Those Changers of Shape

By Nigel Flockhart

In the ever-expanding universe of Doctor Who we are introduced to a wide cross-section of alien life and culture. Perhaps the most fascinating are those which can change their physical appearance and shape at will to blend in with the surrounding organisms. There are, of course, many that attempt to disguise or manipulate their appearance through other cosmetic or mechanical means. Example of such are the flesh suits of the Foamasi, masks of the Autons and Jagaroth and four-week operations as seen in the Chameleons. Indeed there seem a select few that can simply will themselves with the blink of an eye (eyes?).

It appears at first that the Urbankans had this gift when two of them changed from their frog-like appearance into a carbon copy of a drawing Tegan did. We find out later, however, that they were all androids, so they seem to fall into the previous category.

So does the Usurian Collector who managed a very basic humanoid form through the use of his chair, but reverted back to his poisonous pink fungus without it.

We, of course, have the god-like beings such as the Guardians and Kronos the Chronovore. These, however, are all too few and far between and we never see more than one or two at a time.

The Zolpha Thurans definitely had the right idea, even though the process was mechanical and involved a willing human to bond with. Once joined, however, the Zolpha Thuran can assume any humanoid shape it chooses though Meglos seemed to have a little trouble with this and kept breaking out in a rather nasty case of prickles.

When the Doctor encountered the Rutan scout at Fang Rock we find that it (they?) were specially trained in shape-shifting techniques. Again however the Rutan needed to analyze the human form before changing and had some difficulty in keeping and acting like the typical humanoid form as the Doctor jokingly pointed out to it. Incidentally in this story the Doctor says the Rutan has the 'chameleon factor' or lycanthropy, although this latter word tends to deal more with werewolves.

The Zygons had no such trouble and easily integrated themselves into human society. Their main problem was that they needed to keep the body of the person they were imitating captive so as to renew their body print every few hours. If they didn't the original print would die and would be felt by the captive human. One thing I can't understand is why they changed back to their original form to kill people e.g. Angus or the Doctor. Perhaps they just preferred murdering people in their own form, perhaps it was comfier than this abysmal form! Whatever the reason we find that they were bound to their own organic crystallography technology even if not directly.

The idea of a companion for the Doctor who can shape-change seems to have been overlooked, except for Doctor Who Magazine's Frobisher the Wifferdil.

We have the chameleon-like shape-shifting android Kameleon who masqueraded as the king in The King's Demons under the Master's influence. The robot from Xeraphas was never used to its full potential and we are left wondering what happened to him between The King's Demons and Planet of Fire. So we are left with a good companion with infinite possibilities who is missing from five consecutive stories.

Finally we have the real masters of shape-change who need no mechanical help to eventuate their change. I'm talking about the Time Lords. Just look at the variety of forms that Romana goes through in Destiny of the Daleks, changing forms as easily as you might change clothes. Time Lords such as Romana seem to be able to go through a cycle before they reach their desired form and settle on it. e.g. the Princess Astra form at the beginning and end. The Master as well has used a variety of shape-changes as disguises (Kalid in Time-Flight and his present stolen body) though he must have done this a tremendous amount to have used up his twelve regenerations to the Doctor's three. The Doctor on the other hand has more difficulty in his metamorphoses and, judging from his wide variety of appearances and all of Borusa's old men appearances, it seems that some Time Lords are just better than others.

Yes, indeed, shape-shifters are as much a part of Doctor Who as phone boxes, jelly babies and sonic screwdrivers. It just goes to prove that you can't trust anyone in this great big universe we live in. After all they might be waiting to try and kill you, bond with you, or, horror of horrors, try and sell you life insurance...

This item appeared in 25 Years of a Time Lord (January 1989).