Friday, 15 April 2011

Scary monsters.

I have the first episodes of Dr. Who on DVD. William Hartnell was the original and best, a grumpy curmudgeon who didn't so much have 'assistants' as 'people in the way'. It began with the Doctor's granddaughter at school. Something's wrong, and two teachers decide to visit her home that evening.

They turn up at the address and it's a scrapyard. Inside is a grumpy, scruffy and obviously mad old man who lives in a police box in the middle of the yard.

If that had been released today, it would have been a short show. By the end of the first episode there would have been police helicopters overhead, Social Services hitmen surrounding the yard, the Doctor in handcuffs, the daughter in care and the Tardis confiscated and handed over to immigrant lizard-people in the name of equality. The end.

Fortunately the show was made in a time before everyone was scared of their own shadows, so we did get to meet the Daleks. I didn't notice it all those years ago but there were only around four actual Daleks. The massed ranks were just painted on the background scenery. It was well done because it wasn't until I turned into a cynical old swine that I noticed it.

Doctor Who was always done on a small budget. The Dalek lights were car indicator housings and they were armed with a sink plunger and a bit of spare water pipe, like some kind of intergalactic race of warlike drain clearance units. Sewer machines that one day just decided they weren't going to take any more of this shit.

The Cybermen had hosepipes along their arms and legs, connected at the joints with those skeletal plastic practice golf balls. So far, the special effects were easy. Neither Daleks nor Cybermen had any moveable facial features so rigid masks worked. Cybermen were meant to be enhanced humanoids so would be expected to look human-shaped. Daleks were not even remotely related to anything human at all. They were proper aliens.

Most of the rest of the monsters were obviously people in suits with fake heads on top. The Daleks didn't scare me, nor did the Cybermen, so the rest of them had no chance. There was only one really scary monster in the whole set.

The Autons. They scared the living daylights out of me. In appearance, they were merely shop-window dummies. No magical powers, no mighty space vessels, no time travelling, nothing. Animated dummies. Part of their hand would flip open to reveal a gun. A plain gun, no bullets that can turn corners nor rays that could kill ten at once.

Why were they so scary? Because they were there, in the real world, in every high street. Staring out of the shop windows. Watching you as you passed. Daleks and cybermen were toys in those windows but the Autons were real.

Not really real. The shop dummies were just hollow plastic but having seen them animate on the TV and then seeing the exact same dummies in the street, my fledgeling imagination went into overdrive. They could be real. There'd be no way to tell. That was what was scary.

It was many years before I realised that the really scary things are the things you can find parallels to in reality. Anyone can make up a monster, but you know, when you're reading it, the monsters aren't real. That's why I use phones, dishwashers, beer cans and computers in my scary stories. Sometimes I use monsters too but in most cases I'll use ones you can look up. They aren't real but they are recorded. Sometimes I do just make them up. That's fun.

Of the more recent Doctor Who ones, I'd say the best were the 'weeping angels' of the 'Blink' episode although in their reappearance with Matt Smith, they spoiled the game. These things turn into stone if you look at them but get you as soon as you blink. They keep their faces covered so as to avoid looking at each other because if they did they'd freeze each other permanently into stone. Yet in that story, they were in groups, eyes open, and there were no locked-in ones at all. The original premise was really good, all the same.

They were good because like the Autons they are real. Stone angels with their hands or arms over their eyes are to be found in many churchyards and older graveyards (they wouldn't be allowed these days in case they fell over and gave someone a bit of a fright). Do they move when you're not looking at them? Are you sure?

Then there was the small boy in the gas mask. If he touched you, your face morphed into a gas mask and you spread the contagion. I was impressed by that one. But then, children are inherently frightening things.

The widely-touted new monsters for the next series are called The Silence. An excellent premise. They are everywhere and you can see them, but when you look away you instantly forget them. You can only know about them while you're looking directly at them. You could use that premise to explain all those panic attacks and psychotic episodes that appear to have no physical cause. So it links into the real world, it becomes plausible and that makes it scary.

The design of them, though, is not scary. They are obviously a human dressed up and wearing a false head. For me, the part that totally ruins the whole image is that the alien, the powerful non-human paranormal monster, is pictured wearing a suit and tie.

No. Just... no. I know the BBC is a hotbed of the loony Left but seriously, making the next Dr. Who monster dress like a bank manager? What's next? Daleks with bowler hats and briefcases? Pinstripe Cybermen? Davros with a monocle and top hat?

Or maybe these new monsters are the real face of politics. That would work for me.

As for Dusty Bin, now he is seriously scary. The offspring of a drunken liasion between Bella Emberg and a Cyberman (she was on Bombay Sapphire gin, he was on Cask Strength Castrol, so the outcome was inevitable). Lately he's been hanging around street corners inviting the homeless to sleep in him, then putting them in the crusher. Even the Daleks are scared of him.

The Autons aren't. They work for him. They run the councils now. That's why there are reduced collections - Dusty's on a diet.

Didn't you know?

5 comments:

PT Barnum said...

Oooh, you've just given me a case of goosebumps - the Autons! My kid brother hid behind the sofa (literally) for every single Dr Who monster including those shambling yeti things who came from the sea (cue much sibling mockery), but the Autons freaked me out. And I'd forgotten til now.

In the recent reincarnation, the only one that has really unnerved me was the gasmask one. Especially the process of transformation, which induced pure panic in this viewer!

Leg-iron said...

PTB - it's often said that the Daleks are scary because they cannot be reasoned with. You can't strike a deal with a Dalek, the only deal it's interested in is the one where you stand still and it kills you.

The Autons didn't even bother to speak. They saw you and shot you. At least with Daleks there might be some discussion first so you'd have a chance to get away.

Unfortunately their later appearance in the 'Pandoricon' episode spoiled that aspect. I suppose monsters can be dumbed down too.

Anonymous said...

The "Sea Devils" were scary, fuckers marching out of the sea, like walking seals with string vests on, like my dad used to wear.

Whatever happened to string vests anyway, fucking banned no doubt...

Dr Dan Holdsworth said...

The Daleks were (in one origin story, anyway; they had two) a military bodge design. Take one hapless former soldier, chop off most of the bits that won't fit, bung him in a life support unit with a basic manipulator, gun, and sensors and plug a battle computer into him to keep him completely and permanently on-message.

Amazingly enough, the original Daleks more or less worked. The mind-computer link kept them highly unreasonable and unswervingly loyal, the gun worked beautifully, and about the only flaw was a weakness where steps were concerned and the fact that the casing armour could be made to explode with extreme violence.

Later models fixed all of these deficiencies except the one howler of a problem: what to do when the Dalek species finally won?

Anonymous said...

In one episode Sarah Jane Smith bursts into tears when she hears the Daleks' message to mankind - EXTERMINATE!! Well bugger me if I didn't do the same and I'm 46. Must have made quite an impression at the time. Damn.

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