Some obvious and some not so, but hopefully worthwhile…
What purpose do Monsters serve in Doctor Who? What have they got to do to be really successful?
Well, at least a few of the following – be a good focus for a story; have a gimmick; be visually interesting ; scary; have some potential for individual characters with personalities; be scary; and, grudgingly I suppose, make good toys (you can’t fight the George Lucas-isation of Doctor Who, so you might as well enjoy it). Oh and… be very, very scary!
Ice Warriors (The Ice Warriors, The Seeds of Death, Curse… & Monster of Peladon)
The obvious ones, and the only one of Who fandom’s ‘Big Four’ left. Hailing from Mars, tortoise-like chitinous armour and raspy, hissing, whispering voice – the first we met was played with sibilant menace by Carry On stalwart Bernard Bresslaw. He only arksssssssssed… alongside the chunky troops, sleeker, more articulate Ice Lords were revealed in charge in The Seeds of Death and in The Curse of Peladon, they turned good, if mistrusted; pre-dating the Klingon situation in a vaguely Undiscovered Country-like story. The Nice Warriors were short lived; were back to their nefarious ways in Monster of Peladon, and their appearance in Big Finish in Red Dawn cemented their Klingon-ness with much talk of ‘honour’ and moral ambiguity. They return in later Big Finish adventures, and often appear as supporting characters in the Benny books and audios.
A sleek redesign and sonic weapons to rival the ubiquitous sonic screwdriver could make them a visual tour-de-force. Of course, they also provide an ideal opportunity for another Character Options voice changing mask…
The Zygons (Terror of the Zygons)
David Tennant’s favourite monsters, apparantly, and I’ll wager not just because as a wee jock they gave him the willies in a story set in Bonnie Scotland. The embryonic, aquatic-looking ‘base form’ of these creepy, whispering shape-shifters is a design classic, and in the days before morphing, there’s an unusally successful swirly red CSO visual for the changes. Visible microphones and zips aside, it needs little updating, and another appearance would give new Who a perfect evil doppleganger story. The Zygons feature in various spin-off media, including a rather naughty 18 certificate video drama (Zygon), licensed BBV audios, one of the earliest Eighth Doctor novels – The Bodysnatchers and the New Who novel, Sting of the Zygon.
You want toys? There’s a Classic action figure already but… Masks! More figures! A Skarasan! (Their pet Loch Ness Monster). Erm… mugs with pictures of people that turn into Zygons when you put hot water in them!
Magnus Greel & Mr Sin (The Talons of Weng-Chiang)
Like the Zygons, these fellas made the first wave of Classic Who figures too, and for good reason. Greel, a criminal from the 51st Century was badly disfigured by his time experiments and escaped to the 19th century with his killer, pig brained, cyborg dwarf chum, otherwise known as the Peking Homonculus (you’ve got to love Robert Holmes’ penchant for arcane words). They have ample scope for a battle against Captain Jack (his core back story comes from Talons) and for giving New Who a potentially cracking Jackie Chan/Big Trouble In Little China period romp. Offscreen, their presence is felt in David A. McIntee’s Missing Adventures novel The Shadow of Weng-Chiang. Sin was originally played by Deep Roy (aka every Oompa-Loompa in Burton’s version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). The fact that they were fairly plainly despatched on-screen should hold no sway – look at how many times The Master came back, after all. Not to mention Halloween.
Toy: Lifesize remote control Mr. Sin.
The Nimon (The Horns of Nimon)
Don’t laugh. While on-screen, these bullish baddies looked like ballet dancers with rubbish masks, they deserve a big cash injection, a radically revamped look and another chance. Manipulative, brilliantly voiced, and utterly ruthless, they convince locals of a planet that they’re Gods, engineer a nice line in steady sacrifices, and then swarm on mass to ravage planets like locusts. And they’ve got horns that shoot lasers. (The Horns of Nimon, right?) Successfully reinvented on audio by Paul Cornell for Big Finish a few years ago, a TV re-vamp could turn figures of fun into fear itself.
