Rather than individual entries and a countdown, this look back at 50 noteworthy Who villains is broken up into ten groups of five with no rankings involved. This approach obviously makes the article longer (hence the need to divide over more than one page).
It’s not intended to be a Top 50, more a collection of 50 interesting villainous characters from across Doctor Who history, some of whom aren’t even the main antagonists in their stories…
1. Crowd pleasers
Count Scarlioni comes from excellent stock. Created by David Fisher, rewritten by Douglas Adams, and played by future Bond villain Julian Glover, he’s a tremendously entertaining villain. Despite reportedly disliking the script, Glover turns in a suave and subtly menacing performance as Scaroth (last of the Jagaroth) and his many forms splintered throughout time. Definitely the most quippy of all the genocidal maniacs in Doctor Who.
More actively threatening is Harrison Chase, who actively preferred plants to people. Because everyone who played the organ was clearly a wrong ‘un in the Tom Baker era, The Seeds Of Doom sees Chase playing non-euphemistically in his green cathedral. Chase is probably the closest thing Doctor Who has ever had to a Bond villain: an insane millionaire – his quirk a botany obsession – possessing a casual cruelty, disposable henchmen and a fondness for leaving people to die in slow-moving machinery. Even Bond villains, though, rarely display such chilling detachment from someone’s death as Chase does when he subjects people to be attacked by a Krynoid pod simply to satisfy his own curiosity.
Tony Beckley’s performance knows when to be calm but twitchy, and then let rip during the camper excesses. There’s a balance to it, and it’s tremendously entertaining. Compare it to the determinedly unbalanced performance Graham Crowden gives as Soldeed in The Horns Of Nimon. It belongs in this list, despite it lacking much in menace or suggesting any hint of a richer life for Soldeed beyond the four episodes we see him in. It’s here because sometimes – quite often, really – Doctor Who is really silly and if you’re unable to embrace that a significant portion of the show is cut off from you. Soldeed is the apotheosis of this, and without Crowden overdoing it The Horns Of Nimon almost certainly wouldn’t be more highly thought of.
As it is, we have him trying to stretch his own face off and inserting syllables where previously there were no syllables. Or silly bulls. The point is that we’re probably never going to show non-fans The Horns Of Nimon, but for some of us it’s the perfect accompaniment to a heavily discounted bottle of wine. Nowadays we’re unlikely to ever see such a ripe performance, even when someone like Richard E. Grant gets cast.
The Great Intelligence has a fondness for snow, traps, and possessing corpses. Cropping up in the Second Doctor era in The Abominable Snowmen (a sluggish but foreboding tale that is approximately 67% whispers) and The Web Of Fear (a brilliant, paranoid horror with one of Patrick Troughton’s best performances), the Intelligence was described as a ‘formless, shapeless thing…only with a mind and will’. Its aim was to take over a host body, and after their first meeting it decided on the Doctor’s. Spin-off novelisations had connected it by name with one of H.P. Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones, but when it reappeared in 2012’s The Snowmen it was described as the hate and loathing of a lonely man surviving as a disembodied hostile entity (A bit like Gamergate, then, but more honest about its intentions).
Perhaps realising that it could do much more as an abstract entity than with corporeal form, it attempted to destroy the Doctor at every point in his timeline using hollow bodies of unexplained origin, though no one was really bothered about this because we’d seen Clara inserted into footage from Arc Of Infinity which is one hell of a trump card to play.
Speaking of Arc Of Infinity – as all right-minded people do – Omega re-appeared here after his debut ten years earlier in The Three Doctors. Despite Stephen Thorne given a reliably loud performance, and despite Arc Of Infinity having one of the show’s more bemusing monster designs, both managed to tap into the uniquely tragic aspect of Omega’s plight: a tragic hero who lost everything, and survived only to be trapped for eternity. Like the Great Intelligence he became a creature of will, outliving his body, though it’s perhaps more understandable why Omega might want to return to our universe and take a humanoid form. With the Time Lords confined to a pocket universe, now would certainly be a good time for a prolonged and shouty gloat.
