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Thursday, 16 May 2013

Doctor Who Monsters

Doctor Who Monsters

David J Howe steps into the TARDIS to seek out some of the many monsters featured on the BBC's weekly science fiction adventure serial.

Doctor Who is the world's longest-running science fiction television programme. Created by Sydney Newman and Donald Wilson for the BBC, it was first transmitted in November 1963, and since that time the Doctor (a nomadic alien whose origins have never satisfactorily been explained) has had over 150 televised adventures in time and space and has encountered literally hundreds of alien races and monstrous individuals. The Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, and has the ability to change his body when the current one wears out or is damaged - a process called regeneration. There have been seven incarnations of the Doctor so far, each played by talented actors who have brought new facets to the character and helped to carry forward the popularity of the programme amongst children and adults alike.

When thinking of Doctor Who, the first thing that comes to most people's minds is not the TARDIS or the Doctor but the monsters, in particular a race of pepper-pot shaped aliens from the planet Skaro, better known as Daleks. It is fitting that the Daleks are so closely associated with the TV programme which spawned them, as they were a major factor in the early popularity and growth of the series from a Saturday tea-time drama to a national (and international) institution.

The Daleks' debut came just six weeks into the series, in the second episode of a story called The Mutants (aka The Daleks), written by Terry Nation, then a comedy writer. Doctor Who had started on November 23rd 1963 with an episode introducing us to the nameless time-traveller (we know he is a Doctor, but Doctor ... who?) and Susan his grand-daughter. Two of Susan's curious school teachers, Ian and Barbara, follow her home to an old junk yard. Inside the yard they find that Susan has vanished and also the incongruous form of a blue police public call box - a familiar sight on London's streets during the sixties. Susan's mysterious grandfather, the Doctor, arrives, and is reluctant to help Ian and Barbara search for Susan. Suddenly Susan's voice is heard coming from inside the police box, and the schoolteachers force their way inside.

What they find is now a part of television history as the police box is just the external shell for a fantastically advanced space/time machine called TARDIS (the letters standing for Time And Relative Dimension In Space), and the Doctor and Susan are aliens from another time, travelling in the hope of one day returning to their own people.

When Susan threatens to leave and stay on Earth, the Doctor operates the controls and sends the ship back in time to the Palaeolithic era where a stone-age tribe has lost the secret of fire and want the time-travellers to help. They eventually escape but rather than back to 20th century England, TARDIS takes them instead to an apparently dead and petrified forest on the planet Skaro.

The forest surrounds a gigantic metal city, and the Doctor determines to explore. It is in this city that they discover the Daleks, mutated remnants of a once noble race who intend to wipe out all remaining life on the planet with a radiation weapon.

The Daleks are the archetypal evil robots equipped with a lethal exterminator, memorable voices, and a completely inhuman shape. Unlike robots, however, each Dalek contains a mutated lump of seething hate, all that remains of the actual organic creature.

Described as 'the most evil creatures ever invented' the Daleks' origins were not revealed on screen until 1975 in an adventure called 'Genesis of the Daleks', again written by Terry Nation. In Nation's story Skaro was the site of a long war between its opposing humanoid factions: on one side the Thals, on the other the Kaleds. As time progressed, funds began to run out and the respective sides began re-using old equipment and resorting to biological weapons and nuclear bombardment in an attempt to gain the upper hand. The inevitable result of the chemicals and radiation was massive mutations on both sides and it soon became apparent that neither side could win.

Then the Kaleds' chief scientist, a genius named Davros who had been crippled and confined to a mobile life-support system earlier in the war, came up with a plan intended to save the Kaled race and to win the war. Davros determined to discover what form the Kaled mutations would ultimately take, and designed a travel and life-support system for them. He named his invention the mark three travel machine or Dalek.

In striving to make the Kaled race survival-orientated, Davros removed all trace of emotion and fear from his genetically engineered mutants. The Daleks would survive as that was their basic instinct, and they would survive by the systematic extermination of all life which was not Dalek. The killing started with the Thals, but then the Daleks turned on the Kaleds and ultimately Davros himself.