Toy: Another voice changer mask with light-up horns.
The Mara (Kinda/Snakedance)
Look beyond the appalling papier mache snake-form in Kinda in which this principally psychological terror manifested itself (and the only marginally better rubber version a year later, in Snakedance) and you have a marvellous grown up villain. Typically latching on to a vulnerable companion, and later the guest star of the week, this creature dwells in the ‘dark places of the inside’ and typically invades the mind, plays games with the host in a surreal fantasy world, and then once it has inevitably won, gains a human host to control and manipulate events into bringing about its full reconstitution. With Buddhist metaphors aplenty, and unnerving psychological terror, this is a monster that can’t be driven away by a Sonic – you need wit, brains and soul to defeat it. Let’s have something a bit more sophisticated – the kids won’t mind, they’ve got Kickass New Nimon and an army of Raston Warrior Robots either side.
The only disappointment with the Mara? Creator Christopher Bailey’s elusiveness, and the vast increase in quality in his stories over surrounding scripts, meant that fandom looked for something deeper and began to believe that, like the narrative, there was more than met the eye behind the scenes too. Rumours abounded. Was Christopher Bailey even real? Was he a pseudonym for one of two great creative types, slumming it to make ends meet in a quiet patch? Sadly not – Doctor Who Magazine’s Benjamin Cook tracked down Bailey earlier this decade and it turned out that the Mara wasn’t created by Kate Bush or Tom Stoppard after all. Be good if it were though…
Toy: an empty box containing a handful of dust to represent fear. Oh, OK, a (convincing) snake.
The Raston Warrior Robot (The Five Doctors)
“It isn’t armed.” “They move like lightning. It’s armaments are built in… Freeze, Thara-Jane. If you move we’re dead.”
Two lines, and everything you need to know is there. That’s a classic monster. Not to mention… take a Doctor who can’t say his ‘s’s very easily. Then take a superb, rock-solid script editor and writer who, let’s be honest, can’t do his ‘r’s. There must be something knowingly mocking about Who’s own Wossy, Terrance “Colour of Monsters is Gween” Dicks, creating ‘the Waston Warrior Wobot’ but this sleek, silver, androgynous Jumpin’ Jack Flash faces a challenge to more than just those with a lisp.
They don’t speak, and they have no motive other than to kill, exceptionally well. A superficial predecessor to the Terminator/T1000? The one original monster in The Five Doctors slaughters a troop of Cybermen with viscious ease, has a cool ‘jump’ sound effect easily imitatable, and looks pretty damn impossible to disable.
The new series could create an army of these things, going urban. And for a new spin, as they look a bit like people in a fencing class, they could fight with swords as well as arrows too. And I hazard a guess that lady-shaped Rastons would be popular with the dads… RUR – meet RWR.
Toy: shiny chrome effect, bendy plastic-rather-than-jointed, and with hidden spring-loaded arrows, baby.
Silurians/Sea Devils (Doctor Who & The Silurians, The Sea Devils, Warriors of the Deep)
They come to us…. we go to them… they’ve always been here. Those are the three main options for alien stories, and Silurians are the latter; these intelligent, humanoid reptiles ruled Earth millenia ago, when man was in evolutionary infancy. Putting themselves in hibernation to protect against a global catastrophe (which resulted in the ice age) these were disturbed millions of years later by the construction of a nuclear power station. Malcolm Hulke’s Nigel-Kneale-esque race had individual personalities and motives, and the original design of the costumes was intriguing enough to rise above rubber-suityness – Their cousins appeared two years later in The Sea Devils – a similar, but simpler story.
The Eighties revival of the monsters, Warriors of the Deep, was rather less successful. But that shouldn’t be their final on-screen stand.
