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Where would Doctor Who have been without the monsters? Co-creator Sydney Newman may have adamantly declared that his new show was going to steer clear of including the old sci-fi trope of “bug-eyed monsters”, but it’s very likely that if the second serial hadn’t introduced a certain race of metallic tin-pot conquerors known as the Daleks, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about the show’s 50th anniversary today. And ever since then, a parade of fantastically-conceived aliens and creatures have made their way onto the screen: from Cybermen to Ood, Judoon to Sea Devils, Haemovores to Zygons.
For the first part of our epic poll of Doctor Who superfans, then, we asked a very simple question: what’s your favorite monster? Simple to ask, perhaps, but rather more difficult to answer conclusively. Our jury voted far and wide—thirty-five different monsters or villains were ultimately nominated—and here are their top ten…
Created by the legendary writer Robert Holmes, the Sontarans first appeared in the Third Doctor story “The Time Warrior” in 1973. They’re a race of clones, with a fiercely militaristic and honor-based society: for a Sontaran, the greatest achievement is to lay down one’s life in fighting for their cause. While they’ve often been adversaries of the Doctor, however, it would be wrong to call them an out-and-out “evil” race—they’re warriors, and they like to conquer, but individually they could just as easily be on the Doctor’s side as against him. This is of course best shown by Strax, the marooned Sontaran who ends up joining the hugely popular “Paternoster Gang” and providing extensive comic relief throughout seasons 6 and 7 of the revived show.
9= The Vashta Nerada
A one-episode wonder: but what an episode. In the 2008 two-parter “The Silence of the Library”/”Forest of the Dead”, Steven Moffat unleashed his latest creepy creation: microscopic, swarming carnivores who live in shadows, then mimic them – forcing the hapless subject into a false sense of security. Surely your own shadow can’t turn around and eat you… can it? The creepiness was heightened when they began to inhabit the empty space-suits of those they’d devoured, leaving only their bones—creating skeletal zombies that, through a quirk of technology, endlessly repeated the final words of the victim. They’re a creature that perhaps wouldn’t necessarily stand up to a return appearance – but they’re also a reminder that the right set of circumstances can produce a genuinely brilliant one-off monster.
Similar to the Sontarans, the Ice Warriors have—as their name suggests—a society geared heavily towards war and honor. Unlike the homogenous Sontarans, however, the reptilian residents of Mars created by Brian Hayles show much more in the way of different social strata, and an almost feudal society, in some of their appearances. Their extremely effective design made them hugely popular among fans despite having last appeared in 1974—and they were among the forefront of monsters that many wanted to see brought back in the new series. They finally did so in Mark Gatiss‘ “Cold War” earlier this year, with a single Warrior proving to be a particularly fearsome adversary.
8. The Silurians
Introduced in Malcolm Hulke‘s “Doctor Who and the Silurians” in 1970, this highly intelligent species—later referred to as homo reptilia—actually predate humanity as residents of Earth. When awoken after countless millennia sleeping beneath the surface, they’re naturally a little peeved to find that “their” planet has been taken over by humanity, and promptly set about looking to rectify that fact. They have similar aims upon their revival – with a heavy redesign that gives them far more humanoid facial features—in the 2010 story “The Hungry Earth,” but an individual Silurian, Madame Vastra, would later become one of the series’ most popular supporting characters courtesy of her appearances as part of the Paternoster Gang.
7. The Ood
Perhaps the revived show’s most clever piece of new monster design work, the Ood look deliberately unsettling on the outside—those tentacle faces really are unpleasant—and yet, although they can be telepathically controlled to become a menace (as in their first appearance in the 2006 episode “The Impossible Planet”), they’re actually a rather friendly and peace-loving people. Freed from the shackles of their human-induced slavery, they become an almost mythical race, with the ability to both perceive, and project themselves, backwards and forwards through time. Of all the monsters created by Russell T. Davies, they seem set to be the most likely to enjoy a long and enduring impact on future episodes.
6. The Zygons
It takes a lot to become a beloved and well-remembered monster when you’ve only appeared in one story—1975’s “Terror of the Zygons”—but in many ways, the Zygons seemed to represent the archetypal “men in rubber suits” Doctor Who monster. An incredibly striking design that could have fallen flat if it hadn’t been executed just right, it’s unsurprising that for their long-awaited return in “The Day of the Doctor”, they’ve barely been changed at all. Their shape-shifting abilities make them a wily foe, and mean that even a handful of Zygons can pose a serious threat.
5. The Silence
What if there were a monster you could encounter time and time again, and yet never remember the fact, because you forgot they even existed the moment you looked away? It’s another trademark simple-yet-brilliant Steven Moffat idea, and it makes the Silence a terrifying prospect even before the eerie design, influenced by a combination of the popular “Slender Man” urban legend and Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream. There’s still a huge air of mystery around them – despite being a recurring feature of season 6, we’ve yet to learn the full story behind them or see them reappear. Or maybe we have, and we just don’t remember…?
Nominating the Silence as her favorite monsters, Haley Grogan of WhatCulture.com says, “The creativity and ingenuity needed to beat the Silence evoked in the Doctor and his companions is a big reason about why I like them as monsters – I like that it gave them a new challenge and made them reevaluate their perspective.”
4. The Master
Every hero needs his arch-nemesis, and the Doctor is no exception. When deciding to force Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor into Earth-bound adventures in the early 1970s, the producers also opted to give him a Moriarty-esque counterpoint—an equally mysterious Time Lord foe, but this one dedicated to nothing other than conquest (well, that and an awful lot of mustache-twirling). The trick in making the Master a complex villain who would endure for several decades afterwards, however, was in the duality and implied past closeness of his relationship with the Doctor (on more than one occasion, different writers have toyed with revealing that the pair were actually brothers)—and the fact that although capable of immense evil, he never actually seems to be able to bring himself to follow through on the idea of killing his opposite number.
The role was originated by Roger Delgado, who was followed by Anthony Ainley in the 1980s, and Eric Roberts in the 1996 TV movie. Peter Pratt and Geoffrey Beevers also played the character in his decaying, “last body” form in 1976 and 1981 respectively. The character was presumed killed along with the rest of the Time Lords as of the 2005 revival—but was revealed in 2007’s “Utopia” to have been disguised as a human (played by Sir Derek Jacobi), who then regenerated into John Simm. In this way, the form and personality of the Master have often tended to reflect that of the Doctor he finds himself up against.
Christian Cawley of Kasterborous.com says, “The Master is the Doctor’s equal and opposite, and I love to watch him. Even when his plans are less than sophisticated the fact that the two characters have so much shared history on screen and off informs the narrative and adds something to the performance of both actors, whichever Doctor and Master you happen to be watching.”
It’s likely that Steven Moffat‘s defining legacy to Doctor Who will be the creation of the Weeping Angels—a monster that has, in a short space of time, already established itself as worthy of joining the iconic ranks of the show’s greatest. Seemingly harmless statues that can’t move while being observed, but which are lethally quick and murderous as soon as you close your eyes or turn away, they represent the pinnacle of Moffat’s habit of turning objects that seem safe or comforting into something abjectly terrifying. While they would be just as memorable if they’d only ever appeared in his 2007 masterpiece “Blink”, Moffat couldn’t resist bringing them back once he took over as showrunner; but he’s carefully rationed their appearances, meaning that—just like the Daleks – when they do return, you know it’s serious business.
“Few can match the impact the Weeping Angels had in their debut episode,” says Chris McIntyre of DoctorWhoTV.co.uk. It’s a view shared by Paula Luther of WhatCulture.com: “They were a truly unique concept, and really such a straightforward idea that it’s surprising no one else thought of them sooner. I don’t scare easily, but watching “Blink” for the first time definitely gave me some chills.”
2. The Cybermen
In almost any other sci-fi franchise, the Cybermen would be its greatest achievement. Conceived by Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler, in their first appearance in “The Tenth Planet” (1966) they served as a cautionary tale about man’s over-reliance on technology and the possibility for cybernetic enhancement. It’s a message that remains pertinent almost fifty years later – but in those fifty years, we’ve seen the Cybermen go through a wide range of cosmetic and technological revamps that presents them as a fresh and surprising threat each time they appear. We’re still not sure if a race that’s supposed to have removed all emotions should go around saying “Excellent!” as often as the 1980s versions did, but we’re not going to say that to their faces.
“The idea of upgrading yourself and keeping the grim reaper at bay is always in the back of your mind,” says Heather Maloney of Examiner.com. “However, how far would you go? Would you sacrifice your emotions to live forever? Some of the greatest Doctor Who moments revolved around Cybermen. They were the cause of The First Doctor’s regeneration and the death of Adric. They continually change throughout the show and become more frightening each time.”
Our own Fraser McAlpine, meanwhile, also voted the Cybermen into first place. “Their brutality comes from an absence of emotion rather than an excess of anger, like the Daleks. So they’re chilling, but also there’s a sadness at what they’ve given up in order to upgrade. Plus in my favorite design – from “The Invasion” – they look like they are wearing headphones.”
1. The Daleks
Well, it had to be, didn’t it? The Daleks were so popular from their very first appearance in 1963 that they almost single-handedly rescued the show from possible cancellation, sparked a several-years-long wave of “Dalekmania” in the U.K., and even bumped the Doctor out of the title of the second of the 1960s feature films altogether. They’re simply a perfect fusion of the imagination of writer Terry Nation and designer Raymond Cusick—they look like absolutely nothing else in sci-fi before, or arguably since, and yet their terrifying aims and the threat they present remain universal. There are some fans who don’t like seeing them come back on an almost annual basis—but it’s undeniable that the show receives a huge spike in popularity and media interest every time they do.”
“Daleks just completely hold up over time both visually and as a threat,” says Laura Byrne Cristiano of Hypable.com. “You’ve struck gold when you’re scared of something whose roots are clearly a toilet plunger. The simplistic, compact design makes it more threatening because there is no human or humanoid trace to the naked eye. There’s no mouth, facial expressions, just a menacing eye stalk. There’s something completely terrifying in a species that just hates for no reason other than hate itself. It’s unchanged by time.”
Author Arnold T. Blumberg adds, “It’s with the Russell T. Davies era that I really feel we saw the Daleks reach their full potential. Finally appearing as the riveted metallic battle tanks we always knew they really were, the series reintroduced them in 2005 and gave them more power and pathos than ever before. They are truly the finest enemy any Time Lord could hope to face.”
“It was such a brave design back then,” says Big Finish playwright Cavan Scott. “They could have just gone for a guy in a suit but they went for something completely alien. We’d never seen anything like them.” And yet now, as Paul Murphy of BBC Three Counties Radio adds, “There are undiscovered tribes in the heart of the rain forests who can tell you what a Dalek looks like!”
And finally, Sebastian Brook of Doctor Who Online sums it up in a nutshell: “The Daleks are simply the ultimate Doctor Who villain.” We couldn’t agree more…
Who is your favorite Doctor Who monster or villain? Tell us below: