Doctor Who Monsters, Aliens and Villains

Vashta Nerada
Vashta Nerada
Vashta Nerada
 Name: Vashta Nerada

 Format: Television show, Game and Audio

 Time of Origin: Apparently live on all the planets in the universe to some extent or another while hatching from spores in trees, but mostly live on roadkill they scavenge in the dark; only a few worlds have Vashta Nerada who have explicitly resorted to killing other beings.

 Appearances: "Night of the Vashta Nerada", "Operation Dusk", "Day of the Vashta Nerada", "Red Darkness", "Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead" and "Shadows of the Vashta Nerada".

 Doctors: Fourth Doctor, Seventh Doctor, Eighth Doctor, Ninth Doctor, Tenth Doctor and Eleventh Doctor

 Companions: Harry Sullivan, Naomi Cross, Callen Lennox, Donna Noble and Amy Pond

 History: As enemies go, the Vashta Nerada would probably be one of The Doctor’s most powerful enemies, as they are the only creatures he has ever fought in their natural state that he was convinced from the beginning he couldn’t defeat.

 Essentially living shadows, the Vashta Nerada’s name means ‘the shadows that rend the flesh’, the creatures microscopic beings that manifest as shadows to consume their prey, capable of moving in light but banding together in the darkness, hatching from spores in trees. In most cases, the Vashta Nerada are relatively timid, with the species generally living on roadkill - although The Doctor implied that even on these planets they can be responsible for people going missing on walks in the woods or other areas at night -, but some planets feature the Vashta Nerada actively hunting living prey. Their exact intelligence level is unclear, but they are sentient enough to talk by using certain recording devices as a medium, and can be provoked into hostile action with the right catalyst. While they primarily eat meat, The Doctor witnessed one swarm ‘eat’ a rock-based life form - although he noted that it was unlikely the Vashta Nerada would actually gain any sustenance from such a meal - and experiments on artificially enhanced Vashta Nerada even created versions capable of eating Dalekanium.

The Doctor initially encountered the Vashta Nerada in his fourth incarnation, when he visited the literal pleasure planet 'Funworld' to enjoy himself after the recent departure of his last companion, only to discover that the park had never officially opened and he had arrived at the same time as a mercenary squad, led by Amanda Steele and hired by Funworld's founder Georgia Donnely, the team trying to establish what had happened to the park ("Night of the Vashta Nerada") after the last garbled transmissions from the park making vague references to a predator. Although they initially assumed that The Doctor was involved in the disappearance of the original residents, he soon helped them realise that the true threat was in the shadows, identifying them as Vashta Nerada from old stories. Realising that these Vashta Nerada had lived in the forests that had grown on 'Funworld' before they were cut down to create the park, The Doctor also concluded that the Vashta Nerada they were facing had become hostile because of the loss of their habitats and the smaller animals they had fed on in the past. With no way to stop the Vashta Nerada as half the team were killed and Donnely fled in the ship, The Doctor was only just able to save team leader Amanda Steele by activating the park's robots to distract the Vashta Nerada while he materialised the TARDIS near her. However, realising that half of the planet's remaining Vashta Nerada had managed to board the ship, The Doctor and Steele were forced to return to the ship to stop those Vashta Nerada from reaching Earth and provoking their 'relatives' into attacking humanity. Unfortunately, once they reached the ship, Steele realised that she was being attacked by the Vashta Nerada when she found herself with a second shadow. Refusing to lose her final hunt, Steele injected herself with a fast-acting poison before ordering The Doctor to leave her on the ship, with the result that the Vashta Nerada would eat her and thus be poisoned themselves. Leaving Steele’s ship to drift in space, The Doctor set up a distress beacon to warn other ships to stay away from Funworld after an 'environmental disaster'.

