Remember the one when the Doctor had just regenerated, had a nap, then woke up just in time to have a sword fight with the Big Skeleton from the Funnybones books? I do, it was called The Christmas Invasion, and introduced us to one of the boniest enemies the Doctor has ever faced: the Sycorax.
Angry, gruff and generally quite grumpy, the Sycorax have had more of a presence in the travels of the Doctor than maybe some initially realise. Sure, there’s the big appearances: the Christmas Invasion of 2005, and a certain bony hand in the trapping of the Doctor in the Pandorica… but there’s also an inspirational literary encounter and a congenial bar-dwelling moment to explore.
As far as origins go, we can glean very little from their visual appearances. We know their language is “Sycoraxic”, and that they frequently suffered at the hands of cartoon dogs and Disney characters in desperate need of something to play their xylophones with. This might go some way to explaining their rage towards the human race.
So, the invasion attempt. It was perhaps technically crude, using a human blood sample to control a large number of people down below. But it was also astonishingly clever – witness the badass brass band of Santas (this is now the accepted collective noun for a group of Santas) and the circular-saw-cum-christmas-tree. Maybe not subtle, but certainly effective and with a degree of sophistication. And the tree wouldn’t have dropped any needles. Just the errant limbs of people getting too close.
Having been beaten in a swordfight by an illegal citrus-fruit-based manoeuvre, the Sycorax invasion rock was blown up by Harriet Jones (Prime Minister) – as if the humiliation couldn’t be complete. Somewhat mysteriously, they subsequently (or previously… or possibly both… hard to tell, it’s all a bit wibbly wobbly) joined the Alliance which imprisoned the 11th Doctor in the Pandorica.
The Sycorax is also one of an elite number of the Doctor’s enemies to have a showbusiness background, appearing in William Shakespeare’s 1611 explosive blockbuster, The Tempest – thanks to the Doctor’s name-dropping on a visit to Elizabethan London.
A well-known race of skeletal lushes, a Sycorax was spotted in the bar where the 10th Doctor used some of his last moments to pair everyone’s favourite intergalactic floozy, Captain Jack Harkness, with the chap off of Being Human for some inter-species naughtiness.
First Appearance: The Christmas Invasion (2005)
Best appearance they can’t remember due to being drunk in a bar: The End of Time pt2 (2010)
Strengths: Asteroid hijacking, Swordplay, similarity to very tall trick-or-treaters on Halloween.
Weaknesses: Men in dressing gowns, airborne satsumas, hungry dogs and falling several hundred thousand feel off an asteroid.
You know those moments when you’re somewhere unfamiliar, and you get the distinct feeling you’re being watched… only when you turn round, there’s just a blue, gaseous cloud floating around waiting for you to die so it can steal your corpse and go terrify a famous author?
This lot do… The Gelth.
The periodic table’s version of the Puss in Boots character off of the Shrek films, this species’ cunning strategy is to make humans feel sorry for them by reanimating their dead relatives and using them to snap their necks (presumably a traditional greeting within their society) and then immediately go all flamey and badass on them.
Aside from that, we don’t know a great deal about them. They once had bodies, lost them in the Time War (very careless, I know) and were converted to gas-forms. Somehow they then discovered the rift, which had opened at a funeral parlour in Cardiff. The gaseous nature of the rift kept them alive, and from this position they were able to dominate the heating and lighting industries of the late 19th Century.
It is thought that their domination of the Cardiff power network led directly to the formation of British Gas (thus explaining their blue flame logo).
But Gelth are also able to survive in the otherwise inhospitable (and unthinkable) conditions of a human corpse, thanks to the gasses produced by a body in decay. They then reanimate the bodies and go out to the theatre, or try and kill a stranger – just like any other friendly neighbourhood joyrider.
During his one encounter with this species, the Ninth Doctor offered to help them find a planet of their own until he realised their deceit and their actual intention to take control of the planet by force. They were defeated by the servant of the funeral parlour’s owner, who just happened to have psychic abilities and the knowledge of how to close a rift in time and space. When the rift was closed on the invading creatures, the remaining Gelth were destroyed by fire. The servant died and then became a key member of Torchwood…
First appearance: The Unquiet Dead (2005)
Sworn enemy: Neon, Argon, Mercury vapour. You know, any of the show-offy fluorescent ones.
Strengths: Gaseous form – can enter spaces undetected.
