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Doctor Who Enemies: The Great Intelligence and Yeti

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A Whisper Man in front of the Crab Nebula
We can't be in much danger from a disembodied intelligence that thinks it can invade the world with snowmen.
Or that the London Underground is a key strategic weakness.

- Discussion between Jenny and Vastra in 'The Snowmen'

Warning: this entry contains spoilers.

The Great Intelligence is a disembodied entity that menaced the Doctor through its puppet forms the Yeti. The villain twice threatened the Doctor, as played by Patrick Troughton, during the fifth series in the late 1960s, only to vanish and not appear on screen officially again until Doctor Who's 50th anniversary year – the seventh series of New-Who. The Great Intelligence (though not the Yeti) threatens the Doctor, as played by Matt Smith, a further three times. Who or what is the Great Intelligence, what creatures can he control like puppets and when have they appeared?


The Great Intelligence is a non-corporeal psychic being not known for its modesty. It longs to have a corporeal form on Earth, usually in the form of a mist, web or slime, and uses its mental powers to further that end. It is able to manipulate matter such as by levitation. It can hypnotise and possess people, putting them in trances as well as altering their memories, and can keep the people under its control alive for prolonged periods. At some point after 1630 it encountered Padmasambhava, the master of Detsen Monastery in Tibet, when he was meditating on the astral plane. Padmasambhava came under the Intelligence's control and was given an extended, though tortured, life for 300 years. During this time as the Intelligence's puppet Padmasambhava was made to create a number of robotic Yeti servants, control units and other highly advanced equipment in secret within Detsen Monastery and in a nearby cave in the Himalayas. The Intelligence's intention was to use these, as well as a pyramid on top of a pile of control spheres, to create a slime that would be a physical presence the Intelligence could use. The Intelligence is defeated by the Doctor, assisted by members of the monastery and Professor Travers, an Englishman on an expedition to prove the existence of real (non-robotic) Yeti.

The Yeti, despite appearing like furry animals, were in fact metallic and had a spherical cavity in their chest where a control sphere would fit. These control spheres were capable of independent movement, in the form of rolling while emitting whistling beeps, and would seek to find a Yeti to control. A Yeti without a control sphere in its chest would remain inert.

The Doctor again encounters the Yeti 30 or 40 years later when the TARDIS is attacked by a web in space and lands in the London Underground. The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria discover that the Yeti, who now have glowing eyes and smaller hips, have been reactivated. Professor Travers had returned to London carrying Yeti and a control sphere and inadvertently reactivated it, leading to it allowing the Yeti robots to come under the control of the Great Intelligence once more. This time the Intelligence uses a mist above ground and a web beneath to spread across London with the aim of conquering the planet. It also plans to drain the Doctor's brain and use him as a puppet.

The Great Intelligence had come to Earth in the form of psychic snow in 1842, where it shared a mental link with Dr Simeon. In 1892 the Intelligence is able to create an army of snowmen, which multiply whenever anyone thinks of the snowmen. However, the snowmen are vulnerable to being melted, especially when those who conjured them into being think of them melting. Realising that snow is not strong enough physically to conquer the world, the Intelligence plans to use a genetic sample from a drowned governess frozen in ice to create a new, stronger ice-based army. Though Simeon and the Great Intelligence share a psychic bond it reveals that the 'Dream outlives the dreamer'.

By the early 21st Century the Great Intelligence is using the Wi-Fi network to feast on human souls, once again using robot servants, though this time they are disguised as humans rather than Yeti and so are better able to blend in. Once again the Intelligence is able to control any human being on Earth as a puppet for short periods, while fully-controlling the whole lives of others, such as Miss Kizlet who had been under the Intelligence's control since childhood. The way the Intelligence controls others includes the ability to increase their knowledge and emotional state, making them change their mind or be more susceptible to suggestions. It can invade people's dreams. It can even make groups, such as everyone on an aeroplane, unconscious.

The Great Intelligence later gains the ability to take a basic humanoid form, consisting either of Doctor Simeon or Victorian gentlemen with blank, white featureless faces – known as the Whisper Men. The Whisper Men communicated either by hissing or talking in rhyming couplets.

The Thought Process Behind the Great Intelligence

Doctor Who is a family science-fiction television series whose success is largely based on the popularity of its monsters, in particular the Daleks. During its original run, Doctor Who's policy was that the copyright for any creature created by a member of BBC staff remained with the BBC, but any creature or character created by a freelance writer remained owned by the writer, which meant that the writers were free to use these characters outside of Doctor Who if they wished. Writer Terry Nation had created the Daleks in 1963 and had used them in two independent films: Dr Who and the Daleks (1965) and Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 AD (1966). By 1967 he announced that he intended to develop an American television series featuring the Daleks and that therefore 1967's series 4 serial 'The Evil of the Daleks' was to be the last Doctor Who story to feature the creatures1. A replacement enemy for the Daleks was needed. The Cybermen had successfully debuted in 1966, created by writing team Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis. The Yeti – robotic furry servants of the Great Intelligence - were another potential replacement for the Daleks, created by new Doctor Who writing team Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln.

