Terror of the Vervoids
|Terror of the Vulvas|
|Oh god, you can't just put that on a book cover! Kids could see it!|
|Air date||1 November–22 November 1986|
|Written by||Pip and Jane Baker|
|Directed by||Chris Clough|
|Mindwarp||The Ultimate Foe|
These are the times that try men’s - and Time Lords’ - souls.
Terror of the Vervoids was a hasty-replacement story than ran third in the surprisingly not-yet cancelled 23rd Season of that rotten old British children’s programme Doctor Who, and was first broadcast in four weak parts during the dim, grim November of 1986. The final episode was broadcast on the - holy shit! - twenty-third anniversary of the assassination of President John F Kennedy. That’s a lot of “twenty-three”s, a number which brings out the conspiracy-minded twats like Doctor Who draws Phil Sandiflour or a trash bin draws flies, so this story must be pretty damn important, right? Not so much.
This story was part of the season-long story arc ‘Shall We Cancel This Time Lord Or What?” that resulted in Colin Bunyan getting the sack and nearly ruined Doctor Who forever. Its other crimes include inflicting on viewers the unfortunate first appearance of Bonnie Lungforrow as the Doctor’s screamingest companion Melody Pond. Pardon me, I mean Bush. So vile and devious is it that only those partners in crime Pwip and Jar-Jar Beggar could have committed such unholy words to paper and the airwaves; known for previous work so unmentionable that it required the worst impulses of two people to devise. Is there a vague sense of leaden dread forming in the pit of your stomach yet? The only thin ray of pale sunshine to be found beneath these dark clouds is that this marks the last story Ian Levine would have any influence over (for now), and might even include a good ol “fuck off” in appearing to retroactively rename a spaceship the Hyperion II. Only someone like Levine would even care or know what I’m going on about, so it is the sickest of burns.
Production Notes & Other Diversions
Even JNT hated this story from the very beginning, we just had to catch up! For starters, the original script was written by someone named Peter J Hammond who was well regarded for having created another televistic programme that was widely considered far superior to Doctor Who, so of course JNT thought this script unusable and replaced it with some Gip and Pane Baker dreck. JNT later said he thought the Vervoid monster costumes were uncomfortably similar to… well… a woman’s sexual organ. You may find it amusing somehow to consider that a gay man said that.
So anyway, the takeaway here is that JNT made a lot of bad decisions during the production of this televistic atrocity, having lost control over his own programme to such an extent that he couldn’t prevent them from shoving some plastic replicas of female privates into the faces of the British pubic. I mean public.
Her perfectly-pitched screams are no doubt the never-ending soundtrack to JNT's special holding cell in hell. This story was Mel’s first, thrusting her upon the unsuspecting tea-drinking public without the usual been-there, done-that origin story in which she meets the Doctor and joins him for some dreary time, space and gravel quarry traveling. JNT thought himself clever enough to later present a succinct explanation during another story, but he never did (sound familiar Moffat?). Everyone had by then come to realized that another season of the tatterdemalion Time Lord would probably induce a wave of suicides across the UK, so the programme binned Colon Banksy and moved on, hoping no one would catch on. Some frankly disreputable and wholly inaccurate sources found online will tell you this story was finally told in some lesser media somewhere, perhaps a book? but pay them no heed, for such nonsense is but the scrawling of contemptible syphilitics.
The Vervoid costumes.
May I please see a show of hands from everyone familiar with female anatomy? So, you two girls know what we’re talking about here. These monster costumes are really pretty embarrassing, especially if some of your non-Who friends happen to be hanging around. Not ‘Tom Baker giving a green alien tentacle a blow job’ level embarrassing (fuck you, Brian), but still. A kinder take on their gynecological design might have it that they were fully intended to look like certain aspects of a woman’s physiology as a joke meant to sail over the heads of innocent children viewers whilst delivering his or her parents a graciously bawdy titter. I’ll wager Andrew Rose who designed them (and worked on Monty Python’s Flying Circus at one point) probably still wakes up every morning chuckling about that time he pulled a fast one and snuck these costumes onto telly.
The suits themselves were made of the finest of BBC plastic and are surprisingly slick (slick-slick-slick!) constructions, considering the state of the programme at the time; even if their conception (nudge nudge) was questionable, their execution was pretty creditable. Toby Whitehouse was so taken by them in fact that he later requested that his monster the Fishy King in his series 9 stories Under The Lake and Before the Flood be modeled after them.
