Top 10 Monster Redesigns (Part 1)
In the build-up to Cold War, David Selby counts down his top 10 monster redesigns.
“The trouble with a series as it gets older is it can feel like a tradition, and tradition is the enemy of suspense, and it’s the enemy of comedy. It’s the enemy of everything, really. So you have to shake it up.” – Steven Moffat
Since its revival in 2005, the writers of Doctor Who have had the tough task of balancing two eras, two separate audiences, if you will: those who are looking for something entertaining to watch with their kids on a Saturday night, and the somewhat intransigent aficionados who want to keep as much as possible the same. They want to see monsters back, which, reasonably, modern audiences would ridicule for their inane voices and their terribly artificial movements. It was the mission of both the writers and the design team to revitalize these classics, without making them look outdated on modern TV, over-changing the design, or undermining the originals.
Here I will count down the Top 10 redesigns, based on how they were brought back: how faithful were they to the original? Which changes were for the better? What was the overall design like? Did it appeal to both audiences?
10. The Autons
These ones were interesting, because change was inevitable, unless the episode was set in the past. Something that altered considerably between the new and classic era were mannequins. A lot of people prefer the original dummies used in Spearhead from Space; the soulless, unemotional ‘plastic’ face, grinning sadistically as it fires bullets at innocents. Personally, I wasn’t particularly devastated to see this concept abandoned. It also allowed the budget to be shared out between the other redesigns (though clearly not the guests on-board Platform One) giving as you could quite literally take one from a shop and turn it into a monster.
I liked that they chose a classic monster for the first episode, but one which had progressed naturally since we last saw it. It showcased exactly what New Who was trying to be; Classic Who, but for the next generation.
Best Appearance: Rose – funny, clever, and slightly creepy. But don’t worry if you see walking shop dummies; they’re probably students.
What Next?: The next appearance of the Autons could go one of two ways. The first is that it could head back to, say, the 70s, and see the return of the classic Robert Holmes adversaries. The second is that it could make use of the scarily lifelike models used in shops across the world; ones that, in the corner of your eye, could pass as people. The point is; there’s always more to be done with the Nestene.
9. The Sontarans
I’m not sure you could change much about the Sontarans, to be honest. There’s a very small criterion where they’re concerned: short, potato-headed, vent in back of neck and obsession with war and victory. The fact they kept these aspects the same, essentially, means that the production team honoured Robert Holmes’ primary intentions. Over the years, the Sontarans have been used more and more for humour, and due to their (intended) derisory design, the New Series has taken advantage of this. But it’s their yearning for combat which remains their defining trait, and keeps them as a threat: they’re not afraid to die.
Best Appearance: Undoubtedly The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky; using the Sontarans to exploit humanity’s present needs and vilest masterminds. These were truly the Sontarans as I believe Holmes wanted them portrayed.
What Next?: Now we’ve been familiarized with the vastly unrealistic Sontaran nurse Strax, it would be stimulating to see how he’d react to the Sontarans’ return. Inevitably, he’d want to assist them, but it would be a worthy test for his sentimentality; would he spare the lives of those such as the Doctor, or obliterate them face-on? I’m not so sure. I’d also like to see a ‘proper’ space-battle story between the Sontarans and the Rutans, excusing the return of another great classic.
8. The Doctor
I’ve put this one a bit higher up because it only just fits the criteria of ‘monster’. But the Doctor in the new series, compared to the classics, has more tenebrous tendencies. He’s the manifestation of all the animosity and fury that’s left from all the generous errors he’s made in the past. He doesn’t do second chances, and is damaged by the Time War. It’s his solitude that characterizes him. Temporarily abandoning Doctor Who, I think this quote from John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids depicts the Doctor (unintentionally) perfectly:
“Until then I had always thought of loneliness as something negative—an absence of company, and, of course, something temporary… That day I had learned that it was much more. It was something which could press and oppress, could distort the ordinary and play tricks with the mind. Something which lurked inimically all around, stretching the nerves and twanging them with alarms, never letting one forget that there was no one to help, no one to care. It showed one as an atom adrift in vastness, and it waited all the time its chance to frighten and frighten horribly—that was what loneliness was really trying to do; and that was what one must never let it do”.
That’s what loneliness and loss has done to the Doctor. It’s warped his innermost thoughts and turned them into sadistic urges for revenge.
