Top 10 Monster Redesigns (Part 2)
David Selby concludes his count down of the 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 It was the mission of both the writers and the design team to revitalize these classics, without making them look outdated on modern TV, over-changing the design, or undermining the originals.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?
5. The Time Lords
It’s no secret that the Time Lords have always been a bit of a monster. Their first appearance in The War Games showed some of the atrocities that they were capable of, such as their harsh punishments (i.e. ‘erasing’ – has the hairs on the back of your neck standing up when you first watch that scene). Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dick had intended from the off to depict the Time Lords as a prodigious, albeit conceited civilisation, but also as a dangerously potent one with unfairly swift justice. The Time Lords were gradually tainted throughout the classic series, mostly in the drawn-out serial, Trial of a Time Lord, in which Colin Baker’s Doctor faced an aspect of his future self, the Valeyard, and discovered how corrupt his own people were.
It’s no surprise, then, that Russell T. Davies chose to follow their examples and also slowly debase the Time Lords throughout his tenure as show-runner. We were briefly detailed on the Time War during Series One, where the Doctor’s people appeared to have fought valiantly. In The End of Time, however, we found out the horrific truth about the Time Lords; what the war had done to them. In many ways, it was actually a lot like the aforementioned serial. The Final Sanction was quite simply terrifying; much more twisted than anything the Daleks or any other ‘power-mad conspirator’ could have thought of. The Time Lords, in the end, were the greatest monsters of all.
Talking about design, I’m also pleased they kept the costumes largely the same. It was a superb and majestic design which didn’t need much changing at all – it was an attire which became the Time Lords marvellously.
Best Appearance: The End of Time – A shocking revelation which Russell T. Davies either thought up at the end or managed to hold off through the first four series. Even if I were to include classics into this, The End of Time would still win – it’s a spectacular story, whatever anyone says (read Adam Cuthbert’s The Case For… The End of Time if you’re still not convinced).
What Next?: I don’t think the Time Lords should be brought back. It’s a subjective debate, but I find it more absorbing to see how their obliteration has had lasting effects on the Doctor, and how he is consumed by sorrow, compunction and solitude. The passage where the Doctor speaks to his companion about the Time War never gets old. Bringing the Time Lords back would effectively take all those opportunities away. Some things are better left the way they are.
Perhaps I’m one of a rare few who find Julian Bleach’s portrayal of Davros the most captivating and watchable. Don’t get me wrong, Michael Wisher‘s shadiness and guile and Terry Molloy‘s incontrollable rage are all very enjoyable, but I think Bleach is perfect at executing a Davros who is malevolent, immoral, and, at the core, utterly insane. The design was still kept the same, thankfully, but with some minor changes. I think Bleach delivered to the role everything his predecessors did and more. I think Russell T. Davies wrote him with more depth (sadly, an awesomely poignant flashback scene revealing Davros’ macabre past never made it past the stages of scripting) and thought than I’d ever expected him to (the Davros of my childhood was actually David Gooderson, so it wasn’t as if I was going into The Stolen Earth from a ‘first time’ perspective).
Best Appearance: This one wins by default, really, because it’s the only story to feature a revived Davros. But despite its obvious flaws, Journey’s End is, in my eyes, a masterpiece. That moment when Davros orders the Reality Bomb to be activated, you realise what a complete nut-job he is. Davros in unequivocally one of those villains you love to hate.
What Next?: I’d love to see Davros brought back, especially for the 50th Anniversary. In fact, I was inspired to write my own short story entitled The Redemption of Davros earlier this year. And that’s exactly what I want to see; something which makes you question Davros, and make you see him in a different light. Davros deserves his own character study for once.
3. The Emperor Dalek
As someone who only has vague recollections of the Emperor Dalek from the classic series, maybe I’m not the best person to judge. But I highly enjoyed the characterization of the Emperor Dalek in Parting of the Ways because of the core motives Russell T. Davies decided to plant in him. His god complex is what drives him, essentially; he sees himself as a god, because he reached into the dirt and created new life. It says a lot about what power can do, about how influential some of the supposedly great dictators can be (is there such thing as a great dictator?), and indeed about the Daleks’ naivety: he’s no more a god than you or I. I’d say he’s actually an abomination, in effect.
The model was imposing and even more striking when shown on screen. It beat for me what was a pretty strong design from the classic series. It was like a Dalek, but more godlike and grandiose.
Best Appearance: Like the last one, because this is his only new series appearance, it’s the only possible contender (Parting of the Ways). Also similar to the last one, it’d probably win otherwise.
What Next?: The Emperor Dalek isn’t strictly one character (Davros took the role once, coincidentally); he’s something of a monarch. So a return is always a strong possibility. I’m not a gamer, but from what I can understand from a friend who played City of the Daleks, that too featured a Dalek Emperor. Perhaps, giving as the Daleks appear to have taken some kind of parliamentary system, the Dalek Emperor will remain in outside media for a while.
2. The Cybermen
The Top Two were really, really close, but the Cybermen lost the top spot because they’ve had a few unsatisfactory and somewhat pitiful outings (The Next Doctor and Closing Time namely) where all they’ve demonstrated is that they’re slow runners with meagre tactics and emotional weaknesses.
But they had an excellent comeback. This will be the third time I’ve praised McRae’s two-parter in the last couple of weeks (see: Top 10 Urban Stories, Top 10 Alien Planets Part 1), but it’s fully deserving of all the commendation I give it. I actually found the Cybermen scarier in this than I ever have before. I like the gradual build-up in Rise of the Cybermen where we don’t fully see the Cybermen until the end. It’s reminiscent of something from the Troughton era where the Cybermen frequently wouldn’t even make their appearance until half-way through a serial. That alone is a highly respectful homage to the format of classic Cybermen stories.