Following the end of the war - achieved through the Daleks dropping a radiation bomb which wiped out all life on the planet bar themselves and a few Thal mutants - the Daleks found that they could not move outside their metal city as they drew their power from static electricity generated through contact with the floor. The remaining Thal mutants underwent further metabolic change and eventually came full circle, becoming handsome and peaceful humanoids.

No other monster featured on Doctor Who had quite the same impact as the Daleks. During the sixties the BBC tried very hard to popularise the various creatures as they appeared, but none of them ever really caught on, although many are still fondly remembered today.

There were the Sensorites, bulbous-headed telepathic aliens who ultimately turned out to be a peaceful race, preyed upon by three deranged Human astronauts. Then there was the Daleks' pet, the Slyther, which was only glimpsed lurking in the shadows when they invaded Earth in the 21st Century.

The Zarbi, one of the most unlikely alien races, also received a lot of publicity. These were the creation of Australian writer Bill Strutton, and looked like giant ants. Indeed, Strutton's inspiration had come from watching a pair of bull ants fighting. Strutton's story, 'The Web Planet' (1965), contained no humanoids apart from the Doctor and his friends. As well as the Zarbi, there were the Menoptra, giant butterfly people, the Optera, underground grubs, and the Venom Guns, Zarbi larvae which spat poison from their snouts. The story also featured the Animus, a huge glowing web-structure with a malign intelligence at its centre, which was controlling the Zarbi and oppressing the Menoptra. The story was very ambitious for its time and some of the imaginative concepts could not wholly be embraced by the budget and available technology.

William Emms' 'Galaxy 4' (1965) introduced another twist. This was a classic tale of good versus evil with the good represented by a race of hideous wart hog-like, ammonia-breathing Rills, while the evil was attractively packaged as Amazonian female warriors called Drahvins. Both races were trapped on a doomed planet and the Doctor, seeing through the facade of good looks, ultimately helped the Rills escape before the planet was destroyed, leaving the ruthless Drahvins to their fate.

Other aliens to appear during the early years of Doctor Who included the one-eyed Monoids ('The Ark' 1966), the immortal Celestial Toymaker (played by actor Michael Gough) ('The Celestial Toymaker' 1966), a race of energy sapping Elders on a planet of savages ('The Savages' 1966) and a whole host of intergalactic creatures introduced in an epic twelve part story 'The Daleks' Master Plan' (1965/66).

In 1966 we were introduced to another of the programme's most popular enemies, a race of giant silver humanoids driven by logic and the instinct to survive: the Cybermen.

The concept came from Dr Kit Pedler who was at the timeDoctor Who's scientific adviser. He had a personal fear of where replacement part surgery was heading and he saw the Cybermen as the logical end point. They had once been human, but they replaced their limbs and internal organs with machines until they became more machine than flesh.

Written by Pedler and Doctor Who's script editor, Gerry Davis, 'The Tenth Planet' introduced us to the inhabitants of the planet Mondas - Earth's twin - who had discovered the science of cybernetics and used it to prolong their lifespan. They replaced limbs and vital organs with metal and plastic until the Mondasians became the first Cybermen. From Mondas they spread out across the galaxy, terrorising and bringing cold, emotionless, logical destruction with them.

To look at the Cybermen are quite impressive. Each stands about seven feet tall and is encased in a protective flexible silver armour. Their features are covered by an expressionless silver mask, with holes for the eyes and mouth. On their chest they wear an armoured unit which contains all their life-support functions and which distributes lubricants and power to all their limbs. The unit is also armed with both detachable guns and in-built weaponry depending on the Cyberman. They each have the strength of ten men and do not need oxygen as they do not breath as we do. Gold dust is their only weakness as it coats their life-support systems and suffocates them.

