Understanding Doctor Who Part IV: "Yeti in the Loo"

"Yeti in the loo" is an expression commonly used to describe Doctor Who's approach to story-telling, second only to "behind the sofa" (see Part II), but what does it MEAN!? (I'm taking for granted that you know what a "loo" is, if not well, check out the puerile picture on the right.)

"Yeti in the loo" refers to Doctor Who's propensity for putting science-fiction and horror elements (often meant to read: monsters) in every day environments. Terror begins at home, you might say. Other planets and times are all well and good, but the Doctor keeps returning to present day Earth not only for budgetary reasons, but to make the viewer (specifically the younger viewer) identify with the situations presented.

A Dalek on Skaro is one thing, but a Dalek throttling down Westminster Bridge? Terrifying! We've never actually had a Yeti in a loo, but they've been in the London underground. We've had everything from killer shop window dummies to suburban youth clubs beset by Cheetah People. The new series has followed suit with a vengeance: School lunches used to turn kids into living computers, robot Santa Clauses, diet pills that turn you into alien baby farms and lives stolen by cemetery statuary.

This use of the every day makes complete sense in the Whoniverse. The concept actually hinges on it. We have a our Time Lord and his companions traveling in a police telephone box, exotic today, but commonplace enough in 1963 London. He may be a powerful, almost immortal alien, but his companions are almost all bog standard humans. Not soldiers or martial artists or anyone with actually useful adventuring skills (i.e. professions likely to be played by Jean-Claude Van Damme or Bruce Willis), but teachers, air stewardesses and delinquents. And together they save the universe. Fight fire with fire, with the ordinary with the ordinary. It's why a Slitheen can be killed by a jar of pickles.

Note that it goes the other way too. It's not all exotic creatures in every day surroundings, but the every day in exotic locations as well. It's the reason the Doctor encounters so many cockney accents on other planets, ancient times and far futures. People still watch reality tv on the planet Varos (Vengeance on Varos), and in the year 200,100 (Bad Wolf). They moan about their taxes on Pluto (The Sun Makers) and call you "luv" in the Roman Empire (The Fires of Pompeii). Elsewhere is just here in fancy dress.

Doctor Who is all about that juxtaposition, that incongruity between the familiar and the strange. What a perfect theme for a time travel show!

I see that we'll have to continue this discussion Monday, because there are other themes I'd love to write about.


Austin Gorton said...

Keep 'em coming; I've never gotten into Dr. Who, but these posts of yours have gone a long way towards unraveling what is (to me) Dr. Who's tangled web, so I look forward to more of the same.

I might just have to, you know, watch it sometime now...

Anonymous said...

Part II doesn't actually mention "behind the sofa," but it does make me curious!

Siskoid said...

I don't use the term, but it refers to children watching from that secure position.

naladahc said...

"Elsewhere is just here in fancy dress." may be one of the greatest phrases I've ever read!

Anonymous said...

Not exactly apropos, but the first time I ever saw an episode of Steven Moffat's Coupling, the character Steve refers to a sofa as something behind which one could hide from Daleks. The reference went straight over the head of everyone else in the room, but reduced me to uncontrollable hysterics.

Matthew Turnage said...

I'm just catching up on the blog for this week, but this is a great series. I've never heard "Yeti in the Loo" before but I'm a recent convert to the world of Doctor Who.

I just started watching the show about a year ago, primarily for three reasons: I have a friend who really likes it; I happened to catch a bit of Series 3 on BBC America when nothing else I was interested in was on; the Doctor Who content on this site made me a little curious.

Your recommendations for the classic series have been helpful. I've already sought out many of the ones on your list but it's nice to have a guide going forward, especially since there's one doctor (Seven) I haven't sampled yet. Keep it coming.

mwb said...

I suspect many wouldn't draw the comparison but I will.

Lovecraft and Dr Who both catch on to and work well when you place the threat in ordinary places and amongst ordinary people.

Both will place things in seemingly ordinary towns, households, etc. and show the horror laying beneath.

Siskoid said...

See the Lovecraft connection in Part VII.


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