Dr. Who’s Book of Monsters

Using a nearby fire extinguisher, a schoolteacher thwarts an alien invasion in a story titled “Spawn” by David Campton. Later, in “The Eyes Have It” by John Halkin, a lowly carpenter’s apprentice shuts down a computer uprising with another fire extinguisher.

Coincidence? Probably. But one thing is apparent—we should all have a functioning fire extinguisher handy when the zombie apocalypse arrives or when kaiju start attacking Tokyo Bay or when sea monsters crawl ashore. I’m sure it’ll come in handy.

Fire extinguisher or not, most of the monsters in this Jon (Dr. Who) Pertwee collection from 1979 aren’t defeated at all. Giant slugs, carnivorous cacti, mermonkeys, dragons, interstellar spiders and vampire plants all live to see another day.

The vampire in George Evans’s “The Samala Plant” is actually an eight-foot tropical flower with a single octopus-like limb. It’s immeasurably old but as of yet unknown to science.

Immediately the blood-sucking plant establishes a complicated Frankenstein-like familial bond with botanist, Dr. Bernard Fenwick. It considers Fenwick a father, but is insanely jealous of his affections—especially with his 17-year-old daughter. “She was an intruder,” it thought. “She was the one causing trouble. With her out of the way, perhaps Fenwick would be happy.”

The Samala vampire eventually tries to kill the daughter but things take an unexpected turn. With the girl safely out of reach, the plant’s jealous nature manifests itself in a shocking last minute sexual gambit.

The plant reaches for Fenwick. Writes Evans: “The tentacle caressed his face, the touch so light that he could hardly feel it. Then it traveled downward, stroking him. Fenwick felt the affection, the love, that emanated from this strange being.” I have to admit; I’ve never read a story with such an overt eco-sexual climax.

My favorite story of the bunch is “The Lambton Worm” by Roger Malisson. I don’t laugh out loud much when I’m reading horror fiction, but this one had me snickering from start to finish.

A cruel serpent rises from a lake to terrorize a small village near the Scottish border. The creature was as long as a lane, thick as a barrel and ugly as a baby. Nothing could appease it except for a steady diet of milk and sugar and children. “No one was safe from its endless appetite,” writes Malisson.

The irony, of course, is that the serpent was initially found when it was a wee hatchling just six inches long. It was so insignificant at the time the villagers dismissed it entirely.

Now as a full-grown monster, the giant serpent couldn’t be stopped. But isn’t that always the way with evil? If you neglect it when it’s small, it will eventually grow big enough to destroy you.

[The Jon Pertwee Book of Monsters / Edited by Richard Davis / First Printing: January 1979 / ISBN: 9780416872002]