At a UNIT tracking station a member of staff, sweating due to an unusual heatwave, reports a series of what appears to be meteorites heading in formation towards Earth. They land in Epping, and local poacher Sam Seeley sees them land.
Close by the TARDIS materialises, but a stranger wearing the second Doctor's clothes stumbles out and collapses. UNIT soldiers, investigating the meteorites, find the Doctor and take him to the Ashbridge Cottage Hospital.
In London the Brigadier is welcoming Doctor Liz Shaw as the new UNIT scientific advisor. She is not there by choice, and not happy that she has been torn away from her research and drafted to UNIT. The Brigadier tells her about the shower of meteorites that came to Earth through a tunnel of super heated air. Liz is curious as most meteorites burn up. She says there must be a natural explanation, and the Brigadier tells her they didn't find one last time it happened.
The Brigadier tells Liz about UNIT, and how UNIT has been set up to investigate strange events and alien life forms. He also tells her that on previous occasions when there have been alien invasion attempts they had help from a mysterious person with experience of other life forms - the Doctor.
The Brigadier is interrupted by a telephone call from Captain Munro, who tells the Brigadier they have found a man unconscious in Oxley Woods - next to a Police Box. Both Munro and Liz think its odd when the Brigadier says he wants an armed guard placing around the Police Box.
In the hospital the Doctor Henderson is looking at the Doctor's X-ray. Seeing two hearts he thinks someone is playing a joke. As he sets off to investigate he is paged by Doctor Lomax, who tells him the sample of blood he has been sent is not human blood. The conversation is overheard by a porter, Mullins, who reports/sells the news to the newspaper the Daily Chronicle.
In Oxley Woods the UNIT soldiers are hunting for the meteorites. Sam Seeley, unseen by the patrols, takes one of the meteorites home with him.
The Brigadier and Liz arrive at the hospital to find a number of reporters all asking about a strange man from space. The Brigadier says he knows nothing about this, and UNIT are there for training exercises. At the back of the group of reporters is a suited man - Channing - who is watching the events.
When the Brigadier is taken to the Doctor's room the Brigadier doesn't recognise the man in the bed, but the Doctor recognises the Brigadier. The Doctor asks for a mirror, and this is the first time he sees his new regeneration, which is why the Brigadier didn't recognise him. As the Doctor lapses back into unconsciousness the Brigadier tells Munro he wants him brought to UNIT HQ when he is ready.
After the Brigadier has gone Henderson wants to examine the Doctor, and asks a nurse to fetch some equipment. After she leaves he is attacked by two men who gag the Doctor and wheel him away in a wheelchair. As he is being pulled into an ambulances the Doctor wheels himself away, and the wheelchair takes him to Oxley Woods. Some UNIT soldiers, still at the hospital, run after him. They find the discarded wheelchair, and then hear shots as the armed guards at the TARDIS fire at the Doctor.
Before going back to London the Brigadier is told about the injury to the Doctor, and he is handed the TARDIS key the doctor had been holding on to. The Brigadier also takes back a fragment of meteorite, which seems to be made of plastic.
In a nearby plastics factory - Auto Plastics - John Ransome returns from a business trip to find a lot of changes have happened at the factory. Ransome's employment has been terminated, a lot of the factory has been automated, and his workshop is now out of bounds. He speaks to the managing director, George Hibbert, who tells him they have a new policy, and a new process. Ransome wants to know what Hibbert means by 'we'. When Channing enters the room Hibbert becomes more dismissive and simply tells Ransome to leave.
At UNIT HQ Liz is trying to analyse the fragment using a hastily prepared makeshift laboratory. So far the only conclusion is that the fragment is not a meteorite. it is plastic, therefore must have been manufactured. In the laboratory is the TARDIS. With a sceptical Liz watching the Brigadier tries to open the TARDIS with the key - but the TARDIS does not open.
At his house Seeley has been keeping the 'thunderball' he found inside an old metal trunk. As he is checking on it his wife interrupts, and he hides it in the shed until she has gone, when he returns it back to the trunk. In the woods an Auton is looking for the missing energy unit, and picks up the signal that is being sent from Seeley's shed whilst the unit is out of the trunk.
At the hospital UNIT soldiers are called away when a patrol finds another of the Auton energy units. Siezing the chance the Doctor leaves his bed, finds some clothes to change into, takes a car from outside the hospital and escapes from the hospital and makes his way back to the TARDIS, which is in UNIT HQ. The Brigadier is willing to accept the Doctor is the Doctor, but will not give him the key to the TARDIS.
A UNIT soldier is ordered to take the energy unit back to UNIT HQ. On the way an Auton steps out into the road, causing the UNIT land rover to crash. Ignoring the dead soldier the Auton takes the energy unit back to the plastics factory.
In the evening, back at the plastics factory Major General Scobie is reviewing a facsimile that has been made of him that is due to be sent to Madame Tussaud's. It needs refinement, but has the appearance and shape of General Scobie. As Scobie is led out by Channing and Hibbert neither spot Ransome trying to break in to his old workshop.
Inside he finds several plastic mannequins, and a tank in the middle of the room. As he examines the tank he doesn't see one of the mannequins come to life until he hears its weapon emerge from its hand. He runs off before it can fire. As Ransome escapes Channing orders an Auton to pursue him. Ransome, in shock, makes it to a UNIT security checkpoint, and they send him to UNIT HQ.
The Doctor and Liz are trying to analyse the plastic fragment. The Doctor tells Liz it is because of the primitive equipment, and says inside his TARDIS is a lateral molecular rectifier. All he needs is the key. He asks Liz to ask the Brigadier for the key. She goes to his office where the Brigadier is talking to Ransome. She notices the key and takes it.
It takes the Brigadier a short time before he notices the key is missing. He goes back to the laboratory in time to see the TARDIS about to de-materialise. Only it doesn't de-materialise, and a few moments later the Doctor emerges from the TARDIS, along with smoke. The Time Lords, in exiling the Doctor to Earth, have changed the TARDIS de-materialisation codes.
Sam Seeley, after hearing of a soldier's death, asks UNIT if there is a reward for finding a 'thunderball'. Munro is about to go to Seeley's house when the Brigadier, Liz, Ransome and the Doctor arrive. Leaving Ransome in the tent Munro, the Brigadier, Liz and the Doctor go to Seeley's house to find the energy unit. They arrive at Seeley's house to find it ransacked by an Auton also looking for the energy unit after Seeley's wife had opened the trunk. Channing recalls the Auton as the Doctor finds the energy unit.
Back at the laboratory the Doctor uses an EEG machine on the energy unit, and finds traces of intelligence inside. The intelligence does not have physical form - which is where the plastics factory comes in useful. The Brigadier mentions that Scobie had recently had a facsimile made at the plastics factory, and after Scobie turns down the Brigadier's request for a raid on the plastics factory the Doctor and Liz visit Madame Tussaud's where they find a facsimile of Scobie has been delivered. Only the Scobie there is not a facsimile, it's the real Scobie, meaning the facsimile is walking around pretending to be Scobie.
Madame Tussaud's has been using plastic instead of wax for many of the models. The Doctor and Liz hide at Madame Tussaud's until after closing time. Later that night Channing and Hibbert appear. Channing orders Hibbert to open the doors, and after receiving an activation signal many of the exhibits - Autons - start to leave.
The Doctor tells the Brigadier about the Autons, and tells him he should raid the factory before the Autons can get into position to take over. The Doctor and Liz work through the night to construct a machine that can disrupt the mental hold that Channing has over Hibbert and the Autons.
At dawn all over the country plastic mannequins in shop windows start to come to life as armed Autons are activated. Without support of the army the Brigadier only has a handful of staff he can use to raid the factory. At the factory the fake Scobie tries to get the army to arrest the Brigadier. The Doctor uses his device to break the link to Scobie, and the Auton collapses. In Madame Tussaud's the real General Scobie wakes up.
The Brigadier assumes control of the army, and the raid on the factory begins. As the raid starts the Doctor and Liz go their own way and head towards Ransome's workshop. Inside the Doctor and Liz find Channing and the tank containing the Nestene Consciousness. The Doctor tells Liz to turn on the device, but it doesn't work. As Liz tries to fix it the Nestene Consciousness, having formed an Octopus like body with tentacles, attacks the Doctor.
Liz is able to get the device working, and the machine blocks signals from the Nestene Consciousness. As the octopus dies the link is broken to all Autons, and they all collapse, including Channing.