The Cybermen are in many ways more horrific a concept than the Daleks. In the Cybermen we can see the human form, and the Cybermen have the means to convert humans into creatures like themselves - the fear of losing one's identity touches nerves in everyone.

Another strength of the Cybermen lies in the horrific content of their stories. In 'The Tomb of the Cybermen' (1967) we saw the creatures slowly being revived, thawed from the ice by a power crazed logician. We also saw them destroyed, spurting foam from their chest-units as they wailed in electronic pain. In 'The Invasion' (1968) the Cybermen again invaded Earth, this time using the London sewers as a base. The sight of a crazed Cyberman lurching towards the Doctor's companions out of a dark sewer is an image that tends to stick in the memory. Just as potent is the image of the Cybermen breaking out of their storage capsules in the 1982 adventure 'Earthshock'.

The Cybermen were just one of many monsters which appeared in the late sixties. We also saw creatures like the Macra (giant crabs, drooling saliva and controlling an Earth colony), the Chameleons (faceless aliens who kidnapped humans to steal their forms), parasitic seaweed creatures (who took over a refinery as well as the humans on it), the Quarks (robot servants of the alien Dominators who intended to convert a peaceful planet into a radioactive power source) and the Krotons (more robotic creatures who used a race's mental power to revive and sustain themselves).

All of these were popular but two other creations really captured imaginations back in the black and white days. The first of these was the Yeti.

Doctor Who has often touched upon human legend (the Loch Ness monster, Atlantis, the Minotaur etc) and the myths surrounding the Bigfoot, or Yeti, inspired Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln to write 'The Abominable Snowmen' (1967) where the elusive creatures turned out to be robots controlled by an alien intelligence struggling to manifest itself on Earth. Although the Intelligence's first attack on Earth was unsuccessful, it was its second attempt which raised the Yeti to cult status. 'The Web of Fear' (1968) took place in the London underground, and even today many people still recall the cobwebs and the eerie pulsating web through which the Yeti stalked their victims accompanied by the two-tone beeping from the spherical control units buried in their chests.

The other popular monster from the sixties was a race of Warriors from Mars, which writer Brian Hayles arranged to be discovered buried in a glacier during the third ice age in the year 3000. 'The Ice Warriors' (1967) saw them revived and attempting to take over the Earth using their powerful sonic weapons.

The Warriors stand around eight feet tall and are clad in green scaly body armour edged with coarse black fur. Their heads are also encased and their eyes are covered with a flat red perspex-like material. Martian technology developed the Warriors as fighting machines with electronically augmented hearing and sight and a fearsome sonic weapon fitted to their arm. They appear slow and ponderous only because of Earth's unfamiliar gravity, and their distinctive hissing breathing and voice are as a result of the Earth's atmosphere.

Not all the Martians are evil. While the Doctor has encountered Warriors intent on invading the Earth by disrupting its climate ('The Seeds of Death' 1969), and plotting to annexe supplies of a rare mineral on an alien planet ('The Monster of Peladon' 1974), he has also met Warriors who are strongly loyal and moral, who helped and supported him when he was mistaken for the Earth delegate at a conference to allow a primitive planet to join the Galactic Federation ('The Curse of Peladon' 1972). Despite their popularity at the time, the Ice Warriors have not re-appeared since 1974 and their place has been taken by a number of other creatures and aliens.

In 1970 Doctor Who was made and transmitted in colour for the first time, and with a new actor playing the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) exiled to Earth by the Time Lords, the menaces he faced were more home-grown than we had seen before.

