At their core, the Weeping Angels belong to the horror genre. Certainly, they have aspects of sci-fi in that they are “quantum locked” and transport people back in time. But when you dig down into what actually makes the Weeping Angels successful, the reasons all belong to classic horror. They move when you’re not watching. They’re getting closer. They’re getting closer. “Don’t blink” is such a powerful phrase because it sounds so simple and yet is impossible. We know that everybody blinks in the end.
In their horror roots, the Weeping Angels have more in common with another Moffat monster, the Vashta Nerada, than they do with other Who regulars like the Daleks and Cybermen. To jog the memory, ‘Vashta Nerada’ were those piranha-like shadows that strip your flesh from your bones, introduced in “Silence in the Library”. Like the Weeping Angels, their capacity to frighten comes from their simplicity and ubiquity. Any shadow might be a killer shadow. And by the time you notice that you’ve acquired a second shadow, it’s too late.
The Weeping Angels and Vashta Nerada aren’t the kind of monsters that require complicated lore to be effective. In fact, complicated lore would diminish their effectiveness, because at heart both are predators, intelligent, but not complex. Their reasons for killing are no more complex than the reasons a cat kills a mouse. You could hardly imagine a Weeping Angel story with the same plot-line as “Dalek,” in which a dalek absorbed some of Rose’s DNA and began to feel emotions, a feeling so distressing to it that it begged for its own execution.
In fact, the Daleks and the Cybermen make for an interesting comparison. While at surface level they both might seem to have one-track minds bent on supremacy and world domination, we know that the Daleks suffer from pride and vanity, and that the Cybermen in most cases prefer conversion to murder. Because ultimately, the Daleks and Cybermen are monsters rooted in the sci-fi tradition. They are cyborgs, and their monstrous nature stems not from being purely alien and predatory to humans, as the Weeping Angels are, but from being humanity distorted.
The Cybermen were once like humans. In their introductory story, “The Tenth Planet,” a cyberman explains in his singsong voice that their home planet Mondas was the twin to Earth. But the humanoid inhabitants’ lives grew shorter and shorter with each generation, driving them to a cybernetic solution. In that story, humans initially appear to be the brutish and war-like ones, rejecting the Cybermen’s offer to bring them safely to Mondas and instead arming a nuclear warhead to destroy their planet—and likely irradiate most of Earth in the process. More frightening than the admittedly creepy original cybermen was the destructive potential of humanity. For the first few episodes we’re forced to wonder if maybe the Cybermen have a point about pitfalls of unbounded human emotion.
Similarly, in “The Daleks” (initially titled The Mutants), we meet the Daleks on their petrified, irradiated home planet, Skaro. Clearly something has gone badly wrong and we quickly learn that the Daleks have been shaped by neutronic war. The history of the Daleks becomes even richer in “Genesis of the Daleks,” where we meet the Daleks’ creator Davros and receive more context for the war on Skaro. We see the wriggling organic bodies of the Daleks and share the Doctor’s mixed pity and disgust. The story brings to the fore themes of mercy and sacrifice.
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