A lot of people knock the look of the new Cybermen – but I personally think it was in need of a drastic redesign, anyway. If you look back at The Tenth Planet, and then The Invasion, you can’t tell me that there weren’t some fans who were questioning how far the Cybermen were beginning to verge away from their original design. That’s just their nature; they’re a constantly-evolving, constantly-adapting species – in fact, that’s how they came about in the first place. By Silver Nemesis, though, whilst I still enjoy their presence (I always do with the Cybermen – they’re a personal favourite), they hadn’t changed a huge amount since, say, Revenge of the Cybermen. It’s never good to let a design get too tired.
And so the Cybermen were brought back in 2006 with a completely new mould and rightful panache. I for one actually value the decision to include the ‘stompy’ feet with great esteem. I think the fact that you can hear them coming but can’t escape them is rather an unsettling notion (hence why I’m not a fan of their latter stories where you can escape them very easily). I like the ‘bulky’ shell because it shows how machine-like the people become. And one feature I really love is the use of the tear from the cold, dark eyes in instances like The Age of Steel or Doomsday – that was ingenious.
Yes, this design of the Cybermen has had its time, but I sincerely hope it’s not regarded by future generations as ‘that failed one of the Russell T. Davies era’. Their introduction, notwithstanding their later use, remains one of my favourite Who stories, and possibly my favourite ever reintroduction of a classic monster.
Best Appearance: You saw this one coming. Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel, for a number of reasons.
What Next?: A return of the Cybermen is always welcome. I’ll be intrigued to see what Gaiman does with the Cybermen in Nightmare in Silver but I am fully confident that he will deliver. I have many, many ideas of my own about different things that could be done with them, but in case I ever get the unlikely job of writing a Doctor Who novel, they’ll probably never meet paper. Still, you never know.
1. The Daleks
The Daleks are textbook iconic. They’re textbook Doctor Who. Moreover, they’re textbook sci-fi; an everlasting icon throughout the ages – a constant in an ever-changing genre, if you will. The design is always going to be the same: pepper-pot casing, make of Dalekanium (decorative baubles), sink plunger and whisk, eyestalk, and two eggs on top of the dome. For all intents and purposes, that’s the rule. Anything else, to a certain degree, can be edited.
The new series really doesn’t change anything with the design, purely because it doesn’t have to. The simple bronze colouring is enough, and, for me, one of the best if not the best colour scheme for a Dalek. The opening of the exterior to reveal the squalid creature inside is done with such unintended grace that it’s splendid to watch. Being so small accentuates their anger; they’re tiny, pathetic beings compared to the Time Lords, but they want attention, they want everything to be theirs, and they rely solely on ammunition to keep them going.
The writing for the Daleks is also stronger than ever. Like the Cybermen, some stories have been more successful (Dalek, Parting of the Ways) than others (Victory of the Daleks, Asylum of the Daleks) – feel free to disagree with my examples; it’s a subjective categorizing. But I wouldn’t say that there aren’t any Dalek episodes which aren’t worthy of any kind of praise. Even The Wedding of River Song, which I intrinsically and consequentially loath, has a powerful and stimulating handling of the Daleks, giving us a fascinating, albeit brief insight into their psychology, via the Doctor (“Imagine you were dying. Imagine you were afraid and a long way from home in terrible pain. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, you looked up and saw the face of the Devil himself. Hello, Dalek”).
There’s a lot put into highlighting the shared wrath within the Daleks. We learn in Doomsday that maybe it’s their lonely, bleak existence which leaves them so cold (“Sealed inside your casing. Not feeling anything ever, from birth to death, locked inside a cold metal cage. Completely alone. That explains your voice. No wonder you scream”). It’s suggested in Asylum of the Daleks that it’s their growing fear of/abhorrence towards the Doctor that makes them grow stronger. That’s why Oswin is being so heroic in wiping their minds of him; she’s weakening them by removing their core incentive.
The mythos of the Daleks is developed to some mesmerising levels, too. The Cult of Skaro is a particularly enthralling theory; the Emperor’s Order. Dalek even cuts the Daleks a bit of slack, categorizing them as not inherently bad, just instinctually driven.
Long live the Daleks!
Best Appearance: I’m going to once again go for my favourite Doctor Who episode, Parting of the Ways. The invasion of the Game Station was thrilling and depicted the Daleks almost as an infection, spreading its way throughout the vessel. The influence the Emperor has over them is remarkable whilst the sheer power and speed of them is overwhelming. It’s ‘properly scary’.
What Next?: Whatever any of these ‘the Daleks are overused’ fans say, there is always room for them in Doctor Who, and, if tackled the right way, on a yearly basis. For once it would be nice to have a Dalek-centred story arc instead of just an abrupt appearance in the finale. I’d like to see the Dalek Parliament and the Dalek Puppets explored to further depths: what happened to the monarchy? Was it overthrown? Have the Daleks decided to fall back on logic and tactical conquest instead of going in all-guns-blazing? Are they still as sadistic and determined as ever, or are they (almost definitely ostensibly) willing to cooperate? And is there any humanity left in their puppets? I’d also like to see it link in to the Clara arc, giving as her first episode featured them.
Honourable Mention: The Silurians
Hammered by the fan-base regularly, the new Silurian design really isn’t all that bad. The use of the mask shows that there’s more ‘beneath the surface’ (no pun intended), and whilst I haven’t seen Doctor Who and the Silurians for quite some time, I really don’t think it compares that badly. Instead, they’re used to fit modern society and potential population issues (see: Top 10 Urban Stories). The Silurians deserve more praise than they get.
So, another countdown bites the dust. I understand that this one relies on a more opinionated viewpoint, so feel free to disagree – if you do, justify your opinions in the comments, and perhaps you’ll even change my views!