This is a fan-made production whose storyline may be invalidated by later official studio productions.
Dr. Sally Arnold, senior researcher at an under-funded facility contracted to UNIT, experiments with a round plastic artifact from UNIT’s archives. After running out of other ways to get the sphere to respond, Dr. Arnold bombards it with radio signals from deep space, including one pulsating signal to which it violently responds, killing Arnold’s lab assistant and then disappearing. A pair of unusual investigators and a platoon of UNIT troops arrive to take charge, finding only Arnold and the eccentric UNIT archivist alive. The investigators clearly suspect that there’s more going on, but they aren’t revealing much. When it turns out that the archivist lied about more Auton/Nestene-related items held in UNIT’s warehouse, the search for the missing sphere intensifies – but before long, it will have summoned help in the form of deadly Autons, programmed to defend it at all costs.
screenplay by Nicholas Briggs
directed by Nicholas Briggs
music by Alistair Lock
Cast: Bryonie Pritchard (Dr. Sally Arnold), George Telfer (Graham Winslet), Verona Chard (Janice), Reece Shearsmith (Dr. Daniel Matthews), Andrew Fettes (Sergeant Ramsay), Michael Wade (Lockwood), Roy Hughes, Gabriel Mykaj, Mike Parry, David Ringwood, Richard Smith (UNIT Soldiers), John Ainsworth, Gareth Baggs, Blaine Coughlan, David Ringwood (Autons)
Notes: Part of the code on the Auton crates – “RH / AAA” – refers to the late Robert Holmes, the veteran Doctor Who writer and script editor who created the Autons, and the BBC’s internal production code for the Doctor Who story in which they first appeared, Spearhead From Space. That story is also where the Doctor devised the unwieldly contraption that allows Dr. Arnold to battle the Autons.
Review: A cleverly-made “sidebar” to some past Doctor Who episodes, this opening volley in the Auton trilogy manages to attain quite a creepiness factor with an economy of effects and action. Auton also oozes – if you’ll forgive the pun – “pilot,” as its creators clearly had more story in mind than just this single installment. The characters are set up, the relationships (and potential problems thereof) are established, and yet they come together to win the day – or at least win the immediate battle in what promises to be a longer conflict. This is really the closest there’s been to a fan-made UNIT series, so it’s also refreshing to see that organization get an outing that makes it look bigger and a bit more effective than just, as Nicholas Courtney himself once put it, “the Brig’s Army”.
One minor nitpick that I had with the Autons as they appeared here – their appearance was dead-on, just as spooky as it was in 1970, but the sound effects were way off. The original sound effects for the Autons’ hinged hands and their “hand guns” still exist, and have even been published by way of the excellent 30 Years At The Radiophonic Workshop CD (which was certainly out before this film was produced in 1997); more to the point, those sounds were used in the first episode of the new Doctor Who, Rose, which also featured the Autons. I’m assuming that the makers of the Auton videos decided it would be too expensive to license those sound effects for use in their productions, but somehow, it diminishes the authenticity of the whole thing – they might as well have substituted other names for “Auton” and “Nestene” and “UNIT”. Odd as it may seem, those sound effects are so central to the Autons that it throws things off that much.
Overall, it’s an effective first installment, with some intriguing effects that, for their low-budget nature, aren’t any less effective at telling the story. Indeed, it’s actually a bit more creepy to see real goo coaxed into moving around (sometimes through reversed video and other tricks) without it being CGI. The story expands considerably on the abilities and nature of the Nestenes and their plastic pals who are decidedly not fun to be with, but it doesn’t break the mythos at all – if anything, it fills in a few blanks. Auton is low-key, low-tech fun, and there’s more where this came from.