In my opinion anyway.
I’ve noticed over the years that people tend to focus on monsters from television series a lot less than famous film monsters. I think this is perhaps because tv monsters are generally seen as being cheaper and more tacky than those on the big screen.
Its understandable after all as not only do many television series have smaller budgets than films like Alien or Predator but many series such as Lost in Space often have to spit a different monster out every week where as a film like the Terminator can spend months, years even making one monster seem special.
Still despite this there have been many terrifying, interesting and iconic monsters that originated on television and in this list I am going to run through my 10 personal favourites.
10/ Future Predator/ Primeval
The future predators were the most recurring creatures in the 21st century British sci fi series Primeval. For those of you who haven’t seen it the series revolves around holes in time and space called anomalies which allow creatures from various other time periods to enter modern day and cause havoc. Throughout the series its mostly prehistoric creatures that emerge, but in quite an interesting twist this monster comes from the future, from a period after mankind has died out.
These creatures are said to be as intelligent as humans and hunt their prey using sonar. They are possibly the descendants of bats.
I think the idea of monsters from the future was a great concept for Primeval to explore. It seemed so obvious, yet I had never actually thought about it before it appeared. I’d always just be wondering what prehistoric creature will be appearing this week, so it really was a great twist.
The Predator was terrifying. It was fast and could spring out of nowhere and the fact that it had no eyes much like the Xenomorph made it more unnerving as it makes it harder to relate too. Its just a blanc, growling expression on its face and the fact that it is intelligent is even more scary as you have no idea what’s going on behind that hideous visage.
The only problem I have with the Predator is that it is often undermined in favour of other monsters throughout the series. Still on the plus side it is responsible for killing more main characters throughout the course of the series at least.
Overall it was a very effective monster and the effects used to bring it to life were stunning.
9/ Polymorph/ Red Dwarf
“Just because its an alien armour plated killing machine that salivates unspeakable slobber doesn’t mean its a bad person.”
The Polymorph is a truly brilliant creation. In terms of design it is somewhat derivative of the Xenomorph from the Alien film series (though in all fairness it was meant to spoof it) but the idea behind is so inspired. The Polymorph feeds off of its victims emotions. It is also a shape shifter and uses this power to bring about strong emotions in its victims. For instance in order to feed on Dave Listers fear it turns itself into a snake which he has a phobia of, whilst in order to feed on the Cats vanity it turns itself into a beautiful woman who hits on him.
This of course leads to some wonderful moments of comedy when our main characters lose their emotions. Rimmer becomes a total pansy without his anger singing all you need is love whilst holding a no monsters sign, Lister without his fear is a macho badass, the Cat becomes a self loathing hobo without his vanity “I think everybody’s right except me, so just forget I was ever born huh” and Kryten without his guilt is a total bastard “Maybe if I hand you guys over to it, it’ll let me go, MOVE IT SUCKERS!“. All of the cast members I think are excellent in this episode as they all get a chance to really shine in their new persona’s.
I love the way Rimmer suddenly managed to grow a beard in the 2 minutes since the Polymorph sucked out his anger and managed to find a pair of glasses too to complete his new geeky image.
The Polymorph isn’t as scary as the other monsters on this list, but as Red Dwarf is a comedy then the Polymorph which allowed for some fantastic comedic moments worked just as well as any of the other monsters on this list at what it was meant to.
The Polymorph appeared in a second episode in season 6. This episode wasn’t quite as strong as the first, but it was still hilarious and it allowed Rimmer and the Cat a chance to return to their old classic Ace Rimmer and Duane Dibley persona’s.
8/ Kilgharrah/ Merlin
The Great Dragon from BBC’s Merlin, Kilgharrah in my opinion was an all around tour de force. It had fantastic design, and the effects used to bring it to life were brilliant too. Added to that it had an amazing voice in the form of John Hurt who is as always excellent. Furthermore he also has a fantastic story arc too. Indeed I’d say he is the most interesting and well developed character throughout the series.
He starts off as a mysterious mentor to the main character Merlin. Prior to the start of the series the ruthless tyrant Uther Pendragon in his war against magic chained Kilgharrah beneath the kingdom where he remained for 20 years.
Kilgharrah nevertheless contacts Merlin and tells him that he and Arthur (ironically Uthers son) are destined according to an ancient prophecy to bring magic back to camelot.
This forms the basic premise for the next few seasons, where Merlin will have to protect Arthur and have to go to Kilgharrah for advice. Kilgharrah is shown to be a somewhat mysterious character as we are never sure what his true motives are. At times he does seem to genuinely care about Merlin, at other moments it feels like he only cares about his own freedom which will happen after Arthur is king. He is also shown to often advise Merlin to carry out some ruthless actions such as allow Uther and Mordred to die and even actively murder Morgana.