2. The Bob Holmes pantheon
Robert Holmes, one of Doctor Who‘s greatest writers, is famous for many things: ripe, quotable dialogue; double acts; Grand Guignol, and disfigured villains with mighty reputations. However, he’s also famous for scathing depictions of bureaucracy (based partly on his experiences working for the BBC). Thus, we have Michael Wisher’s Kalik, the villain of Carnival Of Monsters: a literally grey jobsworth who is only imaginative when it comes to career advancement. Representative of a ruling class who instinctively dislike alien or low culture, and are willing to engineer chaos just to advance their own agendas, Kalik works as an allegory for fretting, interfering television executives as well as the culturally conservative, self-proclaimed protectors of morality; Holmes’ work also deserves to be remembered for its devious satire.
Sharaz Jek ticks off all the traits associated with a Holmes villain, but is the most interesting collection of these tropes. He has monopolised the market on a socially acceptable drug through racketeering and guerilla warfare, and is quite happy to keep the Doctor and Peri prisoner for the rest of their lives, and later tortures the Doctor for information. He’s introduced in The Caves Of Androzani as an elusive, nightmarish figure operating in the shadows, but crucially he’s not merely motivated by revenge and loss, but also seems to genuinely – and creepily – feel affection towards Peri to the point of mania. He’s been driven insane, and ultimately Holmes and actor Christopher Gable managed to make you feel some sympathy for him.
This is determinedly not the case when it comes to Magnus Greel. The ‘Butcher of Brisbane’ was supposed to be the Master, returning after The Deadly Assassin, but instead became another disfigured villain, adopting the guise of the titular character in The Talons Of Weng-Chieng. It’s Greel’s backstory and modus operandi, rather than the fading and raging phantom we see, that linger in the memory. Like Morbius he’s fulfilling a role in a Doctor Who riff on a classic horror story, is played by Michael Spicer and is part of a greater whole that gives him prestige in the pantheon of villainy.
Morbius has a greater impact in his own tale, The Brain Of Morbius, by virtue of just being an incredibly angry brain in a jar. He isn’t dying and weakening throughout his own story, has a similarly impressive backstory, and is restored in time to do some serious damage to our hero.
Neither of these can hold a candle – or in Morbius’ case, just set one of his claws on fire – to an altogether calmer monstrosity. Sutekh the Destroyer just made it all seem effortless; such was the ease with which he tortured the Doctor to his mere mild amusement. He is, it transpires, overconfident, but this is demonstrated by horribly killing his own henchman and referring to death as a gift. It’s a shocking a demonstration of power that is continually demonstrated throughout Pyramids Of Mars. The fact that Sutekh has never returned (although actor Gabriel Woolf – his voice like evil cream – has) adds to the potency of his only appearance. Of course, he has since appeared in the expanded universes, but it’s only canon if it happens on television. That’s the law.
3. Villains that didn’t happen on television
Bad laws are made to be broken. Plus it’d be a disservice to the wealth of creativity and brilliance that exists off-screen if we didn’t include villains from comics, novels and audio plays, forms where writers can really make Doctor Who their own without the pressures of wider commercial appeal. Take Jubilee, for example, Rob Shearman’s Sixth Doctor-starring Big Finish play which was later adapted into the episode Dalek.
Jubilee is a grotesque, pitch-black world which has broader aims than the streamlined efficiency of its TV counterpart. In a version of the world where England is the supreme global power – having defeated an earlier Dalek invasion – the country is looking forward to its Jubilee year presided over by President Rochester (and his wife Miriam) – the former a plummy voiced monster with distinctly Dalek-like tendencies. Rochester is both a gibbering wreck and a confident psychopathic beast who inspires too much fear for anyone to say no to, though his wife secretly deems him too weak to properly oppress the world. After The Holy Terror, Shearman delivers another hideously dysfunctional family, played with extra relish here by the married couple of Martin Jarvis and Rosalind Ayres.
