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Classic ‘Doctor Who’ For Beginners: The Monsters
For anyone getting into Doctor Who since the show’s relaunch in 2005, the back story on some of the creatures that suddenly pop up must seem a little daunting. Especially when there are fans left and right curling themselves into excitement knots over the significance of references that don’t really mean much for newbies.
So, here’s a helpful guide to bookmark and return to. Here are 10 of the Doctor’s most common foes—the ones that he first met in the classic series, and who continue to be a pain in his Gallifreyan behind even now—and clips from the very first time they met the Doctor on screen.
The Daleks – “The Mutants”* (1964)
As you can see from this trailer for BBC AMERICA’s The Doctors Revisited, the arrival of the Daleks, the First Doctor and Doctor Who itself are inextricably linked. They were the first alien race the TARDIS travelers encountered on screen (apart from the Doctor and Susan, his granddaughter). First explained as radioactively-modified mutants of the Dal race, living in robotic shells on the planet of Skaro, the first Daleks couldn’t even leave to go outside, needing a static charge from the floor of their city in order to get about. Although the word “exterminate” was used by the Daleks, it wasn’t the rallying cry it became later. Not that any of this made them less frightening. Once the seven episodes of the story had aired, the Doctor’s future was assured.
* The story is now better know as “The Daleks,” although it wasn’t called that at the time.
The Cybermen – “The Tenth Planet” (1966)
The horrifying trick the Cybermen have pulled off over the years is to change regularly, to evolve, while still retaining their essential blank-faced demeanor. And that’s because they continue to upgrade themselves whenever possible. Cybermen Mark 1 were tall, lumbering creatures with a kind of ’60s kitchen stove on their fronts and a searchlight on their heads. Not as terrifying as the robotic legions in “Rise of the Cybermen” perhaps, but far closer to their organic origins and therefore far creepier. This story also ends with the very first regeneration, which wasn’t even called a regeneration at the time.
The Ice Warriors – “The Ice Warriors” (1967)
The Doctor’s relationship with his adversaries wasn’t always as heated as with the Daleks, Cybermen and so on. While his first (and most recent) encounters with Ice Warriors saw them pitted against each other as enemies, he actually forged an alliance with them in later stories such as “The Curse of Peladon.” They do have something of an innate tendency towards aggression, however, which leaves them vulnerable to being taken over by hot-headed generals (pun intended).
The Great Intelligence – “The Abominable Snowmen”/”The Web of Fear” (1967/8)
That golden sphere the Second Doctor is playing with is a conduit for the mind of The Great Intelligence, and when placed inside the chest of a Yeti robot, can be used to control it. It also possesses the mind of the High Lama Padmasamabhava in “The Abominable Snowmen”, and sets a trap to ensnare the Doctor in the London Underground in “The Web of Fear,” having been given the idea by the Eleventh Doctor in Victorian London (“The Snowmen”).
The Autons – “Spearhead From Space” (1970)
The Autons are simply plastic with a consciousness, most commonly plastic figures that have become occupied by an external intelligence (not unlike the Great Intelligence) called the Nestene Consciousness. The Third Doctor was the first to meet them, right after his regeneration, as a series of shop dummies that came to life and began terrorizing the neighborhood, much as they later did in “Rose.” But we can at least thank them for bringing Rory back to life, even if he did then fall prey to his Nestene programming and shoot Amy.
The Silurians – “The Silurians” (1970)
Earth’s original sentient race, first encountered by the Third Doctor and another species with which he would share a love/hate relationship. When riled and about to try and eradicate humanity (alone or with their watery relatives the Sea Devils), he’s their enemy, but as always he tries to find a way to encourage Earth’s two dominant species to co-exist if possible. So far, it has not happened, but with Madame Vastra and Jenny leading the way, who knows what alliances could eventually be forged…
The Master – “Terror of the Autons” (1971)
Rather than the ragged and broken little brother he became in “The End of Time,” the Master began life as a Moriarty to the Third Doctor’s Sherlock Holmes. His nefarious plans involves working with some very familiar and monstrous faces, starting with the Autons (the guy with the fairground heads) and including the Sea Devils and even a satanic beast called Azal. Being a Time Lord, the Master underwent regenerations that lead to a change of character each time, but he never lost that cold steel at his core.
The Sontarans – “The Time Warrior” (1973)
In contrast to the Cybermen, the only really noticeable way in which the Sontarans have changed over the years is that they have grown shorter. They are a clone race, warriors all and devoted to the glory of their home planet. The very first Sontaran on screen—Linx, strutting about in the middle ages—could just as easily be our beloved Strax, only slightly less tanned. This Third Doctor adventure also marks the first trip in the TARDIS for Sarah Jane Smith.
Davros – “Genesis of the Daleks” (1975)
Why would someone breed a mutant race and leave out all emotions except hate? Because that is how they feel. Davros takes up the mantle of space Moriarty in this tale of how the Daleks became the Daleks. The Fourth Doctor is sent back to Skaro to prevent Davros from breeding this new and furious master race, but in order to do so, he must become the genocidal monster he has set out to destroy.
The Zygons – “Terror of the Zygons” (1975)
It’s unusual for one monster to have cast quite as long (and weird) a shadow as the Zygons. They only appeared in one story, battling the Fourth Doctor in 1975, and for a good portion of that they didn’t even look like Zygons because of their shape-shifting prowess. Nevertheless, it was a happy day for classic Whovians when they were invited back for “The Day of the Doctor.” They remain a design classic, apart from when they’re taking on the forms of other people.
And as an extra bonus, here’s how the Doctor’s own race, the Time Lords, first appeared in 1969’s “The War Games.” He’s not exactly pleased at the prospect of seeing them, you’ll note:
Should you wish to use any of these clips as a launchpad to classic Doctor Who, the best advice is find a story you like the look of, and then work your way forwards through a season from there, to get an appreciation for the bigger story arcs as they come up. Oh, and try not to watch a whole story in one sitting. These adventures were designed to be weekly serials with cliffhangers for people who would never see them again, so they are slower than the current stories.
Other than that, it’s just a question of picking a monster and a Doctor you like the look of, and diving in. Geronimo!