Trapped on Earth the Doctor agrees to work as UNIT's scientific advisor in return for facilities to repair the TARDIS, assistance from Liz, and a car.
Regular castBrigadier Lethbridge-Stewart: Nicholas Courtney; Liz Shaw: Caroline John;
Guest castChanning: Hugh Burden; Captain Munro: John Breslin; Sam Seeley: Neil Wilson (1-3); Doctor Henderson: Antony Webb (1-2); Corporal Forbes: George Lee (1-2); Mullins: Talfryn Thomas (1); Nurse: Helen Dorward (1); UNIT Officer: Tessa Shaw (1); Technician: Ellis Jones (1); First Reporter (Michael Wagstaffe): Alan Mitchell (1); Second Reporter (Jimmy): Prentis Hancock (1); George Hibbert: John Woodnutt (2-4); Major General Scobie: Hamilton Dyce (2-4); John Ransome: Derek Smee (2-3); Meg Seeley: Betty Bowden (2-3); Doctor Beavis: Henry McCarthy (2); Sergeant: Clifford Cox (3); Attendant at Waxworks: Edmund Bailey (4);
Uncredited cast: UNIT Car Park Attendant: Derrick Sherwin; Voice of Doctor Lomax: Ellis Jones (1); Autons: Geoffrey Brightly, Ronald Mayer, Ivan Orton; Factory Workers: Christine Bradley, Constance Carling, Denis MacTighe, Brian Nolan, Lindy Russell, Rosemary Turner, Robert Windman; UNIT Soldiers: Roy Brent, Alan Cooper, Victoria Croxford, Trevor Cuff, Antonio De Maggio, Dave Dewhurst, Rachel Hipwood, Michael Horsburgh, John Hughes, Marie Johnson, June Johnson, Arthur Judd, Vicky Maxine, Patrick Milner, Dave Mobley, Robert Needham, Iain Smith, Hugh Wood; Extras: Barry Ashton, Keith Ashley, Bernadette Barry, David Billa, Joy Burnett, Arnold Chazen, Alan Clements, Diana Collins, Fred Davis, Gary Dean, Grace Dola, Michael Earl, Walter Goodman, Alan Granville, June Gray, Michael Harrison, Denis Haywood, Roger Houghton, Derek hunt, Alfred Hurst, Brian Justice, Vi Kane, Peter Kaukus, Barry Kennington, Leonard Kingston, Sheila Knight, Gideon Kolb, Doris Lang, Kenneth Lindford, Norman Littlejohn, Reg Lloyd, Anthony Maine, Claire Maine. Bill Matthews, David Melbourne, Roger Minnis, Lola Morrice, Robert Murphy, Lesley Pates, Maurice Quick, Henry Rainer, Laurence Ross, Christopher Rushton, Tom Segal, Maurice Selwin, Keith Simon, John Spradbury, Sandy Stel, Cara Stevens, Cy Town, Hein Viljoen, Sonny Willis;
|BBC 1||254||Episode One||Sat 3 January 1970||5:15 pm - 5:40 pm||8.4M||54th|
|BBC 1||255||Episode Two||Sat 10 January 1970||5:15 pm - 5:40 pm||8.1M||57th|
|BBC 1||256||Episode Three||Sat 17 January 1970||5:15 pm - 5:40 pm||8.3M||49th|
|BBC 1||257||Episode Four||Sat 24 January 1970||5:15 pm - 5:40 pm||8.1M||51st|
Repeats (on the BBC)
BBC Training Centre, Wood Norton; Guinness Factory, Acton; King's Cross Station, London; Madame Tussauds, London;
This programme does not have any studio filming
Bloopers and mistakes
General Scobie's epaulettes have only two decorations, though a Royal Army general's epaulettes have three decorations: a crown, diamond and crossed swords.
Episode 3: In the scene where Seeley is checking that his globe is safe the trunk lid shuts as his wife calls; watch closely and you will see a hand push the lid.
Notes and trivia
This was the first colour Doctor Who story made. Due to problems at the BBC this story was shot entirely on location on film, and is the only classic Doctor Who story to be released on Blu-Ray.
The story introduced new opening titles (again by an uncredited Bernard Lodge) and end credits that now no longer scrolled.
In the opening titles the story title enlarges from the centre of the screen.