Five Lovecraftian Doctor Who Monsters

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.


 

The Animus

  1. The Animus

    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 Yeti

  2. 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.


     

    Fendahleen

  3. The Fendahl

    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.


     

    Rutan on the stairs

  4. 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.


     

    Fenric possessing a human

  5. Fenric

    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.

063 – The Centre (The Web Planet Part 6)

Written by Bill Strutton
Directed by Richard Martin

All teams converge on The Animus, which proves to be one of the most dangerous evils The Doctor has faced.

Barbara and some Menoptra engage in a bit of illegal Zarbi Fighting.

“A power, absorbing territory, riches, energy culture.  You come to me.” 

All talk of The Animus is nothing compared to the realization of the creature.  Yes, there is a lot of foam and rubber, but when you think of the actual design of the thing, it is the most-alien creation we have seen in this show.  The Animus is evil given shape.  In the context of Vortis, an insect planet, The Animus bears a vague resemblance to a spider.  This was foreshadowed when Vicki and The Doctor discovered earlier that The Zarbi were afraid of a dead spider.  It reminded them of their master.  The Carcinome is the creature’s web, which is why it could only sense movement, just as a spider detects prey when the strands of its web vibrate.  Many spiders also have poor vision.  The Animus as spider is also probably why the complete consuming of Vortis took so long.  If The Animus digests as a spider, everything would need to be broken down.  The acid on Vortis may have been digestive enzymes.

The Animus shows its power in many ways in this episode.  First, as punishment for attempting to escape, The Doctor and Vicki are encased in a web.  The point was not imprisonment, but pain.  William Hartnell really sells this as it is the first time his Doctor has appeared visually shaken and possibly re-thinking his actions.  He is in severe pain for the first time in this show and everything has ceased being fun and games.  Later, upon entering the center of The Carcinome, both The Doctor and Vicki are quickly dispatched by the light and hypnotic emanations from The Animus.  Tendrils begin to wrap around them, dragging them closer to The Animus to be consumed.  Even The Menoptra are vulnerable as the light from The Animus draw Hlynia like a moth to a flame.  To make matters worse, The Isoptope seems somewhat ineffective.  This is one of the weak parts of the story, as it is not really explained why the weapon initially doesn’t work, but later does.  Was Barbara not using correctly?  Did it have a cumulative effect?  No explanation is give, but The Animus is defeated nonetheless.

Fan retconning, most notably in The New Adventures novel line, establishes The Animus as one of the Great Old Ones from Lovecraftian mythology.  It is certainly a plausible speculation, but I doubt that Strutton had this in mind.  The Animus is a spider.  It is a metaphor for cancer.  However, since Lovecraftian horror is more conceptual, preying on visceral feelings, the speculation is valid.  Plus, I like the idea of Doctor Who taking place in a Lovecraftian universe.  I would like to see this weave itself into the new series, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.  Likewise, I would love to see The Animus return in some form.  With the budget of the new series, this creature could be wonderfully realized.  Given fan opinion of The Web Planet, I don’t see this happening either.

I have to admit that I enjoyed this serial.  I was dreading it when I started doing these reviews.  Much like The Sensorites, I found it quite entertaining when watched episodically.  That’s what fascinates me in re-watching the show.  I had always watched serials in one go.  Some stories have felt weaker to me when watching episodically, others have felt stronger.  It has been quite the eye-opening experience, and I can now say that I enjoyed The Web Planet.  Never expected that.

What other show gives you something that looks like this?

Invasion (The Web Planet Part 5)

Written by Bill Strutton
Directed by Richard Martin

The disparate characters begin their own plans to finally rid Vortis of The Animus, The Doctor through infiltration, Barbara leading the invasion survivors, and Ian leading the Optera from below.

Such an odd story.

“Zombo.  It’s his name.  I gave it to him.”