Also facing off against the Sixth Doctor was Astrolabus in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine. In an arc written by Steve Parkhouse and drawn by John Ridgeway, the Doctor was tasked by the Death-like entity Voyager with retrieving star charts stolen by the Time Lord thief Astrolabus. In possession of these charts Astrolabus was able to twist reality into fairy tale logic, sending the Doctor on a series of surreal adventures before finally being cornered and killed by a vengeful Voyager. Initially reminiscent of the Matrix sequences in The Deadly Assassin, these strips play with form to great effect with a final suggestion that Astrolabus is something of a proxy for the writer himself, the Doctor asserting his free will against the insidious counter-suggestions of a dying man.
Less subtle, but no less entertaining, Beep the Meep was a saucer-eyed fluffy bundle of murderous rage. Imagine the rabbit from Monty Python And The Holy Grail with a laser blaster and aspirations to conquer the galaxy. Then imagine a conceptual entity with the power to alter your perception. The Shift appears in Lawrence Miles’ Alien Bodies, which is crammed full of great ideas that later appeared on television, and also ones that didn’t. The Shift is one of the latter, though it could still work on television. It communicates by altering perception so things like patterns on a wall or writing on a page briefly form into the Shift’s words. We meet the Shift while it’s attending a secret auction, during which Miles treats Doctor Who as if he owns it by introducing universe-altering concept after concept, and successfully killing a major character.
Steven Hall manages the same feat in A Death In The Family, where the Doctor meets his demise at the hands of the Word Lord, Nobody No-one. What sounds like an irritatingly whimsical name becomes a devastating semantic weapon. The Word Lords are a parallel universe equivalent of Time Lords, and can alter reality based on words used or said. Hence, if someone says ‘No-one can escape that prison cell’, then the Word Lord can now escape that prison cell. Pairing him against the famously manipulative Seventh Doctor resulted in one of the best ever Big Finish plays, aided by Ian Reddington (The Chief Clown in The Greatest Show In The Galaxy) playing Nobody as a demented and sadistic motormouth, one of those villains who is as entertaining as they are dangerous.
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4. Get behind me Satan
There’s something unspokenly demonic about Fenric. He attempts to bring about something like Hell on Earth according to both Norse and Christian tellings. In the Target novelisation there’s a chapter set in 3rd Century Constantinople, akin to a tale from Arabian Nights, where Fenric is called Aboo-Fenrán and akin to a Jinn, or genie. In Islam the Devil is a Jinn and causes people to do wrong by misleading them.
There’s something immensely enjoyable about the build up and anticipation in The Curse Of Fenric, and his opening lines upon finally arriving in the story compliment the suggestion of an epic struggle throughout the ages, but then it gets better: Fenric is full of quips. He really enjoys being out and about and killing all the people. He knows he’s a villain and that certain behaviour is expected of him. While he was trapped in the Shadow Dimensions he clearly read up on postmodernism.
In Buddhism Mara is a demon who offers temptations, though there are five different aspects of the concept and all of these are represented in some form during Kinda and Snakedance, blended with Judeo-Christian imagery of the serpent in Eden. Unlike Fenric, the Mara sadly disappoints upon its actual manifestation, but it gets under the skin more. Even if it was done in a heavily stylised way Kinda sees Tegan get more character development in one scene than her previous three stories put together. Fenric manipulates, whereas the Mara uses the darkness that’s already there, presenting us with an uncompromisingly weird and aloof vision of the TARDIS crew as seen by Tegan. Rarely for Doctor Who (especially in the ‘no hanky panky’ Eighties) the Mara is particularly suggestive of sexual temptations, so I dread to think what would happen if Steve Moffat got involved.
The Malus is inspired by old woodcuts of demons, and though Eric Saward reduced the supernatural element present in Eric Pringle’s original scripts (to make them more science-fictiony), it’s the visuals rather than the backstory which people remember. The Awakening was designer Barry Newbery’s last work on the show, having worked on Doctor Who since its first episode, and the Tony Harding’s Malus props looming out of the church wall or creaking and spewing inside the TARDIS are images that induced nightmares. Irrespective of how it looks now, to a young viewer there was something inherently unsettling about the Malus, and the short bloodless bursts of violence it generated.
