For a lot of fans of the expanded universe, the name Paul Church and the comic he debuted in, Aliens: Labyrinth, are held in particularly high regard. I personally consider him to be one of the most interesting “mad scientists” of Alien lore.
If you’ve never read this series, you’re going to find this entry of the Weyland-Yutani Debrief to be really interesting! And if you already know who he is, stick around to the end because I’ve also got an interesting scoop that you’re unlikely to know!
Colonel-Doctor Paul Church made his debut in the first issue of Aliens: Labyrinth in September of 1993, and was created by writer Jim Woodring and illustrated by Kilian Plunket. Woodring would also write Aliens: Blacksplash, a one shot that served as backstory for Labyrinth’s protagonist Colonel-Doctor Crespi, and also Aliens: Kidnapped which also featured a similar concept to Labyrinth in the way of infected Aliens.
Plunket also illustrated Blacksplash, as well as providing some artwork for the visual experiment that was Aliens: Havoc. I think it would also be fair to say that Plunket’s work on Labyrinth also finds him held with very high regard by the Alien fandom. I think you’d struggle to find someone with anything bad to say about him!
When we first meet Paul Church he is serving aboard the Innominata – which means nameless in Latin, a fantastic name for a secret facility – as one of, if not the, chief scientist under the command of Admiral Thaves. In reality though, Church was the one in charge of the Innominata.
While researching aboard the Innominata, Church was responsible for the development of a viral tent that saved the life of Admiral Thaves own daughter. And while Church claimed he was working on “spaceborne virus typing” he was actually conducting unofficial and unsanctioned behavioral and biochemical research on the Aliens.
However, Church’s story with the Aliens began 32 years prior to the events of Labyrinth when he was just 20 years old. Born in space to terraformer parents, Paul Church spent the majority of his early life in space aboard his parent’s vessel, the Incunabulum, or planet-side on Genesis Camps – the site of initial terraforming stations. Church wouldn’t even see Earth until he was six years old. Though Church didn’t consider his life aboard the Incunabulum to be a natural life for a young man, he still enjoyed it.
He was interested in science from a young age, having always wanted to become a scientist. His abilities were such that even as a teenager he was able to secure a small governmental grant to conduct research on immunization.
It was during what should have been a quick and simple stop at an unnamed moon to retrieve a time box on the way to the planet RLW 1289 that the events that would change Paul Church’s life – and are considered a very popular part of Alien lore – would occur. This nameless moon had been terraformed by Church’s parents 15 years earlier, and was considered officially off-limits to general travel.
As Paul Church himself explained it “it was a routine data-gathering operation. There was no reason to anticipate trouble.” Instead, the crew of the Incunabulum discovered an unexpected vessel had landed next to their Genesis Station. Though Church would not know the truth until sometime later, the owners of that vessel were “Bug Farmers.”
These Bug Farmers would smuggle Aliens to planets or moons to establish a hive. While these specific farmer’s intent wasn’t explored in Labyrinth, other comics such as Aliens: Kidnapped and Aliens: Stronghold depict humans seeding and nurturing Alien hives for the purposes of collecting and selling eggs or Royal Jelly for the purposes of research or profit.
Church and his crew found the other ship void of life. They quickly retrieved the time box and were about to leave when they were ambushed by Aliens. The crew were taken back to the Hive, where they were subjected to unusual behavior. The Aliens sniffed, and licked and probed the humans.
During this analysis one of the crew was killed by the Aliens, seemingly by accident as the Aliens appeared to be fighting over the human. This death triggered the Incunabulum’s only synthetic crewmember – Judith, a sex synth and botanist – into action. Judith was quickly destroyed by the Aliens in retaliation.
It was during this altercation that another of the crew was able to make a suicide run against their Alien captives, and using two grenades killed himself and two Aliens. The remaining crew were separated and Church was forced into the bowels of the Hive.
Church described the Hive as having a “stomach-turning smell” that was noticeable even from the exterior of the hive. However, “once inside it was intolerable. It was beyond stench. It was beyond foul. It was an incomprehensibly loathsome miasma that raped one’s soul through the lungs.”
And it was deeper inside this “incomprehensibly loathsome” hive that Paul Church encountered the Bug Farmers who brought the Aliens with them to this moon. Their bloated and mutilated bodies were hung everywhere. And despite appearances, some even seemed to still be alive.
Church was hived to the wall alongside the remains of the Bug Farmers, left to contemplate his fate as his “eyes and nose were scoured by the hideous stench, while sounds of distant human voices, screaming and sobbing and begging” assailed his ears. Though unsure of how long the Aliens left him unattended, Church estimated it was forty or fifty hours before the Aliens returned to him.
