Over the thousand years of his life and fifty years of Doctor Who the TV show, The Doctor has certainly met with some fearsome foes. However, for every Dalek army or Cybermen horde there have been villains so incompetent, so badly judged, so clearly made of silicon rubber that it is no surprise that they were bumped off with little more than the whirr of a Sonic Screwdriver. From monsters literally designed by children to walking fat nuggets, explore the villains (as well as some companions) too stupid to survive the Whoniverse in one piece.
Although the classic series had plenty of shoddy sidekicks and misjudged monsters, this article will focus on new Who produced after 2005. With the budgets now much higher and the quality of TV in general much better, there is far less excuse for crappy creatures and badly-written companions. In our modern TV landscape, ever monster that is, for example, just a walking nugget of human body fat just seems that little bit more awful than it would have in the ‘70s or ‘80s. And here are ten such abominations.
Maybe the first truly distinctive monster of New Who comes in episode 2, ‘The End of the World’, in which we meet Lady Cassandra, a plastic surgery disaster so severe that now she’s nothing but a stretched out sheet of flesh mounted to a rack. When the Doctor eventually discovers that (spoiler) Cassandra has planned this trip to the death of Earth to kill off her guests and profit from the chaos caused at their respective companies, he stops her teleporting off the spaceship and she explodes through not being moisturised. Yes, really.
As good as the idea behind Lady Cassandra is, and much as she is a clever use of fairly low budget special effects, her chance of being an effective villain is about as thin as she is. Brutal home truth: she is a flap of skin strapped to a wardrobe rail. She doesn’t have any arms or legs to stop someone from altering her plans. She could be defeated by a sudden gust of wind, and literally explodes is not moisturied every minute or so. I mean, there’s a reason that the Bubble Boy was never a supervillain. And yet Lady Cassandra lived to flap another day, taking on the Doctor again in season 2 episode ‘New Earth’.
The Abzorbaloff did not just absorb creatures around him. Judging by the episode he features in, he must also absorb really terrible ideas, because his episode is full of them. The monster was designed by a nine year old competition winner, and the best thing to say about the Abzorbaloff is that it shows. Combine that with the casting of Peter Kay who can only really play broad, loud Northern stereotype and you get a sorry excuse for a villain that makes the fat nugget Adipose look like Daleks in comparison
The main monster in season 2’s Love and Monsters (AKA the worst episode of new Who), it is an episode that ends with a characters heavily implying they get blow jobs from a concrete slab. In any other episode, that would be an all-time low, but somehow it’s a highlight of this crapshow of a forty-five minutes. The fact that the so-called ‘Doctor-lite’ episodes of the following seasons were some of the best stories ever done on the show, and also introduced villains as instantly iconic as the Weeping Angels, there really is absolutely no excuse for a villain covered with slime and the faces of veteran British comic actors who deserved better material than butt jokes.
Who detractors and disciplines everywhere are always debating whether Who is a smart show for kids or a dumb show for adults, but occasionally throughout its fifty-year run it has really doubled down and become a dumb show for kids. K-9 is the last shred of evidence of the first time this happened at the end of the tenure of the Tom Baker years, when the show went from some of its most acclaimed and challenging episodes like ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ to a show about a man pissing about the universe with a sarcastic metal dog.
Unlike other elements from that era that have been swiftly forgotten so the 4th Doctor’s reign can be remembered as a high-point for the series, however, K-9 sticks around as a fan favourite, appearing in season 2 episode School Reunion.
Although David Tennant makes K-9’s appearance here just about work by combining the goofiness of the whole thing with a lot of heart, it’s time for the Who fandom to accept that K-9 represents everything other people hate about Doctor Who, and that we would be better without him, laser nose and all.
With this one, you can see the development meeting that brought it into being:
“do you know what a lot of people do?” asked one producer, “do diets. Maybe we could do something based on that?”
“OK, noted,” another producer says. “Now what I want to do is create a monster that we can sell as a soft toy. That’s pretty much the one merchandising option we haven’t made a boat-load of money off of”
“woah, wait a minute guys” a third maverick producer cries “what if we brought those two things together?”
As a result, we got the Adipose, walking toothed fat nuggets that despite being balls of human blubber with faces became a toy best-seller for about ten minutes.
In the season premiere to season 4, ‘Partners in Crime’, a new diet pill is being marketed that makes the fat literally walk off of you. Unfortunately, these fat creatures are getting greedy and also making their way through organs, flesh and bone. Kind of like an adorable ebola. Luckily, the Doctor and Donna Noble are on the case, mugging mercilessly through an episode that runs more like a 45-minute toy commercial than the opener to a series that was to be the crowning achievement of the David Tennant era.
The Midnight Monster
Midnight is actually one of the finest Who episodes ever made, a creepy acting powerhouse of an episode that generates fear with nothing more than talking. The Doctor and Donna are on the planet Midnight, and The Doctor joins a coach tour leading towards a diamond waterfall (Donna, of course, stays by the space pool). After the coach stops moving, a passenger, Sky, begins copying everything people say, first after the say them, and then as they say them. As whatever is possessing Sky moves into the Doctor, the tourists on the coach debate whether or not to throw him out of the airlock.