The Beast was, like the Malus, a tad fortunate in finding some victims it could manipulate but then that’s narrative necessity for you. Trapped on Krop Tor, it used its silkily smooth voice – every Gabriel Woolf utterance like a particularly efficient intestinal contraction – to terrify and trick a nearby expeditionary crew into releasing it from its prison. Possibly the Beast’s main problem is that he keeps mentioning that he’s basically the Devil, which pretty much guarantees that nobody likes him and that Rose is fine with destroying a perfectly good window just to get rid of him.
What makes this demonic possession story interesting is how it poses questions of where the Devil comes from, whether the Beast is the creature of so many legends (including, if the Great Intelligence is to be believed, the Doctor himself) or if it’s just a name given to ‘the evil that men do’, and how the imagery crops up across the universe invoking the Kaled God of War (and the Malus is described as a God of War in The Awakening), and the planet Dæmos.
There are nowhere near as many questions leftover after The Dæmons and the demise of Azal. His background, motivations, and powers are all explained in Barry Letts and Robert Sloman’s considered and rollicking hokum. What isn’t explained is his inability to witness irrational behaviour without dying and the baggy folds of skin on his lower legs. Azal is another booming Stephen Thorne performance, imbuing this daemon with a prickly impatience and capriciousness which makes you wonder how he had the patience to subtly influence human history over the millennia (especially with all those Scaroths and Atlantises kicking about). You wouldn’t want to cross him, certainly, and his long awaited reveal in Episode Four of The Dæmons doesn’t disappoint, as he manages to appear in all his hairy, horny glory while maintaining a Parental Guidance certificate from the BBFC.
5. I will ally myself with this clearly untrustworthy race of aliens, what harm could it do?
The Cybermen often infiltrate their opponents by finding/manipulating a willing conspirator, as demonstrated by Klieg and Kaftan. Despite this always working out fatally for the patsy (known in the biz as ‘Pulling a Ringway’) there seems to be a willing queue of volunteers to aid them in their machinations. In the case of Miss Hartigan the Cybermen are able to use her anger to help progress her plans. While The Next Doctor doesn’t conclude satisfyingly – by its author’s admission – it does explore an interesting idea: the anger is there because Miss Hartigan has suffered greatly, there’s tragedy underpinning her actions. The Cybermen’s claim that emotions are a weakness has some sway in these instances.
Also, of course, Dervla Kirwan is having a ball playing a Doctor Who villain while maintaining a credible threat; the master of this balancing act was Kevin Stoney. As Tobias Vaughn he eventually succumbed to hubris – which is a fancy word for raging stupidity – but what a journey it was. Vaughn was disarmingly charming, extremely ruthless, but his veneer concealed a capacity for violence (watch the scene where he goads Professor Kettlewell into shooting him for a demonstration of all of this). As well as The Invasion serving as a prototype for the Pertwee/UNIT era, Vaughn feels like a dry run for Roger Delgado’s Master.
In his debut story Terror Of The Autons the Master has a great time wreaking havoc with circuses, scientists, and concocting particularly nasty deaths, and nails his colours to the mast early on: the Master is so relentlessly entertaining that you don’t notice his plans, stacked like Russian dolls, are bewildering (how many rubber masks does he have on him at any one time?). There’s often one important aspect he’s overlooked, such as the fact that the Autons will suddenly and inevitably betray him once their invasion force arrived. Still, I’m sure he’ll learn from this mishap and nothing like this will ever happen again, especially if he does something as reckless as temporary allying himself with the Daleks.
Mavic Chen, Guardian of the Solar System (a title begging for its own theme music) would be able to advise him against this if it wasn’t for the teensy problem of being massively dead plus lacking the requisite self-awareness. His quest for power in The Dalek Master Plan is akin to Ban Ki-moon agreeing a deal with ISIS for world domination. A scheming megalomaniac, he betrayed basically everyone he allied with, and died insisting he was immortal.