Audio - Operation Dusk
Far From Home - Operation Dusk
(Alfie Shaw)
Several lifetimes later, The Doctor faced the Vashta Nerada again when the Seventh Doctor - currently travelling with the Fourth Doctor’s old companions Harry Sullivan and Naomi Cross ("London Orbital") - was called to WW2 London to investigate a mysterious death in the Blitz. Witnessing the bones of a spy who had apparently been killed in the previous night’s bombing, The Doctor observed that the method of death suggested the Vashta Nerada, but the fact that the woman’s cat had survived went against the Vashta Nerada’s usual feeding methods. Finding a safe in the woman’s house that contained reference to ‘Operation Dusk’, The Doctor and his companions learnt that the operation in question had been an experiment by the Forge, an anti-alien organisation The Doctor had encountered in his sixth and seventh lives ("Project: Twilight", "Project: Lazarus" and "Project: Destiny"), using a device obtained from a crashed alien ship. This object, an ‘Oblivion Key’, had been developed by a civilisation that had managed to capture and ‘tame’ the Vashta Nerada, using them as a means of executing prisoners. The Oblivion Key as the means by which this society commanded the Vashta Nerada. However, some criminals (whose only crime had been stealing food to survive) had managed to escape execution and flee to Earth.

The Doctor and his companions found the last surviving escaped prisoner, now going by the alias ‘Georgina Stevens’, who had been forced to provide the Forge with the Oblivion Key that had been on her ship in exchange for safety. The Doctor realised that the head of Operation Dusk, Sebastian Hardcastle, was a Forge double agent working for the Nazis, while alleged journalist Marion Johnstone was the wife of the executioner that Georgina had killed by accident during her original escape. Marion was so committed to the rule of law and consumed by her need for vengeance that she didn’t care about the minor nature of Georgina’s original offence or that the death of her husband had been basically an accident. After using Georgina’s technology to track her down, The Doctor, Harry and Naomi were forced to let the Vashta Nerada kill Hardcastle after he shot Marion, but once Marion died of her injuries The Doctor was then able to take the Oblivion Key and use it to make a deal with the Vashta Nerada, destroying the Key in exchange for the Vashta Nerada dispersing and mingling with Earth’s existing shadows so that they would only feed on roadkill and animals in future. The TARDIS crew attempted to take Georgina home, but upon arriving learnt that her entire civilisation had been destroyed while she was away, the population reduced to only skeletons. The Doctor speculated that the Vashta Nerada had devoured the population during a recent solar eclipse, as they had become gradually immune to the control of the Oblivion Gate and naturally resented their captivity. With no way to take Georgina home now, he offered to find her somewhere else to live.

In The Doctor’s next incarnation, as the Time War with the Daleks escalated, the Eighth Doctor learned that the Time Lords, represented by Cardinal Ollistra, were funding research by Doctor Eva Morrison to alter the Vashta Nerada for use in military or medical purposes ("Day of the Vashta Nerada"). This research varied from engineering the Vashta Nerada to consume defective genes so that they could be used to cure diseases to programming them to consume Dalekanium, as well as using nanobots to 'magnify' a single Vashta Nerada to giant size for asteroid mining, or creating the 'Nerada Vashta' who could exist in sunlight rather than shadow. However, Biotech Dendry had attempted to steal samples from the facility to sell them on for his own profit, his efforts to shut down the base's defences so that he could make the trade resulting in multiple Vashta Nerada escaping containment. As the escaped Vashta Nerada consumed most of the Time Lord delegation, The Doctor was forced to try and lead a group of survivors to safety. Despite The Doctor's best efforts, in the end only he, Ollistra, Eva Morrison and Ollistra's bodyguard Commander Roxita were able to escape the facility by retreating to The Doctor's TARDIS after the primary landing bay was compromised, and even then a group of Vashta Nerada followed them by hiding in Roxita's gun. As the Vashta Nerada in the gun attacked the TARDIS, the four retreated to the TARDIS's secondary console room, but the only solution The Doctor could come up with forced Roxita to sacrifice himself; The Doctor, Ollistra and Eva wore the only three available spacesuits as The Doctor set the TARDIS to dematerialise from around them, allowing it to purge the Vashta Nerada into the Time Vortex, Roxita insisting that he be the one to stay behind as he was the most expendable of the three. However, a swarm of Vashta Nerada had infiltrated Eva's suit before she put it on, resulting in them eating her before The Doctor and Ollistra returned to the TARDIS, leaving The Doctor once again grieving his inability to save anyone from the predators (and reflecting that saving Ollistra didn't feel like much of an improvement).

