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Nobody's Pets

Everything you ever wanted to know about Tetraps

By Alden Bates



No, it's not a bizarre chemical or Aaronovitchian New Adventure swear word: it's the home planet of the Tetraps, the ‘monsters’ of Time and the Rani. Unlike the Lakertyans, we never get a look at any Tetrap culture, and with only one speaking Tetrap, we get virtually no interaction between them onscreen.

That, however, is not going to stop me writing this article.

Bats in the belfry

In appearance and some of their activities, Tetraps are modelled on bats. The most obvious of these traits is that we see them sleeping while hanging upside down in a cave. They show few of the other traditionally bat-like qualities, however - they are not nocturnal (unless that was the day shift); they show no sign of having any form of sonar; nor are they the least bit blind. Of course, there are species of bat which aren't nocturnal, which don't have sonar, and no bat is truly blind. Larger bats, in fact, usually use vision rather than echo location.

Although Tetraps have wings, it's obvious the wings are too small to support their body weight in flight. But there must be some explanation as to how they get up to the ceiling to hang there. (Really good at jumping, perhaps? That's one part of the costume that wasn't thought out that well.) Terrestrial bat wing construction usually incorporates an elongated ‘little’ finger running along the edge to the wingtips, while Tetrap wings only reach their elbows. Tetraps obviously haven't flown for some time...

I Prey

It's interesting to note that the Tetraps have large ears, and four eyes - front, back and either side. They do feed on what appears to be blood plasma during the course of the story, so perhaps this configuration was evolved as a way to better spot prey?

Or maybe not. Most earth predators have evolved binocular vision to zero in on prey, not to mention the fact that the size of an animal needed to satisfy a Tetrap's appetite would presumably have to be somewhat large and easy to spot.

Three hundred and sixty-degree vision suggests a predator of some sort, probably one evolved towards stealth. Perhaps Urak and the other Tetraps in the story co-operated with the Rani under the understanding she would help them wipe out the predators using Gallifreyan technology. More likely this predator was wiped out by the Tetraps themselves, as there's evidence the Tetrap have knowledge of higher technology, and therefore access to high-tech weapons.

Urak's comment at the end of the story that they will have “plasma in abundance” suggests that there is also a food shortage on Tetrapyriarbus. Overuse of a resource? Assuming the predator was wiped out before Time and the Rani, there would have been an increase in Tetrap numbers, and subsequently the supply of food beasts would have dwindled at a much faster rate.

Defence and attack

The average Tetrap sports a number of natural weapons for both attack and defence - the most obvious being teeth and claws. The most interesting weapon is the paralysing sting at each tip of the forked tongue. We didn't see in the story how long this lasts - Mel was woken by the Rani after what must have been a half hour at most, and the Doctor was revived when he was disconnected from the giant brain. Quite probably this sting is used to paralyse the Tetrap's prey before feeding, but it could equally be used as a weapon. Tetraps evidently evolved in a highly competitive environment.

Brain over brawn

If Urak is any indication, Tetraps are advanced and intelligent. He says he is able to operate the Rani's machinery without her supervision, and later flies her TARDIS. Presumably this must be an indication that the Tetraps already have fairly advanced technology. (It's possible the Rani made some improvements at some time before the story, but for the sake of this article, I have assumed she didn't. All of the Tetraps have opposable thumbs, indicating they evolved for tool use, plus the other Tetraps prove perfectly capable of understanding and carrying out orders.)

Of course, intelligence may seem at odds with a race which sleeps hanging upside down in a cave, and drinks blood plasma out of a trough, but who are we to frown on the eccentricities of another culture? The Tetraps also hang upside down in the Rani's TARDIS, which could just mean the cave in her lab was the only place they could be housed.

