THE BASEMENT’S TIMELESS TELEVISION (SPECIAL EDITION): My Favorite Doctor Who Aliens

The first time I became exposed to Doctor Who was in the seventies, with Tom Baker. It would be shown for a short period of time in the afternoons after school. To be honest, maybe it was my age at the time, I had a very difficult time getting into it. For me the show was kind of forgettable, and that’s what I did. Fast forward to 2005, with the return of the series with the ninth doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston. I heard nothing but good things about it and decided to give it another try. I quickly became hooked with the return of this series and have binge-watched right up until the twelfth doctor, played by Peter Capaldi.

Over the years there have been many cool aliens on the show, some that appeared once and others that came back time and time again. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list but represents ten of my favorites from my viewings of the show. These favorites are of my opinion and may not represent your personal opinions on who you think are favorites. If your list is different, I encourage you to list them in the comments section.

THE ZYGONS

Though I forgot most of the Tom Baker Doctor Who series, this alien race stuck in my mind. At the time they were terrifying to me and the monster suits were just amazing. The Zygons have shape-shifting abilities, allowing them to replicate the appearance of another being, but they must keep the subject alive in order to use its body print. Limited by the small size of their force, they rely on shape-shifting and their organic space craft to conceal their numbers and seize power on Earth. The Zygons were conceived by writer Robert Banks Stewart.

The Zygons first appeared in the 1975 serial Terror of the Zygons, in which they planned to conquer Earth following the destruction of the Zygon home world. One of their spacecraft, commanded by warlord Broton, crash-landed into Loch Ness in Antiquity. The Zygons used a Skarasen (a creature that provides milk for their sustenance and which had become known as the Loch Ness Monster by humans) to attack an energy conference in London. The plan was foiled and Broton and his crew were killed, due to the intervention of the Fourth Doctor and the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT). The Skarasen retreated into the depths of Loch Ness.

The Zygons are briefly mentioned (but not seen) in the Eleventh Doctor episode “The Pandorica Opens” (2010) as one of the many races in an alliance against the Doctor. In the 2012 episode, “The Power of Three”, a Zygon ship is hidden beneath the Savoy Hotel where the Doctor takes Amy Pond and Rory Williams on their wedding anniversary. All the Zygons are disguised as hotel staff.

The Zygons returned in 2013 in “The Day of the Doctor”, the 50th anniversary episode of the program.  The episode hints the stellar explosion (said to have destroyed their home world in the 1975 serial) was an effect of the Time War. A squad places themselves in suspended animation in Elizabethan England, planning to awaken in 2013 to infiltrate the Tower of London’s Black Archive disguised as UNIT members. The scheme is foiled by the intervention of the Tenth Doctor, the Eleventh Doctor and the War Doctor. When UNIT is overrun by Zygon doppelgangers, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart threatens to detonate a nuclear device to prevent Zygon access to UNIT’s storehouse of alien technology. The Doctors successfully negotiate a truce between the two species.

The ramifications of this treaty are explored in the ninth series two-parter “The Zygon Invasion” / “The Zygon Inversion” (2015). Zygons were allowed to re-home on Earth on the condition that they disguised themselves as people and lived incognito. In the intervening time, they developed the ability to retain a person’s likeness after the death of the original and shapeshift into someone based on a telepathic scan of a nearby being. Although older generations of Zygons were committed to integration with human communities, the younger generations resented being forced to live as humans and quickly radicalized. The radicals and UNIT once again enter stalemate at the Tower of London, both poised to destroy one another, but the Twelfth Doctor makes an impassioned plea and convinces the radical Zygon leader to understand the lasting peace which the treaty was written to preserve.

JUDOON

One of the reasons my list of favorite aliens are on this list is not just whether or not they are completely evil, as many are, but because of their design and execution. Having been up close to rhinoceroses I can say that the mask sculptures are beautifully rendered and their articulation is excellent.

Judoon are galactic police, brutal in their precise application of the law and highly logical in their battle tactics, but not very intelligent. In fact, the Doctor states that, whilst their behavior is (on the surface) that of a military police force, they are really little more than “interplanetary thugs” for hire. They have no jurisdiction on Earth and no authority to deal with human crime (when hunting a fugitive alien in an Earth hospital, they transported the building to the Moon); they will, however, strictly obey any laws on the planet they are on (e.g. road speed limits). The Judoon carry energy weapons which can incinerate humans.

