As we celebrate Halloween, and the end of 31 Days of Horror here at Biff Bam Pop!, I thought I’d take a look at a TV series long known for making kids watch from behind their sofas in terror for almost five decades. Meet me after the jump and we’ll talk about the monsters of Doctor Who.
Monsters Who’s Who
Long before it would become known as the most watched TV series on the planet, I first became aware of “Doctor Who” from a book called Monsters Who’s Who, a book my big sister’s best friend gave me. At the time, I was more interested in Godzilla and the other Toho daikaiju, and maybe a few of the traditional Universal monsters, but that wasn’t all that this book had to offer.
There was also a selection of Marvel Comics creatures including the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, and some of Spider-Man’s bizarre foes (although to this day I remain perplexed by the inclusion of the Bi-Beast). I loved that stuff, being a comic geek. The book had material on real life cryptids like the Loch Ness monster and the Abominable Snowman as well, spurring my interests there.
And then there were the Doctor Who monsters. This was before PBS started showing the series, so the only Doctor Who I knew was the bad guy from King Kong Escapes and the “Kong” cartoons. Still, this was my first exposure to the Daleks, the Cybermen, and the Ice Warriors. The pictures alone frightened me, before I ever had any point of reference.
The Doctor’s arch-enemies are, without a doubt, the Daleks. Created by Terry Nation, these were the adversaries who he faced in two feature films, took the UK by storm in the 1960s much the same way TV’s “Batman” did in the US, and they were the first of the classic monsters to reappear when “Doctor Who” was revamped for the 21st century. They were also the monsters that made children and some adults watch their television from behind the safety of the sofa.
The Daleks first appeared in 1963, as a hideous extraterrestrial race from the planet Skaro who were experimented on by the evil scientist Davros. He integrated the mutant race into cyborg creatures inside large rolling battle cylinders, then removed all of their emotions save hatred. Seeing themselves as the superior race in the universe, they set out to conquer everything.
The electronic bleet of their battle cry “Exterminate!” can send chills of excitement and fear down the spines of fans the world over. The Daleks have appeared in almost one hundred episodes and will return in the show’s 50th anniversary special, “The Day of The Doctor,” on November 23rd.
The other classic big bads of the DW universe are similarly cybernetic. The Cybermen however were once human. Origin stories of these baddies vary, but essentially they are humans from an alternate Earth where they have slowly replaced organic parts of their bodies with machine parts until they are nothing but machines.
In the revamp of the series, this aspect was made even more horrific by making Blue Tooth devices the key to turning Cyber. They have had multiple designs as they evolve, a matter made more confusing by the fact that The Doctor has not encountered them chronologically in their timeline. Their battle cry of “Delete!” is almost as frightening as the Daleks’ as it even sounds more electronic.
In the new series, their design is much heavier, especially in the boots. When they march, the Cybermen take on a different kind of horror, the sound reminiscent of the jackboots of the Nazi stormtroopers as they took to the streets. There’s nothing scarier than something that evokes a real evil.
Other Classic Terrors
Also glimpsed in Monsters Who’s Who were the Ice Warriors of Mars, huge armored hulks who want to terraform the Earth into their more hospitable home. As their name might infer, they like the cold and hate heat, and they’ve encountered The Doctor many times. The Tenth Doctor had to contend with The Flood, a Martian virus possibly connected to these creatures.
A current enemy of The Doctor, the Great Intelligence, first appeared using Yeti as his pawns, and later nasty-smiled Snowmen, both monsters, though decades apart, were quite enough to send old and new fans scampering behind the sofa. Another terror that has fought against The Doctor in both the old series and the new would be the warlike Sontarans. These alien clone warriors with heads like deformed Cabbage Patch Kids are more dangerous than they appear, as they live only to do battle.
