Okay. Let’s talk about Doctor Who, you guyze. I’m gonna talk craft/storytelling much more so than plot, but I am gonna show off a big ol’ collection of the show’s monsters, so spoilers? Sort of?
Basics: Doctor Who is technically, at 50 years with some pretty major gaps in between series, the longest running show on television. It’s a legend in British culture and has a huge American fan base, particularly with the reboot in 2005. It began in the 60s as a children’s television show. And now, its target audience from tweens to adults, including a special subset of thirty-year-old women who go absolutely mad for anything with a TARDIS on it. Seriously, like half the cosplay at ComicCon makes sense to me now that I’ve watched Doctor Who. Like the guy wearing a t-shirt that says “The Angels Have the Phonebox.” Subtle. Nice.
ANYWAY. My point here is that one thing Doctor Who does very well which allows it to appeal to such a broad age range is to base its monsters off of childhood fears. Many of the episodes take childhood fears and in one way or another, turn them into physical and specific monsters.
For example, let’s take one of the most ubiquitous childhood fears, fear of the dark. In the double episode Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, written by Steven Moffat*, the fear of the dark is personified in a creature called the Vashta Nerada. The Vashta Nerada live in shadows, and eat flesh from bone in seconds should you step into one. If you suddenly have two shadows when you shouldn’t, that means the other shadow is a Vashta Nerada that’s about to eat you.
Fear of the dark/inability to see also comes up in the Weeping Angels episodes. If the room goes dark, then the monsters will descend on you really, really quickly. If you can see them, then you’re fine.
Both of these remind me of one of the traditional childhood responses to night-time fear, i.e. sitting in bed with a flashlight. We literally get a frightened child in the episode, “Night Terrors,” written by Mark Gatiss. In this episode, a child has manifested his night-time fears so that his closet really is a scary dimension full of creepy dolls.
Which brings us nicely to our next topic…
Masks, dolls, statues, robots…all of these look like people–but they’re not. Doctor Who has a delicious series of non-human humanoids and mask-wearing monsters, starting with that unforgettable child in “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances” by Steven Moffat.
However, masked inhuman creatures are an absolute mainstay of Who, including:
As children get older, they fear things related to school more and more, be they wrathful teachers or bullies.
A defining characteristic of a stereotypical schoolyard bully is a compulsion to fight with those weaker than themselves, while being smaller and weaker on the inside than they’ll ever let on. Sound…familiar?
Well, duh. That’s what the bits of this show that I haven’t already gone on about are…about… There are more monsters in Doctor Who than you could shake a stick at.
There are ghosts…
Whatever scares you, personally, the most…
And noteably, the spectre of a girl’s abusive father…
Interestingly, Wikipedia notes about the episode “Fear Her,” pictured above, that “Graham was asked to write an episode primarily for children which would soften the much darker finale that would be broadcast after. […] Though Graham received letters from children who enjoyed the episode, it did not generate a positive response from adult fans and critics.” I’m curious why…perhaps the psychology of the little girl was more accessible to kids. Or perhaps they enjoyed the “drawings coming to life” mechanic, ’cause that’s a pretty common daydream…
Well, Doctor Who has more monsters than I have time, so here I shall end it.
*So I have a love/hate relationship with Steven Moffat, as a writer and as a spokesperson for the show. Some of my favorite episodes are written by Moffat. I also think he did a crap job as producer and has, to quote Walt Whitman, “a vile opinion of women.”** However, I have neither the space nor the energy to write all the things I think about him and/or the show’s more problematic aspects, and thus I urge you to check out what Morgan Jordahl has to say on the subject.
**Walt Whitman, from the introduction to Leaves of Grass, 1855: “Understand that you can have in your writing no qualities which you do not honestly entertain in yourself. Understand that you cannot keep out of your writing the indication of the shallowness and evil you entertain in yourself. If you love to have a servant stand behind your chair at dinner, it will appear in your writing. Or if you possess a vile opinion of women, or if you grudge anything, or doubt immortality — these will appear by what you leave unsaid, more than by what you say.”