Judoon are upright-standing bipeds, with rhinoceros-like heads and only four digits on each hand: they wear black, bulky armor with heavy boots. According to the Doctor, the Judoon have a “great big lung reserve” which allows them to survive for extended periods in a limited oxygen environment. They have yellow blood.

THE SILENCE

The Silence is another interesting alien. The sculpture is very cool, despite little articulation in the face. Despite this, they do have a lot of character. The Silence are a religious order, represented by humanoids with alien-like physical characteristics. Executive producer Steven Moffat created the Silence, intending them to be scarier than past villains in Doctor Who. Though the phrase “Silence will fall” recurred throughout the 2010 series of Doctor Who, the Silence were not seen until the 2011 series’ opener “The Impossible Astronaut”. Their origins are eventually revealed in the 2013 special “The Time of the Doctor”.

In creating the Silence shown in “The Impossible Astronaut”, Moffat drew inspiration from Edvard Munch’s 1893 expressionist painting The Scream. Silence continued Moffat’s trend of using simple psychological concepts to make his monsters more frightening. In this case of the Silence, their existence is a secret because anyone who sees them immediately forgets about them after looking away, but retains suggestions made to them by the Silence. This allows them to have a pervasive influence across human history while being difficult to locate or resist.

RACNOSS

This alien impressed me in so many ways. First off, I believe it is the largest character ever created for the season and the actress portraying her did an amazing job. Little details like her other four eyes blinking when her real eyes did added so much to the realism of this character.

The Racnoss were an ancient race from the Dark Times of the universe who re-emerged after billions of years to threaten Earth in 2007. The Racnoss look like large half-humanoid, half-arachnid beings, with blood-red skin and a crested skull. They had three pairs of eyes – one pair in the place where humans have theirs, and the remaining ones on the forehead. They had ten razor-tipped limbs, two of which were arms that strongly resembled blades. They had spinnerets at the base of their abdomen, allowing them to produce miles of webbing.

Sarah Parish, who played the Empress.

Born with a ravenous hunger, the Racnoss mastered teleportation, which completely negated the need for them to land their ships when they visited other planets. The Empress apparently was the one who had the duty of laying eggs, which hatched into other Racnoss, meaning that the entire Racnoss race were the children of the Empress. The young were born starving, and so invaded planets to feed off all life on them.

THE OOD

The Ood are one of my favorite alien species. Despite the use of mechanical eyes, the faces are very expressive and the tentacles coming from the bottom part of the face wiggle around very naturally. The Ood, also known as Oodkind, are a gestalt species of telepathic humanoids native to the Ood Sphere. Humanity enslaved the Ood, mutilating them to ensure a dedication to servitude.

The Ood are a species with tentacles used for feeding purposes located on the lower portions of their faces. They have no vocal cords and instead communicate by telepathy. The Ood have long lifespans; Ood Sigma lived 100 years after the human enslavement ended and the Tenth Doctor was surprised at this, thinking he should have been much older.

The Ood have two brains: a forebrain in the head and a secondary hindbrain. The hindbrain is usually held in their hands, and is connected by an umbilical cord-like connection to their faces. The forebrain does much of the thinking and store the telepathic sensors. The hindbrain processes memory and emotions, leading to mental instabilities when removed. The Ood can survive with it being removed and replaced with the more commonly seen translation sphere that connects to an Ood’s nervous system. The Ood Elder has a larger, external forebrain. A giant Ood Brain located on their home planet acted as their telepathic center; if the brain was destroyed, it would kill the entire species, and if suppressed the mental capacity of the species would be severely weakened.

SONTARANS

I love the Sontarans, especially Strax during the Christmas episode, “The Snowmen” from 2012, as he worked side-by-side with Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint. He steals every scene he is in offering some great comedy relief. The Sontarans were a race of belligerent and militaristic clones from the planet Sontar, created by the Kaveetch. They waged an eternal war throughout Mutter’s Spiral against the Rutan Host, though they made no effort to change this nor did they want peace.

Strax, my favorite Sontaran.

The Sontarans were humanoids with large, bulbous heads and short stocky bodies; humans who met them, such as Sarah Jane Smith, Clyde Langer and Bea Nelson-Stanley, often compared them to “huge potatoes with ray guns”. Alternatively, Mickey Smith described one as a “dumpling with a gun”. They had grey-brown skin and deep set features. Sontarans generally had three digits on each hand (two fingers and a thumb), though some had five fingers on each hand. Some Sontarans also had vestigial hair, generally in the form of beards, which grew white with age. Sontaran blood was mostly green, although it was occasionally red.