No Real Live Animals are used anywhere during this story, sadly. It’s almost understandable as the monsters of the week were plants, but the story does insist that these plant-monsters are “against animal kind” and that we humans (and Time Lords) directly or indirectly eat plant matter to survive, so some sort of animal scenes would seem to easily suggest themselves, but not to JNT. Would it have killed him to include a scene of, perhaps, some Vervoids threatening a Terrier? Menacing a cow or chicken? Or something more exotic like a ptarmigan? On-screen representations of rodents or lagomorphs are sadly lacking as well. Really it was these small touches that demonstrate the level of JNT’s commitment to the programme.
As part of that series-poisoning twenty-third season story arc, this story was never called “Viewers Of The Vervoids” until Pipsqueak and Junk Bonkers published the novelisation (against the advice of their lawyers). The true episode titles, for each episode has it’s own title, are as follows: Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven and Part Twelve. Certainly much less offensive than “Terror Of The Vervoids”!
“So why watch it then if you hate it so much?” Well what’s the point of loving something if you can’t hate it with a deep, burning rage?
Part Nine “Fantastic!”
Those awful opening credits! The music sounds like it was recorded from a cassette tape underwater. Colin, sitting in court and sensing his impending sacking, looks depressed. After a brief prelude with the Failyard, the Doctor and the Timelord court settle in to watch a comfy episode of Doctor Who that OH MY GOD, IT WAS WRITTEN BY PIP AND JANET BAKE-OFF! ALL IS LOST!! So the Doctor thinks he’s Agatha Christie now. A bit of idiocy and intrigue later, the Doctor (the last time we’ll see Sixie on the Tardis by the way) is looking quite unwell whilst trying to exercise and drink carrot juice under the slave-driving Mel. Not much longer Colin, just wait. For some reason, there are aliens aboard this spaceship wearing gas masks, risking that we confuse them with other, presumably normal people, wearing grey hazmat suits. The pilot of the laughable spaceship gets knocked out after spotting an incoming ship and his attacker sends a mayday to the Tardis so they go to investigate, of course.
- “There’s evil in this place.
- The Doctor.
- “There’s evil in this place.
Captured by the shipload (actually only about a dozen) of bored, middling-range BBC actors in silly “futuristic” costumes, the Doctor recognizes the captain, perhaps in a bid to skip over all the usual “who are you, why are you here, what’s that stupid blue box?” and so on. After some bickering and the security officer signalling his imminent death (actually it comes in the fourth part, but whatevs), some cheesy looking pods glow and one of the gas mask aliens pours out some bath beads. “I can’t rid myself of the feeling I’m being used.” - the Doctor.
Mel describes the next part of the plot while a gas mask alien watches. Part of the shipboard decoration is a map of the Milky Way as seen from Earth, probably taken from a 1970s issue of National Geographic. Mel gets taken to the gym. The fact there’s an isolation room on the ship is somehow dramatic. Mel gets a mysterious message over her aerobics headset (don’t ask) and runs off while the Doctor acts the fool. The security officer obviously wants the Doctor to leave as soon as possible, something we were all thinking at the time. Mel tells the Doctor to meet the mysterious voice somewhere in a poorly constructed scene and Sixie has the gall to mention something about GOAT. The seeds are gone, but we do get a shoe-on-laptop scene.
A murder is revealed in some frenetic time-compressing editing; it’s as if the programme is trying to make up for all those long dull bits from Doctor Five's seasons by not letting any scene here run longer than perhaps a minute, making edits every few seconds. At least the story’s not dragging! Someone is reading Murder on the Orient Express, how cheeky! The closing of a flimsy door back at the gym is somehow dramatic. Suddenly the Doctor interrupts the episode he’s watching with the Timelord court to protest things didn’t happen this way, something we were all thinking at the time. After some bickering with the Guardrail, they resume the episode to see Mel get a few lines of talent-less expository dialog from some guy who gets electrocuted, which makes something pop out of one of the pods, SHREEEEEEAAAAAK!!
Part Ten “Allons-y!”
I will give the programme this: it’s certainly very colorful, what with the opening credits' diffraction rainbows, Sixie’s clothes, etc.; again, perhaps a reaction to Doctor Five’s drab outings? The things popping out of the pods look like a plant-based Dalek gun, but I doubt even they could pop in and improve this story. Mel gets taken away and green-tinged monster-cam shows us the other guard is about to die too.
- “More futile grasping at straws!”
- The Gruelyard.
- “More futile grasping at straws!”
Some guy comes out of the isolation room and hands a guard his dirty dishes. The programme predicts the FitBit and the Doctor admits he’s a clown but the security officer doesn’t know how to use a cell phone correctly. Mel’s suspected of killing the guy who got the shock of his life but they can’t find the body now. This whole story is insinuating it’s an Agatha Christie murder mystery without knowing what one of those looks like. Go home Terror Of The Vervoids, You’re drunk and Robots Of Death just called and says go home too. As we know, people will be reading Agatha Christie for the rest of time, if Tennich is to be believed, so this is really quite insulting to her, us and future audiences. Oh god, and there’s a leaf in this story now. Has any Doctor Who story with “an important leaf” in it ever been worth a damn? No.
