Doctor Who: Return Of The Classics - The First Doctor

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Part of the fun about being a fan of Classic Who and New Who is imagining what old enemies could be revamped, updated and brought back, and how they’d work in the New Who world. But now we’re ten years into New Who’s run, and most of the ‘first tier’ Classic era villains have been revamped. So what’s left? Tony Fyler makes the case for a handful of Hartnell’s finest to get another shot in the 21st century.

The Rise of The Zarbi
The Zarbi are giant, intelligent, malevolent ants. Let that sink in for a second and creep you right the hell out. In the original Web Planet, Sixties budgets meant they were realized as men bending over a bit while covered in what looked like hard plastic carapaces. Which, however you slice it, and however much Vaseline you smear on the camera lens to soften the focus, is not nearly so scary. But here’s the thing – we’re not in the Sixties any more. Imagine giant intelligent ants, moving fast, thinking like a colony, and perhaps, having broken free from the control of the Animus and undoubtedly killed all but a handful of the Menoptera (that’s butterfly-men, for the youngsters), colonizing whole planets. Imagine the solar system Malvincius, where planets are being suddenly, inexplicably struck by ‘terrorists,’ whole cities mysteriously crumbling to dust, governments falling to their death.

From the rubble and the giant holes in the ground emerge the Zarbi, rendered in a combination live action and CGI, fast, scuttling, mouth-parts quivering as they head towards the camera to overrun worlds and take their place as rulers of the system, subduing populations and building their empire of colonies, with indigenous life-forms reduced to lives of slavery – or grub-food.

Tell me you wouldn’t watch that with open-mouthed wonder and a sense of what-the-hell?

While Clara Oswald remains at the Doctor’s side, there’s always going to be a number of children tied into the show. What better excuse could there be to bring back the Celestial Toymaker, immortal game-player, setting hideous traps and challenges for the unwary and hoping always for some diversion? The Toymaker, originally played by Michael Gough and more recently in Big Finish audio stories by David Baillie, met the First Doctor once, and was scheduled to meet the Sixth on-screen in a cancelled season. Typically aristocratic, tall and weary of the universe of space-time, he’d be a great foil for Capaldi’s Doctor. Sour at his original defeat, he captures a bunch of Coal Hill pupils and makes them play his games as a way of luring the Doctor back for a rematch. Not that we’re advocating for her removal, but when the stakes get high and the Doctor faces an impossible game, what better way would there be to write out Clara Oswald than to have her sacrifice herself for a classful of her pupils? Or going the other way, to ensure her survival, the Doctor could play the Toymaker one last time – double or quits: staking his Tardis to rescue his friend. The Toymaker, with his immortal boredom and his long view of the universe, could push the Doctor into uncomfortable areas – when it comes right down to it, which is more important to him: the people who travel with him, or the machine that’s been his constant companion.

Mask of the Voord
Yes, I know – the Voord are those deeply dodgy rubber-clad numpties from The Keys of Marinus. I would never have advocated for their return either – before we’d heard the Big Finish re-invention of them in Domain of the Voord, by Andrew Smith. That was a revelation in terms of what makes the Voord tick – their mask establishing a kind of physical, mental uniformity, while allowing their organic nature to retain a degree of brutality that just doesn’t cut it with a Cyber-mask (at least not in the latest, slightly cherubic version).

Smith’s Voord deserve a shot at 21st century TV Who – armies of black-uniformed shock troops, taking planet after planet, turning the inhabitants into more and more Voord, with a strict but twisted honour code and an indefatigable ingenuity. Go listen to Domain of the Voord and imagine the Doctor facing an army of these rubber-suited badasses, fighting the power of the mask and desperately acting as the champion of individuality against the analogue of State-power that is the Voord. Doctor Who as parable would never be stronger.

The Burning Thread
There’s a moment in The Time Meddler that must have truly blown the socks off anyone watching. Steven and Vicki discover a sarcophagus. Looking inside it, they hear a familiar hum, and see a familiar spectacle. It’s bigger on the inside! That first intimation that the Doctor is not the only time traveler in the universe, that there might be a race of people like him – and not all of them might have his lofty principles about not changing history – was stunning. The Meddling Monk, whose Tardis it was, is a renegade Time Lord (meaning it’s tricky to bring him back), who believes in actively changing history, sometimes for its own benefit, sometimes for tidiness, but mostly because he damn well feels like it. There’s less in the way of over-complicated plotting with the Monk than the Master, and less in terms of monomania about the Doctor, but imagine a Doctor who’s seen as much as Capaldi’s has – who’s been the man who cheated the Daleks out of destroying Gallifrey in the biggest alteration of history ever – and the debate between the Doctor and the Monk about the sanctity of the web of time becomes a whole different, and a much more interesting prospect. Imagine the Monk and the Doctor on a race – the Monk changing history all across the cosmos, including on Earth, the Doctor trying to stop him. That’s a series arc just waiting to happen – especially if you bring in someone like the Black Guardian as the Monk’s ‘sponsor’ in creating a new reality, in burning the threads of established history away. The Monk has been gleefully played on relatively recent audio by Graeme Garden, and it would be fantastic to see him matched against the Twelfth Doctor, but if you’d prefer a younger take on the villain, someone as bouncy as Russell Howard might be enormous fun. There again, for multi-Moffatt fans looking for a way to crowbar Andrew Scott into the show, giving him his own Tardis might make for a delicious, venom-spitting, playful take on the dilettante time meddler.

The Day of the Savage
OK, call me crazy, but I want to pay a return visit to the planet of The Savages. To some extent, this has already been done on Big Finish audio, but I’d love to see the Twelfth Doctor go back to check on former companion Steven Taylor, years after he stayed behind to unite a planet of two factions. Perhaps Steven succeeded in establishing a joint community, where the Elders and the Savages are able to live in peace. But Steven’s an older man now, a more vulnerable man, perhaps embattled by political enemies. Perhaps the machinery that allowed the Elders to suck the life force from the Savages is uncovered by a young Savage, who begins to use it to suck not life but knowledge from some of the chief Elders, for himself and his fellows, becoming more and more powerful and basing an insurrection on his borrowed power. When the Doctor arrives, he and Steven fight one more battle together for the future of the planet against an increasingly unstable, increasingly aggressive rebellion as it becomes clear that knowledge is not all that’s been stolen.

And finally, one straight from the fan-fiction vaults. Modern Cybermen versus the original, cloth-faced Tenth Planet Cybermen. On the planet Perseverance, the population are ravaged by disease and die in agony (or by judicial homicide). Then cloth-faced giants arrive from the skies, promising eternal life, as well as freedom from pain and suffering. The Doctor is determined to stop the advance of the Cybermen – but then the modern Cybermen arrive, promising nothing, but determined that the populace will be upgraded to swell their armies. The original Cybermen resist, not recognizing the new metal monsters and their quest for ever-increasing technological upgrading as the same creatures as themselves. The Doctor is forced to pick a side, and finds himself leading an army of cloth-faced Cybermen (of course on a Cyber-horse!) into battle against their ultimate destiny – their own, eventual replacements.

The main top tier villains of the Classic era may have had their upgrades and redesigns and be occasionally recurring parts of the New Who world. But there are still plenty of great ideas, going right back to the early days of the show, that could be ripe for a return. What do you think? Which Hartnell-era villains would you like to see take another shot at TV glory?

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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