Plastic Fantastique – Recycled!

Specially from the Kasterborous archive….in light of the fantastic reaction to the plastic menace of the Auton dummies in Rose, we re-present an old article from October last year, which explores the power and psychology behind the first two invasions by the Nestene Autons…

Evil. Vast, clawed, fire breathing, winged beasts. Traditionally the evil that scares, that gives nightmares, that haunts, is the ugly, behemoth, dragon.

Occasionally, of course, it’s a plain, nondescript, animated mannequin… calmly walking toward it’s prey, dressed in contemporary fashion, it’s hand outstretched and pointed at it’s victim, flipping down to reveal a gun…but there is no emotion, no grin, no bloodthirsty cackle, just a bare, featureless face.

More than enough to give a nation of pre-teens nightmares back in 1970! A lot has been written about Robert Holmes’ ability to create excellent settings and interesting “duo” characters. He could create some good monsters too. The Mummies in Pyramid of Mars, the Wirrn, Sontarans, the Peking Homunculus and the Androgums were all ghastly, monstrous cadaverous beings. The Autons are none of these, yet are far more memorable.

Always trendy in their high street fashions, when the Autons are in town, death stalks the real world. Department Stores, toyshops, funfairs; grinning heads in straw boaters; Daleks don’t bother trying to blend in and Silurians are obviously scary – they’re reptiles! The everyday is turned on its head when the Nestene consciousness takes hold of your plastic. Trust goes out of the window when you don’t know what is safe.

Robert Holmes two Auton stories Spearhead from Space and Terror of the Autons are both written to instil fear. It has been pointed out before that to really scare the threat has to be contemporary. Modern examples of this can be seen in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and The Day After Tomorrow. They reflect the same terror, the known and everyday becoming The Unknown and Alien.

The Autons’ leader Channing is the acceptable “face” of his race. A bit more plastic has gone into him to make him appear human, although that doesn’t stop him shining a little. The menace which these creatures hold can not be denied – Hibbert is obviously under strong mental control, and tries to warn Ransome away when he comes looking for answers. The fear on Hibbert’s face is disturbing on both occasions he is rounded on a mannequin.

The Master, meanwhile, debuts in Terror of the Autons and fills a similar role to Channing – however, his devious charm is cleverly offset by his faceless allies. In this instalment, the Terror is at the forefront; murderous telephone wire; dastardly daffodils; terrifying trolls; suffocating sofas; the aforementioned Master introduced as the Doctor’s equal – something virtually unheard of up to this point. How can the Doctor possibly survive these kinds of odds?

This too is the story where children of the 70s suddenly became inexplicably afraid of Troll dolls, sofas, plastic flowers, telephones and clowns. I still know people of the 35-45 age group who refuse to talk on the phone for too long, and I suspect this is the reason. As for the fear of clowns….

So what have we learned? That Nestene Consciousness’ are bent on the destruction of humankind and probably any other flesh-based life-form; that plastic is everywhere and can be deadly; that Autons require a leader with a human appearance; and that clowns really are that scary.

Wielding an iron bar to smash your opponent’s brain is obvious; manipulation of those everyday plastic consumables to achieve your aim of world domination is genius. Not bad for dummies.

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