There was so much confidence that the Yeti would prove a success that they featured in an episode of documentary series Whicker's World and a sequel serial featuring these villains was commissioned before the first episode of 'The Abominable Snowmen' was broadcast. It had been hoped to reuse the original expensive costumes, thus allowing the Yeti to be cost effective, but the original costumes were considered to be 'too cuddly' to be menacing and had deteriorated in any case. The Yeti returned, after only 12 weeks away, on 3 February, 1968. It was intended that a third Yeti adventure, titled 'The Laird of McCrimmon', would be made in 1969, but then all plans for the Yeti to return were abandoned. Haisman and Lincoln fell out with the BBC when their story 'The Dominators' was heavily re-written and cut from six episodes to five and the Quarks - their robotic characters from that story intended to be another potential replacement for the Daleks – were licensed to appear in Doctor Who's comic strip without their permission.

The BBC, having a number of expensive Yeti costumes, often included one in photoshoots with the Doctor and/or companions, which would prompt Third Doctor Jon Pertwee to say: 'There's nothing more scary than coming home and finding a Yeti on your loo in Tooting Bec'. They would also cameo in 20th-anniversary episode 'The Five Doctors' and in 1995 an independent production would feature the Yeti in a story titled Downtime, featuring many of the original actors. The Great Intelligence, though without the Yeti, would reappear throughout 2012-13 from 'The Snowmen' onwards.

Mervyn Haisman hoped to make a spin-off film featuring the Yeti and Great Intelligence throughout the 1970s and 80s, pitching a film that closely followed the plot of 'The Abominable Snowmen' only with the character of the Doctor replaced by Professor Challenger, the character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in The Lost World, though nothing came of this idea.

Story Guide

The stories featuring the Great Intelligence are listed below:

'The Abominable Snowmen' (1967)

  • Broadcast: 6 episodes 30 September – 4 November, 1967 (Series 5 serial 2).
  • Writers: Mervyn Haisman & Henry Lincoln
  • Cast: The Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Victoria Waterfield2 (Deborah Watling), Professor Edward Travers (Jack Watling3)
  • Director: Gerald Blake

The TARDIS has landed in the Tibetan Himalayas in 1935 near Detsen Monastery, which has suffered mysterious deaths at the hands of Yeti. While Professor Edward Travers is hunting the Yeti to prove their existence, the Doctor realises that he had been to the monastery 300 years earlier in 1630. Yet the Yeti are merely robots in disguise and the tools of a great intelligence wishing to invade the corporeal realm and drive away anyone able to stop it.

Only episode two is known to survive4, with the story finally fully released on home media reconstructed using animation in September 2022. The story itself has a number of similarities with 1957 Hammer film, The Abominable Snowman, which was based on BBC Sunday Night Theatre drama 'The Creature' (1955).

'The Web of Fear' (1968)

  • Broadcast: 6 episodes 3 February – 9 March, 1968 (Series 5 serial 5).
  • Writers: Mervyn Haisman & Henry Lincoln
  • TARDIS Cast: The Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling), Professor Edward Travers (Jack Watling), Anne Travers (Tina Packer), Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney)
  • Director: Douglas Camfield

40 years later the TARDIS has landed in the London Underground. Professor Travers has inadvertently reactivated a control sphere that he brought back from Tibet with him, leading to an updated Yeti invasion where the creatures are spreading a mist and weblike fungus. A small number of survivors in the Underground's Goodge Street Station's deep level shelter are fighting the menace, including Professor Travers, his daughter Anne and a mysterious man called Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart as well as assorted soldiers, with one among them a traitor. The Great Intelligence plans to lure the Doctor into a trap and take over his mind.

The Underground sets were so convincing that the BBC was accused by British Rail of illegally filming in the Tube. This serial marks the first appearance of Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), better known as the Brigadier, who would play the character in 105 episodes until 2008. It is also the first time that the Doctor meets a previous human acquaintance from an earlier story, in the form of Professor Travers. One of the Yeti was played by John Levene, who would play Sergeant Benton in 66 episodes of Doctor Who (1968-75). It was long believed that all but episode 1 was destroyed but in 2013 it was announced that episodes 2, 4, 5 and 6 had been located in Nigeria, where they had been exported to be broadcast on NTV. A DVD of the remaining episodes was released in February 2014 where it became the best-selling DVD of Classic Doctor Who. It was re-released in 2021 with a mo-capped Episode 35.

Reeltime Pictures: Downtime (1995)

  • Release: Direct-to-VHS: 2 September, 1995, 73 minutes.
  • Writers: Marc Platt
  • Cast: Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling), Sarah-Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), Professor Edward Travers (Jack Watling), Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Beverley Cressman)
  • Director: Christopher Barry

In the late 20th Century the Great Intelligence lures Victoria back to Detsen Monastery. 15 years later she is the Vice Chancellor of NeWorld University, which purports to offer spiritual guidance and garish clothing to the young, promising them a New World is coming. This is actually a front for the Great Intelligence, which has brainwashed and enslaved them all through the computers the students use as part of their studies as well as the headphones they wear. The Great Intelligence is missing only one thing to succeed in its plan for world domination – it lost the 'Locus' years earlier when it was defeated in the Underground. It believes the Locus is in the Brigadier's possession.