Later when Merlin is forced to free him he tries to avenge his imprisonment by burning all of Camelot to the ground. I always LOVED these scenes of Kilgharrah rampaging his way across Camelot. Its like a Godzilla movie watching a big fire breathing monster burning a city down whilst all the troops try and attack it with everything they’ve got to no avail. Its basically a British, medieval Godzilla movie with John Hurt voicing him.
Merlin later manages to defeat Kilgharrah but spares him after he begs for his life. This proves to be the right thing to do as later when Merlin is at the mercy of Morgana and Morgause Kilgharrah redeems himself and saves the young warlock.
After this though Kilgharrah only appears fleetingly he becomes arguably Merlin’s best friend helping him out at various points when he needs him most. Its great seeing Kilgharrah go from the lowest of the low, a savage monster burning buildings down and killing innocent people to the hero of the show saving Merlin from certain death. Of all the monsters on the list he has by far and away the most interesting personality.
My only problem with Kilgharrah’s story is the plot hole concerning Aithusa.
Aithusa is a baby Dragon that Merlin finds during season 4. It ends up in Kilgharrah’s care at the end of its first episode, but at the end of that series for some reason it heals Morgana the main villain of the series. When it next appears at the start of series 5, set 4 years later it is in Morgana’s care and apparently it and Morgana spent two years imprisoned in a pit by an evil warlord called the Sarrum.
Its never explained why Aithusa betrayed Kilgharrah and healed Morgana or how on god’s green earth the Sarrum was able to capture Aithusa.
Kilgharrah is practically the most powerful creature on earth as the only thing that can harm a fully grown Dragon in Merlin is a Dragonlord. Kilgharrah could easily have burned the Sarrum’s kingdom to the ground like he nearly did to Camelot, so why the fuck didn’t he when his ward was captured and sealed in a tiny pit for two years? What the hell was he doing for those two years just pissing about whilst Aithusa was locked in a pit screaming for help?
Poor Aithusa was not looked after properly by her daddy.
In spite of this big plot hole overall I’d still say that Kilgharrah had the best realized story arc of any character in the series which is why he is one of my favourite monsters.
7/ The Weeping Angels/ Doctor Who
From the twisted mind of Steven Moffat came these nightmarish monsters that traumatized an entire generation of British children. The Angels are such a simple idea of taking an ordinary everyday object and making it into a monster. Its an idea that Doctor Who has used before with monsters like the Autons who were shop mannequins that came to life, but I think the Angels are the most successful example of this trope.
When I was younger I would always get unnerved being around these big creepy gargoyles. You do always feel like they could come alive when you’re not looking and thus the Angels plays on an already existing fear. In order for an everyday object to become a monster it has to I think already be something that’s a bit unnerving to begin with.
The Angels are more than just a gimmick however. The way they dispose of their victims by zapping them backwards in time allows for some interesting ideas as we see how some people are able to adapt to life in the past, whilst for others its much worse. The Doctors describes them as the only monsters that kill you nicely as they zap you back in time and let you live to death. However in Rory’s case they trap him in one tiny little room for the rest of his life. The moment where he sees what his future has in store from him never fails to give me the chills.
Personally I have loved all 3 Angels episodes. In my opinion they have all brought something new to the monsters and really its not hard to see why these monsters have become among the most popular of all the Doctors many colourful enemies.
6/ Yellow Eyed Demon/ Supernatural
The main villain from the first two seasons of Supernatural, Azazel was a truly monstrous creature that enjoyed not only killing young women by pinning them to the ceiling and slowly burning them alive but also corrupting their children by dripping blood into their mouths whilst they sleep.
Its the way Azazel is shown to enjoy corrupting and turning these young children into monsters that is the most disturbing thing about his character. He is shown to take a very special delight in trying to corrupt Sam Winchester, the kindest and most innocent of all his “special children”.
Whilst Azazel was shown to possess many different people and thus was played by many actors (and one actress) by far and away the best actor in the role was Frederic Lehne who played him almost as a satanic Jack Nicholson!
Though he was not as powerful as later villains in the series he was arguably the most crafty with the after effect of his plan helping to shape the entire course of the series.
5/ The Borg/ Star Trek Franchise
The Borg were definitely for me at least the best villains in the later Star Trek series and really for me the best villains in all of Star Trek after Khan.
These guys terrified me when I was younger. The Borg are a race of cybernetic creatures who travel across the universe assimilating other life forms, even whole planets into their collective. I remember having nightmares when they converted Captain Picard.
