I’m currently enjoying the fourth season of the new Doctor Who series with David Tennant. However, it seems like every other episode I watch since season one has featured a category of creature I’ve labeled “golems.” In other words, a bunch of actors lumbering around in badly-put-together robot suits, scarecrow masks, mannequin outfits, etc.
These creatures are almost always the servants of the main villain. It seems very formulaic, almost as if the writers think they HAVE to include them. Can’t Doctor Who villains perform their own villainy?
So, does anybody know what is up with this? Doctor Who tradition? Lazy writing? Over-enthusiastic costume department? What?
It’s not just delegating. Most villains delegate. It’s just that on Doctor Who, the henchmen are frequently robot/zombie/golems- in other words, they are inanimate objects made animate. They have no intelligence or personality, they just lumber about in bad costumes. In contrast, the Torchwood spinoff does not seem to have this trend in villains.
Here’s a list of some that I remember featuring what I’m talking about.
Season 1, episode 1. Plastic mannequins.
Season 1, episode 3. Zombies.
Season 1, episodes 9 and 10. Gas mask wearing zombies.
Season 2, episode 4. Clockwork men.
Season 2, episodes 5 and 6. Cybermen. (Okay, these only partly qualify because they are classic Dr. Who villains.)
Season 2, episodes 9 and 10. The Ood. (Partial qualification, as they aren’t inanimate creatures made animate, but they are minimally-speaking creatures controlled by the villain.)
Season 3, episodes 8 and 9. Scarecrows. This one really irritated me, because these were fantastic episodes, only to be cheesified by guys in scarecrow suits.
And I just watched the Season 4’s Christmas special, which featured robot angels. A previous Christmas special had murderous robot Santas.
There are probably more, but these are the ones I remember from looking at the episode list on Imdb.
My favorite Doctor Who “costume” was the green bubble wrap monster. Unabashed green bubble wrap.
But hey, maybe it was new in the day and looked menacing. I can’t help but think that shortly thereafter, some unfortunate British child received a package – maybe even a Christmas present – protected by bubble wrap and to this day remains ever-so-slightly traumatized.
I think the idea is to give you a sense of being surrounded by dangerous things that can’t be reasoned with. The gas mask zombies were especially scary because they were contagious. You could turn into one.
Just a note, the plastic mannequins were also classic villains (the Autons.) And neither the Clockwork Men nor the gas mask zombies were “bad costumes.”
I am not seeing what the problem is here. Having every episode feature one solitary big bad heavy would get very boring very fast. “Doctor Who” is really great & scary when the villains are everyday things that become sinister. Several of the episodes you’re complaining about are typically regarded as being some of the best of the new series. (The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, The Girl in the Fireplace, Human Nature/The Family of Blood.)
I agree that the episodes you mentioned are some of the best of the series, but I would argue that the “Girl in the Fireplace” and “Human Nature/Family” episodes were diminished by the presence of this annoying, repetitive trope. By the time Season 2 rolled around, it was instantly apparent that any sort of servant/robot character that appeared onscreen was going to turn EVIL!
Torchwood, as I mentioned before, manages to operate in the same universe without relying on the constant use of “villain with mindless servant henchmen that start out innocuous and then become killing machines.”
I got started on this whole rant because, like I said, I just watched the Season Four Christmas special, which had robot angels as servants on a cruise ship, and I sighed the minute they appeared. This again?
Non-speaking characters don’t have to be paid as much.
They’re an analogy for current politicians.
They’re an analogy for the mindless, sheeplike general public, who are all so inferior to Dr Who, his assistants, the writers and - for the length of the episode, at least - the viewers.
They’re symbols of the viewers’ helplessness. (See points two and three above).
The writers came up with most of the storylines when they were childhood Dr Who fans playing with toy robots and dolls in their bedroom and haven’t really changed them much since.
They make everyone else seem like brilliant actors in comparison.
They look kinda cool.
They’re just like all the henchmen that you see in any action movie - the Dr is a bit like Bond, after all.
It’s difficult to fit in too many developed characters into every episode, with limited time. In many ways it’s better to leave the henchmen as automatons and give the Dr, his assistants and the Big Bad Guy time to develop.
The thing is, there’s a practical element. Many times the story requires a veritable army of badguys so they have the heros surrounded at every turn, outnumbered, and unable to run for help. But only so many stories can rely on invasions of Daleks, Cybermen, and actual armies of aliens. So the next approach is that the bad guys have some way of turning something ordinary into something deadly (mannequins, scarecrows, etc). Now they could instead have an army of Stormtroopers, or NAZI’s, or Uruk Hai marching in, so you could easily discern the henchmen at the same time not spend any time developing individual henchmen, so they can focus on the main bad guy.
That’s where I think it is a bit of a stylistic choice and perhaps a nod to classic Who. Clockwork men, mechanical servants, even the Ood in the first episode they are in, all serve as faceless henchmen.
Mechanical henchmen serve another advantage in that the Doctor and others can (if they have the capability) destroy said baddies without moral implications. Sort of the Lucasization of the franchise. No more Stormtroopers (people), but instead droid armies or “clones” (hey, they’re just clones, so they’re not real people). Beh.
In The Pyramids Of Mars, the villain uses mummy robots for the simple reason that he is trapped in a pyramid and can only exert telepathic control over a limited number of people. Plus, he needs a group of physical laborers to build stuff. The human he controls is not physically strong enough for the job. Here, the costumes are cheap. They are essentially just some coat hangers for frames covered in a big ace bandage.
In Robots Of Death, the bad guy has a fixation on robots (even going so far as to call them “brother”). The conversion of robots from obedient tools to silent killer is creepy. Again, though, the costumes (especially the masks) are beautiful and not cheap or cheesy looking at all.
I think one reason for a reliance on “golems” is that it makes it easier to fight the head villain. Outwitting Sutekh is damn difficult. But outwitting his mummy servants is fairly simple.
Second, golems allow for MORE death. You can only kill Davros once. You can kill (or at least you could before the Time War) limitless Daleks. Golems thus allow for more action and for the Doctor to actually vanquish a vllain.
And what are the two most popular types of monsters today? Vampires and zombies. Vampires don’t really fit in well with the Doctor (they used them in the original series, but rarely). But zombies are all over the popular culture. Not surprising the show uses them.
The new show’s used a vampire once already, in “Smith and Jones”. Calling it a plasmavore didn’t make it any less a vampire. Of course, it too had mindless zombie-like minions, the “slabs”, so the episode is a monster twofer.
Now, as to why Whovian Evil Overlords are so apt to have zombie minions instead of regular thinking minions: One good reason is the Doctor’s sheer awesomeness, which repeatedly wins over thinking creatures into doing his bidding or even sacrificing themselves for him. Recall Davros commenting on the Doctor’s ability to turn people into weapons. The last thing you want to send against a guy like that is a minion that can be persuaded.