Doctor Who is home to some of the scariest and deadliest creatures known to science-fiction. Not many people realise or associate it with this, but the sci-fi TV show is also of the horror genre. A family friendly horror, but still the TV show in some cases have gone above and beyond in it's portrayals of certain aliens and monsters.
All great horror centred concepts are based on simple mechanics and rules, as well as of course the fear of the unknown. It's a powerful primal tool in the genre that's easy to manipulate, especially when combined with science-fiction. Writers like Steven Moffat and Russell T Davies simply ask the question 'What If...?'. Imagination does the rest as the alien becomes the vessel with which to project well known fears, phobias, and horror tropes.
There are some iconic villains and monsters like the Daleks, Cybermen, The Master but what gives each of these unique depictions life? Is it their frightening appearance? The petrifying power they wield? If you were backed into a corner could you even overcome them? Whatever the answer may be to you, I want to get to the main idea behind how and why some of these creatures are effective at being so damn terrifying.
10th Doctor - Series 4: The Waters of Mars
A viral Martian life-form that is and of itself water. It transmits via water and takes on a physical form by infecting a biological host through physical contact. Once achieved its host continually exudes water, with nothing else but the desire to spread and take over sentient life. Imagine if that got to Earth.
What brings terrifying depth to these creatures is the idea of what such a being is capable of in a real world scenario. Think of it from a logistical point of view. Water is commonplace in our lives: 70% of the planet is made up of the stuff, whilst the human body consists of up to 60%. Unfortunately, this makes Earth a Goldilocks planet, and us the perfect hosts. Normally water is an essential part of our survival, but now any drop could mean certain death. The Flood works beautifully as a concept in that this premise turns something as simple as a basic human requirement on its head. We would become husks, shells of our former selves, slaves to these things. The human race as we know it would become extinct.
Can't go wrong with a classic zombie virus. Yeah it's been done before but what makes me appreciate this zombie trope is that the twist revolves around the nature of the virus and what it could mean for all of us. What do we do without water? How can we trust what we drink?More importantly, how do we even begin to try to stop something like this?
What a way to live.
(A viral life-form is actually kind of relevant as I write this during the global pandemic of COVID-19. Stay safe, go indoors, and wash your hands despite having read the above.)
The Vashta Nerada
10th Doctor - Series 4: Silence in the Library & Forest of the Dead
Naturally occurring in small clusters on most planets including Earth, "the piranhas of the air" as they are also known hatch from spores in forests, and remote areas of nature. In their natural state the Vashta Nerada are tiny, but when they gather in large numbers they are often concealed in patches of dark that resemble shadows. They're not hiding in every shadow, but they can be any shadow. The carnivorous swarm are able to strip the meat from a body with a frightening speed and efficiency.
"Almost every species in the universe has an irrational fear of the dark. But they're wrong. Because it's not irrational. It's Vashta Nerada."
This clever conception taps into our primal fear of the dark, and leaving fear to the imagination is a dangerous thing. The fact that the Vashta Nerada are based on a universal phobia everyone can relate to actualises our worst nightmares, giving life and form to the sci-fi creation. As rational beings we can understand that this is all the product of a fictional story. However, a great horror concept speaks to the little voice at the back of your head. The irrational part of your mind that asks 'could it be real?' and a whisper simply responds 'yes'.
Even if we've grown out of it, suddenly we're 6 years old again, curled up under the bed covers, staring at the slightly ajar closet door. What's in there? Anything and everything. Can't fight fear itself. Curse you Moffat!
(*curls up under blanket*)
The Weeping Angels
10th Doctor - Series 3: Blink
11th Doctor - Series 5: The Time of Angels, Flesh and Stone
Series 7: The Angels Take Manhattan
"The Lonely Assassins" are alien predators that are as old as the universe itself. The reason for this is because of their unique defense mechanism which although might be an asset, is also their greatest curse. It is a fact of their biology that when observed they freeze to stone leaving them still like statues. They appear seemingly harmless, but should you not be looking at one of these creatures if you unfortunately cross paths with one, there will be dire consequences. The touch of an Angel sends their victims back in time to live out their lives slowly. They feast off of and survive on people's 'potential time energy' generated by all the days you would have lived. It will be like you never existed at all.
"They're the only creatures in the universe to kill you nicely."
The writers clearly thought about what people would do in a situation like this. I mean think about it, what would you do if you were being chased by a monster? Hide? Run away? In the face of certain death you'll panic and react in a way that makes yourself vulnerable. How you ask? I'll give you a hint. You're taking it for granted right now whilst reading these words. What's the one thing you do all the time, but especially when you're terrified for your life? BLINK. You're dead. You have to stare at your killer or you're dead. *Gulp*
It was a fun game when I was younger, but I couldn't do it now if my life depended on it. Yeah there would be adrenaline coursing through my veins from the fear, but that would make me paranoid, clumsy, and easy prey for a predator that hunts in packs. As a result I'd be stuck somewhere in the 60s. To misquote Dutch from Predator, "if it doesn't bleed I can't kill it".
There's are of course plenty more aliens and monsters Doctor Who has to offer but these are some of my favourites and why I appreciate them over something like a genocidal dustbin on wheels.
If you watch the show do you have any favourites?