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Like a lot of Whovians, my first experience of some of the earlier monsters came through reading about them in the Target novelisations, in which the show’s scripts were stripped of stage directions, plumped up again with lots of description, stuffed in a illustrative jacket and let loose on the world. I loved every single one of them, especially as this was the only way to get some understanding of what had happened in the show, in the days before the Internet, DVD reissues and people writing blogs like this.
So the only time I’d seen a Yeti was on the cover of the book, and yet they cast a very long shadow over my teenage years. Not so much the beakier, grippier models as seen in The Web of Fear, but the hollow-faced, evil Teletubby Yetis of The Abominable Snowmen were scary enough to create a lifelong fear of giant teddy bears in anyone.
I mean just LOOK at it! It’s like a grizzly crossed with a leech. You could probably fit your entire head inside that face, and you’d struggle to get it back.
It turns out these Yeti aren’t animals at all. They’re robots dressed in fur, powered by shiny metal orbs. The same shiny metal orbs Jamie and Victoria find in the Himalayan cave in this clip. These provide not only the power needed to do their terrifying work, but also the motivation, as they are also communication devices for The Great Intelligence, a malevolent force from another dimension which seeks to take solid shape in our dimension and take over the Earth.
There’s a bit of to-and-fro with the Doctor in this story, because he comes out of the TARDIS dressed in a fur coat and is promptly captured, under suspicion of being the creature that has been taking people away and murdering them. Then there’s the issue of Master Padmasambhava, a (300 year) old friend of the Doctor’s, who really shouldn’t still be alive, and who turns out to be channelling the Great Intelligence too. Once that’s all sorted out, it’s just a matter of separating the Yeti from their orbs, sending the Great Intelligence back home, and all is well.
So, they’re not nasty in and of themselves. The Yeti will simply do the bidding of whoever controls the orbs, which is, in a way, more scary than the idea of them being sentient beings with a grudge to bear. And certainly, when the Doctor, Victoria and Jamie encounter a deactivated Yeti in London 30 years later, in The Web of Fear, they’re under no illusions as to its capabilities.
This time the Yeti have been revamped, they’ve got faces, and are accompanied by a fungal web which has forced Londoners to flee their homes. The stage is set for another Gothic horror tale, in which these frozen museum exhibits come to life (it’s all a bit Weeping Angels, frankly) and the Great Intelligence takes over humans and Yeti alike to try and gain a foothold in our dimension. Thankfully the Doctor has a new ally, in the shape of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, and again, manages to thwart the plan, almost draining the Great Intelligence for good, but thwarted at the last minute.
Which just leaves a bunch of lifeless Yeti and the dust of their exploded control spheres. The threat has been deactivated, and they’re unable to move. Once again leaving nothing but disquiet and the idea that you can’t really fully trust a furry robot, just because it’s brain egg has been scrambled.
As with all of the best of the Doctor’s foes, the Yeti are scary because they can’t be reasoned with, they’re not even in charge of their own bodies, and because they look familiar and alien at the same time. I wouldn’t trust one as far as I could throw it, and nor should you.
Next week: The Autons
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic