Bring Back Alpha Centauri!

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Guest contributor JR Wood wants to see the return of one of the strangest Doctor Who aliens ever…

If I had a pound for every time I heard the phrase “hermaphrodite hexapod”…I’d have precisely one pound, for those unusual yet immortal words, uttered by Jon Pertwee’s Doctor in the 1972 story The Curse of Peladon, introduced us to a brand new Who monster – although, perhaps “monster” isn’t a terribly accurate word to describe the distinctive Alpha Centauri.

The six-limbed, monocular creature from the star system of the same name was part of a committee sent to assess the planet of Peladon’s suitability to join the Galactic Federation in the aforementioned story. Alongside Arcturus (a Medusa-like head in a life support system), a couple of peace-loving Ice Warriors from Mars (Lord Izlyr and his assistant Ssorg) and the delegate from Earth (who was running late and didn’t arrive until the end of the story), Alpha Centauri became embroiled in an extra-terrestrial whodunit involving political intrigue, kidnapping and monsters. The character made a second significant appearance in the sequel The Monster of Peladon, this time elevated to the position of Federation Ambassador overseeing the mining of the planet’s trisilicate deposits.

But what’s so remarkable about Alpha Centauri, and why does “new Who” need the character to return?

As characters go, Centauri is fairly unique in the Who universe. In fact, it is one of a very rare breed: a friendly alien. Of course, the Doctor does not exclusively encounter evil extra-terrestrials on his travels, but so many of the friendly ones are humanoid or have recognisably human characteristics either facially, physically or both. I’m not about to list every alien that Eccleston, Tennant and Smith have had dealings with during their tenures as the Doctor, but it strikes me that many of them have had some element of evil in their characters, be it fluctuating or consistent.

Alpha Centauri breaks that convention of the alien as “baddie”; in fact the character never commits any act of evil in either of its television appearances, despite occasionally doing things that aren’t massively helpful to the Doctor. Centauri remains loyal to the side of “good” and isn’t afraid to voice concerns when unsure about majority decisions made by other Federation delegates – it even speaks out to save the lives of both the Doctor and Sarah-Jane early on in the second Peladon story.

Not only does Alpha Centauri break with the accepted tradition of aliens being baddies, the character also shows us that aliens don’t have to be humanoid to be “goodies”. Having one huge eye on its head, no discernable mouth, six clawed limbs and a single foot on which it scuttles about, Centauri itself admits that it may appear frightening to humans, but it is anything but! Refreshingly, the alien is represented not as an actor wearing prosthetics, but as a full costume – quite a daring decision for a creature that has a lot of screen time and interacts at length with other characters during dialogue scenes.

Centauri’s meek voice (originally supplied by Ysanne Churchman) and nervous physicalisation (devised by Stuart Fell in both Peladon stories) give the character a thoroughly endearing and comic quality, without making it completely implausible. When watching the creature on screen, you quickly forget the shortcomings of the costume, some of which are explored most amusingly by script editor Terrence Dicks in the extras for Monster of Peladon, and you are instead charmed by its innocence and the care it shows for the welfare of the other characters.

Imagine what could be done with current technological wizardry to improve upon the look of the original costume. That’s not to say the whole thing should be CGI, but animatronics could be used to independently operate each of Centauri’s six limbs, as well as to flick its one enormous eyelid. The veins on the head could be made to pulsate and the single foot could be constructed in such a way as to enable Centauri to glide a little more gracefully across the ground. The possibilities are endless!

Let’s face it, the Doctor doesn’t have many non-human friends out there who aren’t trying to kill him, and when you couple this fact with Alpha Centauri’s highly unusual appearance, but charming personality, I believe the character would be an unconventional yet worthwhile addition to new Who’s alien family.