TV Oh Koquillion.
You might look like some kind of all purpose wheel replacement device sold at Halfords, but you're also the best monster in Doctor Who history.
Across its two episodes, the otherwise unassuming The Rescue was responsible for a number of firsts for Doctor Who.
The first introduction to a replacement companion, the Doctor’s grand daughter Susan having been left behind in the wake of The Dalek Invasion Of Earth the week before.
I’ve always preferred Vicki to Susan, by the way. She's sassier and less prone to abject terror from the simplest of provocations.
The first episode to appear in the top ten most-watched programmes of the week, which really is quite something when you consider this was at the height of Dalekmania.
The first planet visited by the Doctor that he’s claimed to have, visited before. Apart from Earth.
The first occasion the Doctor explains how the TARDIS moves. We’re told for the first time that it doesn’t just land, it “materialises”.
Which isn’t bad considering its overall fan appreciation status. In Doctor Who Magazine’s 2009 survey, The Rescue came 127th.
Which is odd considering it contains one of the show’s best monsters and an amazing twist, which I’m about to give away so I’d urge you to look away now if you haven’t seen it yet. Yes, this is a spoiler alert for a 60s story.
Outside of the Daleks, Doctor Who’s other alien interlopers up until this point had been the Voords and the Sensorites. The former looked like men in wet suits, the latter women in leotards, all wearing under-convincing rubber masks they could barely see out of.
The Voords were thought be aliens using a protective covering, of course, but like the Cybermen they didn't appear without. Even in the comics when it was revealed that they eventually became the Cybermen.
All of which presumably created an audience expectation of, for want of a better phrase, the show’s house style, akin to B-movie aliens of old.
Enter Koquillion, a spiny boggle eyed monstrosity, whose race, we’re told, murdered the male survivors of a crashed rocket and who now alternately protects and menaces the remaining occupants of the ship, Vicki and her friend Bennett, as they await a rescue mission.
Koquillion is far better designed than either the Voords or Sensorites, but retains their slight stiffness in movement and muffled dialogue. But he is aggressively scary.
Watching for The Rescue for the first time, on VHS, with its painting of Koquillion on the cover I had little inclination that not everything was as it seemed.
Because it’s eventually revealed, by the Doctor, who had been to the planet before but lost in a cave for much of the action, that Koquillion isn’t a monster at all. He’s Bennett wearing some old traditional religious dress.
That’s amazing. That’s the show taking what it knows is a production limitation, that the only way to make a humanoid alien on their budget is to produce a bloke in a mask and then revealing what seems like it’s going to be another humanoid alien to actually be a bloke in a mask.
I’d love to know what the audience reaction to this was on broadcast. Were they convinced that Koquillion was just another alien along the lines of the Voord and the Sensorites, only to have their suspension of disbelief blown on purpose?
Note that the reaction of the other actors and their characters is crucial here. No one other than the Doctor in the final scene shows any doubts that Koquillion isn’t an alien in just the same way that they didn’t doubt the menace of the Voord.
Everything about Koquillion is assumed.
He must be a monster because he looks like a monster, which is of course the kind of thinking which leads to Barbara ruthlessly murdering Sandy the Sand Beast.
Which also must to be writer David Whitaker’s attempt to prepare the viewer for what’s to come. He’s saying that not everything is as it seems.
As viewers we take their lead. If we’re supposed to believe that Koquillion is an alien however unconvincing his costume, it's because we’re told to.
Then the series throws it in our faces. It laughs at us for being taken in.
Brilliantly, it’s also a twist which still works and more so because in this post-digital world we have to work harder to see past the cruder designs and constructions of the past.
We’re even less likely to suspect anything because Koquillion doesn’t seem much different to whatever else was being created at the time. The more likely option would have been for the rest of his race to turned up in episode two, or the couple of examples the production could afford.
The danger was, of course, that having done this once, the audience might wonder if any other similar monsters might also have their own metafictional twist.
Except interestingly, we don’t. Even when the Aridians show up in The Chase, our suspension of disbelief is turned back on, presumably because it’s the kind of thing which is only achievable once.
And it happened over forty years ago.