Article- Doctor Who Vampire Mythology is Awesome and Underused

Posted: December 20, 2015 by J.A. Prentice in Article, Doctor Who Discussions, Uncategorized
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Do you know, it just occurs to me. There are vampire legends on almost every inhabited planet.Creatures that stalk in the night and feast on the blood of the living. Creatures that fear sunlight and running water and certain herbs. Creatures that are so strong they can only be killed by beheading, or a stake through the heart.

-The Doctor

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When my friend Jaden C. Kilmer proposed Vampire Week to celebrate the release of Revenant on Amazon.com, I immediately knew this was an article I wanted to do. It was literally my first suggestion.

I’ll be doing a sort-of review of the classic story State of Decay (starring Tom Baker as the Doctor) and a general overview of why I think the vampire mythology in Doctor Who is fascinating and has a lot of untapped potential. So if general Doctor Who nerding-out sounds cool to you, please read on. And also become my friend, because I need to talk to someone about Looms.

The following contains mild spoilers for Vampires of Venice, State of Decay, Project: Twilight, and Zagreus.

So, just to start things off, I’m going to say that I won’t be counting Vampires of Venice here. It’s a fun, solid episode with the great Doctor/Amy/Rory trio, but the problem is that the vampires aren’t really vampires. They’re alien fish people that the Doctor unmasks Scooby Doo-style. And that’s great for fun one-off, but it does nothing to sate my craving for vampires in Doctor Who. (That sounded way less weird in my head.)

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See, I want very specific vampires. I want the vampires from State of Decay.

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State of Decay comes in Tom Baker’s last season, but it feels more like one of the gothic tales from early in his run. The set design is good – a mix of run-down technology and medieval-influenced designs. Some of the special effects are very Classic Who, but not anywhere near the worst of Classic Who and the story doesn’t rely too heavily on them. Adric is Adric, but he’s probably at his best here. Tom Baker is great as always. Romana is an excellent companion, providing a true equal and reminding me why I like this TARDIS team so much. K-9 gets a lot to do as well. The story fits in with the E-Space arc but also works as a standalone. There are some great sequences, like the transition of Aukon’s face to a bat, and some witty dialogue (Romana: “You’re incredible.” Doctor: “Well, yes, I suppose I am. I’ve never really thought about it.”).

Overall, I’d call it a solid 8.5/10.

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But, of course, the most memorable thing about the story are the vampires. The story makes great use of classic vampire archetypes and imagery: a dark tower surrounded by a village of superstitious peasants, blood-drinking aristocrats, stakes through the heart. It doesn’t run from clichés; it lovingly embraces them.
The way the story uses vampire’s control of bats is good. It’s very creepy, but not something often used in “modern” vampire stories. I suppose this an attempt at “realism,” but the hell with it, you’re writing vampires. Just go for it.
The aging and turning to dust effect works very well- creepy and looks very good. The Doctor’s dark “They just went to pieces” quip afterward is great as well.

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Under the celebration of vampire lore, we find an actually brilliant examination of how a vampire society could sustain itself without self-destructing.
Only the upper hierarchy are turned (The Three Who Rule). The others are bred like livestock, used for labour, guards, and blood. The peasants are forced into a medieval existence, with all knowledge of advanced technology forbidden and punishable by death. With no education, no chance of bettering themselves, and no one of fighting back, the villagers are just cattle for the vampire to feed on. There’s no way for them to resist the Selection, which allows the vampires to take just the humans they need and bleed them dry to feed the Great One (a lot more on him later).
Unfortunately for the vampires, as Aukon points out, their treatment of the villagers has discouraged the traits they need for the Chosen Ones/new vampires.

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Still, as the Doctor and Romana point out, they’ve created a stable, stagnant society where their position remains fairly unthreatened. This system is essentially a holding pattern until the Great One– the King Vampire– awakens.
While the King, the Queen, and Aukon (especially Aukon) are effective villains, the King Vampire is great as an ancient, Lovecraftian threat. The idea of the vampire being this ancient being buried underground that retreated from our universe and pulled other people in to use as servants makes it really creepy. The way it never speaks except through influencing Aukon’s mind adds to the otherworldliness. While there’s a misjudged “X-Ray” shot of the creature that doesn’t make much sense and isn’t very effective, at the end all we see is a hand breaking out from the earth and an unearthly light. It’s like a beast straight from Hell (No, not that one. Lower-case beast from Hell.), far beyond mortal comprehension.

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The first hint we get of this creature is a loud, reverberating heartbeat that grows louder and louder the deeper the Doctor and Romana get into the ship. It’s Doctor Who horror at its best. On the way, they pass rows of dessicated bodies in the bowels of the ship being drained via fuel pipes fill of blood, which is a wonderfully macabre adaptation of classic vampire imagery to sci-fi. The heartbeat and the blood give us a sense of the horror of this thing before we even know what it is.
As if that wasn’t enough, we get a great backstory for the Vampires as well as the ancient enemies of Time Lords. They’re so ancient that the Doctor knows of them only in ghost stories from childhood. When he goes looking for information, he has to go into the TARDIS’s punch-card and print-out library because of how old the information is. It is a little silly that the advanced Time Lords used punch cards even millions of years early, but that’s 1980 for you.