Under no delusions as to his mortality, The Controller was the Daleks’ puppet ruler in an alternate 22nd Century. Essentially gilding systematic oppression on a global scale, he argues with the Doctor that life on Earth is good despite the presence of widespread work camps, and that he’s been able to save lives through his collaboration. Jon Pertwee then saves the world with nothing more than relentless scorn. Aubrey Woods performance as the Controller is the standout one in Day Of The Daleks, especially the scene where he realises he’s going to die. This happens because he decides to fight in a world run by Daleks, and he’s betrayed by one of his own guards. It’s all enough to make you question human nature.
6. Aaah, but man is the real villain, don’t you see? Aaah
Which brings us to The Young Silurian. Aaah, you say, but he is not a man. He is a Silurian with a fondness for violently jerky head motions and saying the word ‘leader’. But, I say, is not the point that the Silurians have the same flaws as humanity? That the Young Silurian and the Brigadier are two sides of the same coin? Both are militaristic and intent on destroying the other species to preserve their own, both are unwilling to listen to the Doctor. The Young Silurian is impetuous and aggressive, dominating others without a second’s consideration that he might be wrong. Possibly writer Malcolm Hulke based him on some of the younger political firebrands from his days in the Communist Party, which wouldn’t be the first time Doctor Who had used overconfident revolutionaries for its antagonists.
In The Power Of The Daleks the Doctor’s arch enemies trick the colonists of Vulcan into thinking they are robotic servants before they finally attack and kill half of the colony. Bragen, the colony’s security officer, has picked a very bad time to give up not instigating a coup. Through the six episodes the rebels build up their plans, with Bragen being quite willing to kill anyone who stands in his way, with the viewer knowing that the Daleks’ presence renders the rebellion especially futile. Ultimately they destroy most of Bragen’s troops, and Bragen himself isn’t shot by the Daleks, but by one of the colonists. It’s a stark and horrible demonstration of the Daleks’ power, by making someone as nasty as Bragen seem petty in comparison.
Like Bragen, Rorvik is a nasty piece of work – running a slaver ship – but personality wise he slips into the tragic patheticness we expect from someone like Alan Partridge. Stephen Gallagher and Christopher H. Bidmead’s script for Warriors’ Gate does read at times like a Science Fiction literate Samuel Beckett play, where something as immoral as slavery is portrayed as mundane. Rorvik’s final cry of ‘I’m finally getting something done!’ could come out of the mouth of a frustrated office manager, which makes his choice of profession – and subsequent ire and boredom – even darker.
Higher up the food chain than Rorvik is The Caves Of Androzani‘s Morgus. Morgus is a legitimate businessman, and so engages in slavery only in the sense that he employs people to work for him without pay. It’s all quite legal of course. There’s also the small matter of gun running, murder, treason and plot. In the hands of another actor, Morgus could have been a tad boo-hiss. John Normington’s passionless delivery and director Graeme Harper’s incorporation of accidental turns to camera turn Morgus into something quite unique: his Shakespearian asides to camera, his twitching eye, his opportunistic amorality…he’s hugely entertaining, Doctor Who‘s own Frank Underwood. When he pushes the President down a lift shaft, deadpans his way through a brief eulogy, insists the lift maintenance engineer be shot, and then states that his own life is clearly at risk – all in the space of about a minute – you almost feel like saying ‘…well done, actually.’
Equally entertaining but not exactly in the same way, Dame Diana Rigg’s turn as Mrs Gillyflower is Soldeedian in its output but only because it has been modulated to the acceptable parameters of such villainy. You can tell the actress is enjoying herself enormously but is also taking the script seriously. It’s just that the script calls for a glint in the eyes, the kind that precedes a knowing wink. As with Rorvik, the tone of the story overshadows the fact that the villain is actually advocating something abhorrent – in this case eugenics – because what we mainly remember is Mrs Gillyflower’s erstwhile associate Mr Sweet being pulverised with a cane after she’s been sent rolling down the stairs by a child-like Sontaran.
