Auton 2: Sentinel

Auton

This is afan-made production whose storyline may be invalidated by later official studio productions.

Two years after the Auton outbreak at UNIT’s storage facility, a shipment of inert Autons being secretly transported by UNIT is awakened by the close proximity of a Nestene sphere. The reanimated Autons kill their UNIT handlers and walk into the bay on their way to Sentinel Island. UNIT comes to Lockwood and Dr. Arnold again for their expertise in dealing with the Auton threat, but the new UNIT scientific advisor, Natasha Alexander, has grave misgivings about Lockwood – and her latent psi abilities give her an insight into his true nature and his connection to the Autons. As UNIT, with a wary Lockwood and a distrustful Natasha in tow, gets ready to wage war on Sentinel Island, Winslet is also ready with a weapon of his own – he’s preparing to revive an inert, stranded Nestene creature using the psychic energy generated by the faith of his parishioners.

screenplay by Nicholas Briggs
directed by Nicholas Briggs
music by Alistair Lock

Cast: Michael Wade (Lockwood), George Telfer (Graham Winslet), Jo Castleton (Natasha Alexander), Andrew Fettes (Sergeant Ramsay), John Wadmore (Colonel Wilson), Bryonie Pritchard (Dr. Sally Arnold), Warren Howard (Daron), Patricia Merrick (Charlotte), David Rowston (Dave), Nicholas Briggs (Mike), John Hawkins (Hardgraves), John Hansell (Davis), Jayson Bridges, Keith Brooks, Stephen Bradshaw, Vaughan Groves, Mark Moore, Gabriel Mykaj, Richard Smith, Blaine Coughlin (UNIT Soldiers), Steven Friel, Peter Trapani, Pete Cox, Rod Horne, Alexander Wylie, John Walker, Mark Jende, Matthew Bradford, Ian Taylor, Philip Clarke, Randalph Edwards, Loraine Malby, Peter Frankum, Keith Burton, Robert Dunlop, Caroline O’Sullivan, Thomas O’Sullivan, Andrew Hasley (Villagers)

Review: Released in 1998, the second installment in the Auton series seems like it should’ve been a shoo-in for exciting science fiction drama, with its interesting combination of characters having formed a somewhat uneasy team at the end of Auton, and the Auton threat still alive and on the move. The first Auton video felt very much like a series pilot, so surely Auton 2 would take that potential and run with it…right?

Auton 2: SentinelSadly, the first thing Auton 2: Sentinel proceeds to do is to break up the promising team of regulars from the first chapter. Auton 2 is very much Lockwood’s story, with the skeptical but capable Dr. Arnold pushed into a minimal background supporting role. A new character, the psychic Natasha Alexander, is thrust into the limelight, largely fulfulling the same role that Arnold served in Auton: to be capable of helping deal with the Auton menace, but to also be extremely skeptical of the whole situation and of Lockwood.

If there’s one thing that just doesn’t really work for me with the second installment of Auton, it’s the weird combination of the black magic/twisted religion themes and the Autons. Sure, black magic, villains posing as vicars, and mind control have a long history in Doctor Who lore, dating back to the Pertwee era just like the Autons. But the two concepts never really meld together – Terror Of The Autons and The Daemons may have been part of the same season of Doctor Who, but they didn’t belong in the same story. The Autons are a relatively “hard” science fiction concept – plastic animated and controlled by parent creatures, whose control over the plastic can be broken by electromagnetic means – and to have them suddenly trying to exploit some supernatural force is very strange, as is the concept of battling them through some kind of psychic connection.

Where Auton 2 succeeds, however, is in a visual and directorial sense. The scenes of the Autons walking into the water, and later through a field of tall grass, are striking and unnerving, and the montage of the Autons beginning their massacre of the people of Sentinel Island is a shocking piece of very effective action directing and editing. A lot of violence is packed in without necessarily bringing a lot of gore with it – it’s very stylishly done. The real surprise at the end, however, is the full-realized CGI Nestene creature climbing atop the church; I was perfectly happy with Auton‘s lo-fi effects, and wouldn’t have complained to see more of the same here. When the creature makes its appearance, it’s a stunning surprise, because until then Auton 2 sticks to the same practical-effects-on-a-budget mandate. It’s a bonus that it’s actually pretty good CGI for a semi-pro production dating back to the days when Babylon 5 was still on the air raising the CGI bar.

Visually striking and boasting some very good performances, Auton 2 is best watched when you switch off your prior knowledge of how the Autons and Nestenes behaved in Doctor Who. In the finest Who tradition, it’s also a cliffhanger leading into the third and final chapter of the Auton trilogy.

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