians™ by Craig Hinton. In 2008, the Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller again encountered Autons in the audio Brave New Town. These Autons were part of an old Soviet program to infiltrate Britain during the Cold War before the collapse of the Soviet Union left the Autons stuck in a loop in the fake British town created for the spies, eventually developing independence. A Tenth Doctor novel, Autonomy, was released in September 2009 featuring the Autons.

In the Doctor Who Annual 2006, an article written by Russell T Davies mentions the loss of the Nestene Consciousness's planets during the Time War, and states that it "found itself mutating under temporal stress". This may be a reference to the difference between the portrayal of the Consciousness in Spearhead from Space and "Rose".

The Autons, shown here at the Doctor Who Experience

In the late 1990s, BBV released a trilogy of made-for-video films, titled Auton, Auton 2: Sentinel and Auton 3. These stories featured UNIT battling the Consciousness. In the first film, a Nestene energy unit and several Autons captured by UNIT in Spearhead from Space are accidentally reactivated. In the sequels, the escaped Autons attempt to awaken several dormant Nestenes put in place since before the development of human civilization. Though BBV was licensed to use the Nestenes, Autons and UNIT by the writers who created them, the canonicity of these films is unclear.

In the first series of the televised Dead Ringers, in a sketch with Jon Culshaw visiting the London Eye (calling it an Interstitial Time Delay Helix) in the persona of the Fourth Doctor, he humorously accused two tourists: "You are Autons from the planet Tosos!"

In 2006, a sketch on The Charlotte Church Show showed the Doctor examining the inner thigh of a scantily clad female mannequin; when confronted by Church (playing his companion), he claimed that he thought it was an Auton.

They appeared in issue 15 of Doctor Who – Battles in Time as the main theme of the issue.

The Autons also appear in Lego Dimensions. They appear in the Doctor Who Level “The Dalek Extermination of Earth” when the player time travels to Central London in 2015 using the TARDIS. Whenever the player destroys a purple rock, the Autons come to life from the shop windows and attack the player. They also appear in the Doctor Who adventure world as encounterable enemies.[8]

The Autons appear in one of the Doctor Who and Mr. Men mash-up books, published under the Doctor Men series of books.[9]

During 2020, as part of a fan "Watch-along" of the episode "Rose," writer Russell T Davies wrote a sequel to the episode "Rose" entitled "Revenge of the Nestene." It depicts a surviving Auton after the events of the episode.[10]


Autons, as shown in the revived series at the Doctor Who Experience

Writing for, Richard Chachowski included the Autons on a list of the show's greatest antagonists. While he states they are hard to take seriously, "their blank, unemotional faces and stiff movements make them some of the creepiest looking antagonists the Doctor encounters in his adventures across time and space."[11] Writing in a review of "Spearhead from Space" for The AV Club, Christopher Bahn states that "The Autons are of secondary importance to the story," but also highlights that they "...provide some effectively chilling moments," highlighting Hugh Burden as the Auton duplicate of the character Channing, as well as the scene in which the Autons break out of the shop windows.[12] Writing for Doctor Who TV, Raphael Kiyani praised the Autons role in "Rose" as something "children could be scared about every time they walk down the streets," and further highlights that "Every time I see a shop-window I can’t help but think of the Autons, so it’s a powerful image."[13] Den of Geek writer Andrew Blair listed the scene in which stuntman Terry Walsh, playing an Auton, falls down a sixty foot cliff and gets back up again, as the greatest stunt in the series, highlighting the accidental nature of the stunt and how it made "the Autons seem uncanny... creatures who felt no pain."[14]

The image of store mannequins coming to life in Spearhead from Space, in full colour and shooting people down in the street, is one of the series' iconic moments and is often cited as an example of the series' ability to make everyday things terrifying. The use of even more ordinary objects in Terror of the Autons  — including the unmasking of a police officer as an Auton  — caused public controversy about whether the programme was too frightening for children. The story also featured in a discussion in the House of Lords, where Baroness Bacon expressed worries about it being too frightening even for older children.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ List of unmade Doctor Who serials and films
  2. ^ "Rose"
  3. ^ "The Big Bang"
  4. ^ Alan Barnes, Gary Russell (13 April 2007). "The Infinite Quest episode 2". Doctor Who. BBC.
  5. ^ "The Five Doctors ★★★★".
  6. ^ "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly". Doctor Who Confidential. Series 1. Episode 2. 2 April 2005. BBC. BBC Three.
  7. ^ "Jodie Whittaker Doctor Who episode almost brought Autons back". Radio Times. Retrieved 21 July 2023.
  8. ^ LEGO Dimensions
  9. ^ "The Ninth Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack face the Autons in one of four new Doctor Who-Mr Men mash-up books". Radio Times. Retrieved 21 July 2023.
  10. ^ "Doctor Who: Rose sequel "Revenge of the Nestene" released online". Radio Times. Retrieved 21 July 2023.
  11. ^ "The Greatest Villains In Doctor Who, Ranked". Looper. 5 May 2022. Retrieved 21 July 2023.
  12. ^ "Doctor Who (Classic): "Spearhead From Space"". The A.V. Club. 19 June 2011. Retrieved 21 July 2023.
  13. ^ DWTV (26 September 2013). "Rose: Looking Back on Doctor Who's Revival | Doctor Who TV". Retrieved 21 July 2023.
  14. ^ Blair, Andrew (2 October 2022). "Doctor Who's Best Stunts". Den of Geek. Retrieved 21 July 2023.
  15. ^ Baroness Bacon (3 February 1971). "Mass Media Communication". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Vol. 314. House of Lords. col. 1244–1245. and I wonder what has happened to "Dr. Who" recently, because many children must have gone to bed and had nightmares after seeing the recent episodes

External links[edit]