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Saturday, 19 September 2015

Editorial: The Top 5 Doctor Who Monsters

Editorial: The Top 5 Doctor Who Monsters.

Doctor Who will soon be starting its thirty-fifth series, and over the years it's had some astounding monsters, often made on a shoestring and a prayer and occasionally looking like something you would dispense spices out of during dinner.

So let's look at the top five Doctor Who monsters, the ones who really got our attention. Warnings for occasional complaints about Steven Moffat, and a wistful desire for a head writer who actually has any talent.

5. The Daleks.

Ah, the Daleks. Who doesn't love the Daleks? Everyone who's sick of them being constantly over-used in New Who? Well, yes, there is that.

Used well - and I fully admit that they have not been used well since, er ... well, since Nine, to be honest - the Daleks are utterly terrifying. Wholly inhuman, totally hostile, deadly individually and almost always in endless supply, the Daleks are not so much sinister as they are the in-your-face screaming stuff of nightmares.

While attempts have been made many times in the past to humanise them as a species, giving them elaborate backstories and power structures and their own complicated mythology, the Daleks work best when used as they classically always were: As an unreasonable and indefatigable force of hatred.

4. The 456.

Say what you will about Children of Earth - no, really, say whatever you like, I hated it as well - but the 456, the mysterious three-headed monsters who were never fully seen during the course of the show, embodied a whole host of deep-rooted societal fears, chief among them being the fear of danger to one's children.

And they only really became worse as time went on: Never seen clearly, the 456's opening gambit was to take control of every small child on earth, using them to send ominous messages to every nation's government, before later descending in a nigh-on heavenly pillar of fire and imparting their desire that a tenth of the world's children be given to them as tribute. That is actually quite terrifying, not least because demanding children as tribute is absolutely within the realms of what actual governments in actual human history have actually done actually.

The 456 might not be the most memorable villains in the franchise - in fact, they weren't even the most memorable villains in that serial, that prize would go to the government officials who took all of about six seconds to sell the disenfranchised and marginalised up the river (for the UK, they offered the children of asylum seekers, and a glance at the news right now will tell you how apt Russell T. Davies' social commentary was there) - and they may have met with a fairly bland and stale end, but they had the kernels of several good ideas behind them.

Good job, Russell.

3. The Beast.

Another creation from the Davies era of Doctor Who, although one that very much had its route in episodes from the seventies and eighties, is the Beast, the mysterious-as-all-get-out Satan-thing in two-parter The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit, written by Matt Jones.

Showing a kind of subtlety that you will be hard pressed to find anywhere in Moffat's era of the show (because, yes, it is a competition, and yes, Davies is winning), the Beast - who is much talked about but never seen until near the very end of the two-parter - has a wholly mysterious nature, being an impossibly ancient and powerful being whose principle claim that he existed before the universe.

He was a striking villain, a towering monster of CGI who baffled even the Doctor and enacted some of the most brutal deaths in two of the best episodes of the franchise, and since that two-parter we've not really seen anything like him since. Well, not unless you count the 'son of the Beast', an equally mysterious being sealed in the Cardiff Rift who showed up for all of about six seconds at the end of Torchwood's opening series.

I don't. I don't count that.

2. The Cybermen.

The Cybermen are very nearly as iconic as the Daleks, but only about a quarter as over-used, even though they're easily just as terrifying. Like the Daleks, the Cybermen are formidable individually and always, always, come in numbers. Like the Daleks, the Cybermen have their goal - usually taking others and forcibly changing them into other Cybermen in a painful and torturous process - and pursue it with little regard for anything else.

What makes them more scary than the Daleks is that while the Daleks run hot, being perpetually furious and screaming and unreasonable, the Cybermen run cold - they don't hate the people they're going after, they don't have any feelings on them at all, and thus there's no room for them to make emotional mistakes.

That sing-song voice with the EMphasis put ON odd sylLABles doesn't HELP one bit eiTHER.

1. The Great Intelligence.

Not the Moffat era Great Intelligence, I should note, much as I did enjoy hearing the voice of Sir Ian McKellen (who was sorely underused in that episode, but there you go). No, the Great Intelligence of The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear, who would approximately never demean itself into using faux-scary Victorian slendermen who talk in rhyme, and if that phrase doesn't just sum up the dearth of creativity that Steven Moffat has, I don't know what would.

Primarily using yetis as his henchmen, the Great Intelligence was an interdimensional (and, er, extradimensional?) intelligence that sought to create a body for itself, relying on possessing others and animating dead bodies to influence the physical world. With a sharp intellect that easily rivaled the Doctor's, the Great Intelligence acted as a kind of godlike chessmaster in most of its appearances, only occasionally condescending to intervene directly.

While it never really took off in television, not least because its main henchmen, the yetis, were considered to be quite boring (and they were, they really were), it caught the imagination of writers working on the New Adventures novel, identifying it as an imprint of a being that existed across many universes, with one iteration of that entity being Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and another one being the Great Old One Yog-Sothoth.

It's an interesting idea, at least, and one which I personally would love to see expanded upon. Preferably by a writer of some talent.

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