These four monsters start our Doctor Who countdown, more each Saturday.
10. The Ood
The countdown will be across five weeks: by writing about the monsters, the blog hopes to say something about the essence of Doctor Who.
Doctor Who is different from Star Trek, a show in which the main recurring “aliens” are almost always human-like, with a small amount of prosthetic make-up to differentiate them from the people playing the roles of humans. (Think Vulcans, Klingons, Cardassians.) Aliens when they appear are meant by Star Trek to simply symbolise some aspect of the human society of our actual world. Doctor Who? Not so much.
The RTD era took this aspect of Doctor Who and made it high contrast. Human-looking characters encountered in space? Humans. (Which wasn’t always the situation with Classic DW. Think Thals.)
So Ood look alien. They act completely alien. Happy with slavery. (In their first story.) Planet of the Ood fills in some of the bigger picture, making them both more human and more alien While the “monsters of the week”, in none of their stories are they monstrous as such – they tend to be under the control of a bad situation.
Curiously, The Sensorites is one of the most Star Trek-esque Doctor Who stories, and these Ood are cousins.
9. The Weeping Angels
In their first story, the Weeping Angels seemed a terrifying force of nature. Like the Ood, they’re not human-looking aliens. They’re not really aliens at all, in the classic SF sense. They exist on the same plane as fairy tales, ancient rhymes. Turn round, they stop. Like a game. Don’t blink. Fantastic, cried the fans. A return for them to the show after Blink was wished for almost as much as Sally Sparrow.
They appear in Moffat’s first season after he took the reins as showrunner, their starting story “Doctor Who’s greatest story” (some say) cementing Moffat’s suitability for the role. Something’s changed. This time they’re sadistic. They can speak, (albeit via a host).
The Ood have appeared in more episodes, so why are these moving statues above them in the Top 10? The reason: they seem more of a nemesis for the current Doctor than the Ood ever were for the Tenth (he was only ever trying to help them). In the elegiac The God Complex they were suggested for a moment as representing Eleventh’s companion’s greatest fears – indeed Amy’s fourth episode, when she is first properly afeard it’s with the Weeping Angels.
Will they appear in the next season? (Rhetorical question.)
8. The Mara
The Mara. The traditional image to use for this monster would be a snake. However, its other manifestations are more unnerving – one pictured there encountered by Tegan in her own mindscape (in the story Kinda).
The Mara. Appearing quite late on in the saga of Classic Doctor Who (1982), though part of a tradition of abstract intelligences of dread but incorporeal being that could project their influence.
The Mara. Just two appearances so far, Kinda and Snakedance. So they why above the appearing-more-often Ood and Weeping Angels? It’s the weight of history, and the fact their stories are such great stories.
7. The Nestene
This is one of those abstract intelligences that project their influence, though actually they’re slightly more corporeal than the Mara, sort of.
The original appearance of the Nestene Consciousness was in a form it had created for itself, all tentacles, Lovecraftian. Rose showed it flowing in a form more like the substance it could control – plastic.
When people think of this monster though, these monsters, they don’t think of that – rather shop window dummies smashing out into the street.
“The Autons” – the folk-title of these Nestene-animated plastic monsters is from Auto Plastics of John Pertwee’s first story Spearhead from Space. They made one more classic appearance, Terror of the Autons, before they were chosen by RTD to be the villains of the episode that would launch the Ninth Doctor on our television screens, as they had become something of an icon in the intervening decades. (So they advance up the Top Ten beyond their fellow “two Classic appearances” Mara.)
The word “Auton” only appears as part of the closing credits, and the use of “Nestene” as the preferred dialogue continues with The Pandorica Opens.
The Weeping Angels and “The Autons” are both in the same Doctor Who tradition – that of making the everyday more creepy, whether that everyday be stone statues or plastic shop dummies.
Unlike Star Trek‘s classically Science Fiction situations of a human society and alien society interacting, Doctor Who “aliens” are much more the monsters of ghost stories or the subconscious, the half-glimpsed of the imagination.
Next week: reviews of an episode of Miracle Day Tuesday and Thursday, while the countdown continues next Saturday.