For every Dalek or Klingon, for every Cylon or Suliban, science fiction is full of monsters and aliens of every shape and size, some just slobbering monsters; others evolved species with their own set of ethics and traditions that often provide the conflict in stories.
But not every monster comes from the stars. There are a whole host of cryptozoological creatures that are seen all over the world in the oceans, people’s back yards and the vast wildernesses that cover the planet from China, to Russia, to America. Bigfoot, Yeti and the Loch Ness Monster have all featured in some of the very best science fiction stories to such an extent that every year we hope to see them return.
Indeed, they are ripe subjects to go up against our heroes; whether it be the Doctor or the Six Million Dollar Man.
Doctor Who quite possibly has the largest plethora of monsters in the genre and has used the Yeti and Nessie as adversaries in various adventures.
We first met the yeti in the second Doctor story the Abominable Snowmen in 1967 (see video below). This six-part adventure pitted the Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton, and his companions Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Victoria (Deborah Watling) against the Yeti in the mountains of Tibet in the year 1935 where the monks of the Det Sen monastery are under threat from the hairy beasts. They discover that the Yeti attacking the monks are in fact robotic servants controlled by the Great Intelligence, an entity that is trying to dominate Earth. Involved in the battle is Yeti hunter Professor Travers, played by Deborah Watling’s real life dad, Jack. The Yeti here are large and cuddly but tower over all the actors making the attack scenes very effective as they storm the monastery or chase the Doctor’s companions down the mountain. Indeed, they were iconic enough to not only return in a sequel the Web of Fear the following year, but also chase the second Doctor and the Brigadier through a cave system in the twentieth anniversary story The Five Doctors. However, not to destroy the legend completely, the writers had Travers spot a real Yeti at the climax of the story and chase it.
In the 1968 Web of Fear Professor Travers has brought the inactive Yeti robots to show in a museum in London, but they reactivate and within weeks London has been evacuated and smothered in a deadly web like substance. The Great Intelligence is back and has set a trap for the Doctor in another attempt to take over the planet. The Yeti here were redesigned to look more frightening and the surviving footage shows how kids were enthralled by their appearance which now included firing web guns. Unfortunately not many episodes of these stories survive but what does is great stuff and makes you realize you wouldn’t want to meet a Yeti in a dark alley.
The Yeti bar – their Five Doctors cameo – have been used to promote the arrival of Jon Pertwee as the Doctor where he claimed the most frightening thing was to find a Yeti on your loo, which is still quoted to this day. But Reeltime video productions released a straight to video special featuring Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen), the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney), Victoria and Travers, now under the Intelligence’s influence.
The Yeti are back redesigned again in what was quite an entertaining adventure. Using Victoria’s memory of her late father, she is tricked into bringing Travers back to New World University where Victoria is vice chancellor and offering spiritual guidance to a troubled world; just the platform that the Great Intelligence needs to complete its plans. Sarah and the Brigadier must join forces to save Victoria and the world without the Doctor’s help, although Sylvester McCoy recorded new material for an updated version in 2011 as the rights now included permission to use the Doctor. As yet this has not been released, but the Yeti were back in full swing as the world teeters on the edge of destruction. And the book release went back to a more traditional Yeti/Bigfoot image which was scarier again.
This was an intelligent use of a creature from our own legends and when the chance came up to use the Loch Ness monster (see video below & try to ignore the Benny Hill music – ed) they jumped at the chance. Robert Banks Stewart was commissioned to write Terror of the Zygons although the Target book release reverted to the working title The Loch Ness Monster. Here Nessie was the cyborg pet of the Zygons, shape changing aliens ready to turn the Earth into an environment better suited to their species having lost their own homeworld. They have been destroying oil rigs off the Scottish coast using Nessie, in reality named a Skaresen, which enjoys a symbiotic relationship with the Zygons as they feed off its milk to stay alive. Although the realization of Nessie left a lot to be desired, I have seen worse and when I saw it as a kid I was enraptured by it as it chased the fourth Doctor across Scottish moors and the great cliffhanger where it was a bout to step on him. Even the final appearance where it rose from the Thames to attack an energy conference was astounding to me and fuelled my belief that there must be something there beneath the surface of Loch Ness. Again, this is an intelligent use of the creature which is not just fodder but serves a function. In the single line uttered by the Zygon that they feed on its lactic fluid immediately brings up images of a whole new society that is a living, breathing place and not some dodgy puppet work.
Nessie would pop up in books in later years when the Zygons were resurrected. In the Bodysnatchers an entire herd of Nessies are released upon Victorian London as the eighth Doctor battles a new caste of Zygons, while the tenth Doctor and Martha find themselves facing Nessie and the Zygons in the Sting of the Zygons.
There’s something exciting about using our own myths and legends to good effect. We can go to Tibet and maybe see a Yeti. Indeed a new organisation was set up last year to prove the Yeti’s existence due to a number of unprecedented sightings near the Russian borders. Immediately we wonder if the Doctor is up there somewhere. There’s nothing more evocative than imagining the Tardis sitting on the snow covered Himalayas being watched by a Yeti. And we can get a ferry to Scotland and stand on the shores of Loch Ness, stare out at the water and wonder if there’s a Zygon spaceship sitting at the bottom of the loch. And every stir or break in the water will make you jump for a second as your mind’s eye sees the Skaresen rising from the depths.
And isn’t that the mark of a good story? That these monsters may be right here on our doorstep and a mysterious traveller in an old police box may also be out there, ready for his next adventure with the beasts.
Any wonder these monsters are the ones fans desperately want to see once again on our screens and with the fiftieth anniversary coming up, you never know.
Owen Quinn is one of Ireland’s upcoming scifi writers and can be found on Facebook here