A pair of the suspicious scientists discover the pods are empty and this is somehow dramatic. We get an entire scene about the dirty dishes from the isolation room, but at least, like every other scene, it only lasts about five seconds. The Doctor gets in trouble for showing a woman his seeds and the two suspicious scientists play cat and mouse with a gas mask alien in the hold. For some reason the Doctor's now not in trouble unless you count eating a seed he knows nothing about. For some reason, two gas mask aliens are playing a video game.
The gas mask aliens actually get a few lines to complain about, are you ready for this, MINING! Good to know the programme’s long fascination with mining and miners hasn’t been forgotten! Shame about the execution though. The Vardyal doesn’t care to watch a programme about mining and the Doctor tells him it’s about to get better because someone else is about to die. One of the gas mask aliens drinks with a straw, which is somehow dramatic. Plus no one dies. But then the straw-drinking gas mask alien does die and is unmasked as the suspicious guy from Part Nine who… well, don’t worry about it, it’s sort of nonsensical and really not worth going into by now. When the captain asks for a stretcher to carry the dead dude’s body away, they actually bother to film the scene of the guy on the other end of the line saying yes sir.
The Doctor makes a couple of terribly unlikely leaps of logic to advance the plot and the Whackyard calls him out on it. Seriously you guys, just shut up and watch the programme already, stop interrupting! Then of course like any stupid online troll, the Vicksyarn makes his own dumb leap of logic and the Doctor triumphantly replays a bit of dull footage from like three minutes ago to prove a point, much like someone quoting a previous troll’s post.
A grate is somehow dramatic; we’ll see this twice more too. The Doctor compliments Mel on her ability of total recall, whilst we breathe a sigh of relief knowing we’ll soon forget this story. They examine a pod and we cut for like half a second to green-tinged monster cam to remind us that there are monsters on this spaceship.
- “Can’t you recognize that we’re on the brink of disaster?!”
- one of the suspicious scientists.
- “Can’t you recognize that we’re on the brink of disaster?!”
Some old guy, introduced quite early on but basically useless to the plot until now, gets a plant-Dalek gun dart to the neck and dies a silly death, and that’s saying something for this story. The Doctor and Mel sneak into the isolation room and find someone with some muck on her face and this is somehow dramatic. SHREEEEEEAAAAAK!!
Part Eleven “Geronimo!”
The lady with muck on her face asks for help when the suspicious scientists hustle the Doctor and Mel out then explain she’s a lab assistant infected with… well, I don’t know, “stuff”? The Doctor is arrested for being a charmless bore and the programme gets interrupted again following the usual pattern: the Dullard says something mean, the Doctor gets snippy, the Time lord judge tells them to shut up and just watch the stupid programme; this is really getting boring. The spaceship flies near a black hole whilst the programme circles the drain.
Everyone notices the old now-dead guy is missing and Mel finds another leaf while the Vervoids, as yet unnamed but finally seen in all their family-teatime suggestive beauty, are adding to their pile of dead secondary characters we never cared about. The Vervoids, besides knowing how to operate a shower, can speak in a hissy voice that I only understand about every other word of (no, I didn't bother to go back and try again). The suspicious scientists bicker petulantly until one tells Mel the pods contained “giant fruit” *coughcough.* Mel eavesdrops on the giant fruit in the air ducts and get gassed. The Doctor arrives on the wrong set and Mel’s, tossed into the dustbin just in time for the Doctor to make a stupid joke that even he acknowledges is stupid. Apparently they don’t wash towels on this ship, they just throw them out.
- The Doctor
The Doctor saves Mel just in time to make an even stupider joke. The security officer gets a well deserved bollocksing and the Vervoids are still collecting dead bodies, minus, suspiciously, Mel’s. The gas mask aliens don’t like coffee. We see Sixie has destroyed the ship’s radio and then he interrupts the programme again, will this never end?!
But this interruption is telling as hell, so hit the pause button and let me blow your mind with a rather profound and probably inaccurate claim. What we just saw went down like this: everyone’s sitting around in the Time Lord court watching the story play out when something happens on screen that makes the Doctor protest that the images have been manipulated to show things that didn’t happen. Right. Now consider this: the accepted subtext for the ‘Trial Of a Timelord’ story arc is that it’s a metaphor for the programme facing cancellation by then-BBC controller Michael Grade who hated it. This theory has the Doctor stand in for the programme and its production team (mainly JNT), the Stallyard for Michael Grade, and the viewers (you and I) for the Timelord court. Got that? So what do we get when we plug those metaphorical stand-ins into the story bit we just saw?