Over the years many people have compared the Borg to the much earlier Cybermen from Doctor Who. They are certainly a similar idea. Both are mechanical creatures that travel the universe converting organic life forms into members of their own kind. The creators of the Borg even if they didn’t take inspiration from the Cybermen were aware of the similarities between them at least from the start as an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation features the names of the first 6 actors to play the Doctor on a computer as a direct homage.
Personally I don’t think it matters that they were inspired by the Cybermen as nothing is original. The Cybermen themselves were inspired by the Treens from Dan Dare. As long as you do something new with it then I don’t mind and the Borg were something new.
In some ways I think the Borg were more effective than the Cybermen as the Borg were certainly more believable as an intergalactic threat. The Cybermen in that respect were kind of well crap. They were always on the brink of extinction, getting their arses kicked by other villains like the Master, the Daleks, the Raston Warrior Robot etc. I never really bought the Cybermen as being the second most dangerous race in the Doctor Who universe after the Daleks sadly.
The Borg however were believable as being a force capable of wiping out the federation. They were almost like a herd of locusts sweeping through the universe stripping planets clean. Sadly however it is true that the Borg like many great villains did become less effective the more they were used in Star Trek Voyager. There is no way Captain Janeway could have dealt with the Borg from Next Generation so easily. Still overall Id rank the Borg among tv’s greatest monsters and villains too.
4/ Ebonites/ The Outer Limits
These monsters from the Outer Limits scared me so much as a child that I could never finish the episode they were in.
The Ebonites capture a group of human beings and begin to torture and experiment on them in horrific ways. They remove their vocal chords, their sight, they destroy one of the humans arms, they even seemingly murder one by tearing out his heart!
The Ebonites torture Martin Sheen!
At the end of the story however in a great twist (which I never saw until I was much older) it is revealed that the Ebonites are the good guys after all. Apparently the Ebonites accidently destroyed an earth ship years ago and in order to make up for it they agreed to help the earth government run this test to see how earth soldiers would react if there ever were a hostile visitation from aliens. The Ebonites only go along with it out of guilt for what they did, but even then they cannot go through with this horrific experiment and decide to reveal the truth to the prisoners. It is also revealed that they did not kill the soldier whose heart they removed. He suffered a heart attack and they attempted to save his life through a complex operation where they removed his heart, but sadly it was unsuccessful.
Throughout the story the Ebonites seem like the most horrifying monsters,with the torture they inflict on the main characters, their frightening appearance and echoing sinister voices, so it really is a brilliant twist at the end when they turn out to be peaceful creatures who are being forced into carrying out these horrors.
3/ The Cybermen/ Doctor Who
The most famous Doctor Who monsters after the Daleks, the Cybermen have not always been handled well. They have been undermined in favour of other villains throughout both the original and the revivals history, have been ridiculed by the Doctor as just a bunch of pathetic tin soldiers skulking about the galaxy in an ancient spaceship, and they have had some pretty humiliating defeats such as 5 million of them being curb stomped by 4 Daleks, being wiped out by nail varnish, a whole squad of them being wiped out by a teenager with a sling shot, and worst of all James Corden’s baby crying managed to wipe them out! “I blew the Cybermen up with love” a low point for any monster here.
Still despite these failings I still would rank the Cybermen as one of televisions greatest monsters for a number of reasons.
To start with the idea behind them is truly inspired. They play on a centuries old fear of humans being turned into monsters like Vampires, Zombies and Werewolves, but they not only bring that fear into a science fiction environment but they also completely remove our humanity.
With a Zombie you still at least look human more or less, with Vampires you still retain aspects of your personality, and with a Werewolf most of the time you will still be an ordinary person apart from on the night of the full moon. With the Cybermen however what’s horrible is the way that everything about you is removed piece by piece and replaced with a cold lifeless machine. Even your mind, your emotions, your personality is slowly eaten away into nothing.
One of the most terrifying moments involving the Cybermen is in the Age of Steel when Rose and Pete Tyler go looking for Jackie who was captured by them only to be cornered by a Cyberman which states to them coldly that it is Jackie. As Rose and Pete are led away Pete hopelessly thinks that they might be able to reverse what happened to her but as she joins a squad of Cybermen he can’t tell which one is her. Everything his wife was has been lost.
To me this made the Cybermen more frightening than the Borg. It is true that the Borg were more believable than the Cybermen as an intergalactic threat, but in terms of the horror of being converted I think the Cybermen were much scarier. With the Borg once again they still looked human and there was as seen with Captain Picard the possibility of being turned back. With the Cybemen however at least in the classic era, all the humanity is gone and there is no chance.
