Tony Fyler continues his look at villains from Classic Who that could work well in New Who. This time it’s the turn of the Fourth Doctor. Since Tom Baker was the Doctor as long as any two Doctors who came before him, we’re splitting this collection into two halves to do some of them the justice they deserve.
There are possibly, unconsciously, some elements of some Big Finish stories here, but the point about the Fourth Doctor’s villains is more often than not, Big Finish has made a decent fist of bringing them back. No copyright infringement or idea-theft is consciously at play here – where would be the fun in that? Apologies if the similarities are too similar.
The Cinderella Factor
The Wirrn were a great, horrible, creepy concept from Robert Holmes, rendered on an early-70s BBC budget, so the heightened body horror of their life cycle came across as so much green bubble-wrap and a dodgy, spindly insect-puppet. We’re not in the 70s any more, and as Kill The Moon showed with spiders, effects can now render insectoid terror in its proper degree.
On the space-based research station Ouroborous in the far future, Susan McMillan is the lowest grade of research assistant. Ignored, except when she’s yelled at by superiors, pining with love for hot-shot researcher Kyle Matheson, regarded as pond scum in the heightened research environment, she’s wasting her life and her talent being treated as second class. But Susan has a secret research project all of her own – in her spare time, she’s researching the genome of the long-dead insectoid species knows as the Wirrn.
The Doctor comes to Ouroborous to pick the brains of the team led by Dr Marcus Weaver, who’s leading the galaxy’s research into quantum cloaking and the trails left high-mass objects when they’re folded into pocket universes. The Doctor is hoping to use Weaver’s expertise and equipment in his search for Gallifrey. But it’s not physics that will prove remarkable about this trip – it’s biology. Clara, wandering round, makes friendly overtures to Susan, but the awkward researcher doesn’t really know how to respond to them. Having secretly mastered the Wirrn genome, Susan aims to win Matheson’s respect, and even love, by showing him her brilliant work. He’s horrified, and her clumsy attempt at a romantic move has him running from her. It could all end there, but it doesn’t. Matheson tells everyone he can about Susan’s attempts to make him love her, and something in Susan’s mind goes snap.
She adds the Wirrn genome in a liquid suspension to the station’s water supply, then takes a specially engineered solution herself. Susan’s revenge will turn her from an unnoticed joke into the Wirrn Queen, her subjects eating the people who ridiculed her from the inside out as they become the new Wirrn. The Doctor is struck by a ‘Do I have the right?’ moment – the Wirrn are a newly reborn species, and if he purges the Wirrn genome, he’s not sure the human DNA will be strong enough to reassert itself. He uses the station’s medical laser on wide scatter to wage a war against the Wirrn DNA, but only some of the humans respond – the Doctor and Clara get them into the Tardis. The SusanQueen, feeling the reduction in the number of her Wirrn, tells the remaining Wirrn or part-Wirrn to flee the station, while the Doctor rigs up an electrical charge throughout the station’s floors and ceilings. The SusanQueen cocoons herself in, producing as many larvae as she can. Knowing the station’s layout better than the Doctor, she knows what’s about to happen. As the Wirrn leave the station, the Doctor’s electrical current runs through the station, hitting the power plant and turning it critical. The station explodes – pushing the SusanQueen and her larvae, safe in their cocoon, out into the freezing blackness of space, where the Wirrn make their natural home. Thousands of years after their first extinction, the Wirrn have returned to the universe.
The Hybrid Strain
The Fourth Doctor villains are interesting because some of them have been rendered in additional encounters in Big Finish stories that are intriguing in their own right. Hothouse, Big Finish’s return of the Krynoids, is worth checking out for the new dimensions it brings to the Seeds of Doom villains.
Three thousand years in Earth’s future, the one-time Seeds of Doom have been well and truly tamed by humanity. Kryonid pods are used as a delicacy, like puffer fish. Krynoid oil is used in a number of effective treatments against viral diseases. Krynoids have been pacified through ‘selective hybridization’ – they work fields, they build, they act as organic recycling plants, but only ever outside: they are essentially plantation-slaves. What’s worse, Earth’s growing empire is predicated on the ultimate threat – the K-bomb: casings full of Krynoid pods set to detonate in the atmosphere and spread the pods across the surface of the planet. Genetically-programmed Krynoids will grow, consume everything – and then die within three weeks before their germination cycle kicks in. The K-Bomb is a weapon that has seen Earth conquer several star systems by threat and force.
Camelia Dixon runs KrynoTech Laboratories, the largest exporter of Kryonoid pods and hybrid workers in the world. Merrick Vance is a promising botanist in her lab. The Doctor and Clara arrive on an Earth unlike anything either of them recognize, with Krynoids subdued. The Doctor wants a word with Dixon, especially when he discovers that the Kyroid hybrids turned into slaves are actually hybridized with ‘underclass’ humans – the homeless, the poor. The government is of course aware of their activity, seeing it as a solution to the ‘wealth imbalance’ the poor create simply by existing.
Sadly, just as the Doctor discovers this, Vance reveals himself to be a radical supporter of Krynoid Rights – he voluntarily becomes hybridized with an unmodified Krynoid pod, leaving Clara and the Doctor with two problems. Can they defeat the Krynoid Vance before he reaches out to raise the plants of Earth in revolution? And if they can, how do they bring KrynoTech and the foul governments that support their work down?
