An overview of Giant Monsters in Doctor Who – part two

8 10 2009

The New Series (2005 – present)

The Daddy Dalek from Parting of the Ways

The Daddy Dalek from Parting of the Ways

Nick Walters continues his look at Doctor Who’s biggest enemies!

Part one here.

Doctor Who returned to our screens in 2005, and is now more popular than ever before. Its special effects are, as I said before, fantastic – but, as I hinted before, this hasn’t meant that they are completely flawless. So, focusing on the remit of this article, what has this meant for the Chimerae, Dinomads, Xenopods and Megabots?

As it turns out, things turn out to be more or less the same, with about the same ratio of hits and misses.

The first story of the new era, Rose, had a lot to do – re-introduce the Doctor to a modern audience, set Rose up as the companion, explain the TARDIS, and the Doctor, scare, thrill, entrance, and generally be bloody good enough to hook the viewers. As we know, it worked, and Doctor Who is still going strong. Some fans bemoan that the Autons were poorly served in this story, but I disagree – what we are seeing is Episode 4 of Attack of the Autons, but from the companion’s point of view, and this is crucial to the story’s success. And we get to see the Nestene creature in all its glory – and, this bit is crucial, it’s not the spider/octopus/cyclops behemoth so beloved of fans which never actually appears in the series but which glares luridly from the covers of Target novelisations. What the production team went with was logical: the Autons are ‘living plastic’ so it makes sense that their controlling intelligence is a vast, broiling, formless Blob of plastic. It works for me and the CGI really is quite good. Top marks then, for the first story of the new area bringing the Doctor face to face with a giant monster. And for those fans disappointed about the lack of tentacular action, the original monster design for the Nestene host was eventually used in The Sarah Jane Adventures as the Bane Mother. Good old Aunty Beeb, never wastes anything!

I’m not sure if The Face of Boe counts as a giant monster, as we’re never really told what he’s meant to be, and I don’t believe for a second that he’s Captain Jack. He’s a big old face in a jar, and recalls the Malus, though he’s one of the good guys, and he’s such a nice old face that I shrug to call him a monster, but thought I’d better mention him for completeness’ sake.

The Ninth Doctor only encountered one other giant beast during his short, yet memorable and fantastic tenure, and that was the Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Moly Jazzmagtastic Max Headroom Foe or whatever the heck it was called, in The Long Game. Another Blob, and a particularly pointless one. One critic likened this to ‘a giant shark as drawn by Gerald Scarfe’. It was just a big roaring bag of meat and, though well-realised, again through CGI, what’s the point?

The angry penis monster

The angry penis monster

On a side note, what Doctor Who could now do was scale. So in the Ninth Doctor’s swansong, Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways, we got to see – at last! – (and thanks to CGI) armies of thousands upon thousands of Daleks. It was mint. (We also see the return of the quasi-Megabot Emperor Dalek). This raises an important point: the new series often goes for scale, rather than size. Armies of Daleks, Cybermen, Toclafane, and giant spaceships like the Webstar, the Sycorax ship, the SS Pentalion and the Titanic are now a breeze thanks to computer technology. No longer do we have to strain credulity as in The Day Of The Daleks when it is shriekingly obvious that there only three actual Daleks in the story, meant to be representing an invading force. Now we can actually SEE the hordes of invading aliens! This can lead to overkill – we’ve perhaps seen one too many massed Dalek invasions – but that feels churlish. For decades we’ve had to imagine such things, now we can see them in all their glory. Scale – not size – is what the new series does fantastically (that word again! I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry) well.

Back to the giant monsters, and into David Tennant’s era. He’s clearly the most popular Doctor since Tom, and, despite my reservations (he’s not my fave Doc by a long way), I am going to miss him when he’s gone. Sniff! Anyway. In his first story, New Earth, he meets the Cat Nuns, which could be, arguably, Xenopods, but I rather think they are another category of alien. They’re not intended to scare, and fit alongside other creatures of the post-2005 era such as the Forest of Cheem (Tree People) and the Judoon (Rhino People – though these are actually smaller than rhinos). Cat People also turned up in the last story of the show’s original run, Survival, and in The Twin Dilemma the Jocondans are (meant to be) bird people, so there is a history of this sort of thing in Doctor Who. These creatures, I would argue, though technically Xenopods, are allies (even the Judoon are only doing their job and aren’t really bad guys), and not ‘monsters’ in the traditional sense, nor are they ‘giant’ – in fact, in the case of the Judoon, quite the reverse! I suppose you could say the same thing about the Menoptra from The Web Planet, but these are clearly Giant Butterflies / Moths and, although allies, thus fit the definition of Xenopod.

Before I tie myself in further knots over definitions, let’s quickly move on. The first giant monster the Tenth Doctor encounters is the Beast in The Satan Pit. Clearly a Mythoid, I’m not sure about this, but I think it’s meant to be the creature that the common image of the Devil is based upon. Which contradicts the Daemons, which steals the idea from Quatermass and the Pit. Whatever, the Beast is a big old baddie and looks extremely impressive on screen as it towers over the tiny figure of the Doctor. However, it’s real effectiveness is in the use of Gabriel ‘Sutekh’ Woolf as its voice.