Can the Brigadier, Sarah-Jane Smith and the Brigadier's daughter Kate defeat the Intelligence, which has taken control of Travers and a misguided Victoria?

During the wilderness years without Doctor Who a number of fans made independent Doctor Who-related projects, with this one of the best. It stars several Doctor Who alumni, including John Leeson in a small role, and created the character of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, who has since regularly appeared in the BBC series. In fact in an interview with Starbust Magazine, Gary Russell, script-editor on The Sarah-Jane Adventures, said that they asked to include a clip of Downtime in the BBC Doctor Who spin-off series, only to be denied permission. While faithful to the original stories featuring the Yeti, one curious addition means that when a control sphere comes into contact with a human, they are turned into a Yeti and come under the Intelligence's control.

'The Snowmen' (2012 Christmas Special)

  • Broadcast: 25 December, 2012 – (New Who series 7 seventh episode – second Christmas Special)
  • Cast: The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith), Clara Oswin Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman), Dr Simeon (Richard E Grant), Strax (Dan Starkey), Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart), The Great Intelligence (Sir Ian McKellen)
  • Writer: Steven Moffat
  • Director: Saul Metzstein

The Doctor, devastated following the loss of Amy and Rory, has travelled back to London in 1892 and announced he will no longer save the universe. Despite wanting to retreat from the world, with only the Paternoster Gang for company, he encounters an ideal companion. Meanwhile in a cloud-free sky what appears to be snow, but is psychic, falls. This is being collected by Dr Simeon who, 50 years earlier had encountered psychic snow as a lonely boy, when his snowman first started talking to and agreeing with him. Snowmen start coming to life, threatening the double-life of barmaid/governess Clara Oswald. Is there an Intelligence at work? And how will it be able to conquer the world with an army of snow?

'The Snowmen' pitted the Doctor against Dr Simeon, played by Richard E Grant, who had previously played the Doctor twice: in online web drama 'Scream of the Shalka' (2003) and Doctor Who's Red Nose Day spoof 'The Curse of Fatal Death' (1999). Like the spoof, this was written by Steven Moffat. The story in part was inspired by a storyline pitched by Douglas Adams back in the 1970s titled 'The Doctor Retires'.

The Bells of Saint John (2013)

  • Broadcast: 30 March, 2013 – (New Who series 7 episode 6 (the eighth episode including two Christmas specials)
  • Cast: The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith), Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman), Miss Kizlet (Celia Imrie), The Great Intelligence (Richard E Grant)
  • Writer: Steven Moffat
  • Director: Colm McCarthy

Following Clara's second death the Doctor has become a mediæval monk in 1207, when the TARDIS phone rings. Clara, an impossible girl in the 21st Century, is phoning as she is experiencing problems with the Wi-Fi and has been given the Doctor's number from a woman in a shop. They soon discover that there is something lurking in the Wi-Fi, a Great Intelligence that is uploading and feasting on human souls like a spider in the web, using 'spoonhead' base servers that can telepathically disguise themselves as people and blend in by repeating phrases said to them.

The Name of the Doctor (2013)

  • Broadcast: 18 May, 2013 – (New Who series 7 episode 13 (the 15th and final episode including the two Christmas specials)
  • Cast: The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith), Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman), River Song (Alex Kingston), The Great Intelligence (Richard E Grant), Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart), Strax (Dan Starkey) and introducing The War Doctor (John Hurt)
  • Writer: Steven Moffat
  • Director: Saul Metstein

After the Paternoster Gang learn in 1893 that the Great Intelligence knows that 'the Doctor has a secret he will take to the grave, and it is discovered', they warn Clara and the ghost of River Song via a 'conference call' dream across time and space. The Great Intelligence controls blank top-hat-wearing apparitions called Whisper Men and they attack during this. The Doctor travels to the one place he cannot go, the planet Trenzalore, where he is buried, to rescue Madame Vastra, Strax and Jenny from the Great Intelligence. The Intelligence plans revenge across all the Doctor's life and plans to use the Doctor's time stream, found at his tomb, to rewrite every moment of the Doctor's life. There, around his grave and as the Doctor's life is rewritten, the mystery of the Impossible Girl is revealed.

Nebula image courtesy of NASA

1They would not reappear in Doctor Who until 1972, after all efforts to interest producers in an American television series featuring them had been exhausted.2The only female character in the story.3Deborah's father. Deborah was so close to her father she even called her autobiography Daddy's Girl.4This was first released on the Troughton Years VHS in 1991 and Lost In Time DVD in 2004.5Episode 3 had initially been located but was stolen soon after.

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