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Poor the Vervoids, never quite as rock ‘n’ roll a monster as you’d expect with a name like a cross between the Verve and the Voidoids, but then the Sixth Doctor’s time in the TARDIS was a fairly rock-free period.
There’s also the delicate matter of their physiognomy. I mean faced with plant-based life-forms that have particularly pink and, ah, stameny faces, nestling in a suggestive arrangement of petals, where is one supposed to look to avoid blushes? The groin?
These problems apart, the Vervoids are classic Whovian monsters in every respect. Their only appearance so far was as part of the Trial of a Time Lord story arc, in which the Doctor has to explain his meddling ways to a Gallifreyan court. So their tale, helpfully entitled Terror of the Vervoids in case you were under the impression these weeds were actually flowers, is told in flashback, with the occasional spluttering insistance from the Doctor that his intentions were strictly honorable.
The tale he tells is of a murder and a fake Mayday from the Hyperion III, a spaceliner with a hydroponics center, which is where the TARDIS lands. The Doctor and Mel are arrested as soon as they set foot outside. Commodore Travers, the ship’s captain, has met the Doctor before, so puts him to work finding out who sent the fake message, working on the idea that it was intended for him anyway.
And that’s when people start dying. There are also some Demeter plant seeds missing, which seems to be a clue. Mel is present when one of crew is electrocuted, and in the kerfuffle that follows, a series of pods opens and is emptied, much to the horror of all concerned. When an oxygen-averse Mogarian traveller collapses, the Doctor de-masks him, finding one of the murdered crew beneath. Or rather, an undercover investigator called Hallett, known to the Doctor.
While investigating the missing contents of those pods, the Doctor and Mel come across a horrific half-human, half-plant person, locked in a cupboard. She’s another one of the crew, infected when a tiny speck of pollen entered her bloodstream through a pricked thumb. Just think how easily this tragedy could have been prevented with a good pair of gardening gloves. Oh and suddenly Mel’s been attacked and dumped in a cupboard too. A pile of bodies the Doctor will later compare to a compost heap. Don’t giggle.
Back to the action, and hey, hey! It’s the Vervoids, with their whispery voices and hairy mouths and strange ability to emit gassy spores. They’re yucky! But they’re alone in the universe, so perhaps its apt that there is quite so much of the reproductive about their faces. Here’s a montage of their greatest hits:
There’s a series of to-dos between the humans aboard ship, and the Mogarians who can breathe the poisonous gas which is making certain areas impassive, but it’s the blimming Vervoids that keep advancing.
And it’s at the end of a lot of running about and accusation that we find out that Doland, a pesky human, was growing Vervoids to use as slave labor. It seems that in industry, they’re more efficient and less prone to tiredness than robots.
Robots, ladies and gentlemen. Blank, inexpressive, repetitive robots, have somehow become more expensive and needy, more of a diva-headache, than the plant-based Vervoids. No wonder they’re fed up!
Ah but apparently that’s genetics. They’ve been bred to be conscious and a little grumpy, which means they can see us animals tucking into salad and wish to take revenge for their leafy brethren. They can’t be stopped, until all the vegans and vegetarians (and omnivores) are dead. Time to brew up some weedkiller that will accelerate their life cycle and bring about a premature autumn. They fall in the fall! All the leaves are browwwn, and the sky is grey…
Trouble is, the Gallifreyan prosecutors, listening to the Doctor’s grand finale, see this as an act of genocide, and now he’s in even worse trouble. Which just serves to prove something I have always suspected, that gardening is a dirty, dirty business.
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