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A Terileptil in an actual cape

In TV science fiction, sometimes you can be working on a cracking idea for a monster costume, and only realie afterwards that there’s a silly detail that, while helping to define the character you’re creating, also unravels them a little. Like the Terileptils, once-only enemies of the Fifth Doctor (in a story called The Visitation). On the face of it, they’re classic Whovian baddies, being reptilian and hoarse of throat, having clawed hands and scaly flesh, but then, looking at them, you realize they’re standing up awfully straight and stiff, and walking around as if they’re in dire need of the bathroom, and their heads are sort of leaning forwards as if they’re carrying a heavy weight on their backs. And then you look again and the penny drops.

Here is an alien race that appears to have evolved to look as if they’re wearing capes. And not swooshy Batman capes either, the kind of poddish cape a military man might wear to keep his uniform dry in a downpour. The kind of cape that inhibits arm movement, in case it falls from the shoulder. The kind of cape that looks like a beetle shell.  Those poor Tereliptils can’t straighten up properly and they can’t hold their arms out wide to cuddle one another, because stupid evolution (or the great costume designer in the sky) has given them this heavy lizard-skin cowl on their backs, and it doesn’t even house a decent set of wings. No wonder they’re so keen on world destruction.

And the thing is, they don’t even really have a plan. Their ship crashed on Earth in the 17th Century, and they’re trying to make the best of a bad situation. But when your flexibility is hampered by your own physical limitations, what else can you do but refuse the offer of a lift home from a kindly Time Lord, in favor of wiping all human life off the surface of the planet, using a modified version of the bubonic plague. and beginning again. Maybe you’re hoping for a less capey future for your descendants.

Here are the Tereliptils in all their glory, worshipping a sliced apple on a plinth, and preparing an ambush:

Of course they’re not the only scary-faced lizards to have problems with their upper limbs. The Tyrannosaurus Rex, for example, couldn’t even use his arms to scratch his nose, and he lived for far longer than humankind has existed. However, he could probably have got back up if you pushed him over, which is not something you can say for this lot. So for all that they posed a genuine threat to humanity during their brief stay in London, you can’t really see them making a go of conquering a planet.

What they gain in style, capewise, they lose in practicality.

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By Fraser McAlpine