Thursday, 6 August 2015

The Ten Worst Doctor Who Monsters That Actually Aren't The Worst

When talking about awful Doctor Who monsters, a few names inevitably pop up. There's also always monsters that people think deserve to go on those sort of lists that actually don't. This isn't to say that every single Doctor Who monster is secretly perfect, but fans can be blindsided by the wrong things a lot of the time.

Today we'll be looking at ten infamous monsters in no particular order, all of which have raised the ire of fandom and been mocked, but actually aren't that bad at all. Will any of this convince you? Let's find out!

1. Taran Wood Beast
1978's 'The Androids of Tara' is regarded as a brilliant story sadly marred by a scene in which a man in a furry suit and unconvincing mask leaps out from behind a bush to menace the Doctor's companion Romana for approximately 20 seconds. And yes, it is an infamously terrible costume, rightly so.

Look at it this way though - the Taran Wood Beast does literally appear for only 20 seconds, in an age where people weren't expected to constantly pour over stills and rewatch episodes again and again. It's a blink and you miss it monster. Why break the budget on a monster that would barely get seen? The production team could have made some sort of lavish monster costume for this brief appearance, but as a result the rest of the episode would have had to see cuts. It's good enough for what it is - a monster that serves a plot point which is only glimpsed.

Of course, if you're still not convinced, remember that Tara is a world where androids are commonplace. It is perfectly possible that the Taran Wood Beast is simply a robot that the rich can safely hunt in lieu of killing real animals. Then it's clearly fake appearance can be explained by it not being real!

2.The Kandyman
There are two types of people - those who mock the Kandyman, and those who have actually seen 'The Happiness Patrol'. In photographs and clips he looks ridiculous - an evil Bertie Bassett with spinning eyes and a shrill voice, proof positive that Doctor Who is Ruined Forever. He's supposed to be like that though - that's the entire point of 'The Happiness Patrol'. It's set in a dystopia that tries to force happiness on its populace, but instead just comes across as cheap, tacky and run-down.

Unfortunately at the time Doctor Who was often cheap and tacky by accident, so it was easy for people to assume this was yet another silly story where no-one involved knew what they were doing.

The Kandyman is a great character - he's a cyborg made of sweets who is both sweet scientist and head executioner. He treats his executioner work like it is the most tedious job in the world. He's grumpy, flippant and hilarious. The fact that he's a crazy murderous Bertie Bassett is the best bit, not the worst!

The Ergon, Omega's creation in 1983's 'Arc of Infinity' looks like a stupid giant chicken. He waddles about in his ungainly costume and his arms that seem to be stuck at right angles, head swaying violently from side to side as people pretend to be scared.

The thing is though, there's absolutely nothing wrong with the Ergon. Sure it looks terrible, but what doesn't. In the cold harsh light of day, the Alien costume from the legendary films looked equally crap. The detailing and design of the Ergon is actually fantastic and pretty creepy-looking, it's just the decision to blast it with light that ruins the effect. Had the lighting been just a bit more selective we might have had a classic monster on our hands. Not great in the final execution, but not nearly the worst.

4.Gel Guard
Omega was a glutton for punishment, and in his first appearance in 1973's 'The Three Doctors', he fielded a team of 'Gel Guards', gigantic orange blobby monsters that bobbed up and down and said "blob blob" a lot.

For some reason fandom doesn't like these, as apparently they don't fit within the gritty realism of the Pertwee era or something ridiculous like that. They absolutely work within the story though - they have a good menacing presence as they attack the UNIT base, they have a strange hidden crab claw that can explode things, and the costumes look genuinely weird and alien. They might not be to everyone's taste, but there's nothing about them that you can actually point at as not working.

'Kinda' is another story that is held in high regard by fandom which feels that a 10/10 stone cold classic is let down by the appearance of a rubbish pink snake at the end. It's not. It's let down by the fact that the Mara is defeated by being put in a circle of mirrors, which is pretty much a hollow 'nothing' ending.

The rest of 'Kinda' is full of genuinely experimental imagery and quite brave directional choice in depicting the Mara, a creature of nightmares, so the revelation that it's just a rubbish pink snake is of course a let-down. It even got replaced by a CGI snake on the DVD release so that fans can sleep at night.

While the original Mara effect isn't great, an entire story does not hinge on a thirty second effect shot. It may have looked bad in 1982, but in the modern age of CGI it looks no worse than anything else from the era. If you honestly think that a crap pink snake completely ruins a story, then you probably don't deserve to watch nice things in the first place. I'm sorry that the BBC didn't literally get a real giant snake in to the studio.

Here's another way of looking at it - the Mara is a creature of false fears, so obviously it is going to appear as a fake snake. Sorted!

I've never understood the Zarbi hate. Sure, they look like pantomime ants, but at the same time they're supposed to be alien creatures inspired by ants, not literally ants. The production team was aware what ants looked like and if they wanted something that looked like an ant, we'd have got something that looked like an ant.