It is the year 2500, and the pace of life on the affluent Earth is fast, fast, fast – no one reads books anymore, everything is precee’d. News is bitesize, opinion is bitesize (and given the same importance). Everything is short, snappy, click-bait-style and on to the next thing.
Murdo McCloud runs the largest Bitesize empire on the planet – news, e-novels, music, movies, art – everything the public wants is what McMurdo gives them, streamed directly into the pleasure centres of the brain (it being cheaper to create the idea of having experienced something than to actually create the thing that can be experienced). And what McMurdo gives them is what everybody wants.
But behind the unending flow of bitesize factoids, trivia and opinion, there’s the Otherworld – where war rages, where the planet slides towards the brink of extinction, where half the planet has no food or water, let alone McCloud’s latest smart-stream chip. This is a world the affluent planet knows of only vaguely, drowning as it is under the torrent of distraction.
When the Mandragora Helix returns to Earth, it finds a planet very different from the one it discovered on its previous visits. The conflict in Humanity is no longer between the religious and the scientific worldview, but between those who know what’s going on, and those who don’t want to know and are offered a relentless diet of distraction. The Helix relishes chaos, and the never-ending agitation of the human mind means humanity is ready not to be conquered, but to be absorbed into the Helix like an energy-soup. McCloud gives the Helix a sample of humanity (you really should read those Terms and Conditions before you sign…), their minds pre-chewed to a bitesize pulp for it by the diet of distraction - and it wants more.
Can the Doctor and Clara save the ‘Planet of the Pudding-Brains’ – not only from the appetite of the Mandragora Helix, but from the state of terminal distraction into which it has sunk?
The Madness of Beauty and King of the Time Lords
Following the restoration of Gallifrey (see here), the Doctor has nightmares – he is being put to death, constantly, in a range of horrible ways. Clara suggests a milky drink; the Doctor knows there’s something wrong with the Matrix. He returns home to find Omega and the Time Lords in turmoil – the Matrix, repository of the ‘minds’ of all the Time Lords who ever lived, is being weaponized, driving Time Lords insane, making them kill themselves, and each other, without knowing why. Omega asks the Doctor for help – he’s the only living, rational Time Lord who’s ever physically been inside the Matrix. The Doctor agrees, and goes into the Matrix. He finds the personality that’s causing the extinction of the Time Lords – it is the mind of Morbius, awake, alive and driven even further insane by his physical impotence, his lack of any body at all. The two do battle in a surrealist contest of wills, and eventually it looks as though the Doctor has defeated the evil Time Lord again. The Time Lords stop killing each other and find peace, and the Doctor emerges, looking shaken but alive, from the Matrix. As the episode ends though, the Doctor suddenly throws Omega across the room, and subjects the Time Lords to a wave of mental agonies. There is no Doctor – He is Morbius, and he will be more than any President of Gallifrey. He will be King of the Time Lords, absolute ruler and emperor of time.
In Episode 2, Morbius rules absolutely, heavy collar and all, using the Capaldi Doctor’s body and face to do it. Clara has been sent home to Earth, cut off from any helpful notions she might have. Time Lords have been sent to all the corners of the universe to ‘right’ wrongs, to set civilisations on paths that Morbius – or is it the Doctor? – think they should have taken. Omega himself has been trapped at the heart of a neutron star. But slowly, Morbius becomes unstable as it becomes clear he’s not dealing with any old Time Lord – the Doctor’s previous (and, in a surreal moment, his future) selves break through, Capaldi showing his skills as a mimic to bring previous Doctors through – as well as previous Morbiuses. Morbius realises he cannot maintain absolute control over the body and mind he’s stolen. He demands the rod, the key and the sash of Rassilon, intending to steal a younger, more susceptible Time Lord body to pour his essence into. In a moment of Doctor-control though, he releases Omega from the neutron star.
With his scrambled mind plugged into the power of the Matrix again, the Doctor is able to call on the power of all his previous lives. Morbius calls too, but being the first Doctor in a whole new regeneration cycle, the Doctor is able to call on at least one more version of himself, and finally throw Morbius out of both his body and the Matrix – uniquely in Time Lord history, his essence will be cut off from the Matrix. It seems to leave the Doctor and dissipates just as Omega returns and prepares to kill him. The Doctor stops him at the last second, claiming he’s finally free of Morbius’ influence.
Omega demands the Doctor help clean up the mess that Gallifrey and time itself have been left with after his failure to stop Morbius originally. The Doctor refuses, demanding his freedom to go and find Clara. The two great Time lords face each other down, and Omega banishes the Doctor from Gallifrey again. The Doctor leaves to pick up Clara. Meanwhile, in the Academy, a young Prydonian suddenly, inexplicably, begins to laugh, and laugh, and laugh as the camera pans in on their face. Morbius may not be dead after all.
Look out for Part 2 of the Fourth Doctor Villains coming soon.
Return of the Classics - The First Doctor
Return of the Classics - The Second Doctor
Return of the Classics - The Third Doctor
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
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