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Why Surprise Classic Who Villains Don’t Work

Surprise Classic Doctor Who villains simply don’t work. What is a surprise villain one may ask. Simply put, a surprise villain is the antagonist of a certain serial, but this fact isn’t revealed until much later on, usually the last or penultimate episode. Doctor Who has tried many, many times to disguise the nature of the ‘surprise villain’ but almost always fails to do so. The most classic examples of this can be found in the very few whodunnit narratives which always reveal the identity of the ‘murderer’ before the final episodes, and therefore the enjoyment of sussing out who the baddie is going to be is less than satisfying. Why is this? Is it a lack in the quality of the writing? Is it that the acting is too unnatural, and therefore the actor or actress is a little unconvincing? Or perhaps the set-up of the situations in which such situations arise is too simple in nature, that the culprit can only be one person. Spoilers will of course be prevalent throughout so be warned, but on the other hand the villains that are about to be mentioned are so obvious you probably would have figured it out for yourself anyway.

In The Rescue (1965), the nature of the mysterious crashed ship and slaughter of the surviving crew supposedly by the Didoans where Bennett (Ray Barratt) is the only survivor, has so many holes to it, that Bennett’s guilt is almost reassured. The serial also has the problem of trying to convince us that Koquillion (Ray Barratt) is a genuine alien and not some Scooby Doo villain playing dress up. The problem with the setup is, Vicki (Maureen O’Brien) and the audience only have Bennett’s word about what happened to the surviving crew before The First Doctor (William Hartnell) arrived, and has no evidence (apart from his supposedly injured leg) to back his story up. He must therefore be withholding information that he doesn’t anyone else to know. Since his behaviour is both erratic and spontaneous, and his preference to be alone all the time, makes the situation all the more suspicious.

In The Web of Fear (1968), a character is removed from the narrative, presumably killed, and is reintroduced as the play thing of the central villain. The payoff isn’t at all convincing since no rational explanation is given for Staff Sergeant Arnold (Jack Woolgar) surviving his journey into the web substance created by the Great Intelligence. Throughout the serial it is proven time and time again, that the substance is highly lethal, the corpse of the Newspaper Seller (Bert Sims) and everyone else killed throughout the serial. So the sudden reappearance of the Sergeant should have aroused suspicion.

In Fury from the Deep (1968), the serial doesn’t hide the identity of the antagonist, and, in a strange turn of events we the viewers know who the bad guys are, but The Doctor doesn’t. Mr Oak (John Gill) and Mr Quill (Bill Burridge) are seen to be unwilling agents of the Weed Creature, who carry out various acts of sabotage and apparently gas Maggie Harris (June Murphy) to death. It is not until Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling) suspect them that the truth is revealed. Their ‘unmasking’ isn’t supposed to be surprising since viewers knew they are the bad guys since episode two. It might have been more fun for the audience to be informed that acts of sabotage have occurred, and are allowed to guess who they think is the saboteur or saboteurs.

In The Ambassadors of Death (1970) the central villain is seen assisting UNIT and The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) with the investigation into the Mars Probe 7 incident at times, but at the same time he too, is consorting behind their backs. There are evidentially two sides to General Carrington (John Abineri), and since he clearly knows more than he is letting on, it doesn’t make sense, and would not make sense, for him to be revealed as a good guy towards the final two episodes. The Third Doctor seems to suspect him from the beginning, and in turn so do the audience.

In The Monster of Peladon (1974), subtle clues are given as to who the secret baddies are going to be, but the efforts are futile at best. There is a moment where the silhouette of someone big, green skinned, with red eyes, and someone who walks laboriously is seen behind inside a room, before the room is plunged into darkness. Only one species fits the bill for the description, unless the serial planned to introduce a new species for The Third Doctor to battle for the final two episodes, but this seems unlikely. The moment is probably meant to be too fast, that the audience don’t have time to comprehend what they just watched. However thanks to the power of DVD this moment can be paused and the surprise villain can be identified quiet easily.

In The Masque of Mandragora (1976), the villain can only be one person, despite the attempts to hide their identity. In fifteenth-century San Marino, Hieronymous (Norman Jones) is an astrologer who predicts people’s deaths by studying the stars, a belief system berated by Giuliano (Gareth Armstrong). A secret coven, the Brotherhood of Demos, gathers in a series of catacombs where the leader wears a mask to disguise who he actually is, but the masked man can only be one person, Hieronymous. Since both he and the cult seems to practice the same ‘religion’ the person under the mask can only be Hieronymous, who in able to abuses his power to predict Giuliano’s death and take over San Marino by disposing Count Federico (Jon Laurimore) as well.

In The Deadly Assassin (1976), the identity of the true villain can be led back to one person, but the serial tries in vain not to mention him by name. It seems that The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) is responsible for murdering The President (Llewellyn Rees) but this event seems to be fabricated. Lurking in the shadows in a decaying, black hooded figure and clearly the true villain of the serial. Various characters’ corpses are found to have been miniaturised by some unknown piece of technology. However, again, we the audience know of someone who has the ability to kill people by miniaturising them, The Master. The Master (Peter Pratt) is later sussed out by The Fourth Doctor, too early on in the serial, and the ultimate unveiling of such is both predicated and tiresome.