The Sontarans reproduced by cloning, meaning each Sontaran was nearly identical to each other. There were some variations over time, such as the number of fingers,  height, or skin color. Variation was typical across Sontaran generations of clone replication. This sometimes led to “throwbacks” to past Sontarans.

THE SILURIANS

The Silurians are another favorite of mine, especially because of Madame Vastra, who helps Doctor Who in later episodes. The sculpt of the face is beautiful and fits allowing the actress, Neve McIntosh, to be very expressive by using both her real eyes and mouth.

The Silurians are a race of reptilian humanoids. The species first appeared in Doctor Who in the 1970 serial Doctor Who and the Silurians, and were created by Malcolm Hulke. The first Silurians introduced are depicted as prehistoric and scientifically advanced sentient humanoids who predate the dawn of man; in their backstory, the Silurians went into self-induced hibernation to survive what they predicted to be a large atmospheric upheaval caused by the Earth capturing the Moon.

Madame Vastra and Strax on set.

The Silurians introduced in the 1970 story are broad, three-eyed land-dwellers. The 1972 serial The Sea Devils, also by Hulke, introduced their eponymous amphibious cousins. Both Silurians and Sea Devils made an appearance in 1984’s Warriors of the Deep. After Warriors of the Deep, the Silurians did not appear in the show again before its 1989 cancellation. Heavily redesigned Silurans were reintroduced to the series in 2010, following the show’s 2005 revival, and have recurred frequently since then. In 2018 the real-life scientists Adam Frank and Gavin Schmidt named their Silurian hypothesis for the fictional species.

Madame Vasta and her human-wife Jenny.

Commonly called Silurians, after their supposed origins in the Silurian period, the creatures have also been referred to by other names. In The Sea Devils, the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) claims that “properly speaking”, the Silurians should have been called “Eocenes”. The name Homo reptilia is first used to describe the creatures in the novelization Doctor Who and the Cave-Monsters (1974), and is first used in the series proper in the episode “The Hungry Earth” (2010). In The Sea Devils, an amphibious Silurian is dubbed a “Sea Devil” by the human workman Clark (Declan Mulholland), while in Warriors of the Deep, the land-dwelling Silurians use the term “Sea Devil” to refer to their aquatic counterparts.

CYBERMEN

The Cybermen are a fictional race of cyborgs who are among the most persistent enemies of The Doctor. Within the context of the series, the Cybermen are a species of emotionless space-faring cyborgs who convert human beings (or other similar species) to join and populate their ranks. First appearing in 1966, the Cybermen were created by Dr. Kit Pedler (the unofficial scientific advisor to the show) and story editor Gerry Davis.

The Cybermen have seen many redesigns and costume changes over Doctor Who‘s long run, as well as a number of varying origin stories. In their first appearance, The Tenth Planet (1966), they are humans from Earth’s nearly identical “twin planet” of Mondas who upgraded themselves into cyborgs in a bid for self-preservation. Forty years later, the two-part story, “Rise of the Cybermen” and “The Age of Steel” (2006), depicted the Cybermen as a business corporation’s invention on a parallel universe version of Earth (albeit with a reference to the Cybermen of Mondas). Doctor Who audio dramas, novels, and comic books have also elaborated on existing origin stories or presented alternatives. The 2017 episode, “The Doctor Falls”, explains the different origins as parallel evolution, due to the inevitability of humans and human-like species attempting to upgrade themselves through technology; this perspective resolves continuity differences in the Cybermen’s history.

A mainstay of Doctor Who since the 1960s, the Cybermen have also appeared in related programs and spin-off media, including novels, audiobooks, comic books, and video games. Cybermen stories were produced in officially licensed Doctor Who products between 1989 and 2005, when the TV show was off the air, with writers either filling historical gaps or depicting new encounters between them and the Doctor. The species also appeared in the Doctor Who TV spin-off Torchwood, appearing in the fourth episode, “Cyberwoman” (2006).

DALEKS

The Daleks are the best known of all of the Doctor Who alien races. They have been around forever and have been contributors to some of the best episodes in the entire series. The Daleks are an extraterrestrial race of mutants. The Daleks were conceived by science-fiction writer Terry Nation and first appeared in the 1963 Doctor Who serial The Daleks, in shells designed by Raymond Cusick.