Next comes The Runaway Bride and the Empress of the Racnoss. In my view, a truly ridiculous arachnoid Xenopod. Not a patch on the Great One! Kudos to Sarah Parish’s scenery-chewing performance, but the match between the actor’s body and the model is woeful, it doesn’t look like something that could possibly have existed. The one time the re-booted series effects have really let down its ambition in realisation of a giant monster – this brings back happy memories of Kroll; heart-warming to know that even with modern tech Who can still make a crap giant monster!

We next get the Lazarus Monster from the very lazily-titled The Lazarus Experiment. A traditional Blob taking its cue from the David Cronenberg Fly movie, the CGI at times strains credulity, though the monster design is quite disturbing, merging human, insect and reptilian qualities. It also seems superfluous as the core of the story is the discussion between the Doctor and Lazarus about what it is to live forever. Like the Myrka, this creature will date quickly as effects technology advances.

More pointless giant monsters appear in The Fires of Pompeii. Although these fiery foes are well-realised, there’s not really any reason why they should be so massive. Though not particularly blobby, they are Blobs – giant alien behemoths – although they do look rather like stone Transformers.

The Unicorn and the Wasp brings us one of the worst conceived monsters ever in Doctor Who, the Vespiform. I can’t take this rather obvious and underthrought Chimera seriously, though the CGI wasp is very well done. And then in Turn Left we get the Time Beetle, a Chimera which simply trades on memories of Planet of the Spiders and really is little more than a plot device.

Which brings us to The Next Doctor and, at last, a Megabot to die for: the CyberKing What a beauty it is! Although it is meant to be a spaceship, and is controlled by a bunch of Cybermen and Dervla Kirwin in a red dress, this is clearly a Megabot, and is beautifully realised, all steampunk cogs and valves and klank-klank kill-kill.

It’s ridiculous, but forgivable; after all this is the Christmas episode so one can cut them some slack, and it is far more convincing than the Empress of the Racnoss. Or the Tritovores, humanoid aliens with the heads of flies that the Doctor encounters in the Easter 2009 special Planet of the Dead. Very poor plot-device Xenopods that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an 80’s cringe-fest such as The Twin Dilemma.

The Future

So where does that leave us? I conclude that giant monsters in Doctor Who, of whatever category, work best when part of a good story, rather than imposed upon it as a result of monster-of-the-week syndrome. Giant clams, Garm, Gastropods, Jagrafess – I’m looking at YOU. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t – however good the effects are. Kroll, Empress – don’t call us, we’ll call you. And the most effective monsters are those based on scary Terran beasties; the Chimerae and Xenopods. Giant Maggots, Spiders, Mutts, Wirrn – you win, now please leave me alone!

What of the future? Special effects are good enough now for the Eleventh Doctor to be able to face more giant foes, and the failure rate is lower now – despite my harsh words about the Empress, she’s nowhere near as bad as Kroll – so let’s see the Doctor meet King Kong and Godzilla! Cthulhu! Dinomads and Xenosaurs by the thousand! Giant ladybirds! The possibilities are endless!

And, if and when the Silurians and Sea Devils return, we can surely expect the Myrka to be a bloody sight more convincing than in its first appearance.

Anoraky List

Anyway, to finish off, because Who fans like lists and categories – and because I do – here’s a list of all the giant monsters in this article, sorted by category (with story titles where needed):

Chimerae

Giant Beetle (Turn Left)
Giant Clams
Giant Fly (Planet of Giants, also bee, worm, cat and ants, though these are not true Chimerae; The Green Death, Vengeance on Varos)
Giant Frog (The Claws of Axos)
Giant Maggots
Giant Rats
Giant Snake (Mara)
Giant Spiders (Planet of the Spiders, Talons of Weng-Chiang, Full Circle)
Giant Wasp (Vespiform)

Dinomads

Brontosaurus (Invasion of the Dinosaurs)
Plesiosaur (Carnival of Monsters)
Pterodactyl
Stegosaurus (Invasion of the Dinosaurs)
Triceratops (Invasion of the Dinosaurs)
T-Rex (Doctor Who and the Silurians, Invasion of the Dinosaurs, Mark of the Rani)

Mythoids

Azal
The Beast
Garm
Great Vampire
Malus (manifestation)

Megabots

CyberKing
Dalek Emperor (Evil of the Daleks, The Parting of the Ways)
K1 the giant robot

Blobs

Anti-Matter Monster
Axos
Erato
The Face of Boe
Great Intelligence
Jagrafess
Kroll
Krynoid
Nestene Creature (Spearhead from Space, Terror of the Autons, Rose)
Pyrovile

Xenosaurs

Drashigs
Myrka
Skarasen

Xenopods

Empress of the Racnoss
Fendahleen
Gastropods
Lazarus Monster
Macra
Menoptra
Morlox
Mutts
Queen Bat
Tritovores
Venom Grubs
Virus Nucleus
Wirrn
Zarbi

Chimerae, Blobs and Xenopods are clearly the most prevalent of giant monsters in Doctor Who. Dinomads are also popular, whilst Xenosaurs (who could be lumped in with the Xenopods I suppose) coming in joint last with the Megabots. What does this tell us? Well the message is clear – there must be MORE GIANT ROBOTS IN DOCTOR WHO! AND THEY MUST – DESTROY!

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