A broken metaphor that yet reveals a more profound truth. You and I, Michael Grade and JNT are watching a current episode of Doctor Who that’s terrible and makes the programme look bad, so JNT interrupts it to tell us it’s not like this, that these images we’re watching have been altered to make him look guilty. But JNT’s claim is simply not true. is it? He’s broken his own metaphor here, nothing we’ve seen has been diabolically altered, Michael Grade hasn’t been sneaking into the BBC at night and changing footage. The programme has been terrible for years, sabotaged yes, but by it’s own producers themselves. “We saw you do it,” rebuts the Time Lord judge. JNT can gamely plead “it wasn’t like that!” all he wants but it was. “The programme is better than this!” Yes it is, or should be, but no amount of lame protesting is going to change what we’ve seen. The interest and good will of fans everywhere has been killed by Sixie with an ax and a deranged expression. Is it any wonder that by the end of this story the Doctor stands accused of that most Hitlerian of crimes, genocide?. “If you are questioning [the playback]’s veracity, is there any point in continuing with the matrix?” asks the Time Lord judge. I don’t think there is either, but I have to finish watching this story to write this thing; like droves of British viewers, you’re free to duck out at any moment, no hard feelings.
More suspicious scientist bickering leads one of them to club the the main scientist lady to death, then the Vervoids call themselves the Vervoids and plot more of the pointless deaths this story needs to jazz things up. Oh drat, the scientist lady isn’t dead. One of the suspicious scientists hijacks the ship by holding what appears to be an electric drill upside down and steers it towards the black hole, making the shower curtain jingle and everyone shake with little apparent alarm. No shriek this cliffhanger, thanks for sparing us Mel.
Part Twelve “Shut-itty-up-up-up!”
Things fall off a shelf and one of the Vervoids was really blazing it, judging by the cloud he exhales. As noted above, the Vervoid costumes were infamously disliked, even by the production staff, so much so that that in one shot you can actually see them hurling dishes from off-camera as the poor sod wearing a Vervoid costume vainly attempts to escape through a hole in the set. Mel smells her hand and rushes from the shower she just hotboxed. Some listless scenes flashcut to show a bunch of bored actors standing around which the music tells us this is somehow dramatic. The smoke is ‘marsh gas’ from the Vervoids, which means it’s either pot smoke or farts, take your pick, so the crew send in the gas mask aliens - finally, some part to play in this story! - to take back control of the ship and steer it away from the black hole. All of the above took place in about two minutes! See what I mean about the ADHD editing? But then the security officer and the gas mask aliens take over the ship, something to do with mining again I suppose.
- “This hijack is just a sideshow!”
- The Doctor properly diagnosing a slab of padding when he sees one.
- “This hijack is just a sideshow!”
Somebody throws some water on the gas mask aliens, which kills them for some reason, but this is not somehow dramatic enough for the music to notice.
“Forget playing the detective!” - One of the suspicious scientists; unfortunately, there’s still about twenty-five minutes to go.
In a funny scene, they unmask a dead gas mask alien and it’s just some bloke wearing a grill with gold-painted skin. A Vervoid kills the lady with the muck on her face (remember her?). The Doctor hasn’t had a sonic screwdriver since Doctor Five carelessly left it on a bus, yet to make a lazy plot moment move more quickly, the Doctor pulls out some device that basically does the same thing, sigh. After some faffing about, the lone remaining suspicious scientist who’s not the lady one reveals himself to be the killer and spills the beans whilst a Vervoid overhears. He gets arrested, then killed by Vervoids in fairly silly manner.
- “Something must have gone wrong, radically wrong.”
- the scientist lady.
- “Something must have gone wrong, radically wrong.”
The Doctor interrupts our viewing once more, hopefully for the last time, to bicker with the Knackeryard again. The scientist lady is kill by the Vervoids who also kill another nameless crew member for no reason other than… well, I don’t really know, and the Doctor has a daring plan to weed Mel’s garden, ha ha: they turn off all the ship’s lights except the red ones to make the Vervoids retreat, then use some of the mined metal from the gas mask alien’s homeworld to flash some stage lights on the Vervoids that kills them. Look, I know this doesn’t make a lot of sense just as well as you do, but it is what it is. The Vervoids die and get a bunch of leaves thrown at them, which is somehow sad. The Doctor and Mel leave and the Time Lords sit around bitching about the programme they just watched like they’re in a /who/ live thread or something.