Drawing inspiration from the Nazis, Nation portrayed the Daleks as violent, merciless and pitiless cyborg aliens, who demand total conformity to their will and are bent on the conquest of the universe and the extermination of what they see as inferior races. Collectively they are the greatest enemies of Doctor Who‘s protagonist, the Time Lord known as “the Doctor.” During the second year of the original Doctor Who program (1963-1989), the Daleks developed their own form of time travel. In the beginning of the second Doctor Who TV series that debuted in 2005, it was established that the Daleks had engaged in a Time War against the Time Lords that affected much of the universe and altered parts of history.

An imprisoned Dalek with Rose Tyler.

In the program’s narrative, the planet Skaro suffered a thousand-year war between two societies, the Kaleds and the Thals. During this time period, many natives of Skaro became badly mutated by fallout from nuclear weapons and chemical warfare. The Kaled government believed in genetic purity and swore to “exterminate the Thals” for being inferior. Believing his own society was becoming weak and that it was his duty to create a new master race from the ashes of his people, the Kaled scientist Davros genetically modified several Kaleds into squid-like life forms he called Daleks, removing “weaknesses” such as mercy and sympathy while increasing aggression and survival instinct. He then integrated them with tank-like robotic shells equipped with advanced technology based on the same life support system he himself used since being burned and blinded by a nuclear attack. His creations became intent on dominating the universe by enslaving or purging all “inferior” non-Dalek life. In the Doctor Who audio plays produced by Big Finish Productions, it has been said it is a tradition on Skaro to sometimes name offspring with an anagram of a parent or relative, thus “Kaled” becomes “Dalek”. The audio plays Guilt and The Lights of Skaro also reveal that the ancient language of the Kaleds used the word “dal” to means “warrior,” whereas the ancient word “dal-ek” means “god.”

What the Daleks really look like.

The Daleks are the show’s most popular and famous villains and their returns to the series over the decades have often gained media attention. Their frequent declaration “Exterminate!” has become common usage.

WEEPING ANGELS

Without a doubt, the Weeping Angels are my favorite of the alien races on Doctor Who. They are absolutely terrifying, both in how they look and how they move. According to the Doctor, the Weeping Angels “are as old as the universe (or very nearly), but no one quite knows where they come from.” He also describes them as “the deadliest, most powerful, most malevolent life-form evolution has ever produced.” Weeping Angels are unusual as predators in that they neither kill nor directly parasitize their prey. Their usual mode of feeding is to make use of time paradoxes – with a single touch, a Weeping Angel can send a person into the past to a point before his/her own birth, and can then feed off the “potential energy” of the years which that victim would have lived in the present. The Doctor describes the Weeping Angels as “the only psychopaths in the universe to kill you nicely” because their victims are otherwise uninjured and may live out long and potentially fulfilling lives in the past. The Cherubim angels, shown at the Doctor Who Experience.

In their usual form, Weeping Angels resemble silent human-sized stone statues in the form of winged angels in draped clothing (such as might appear as tomb statuary in a Victorian graveyard). Apart from the wings, their standard form appears to mimic Earth humans (two arms, two legs, two eyes) even when they are infiltrating worlds on which the inhabitants differ from this form. Generally, their facial features are bland and serene and their proportions human-normal. However, as they close in on more aware victims they transform to a more horrific, bestial, and demonic aspect with wide-open mouths, vampiric teeth, and clawed hands. In the episode “The Angels Take Manhattan”, another form of Weeping Angel is shown, the cherubim. Unlike the Weeping Angels, the cherubim are not silent, making a childlike giggling and having audible footsteps. It is not explicitly stated that these are young Weeping Angels, but they are referred to as “the babies”. It is also implied that Weeping Angels can mimic the forms or dimensions of a broader range of statuary if required: in “The Angels Take Manhattan” (2012), one Weeping Angel takes the form (or hijacks the existing form) of the Statue of Liberty (manifesting as a full-size Liberty with Weeping Angel features) and the final moments of “Blink” (2007) suggest that any statue might be a disguised Weeping Angel.

When they are not being observed by another being, Weeping Angels can move very quickly and silently. Their phenomenal speed allows them to close distances of meters literally in the blink of an eye. However, when they are being observed they become “quantum-locked”, occupying a single position in space and becoming stone. In this state, they are frozen and difficult to destroy. They cannot suppress this reaction. If two Weeping Angels were to look at each other at the same time, they would be trapped in stone form until an outside force moves one out of the other’s line of sight. To prevent this, they often cover their eyes while moving, which makes them look as though they are weeping. When stalking a victim, Weeping Angels will generally take advantage of their speed to avoid being trapped in the quantum lock.