Weaknesses: Strong gusts of wind, naked flames…
Green and glinty, sharp-toothed and soggy (and not just because he’s just come in an airlock to attack some humans), the Myrka is the highlight inthe undersea inter-species war of 2084 – a war so fleeting, hard-fought and lop-sided that it lasted barely a week, in four 20 minute bursts.
In their subterranean cave-type base, the Silurians and their Martin Clune-like servants the Sea Devils had managed to capture a sea dragon. They had a long-term strategy which, like all good strategies, needed a dragon to progress.
In two separate incidents, first the Silurians themselves, and later their flappy-eared, string-vest-wearing cannon fodder, raided the towns of Wales and the south coast of England in a carefully co-ordinated attempt to buy remote controlled cars from the nearest branches of Argos.
Over the next few years, the slippery cousins worked away in secret, improving the life of their sea dragon friend – eventually creating a sort of scaly Steve Austin – a million-dollar-Myrka, if you will… equipped with the best remote controlled technology available under the earth (complete with the very latest in spring-loaded suspension and high-traction rubber tires. You know the one Buzz Lightyear and Woody ride in Toy Story? Bit like that, but in dragon form…)
The Silurians put the final stage of their plan into action by carefully coating the Myrka in green emulsion and sending it across the sea bed to attack an airlock of the humans’ seabase. Once through the first section of airlock, the Silurians realised that the emulsion had washed off their robodragon on the way to the seabase and decided to put on one last coat before he broke into the base.
Once inside, he fought bravely. He eventually fell heroically when the Fifth Doctor waved a mini-sunbed at him. It turns out that UV light is to cyber-genetically-modified Sea Dragons what Kryptonite is to Superman. Or vinegar is to Slitheen.
He was survived by a wife and two of those mini robotic Godzilla things you see advertised on TV at Christmas.
Erroneously named* and similar in many ways, these two ancient subterranean species are often referred to as “cousins”, so the guide will treat them as one. The Silurians having once ruled the planet with their Sea Devil relations acting as the foot soldiers (presumably to keep dinosaurs in check…
Reptilian humanoid creatures with ancient origins and had the run of the place long before the humans appeared on the surface, these usually peaceful creatures are only really inclined to attack in self defence. It’s just that their idea of self defence appears to be creeping onto sea forts and murdering defenceless crewmen one by one. Or creating a remote control cyborg sea dragon to attack undersea bases.
The pattern of their appearances are clear – they are sleeping or hibernating, and are woken up by the activity of the people up above. Like a grumpy tenant in a block of flats, but one that resents being suddenly awake so much that they go on a bit of a violent spree. So far, they’ve been woken by nuclear research plants, the British Navy adapting a sea fort into a SONAR testing station, the presence of a Sea Base on the ocean floor and a whacking great drill almost caving in their homes – but not, strangely, by their alarm clocks…
Sea Devils and Silurians can be easily told apart in a similar way to African and Indian elephants: the Sea Devils are the ones with large ears… but also in their weaponry: Sea Devils have to carry sonic guns, while Silurians have enough dangerous bits of the body to control a large crowd. In some cases, it is their third eye at the top of their head which emits rays and does the damage – and later on they possessed a flicky forked tongue which injects poison into their target.
Defeating them has always proved difficult – as they use their well-developed intellect to their advantage. But the fall back option of blowing them up did the trick on their first two appearances. But on the last two occasions, the Fifth Doctor resorted to gassing the creatures (having already killed the Myrka with a sort of portable sunbed) and when the Eleventh Doctor met them Marvin out of off of the Hitchhiker’s Guide decided to gas his own rebellious subjects…
* Just to prove I do sometimes pay attention to my own blather, I did point this out in series 2, episode 12 of the Ood Cast.
First Appearance: The Silurians (1970)/ The Sea Devils (1972)
Most unprepared appearance: Warriors of the Deep (1984)
Weaknesses: Pretty much as in human life – poisonous gas and bombs. Oh, and as their third eye can also act as a telepathic link, keeping secrets is a nightmare.
Leather jacketed baked potatoes with a general disposition to violence and long-lasting warfare, often quoted as being short, stocky and unbelievably powerful due to the extreme gravitational pressure on their home world: Sontar. Their chief impulse is to die with honour in battle, and therefore frequently try to construct reasons to fight anything that steps in their way.
These warriors are a neat little combination of the genetic integrity of a GM tomato and the tactical awareness of a lemming, and their frequent wars often resulted in huge losses to their number. Their solution was simply to clone waves upon waves of warriors to battle their perpetual enemies, the Rutans (incidentally, large green light-up jellyfish).