His exile to Earth coincided with the first invasion by the squid-like Nestene consciousness which arrived contained in a swarm of meteorites in Robert Holmes' 'Spearhead from Space' (1970). The Nestenes had no bodies of their own and so used Autons, animated plastic dummies, to do their bidding. Scenes of a row of mannequins springing jerkily into life in a shop window and then striding through the streets killing pedestrians as they go are among the all-time classic moments in Doctor Who's history. Holmes' second story featuring the Nestenes and Autons, 'Terror of the Autons' (1971), went a step further and brought the menace into our own homes. 'Terror of the Autons' was criticised heavily by Mary Whitehouse and the Viewers and Listeners Association for its scenes of graphic horror: a man is suffocated and crushed by a plastic armchair; a troll-like doll strangles another victim; the Doctor is attacked by a telephone cable which wraps itself around his neck; and plastic daffodils spray a plastic film over the mouths and noses of their victims.

The Nestenes were the first of numerous creatures which tried their hand at the Earth. There were the Axons, apparently perfect golden humanoids who offered the planet a valuable mineral in exchange for knowledge. Their true nature was revealed as hideous orange tentacled monsters, part of a collective organism which included their ship and the mineral. The Axons were a parasitic life form come to leech the Earth of its energy.

The Axons had been brought to Earth by the Master, another of the Doctor's race, but one committed to evil and the gaining of personal power. The Master has been behind many of the plots against the Earth, including using a mind parasite in an attempt to sabotage a peace conference ('The Mind of Evil' 1971), the revival through black magic of an ancient god-like alien to judge the Earth ('The Daemons' 1971) and the manipulation in 1972 of a race of reptilian creatures, the Sea Devils.

Named by the keeper of an abandoned sea fort who glimpsed them and was driven insane by the sight, they are horrific part-reptile part-humanoid creatures armed with a powerful hand weapon which they can use to burn through the hulls of ships as well as to fire bolts of energy at any who oppose them.

Their alien looks belie the fact that they are actually native to the Earth, and along with their land-based cousins the Silurians (mis-named by the Doctor as the period of Earth's history they originated from was the Eocene), ruled the planet many thousands of years ago. Their story, told by Malcolm Hulke in 'Doctor Who and the Silurians' (1970) and 'The Sea Devils' (1972), was that their civilisation came to a halt when a rogue planet was detected headed for Earth on a collision course. The reptiles knew that the collision would disrupt the environment for many years to come and so decided to put themselves into hibernation until the Earth became habitable once more.

Unfortunately the planets did not collide as they had predicted, instead the rogue was captured by Earth's gravitational pull and became the Moon. As the expected disaster never occurred, the reptile's mechanisms to revive them once danger had passed did not operate, and they slept on in ignorance. The ape creatures which they had kept as pets evolved into Mankind and all was well until the reptiles were awakened from their sleep. The deposed rulers decided to reclaim their heritage and to wipe out the upstart apes.

The Silurians, who had been awoken by radiation from a Cyclotron machine, attempted to destroy Earth's Van Allen belt thus allowing harmful radiation to kill the humans, and the Sea Devils were awoken by repair work being carried out to an abandoned Sea Fort and began sinking ships in the vicinity.

The Master tried to use the Sea Devils to gain power for himself, but his plans were ultimately foiled when the Navy bombed their underwater base, destroying the creatures. Previously the military had used explosives to seal the Silurians underground. This apparent treachery on the part of humanity came to a head when a triad of Silurians revived some Sea Devil Warriors and attempted to seize control of a military base in the year 2084 and instigate a global war between the superpowers ('Warriors of the Deep' 1984). The Doctor was luckily on hand, but he again despaired of all the deaths that resulted.

Other creatures encountered by the Doctor during the seventies included the members of the Galactic Federation present on the planet Peladon to debate that world's entry to the Federation. There was the six-armed, one-eyed hermaphrodite Alpha Centauri, the evil Arcturus floating in a tank of nutrient sustained by a life-support system and the Ice Warriors. There were the Draconians, proud lizard-like creatures with a society based on a dynastic empire. Their Empire had made a pact with Earth, a pact that the Daleks and the Master were keen to break down.

Another popular foe first appeared in 1974 in a story again by Robert Holmes called 'The Time Warrior'. The warrior in question was Lynx, a Sontaran, who had crashed his ship in Medieval England. Lynx was kidnapping scientists from the 20th century to help repair his ship, and it was this activity which drew the third Doctor's attention.