Again, the Sea Devils were iconic enough to get in on the new toy range, and in today’s age of CGI, their pet dinosaurs and sea monsters could look a lot better… Big Finish’s Bloodtide saw Silurians in Darwin’s day; and with Darwin’s 200th Anniversary this year, a return on that theme would be extremely apt. I see we’ve had Richard Dawkins, after all.
Frontios is a bit of an obscure Davison adventure, but it shouldn’t be. Writer Christopher H Bidmead gave a far more traditional third story than his previous esoteric mathematical/philosophical tales, the monsterless (but Masterful) Logopolis and Castrovalva. Here, the Doctor finds himself in the farthest reaches of time and space after the Earth’s expiration, with one of the last surviving human colony ships under threat from mysterious forces. Meteorites are constantly drawn to the planet in bombardments, and people are disappearing, sucked into the ground; “Eaten by the Earth”. The Doctor’s companion Turlough knows – the normally composed shifty one has a breakdown, gurgling with abject fear as race memories pour out of his dribbling, quivering lips. It’s the fault of the Tractators; they’re giant woodlice with telekinetic antennae, who build a gruesome mining machine out of metal and still-living people parts. They’re powerful enough to rip the TARDIS to bits, and they actually do (Bidmead had an odd fetish for TARDIS-abuse). The Tractators themselves at times they look suitably chilling, though unfulfilled as the intention was that, like woodlice, they would curl round victims and crush them, but the costumes just weren’t up to it. Again, modern monster-making and CGI could really do these Powerful Parson Pigs justice and a visit to Earth, or perhaps witness to the attack on Turlough’s people, might make good telly for the masses and give fanboys like you and me that guilty pleasure of extra-continuity-squee.
Toy includes spring-loaded character-squish action and bendable antennae.
Sil & The Mentors (Vengeance on Varos, Mindwarp)
Returning on audio soon in Mission to Magnus, Sil and his race are essentially Yuppie Slugs – manifestations of Eighties satire that would still work in today’s retro times. A slimy business-thing in every sense of the word, Sil (played by Nabil Shaban) is a comedy grotesque with a sadistic streak and a unique laugh that has something of the Hannibal Lectors. Think call centre, commodity crashes, credit-crunch; plenty of possibilities, and ripe for return.
Toy includes Water Tank and marsh minnows.
The Krynoid (The Seeds of Doom)
While I’m perhaps not as much in love with The Seeds of Doom as the rest of fandom (I’m more of a Morbius man, myself) this is an outstandingly popular monster/story and simplicity is at the, er, root. It’s a plant. It turns people into plant-monsters. The plant-monster then becomes enormous and threatens to consume everything. Chilling, straightforward, extremely visual, and no need for much contextualising or bigging-up. It could easily be Attack of the Killer Lettuce, but it works. It’s primal horror – and again, today’s effects could go to town on what is essentially a green Axon and a wobbly gaint rubber mattress (albeit sandwiched between some very fine, horrific half-human make up, and top class model work at the giant stage.)
Five different toys to represent different stages of life-cycle, and one is as big as your (sister’s) Wendy House.
Also rans – The Yeti (The Abominable Snowman/The Web of Fear – they’reiconic and mostly missing, but not a lot you can do with them); The Quarks (The Dominators – another potential ground-up re-imagining, child-like, ruthless boxy robots that transform – sort of, with surly, bickering masters); The Haemovores (Curse of Fenric – more pseudovampires); The Destroyer (Battlefield – one of few ‘demons’ in Who) The Kandyman (The Happiness Patrol – hear me out, I’m one of the three people who thinks he’s a great character, although the bitchy cook persona rises above the silly, if logical, appearance); Alpha Centauri (Curse/Monster of Peladon – as a giant hermaphrodite winkle creature, perhaps better for Russell T Davies to take on, but now the moment has gone) and all the others that look a bit like rude things, because they still make me chortle – cf Vervoids, Erato, The Mire Beast, Plasmatons…
Toys; erm… no, I’d better not.