This episode is fairly straight forward.  All the pieces are being moved into place for the finale where we will finally see The Animus and its destruction.  So much mystery has been given to this creature.  Truly it is a fascinating idea, even without the cancer analogy.  In some ways, The Animus is weak because it cannot see the opposing forces if they are not moving.  It could not track The Menoptra forces, for example (as an aside, I realized I was spelling Menoptra wrong for the last few reviews).  Yet, The Animus consumes the life from the planet.  It seems it has been feeding on the magnetic pole of Vortis.  The change in balance is what drug moons to Vortis’ orbit and also has trapped The TARDIS.  If The Animus is destroyed, presumably this field will fail.  As to the exact nature of The Animus, this is still unknown.  Perhaps it is a creature from deep space.  The Menoptra almost imply that The Animus thought itself into existence on Vortis.  To people with cancer, this must sometimes seem how it appears.  Sometimes we can trace our lifestyles and see what caused it.  Other times, it may seem to appear spontaneously.  The result is the same, a vile, destructive force.

The Doctor and Vicki are able to modify one of The Zarbi devices that is used to enslave people (as it is made of gold) using The Doctor’s ring.  They enslave a Zarbi and escape.  They meet up with Barbara and the survivors of the invasion force, who are trying to plan a new attack.  Barbara suggests a fake attack on one quarter of The Carcinome while another force sneaks in elsewhere.  The Doctor and Vicki decide to take The Isoptope, the weapon The Menoptra have created to destroy The Animus, and return to The Carcinome.  Barbara seems to have taken command of the invasion force.  She is the moral support at the very least.  Finally, we have Ian, Vrestin, and The Optera moving underground to where The Carcinome is so they can get inside to The Animus from below.  We’re all moving along quite well now.

First thought on this story:  what, exactly, is The Doctor’s ring?  He was very reluctant to part with it in The Reign of Terror when he was bartering for new clothes.  At the time, this could have been nothing more than reluctance to let go of a valuable possession.  Earlier in this story, he gave a bit of emphasis to it, but here he claims it has some sort of power, some type of secret.  Sadly, I know in a later story, the ring is quickly forgotten.  Skipping ahead a bit, in Power of The Daleks after The Doctor regenerates, the ring no longer fits, and The Doctor no longer seems to care about it.  For an object with such special meaning to The First Doctor, it is surprising that, to the best of my knowledge, it is never brought up again.  I’m sure it appears in one of the novels, though.  That’s the kind of thing they would refer back to.

Second thought:  I love the way The Optera describe things.  They don’t speak in names, they have descriptions.  Stalactites become teeth of stone.  Dust or gas becomes “tunnel breathes vapor”.  When they talk of breaking holes to the surface, they call it “making mouths in the wall to speak light.”  This is such a small detail, odd to modern ears, yet very effective at giving a race their own patterns of speech.  I like this detail.  Yes, everyone seems to speak English (or The TARDIS translates or whatever) on other planets, but they always speak in easy-to-understand terms.  Apparently The TARDIS also translates metaphors and colloquialisms.  Not on The Web Planet, though.  It would be tedious if this happened in every story, but it is nice to see the acknowledgment and the attempt here.

And my final, parting thought.  If things had gone very differently, we could have had a Zarbi as a companion.  Wouldn’t that have been fun?

Probably not.

061 – The Crater of Needles (The Web Planet Part 4)

Written by Bill Strutton
Directed by Richard Martin

The prisoners in The Crater of Needles stage an escape.  Ian and Vrestin meet the Optera, the third race on Vortis.

Pretty neat, all things considered.

I realized as I started this episode that I was over halfway through this story.  I expected to hate it by this point, but I don’t.  This is quite refreshing.

Ian and Vrestin never make it to The Crater of Needles.  They are attacked by The Zarbi and found by The Optera, a race of grubs that live underground.  The Optera know nothing but hate and death from the surface dwellers, so their first thought is to kill Ian and Vrestin.  The two prisoners attempt to reason with The Optera, but eventually discover that The Optera are devolved from The Menoptera.  When The Animus first appeared, a group of Menoptera went underground.  They adapted to the darkness and became The Optera, but they still have vague memories of before.  The Menoptera have become gods to them.  Vrestin seizes on this realization and spreads her wings, which silences The Optera to a state of awe.