Sontarans live for war and battle. They see such endeavours as glorious and praiseworthy, and every Sontaran, from officer to cadet, longs for the day when they might die for the greater glory of the Sontaran empire. Such is their total commitment to the art of war that Sontarans are actually bred for the purpose. Each is cloned from a genetic pool, and all are refined and honed to create a perfect fighting machine, all identical, with matching aims, goals and values.

The Doctor encountered the Sontarans again in Earth's future. They had decided to test the strength of human resistance to a planned Galactic invasion and had sent a lone emissary to Earth to carry out experiments. Field Major Styre had captured members of a ship from one of Earth's colonies which he had lured back to Earth itself, and was experimenting on them in a number of cruel and torturous ways. The fourth Doctor managed to rescue the humans and arrange for the Sontaran's power supply to be sabotaged.

When Tom Baker took over as the fourth Doctor in 1974, he came up against a variety of hideous and evil creatures. There were the Wirrn, giant insect creatures which laid their eggs close to a power source to enable them to grow. Once they hatched, the larvae sought out a host to slowly convert into a Wirrn, the host's brain gradually taken over by the invading parasite. When the Doctor encountered them, the host was human.

'The Ark In Space' (1975), yet another Robert Holmes story which introduced the Wirrn, was a powerful and claustrophobic tale of a small group of humans up against the invading Wirrn. It was made in 1974, about five years earlier than Ridley Scott's Alien, but contains many similar ideas and concepts. One can only surmise that Scott (who very nearly designed the Daleks back in 1963 as at the time he worked as a BBC designer) may well have been influenced by Doctor Who's treatment of the ideas.

Following the Wirrn the Doctor met the Zygons, more aliens trapped on Earth, this time under Loch Ness where their cyborg 'pet' and food source, the Skarasen, was mistaken for the Loch Ness monster. There were the Kraals who attempted to invade Earth using android duplicates, there was Sutekh, one of the ancient Egyptian gods who was breaking free of his bonds in a pyramid situated on Mars and an anti-matter creature which emerged into our universe on a planet at the edge of the galaxy.

Transmitted in 1975/76, these adventures were strongly influenced by films from the fifties and sixties. 'Pyramids of Mars' had its roots in the Hammer Mummy films, 'Planet of Evil' with its invisible anti-matter creature which flickered into existence when passing through a force field was inspired by Forbidden Planet, 'The Android Invasion' had the android duplicates delivered to Earth in seed-pod-like containers reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and 'The Seeds of Doom' was strongly based on Christian Nyby's 1951 film The Thing from Another World (John Carpenter's version was some years away). Even the classic Frankenstein story was exploited in 'The Brain of Morbius', in which a discredited Doctor Solon builds a piecemeal body in which to house the preserved and functioning brain of his master.

Doctor Who has always been innovative in its presentation of creatures which differ from the norm. 'Image of the Fendahl' (1977) by Chris Boucher, encompassed many of the themes and iconography of death and black magic: a human skull is unearthed which is far older than it should be and which, when X-rayed, has a five-pointed star pattern on it. The skull is in fact the channel for the alien Fendahl to come to Earth. The Fendahl is a creature which is death - the Time Lords reduced the planet between Mars and Jupiter to rubble in an attempt to wipe it out, and its contact with Mars turned that into a dead world. Once on Earth, the Fendahl attempted to manifest itself completely and of course the Doctor prevented it.

Horror returned in 1980 when we were introduced to the Marshmen. 'Full Circle' by Andrew Smith featured the concept of a planet on which the flora and fauna are linked together and which evolve on a predetermined cycle. A spacecraft crashes on the planet and all the occupants are killed by the Marshmen who rise from the swamps and attack the ship. The Marshmen then evolve into humans and eventually believe themselves to be the true crew of the ship which they attempt to make ready for flight. Eventually the planetary cycle comes full circle and the mists again roll in from the swamps, closely followed by another marauding group of Marshmen. One of the most effective moments in DOCTOR WHO's history is the sight of the Marshmen rising from the misty swamps to advance on the hapless spacecraft.