Over the course of the Doctor’s many travels, the Sontarans have cropped up a number of times – usually on earth, which they seem to view as a marvellous little maternity ward for their baby Maris Pipers.
Their first appearance being memorable because the Sontaran causing havoc in late-medieval England wasn’t beaten by the Doctor at all, but by a quick-witted archer who managed to hit the one point of weakness on the Sontaran body: the probic vent (a small aperture at the back of the “neck”).
Since then, they have been discovered performing nasty experiments on humans (imagine Mr Potato Head swapping your limbs around), using a group of Vardans as a smokescreen for their attempted invasion of Gallifrey, a brief but baffling visit to a Spanish villa (with a captive Second Doctor and a small troupe of savage Androgums) and most recently when Mike from the Young Ones improbably joined forces with an obnoxious teenage genius to gas the world using sat-navs.
One lone Sontaran was discovered trying to destroy some nuclear power stations and was sent packing by Sarah Jane Smith and her school-age friends using some high heels and a little persuasion. She probably used her lipstick. I mean, why not?
First appearance: The Time Warrior (1973/4)
Most baffling appearance: The Two Doctors (1985)
Known weaknesses: Probic Vent in the back of their “neck”. Also known to get nervous at the sight of coleslaw or butter. In fact, any popular jacket potato dressing.
Surely the greatest of all the Doctor’s foes. Best-known horrors in the universe. The first villainous creature from Who to get itself snapped by Lord Snowdon for a postage stamp, get its own movie deal, get voted as better than both Godzilla and Gollum in the same poll and to have a small, wheeled library stool named after it. Also, of course, the first Doctor Who characters to find a regular position both on a condiments tray and in a plumber’s van.
Created by Davros to be the final and greatest weapon of the brutal Skaro civil war, the Daleks soon grew a little too big for their shiny metallic boots and disobeyed their creator. Essentially weapon-wielding toddlers in over-sized walking frames constantly throwing paddies, they are mutated Kaleds (one of the humanoid native races of Skaro), which – depending on which particular part of the mythos you catch – are a sort of green-ish gooey blob with several legs, a kind of glass vial with something crammed into it or even an one-eyed leggy octopus in a sheltered motorised scooter.
But these tin squid cases have been an all-conquering, ruthless force in interplanetary warfare for more generations than you’ve had cups of tea (which, incidentally, they’re pretty nifty at serving to military leaders). Devoid of emotions other than hatred, Daleks are efficient, authoritarian and determined to achieve complete conformity – by wiping out every non-dalek lifeform, race and species. But occasionally they show some fear – and although that used to be when they came across a spiral staircase, later it happened when they were confronted by an angry, gun-toting female.
Over the millennia, Dalek life has been beset and divided by civil wars – initially between the Thal and Kaleds (or was that the Dals and the Thals), Imperial Daleks and Renegade Daleks, and later on with the Dalek version of Scientology – the Cult of Skaro… But most recently we saw a new generation being created when Dalek DNA was accidently mixed with a packet of Smarties.
They have been defeated by the Doctor on numerous occasions, using various methods – including turning pacifist Thals into genocidal bludlusting Dalek killers, but much more commonly, using something to blow them up… volcanic explosions, self-destruct devices, straightforward bombs and the Hand of Omega have all been used the destroy dalek ships, and on at least one occasion, the building they were in was blown up to stop their attempts at conquest.
There’s little to distinguish between Daleks – they share speech patterns, tones and voices as well as thought processes and instincts… and not one has thought to embellish the catchphrase they first uttered on screen in 1963: “Exterminate”. That’s a little lazy, right?
First appearance: “The Daleks” [AKA “The Mutants”/ “The Survivors”] (1963)
Best story: Genesis of the Daleks (1976). Or maybe “The Daleks” (1963)
Most inexplicable appearance: The Five Doctors (1983)
Favourite invention: Escalators
Weaknesses: Eyes on rather easy to snap off/cover up stalks. Other than that, a bomb clearly seems to do the trick.
The “Whoniverse” is a complicated place. Ever aware of this, and the confusions that can arise, your friendly Oodcasters present the beginning of the end of your confusions… The Oodcast Guide. Each entry in this weighty online tome will be compiled using the very best of what remains of the Oodcast’s collective memory, and therefore absolutely and thoroughly under-researched.
