Doctor Who cliffhangers have become the stuff of legend in the show’s 58 year history. We look back at some of the most mind-bending moments.
5) The Space Museum, part one
In ‘The Space Museum,’ the Doctor and his friends “jump a time track,” meaning that they arrive on the planet Xeros without properly arriving. This results in their glimpsing into their own future, in which they seem themselves displayed as museum exhibits. Does that make sense?
Probably not, and to be honest there are still some people debating what it really means to “jump a time track” (leave your answers down below.) But the plot point did make for one of the first truly mind-bending Doctor Who cliffhangers when the Doctor – having already arrived on Xeros – then arrives “properly,” and a chilling montage of events shows time rapidly catching up with him. And the exhibits disappear.
If this all sounds clumsily-explained, forgive me. You might have to watch the episode yourself to fully grasp it.
4) Kinda, part three
‘Kinda’ part three has one of those Doctor Who cliffhangers that is unashamedly ambiguous. Even the Doctor’s new friend Todd expresses confusion as she and the Doctor witness a cataclysmic event that appears to show the destruction of an entire civilisation on the planet Deva Loka.
But this event was merely a psychic projection, which begs the question: was it the future or the past? It turns out both, such is the cyclical nature of the Kinda people’s endless battle with the Mara, the snake-like baddie from this story; the vision was both a sign of things to come, and a record of what had previously happened.
And like all good Doctor Who cliffhangers, this one was as chilling as it was confusing, with a haunting soundtrack evocative of such movies as 2001: A Space Odyssey. As events escalate, an anachronistic alarm clock strikes midnight, the bell rings, and the Doctor declares: “It’s the end of everything!”
Aha. The Doctor and Todd then snap out of their vision and return to the woman who gave it to them (Panna.) But she is now dead, and her soul has passed into the body of a young girl (Karuna.)
You might need to watch this one a few times…
3) Village of the Angels
Doctor Who: Flux had many mic-drop moments, and the ending of its fourth chapter – ‘Village of the Angels’ – was no exception. And like many Doctor Who cliffhangers, it raised more questions than it answered. Which is good; you need to encourage people to tune in next week!
In the episode, the Doctor’s old enemies the Weeping Angels reveal that they have set an elaborate trap for the hapless Time Lord. This results in her being recalled to the mysterious Division (first mentioned in ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’) and then, strangely, being turned into a Weeping Angel.
Quite why this is, we have yet to find out. At the time of writing, there are still two episodes of Doctor Who: Flux to go, so it’s anyone’s guess as to why the Doctor was turned to stone, and how she is going to break free. Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
2) A Good Man Goes to War
We always knew that a game-changing revelation was coming up in ‘A Good Man Goes to War,’ and this one didn’t disappoint. But unlike some Doctor Who cliffhangers, fans had a modicum of foreknowledge; they knew that the identity of the mysterious River Song was coming up in this episode, and some canny fans had already figured out who she was.
But for the most part, the revelation that River Song was the daughter of companions Amy and Rory was a shocking one, and made for one of the most mind-bending Doctor Who cliffhangers of all time. Fans could look back on previous episodes with a new perspective; all along, River Song knew that she was talking to her children, but never let on.
And even for those fans who had sussed it before the reveal, few could argue with the cleverness of its execution. Amy and Rory’s daughter was called Melody Pond, and her name had been stitched onto a piece of fabric in the language of the people of the Gamma Forests. But the people of the Forests didn’t have a word for pond, because the only water in the forest was the river. So when the TARDIS translator finally kicked in, the ‘alternative’ name appeared – River Song.
And unlike most Doctor Who cliffhangers, this one would have no quick resolution. Viewers would have to wait several months until the next episode, as Series Six was a split season, sweetie.
1) The Stolen Earth
It’s fair to say that no one saw the end of ‘The Stolen Earth’ coming. In a first for Doctor Who cliffhangers, the Doctor is actually exterminated by a Dalek, moments before he can be reunited with his companion Rose.
As he lies dying on the floor, his old friend Captain Jack appears, and urges the others to get the Doctor into the TARDIS.
And this is when the mind-melting really begins. As the Doctor flails on the floor of his machine, his hand begins to glow with regeneration energy. Jack orders everyone to stand back, and the Doctor grimaces. “I’m sorry,” he whispers. “It’s too late. I’m regenerating!” The Doctor then throws his arms back and starts to change.
And as jaws across the country slackly dropped, the nation was poised to find out how the Doctor was going to get out of this one. Had the BBC managed to cast a new Doctor without telling anyone? Was David Tennant really leaving? The response to this ending was immense, and this was one of the few Doctor Who cliffhangers that led to a significant rise in ratings. Some 10.57 million people tuned in to the following episode ‘Journey’s End,’ which took a whopping 45.9% share of the TV audience.
But, as you probably know, this wasn’t quite the end of David Tennant’s time in the good ship TARDIS. But it made for an excellent cliffhanger, and one of the most memorable in the series’ history.
Which is your favourite of the Doctor Who cliffhangers? Can you think of any that are missing from this list? Let me know in the comments below.
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