The Zarbi have big powerful legs for running. The alternative is you have an actor crawling slowly about on the floor - would that really have made 'The Web Planet' better? Before 'The Web Planet' was released on VHS, people had fond memories of the original broadcast. My dad still talks about it to this day (and no, I've not dared to show him the DVD yet). It was liked back in the 60's, don't be ashamed to like it now!

7.Paradigm Daleks
Apparently no-one liked the Paradigm Daleks, which was a surprise because from where I was standing they got far more merchandise than the original design, and it flew off the shelves. Yes, they were a big change from the bronze design, but being multicoloured is hardly something new to the Daleks. The new colour schemes were great and added an air of mystery and organisation to them - I can't be the only person who liked the colour-based hierarchy from the Cushing Dalek films - it's iconic!

The new Daleks were bigger and bulkier and didn't have to crane their eyestalks upwards to talk to the Doctor. They apparently had some sort of neat weapon-switching ability, but we never got to see it. Acutally we never really got to see them at all, because after their introduction a subset of fandom started to whine loudly and the new Daleks were quickly relegated to background shots before behind silently phased out.

They never got a chance. The tweaks to the design in Asylum of the Daleks, where the paintjob is a more metallic colour looks fantastic. The main issue with the new Dalek was that their 'backpack' was made the same colour as their casing, giving a hunchback appearance. If the back section had been painted, say, black, that would have made it very clear they weren't some sort of overweight monstrosities. We'll never know now though. Thanks, fandom!

8.Original Cybermen
The original Cybermen's main crime is not looking like silver robots. People point at the cloth masks and funny voices and have a good giggle, but the truth is that the first appearance of the Cybermen is both really creepy and one of their most effective. Yes, they're not silver robots. I'm sorry.

The Cybermen are us. They are basically walking corpses strapped together with bulky life support systems and vocoders. They have cloth masks stretched over their faces like bandages, and we really don't want to see what's under there. They have visibly human hands. They want to make us like them, not because they're evil or want to invade, but because they genuinely want to help and see Cyber-conversion as akin to helping an injured man in the street. Why wouldn't you want to help him? It would be cruel not to Cyber-convert as much as humanity as possible.

The original appearance of the Cybermen in 'The Tenth Planet' is one of the few times this central concept really comes across, and most of that is due to the design, which is the closest to human they've been. It's easy to think of a silver robot as just another space monster. It's harder to think of a nightmarish collection of corpse, cloth and machinery as one.

'The Ark In Space' is treated by fans as a classic and by non-fans as 'That one with the bubble-wrap monster'. I genuinely don't know how widespread the use of bubble wrap was in the UK in 1975; for some reason there's no bubble wrap fan site that charts the progression of the nation's favourite packaging material.

The Wirrn grub and Noah's transformation are both portrayed with copious amounts of bubble wrap. Fine. Get over it. It's not like they could have infected the actor with an actual Wirrn embryo. The effect is good enough though (quite embarrassingly I never even realised it was bubble wrap until it was pointed out to me) and most importantly, the actors sell it. The entire job of an actor is to make something seem convincing - everyone is scared of the Wirrn grub so that it becomes genuinely menacing; Noah clutches his mutating hand in agony and it's obvious it is an alien infection and not some bubble wrap. Anyone who dislikes that probably gets confused every time they go to the theatre and the play doesn't have Hollywood-like effects.

Saving the best 'til last, it's no-one's favourite monster, the Abzorbaloff. 'Love and Monsters' comes in for criticism as one of the worst Doctor Who stories, generally for the combination of a lack of Doctor, a crap monster and a tasteless pavement slab sex joke. Yes, the pavement slab bit is unfortunate and leaves the episode on a sour note, but if it wasn't for that we'd be looking at a 10/10 episode. Even with the Abzorbaloff.

I can't get too worked up about the design, as it was designed by a small child and so that would feel a bit mean. And is it scary? Well, I ask you, would you be scared if a green Peter Kay wearing only a loincloth started chasing you down the street? In many ways it's the most terrifying Doctor Who monster ever!

Seriously though, 'Love and Monsters' is about fandom. It's about how great fandoms are in how they bring people together, and how their excesses and obsessions can be absolutely destructive. The Abzorbaloff is the uber-fan, obsessed with Doctor Who and with taking over every fan community that he can. In the episode he turns a fun, chilled Doctor Who fan club into a second job for the characters and sucks all the joy out of their lives before literally absorbing them. He's the sort of fan who loves being a Doctor Who fan for the sense of power it gives him and prizes his fannish knowledge above things like personal relationships. He can't understand why people might like things that he doesn't like, and probably thinks the Kandyman was rubbish.

But when you strip away the mask, this sort of uber-fan is revealed to be what he truly is - just another crap green Doctor Who monster.

That is why the Abzorbaloff is brilliant.

1 comment:

  1. No, but the Abzorbaloff was terrible. D: If only for being in that godawful episode.