From its earliest days Doctor Who has flirted with horror (except when it went full-on relationship with horror under Philip Hinchcliffe). The show has given us pre-Romero zombies in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the Frankenstein send-up The Brain of Morbius, and the Dracula-inspired State of Decay. But has Doctor Who ever called upon the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft? Maybe not intentionally (although some of the New Adventures novels tackle the Mythos outright), but the classic series of Doctor Who has occasionally invoked Lovecraftian nightmares. Here are five monsters that leave me with that Lovecraft vibe.
While not high on the list of fan favorites, the First Doctor story The Web Planet features the Animus, a creature that has enslaved a population and nearly destroyed a planet. The Animus could control the minds of anyone who looked at it, as well as controlling anyone who wore gold. The Web Planet author Bill Strutton intended the story to be an allegory about cancer. As such, the Animus was a cancerous cell that infected the ecosystem of a planet, turning its own population against one another. The inhabitants of the planet Vortis were based on insects (ants, moths, grubs) and the Animus was envisioned as spider-like. When the effect was realized on set, it looked appropriately tentacled. Even the Doctor couldn’t fight against the control of the creature’s mind. The Mythos opportunities were later taken up by New Adventures authors and the Animus was categorized as a Great Old One.
The Great Intelligence
Steven Moffat brought back this Second Doctor adversary in the 2012 Christmas special The Snowmen and provided it with an origin story. The original creation by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln was more mysterious. In The Abominable Snowmen, a Tibetan Lama entered the astral plane while meditating. The Great Intelligence latched on to his consciousness and followed him back to the mortal plane. The Intelligence’s desire was corporeal existence. He augmented the Lama’s scientific knowledge to create robotic Yeti. The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria defeated the creature, but it returned to our plane in The Web of Fear. The exact nature of the creature was never revealed. Once again, New Adventures authors added The Great Intelligence to the Cthulhu Mythos by identifying it as Yog-Sothoth. It is currently unclear if the three portrayals of The Great Intelligence (classic Who, New Adventures, and new Who) are compatible.
The Fendahl were a gestalt creature composed of a core and Fendahleen, which are eyeless, limbless creatures with fins and tentacles. They fed off the psychic energy of humans. They were thought to have been destroyed on pre-historic Earth, but the core was discovered by a group of scientists who believe the core is a pre-historic human skull. Their attempt to study it leads to the core being activated and Dr. Thea Ransome is turned into a new core. It doesn’t help matters that one of the scientists, Dr. Maximillian Stael, was part of a Fendahl-worshipping coven who wanted to see the Fendahl return to Earth. The Doctor and Leela encountered the Fendahl in Image of the Fendahl.
The Rutan at Fang Rock
More than any other story The Horror at Fang Rock feels like a weird fiction story in the mold of Lovecraft. It is dark, brooding, and one of the best realizations of atmosphere in the classic series. The Doctor and Leela arrive at a lighthouse on Fang Rock, an island that is rumored to be haunted. One of the lighthouse keepers is killed and a ship crashes on the island soon after. The survivors are trapped on the island with a killer. While creatures from the sea are par for the Lovecraftian course, it is the atmosphere that really makes this story effective.
The Seventh Doctor story The Curse of Fenric ticks quite a few Lovecraft boxes. It has creatures from the sea, ancient ruins, mythological threats, and a non-corporeal being desiring a body in our plane of existence. To make matters worse, he has a grudge against the Doctor and has been playing a game of wits against him for who knows how long. Fenric is revealed to be a force of evil that had existed since the dawn of time. Like The Great Intelligence and the Animus, Fenric was added to the Mythos when The New Adventures identified him as Hastur the Unspeakable, though this version of Hastur has little connection to the King in Yellow that Call of Cthulhu gamers are familiar with. Fenric returned in the Big Finish story Gods and Monsters.
These are my favorite Lovecraftian Doctor Who monsters, but I’m sure there are others. Let me know of your favorites or any I have forgotten in the comments.