It sounds stilted on paper, but is incredibly powerful on TV, a moral dilemma play that is far closer to To Kill a Mockingbird than you thought any episode of network science fiction TV could go. However, with great moral complexity, it seems, comes really shoddy monsters. After all, what exactly is this monster’s plan? That people will get so annoyed about being copied that they will just kill each other? To ruin a key Midnight industry by annoying one set of tourists at a time so they don’t come back? I mean, its hardly Davros levels of cold-blooded cunning now, is it?
‘Fear Her’ is not a good episode of Who. A late addition to the series when a Stephen Fry script was delayed, it is the story of a girl, Chloe, who makes people disappear when she draws them. The idea itself is already shaky even before you factor in a poor performance from the child actor playing Chloe and a resolution involving throwing a pod into the Olympic Flame (don’t ask). However, the episode reaches its ridiculousness apex when Rose is attacked by a scribble.
Although Billie Piper does some game work defending herself against a monster that is essentially someone in the CGI department putting a few lines together and saying ‘that’ll do’, it never gets past being a deeply stupid three minutes. Although to be honest, if this episode had ended with the Doctor and Rose fighting off an army of drawn creatures armed with nothing but giant erasers, that would kind of be so dumb that it became brilliant again. As it is, however, the scribble monster is only saved from being the worst monster ever because the episode that came before it was the worst New Who episode ever made…
When Doctor Who came back, it did not really know what it wanted to be, and the Slitheen are the ultimate example of that. Did it want to be an adult show with moments for kids, or a kid’s show with moments for adults? What the first two Slitheen episodes (Aliens of London/World War Three) showed us, however, is what the show definitely should never be: a show about farting aliens in Downing Street.
Though the idea of a group of aliens taking over British government in disguise could have been a great exercise in Invasion of the Body Snatchers-like paranoia horror, any good ideas behind this episode are farted away. From the aliens slowly unzipping themselves from human skin suits (oh yeah, they have zips on them just in case there weren’t enough stupid ideas in this episode) to the puns about their plan to take over the world being ‘silent but deadly’, the Slitheen are enough to make you thank the Who gods that we ended up with the program we did and characters like the Slitheen got relegated to ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’ where they belong.
Soap actors are no strangers to the world of Who, but for every Jenna Coleman there is a Bruno Langley, who played short-lived companion Adam in season 1. Only featuring in two episodes, (‘Dalek’ and ‘The Long Game’,) he answered the question that approximately no one was asking: I wonder what Todd from Coronation Street would be like in space?
Designed as the companion that would show that not everyone was companion material, Adam was a thankless role. But it didn’t have to be this thankless. With moods ranging from confused to bemused and most of his time spent either asking inane questions or messing up, there can’t have been many people feeling sad when Adam tried to use information from the future to his own profit and was sent home by Christopher Eccleston’s 9th Doctor in a farewell that was hardly the Doctor and Rose at Bad Wolf Bay. To use a comparison from another franchise, he was the Timothy Dalton 007 of Doctor Who companions. He stuck around for two adventures and then left to almost complete apathy.
Prisoner Zero, an escaped alien snake convict that is hiding on Earth in the first Matt Smith adventure, The Eleventh Hour, has the ability to shapeshift and massive fangs and….well that’s it. Rather than use any of these facts to kill the people trying to tell the Atraxi where he is hiding, Prisoner Zero instead like to stand and/or slither around and look menacing. Perhaps the crime Prisoner Zero committed was white-collar, like fraud on the pan-dimensional stock market, because fittingly he has about zero interest in actually killing anything.
So as much fun as it is to see guest star Olivia Colman suddenly bare fangs, the fact that the monster has already been within biting distance of Amy Pond and done nothing does nothing for the tension. And while we are on the subject of things that make no sense in The Eleventh Hour, why do the Atraxi look like giant human eyeballs? And why are they so terrible at finding the Prisoner? Essentially, the Eleventh Hour definitely wanted to just be about the 11th Doctor and Amy meeting, and any monster was just tacked on to reach 45 minutes.
A controversial choice for sure, but the simple fact remains: without River Song, season 6 would make a hell of a lot more sense that it actually does. Without her, we can lose the ultimately futile timey-wimey plot that reveals that River Song is (spoilers) Amy’s daughter, and the season might even come close to being worth watching.
Instead, we have thirteen episodes where people die but don’t actually die, get married but don’t actually get married, make sense but don’t actually make sense…basically, the whole thing makes you nostalgic for the one word plot arcs of the Russell T. Davies era, and makes you wish River had stayed dead at the end of ‘Forest of the Dead’, instead of endlessly returning like a kind of intergalactic herpes.
River, we could watch you flirt with everyone on the screen for days, but leave your insane continuity locked up in that prison cell you may or may not have been confined in at the beginning of season five.