Here’s a cut-down version of the information the Doctor finds:
“DOCTOR: The Record of Rassilon. So powerful were the bodies of these great creatures, and so fiercely did they cling to life, that they were impossible to kill, save by the use of bow ships.  Yet slain they all were, and to the last one, by the Lords of Time. The Lords of Time destroying them utterly. Well, that’s good news. However, when the bodies were counted, the King Vampire, mightiest and most malevolent of all, had vanished, even to his shadow, from time and space. Until now. Hence it is the directive of Rassilon that any Time Lord who comes upon this enemy of our people and of all living things, shall use all his efforts to destroy him, even at the cost of his own life. Energy weapons were useless because the monsters absorbed and transmuted the energy using it to become stronger. Therefore Rassilon ordered the construction of bow ships. Ah. Swift vessels that fired a mighty bold of steel that transfixed the monsters through the heart. For only if his heart be utterly destroyed will a vampire die.”

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(Yes, that Rassilon.)

I don’t know about anyone else, but the idea of Time Lords hunting vampires down with bow ships sounds really cool to me. And the Vampires seem like very effective enemies.

So why haven’t they been used more?

There have been a couple uses I do want to briefly touch on.

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Project: Twilight from Big Finish adds to the lore by dropping in “modern” vampires, engineered by one of the many, many shadowy secret organizations in the Doctor Who world, The Forge, to recreate the originals. (Incidentally, I’d really like to write a Third Doctor-era UNIT vs. the Forge vs. Torchwood story. BBC Books or Big Finish, I’m looking at you guys.) It’s a solid story and it sets up more vampire stuff, which I gather does continue through the other Forge stories I haven’t gotten to yet. In addition, it tells us that the Time Lords were responsible for bringing the vampires into our universe. This connects them to Ysgarroth, which is a menace mentioned in the Virgin New Adventures (90s Doctor Who novels with the seventh Doctor) as being brought into the universe by an early attempt at creating time travel by the Time Lords. This out-of-universe origin fits with the King Vampire retreating to E-Space in State of Decay and the alternate name of Ysgarroth really dials the Lovecraft factor up to 11.

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Zagreus is a very controversial story, which I personally enjoyed but other people didn’t. I’m not going to do a review of it right now. (Maybe later if anyone’s interested. Leave a comment begging me if you really want a Zagreus review.) The main subject of interest here is one of the sections, where a TARDIS recreation of Ancient Gallifrey shows us the Lord Tepesh (played by Colin Baker. Yes, that Colin Baker. It’s complicated.) and gives us an insight into Rassilon’s Gallifrey. It also offers an alternative take on the story of the Vampire Wars, given by Tepesh.

Tepesh says that the vampires were peaceful, grazing only on livestock. Rassilon despised them for being different and had them hunted down and slaughtered. The war wasn’t a great conflict between two ancient powers; it was a genocide.

I think that there might be some truth to Tepesh’s story, but it’s a very biased account that probably doesn’t owe much to reality. He and the King Vampire seem to be evil entities despite his protestations of being peaceful. Like all peoples, the vampires see themselves as the victims. The truth probably lies somewhere between Tepesh’s account and the Record of Rassilon.

The story does introduce two significant abilities for the vampires. They can take humanoid form as a disguise (being a giant, grey bat creature is rather conspicuous) and they can transport themselves. These abilities, when combined with the Doctor’s statement in State of Decay that the legends said Great Vampires could drain whole planets dry really show how they could be a dangerous threat to Time Lords.

There are several other mentions and stories, including the novels Goth Opera and Vampire Science. Regrettably, I have read neither (old Doctor Who novels are very hard to get hold of, especially in America), so I shall not waste your time pretending I know them.

All of this really fascinates me. It’s some great lore that seems perfect to form the backdrop for more stories. Here are just a few ideas I had on where the New Series (or Big Finish) could take the vampires:

1. Legacy of the Vampire War- the great vampires are dead, but perhaps their technology isn’t. Dangerous ancient secrets are always a good bet.

2. More Vampires Survived- The Daleks were supposed to be wiped out, but look at them. When the Time Lords wipe people out, things slip through the cracks (possibly literally). Perhaps this vampire wasn’t just wounded and hiding for millions of years. Perhaps it had a plan, a way to escape the notice of the Time Lords and build up power in the shadows…

3. Time Travel- The Doctor’s not supposed to travel in Time Lord history, but perhaps something goes wrong and the TARDIS is thrown back to when Rassilon was young and the Time Lords and Vampires still waged their war.

4. Resurrection- Someone wants to bring the vampires back, and probably not for a good reason.

All of these strike me as excellent “Series (Season to Americans) Finale” ideas. The Doctor versus one of the ancient enemies of his people, fighting for all creation.

Maybe I’m crazy, but I’d really like to see that. Anyone else with me?

Am I just crazy?

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But probably.

Stay tuned for a follow-up post of sorts…


This is part of Vampire Week, a week-long celebration of bloodsucking monsters. This is being held to promote my friend and fellow blogger Jaden C. Kilmer’s vampire YA novella, REVENANT, which is available on Amazon now for $1.50. It’s also free for Kindle Unlimited users.

US store UK store

 

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Comments
  1. […] writing my Doctor Who Vampire Article, I found myself suddenly consumed by inspiration. Generally, I try to refrain from posting Fan […]

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  2. iancaimercer says:

    I did read up and made up my own version for Infinite Whoniverses- Will Swift and Rassilon on Deviant art also helped me!!

    Liked by 1 person

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