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7. We are scientists
There are essentially two kinds of scientist in Doctor Who – geeks and dickheads. Either they’ll be frightened and brave and a bit nerdy and doomed to die or they’ll barge through life with a billowing labcoat pushing all the non-scientists out of the way because science is best, and all non-scientists are scum. Professor Stahlman is blinkered to this extent, regarding anything that compromises his vision for the Inferno project as a pointless hassle, even though listening to them would have prevented his turning into a big angry green dog. Proud, obstinate, and insufferable, if he had survived this disaster, he’d probably be on the internet right now telling children they didn’t really invent the clock.
Professor Solon on the other hand, was not given vast sums of government money to pursue his ambitions, partly due to joining the cult of Morbius and going into hiding on Karn. As played by Philip Madoc, Solon is a frustrated zealot whose undoubted genius has been bent to a singular and frankly rubbish task. He lives with a servant he hates, his task is an uphill struggle, and his Master is throbbing impatiently. It’s no wonder that he’s forgotten social etiquette and thinks that ‘What a magnificent head’ is an acceptable compliment when entertaining guests. He has range, does Solon, from his pitiful desperation when The Brain of Morbius is knocked out of its jar, to the fact that he straight up shoots Condo in the guts, he’s an interesting and atypical villain who feels like a real person (albeit one who happens to be caught up in a gothic adventure serial). What Solon really lacks is a sense of autonomy, of doing the job for himself. The Rani is her own Time Lady, her experiments driven by her own interests rather than that of another.
It’s curious that, having appeared in one not terribly well-received story and two deeply unpopular ones (like it or not, Dimensions In Time was broadcast to over thirteen million people), the Rani seemed to be perpetually due to return, until it became something of a joke. Fortunately Kate O’Mara was cast, giving a potentially thankless role some star quality. Indeed, in Mark Of The Rani it does feel like she’s had her life interrupted by an episode of Doctor Who. She has serious work to be getting on with, thank you very much, but by Time And The Rani she’s realised the format of the show and packed a curly ginger wig. She’s currently being revitalised by Siobhan Redmond and Big Finish, but not by Klieg and Kaftan who shouldn’t really be trusted when it comes to revitalising equipment.
Klieg and Kaftan are members of the Brotherhood of Logicians who emphasised pure logic, although not to the extent that they realised it would make everybody hate them. Eric Klieg (George Pastell) is entertainingly arrogant, and it’s satisfying watching him being constantly undermined by the Doctor, who has clearly clocked that Klieg is a total flake from the get go. He is, in effect, a Cyberman with a god complex. His co-conspirator Kaftan (Shirley Cooklin) is yet another slave owner on this list, and never lets reality get to her; her spiteful arrogance is rarely undermined. Happy to finance a mission to Telos to discover The Tomb of the Cybermen she is clearly unworried by the prospect of leading a motley collection of B-movie characters to their deaths.
This is nothing, though, compared to the sheer nerve of Davros (Lord and Creator of the Daleks). He sells people their own dead relatives back to them as food. He thinks that converting you into a Dalek is the highest form of compliment. He wiped out his entire race to ensure the survival of his own invention. He turned Dirty Den into a zombie. He has beautiful eyes. All hail Davros.
8. Villains from history
Now that the Pure Historical is itself a purely historical artifact (and also a Glaswegian term meaning ‘quite old’), there are no recent examples of historical human characters being allowed to be the main villain (they tend to be, like Phil Davies’ Lucius in Fires Of Pompeii, a mouthpiece for the aliens). Back in the Sixties when the show’s remit was to educate and entertain the TARDIS crew would be the only anomalous figures in a historical setting, until that type of story was phased out in 1966’s The Highlanders and we started to get human villains being subservient to an alien overlord.