So, let’s get cracking. First up, we’ll take you through the most important part of the series… The Doctor.
The Doyen of doctors, the original was a crotchety old man who insisted on surrounding himself with young people and wearing a hat the shape of a fur-lined cone (which, combined with his white hair gave him the appearance of a time travelling Mr Whippy…) He also chose the TARDIS with the broken chameleon circuit, presumably, so we can’t assume his judgement in travelling methods was any less flawless than his fashion sense.
He travelled with teachers, space pilots, resistance fighters, rescued spaceship passengers, secretaries and sailors before collapsing and regenerating for the first time.
Tremendously knowledgeable on scientific matters, but curiously awful at flying his own time machine, was the first to encounter Daleks and Cybermen, as well as taking jollies to Mexico, Ancient Greece, China and revolutionary France, met cowboys, cavemen and the Celestial Toymaker.
Oh yes, and he had a library card (see Vampires of Venice). Eventually, old age took its toll and he regenerated for the first time, into a time-travelling bad-hair-day.
Slightly shambolic and unpredictable, the second doctor had the appearance of a tramp that wandered into Mr Benn’s favourite costume shop: with a shaggy pudding-bowl haircut, the occasional massive fur coat and Rupert Bear’s favourite trousers.
But there was more to him than fashion statements. He was mercurial and fascinatingly clever, while clumsy and caring towards those in distress. He also established the formidable team with Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, and was the first to openly (and shamelessly) use a sonic screwdriver on screen.
Surrounded by frightened Victorian teenagers, certain UNIT officers, hot-headed Scottish warriors and stupidly intelligent young women, he took on the cybermen and daleks again with nothing but his intelligence and a recorder, is still the only Doctor to take on the Ice Warriors as enemies, guided his friends through an attempted mind robbery, faced creatures from the deep and Yetis in the London Underground before being forced to become Worzel Gummidge by the Time Lords.
Geriatric jujitsu exponents everywhere raised a cheer – for this was their doctor…
Beginning as a victim of friendly fire, and then becoming a confused clothing and vehicle thief as well as saviour of mankind in a plastics factory was something of a rollercoaster of a first day. If it was possible for a Time Lord to have a mid-life crisis, this was it: fast machines, short-skirted female companions and more action than is seemly for someone of advancing years, this doctor was a kind of Budget Bond. With his own Blofeld too: enter… the Master.
During the course of his careering about, he encountered the daleks again, the Master, daemons in Bronze age barrows, the Master, giant green poisonous maggots, the Master, fascist versions of reality, the Master, two sets of underwater cousins (who’s idea of “self-defence” is creeping aboard sea forts and murdering people), the Master, mind control machines, the Master, lost aliens, the Master, potato-headed warrior Sontarans, the Master, and the giant spiders which would ultimately be his end. And the Master.
Did remarkably little travelling around his immediate environs for someone with itchy interstellar feet confined to just the one planet. He did, however, reverse the polarity of more things than any other doctor.
Radiation brought his dashing about to an abrupt halt, and he regenerated soon after into that one-legged sailor in Blackadder II that drank his own wee and wanted to marry Nursey.
Described as looking like a “Space vagrant”, the fourth incarnation was eccentric both in action and dress sense (although not quite as much as the previous doctors, it has to be said). He pioneered the use of scarves as weaponry (see Hand of Fear), the use of confectionary to calm agitated beings, and the construction of jacket pockets from Mary Poppins’ old carpet bags.
Superbly intelligent, witty and fond of jelly babies, this doctor would stick around longer than any other and inspire thousands of children to beg mothers everywhere to get knitting.
In the TARDIS, which gained a glorious oak-panelled look for a time, he entertained journalists, (oddly clumsy but very likeable) UNIT medical officers, savage warriors, Time Ladies, robotic dogs, one rather annoying stowaway boy genius, an aristocratic brainbox and, just before his end, a loudmouth air hostess.
His battles though, were many and varied – taking on all manner of robots (giant ones, servile mining ones, mummified ones, half-human pirate captain ones and reproduction human ones), ancient alien powers, criminal time lords, Sontarans again, female radioactive creatures conveniently buried for centuries under a quarry, disturbing scary mannequins, amphibious lifeforms hiding in lighthouses, art-dealing monsters and – perhaps most famously – the daleks.
His end came when he met the Master again, and fell from a radar dish. Thus becoming the chap off of All Creatures Great and Small.
Next time… Doctors 5 – 8…