Making a Monster

From the great CGI creatures of higher budgets and bigger wallets, to the ‘man in the suit’, use what you find in a skip, lower budget beasties- SFX’s How to Make a Monster feature delves into the history of special effects and rummages up some nightmares both good and bad from Doctor Who’s past.

A Marshman from Doctor Who - a typical Where big ambitions meet lower budgets lie monsters. At the heart of Who’s contributions to the list of 21 steps in the evolution of special effects lies an important lesson; If a monster is going to leave an ominous shadow on a child’s memory it needs to break into something primal within ourselves.

At the praiseworthy end of the scale lie perennial master race in waiting the Daleks for their groundbreaking use of metal casings. The cool, unimpeachable metal surface melded perfectly with the evil within that casing, a haunted space were real life terrors like the Nazis could fester and frighten us again.

The worrying trend throughout this list is the growing number of subservient races of creatures. Featureless drones who hang in the shadows of 1980’s Who without ever making an impression. The fault is not the design; it’s the ideas behind them.

The other ‘man in the suit’ examples such as the Gastropods, the slug-like creatures from The Twin Dilemma and the Myrka from Warriors of the Deep – a four-legged creature comprised of both ends of Dobbin the pantomime horse from Rentaghost and a wet sheet that left green paint all over the set maybe ropey examples of just what little a man can achieve in a costume but they were never anything more than warriors out to attack. There mere presence was assumed to be enough to scare; if they’re given nothing special or memorable to do then that man in a suit is going to look awfully stupid.

One controversial trend in FX history is the use of disabled actors in suits to portray monsters. It treads a fine line between performance and a ‘freakshow’.

Hit the link to the SFX website to read more, including how actor Nabil Shaban was at first wary of portraying Sil in Vengeance on Varos (and later Mindwarp), as well as plenty of monsters from other great sci-fi stories



About

Everyone has a favourite Doctor and mine - just for his honesty, his fairness and his ability to not notice the Master's awful, awful disguises/anagrams (Sir Gilles Estram!?!) - has to be the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison. The stories didn’t serve him as well as his acting served those stories.


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