Weeping Angels are physically very strong, although they rarely physically kill a victim since this wastes the time-potential energy which the Weeping Angels would otherwise consume. One exception to this behaviour is when a Weeping Angel or group of Weeping Angels wishes to communicate with other beings – in these instances, they select a victim and snap their neck prior to “rearranging the brains” for their own purposes; the Weeping Angels are then capable of speaking and conversing via their victim’s voice and senses. In the Series 5 episode, “The Time of Angels” (2010), a soldier of the Church nicknamed “Angel Bob” suffers this fate, becoming the “voice” of a group of Weeping Angels and explaining their motives and thoughts to the Doctor before disappearing in the rip in the fabric of time and space.

Weeping Angels appear to have little culture or motivation other than those serving their basic predatory requirement of gaining energy. The Doctor has described them as the loneliest beings in the universe since their quantum-lock reaction makes it impossible for them to socialize with other creatures. However, Weeping Angels are capable of communication, as they often work in groups and clearly communicate with each other. On those occasions when they have chosen to communicate with their prey or foes (using the gruesome proxy method mentioned above) they have demonstrated a cold and impersonal intelligence, but exhibit no empathy and no emotions beyond hunger, determination, and occasional predatory sadism. While Weeping Angels can recognize individuals in other species when the situation requires it, they themselves speak collectively and appear to have little or no concept of themselves as individuals.

Weeping Angels prefer to take their energy from live victims, but if required, they can drain other forms such as that from electric lights (as seen in “Blink”) or other electronics. In “Blink,” the Weeping Angels attempted to steal the Doctor’s TARDIS after trapping him in the past. The engine of the vehicle contained enough time energy to feed them forever, but the Tenth Doctor stated that the possible damage they could cause “could switch off the sun”. Without power, an Angel will start to decay and revert to a stone state even when not being watched. While still initially capable of movement, its speed will also be extremely hindered when close to a starvation point (as seen in “The Time of Angels”), with its range lessened from meters to a partial step. The effects of starvation can be undone by providing the Weeping Angel with energy, but it is implied that Weeping Angels can no longer acquire energy themselves in this state. A starving Weeping Angel becomes less and less active, and if dormant for too long will erode as a stone statue does, or even lose its physical existence altogether (although it can still exist in an image-based or conceptual state).

Weeping Angels have also exhibited a startling ability to project themselves through images, suggesting that they are as much conceptual entities as physical ones. A warning in an ancient book on the Weeping Angels, found by River Song, states that “that which holds the image of an angel becomes itself an angel”. Using this ability, the Weeping Angels appear to be able to hijack both audio-visual equipment and organic memory. In “The Time of Angels”, a Weeping Angel trapped in the vault of the starship Byzantium took advantage of a video screen which was playing footage of it elsewhere in the vessel: the creature escaped by overriding the screen controls and nearby electronic equipment, took over the screen, and passed through it to physically manifest in another location. Weeping Angels can also imprint a mental image of themselves into a person’s mind by looking straight into their eyes: the image then gestates and takes over the person’s body to manifest as a new Weeping Angel. Amy Pond was infected in such a manner where an involuntary verbal count-down indicated her remaining open-eyed moments as a human. She was able to suspend the Weeping Angel’s gestation (but not eliminate it) by closing her eyes, refusing to let it breach the “filter” of her optic nerve. In the novel Touched by an Angel, a starving angel is reduced to the point where it no longer has a physical being, and instead exists in the image viewed by cameras. As such, whatever is within the sight of the camera is within the range of the angel which retains fast movement, but at the cost of range. Normally, as in “The Time of Angels”, the Weeping Angel image would walk right out of the screen; but when it is starving, it cannot do so. To stop movement, simply viewing the screen is enough to lock the Weeping Angel.

Throughout the history of this amazing show, we have been introduced to so many exciting characters, alien and human. It is so easy to become attached to any and all of them. To really understand the scope of this show and how extensive it truly is, I highly recommend “Doctor Who: The Encyclopedia” by Gary Russell. It’s a great gift for yourself or that Doctor Who fan in your life. To order your own copy, click on the photo of the book below.

Make sure to read other entries in my BASEMENT’S TIMELESS TELEVISION series.

~David Albaugh

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