One of the most memorable of this subsect was The War Games‘ General Smythe. While on the surface he represents the officer class in World War One – based in a chateau away from the front line, distant from the suffering of his men – there’s more to him than meets the eye. He’s able to use mind control (through the simple visual cue of putting on spectacles, added by director David Maloney) over his troops, and communicate in secret with persons unknown to ask for more ‘specimens’. There’s an extra level here, beyond merely being part of the War Games controlling group (the others deserving of mention in this list, but not included ultimately because while spending a significant part of your screen time arguing is entertaining, it undermines the threat levels somewhat). General Smythe represents the idea, most likely included by Malcolm Hulke, of the upper classes’ power and authority, the mesmeric influence that allowed them to fight the war as they did.
Similarly lethal from a position of power is Catherine de Medici. In The Massacre Of St Bartholomew’s Eve the Doctor does nothing to prevent the Huguenot massacre of 1572, when 10,000 French Protestants were killed in Paris alone. Catherine manipulates her son, the King, into agreeing to this after arranging a series of assassination attempts. With the Doctor largely absent from the story, Steven Taylor ends up seemingly trapped in Paris with no understanding of the time period he finds himself in. The TARDIS crew never meet Catherine; Steven is powerless to do anything, and the Doctor is unwilling.
The First Doctor refuses to change history. His situation is unique of all the Doctors, having been the incarnation who fled, the one closest to normal Time Lord life, and as such is only getting the hang of reckless interference. As such he acknowledges Tlotoxl’s insistence on sacrifice to be an aspect of history he can’t change, no matter how much Barbara wants to. As Tlotoxl John Ringham plays up the Shakespearian aspects of the script, plotting behind the scenes and walking with a slight limp, giving it a bit of Richard III (for further examples of this, why not watch Timelash with some goulash and enough beer to kill a small rhino? Call it Wholash, make it a thing). One thing that marks Tlotoxl out as rare in Doctor Who: he is a villain who wins, as able to shed blood at the end of the story as he is at the beginning. He is a man who gleefully suggests to someone that they throw themselves off a roof to their deaths, and they agree without hesitating.
The Warlord Tegana also kills himself in the end, rather than be killed by Marco Polo’s men. This comes at the end of seven episodes of him trying to kill Polo and the original TARDIS crew as they journey from the mountains of Central Asia, through the deserts to Peking. That’s a lot of trying to kill people, and he almost succeeds while maintaining the impression that he’s on Polo’s side. He genuinely would have got away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids.
Just to prove that Doctor Who has always been gloriously inconsistent, in The Crusades the Doctor tries to push through King Richard’s plans for peace even though historically they’re doomed to fail. Perhaps he has been inspired by Barbara, who spends most of that story as a prisoner of El Akir, a sadistic soldier who feels humiliated when Saladin orders his prisoners to be treated well instead of tortured for entertainment. His threat at the cliffhanger to The Wheel Of Fortune – ‘The only pleasure left for you is death. And death is very far away’ – is utterly chilling.
9. They’re in the computer, it’s so simple
What with all these humans being total A-holes, it’s no surprise Taren Capel ended up preferring the company of robots. It was something of a surprise when he flipped Asimov the bird and reprogrammed the robotic servants of a Sandminer to kill the entire crew. It takes a special kind of detachment to infiltrate, gain the trust of and then murder a group of people you’re going to spend a lot of time with, especially when you’d much rather be painting your face silver and experimenting with your Laserson probe. Still, the Doctor stopped him in the end, and all was well.
Good job it was robots he was fond of and not an organic race though, eh? That would have been much more awkward. It’s fine killing something that’s robotic, which is partly why there are three Cyberleaders in The Five Doctors (plus Terrance Dicks just liked killing them). As seen in Doomsday, the leader program survives to be downloaded into a new Cyberman, which is why we get to enjoy David Banks’ timeless performance throughout Eighties Doctor Who. Spending 100% of his screentime booming in some form or other, Banks perfected both the slow fist clench and the stance of raw power. Through his silver tongue (and chin) lines as banal as ‘Activate the device’ became works of thrilling genius, like the adventures of Captain Jack Harkaway as written by the Master of the Land of Fiction, before he was enslaved by the Master Brain. A quick and imaginative writer, he was able to control characters in the Land of Fiction and trick people into becoming fictional entities themselves. His powers become more ominous when you consider he was in a story called The Mind Robber.
