Monday, October 31, 2011

Doctor BOO!

Doctor Who may be a science-fiction show at its core, but it's had its dalliances with the supernatural on more than one occasion. In honor of Halloween, let's put aside the Daleks and the Sontarans and take a look at some of the more more traditionally spooky monsters to vex the Doctor and his friends...


Ghosts in Doctor Who are generally waved away as either some kind of alien trick or psychic residue left over from a traumatic event. The people of Earth believed they were being visited by the spirits of their deceased loved ones in Army of Ghosts, but the Tenth Doctor, Rose, Mickey and Jackie proved that they were just Cybermen. So the next time you visit a medium and she tells you your dead aunt Tillie wants you to live life to the fullest, ask her if she's SURE she's not really talking to a killer cyborg from a parallel universe.

In The Sarah Jane Adventures story The Eternity Trap, Sarah Jane and her friends Clyde and Rani investigate an apparently haunted house - Ashen Hill Manor seems to be haunted by the ghost of its original owner, Lord Marchwood, and his two children. In truth, they and others who have disappeared over the years have been trapped "between dimensions" by a hostile alien's technology. Sarah Jane defeats the alien, allowing the Marchwoods, centuries after their apparent deaths, to finally move on - but not before bidding Sarah Jane a ghostly goodbye from the window.

Well, that's what the show is suggesting. I took it to mean that Sarah Jane failed and the Marchwoods are still trapped in a nightmare hellscape between dimensions, but that's just me. So have there been any clear-cut ghosts in Doctor Who at all? Actual spirits of the formerly living? No. Well, yes. Well, sort of.

In the Torchwood episode Random Shoes, Captain Jack and the gang faced the loss of Eugene Jones, the team's friendly stalker who died after being hit by a car. After death, Eugene was surprised to find himself up and about, unperceived by those around him, able to watch but not help as Torchwood team member Gwen Cooper investigated his death. Turns out Eugene's spirit walked the earth due to his having swallowed an alien artifact called a Dogon Sixth Eye. So sure, this is the world of Doctor Who, there needs to be some handwave of a sci-fi explanation, but Eugene died and then his spirit got up and walked around. Sounds like a ghost to me.

When Gwen's life was threatened by a speeding car, Eugene was able to make himself corporeal long enough to shove her to safety. Gwen was stunned to see the ghost of Eugene, but her pleas for him to stay weren't enough to stop him from moving on. It's actually quite a sweet ending, if you forget that Torchwood has already established that the afterlife consists of unending darkness where you can't see or hear anything but can sense the presence of unspeakable creatures coming to get you. Good luck, Eugene!


The Tenth Doctor and Rose saved Queen Victoria from a werewolf in Tooth and Claw. Once again, the origin of the beast was alien, not magic - it wasn't a werewolf, it was a lupine wavelength haemovariform.

Still, in every other way this is a traditional werewolf tale, and worth a watch in a Halloween marathon. There are kung-fu monks in it too, so you could watch it again during your Martial Arts marathon. You watch a lot of TV.

In The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, the Seventh Doctor and Ace meet Mags, a werewolf from the planet Vulpana who has no control over her transformations and lives in fear of hurting those she loves. It's never made clear if everyone on Vulpana is a werewolf or if Mags is an alien/supernatural mutt.

The spin-off media stop worrying so much about explaining the lycanthropes' origins away with some kind of sci-fi alien background, and just get on with having the Doctor fight werewolves without worrying so much about where they came from. The Fifth Doctor and Turlough encountered an entire pack of werewolves in the audio adventure Loups-Garoux, and Turlough fell for one and got his heart broken. The Fourth Doctor's companion Harry teamed up with an amnesiac Eighth Doctor and encountered werewolves in the novel Wolfsbane. Sadly, Harry was killed by a werewolf at the end. Or possibly got bitten and spent the rest of his life transforming at each full moon. Or possibly got bitten, transformed in the TARDIS and ripped Sarah Jane to pieces. The novels were very confusing before the TV series came back and simplified things. Also, kind of depressing.


Zombies are reanimated corpses, the living dead, and the Ninth Doctor and Rose had a close encounter with them in The Unquiet Dead.

The bodies are in fact being animated by the Gelth, an incorporeal alien species looking for a new home. They're baddies, but they don't go around feasting on the flesh of the living, so The Unquiet Dead doesn't quite make it as a zombie story, as good as it is otherwise.

Torchwood is always a good place to look for some real horror. Torchwood team member Suzie Costello got brought back from the dead in They Keep Killing Suzie.

This was more of a resurrection along the lines of Captain Jack's life/death boomeranging, so isn't quite satisfying for our purposes either. Owen Harper, although brought back to life in the episode Dead Man Walking in the same manner as Suzie was, stuck around a lot longer and had to deal with all the unpleasant consequences of being a walking corpse.

Despite all his angst about not being able to eat or sleep or have sex or heal from injuries, Owen steadfastly refused to feast on the flesh of the living. Spoilsport. For that, we'll have to look to the Torchwood novel Bay of the Dead

A horde of zombies invade Cardiff, eating Welsh people and converting them into the undead while Jack, Gwen and Ianto try to stop them without getting eaten themselves. Sure, it's got an alien explanation, but if you want a real zombie story set in the world of Doctor Who, this is pretty good.

Frankenstein's Monster

Frankenstein's Monster seems like a perfect fit for Doctor Who, as far as classic spooky monsters go - while it's generally considered part of the genre of supernatural monsters like vampires and werewolves (thanks, Universal Studios!), its origins are scientific, not supernatural. And indeed, the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane encountered a monster much like Dr. Frankenstein's carb-loading fiend on the planet Karn in The Brain of Morbius.