Then there are the true rulers of the Earth. The Silurians and the related Sea Devils are humanoid reptilian races that dominated the planet when mankind were apes. Various disasters caused them to seek refuge underground and in hibernation. They are almost always looking for a way to eradiate the monkey men and take back the planet. As the years have gone by, the special effects have gotten better, and these monsters have become scarier.
There are many others I could mention, among them the Nimon, the Mara, Kroll, the Macra, the Tractators, and the Kandy Man, but there is another race that disguished themselves as particularly dangerous – the Zygons. These hideous sucker-skinned aliens, who return in the aforementioned “The Day of The Doctor,” are the shape-shifting survivors of a destroyed planet who dwelt beneath Loch Ness for centuries. Although fan favorites, and appearing in various other media, The Doctor has only encountered the Zygons once on television.
They Might Look Human…
Some of The Doctor’s adversaries don’t look scary at all, they look like just folks, until of course they speak or you see them in action. Chief among these human looking enemies might well be his own people, the Time Lords themselves. Evil power hungry Gallifreyan human monsters, like The Rani, The Meddling Monk, Borusa, Morbius, and even Rassilon himself, have all stood against The Doctor.
The most evil of Time Lords however, is The Master, The Doctor’s opposite number and perhaps his most dangerous adversary and archenemy. Driven insane by the time vortex on Gallifrey he seeks only to make the drumming of time itself stop, and to kill The Doctor. And as if all those other Time Lords weren’t bad enough, there have even been evil dopplegangers of The Doctor himself like Salamander, The Dream Lord, and The Valeyard who have opposed them.
In the new series, The Doctor faced foes so fearsome he was forced to go into hiding, and make himself forget who he was. These monsters who looked like humans were called the Family of Blood. Wearing the forms of humans, these gaseous aliens with the power to possess other living beings nearly succeeded in destroying our hero.
The New Horrors
When “Doctor Who” was revived for the twenty-first century in 2005, new monsters were created to make the show fresh. Many were created by showrunner Russell T. Davies, but the more frightening examples came from the mind of current executive producer Steven Moffat. From the horrific giant female centaur-spider that was the Empress of the Racnoss to the almost comedic belching and farting Slitheen who wore human skins like clothes, the new era had more than its share of terrors.
One of the most frightening monsters The Doctor ever faced appeared in the episode “Midnight,” or rather it didn’t. We don’t actually see it. In one of the most intense forty-five minutes in genre television, The Doctor and a handful of passengers are trapped in a shuttle with an entity that can possess them one at a time and only communicates by repeating what everyone else says. I get chills just thinking about that one.
During Davies’ run, we also saw The Doctor come face to face with The Devil, but it was in Moffat’s writing debut, “The Empty Child,” that many of us got the most chills behind the sofa. In the award-winning episode, and its conclusion, The Doctor and friends are subjected to children in gas masks walking through Blitz era London saying the haunting words, “Are you my mummy?” So scary, just typing the words creeps me out.
The Worst of the Worst
The Silence are hideous monsters in suits with faces that resemble “The Scream” by Scandinavian artist Edvard Munch. These creatures are depicted as having manipulated the human race throughout history, and have one particular psychological affect – you can only see them while directly viewing them, once they are out of your sight, you forget that they ever existed. This leads to the rather startling visual of “Doctor Who” characters marking themselves to prove they had seen a Silent. This Steven Moffat horror however takes a back seat to his most terrifying Who monster – the Weeping Angels.
The Weeping Angels take a page from the Autons as in they are something ordinary that perhaps we might not normally be afraid of. Whereas the Autons bring shop mannequins to horrific life, the Weeping Angels are statues. But not just any statues, these are living statues, who only move when you are not looking at them, so as The Doctor says in their first appearance, “Don’t blink!”
Most of the time the Angels have the form of angel statues, sometimes hiding their eyes with their hands, sometimes crying, but always, once discovered, bearing fangs and forming their hands in grasping claws in rage. On the level of monsters to make one hide behind a couch, these are the worst, especially if there are statues near where you live, in your yard, or in your house. You will never look at them the same again!