Auton

Roots: Alien, The Blob, The X-Files.

Goofs: For an indestructible plastic automaton, the Auton that attacks Dan and Ramsey is remarkably susceptible to being punched in the gut.

Dialogue Triumphs: "We can never know the future, but we mustn't let the past haunt us."

Continuity: Following the first Auton invasion, the UNIT clean-up team [including Yates - see Terror of the Autons] packed the Autons in crates and sent them to the storage facility, along with two of the energy units, the tank in which they tried to grow an artificial body, and the Doctor's UHF transmitter. [The Autons seen here all resemble the Autons seen in Spearhead from Space, rather than the slightly different Autons of Terror of the Autons - perhaps the latter group were destroyed, following the Master's successful bid to contact the Nestene Consciousness using one of the control units from the earlier invasion]. The tank, UHF transmitter and control unit were all sealed in a security vault, separate from the Autons and protected by a security door that can only be opened by the correct retinal pattern and code. The crates containing the other energy unit and the Autons were coded AAA/RH/2961 [AAA is the story code for Spearhead from Space and RH is of course the initials of Robert Holmes, the creator of the Autons]. The Auton that replicates Winslet contains more intelligence than the others [and is possibly the Channing Auton]. The energy unit is reactivated when Sally bombards it with transmissions from UNIT's deep space satellites (which obviously manage to receive signals from the Nestene Consciousness). The sphere vaporizes on reactivation, destroying the central nervous system of Sally's assistant with the resulting massive localized energy release. It can now change into a liquid state, which makes it independently mobile, and capable of killing. "Winslet" and the energy units merge and apparently recover energy from the shattered tank, suggesting that the Nestene Consciousness was forced to leave something of its essence behind when the Doctor defeated it. The Doctor's UHF transmitter still works, although it has a flat battery. It is used to deactivate the Autons, but only partly incapacitates the controlling intelligence in "Winslet", which escapes in the mobile liquid form of the energy unit [which confirms the Doctor's guess in Spearhead from Space that the Nestenes would probably be able to learn to resist its effects].

The UNIT storage facility was abandoned for many years, and was rediscovered five years earlier - most of the contents were forgotten, hence Sally Arnold's lack of information on the energy unit. UNIT headquarters is still in Geneva, and UNIT owns several deep space satellites, one of which is the most powerful such satellite yet developed. UNIT has containment teams for dealing with [extra-terrestrial] contamination risks. A risk of contamination is afforded a Code 7 categorization - UNIT automatically prepares the death certificates of any personnel involved in advance, as a precaution.

Lockwood is the head of a UNIT containment team. His full name is not given. He has led the team on numerous missions, and has gained the trust and loyalty of both Sergeant Ramsey and Doctor Daniel Matthews, his assistant. His mental abilities are hinted at, but not elaborated on [see Auton 2: Sentinel]; "Winslet" notes that he is mentally linked to something, which appears to be the UNIT database (he seems to be able to access personnel and other UNIT files by meditating). He knows about the Nestenes and the Autons, and refers to the UHF transmitter's owner as "Doctor John Smith". It is hinted that the process of retrieving data via his link is painful.

Doctor Sally Arnold went to a working class comprehensive school and went on to gain degrees in medicine, biology, chemistry and physics. She has a reputation as a maverick. She gained a job as a research scientist for UNIT, and became Facility Director and Head of Research at the rediscovered storage facility containing the Autons. Despite the high security at the facility [which is presumably why Sally and Winslet both have living quarters at the facility], Sally has not been told about the energy unit's origins, although she does know that it is extra-terrestrial in origin and she is allowed to experiment on it [nobody knows enough about it to stop her]. Following the defeat of the Autons, Lockwood has her reassigned to his team.

Ramsey uses the call sign Greyhound One when requesting back up.

Links: The story is a sequel to Spearhead from Space (much more so than Terror of the Autons) and establishes plot threads picked up on in Auton 2: Sentinel.

Location: A UNIT storage facility/research centre, somewhere in England, date unknown [the 1990s].

The Bottom Line: A claustrophobic, gripping thriller, which makes excellent use of its minimalist setting. Lockwood is a great leading character, with "Doctor Sal" filling the obligatory companion role. The direction is exemplary, and the story feels like the start of something epic.

Discontinuity Guide by Paul Clarke

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