Peter Davison took over the title rĂ´le as Doctor Who progressed into the eighties and we met the frog-like Monarch and his two lieutenants, Persuasion and Enlightenment, en route to colonise Earth from their home planet of Urbanka. There were the Terileptils whose ship had crashed on Earth in the seventeenth century and who were ultimately responsible for the fire of London in 1666. The Malus was originally the psychic power source of a probe from the planet Hakol that crashed on Earth many hundreds of years ago. The entity was reactivated during a modern-day reconstruction of a Civil War battle and, through psychic energy, directed the war game to a conclusion that would provide enough fear and bloodshed to enable it to break free.

It was not only the Earth which was threatened, however, and the Doctor encountered alien menaces on many other planets too. For example a nest of Tractators on the planet Frontios was discovered to be the cause of both violent meteor showers and the mysterious disappearance of the planet's colonists. The Tractators used gravity to impel their victims towards them and then manipulated the living flesh into hideous burrowing machines.

In 1985, another classic alien was added to the ever-growing list. This was Sil, a maggot-like creature obsessed with violence, pain and hard cash. Sil was on the planet Varos where the Governor was trying to negotiate a better price for the ore that Varos had in abundance. In a bold move, the director of 'Vengeance on Varos' (1985), Ron Jones, hired disabled actor Nabil Shaban to play the creature. This was inspired casting as Shaban's superb acting, combined with a revolting maggot costume which could not have been worn by an able-bodied actor, meant that Sil came over as a totally believable and nasty piece of work.

By this time Colin Baker was playing the Doctor, and during his short tenure we were introduced to such menaces as the Vervoids, flesh-eating plant creatures which ran amok on a luxury space liner, the Androgums, gluttonous humanoids, and the Borad, a half-humanoid, half snake creature intent on making the Doctor's companion Peri into a creature like himself for breeding purposes.

As the eighties drew to a close, there were a few more additions to Doctor Who's monster gallery as well as a new actor playing the Doctor, Sylvester McCoy.

Ian Briggs' 'The Curse of Fenric' (1989) featured a quiet village on the Yorkshire coast: seemingly an ideal place for the British Army to set up a base during the Second World War. However the village had a secret hidden in Viking runes carved on the wall of the church crypt, and the sea nearby was home to an ancient race of blood drinking monsters, the Haemovores.

The Haemovores had once been human but had been changed into zombie-like vampire mutants. Their leader was a creature called the Ancient Haemovore, bigger, older and more horrific than the rest. The Doctor managed to persuade the Ancient Haemovore not to allow the evil Fenric to destroy life on the Earth, and the Ancient One sacrificed himself instead. Like the Sea Devils and Marshmen before them, scenes of the Haemovores rising from the sea and advancing on a priest through a mist-wreathed graveyard are amongst the more memorable in recent years.

Another memorable creature was the Destroyer from 'Battlefield' (1989). This horned and blue-skinned demon was summoned by Morgaine the witch to destroy the Earth, and, even though shackled by chains of silver, managed to create a lasting impression. Doctor Who still managed to stir up controversy, as with the death of the character Kane in the 1987 story 'Dragonfire'. Kane was a humanoid who existed at sub-zero temperatures and at the story's conclusion he was exposed to sunlight and his face melted away to reveal the grinning skull beneath. This effect was the cause of many complaints from concerned parents and even received coverage in the tabloid press.

Over the last twenty-nine years Doctor Who has presented a wide selection of believable, and not-so-believable creatures for our entertainment. The series has spawned more nightmares than any other, and has seen the Doctor battle evil in all its many forms across the galaxy.

As the Doctor himself once said: "There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything that we believe in. They must be fought."

David J Howe