Audio - Shades of Fear - Red Darkness
Red Darkness
(Roy Gill)
 Once the Time War had concluded, the Ninth Doctor encountered the Vashta Nerada once again when he arrived on Solis Kailya, a planet where a combination of factors including the atmosphere and its position from the sun created a unique filter in the sun that made it potentially good for colonisation ("Red Darkness"). The Doctor’s attention was soon caught when he learnt that various colonists had been disappearing recently, but while the evidence mostly matched the Vashta Nerada, he was curious that these Vashta Nerada were even devouring the bones rather than just the flesh. When one of the recently deceased colonists appeared ‘alive’ and tried to trick the last few survivors into letting him back into the base, The Doctor realised that these Vashta Nerada had actually ‘merged’ with The Vermine, a sentient shade of red he had recently fought back on Earth ("The Colour of Terror"). The Doctor had believed that he had trapped the Vermine in a mirrored music-box, but he now realised that at least one wavelength had managed to escape into the Vortex and come to this planet, merging with the Vashta Nerada to create the Red Darkness, which could possess human bodies directly and draw energy from certain shades of light rather than light keeping them trapped. The Doctor had a key ally in the form of Callen Lennox, a young man who had a vision disorder that meant he was unable to see the colour red and was therefore unable to be possessed by the Red Darkness. However, by the time The Doctor realised what he and Callen were up against, the only other survivor was Callen’s mother, Doctor Iona Lennox, who had already been partially infected by the Red Darkness.

 To help protect The Doctor, Iona was able to provide him with a light filtration lens she had developed, modified to temporarily render The Doctor completely blind so that the Red Darkness couldn’t infect him. Guided by Callen’s dog Doyle, equipped with a collar that allowed him to talk and also immune as dogs couldn’t see red, the group were able to return to the TARDIS, but the Red Darkness had already managed to ‘infiltrate’ the ship by hiding in the lamp on top of the ship, as white light included red as part of the spectrum. Doctor Lennox was able to draw off most of the Red Darkness by sacrificing herself to set off a multi-spectrum flare, destroying their last physical host, but The Doctor knew that he couldn’t open the ship without letting the Red Darkness inside. He was able to buy time by feigning a willingness to let the Red Darkness inside him (the entity unaware that it couldn’t actually control him due to his current blindness), expelling the Red Darkness from the TARDIS lamp by converting it to a blue light filter. Having set the coordinates through touch and memory, The Doctor then provoked the Vermine and the Vashta Nerada into conflict by pointing out how Callen was hardly unique in his inability to perceive certain shades, this limitation handicapping how much influence the Red Darkness could exert over others. The Vashta Nerada consumed the Vermine and returned to its usual limits, communicating through Doyle’s collar before The Doctor expelled them and the collar onto an isolated marsh planet that lacked any sentient life for them to feed on.

 The Doctor encountered the Vashta Nerada en masse once again when the Tenth Doctor visited the Library - an entire planet that had been turned into a massive library filled with every book in existence - in response to a call for help on the psychic paper (Later revealed to be from his future acquaintance River Song, River having accidentally sent the message to a younger version of The Doctor she knew rather than one who knew her). After meeting with River’s archaeological team, The Doctor learned that the entire Library had been mysteriously abandoned over a century ago, the last message being sent from it saying simply ‘4022 SAVED. NO SURVIVORS’, Donna Noble’s earlier search for other life forms having turned up over a million non-human life forms without any trace of humanoid life.