Body odour

Not wanting to be personal, but by all accounts Tetraps stink. As most civilised and technologically advanced races invented deodorant, presumably Tetraps retained their smell as some sort of social function. Perhaps the degree of odour indicates a Tetrap's rank, or is used to mark out territory in a similar manner to earth dogs, or (more likely) Tetraps find such smells pleasant and may even use them as a means to attract a mate. Then again, perhaps smell is a defensive measure not unlike that of the skunk - no-one wants to eat something that tastes of old gym socks. If we go by the novelisation, Tetraps not only like being smelly, they slobber and drool as well.

The semantics and syntax of Tetrapyriarban

Although the Tetraps have no spoken language during the story, (other than English, of course), there are several passages in the novelisation written in Tetrapyriarban. Translating them would be tricky if not impossible for the reader, had the authors not had the forethought to include English translations.

A typical passage of Tetrapyriarban reads “Uoy wonk erehw ot ekat reh”. This translates roughly to “You know where to take her”. A straightforward analysis suggests that the transitive construction contained in “ot ekat reh” is modified by the antonym of “wonk”. I won't go completely into the complex sentence structure of Tetrapyriarban, as to do so would require more analysis than is strictly necessary for this article. I have however been able to ascertain that the only passage left untranslated by the authors (“Amsalp”, page 142), in fact, translates to “Plasma”.

A conjectural history of Tetrapyriarbus

[Tetrap and Mel]

The following remains purely theory and, as such, may be contradicted by new evidence (novels, audio plays, and so forth).

The Tetraps would have started out inhabiting caves. Doubtless their ancestors were more bat-like in appearance. The Tetraps would have competed for the available food with other predators, providing the drive to develop intelligence to develop skills in tool use.

After discovering how to make rudimentary weapons, the Tetraps would have conquered the land, wiping out whatever dangers lurked there. Unfortunately the elimination of the other predators would have lead to accelerated growth in Tetrap numbers, and subsequently the supply of food beast would have begun to dwindle.

Probably this would have lead to an evolutionary dead end, but the Tetraps, like the Ogrons, were used occasionally as ‘hired muscle’ by more advanced species. From samples of technology gleaned from this, the Tetraps were able to obtain insight into mechanics, physics, and several other branches of science. Genetics was a skill that eluded them until a renegade Time Lord named the Rani hired a group of Tetraps to assist her to create a Time Manipulator. The plan failed, but the Tetraps took the Rani prisoner, intending to use her bioengineering skills to their own end.

Drow Yalp

Time and the Rani is strewn with wordplay, such as the substance the Rani was synthesising being “loyhargil”, an anagram of “Holy Grail”. ‘Tetrap’ was used in Persia to mean a noble man of a certain status. The word may also derive from biological/zoological terms such as ‘tetrapod’ (an animal with four feet), and ‘tetrapterous’ (having four wings), and possibly from ‘Cyclops’. Tetrap is also an anagram of ‘pet rat’, suggesting the Tetraps were perhaps the monsters the Rani created which ate the Lord President of Gallifrey's cat. If we examine Tetrapyriarbus, discarding the first ‘Tetrap’ part, ‘yriarbus’ backwards is ‘subrairy’, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense! But ‘brair’ is an anagram of ‘briar’, perhaps a reference to the story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby? If we examine the ending of Time and the Rani, we see that the Rani is Brer Rabbit and her TARDIS the tar baby... Then again, perhaps this is meant to suggest Tetrapyriarbus is covered in briar? Another anagram of ‘yriarbus’ is ‘Sari ruby’. A sari, of course, is traditional Indian dress that a rani might wear. One last note: perhaps subrairy is constructed from ‘subterranean’ and ‘aviary’. Anyone else care to take a stab?

Walk like a Tetrapyriarban

Were the death bangles and net guns inventions of the Rani, or Tetrap technology? Did the Rani escape from them? How long had she been using the Tetraps as hired muscle? (The fact that Urak could operate her TARDIS indicates he at least had been travelling with her previously!) Pip and Jane Baker are to write a Rani audio adventure for the BBV range, so they may well answer the question of what happened to her after the end of Time and the Rani, and provide more insight into this classic story.

This item appeared in TSV 60 (June 2000).

Index nodes: Time and the Rani