Instead of the swift death that Church hoped the Aliens had come to deliver, the Aliens had actually come to feed him. An Alien bit into one of the bodies of the nearby Bug Farmers and proceeded to force the rotting human meat into Church’s mouth.
It was during this curious behaviour that Quentin Clark, one of Church’s crewmates, was brought into the same chamber, screaming. And as the Aliens forced Quentin to drink from a pool of green slime that swarmed with tiny creatures resembling tadpoles, the screaming continued. The Aliens secured Quentin to the wall, covering the majority of his face with resin, and he continued to scream.
And after the Aliens left Quentin continued to scream and scream for hours until he shredded his vocal chords and instead made a horrible noise that Church likened to that of a goose. Church couldn’t imagine what the Aliens had done to the man, and he didn’t want to.
Following this Church was left alone once again. He tried, unsuccessfully, to swallow his own tongue. In order to cope he retreated into his own mind, into a “realm of pure delusion” that he was so immersed in that he barely noticed when the Aliens actually removed him from the wall. A delusion he was so engrossed in that Church hadn’t even noticed Quentin stopped screaming until he noticed the man’s swollen body immersed in that pool of green slime.
Too unaware to even resist, Church was carried further into the depths of this unusual Alien hive. However, something his Alien escorts witnessed caused them to divert their attention and Church found himself brought to a location that he would soon realize was the Alien’s “breeding-pen.”
According to Church’s recollection of the event, he “heard the sounds of the new place as we entered…sobbing, sucking, slurking noises…soft, wet meat noises.”
The breeding-pen contained not only the Alien’s own progeny, but what appeared to be an immensely pregnant Louise Clark. In an image reminiscent of what we would later see in Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, her stomach exploded with “children” that resembled the Aliens themselves, suggesting they were some form of chestburster. However, they were depicted with umbilical cords. Were these an experiment the Aliens were conducting to save their hive? If so, it was an unsuccessful one as these infants perished within an hour of their birth.
It was while witnessing these events that Paul Church returned to a state of mind where he was rational and human once again. It was then that he realized something was wrong with this particular hive of Aliens, that they were vulnerable. And that Church could do something to take advantage of this situation.
Despite not being overly aware of the Aliens prior to landing on the moon, Paul Church’s experience had led to a resolve within him to keep his eyes and mind open for information that would help him destroy the hive. He swore to survive, and use the knowledge he gained to make himself into the greatest enemy the Aliens would ever know.
From that point on Church became an incredibly willing captive of the Aliens. When led to another pool of creature infested green slime in a chamber that also contained the remains of two more of Paul’s former crewmates, he didn’t wait to be forced to drink by the Aliens, he made “a show of drinking eagerly.”
It was Church’s hope that by showing compliance, he’d be spared the horrific treatment of his crewmates, and it worked. He went as far as to emulate the Aliens, feeding his former crew in the same manner that the Aliens had fed him earlier. As long as Church continued to anticipate the Alien’s actions, he was left unmolested.
This unfettered access allowed Church to collect substances from around the dying hive and conduct crude experiments on how Alien organic material reacted to others. In particular, he discovered a black mold that was producing a toxin that was deadly to the Aliens.
Church also discovered that a leech—like creature found in the green pools of slime “secreted a solvent-like colloid” that the Aliens were actually cultivating as a form of medicine as part of their efforts to keep their hive alive.
Using the toxic black mold, Paul Church covertly destroyed the Alien’s living medicine factories. Despite his relative freedom within the hive, instead of focusing on escaping, Church became obsessed with his discovery. In such a primitive environment, Church made use of his “crewmates’ skulls for dishes, ligaments for string, arteries for tubing, and skin for forming vessels.”
According to Church’s recollection of the events, he had discovered the means to the bring about the extinction of the Aliens. But his freedom within the Alien hive soon came to end when the Aliens had an expectation of Paul Church he was unable to meet. The Aliens led Church is a cradle constructed of hive resin, and within a disfigured human – Church’s mother.
“She must have fought them with everything she had. Her arms and legs had been bitten or torn off, and she was covered with lacerations. The remnants of my soul burned like a million suns.
My sanity curdled and I quivered and prepared to depart forever, as I realized what they wanted. They wanted us to mate.”
Instead Church gave her the mercy of death. He was able to strangle her before the Aliens detained him, and he was once against hived up to the walls. In their immensely weakened state, the Aliens had to physically bring an egg to him, and retrieve the weakened facehugger out of the egg and place it upon Church’s face themselves.