Similarly, the Pirate Captain’s a lot scarier when you consider what The Pirate Planet actually means. Yes, there’s a lot of fun to be had with walking the plank and robot parrots, but there’s also the materializing around other planets, reducing them to husks, and storing them in a trophy room. He’s being controlled, it transpires, but in this case the puppet is more memorable than its operator. The same could be said of BOSS and Stevens in The Green Death, but that was a more symbiotic relationship so it wasn’t clear who was who. The maggots take the headlines, but the idea behind BOSS is intriguing – a computer who asks to be programmed with irrationality as it seemed to be a trait of successful humans, as if it’s somehow watched The Apprentice from thirty years in the past and gradually unravelled.
10. It was acceptable in the Eighties
It’s unlikely to happen, but imagine Nabil Shaban got onto The Apprentice in character and makeup as Sil. I think everyone would just go with it, and that after his inevitable victory Sil would ultimately replace Lord Sugar. Be honest, you’d watch that. First appearing in Vengeance On Varos, Sil is a shamelessly amoral businessman, conniving and sycophantic. Big Finish’s recent Antidote To Oblivion has placed him in a future Britain that is bankrupt, offering advice on how to repay their debt by making drastic cuts.
Speaking of drastic cuts, Shockeye is like a slightly politer but more violent Gordon Ramsay. An Androgum chef, he regarded all living creatures as a potential source of meat and longed to taste human flesh. The image of him, looking like Fraser from Dad’s Army had wandered into a Mad Max film, leering down the camera to grab Peri is a disturbing cliffhanger in The Two Doctors. Normally Peri was lusted over by a variety of creepy men, but none of them planned to eat her, let alone already considered what seasoning to use.
If only he’d turned up at Gabriel Chase, Josiah Samuel Smith could have offered him some soup. As a distorted version of a perfect Victorian gentleman in Ghostlight, Josiah’s relentless ambition (to kill the Queen and take her place) is matched by a ghoulish streak of macabre cruelty – taking delight in some bizarre punishments – but also becoming a sniveling wretch when threatened, or bragged about being ‘a man of property’ (it’s all in Ian Hogg’s delivery, that line). Like BOSS, taking on the values of another species warped Josiah into something entertainingly monstrous.
Similarly based on Victorian values, Captain Cook was an intergalactic explorer, travelling the universe as the Doctor did but lacking in empathy, espousing a survival of the fittest outlook and shamelessly allowing others to die in his place. While the Chief Clown and the Gods of Ragnarok are the main antagonists in The Greatest Show In The Galaxy, Cook is less visually sinister but a more intriguing character combining a dark reflection of the Doctor, a comparison between Eighties’ politics and Victorian values, and T.J. McKenna expertly managing to make the Captain boring yet funny, underplaying the moments where he sends people to their deaths so the discrepancy between the screams and his tea sipping is all the more shocking.
It’s wrong to say Doctor Who is totally obsessed with the Victorian era, though. Enlightenment was partly set on an Edwardian racing yacht, which is obviously completely different. The Eternals are a fascinating idea, with Keith Barron and Christopher Brown controlling their performances for a specific haughty stillness, like eons-old children. They’ve taken human forms but there’s an incongruity to their mannerisms and appearance that’s unsettling. Then Captain Wrack turns up, suddenly there’s more camp than Glastonbury, and it becomes clear that Eternals don’t have to be all broody and distant. Possibly being surrounded by pirates all the time just makes you jollier. Lynda Baron, cackling away, is a welcome release from two episodes of slow tension, creeping unease, and Turlough attempting suicide. It’s almost as if Doctor Who itself is caught between the two extremes of the Black and White Guardians: austere, magical, and faintly threatening against scheming, bird-headed, maniacal laughter.