For all you know this Cyberleader here
could have looked like this as a human
or maybe he looked like this
It doesn’t matter as all organic components are removed piece by piece and replaced with machine and metallic ones. In the end they all look the same regardless of who they were in life.
The process of Cyber conversion is also much slower and more drawn out and painful. We often hear people scream as their flesh is ripped away piece by piece. What’s even more disturbing is the way that as time goes on their victims stop screaming not because it hurts any less, but just because their emotions have begun to drip away that they no longer fear the pain.
The images of people half way to becoming Cybermen always scared me shitless when I was a child and I used to have nightmares where I would be being converted and I’d look down at my hands that were now metal!
Another area where I felt the Cybermen were more effective than the Borg and other monsters was that they had more screen presence. The Borg I feel were only really effective in large numbers. I’m not knocking them for that as that was the point of them, they were a hive, but still I do think that the Cybermen were a better screen presence.
The potential for claustrophobic horror is greater with the Cybermen in stories like Tomb of the Cybermen and Attack of the Cybermen. Being cornered by a Cyberman is truly a terrifying thought. There is nothing you can do against a towering mountain of steel. A single Borg drone isn’t really that big a threat. Again the fact that there are some human parts left does make it seem more easy to fight against. With a Cyberman however there is nothing you can do. You can’t punch it or kick it, you can’t overpower it. If its cornered you your done.
Thus whilst I acknowledge in some ways the Borg were better than the Cybermen, ultimately I think the Cybermen were still far scarier. Though I also admit I am a bigger Doctor Who fan than a Trekkie so I’m a little biased. Its worth noting that the Cybermen did kick the crap out of the Borg in a Doctor Who Star Trek crossover comic book called Assimilation where the Cybermen converted the Borg and had the Doctor not stopped them they would have converted the Klingons and the Romulans and the Cardassians too. So I suppose even if the Cybermen got their asses kicked by other Doctor Who villains they still curb stomped all of the big Star Trek villains.
2/ The Gentlemen/ Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The main villains from arguably the best ever episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The Gentleman are Demons who through the power of magic steal everyone in Sunnydale’s voices so that they can break into their rooms at night and slice their hearts out.
To those of us who saw this episode when it was first on it stayed with us for many years after. These were the monsters that sent us scurrying behind the sofa and out of the room much like how the Daleks used to for our parents.
The gentlemen play on a trope that Joss Whedon often utilizes of not being able to scream or shout for help when a monster attacks. We see this when Willow tortures Warren Mears to death, she stitches his mouth shut whilst she slowly sticks a bullet into his chest. Similarly at the start of season 7 we see a Demon that kills its victims by poisoning them with its claws which renders them unable to move or even speak whilst it slowly peels their skin off piece by piece. The Gentlemen I’d argue are the most effective example of this trope as we don’t see the full effect of what it is they do to their victims. We just see them standing over them grinning as they bend down to cut their chests open which makes it more scary for me.
Also as is typical with Buffy monsters the Gentlemen are a reversal of a classic horror movie cliche. Buffy as we all know reverses the idea of the little blonde girl being lured away and killed by monsters. With the Gentlemen however who are killed by Buffy screaming (another reason they steal everyone’s voices is that the sound of a human voice kills them) we see a reversal of the classic image of a woman screaming helplessly in the face of a monster. Here in a rather genius move Joss is able to make what is normally seen as the classic damsel in distress trait of screaming into a weapon that vanquishes the monsters. That was always one of the best things about Buffy was the way it didn’t just simply ignore the usual sexist cliches of women being helpless damsels but it took them back and owned them and this I feel is one of the most successful examples.
Whilst Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin off Angel gave us many fascinating monsters over the course of their combined 12 seasons, ultimately I think the Gentlemen stuck in people’s imaginations more than any others. I think people of my generation in decades to come will still remember the monsters that stole people’s voices so they could cut their hearts out, much like how people from my parents generation still remember the Yeti’s in the underground or darting behind the sofa when the Daleks appeared.
1/ The Daleks/ Doctor Who
The Daleks to me are televisions greatest monster for many reasons.
In terms of acclaim I think that they are one of the few if not the only tv monsters who are as iconic as any film monster. Everybody has heard of the Daleks. It doesn’t matter if you are a Who fan or not they are a character like Sherlock Holmes or Dracula that has just entered into popular culture. I don’t think you can really say any other monster on this list has achieved quite that level of fame. The Borg, the Cybermen, the Gentlemen are all iconic and many people remember them, but I don’t know if you could say that absolutely anybody would recognize them the way they would the Daleks. Hell the name Dalek even made its way into the Oxford edition of the English Dictionary!