Despite the facehuggers weakness, it was still able to overpower the equally weak and emaciated Church and force his lips apart and impregnate him. But that was as much as the Aliens were able to achieve: the embryo was dead inside him. Church woke after the impregnation to the find Alien hive had completely succumbed to the black mold.
“The smell of death was everywhere. The Aliens, the crew…”
Leaving the death and decay behind him, Church returned to the Incunabulum, the ship still powered, where he discovered he’d been within the hive for forty-three terrestrial days. After sending a distress call, Church set about using the Incunabulum’s medical equipment to remove the dead and rotting chestburster from within him.
The preparation took four hours. The actual surgery another seven – all while conscious and operating the machinery himself – but the deceased embryo was successfully removed. It would take another month before Church’s distress call was responded to, when a Colonial Marine dropship arrived on the surface.
Though still alive, Church was “an atrophied mess.” Following a long debriefing the survivor was given a “full biomechanical makeover” and was put to work by the Company researching Aliens.
Though this research was seemingly done in a Colonial Marine research facility and using Colonial Marine resources, it was evidently being done in secret to much of the higher command structure within the Colonial Marines Corps.
Colonel Doctor Crespi was sent to investigate Paul Church, taking the position of Church’s research assistant. Despite having tried to prevent Crespi’s reassignment, and an unwillingness to even meet the man, when the two did meet Church was quick to show Crespi what he was genuinely up to in an effort to seduce him with the science.
Though Crespi was taking his duty to investigate Church seriously, he seemed to become increasingly fascinated with the work that Church was conducting and the information he was gleaning about the Aliens.
Paul Church conducted research that included extensive behavioral research that determined that even when given the choice between attacking an armed enemy or an animal carcass to eat – even when extremely starved – the Aliens will always attack the enemy. When presented with a choice between escape or food, the Alien will take the food.
Most importantly though, Church discovered that the Aliens were susceptible to the influence of humans with telepathic abilities, even if artificially enhanced with chemicals such as FITR, “a telepathine that induces a sense of invulnerability and increased mental strength,” which allowed a human to telepathically make an Alien pause in its attack.
Summarizing his research to Crespi, Church told the other scientist that “what caused it to pause was the will of the drugged man. Aliens communicate with each other telepathically. They can sense fear in other animals. My working hypothesis is that they can psychically “see” the minds of men, but can’t understand them.”
“That man under the influence of the FITR was willing the Alien to stop its attack…and it did.”
Despite Crespi’s own excitement of the ramifications of Church’s research, he still couldn’t resist questioning Church’s ethics and methods. This uncertainty was increased further when Lieutenant McGuinness, another recently arrived crewmember who was here to investigate the death of her fiancé David Lennox – one of many deaths aboard the Innominata – confided in Crespi.
Church would go on to demonstrate questionable choices such as walking an Alien around the station, like a dog, in an effort to demonstrate that he could control them and that the Aliens were harmless under his control.
Colonel Doctor Church would go on to further demonstrate his understanding of the Aliens by having Crespi assist him in the dissection of an Alien that has only just recently died. Though the exact cause of death was unknown, Church explained that “too long away from the hive, too long away from the Queen…old age, discouragement…in captivity they just die.”
This particular Alien was just one of five that Church had aboard the Innominata. The specimens were kept in semicryogenic kennels, but when out of stasis and due to how the Aliens reacted to being in isolation and to prevent them from going into a dormant state, the scientist would “administer electric shocks periodically.”
During the autopsy Church pointed out one particular organ within the Alien’s cranium that he was especially interested in. Church described it as the “Aliens psychic receiver.” Elaborating to Crespi, he explained the surface of the organ was “lined with compound cells of fullerite-encased hurlantium.”
Church further elaborated that “the internal structure is solid neurons in two binary fans. Very very dense. The fullerite and hurlantium picks up e-waves and the binary fans create interference patterns from electro-magnetic fields.”
While the organs use would obviously be for communication, it would also “enable the alien to assess physical characteristics by seeing its—subtle body.” However, this sensitivity to electronic magnetic fields also meant they could also be used as offensive measure against the Aliens, and in essence give the Aliens “the equivalent of an ice-cream headache.”
Despite the enthusiasm on display from both scientists, Church did note the receiver was atrophied in captive specimens which Crespi deduced would allow for external influence. Neither the book or comic elaborate further, but this would mean that it might not be such a benefit against Aliens in the field.
It was also during this autopsy that Colonel Doctor Crespi realized that the compounds that the Aliens’ psychic receiver was composed of could be synthesized. It was possible to actually attempt to construct an artificial version of the organ. The problem was that Church didn’t have the structural data to do so.