Things don’t go nearly so well for Barbara and Hrostar.  The slaves in the crater are made to feed vegetation into acid streams, which then take the vegetation to The Carcinome, causing it to grow.  From this experience, The Menoptera slaves fear that the invasion will be unsuccessful.  They fear the vanguard will be destroyed when it lands.  Indeed, The Zarbi seem to have knowledge of the vanguard’s plans, which is due in no small part to The Doctor.  He has been slowly feeding information to The Animus, but delaying as long as possible to give the fleet time to attack.  The Animus learns of his deception when The Doctor accidentally plays a communication between fleet members.  The Zarbi move in to action, and the vanguard is defeated.

Like most things in this story, the vanguard attack is well conceived but poorly executed.  The Menoptera look good when they are flying (well, some of the actors do), but landing and take-off is a bit iffy.  There are a lot of quick cuts, which certainly helps build a frantic pace, but when you consider that the costumes of The Zarbi and the Larvae Guns are not the most maneuverable or effective in melee combat, then the imagination will have quite a few gaps to fill.

The Optera are the new element to the story.  I know the costumes and the performances have been panned by fans in the past, but I think they work well enough.  The idea of a devolved species really does call in to question how long The Animus has been on Vortis.  The amount of time necessary to physically devolve and move memories of the past into mythology would possibly take centuries.  The Animus must grow very slow indeed.  This makes me wonder, what is its ultimate motivation.  To what end has it consumed Vortis?

060 – Escape to Danger (The Web Planet Part 3)

Written by Bill Strutton
Directed by Richard Martin

The Doctor begins intense negotiations with The Animus to free himself and his friends.  Ian escapes The Zarbi and tries to find Barbara.

Ian and The Doctor play doctor.

“Drop this hair dryer or whatever it is”

Well, I hope everyone enjoyed the extra review yesterday.  You have my inability to remember what day it was.  I scheduled both for the same day.  We’ll just get finished one day sooner.

The Doctor spends most of this episode negotiating with and scheming against The Animus.  This involves speaking with a whispery female voice through some sort of plastic tube.  It reminds me of the cone of silence from Get Smart Again.  The Doctor is also not impressed with it.  Maybe he saw the same movie.

This episode finally explains the conflict.  On the planet Vortis, The Menoptera and The Zarbi once co-existed.  That was before The Animus came.  The Animus caused the land to die, which formed into a structure called The Carcinome.  This is now the web-like lair The Zarbi are stationed in.  The Animus began controlling The Zarbi, making them militant.  They started attacking The Zarbi, so the Zarbi retreated to one of the moons that had appeared in orbit around Vortis.  The Carcinome grew and now The Zarbi wish to retake the planet before it is too late.  This is all fairly straight-forward.  Let’s go deeper.

According to the interview with Bill Strutton on the DVD, thus cited so I cannot take credit for the analysis, this story is an allegory for cancer.  Vortis is the body and The Menoptera and The Zarbi are the cells.  The Animus is cancer, hence the carcinome forming around it.  The Animus infects The Zarbi and turns them against The Menoptera, much like cancer infects cells and turns them against other cells.  This is why, despite the flawed direction of the story, I think it is brilliant.  No, I don’t always want to watch it.  Yes, it can put me to sleep.  But the sheer imagination and creativity of this story is amazing.  Bill Strutton turned a medical phenomenon into an epic story.  It may seem a bit obscure at times, but it is extremely well thought-out and meaningful.

So, it is fitting that in this episode, where the plot is outlined and we can begin working out the symbolism, we have the most infamous shot in this story:  A Zarbi runs across the stage and bumps a camera.  Ah.  Quite.  This illustrates the disconnect between the story and the direction.  Although, in Richard Martin’s defense, the time constraints on the shoot were strict.  Early Doctor Who didn’t have much time to put together an episode, and re-shoots were expensive and frowned upon.  I learned a lot about the filming of an episode from the documentaries and commentary on this DVD, and it only helped me to appreciate this era of Doctor Who more.

But it still looks bad.

While the camera bump is my favorite part of the episode, my second favorite scene has The Doctor attempt to calm Vicki by giving her some chocolate.  “Here, have some chocolate, child,” he says.  I wonder if this worked on Susan.