In The Keeper of Traken (1981) we know that Melkur (Graham Cole), a stone statue, is actually bigger on the inside, and an unknown black cloaked characters looks out onto Traken from within. So audiences can reassure that Melkur is actually a Tardis, and the mysterious figure can only be one person, The Master (Geoffrey Beevers), since his decaying, black hooded appearance has hardly changed since his last appearance four years previously.

In Castrovalva (1982) The Master (Anthony Ainley) disguises himself as a man called the Portreeve, a clever design nonetheless, but the ‘Portreeve’ mistakenly calls The Doctor ‘The Doctor’ without having heard his name previously. Unless the serial planned to introduce a character whom The Doctor has met before, the only other logical explanation is, the Portreeve isn’t who he says he is, and is actually someone else.

In Earthshock (1982), the serial throws in a last minute bad guy to add some spice to the mix. We get the impression that Ringway (Alec Sabin) really hates his superior Captain Briggs (Beryl Reid) and would give anything to relieve her of command, permanently. He is later revealed to be working with Cybermen, who in turn kill him for deceiving them, talk about hypocrisy much. The whole plot point about Ringway being a secondary villain is introduced, developed, and ended within a few minutes, so the addition and reveal of such a plot point doesn’t make much sense, and isn’t very clever or deceiving.

In Time-Flight (1982), the surprise villain, The Master is quite surprising but utterly pointless in some respect. For a while he disguises himself as an alien called Kalid for no reason whatsoever but to fool the audience. Not only is Kalid a horrible racial stereotype, the disguise makes very little sense and the moment The Master unmasks himself is just another ‘here we go again’ moment.

In Arc of Infinity (1983), the villain can be narrowed down to a handful of people. The main villain or the renegade (Ian Collier) comes from a universe of anti-matter, so Omega(?) perhaps, and the person he conspires with is obviously a male Time Lord. So that narrows things down to 4 people, the reason for this is revealed later on. The serial tries the misdirection game and blames the Lord President (Leonard Sachs) but any motivation for his traitorous ambitions don’t make sense. Observant viewers will notice that the true villain fails to disguise his voice when consorting with Omega and when speaking to other Time Lords, making his guilt all the more obvious.

In The King’s Demons (1983), the surprise villain is so horribly disguised, guess who it is. That’s right it’s The Master, that he may as well have worn a placard saying I’M THE MASTER, COME AND STOP ME DOCTOR! One just has to look at Sir Gilles (Anthony Ainley) and already the surprise villain can be identified. There is also no reason for The Master to reveal himself.

In The Five Doctors (1983), another Time Lord has turned traitor, yet again The same Time Lords who appeared in previous serials are present: Lord President Borusa (Philip Latham), Chancellor Flavia (Dinah Sheridan) and The Castellan (Paul Jerricho). Again the serial does the misdirection game and blames The Castellan as being the true villain. If that were the case, why is there still twenty minutes left after he’s killed off? The true villain must still be alive, and there are only two people who it could be. We know The Master (Anthony Ainley) isn’t the bad guy, so it’s either President Borusa or Chancellor Flavia.

In Resurrection of the Daleks (1984), the serial introduces a cowering, s-s-s-stuttering character and fools the audience by revealing that Stien (Rodney Bewes) is actually a Dalek agent. It is clever nonetheless, and nobody would suspect as much, but the Stein we are introduced to is not the original, but rather a copy. So Stein was probably a law abiding individual and in any other situation would not be a villain by any means.

In Remembrance of the Daleks (1988) introduces a character who is a good guy but actually is working with the bad guys. Mike Smith (Dursley McLinden) is not meant to be a surprise villain to the audience, but rather to The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), and Ace (Sophie Aldred). We know he is going behind his superior’s back and has prejudiced views about certain people. His mother Mrs Smith (Kathleen Bidmead) is also a racist, who has a NO COLORED notice on her boarding house window, so his reveal as the surprise villain is not surprising, since he clearly has a secret agenda and personality lurking beneath his outer appearance.

In Survival (1989) the audience are aware that a certain someone, cough cough, The Master is using feline like black cats to spy on people. Various close-ups attempt to disguise his identity but fail to do so since, loyal viewers would recognise all too well, the menacing eyes, short haircut and voice, and firmly identify him as The Master.

Doctor Who has never been good at creating surprise villains, which is fine, since shows can’t be good at everything. It would be fun for once if an episode did the surprise villain right, and give the audience the pleasure of sussing out who it is. Many of the villains mentioned in this blog, perhaps were never intended to be a surprise villains, but as it is, they unfortunately are. Surprise villains are very fun to write and create, and can be very useful when writers run out of the problems for The Doctor to resolve. So whoever the next surprise villain is going to be, just remember one thing, don’t give yourself away right from the get on, stay in the shadows, keep your nose down and remember to jump out from your hiding place when the time is right.

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