However, Church had accomplished what he had intended to by showing Crespi off of this. The new scientist’s enthusiasm for what Church had learned, and the possibilities that his research created had engaged Crespi’s scientific interest. He was distracted from what he’d been sent to do. Investigate and arrest Doctor Church.
Lieutenant McGuinness wasn’t as susceptible to the scientific distraction though. She discovered that the Alien research that Church had shown Crespi was only a minor part of what Church was doing aboard the Innominata.
The majority of the station’s resources was actually being diverted to the location known as K Lab, an area that was supposedly devoted to zero gravity research. Completely aware of both Crespi and McGuinness’ suspicions, Church orchestrated an Alien encounter that led to Crespi accusing McGuinness of trying to kill him.
Having stolen Doctor Church’s access codes, the Lieutenant was able to convince Crespi to investigate K Lab where they found mutilated human cadavers, including the still-alive fiancé of Lieutenant McGuinness, David Lennox.
It was then that Doctor Church intervened and revealed his history with the Aliens. When confronted by Colonel Doctor Crespi and Lieutenant McGuinness, Church claimed to be attempting to develop a “viral bomb” based on the black mold that Church discovered in the hive. The novel elaborates that the Colonial Marines destroyed the afflicted hive before Church was able to tell them about it.
While Church claimed he’d been unsuccessful in his attempts so far, his research yielded completely different results – something known only as “time serum” that resulted in acquired infra-sensory abilities, numerous metabiotic, self-replicating brain tissue .
Doctor Church nearly succeeded in convincing Colonel Crespi that McGuinness was a corporate spy working for the Grant Corporation that had manipulated her evidence of her engagement to David Lenox and that rather Church and Lennox were lovers. Church claimed that Lennox was a body donor who believed in Church’s research. It didn’t take long for this illusion to be broken though. As Crespi pursued McGuinness into the maze that Doctor Church used in his behavioural testing of the Aliens, it became quickly apparent that Church intended for neither to make it out alive.
It was then that Church revealed his true intentions to both Crespi and McGuinness, bringing into question everything that the Doctor had revealed until that point. Following his encounter in the Alien hive, Church didn’t intend to destroy the Aliens, he wanted to join them.
“I didn’t survive the hive. I am the hive. When I look the cosmos in the eye, it blinks.”
Though the comic would go no further into the details of Paul Church’s true desires, throughout S.D Perry’s novelization there had been more specific comments leading up to this point. When Crespi and McGuinness had first entered K Lab they had discovered human corpses where “the skin had ruptured at his upper back and twin, gleaming bone plates rose a few inches out of where his shoulder blades should have been” and other corpses that “were human, certainly—but their bodies had been twisted and re-formed, dark knobs and angles rising from breaks in the skin.”
In the novelization, after Paul Church declared he was the hive, he further elaborated he as attempting to create an “evolutionary bridge” so that he could “join” the Alien hive.
“You have the honor of contributing to my research, my real research—what you found back in that lab, but were too narrow-minded to see. Although you won’t be in any condition to appreciate it, you will have assisted in the creation of an evolutionary bridge to the true crown of creation. The pink poetry of man will be subsumed by the black, blank genius of the alien—and the result will be the original and final creature. It will feed and live off of itself. And I will join it.”
Assisted by a jolt of electricity, Church proceeded to coerce Crespi and McGuinness into the maze where an Alien awaited them. Crespi was severely wounded and begged the Lieutenant to kill him. Though McGuinness was able to escape the maze and actually overpower Doctor Church, throwing him into the maze where he came face-to-face with one of his own Aliens, Church was able to survive.
Had Church dosed himself with a telepathine so he could influence his own Alien subjects? It is never explained. Instead, next we see the Doctor he is recovering in the Innominata’s infirmary. Talking to Admiral Thaves, it becomes obvious that the true nature of Church’s work was unknown to the Admiral, and that his subterfuge was still intact.
As far the Colonial Marines were concerned Lieutenant McGuinness had led Crespi into the maze, had killed the Colonel Doctor with her own hands and then assaulted Doctor Church. The recordings all proved it. She was subsequently arrested.