059 – The Zarbi (The Web Planet Part 2)

Written by Bill Strutton
Directed by Richard Martin

The Zarbi capture The TARDIS, Ian, Vicki, and The Doctor.  Barbara meets a vanguard of a Menoptera invasion force.

Having little else to do this episode, Vicki does some stretches.

“Apart from rubbing our legs together like some type of grasshopper, I doubt we can get on speaking terms with them.”

So far, watching this episodically makes the story much more digestible.  In fact, it is quite intriguing at this point.  Yes, Martin seems to be pacing this story slower than it really needs, but that may not have been his choice.  Perhaps whatever story fell in this slot needed to be six part.  Regardless, this is just slow enough to make me want to take a nap.  I didn’t sleep much last night, and it would be nice to have something exciting.

But the story is interesting.  At this point, the details are still a bit vague, but there is a lot of slow world-building.  The ant creatures are called Zarbi, and we are introduced to a moth-like race called The Menoptera.  The costumes in this story are interesting, being at once intensely creative and detailed, and just a bit camp.  If you are in the right mood for it, I think it works quite well.  It is implied that the chirping from The Zarbi is communication caused by rubbing legs together, something The Doctor and companions are unable to do.  The Doctor tries to communicate with hand gestures, which makes him look like he is either coaching a baseball pitcher or commanding a military squad.  You have to give William Hartnell credit here.  It looks incredibly stupid and no one would blame him if he played it with an incredible amount of cheese.  He doesn’t, though.  He plays it straight with the utmost look of conviction and frustration on his face.  I know it is the fad at the moment to make fun of Hartnell, but the man took this role seriously and was quite effective in it.

The Menoptera are odd.  I can’t express how happy I am that this story is in black and white.  I believe the lack of color makes these costumes work.  The mannerisms, choreographed by Rosalyn De Winter (who also plays Menoptera Vrestin) does convey a type of airy, light people.  They are soft spoken and, quite frankly, ineffective warriors.

No fair! You get to use your legs! I'm on my hands and knees back here! Wait up, guys!

The Menoptera Barbara meets are a gathering information about The Zarbi, and they aren’t very good at it.  They are quickly captured.  But we do get a bit of exposition here.  It seems they are here to fight The Zarbi, who outnumber them.  There is also something called The Animus, which is revealed to be quite powerful.  Connecting other clues in this story, the planet (Vortis) has moons, which The Doctor says it never had in the past.  These are new.  Ian asks if it is possible for a planet to attract satellites, and The Doctor concedes that it is possible if there is a nearby explosion or a very strong force involved.  This is The Animus.  The Zarbi lair is fascinating, well-realized in the black and white of the episode.  There is a really cool effect when The Doctor and Ian first arrive at the lair and we see that part of the wall pulses.  This place is alive.  Presumably, The Animus is in the core, since that is often how these things work.

The other danger of The Zarbi is that they are able to control gold.  Anyone wearing gold can be guided by The Zarbi.  They have a type of harness, which Barbara gets to wear for a bit in this episode before she is freed from it by Hrostar.  This freedom is short-lived, however, as she was merely being used to help capture the vanguard force, and she is now being taken to The Crater of Needles for some sort of enslaved labor.

With the name chosen for the mysterious force in this story (Animus), I can’t help but wonder if Strutton chose this name because he liked the sound, or if it was a direct reference to Jungian psychology.  According to Jung, animus is the unconscious inner  expression of masculinity in women.  While this is not necessarily an image that works with this story, we can move from a literal interpretation of animus to a more symbolic one.  It is a hidden expression of the subconscious that can either bring life or petrification and death.  It can even invade the conscious mind.  In truth, there is imagery related to the Jungian animus that sparks the imagination, but the symbols and meanings behind the concepts don’t really seem to apply.  Not at this point anyway.  And not based on my limited study of Jung.  However, the invasion of concepts into the conscious, living world could become very relevant as more details of the story become available.  More on that later.

The story is still interesting.  My biggest complaint at this point is the pace and the weak resolution to last week’s cliffhanger.  Barbara merely side-stepped the acid and Ian was found unconscious with no sign of the web-material that captured him.  The TARDIS is now held by The Zarbi, which doesn’t do them much good since they cannot enter it.  Let’s see if we continue to hold up in part three.

