Doctor Who consistently serves up a bevy of badass monsters to threaten the intrepid Time Lord and his buddies, new and old, and it’s fascinating to see how much thought was given in the new series towards reintroducing old villains.
Across the board, the old standbys were changed to better suit how television is created and how plots are structured these days. They needed to be proven as threats and in the new series that has often involved tearing a classic monster down in order to build it back up.
And, oddly enough, the new series has been on long enough that it’s showing signs that it might need to do that again.
How do you make a pepper pot scary? Especially one thwarted by our modern stairs?
The Daleks were undoubtedly the first monsters every one wanted to see reappear in the new series, and the episode “Dalek” was very deliberate about reintroducing them, or, well, reintroducing it. As we find out in this episode, the Daleks became enough of a universal threat that the Doctor eventually had to wipe them and his own people from existence. Hard to believe something that is 15% plunger capable of destroying stars. So “Dalek” proves it to us by showing us a single Dalek rebuilding itself and systematically clawing its way out of an enormous underground base, through cascades of bullets and barricades and, yes, even up stairs. The Doctor and Rose can’t even stop it. It stops itself, and that’s the only reason the human race makes it past 2012.
Similarly, the Daleks return at the end of the first season, having scavenged a future Earth to rebuild themselves, and it takes some very godlike Rose Ex Machina to stop them. In the eyes of the viewer the pepper pots were once again a real threat, and their reappearance in “Army of Ghosts” upped the stakes of the second season tremendously.
Then “Daleks in Manhattan.” And the Daleks long slide into fatigue. By the end of the fourth season the cast were gleefully sliding freaked out Daleks around the floor. The show even goes so far to underline those Daleks as “unpure” in the following season, then reintroduces a new model and gives the monsters a rest, trotting them out as supporting baddies every so often. But they must be up to something and for once, to the show’s credit, we don’t know what it is, allowing the tension of the Daleks to restore itself in our minds.
Early in the new series we’re shown that the Mondasian Cybermen, i.e. the ones from the old series, are long dead. It’s an ignoble end for a race that, in the Who universe, are responsible for the death of the dinosaurs! This paves the way for a newly designed Cyberman, one that actually looks like it’s made of metal, to march over from an alternate universe and begin subjugating humankind.
Although they’re the main threat for the second season of the show, their threat is eclipsed by the Daleks and the Cybermen spend the rest of the show being a bit of a joke threat. Their next big appearance in “The Next Doctor” has them confused as to who the Doctor even is and, in some cases, loping along and wearing fur.
The Eleventh Doctor’s adventures have slowly been building them back up as a threat. A Cyberman’s head wriggles itself around Amy in “The Pandorica Opens,” it’s revealed they have entire space fleets now in “A Good Man Goes to War,” and we saw them nearly convert Craig, swallowing him up in a cybersuit, in the recent “Closing Time.” Ever so slowly, the Cybermen are getting creepier.
In “The Sontaran Stratagem” two-parter the Doctor is very keen to figure out exactly why a war-happy race like the Sontarans are bothering to attack Earth with such cowardly methods. Why would the Sontrans kill all the humans by choking them to death with their own exhaust fumes? Well, it turns out that “constant war” isn’t the most sustainable model of civilization and they’ve lost their cloning planet as a result.
The Sontarans, though more comically entertaining to watch, have yet to be converted into a real threat. A Sontaran is thwarted by Sarah Jane and her kids in The Sarah Jane Adventures and one has even been turned into a nurse by the Doctor! Talk about trimming the claws of a tiger!
Those subterranean lizard-people, the Silarians were reintroduced to the Doctor Who universe in last season’s “The Hungry Earth” two-parter, and were purposely depowered, lest they’d overrun the Earth (and the plot) through sheer numbers alone! So far, the threat of the Silurians continues to build. Although not a threat, we saw a highly capable Silurian ninja in “A Good Man Goes to War.” Imagine an army of that.
The Weeping Angels
In an interesting twist, one of the new series most effective new monsters, the Weeping Angels, are introduced in the same depowered manner that the high profile classic monsters are. They were far more powerful in their second appearance in the “Time of Angels” two-parter, which was a bit disturbing considering that a depowered Weeping Angel is already pretty strong.
Like the Daleks, though, they’re treading into fatigue. An appearance by an angel doesn’t quite scare like it should. (Which is a fantastic sentence to take out of context, by the way.)
The Time Lords
Perhaps the best twist in the final Tenth Doctor story was the reveal that the Time War was not a clear cut good versus evil situation, but rather a struggle between two totally bonkers power-hungry universal threats, the Daleks AND the Time Lords. At this point we’d spent four seasons mourning the off-screen demise of the Doctor’s people, only to have it all inverted by the reveal. Timothy Dalton as Rassilon hardly has time to spit his spittle before being sent “back into hell” by the Doctor.
The return of the Time Lords had an enormous impact, and all because they were initially depowered, or taken away outright. Following this formula, the new series has consistently given us powerful and effective villains. Let’s hope it still sticks to that formula! The Silents are pretty damn scary. Here’s to not finding out they’re just universal insurance salesmen. (Although that’s still kind of scary...)
Stubby the Rocket is the mascot of Tor.com and wrote way more about this than it thought there was to say.