Returning to his secret research in K Lab, it became evident that Church had reclaimed Crespi’s body and was using it as a part of his research into joining the Alien, with Crespi’s body appearing to have mutated to resemble the Alien’s exoskeleton. The novelization would describe the scene as:
“He looked at the large holding tank that dominated the room, noted the minute changes of the form inside. He smiled a little; things were progressing quite well, actually. Infinitely better than his last attempt. The once human form had grown a semisynthetic plate system, dark in color, ridges of bone mutating, transforming, becoming. Spines extended from the shoulders, and he could see where something like a dorsal fin had appeared, perhaps the aquatic influence—”
We wouldn’t see Doctor Paul Church in any further series other than a very brief mention in Aliens: Colonial Marines, which was releasing at the same time that Labyrinth was. In the 5th issue of the series, we see the character Beliveau delete Doctor Paul Church’s personal file while investigating the identity of the figure known as The Father. The Father was a leader of a group of humans who had been genetically modified using Royal Jelly to somewhat resemble and safely interact with Xenomorph XX121s.
It was eventually revealed that The Father was a resurrected Doctor Ernest Kliest from Aliens: Rogue, but given the character motivations and actions of The Father, it would have made more sense that Paul Church be The Father as his motivation in Aliens: Labyrinth revolved around becoming Alien. Alien vs. Predator Galaxy did reach out to the creatives involved in Aliens: Colonial Marines to seek clarity on whether this was the original intent, but unfortunately we received no response.
This small appearance in Aliens: Colonial Marines is the last we ever see of Colonel Doctor Paul Church in the comics. But a different Paul Church would make an appearance in the video game Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure. Developed by Cryo Interactive Entertainment and published by Mindscape, Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure is a point-and-click game released for DOS in 1995.
Despite having a different story, the game featured several characters inspired by and named after characters from Aliens: Labyrinth including Crespi, McGuiness (though spelt different) and Paul Church. A professor, rather than a Colonel Doctor, the Paul Church of A Comic Book Adventure was a renown Xenomorph biological specialist who was recruited by Colonel Whitekov to control Aliens so they could be used as infantry in a coup-d’état against the Earth’s government.
Church was responsible for providing the technology to capture Aliens so that they could study the Xenomorph XX121 in a facility on the planet B54C. In order to finance the research, Church would also develop an alternate take on royal jelly, in this it was a narcotic that was incredibly addictive and resulted in death after two or three months of use.
Similarly to his depiction in Aliens: Labyrinth, Professor Church also conducted experiments on humans that were described as looking like “they did grafts and tried to breed people with Aliens.” Church’s ultimate motivations regarding this research went unanswered, as another character suggested it was rather an attempt to “study the Aliens reactions.”
Professor Paul Church was also responsible for the creation a synthetic Xenomorph XX121 that the game characters are able to use to gain access to the artificial hive being researched on B54C. The game’s characters found Paul Church hiding within the hive, safe from the Aliens, claiming that he “was the first to discover how to control” the Aliens. Though he would try to convince the crew of the Sheridan, the main characters, that he was forced to perform illegal experiments on human subjects, his mad scientist vibes were running at 100% and he wasn’t wholly convincing.
Church soon pulls a gun on the crew of the Sheridan, shooting and breaking the glass separating them from the Aliens. The Aliens swiftly attack and Church uses the opportunity to escape. He steals the Sheridan, leaving the surviving crew to find an alternate means off of B54C before the Space Jockeys (I know, that’s a whole other story!) cleanse the planet’s surface. During Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure’s closing scenes, the crew of the Sheridan consider hunting Church down before they ultimately get into cryo-sleep.
And now it’s time for the “something you didn’t know” part of the article! Prior to the merger with Disney, 20th Century Fox had actually intended to bring Paul Church back. Alien: Colony War recently introduced Chad McClaren, Amanda Ripley’s husband, for the first time in expanded lore.
Fox’s original intent was that McClaren would have been working under Paul Church, and it was Church’s cruel methods in his research on the Aliens and humans alike that would have motivated McClaren to join with Amanda and Zula.
Though the research had genuine benefits to mankind in the way of cures for diseases, McClaren would have abandoned Church. Much of these original ideas remains in McClaren’s backstory in Aliens: Colony War, and though Church isn’t explicitly named in the novel, he is actually alluded to in the way Davis describes McClaren’s former scientific partner.
“Chad discovered that the research was not entirely… ethical. One of his collaborators even had experienced direct contact with Xenomorphs. In fact, he had been held captive in a hive and survived. He was convinced that the answer to his work lay in the symbiotic relationship between Xenomorphs and their human hosts, and what changes were wrought inside the human body when a host was impregnated with a Xenomorph.”
Had I not known of Fox’s much earlier intentions, that description could have – and might still be – anyone. Will we see Church return as Disney and Titan continue to explore the Alien universe? Would you like to see Church return?
Whether he returns or not, for many fans out there – this one included – Paul Church had a real impact on the franchise and I still consider him one of the best mad scientist characters that the Alien franchise has to offer.