Best Appearance: The best ‘monster’ Doctor was almost definitely the one we were presented with in Russell T. Davies’ magnum opus, The Waters of Mars. He now regards himself with ascendancy and valour; he has unlimited ideas of how he could shape the universe. It’s this awareness of the Doctor’s importance that makes him truly, truly scary, as he finally dares use the term ‘little people’…
What Next?: The Doctor has retreated into the darkness now (although for some reason he decided to step into the limelight in The Bells of Saint John…). He only leaves the shadows to wipe away all evidence that he ever existed. In essence, he’s seen himself and what he was like back in The Waters of Mars. He knows what a menace he is to others and himself. But he’s approaching Trenzalore, and the forces moving in the background understand fully the Doctor’s core incentives. They know he cares for his friends. When Clara or another loved one is endangered, perhaps we’ll see once more what the Doctor is capable of when he’s angry…
7. The Great Intelligence
It’s curious how Moffat, who I frequently criticize for writing his leading characters like unrealistic, insufferable caricatures, has decided to resurrect a classic villain and keep them subtle, threatening and very much ‘working behind the scenes’. I have been astonished by the sinister, iniquitous portrayal of the Great Intelligence in the recent series; it was superior to my expectations. One of the cleverest parts of Moffat’s interpretation of this menacing controller is that we very rarely see them; instead, we see the impact of what they have done – telling us that they have indoctrinated two of their ‘puppets’ from a young age shows how callous and malevolent they are. Showing them only at the end of episodes adds to their mystery and substantiates how crafty they are at standing back and manipulating. Whilst I’m not a huge admirer of Grant’s performance, I especially enjoyed hearing Ian McKellen’s often intimidating voice in the Christmas special; casting was perfect for such a vindictive entity.
Best Appearance: The Bells of Saint John, purely because of saving the reveal until the end. The episode’s grand master-plan was somewhat reminiscent of their previous conducts, but because they remained hidden for the most part added to the suspense and intrigue of what seems to be a narrative which will stretch across a whole series.
What Next?: Clearly, The Great Intelligence will be the main villain for either the finale or the 50th Anniversary (or both), so I’d like to see it used to its fullest. Perhaps it could be an opposing force to the Silence; leading the Doctor to Trenzalore to answer the Question (could be controlling the Whispermen – ‘Whispermen’ seems to suggest a voice over the silence).
6. The Master
“What have you done, you monster?” There; proof that the Master’s a monster.
Now, when we’re talking about an ‘exposed’ actor taking the lead role, we have to look at both their performance as an actor, and how they’re written. For me, that’s why John Simm excels so much in the part. He’s one of my favourite actors, giving an authentic and heartfelt performance as Sam Tyler in 70s-based fantasy drama Life on Mars prior to being cast as the Master. Simm’s Master is a more insane and reckless version of the previously devious antagonist. His tenure has been somewhat divisive, sparking a mixed reaction from the fan-base. I tend to find that his performance is very much a ‘love/hate’ one, but you’ve got to appreciate his unique incarnation of the renegade Time Lord for what it is. He’s also been affected by the Time War, perhaps more so because he didn’t witness it, so the news was a greater shock. The noise in his head has driven him to insanity. He’s quite a megalomania. In my opinion, that was a strong decision, and one which was paid off well when he finally sought his revenge, and, to a certain extent, redeemed himself in The End of Time.
Best Appearance: Without doubt The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords. The Master was just so evil. It was because he enjoyed it so much, I think, which truly made you hate him; seeing him taunt Martha’s family as they were shepherded cruelly out of the police van. Then there was the I Can’t Decide scene in The Last of the Timelords where you saw what the Master had decided to do with everyone in the year we’d missed. I honestly thought that this was the best story for the Master – my favourite Who villain.
What Next?: This is a tricky one indeed. I always love seeing the Master, but I do think the ending he was given in The End of Time was a pretty good one, and hard to rival as a catharsis. I’m not saying that everything’s been done with him yet, but I’m not sure whether I’d want to see Moffat take on the character just yet until he’s redeemed himself (in my eyes – I do understand there are still a lot of people who extol him).
Honourable Mention: The Macra
I have to mention the Macra, since they’re very often slated because of their role in Gridlock. I think they worked in the context of the episode; New Earth was supposed to be in the very, very distant future, and thus it picked a menace who was unlikely to return and made a huge change, demonstrating how much evolution had moved on. Personally, I think they were still quite scary; lurking at the bottom of the motorway, waiting for preys. But you all know how much I love Gridlock.
And that’s the first half of the countdown done. It’s already been quite a discovery for me, as I’ve been selecting antagonists who I wouldn’t have always considered as monsters. I’ve got the Top 5 narrowed down, now. It wasn’t an easy decision, and all the contenders are very close…
Come back on Friday for part 2!