Although The Doctor quickly deduced the presence of the Vashta Nerada, it was too late for him to save Miss Evangelista, one of the expedition members, from being devoured by the Vashta Nerada while still in her space suit, a communication device she wore that was linked to her nervous system creating a ‘Data Ghost’ of her personality that could communicate with the others before it lost all power itself. As the ship’s pilot was consumed by the Vashta Nerada, The Doctor attempted to use the Library teleport system to send Donna back to the TARDIS, but the teleport was interrupted and Donna was apparently killed, The Doctor only just managing to escape being devoured by more shadows. However, thinking back on the message from the Library, The Doctor realised that the missing 4022 people had been literally saved from the Vashta Nerada; CAL - the Library’s controlling computer, simultaneously the mind of a terminally ill girl who had been preserved by the Library’s founders to give her some kind of life - had transmitted them into her databanks when the Vashta Nerada began their attack. Even worse, the Vashta Nerada were able to create bodies for themselves by animating the skeleton-filled suits of the deceased expedition members, later learning to communicate with The Doctor by using the ‘Data Ghost’ to teach them how to speak.

 Having learned from the Vashta Nerada that they had come to the Library because their ‘eggs’ had been in the wood that was used to make the Library’s books, The Doctor was able to devise a means of boosting CAL’s brainpower enough to transfer the 4022 survivors - now including Donna - out of her databanks. Although The Doctor was willing to use himself as the connection to boost CAL’s processing power, River took that position herself, reasoning that The Doctor wouldn’t be able to survive the experience and knowing that he had to live through this confrontation so that he could meet her past self in his future. Although the Vashta Nerada briefly tried to attack The Doctor as he prepared CAL for transfer, The Doctor convinced them to withdraw simply by challenging them to access the Library’s databanks and look him up, the information they discovered prompting them to give The Doctor a day to evacuate everyone from the Library (And also transfer River’s ‘Data Ghost’ - saved in a device The Doctor had planted in a sonic screwdriver he would give her in the future - into CAL so that a part of River could live on).

 The Doctor encountered the Vashta Nerada again in his eleventh incarnation when he and his companion Amy Pond visited the underwater city Poseidon Eight, one of many underwater colonies established after a great flood had left most of Earth’s land masses uninhabitable. Having been separated from the TARDIS when a giant shark-like creature shattered the tunnel leading back to the area where they had materialised, The Doctor and Amy advanced to the main building of the facility, where they were shocked to discover that not only were the city’s population infected by an unidentified virus, but the Vashta Nerada were active (The Doctor immediately noting that these had to be Vashta Nerada from another world as Earth’s ‘breed’ of Vashta Nerada were passive creatures that fed mainly on roadkill).

 Using the base’s emergency light systems, The Doctor was able to illuminate various corridors long enough for him and Amy to reactivate Poseidon Eight’s main power generators, subsequently driving a couple of Vashta Nerada swarms out of the diving suits they were using as hosts by forcing them into an area where he could activate the emergency lighting at full strength to ‘force’ them out of the suits. Having identified the cause of the rift that drew the Vashta Nerada and the ‘shark’ to Earth as the 1940s American ship the USS Eldridge, The Doctor realised that Project Rainbow - a secret naval experiment to create an invisible ship in the Second World War - had created a temporal rift that had drawn the shark, the Vashta Nerada, and the virus into Poseidon Eight. After creating a cure for the virus, The Doctor and Amy were able to use the base’s service tunnels to return to the TARDIS and take a quick hop to the USS Eldridge, shutting down the rift-generating equipment and sending the shark and the Vashta Nerada back where they came from (Although Amy was forced to trick another pair of Vashta Nerada-inhabited suits into entering a bilge pump room so that she could expel them from the ship).
Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
Audio - Night of the Vashta Nerada
Night of the Vashta Nerada
(John Dorney)
Video - Season 30 (New Series 4) Box Set
Season 30 (New Series 4) Box Set
Audio - Day of the Vashta Nerada
Day of the Vashta Nerada
(Matt Fitton)
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Parts of this article were compiled with the assistance of David Spence who can be contacted by e-mail at
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