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Blood Types

By James Grant

Let's talk monsters. Let's talk vampires. I recently read Kate Orman and Jonathan Blum's Vampire Science, and a surprising thing happened: I got bored. It wasn't the book itself - that was great; it had a recognisable Doctor, an intriguing support cast, and even the 'baddies' of the book, the vampires themselves, were an interesting psychological experiment. Unfortunately though, it was the vampires that also bored me. I blame myself really. I went into the novel with all the expectancy one has when launching them into a new series of original fiction featuring the Doctor. I was looking forward to reading one. I had, after all, just finished The Eight Doctors. But I mean really - against Cybermen, Daleks and Sontarans, can anything be considered to be more boring now than vampires?

In the early 1970s when Uncle Terrance first wrote the story that would eventually become State of Decay there had already been two vampire stories in Doctor Who, and there would be another two or three before his story would finally be screened. To paraphrase the Doctor himself, the vampire myth has to be one of the most enduring and widespread (not to say one of the oldest) beliefs known to civilisation. As basic as ghosts, werewolves and dragons, the vampire has a couple of readily and common identifying traits: they rise from the dead to prey upon the living. Actually, so do ghouls - scratch that. Okay, they're bloodsuckers. And so are weasels and stoats. Damn. And in Vampire Science and Goth Opera the vampires have progressed to solids - flesh. That's the problem: for every standard we apply to vampires there's always an exception - as there should be. Take for instance the varieties of vampire in the cultures of our own world. The penlanggalan of Malaysia take the form of disembodied (female) heads, with entrails dangling below them as they flit about the skies looking for (child) victims..., the tierkow of Timbuktu and Northern Africa walks among the living in full daylight without fear only to remove its skin at nightfall and prey as a horrid creature of raw muscle and sinew; the baobhan sith of Celtic lore travel in groups and charm their victims with hypnotic song. There's even an Australian Aboriginal version of the vampire - a tree dweller by the name of Yara-ma-yha. Not a black cape or coffin among them. Some vampires of myth have fangs - some don't. Some are corporeal - some aren't. Some kill their victims outright, others turn their victims into vampires, and others just bleed them regularly or spread disease, and the cupacabra of Mexico preys almost exclusively on goats (hence the vampires' abusive term "goatsucker" in Vampire Science). Some vampires aren't even undead (a term that first appeared to the literary world in Bram Stoker's novel Dracula). So globally, we can boast some pretty interesting variations on the vampire theme. Shouldn't these variations be even more outlandish when we speak in universal terms?

There are cases of 'pseudo-vampires' in Doctor Who already: I consider Axos to be a vampire (the story's original title The Vampire from Space seems to support this notion) - it charms its way onto living worlds and them drains them of all life. So too is the Fendahl. Arguably the Krotons (no, don't laugh) exhibited vampiric behaviour, and what are we to make of the Cybermen of Telos, who rose from frozen sarcophagi to 'recruit' from the living? More directly, Magnus Greel preyed upon young virgin girls for sustenance, and the Haemovores of The Curse of Fenric surely need no further mention.

Vampires are parasites - anathema to the world of the living. In the eyes of the Doctor and his companions they are pure evil. Or were once. Or aren't. It's all become a bit confusing lately, and I blame Anne Rice. In 1976 she reawakened the Gothic/Romantic skew on the vampire myth in her novel Interview with the Vampire and its sympathetic bloodsuckers. The idea was fresh, new and exciting. By 1993 it wasn't. When Paul Cornell's Goth Opera was published (as the first novel in an exciting new series of original adventures of former Doctors) readers were understandably sick and tired of sympathetic vampires. Is it any wonder no one was impressed by the robot Dracula in the Ghana Festival House of Horrors in 1996? Luckily, Terrance's Blood Harvest was also out that month as a reminder of what the past had really been like in State of Decay. It was a sequel in fact. The Doctor returned to the Vampire Planet once more in The Eight Doctors, just one month before he faced vampires once more in Vampire Science. Odd that.

[Vampire Doctors]

The vampires of Vampire Science are interesting though - they're more human than ever, and some of them even want to transcend the bestial predatory nature that has been their birthright since the original Vampire race. But despite these changes they are merely vampires; vulnerable to wooden stakes and sunlight. Their weaknesses are so well known and so rehearsed that their potential alien-ness is diluted, and combined with this new (to Who) humanity they may as well not be vampires at all. In fact, I suspect that when all is said and done Vampire Science is only begrudgingly about vampires and has more to do with what the Doctor does when he realises one of his old enemies might not be so bad after all. Maybe that's the point I've been missing all along, I don't know. I just like monsters; that's all. Good, surprising monsters.

To me it's a great disappointment that a series that has given rise to some truly original monsters and alien races, and reinterpreted traditional stories and myths in imaginative ways has been so unimaginative with its bloodsuckers. Faith repels them in Fenric, holy water and garlic feature strongly in Goth Opera; sunlight is deadly as always in Vampire Science, and in both latter novels the Gothic vampire is a central baddie. All very well for Terrance in the seventies, but as for later versions, well, BJ and the Bear was doing this stuff over eighteen years ago.

If in the Doctor Who universe all vampires are supposed to be borne of one immortal race, surely some more interesting vampire mutations could be found than those western-world versions featured in recent novels? In our own case a trip to an alien world isn't even be necessary. Perhaps some revision is required: crosses, holy water, garlic, stakes and sunlight - all fatal to the vampire. But more fatal yet is familiarity.

This item appeared in TSV 53 (March 1998).