058 – The Web Planet Part 1

Written by Bill Strutton
Directed by Richard Martin

The TARDIS is forced to materialize on a devastated planet and our heroes are soon trapped by unknown forces.

"You know, my dear Chesterton, I believe we may have wandered on to the set of The Web Planet"

“What ARE you doing?  Come over here and learn something!”

Yes, I was stalling yesterday by reviewing Here There Be Monsters.  But every arduous journey must be taken a step at a time, and likewise, getting through The Web Planet must begin with episode one and be taken one episode at a time.  I made the mistake of watching this in one go when I first got the DVD, and when it was finished, I felt as if I had spent the day drinking.  My head was in a fog, and I felt slightly hung over.  It isn’t that the story is entirely bad.  Quite the contrary, there are some good things here, but the execution is not the best.  This story has some problems, not least of which is direction.  I’ve often felt Richard Martin, while being creative and enthusiastic, wasn’t the most technically competent.  Thus, in his stories we often get creative ideas that often don’t quite work.  When they are successful, they are wonderful.  Part One of The Dalek Invasion of Earth is one such example.  But more often than not, his attempts fall short of his vision.  Richard Martin is the embodiment of who I fear I may be in my darkest moments.  As harsh as that sounds, I don’t really mean it that way.  Regardless, I can see how this very ambitious story would be given to the very ambitious director.  For better or for worse.

Much like every episode that will follow, there are good things and bad things in this story.  Let’s be positive and start with the good.  The planet itself is wonderfully realized.  It is supposed to look dead, and it most certainly does.  In fact, this set seems to reflect photographs of heavenly bodies such as moons and asteroids.  It is natural to envision a planet in this way, and it is rather odd to think that this is the first planet on Doctor Who to look like this.  Star Trek found planets like this every week.  It took a year and a half for Doctor Who find a planet like this.  There is a scene where Ian finds a pool of water and nearly washes his hands.  The Doctor stops him immediately and we discover the pool is acid (a bit of a throwback to The Keys of Marinus?).  This goes further to convey the danger and hostility on this planet.  There is something very unusual at work here, and throughout, as Ian and The Doctor explore, they are being watched by ant-like creatures.

Richard Martin was one of the directors involved in The Edge of Destruction, where we got some very surreal acting from our leads as they attempted to convey mind-control or something.  We have something similar here as Barbara seems to become controlled by her bracelet, a bracelet that was given to her by Nero.  Presumably, it has something to do with the gold in the bracelet, since Ian had a gold pen that simply vanished early in the episode.  Jacqueline Hill gets reprise some of her dodgy mind-control acting from Edge, and even Maureen O’Brien gets to participate as Vicki hears some type of supersonic sounds.  Did everyone suddenly forget that Vicki was not Susan?  On the subject of Vicki, I wasn’t impressed with her in this story.  This is odd because I enjoyed her introduction in The Rescue, and thought she had some charming moments in The Romans.  Granted, this story is quite unorthodox in television at the time and she may not have known how to convey what she was asked, but the performance is just a bit off.  Although, O’Brien has better chemistry with William Hartnell than she does Jacqueline Hill with whom she does most of her scenes.  Perhaps there is still a bit of resentment toward Barbara for killing Sandy in The Rescue.

The most difficult aspect of this story, one that will only increase, is the sound the ant creatures (The Zarbi) make in this story.  It is a high-pitched, well, not quite beeping, but however you would describe it, it becomes grating.  I think it works in this episode because it is very alien and helps to build tension.  Speaking of which, the slow burn of this episode pays off in a very big way at the end when Barbara is lured out of The TARDIS and starts to walk to the pool of acid.  Vicki, in panick, starts crying out for her from The TARDIS.  The Doctor and Ian rush back to the ship, where Ian is captured in a web-like trap.  He urges The Doctor to keep going, to get to Vicki.  As The Doctor arrives at the landing spot, he discovers The TARDIS is gone.  Yes, Mr. Martin, you gave us a good, if slow, first act in the grand story that is The Web Planet.  I look forward to watching this episodically to see if it holds up better than I remember.

This is for all those who just couldn't get enough of The Edge of Destruction