Morbius was a renegade Time Lord believed executed by his people, but whose brain was actually spirited away by the mad scientist Solon. Solon constructs a new body for his master out of bits and pieces of the various aliens who have crash landed on the planet. He plans to use the Doctor's head to finish off his creation, but when he's unable to acquire it, he goes with this instead...

A reasonable facsimile. I believe it's the head of the Capital City Goofball from The Simpsons. Six of one.

The Doctor has had more direct contact with the historical Frankenstein, in the person of his creator, Mary Shelley, who travelled in the TARDIS for a time as one of the Eighth Doctor's companions, beginning in the audio story The Company of Friends: Mary's Story. He probably told her about his adventure with Morbius and she just took out the alien bits. Unoriginal hack.

The First Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki met what seemed to the real Monster of Frankenstein in The Chase.

They also encountered a ghost and Dracula. Fleeing the Daleks, the travelers left in the TARDIS before figuring out what was going on - the Doctor surmised that they had landed inside the human imagination. Turns out they were in a haunted house, and the monsters were all robots. Sometimes the simplest explanations are best, Doctor. The haunted house was part of the Festival of Ghana in the year 1996. Remember that? Man, that was fantastic, Ghana was the place to be in 1996 what with their economy soaring thanks to their booming robot industry. I went to the Festival of Ghana, as a matter of fact. I was twenty-four years old, I got trashed and made out with a Creature from the Black Lagoon robot. Best week of my life.


Sarah Jane and K9 met some real-life witches in the one and only episode of Doctor Who's first spin-off, K9 and Company. I say real-life witches in the sense that there's nothing remotely supernatural or even alien about them, but they're TV's version of real-life witches - a bunch of rural villagers committing human sacrifice in order to ensure a healthy crop, or some crap like that. I don't mean like that girl in your Intro to Philosophy class who carried a pocket cauldron around with her and would say "Goddess bless you" when you sneezed. K9 and Company is pretty dreadful despite Sarah Jane's presence, but it does get pretty funny when K9 starts blasting the hell out of all the coven members.

The Tenth Doctor and Martha fought off witches of a more traditional sort in The Shakespeare Code.

The witches are an alien race called Carrionites, and the Doctor tries to explain that their apparent use of magic is really a variant type of mathematics using words instead of numbers, but really - speaking words aloud to alter reality? Sounds like magic to me. This story is about as close as televised Doctor Who gets to just giving up on the sci-fi pretense and acknowledging that the menace is supernatural.

If you like your Doctor Who REALLY crazy, look no further than the original comic strips from the pages of TV Comic. In the comic strip The Witches, the Second Doctor, John and Gillian were threatened by the titular crones on the planet Vargo.

The comic strip makes no attempt whatsoever to suggest that these are anything but supernatural witches using magical powers. The Doctor tries and fails to beat them with his own scientific devices. All seems lost until they discover the head witch's spell book. This being the bloodthirsty comic strip Doctor from which this blog gets its name, he uses a spell in the book to slaughter every last one of the witches, turning every witch everywhere in the universe to dust. Yay comics!


The Doctor has had numerous encounters with the most famous of all the vampires. As mentioned above, the TARDIS crew meet a robot Dracula in The Chase.

If you're not sure if you should bother watching The Chase, let me say again - the TARDIS crew meet a robot Dracula. A. Robot. Dracula. The whole story is ridiculous. Go watch it.

The Sixth Doctor and Zoe return to the Land of Fiction and team-up with Bram Stoker's Dracula, along with a host of other literary creations, in the audio adventure Legend of the Cybermen. But in the genre of Doctor Who Meets Dracula, the best is the audio story Son of the Dragon

The Fifth Doctor, Peri and Erimem travel back to the 15th Century and meet Vlad the Impaler - the historical inspiration for Dracula. This story is a purely historical, there are no supernatural or even science-fiction elements besides the TARDIS itself, and it's brilliant. Well worth a listen if you're curious about Big Finish Production's line of original audio plays.

Ok, so that's Dracula. But what about honest-to-evil bloodsucking creatures of the night? The Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory encountered what appeared to be traditional vampires in The Vampires of Venice - a bevy of beautiful Hammer horror girls, with fangs, no reflection and an aversion to sunlight.

Sadly, they turned out to be alien fish people called Saturnyns in disguise. No Halloween fun here. It's a shame, since there's no particular reason, story-wise, that they couldn't have been real - after all, the Doctor's met actual vampires before.

In State of Decay, the Fourth Doctor, Romana, Adric and K9 met Zargo, Camilla and Aukin, a trio of genuine bloodsuckers ruling an unnamed planet in the pocket dimension of E-Space.

The trio's resemblance to a deck of playing cards is never explained, but they serve their master, the Great Vampire, a giant monster sleeping under their castle, by feeding him the blood of the local villagers. The Great Vampires were the ancient enemies of the Time Lords and were believed to be extinct until the Doctor and friends stumbled upon him, waiting for the day when he would be strong enough to rise up and take his revenge. Spoilers! The Doctor stops him. State of Decay is a great story, fun and spooky even if the vampires chew the scenery as much as they chew their victims. If you're looking for some Doctor Who to watch this Halloween, look no further.

And really, why would you be doing anything else on Halloween but watching Doctor Who? You've got plenty of suggestions here, so turn on the TV and put a bowl of jelly babies out for the trick-or-treaters. Boo!

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