The Daleks truly are among the most famous monsters not just inn television history, but within the entire history of fiction.
I understand that to some people the Daleks might look a bit ridiculous. They are giant angry salt shakers with sink plungers attached!
The thing is the Daleks are the only monster on this list that are completely inhuman. The Borg, the Cybermen, the Ebonites, the Gentlemen all have a humanoid shape whilst other monsters like Kilgharrah are still recognizable to us in some way as Kilgharrah is a giant reptile. Even the Polymorph has recognizable features such as a mouth wings, two eyes etc.
The Daleks however have nothing we can relate to. They have no legs, no arms, no face, they are not reptillian, not mammalian, there’s nothing familiar about them at all. They are completely alien and that to me makes them feel all the more unnerving.
On top of that there was also at least initially nothing human about their characterisation. The Daleks had no society. There was no Dalek culture, no Dalek art, no individual Daleks with their own ambitions. They are all just drones who follow a single cause yet they are not simply machine creatures either. They are motivated by their hatred towards all other life forms in the universe.
They are also flesh and blood creatures too. The Daleks originally began as humanoid creatures called the Kaleds. The Kaleds engaged the Thals the race that shared their home planet Skaro in a thousand year long war which saw the surface of their world destroyed by nuclear weapons. Unfortunately the irradiated air of Skaro began to mutate both the Kaleds and the Thals and the Kaleds leading scientist Davros determined to find out what his species would mutate into accelerated the mutation cycle of the Kaleds.
He discovered that they were destined to mutate into hideous octopus like creatures. Thus Davros constructed war machines to house these Kaled Mutants and he also tampered with their minds. He removed all emotions from their brains such as love, compassion and pity conditioned them to have a strong hatred towards all other life forms that were different to them. He did this as he believed that in order to survive the Kaled mutants would need to be aggressive to all other races. In his mind the universe was always at war. The resulting combination of a Kaled mutant in a Dalek casing was called a Dalek.
The Daleks are unlike anything else ever to have existed. They have no concept of pity. Its not simply a case of they have removed it but still understand it like the Cybermen They have no idea what it is and thus are utterly inhuman. They are the ultimate monster.
Over the years other writers have added aspects to the Daleks characters and fleshed them out such as making them more manipulative, more desperate and more sadistic. Their main, defining characteristic however is their hatred for anything that is different to them.
Ironically despite their alien nature over the years a number of writers (including most notably Terry Nation the writer who created them) have used the Daleks as metaphors for the very worst aspects of human nature such as racism, xenophobia, fascism and even man’s destructive effect on the environment. The Daleks according to Nation were based mostly on the Nazi’s, but spooky parallels have been drawn between the actions of the Daleks and those of real men throughout history.
Their plans to kill of the last of the Thals using a bomb which will poison the air of Skaro itself is not unlike the Americans attempts to bomb Vietnam back to the stone age. In both cases we have people who want to destroy their enemies environments so that there is no chance they can survive after the initial attack.
The Daleks attitude towards the thals, and other races such as humanity is not only eerily reminiscent of the Nazi’s beliefs but also those of General Chivington and others towards the Native Americans. The following extract was written in a letter by a senator to his friend not log after the brutal Sand Creek massacre where close to 200 people including women and children were slaughtered by Chivington’s forces.
“At one point it was asked if it would be better to civilize or exterminate the Native Americans and there suddenly arose such a shout as is never heard unless upon some battlefield- a shout loud enough to raise the roof of the Sydney Opera house! EXTERMINATE THEM! EXTERMINATE THEM! EXTERMINATE THEM!”
The Daleks in many ways are a twisted caricature of humanity. They were once humanoid creatures like us, but they let their darker qualities, their hatred for others, single minded dedication for conquest and power turn them into monsters. Perhaps this is why the Daleks strike such a chord with viewers 50 years on. They are a reminder of what we could become if we let our darker qualities override us. People who have lost all of their humanity, all sense of individuality, who are part of a fascist society devoid of any creativity, art, or tolerance for anyone who is different and who live in a dead world that they destroyed through a nuclear war.
Whatever the reason the Daleks still continue to endure as the Doctors greatest enemies. Whenever you see them appear it still manages to be special despite the vast number of times they keep coming back.
The inhuman design, the utterly pitiless character, the rasping, claustrophobic, screeching voice all create a truly iconic monster.
Long may the Daleks reign of terror continue.
Thanks for reading and let me know what your top ten tv monsters are.