Name: The Rocket Men
Time of Origin: Unspecified time in the far future.
Appearances: “The Rocket Men”, “Return of the Rocket Men”, “Requiem for the Rocket Men” and “The Two Masters”
Doctors: First Doctor, Fourth Doctor and Seventh Doctor
Companions: Barbara Wright, Ian Chesterton, Vicki, Steven Taylor, Dodo Chaplet, Leela, K9 and Jemima
While the Rocket Men are fairly standard adversaries, their ruthless reputation has prompted The Doctor to express concern whenever he has to face them. A group of space pirates who plundered planets for their riches, their name was a reference to their use of jetpacks in direct confrontations, and they were also known to take slaves from their conquests. When he was running supply runs after his graduation, the First Doctor’s future companion Steven Taylor was confronted by a group of Rocket Men, but he was saved by an unknown apparently rogue Rocket Man, distinctive for his damaged helmet, who was apparently shot dead (“Return of the Rocket Men”).
At some point, a division of the Rocket Men invaded Platform Five on the planet Jobis, intending to steal the crystalline insects that spread throughout the planet’s atmosphere (“The Rocket Men”). This group was led by Ashman, one of the Rocket Mens’ primary commanders, who was described as being tall, and large, somewhere in his mid-forties, with Ian reflecting that he was â€œthe sort of man you’d describe as bearlike when he was out of earshotâ€. In the subsequent attack on Jobis, the Rocket Men took various facilities hostage around the planet, but this attack fortunately occurred shortly after the First Doctor and his companions had arrived on Jobis and decided to stay for a holiday. Although Barbara was ill in her hotel and was thus caught in the attack, The Doctor was on a scientific platform after he had been enlisted as part of a project to communicate with the giant manta ray-like creatures that flew through the planet’s atmosphere, and Ian and Vicki were out on a flying tour of the planet when the attack occurred.
When the rest of the passengers in Ian and Vicki’s hovercar were taken into custody, Ian was able to knock out the remaining Rocket Man guard and lock him in a closet after taking his uniform as the other Rocket Man was taking the prisoners away. Ian and Vicki concealed the switch with the goal of using it to their advantage later, but when Ashman learned that The Doctor’s platform opposed him and identified Barbara and Vicki as his other companions, he threw Barbara out of the platform’s airlock, forcing Ian to go after her. Ian was able to grasp the controls of the rocket pack swiftly enough to take himself and Barbara to another platform, but they were subsequently attacked by Ashman, who fought with Ian in mid-air and then jettisoned Ian’s rocket-pack. However, Ian was caught by one of the mantas after The Doctor was able to perfect the communication process, while Ashman was struck by another manta and killed by its electrical charge, this loss allowing The Doctor and others to rally a more effective resistance against the remaining Rocket Men.
Following Ashman’s death, more than a dozen groups of his fellow Rocket Men began fighting for control of his territories (“Return of the Rocket Men”). One of these groups attacked a distant colony, with a key casualty being Ford, an old friend of Steven’s (At a point when he and Steven were still in training). Shortly before Ford’s death, the First Doctor, Steven and Dodo had arrived on the planet, their participation helping to drive the Rocket Men away, but after Steven witnessed Ford’s death and ‘recognised’ one of the fallen Rocket Man, Steven remembered his past encounter with a Rocket Men platoon. Realising that The Rocket Men’s next target was a freighter being piloted by his own past self, Steven took the fallen Rocket Men’s uniform and departed, intending to intercept the Rocket Men after the attack began so that he could save himself and prevent further loss of life. Steven entered the situation assuming that he was destined to die in a confrontation with VanCleef, the head of this group of Rocket Men, but after his past self witnessed him being shot in the chest and fled as his ship’s autopilot activated, Steven revealed that he had actually been protected by a diary Dodo had recently given him for his birthday intercepting the bullet. With VanCleef taken by surprise by Steven’s return, Steven forced him to remove his helmet before activating his opponent’s rocket pack, the planet’s low gravity meaning that VanCleef accelerated to a point outside of the planet’s atmosphere before he could stop himself. Having taken the Rocket Men’s stolen supplies back to the colony, Steven suggested that The colonists name their first city ‘Ford’s Rest’ despite their suggestion of ‘Taylor’s Stand’, wanting to honour his friend but recognising that he wasn’t ready to leave The Doctor yet.
The Rocket Men’s king, Shandar, eventually managed to seemingly capture The Doctor, intending to form an alliance with The Master to increase their own status (The Master being the most wanted man in the universe at this point where Shandar was only the fifth), even if The Master freely admitted that he only saw the Rocket Men as potential foot soldiers in his grander schemes (“Requiem for the Rocket Men”). With The Doctor having thwarted several of their major operations, Shandar had put a bounty on his head, but when The Doctor learned of this bounty, he decided to use the opportunity to find the Rocket Men’s secret headquarters, arranging for Shandar to apparently capture K9 on an earlier raid while Leela pretended to be a bounty hunter who had managed to capture The Doctor. Once The Doctor, Leela and K9 arrived on the Rocket Men’s Asteroid base, a vast ship built into a natural asteroid and protected by a complex defensive shield generated by multiple ‘satellites’ disguised as other asteroids, The Doctor disguised himself as Shandar’s right-hand-man, Oskin, who typically wore a mask and used an artificial vocal box after serious injuries incurred on a past mission, while the ‘Doctor’ in the cells was actually a complex hologram generated by a device in the cell and remotely operated by K9 to act like The Doctor if questioned. The Master soon saw through the deception once he arrived on the Asteroid, but his warning came too late for the Rocket Men to stop The Doctor starting a chain reaction that set the satellite asteroids that generated the defence shield crashing into each other, The Doctor and Leela destroying the last of the shields while K9 led the Rocket Men’s current slaves into a suitable ship and then hi-jacked the Master’s TARDIS to rescue The Doctor and Leela. With the Asteroid destroyed, the Rocket Men lost a great deal of power, the loss of their main base limiting their ability to coordinate in the future.
After the destruction of the Asteroid, the Rocket Men became a much weaker force, forced to steal any ship they could and take on comparatively smaller jobs, such as transporting grain across the galaxy. The Seventh Doctor described them as ‘late period Rocket Men’, while The Master dismissed them as ‘a pathetic ragtag group of no-hopers with delusions of power on a cosmic scale’ (“The Two Masters”). Where he had once vowed to destroy their base of operations, in their current state the Seventh Doctor only became aware of the Rocket Men in this time period as he was tracking a distortion of reality, and was perfectly willing to move on and leave them to their own devices once he had made his observations. He only remained because he was captured by the Rocket Men before he could return to the TARDIS, and escaped with the aid of Jemima, a slave and ‘cabin boy’ of the crew after her family were killed who wanted to join him once he left, and the disfigured Master, seeking The Doctor’s aid to confront another version of himself (“The Two Masters”). Although Jemima was killed in the subsequently confrontation with the two Masters, The Doctor was able to prevent the collapse of reality after realising that The distortions he was tracking were caused by the two Masters having been trapped in each other’s bodies by the twisted Cult of the Heretic, using the Cult’s equipment to rebuild reality as it was, the only changes he made being to send the two Masters back to their previous locations in time and space with no memory of their brief switch and prevent Jemima’s family ever being killed by the Rocket Men in the first place. While the Rocket Men remain a concern, the loss of the Asteroid has clearly affected their ability to be a significant threat in the future, allowing The Doctor to focus on bigger threats even if he will deal with them if he encounters them again.