Which are the scariest Doctor Who episodes? This may seem like an odd question for what is essentially a science fiction show. But Doctor Who has never shied away from the thrills and frights, going back to the very first appearance of the Dalek limb in ‘The Dead Planet,’ and even the Doctor’s imprisonment in the Cave of Skulls in ‘An Unearthly Child.’
For some reason, we as human beings (and trees and multiforms) seem to enjoy being scared, be it through ghost stories around the camp fire, or the latest slasher movie on Netflix. And in the UK, Doctor Who has even been broadcast on the Horror Channel, proving that it’s more than capable of tingling the proverbial spine.
So if you really want to know about the scariest Doctor Who episodes of all time, then get behind the sofa, and don’t turn your back. And don’t blink.
The Edge of Destruction (1964)
Right from the very beginning, Doctor Who proved its ability to frighten. And if viewers weren’t unnerved enough by the very first Dalek story, then this TARDIS-only tale was certain to give them the quivers.
Basically, the Doctor and his companions awaken to find the TARDIS dimly-lit and out of power. At the end of the previous story, it was rocked by an explosion that rendered them all unconscious, and now nobody can remember, exactly, what happened.
Tensions rise and Susan goes berserk with a pair of scissors. Clocks melt. The Doctor even threatens to jettison his companions into the blackness of space. But are the TARDIS team really to blame for what’s happened, or has another unseen entity found its way onto the ship…?
‘The Edge of Destruction’ is a chilling two parter set entirely within the TARDIS walls – a restriction made necessary by the show’s budget, and the uncertainty that it would be re-commissioned beyond its original 13 episode run (spoiler alert: it was.) But this ‘filler’ by David Whitaker really embraces these limitations, and ‘The Edge of Destruction’ definitely deserves its place on the list of the scariest Doctor Who episodes.
Horror of Fang Rock (1977)
As the title suggests, ‘Horror of Fang Rock’ is not the cosiest serial in the show’s history. And like ‘The Edge of Destruction,’ this Fourth Doctor tale is set almost entirely within a single location – in this case, an Edwardian lighthouse at night, in the fog, with a killer on the loose.
Of course, in true Doctor Who style, the killer is a luminous alien with tentacles, having crept out of the sea after crashing its spaceship. The Doctor and his companion Leela find themselves confined to the lighthouse along with a highly suspicious crew, and a bickering collection of refugees, who were the victims of a recent shipwreck.
And one by one, people are being picked off – but nobody is quite sure why, or how.
‘Horror of Fang Rock’ is not only one of the scariest Doctor Who episodes, but it’s also one of the most atmospheric. Its sense of claustrophobia is palpable, and this story begs to be enjoyed on a cold winter’s night, with the lights out. It’s truly one of the greats of the Fourth Doctor’s era.
The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (2006)
This two part story from 2006 stars the Tenth Doctor and Rose. In my opinion, it is not only one of the scariest Doctor Who episodes of all time, but also one of the scariest pieces of science fiction I’ve ever experienced. Yes – I’d put it up there with the likes of ‘Alien,’ and even ‘Event Horizon.’ This is a truly terrifying adventure.
And it’s not just scary because of its subject matter (i.e. Satan.) There are some scenes in this story which are truly the stuff of nightmares, such as in ‘The Impossible Planet’ when one of the possessed characters – Toby – is out on the surface of Krop Tor. He turns around to look at one of his friends, and – well, I won’t spoil it. All I’ll say is, I’m glad I didn’t watch this story when I was an innocent eight year old, because I’m pretty sure I’d have been traumatised.
That being said, even eighteen year old me needed a stiff drink by the time the credits rolled.
In short, ‘The Impossible Planet’ and ‘The Satan Pit’ are about the Doctor coming face to face with the Devil himself, and that’s never going to be easy viewing. As the possessed Ood declares: “The Beast and his armies shall rise from the pit to make war against God.”
‘Time and the Rani’ this ain’t.
How could I make a list of the scariest Doctor Who episodes and not mention the classic story that is ‘Blink’ by Steven Moffat? In fact, this adventure has gone down in history as one of the greatest adventures ever made – a remarkable feat given that the Doctor is hardly in it!
It tells the story of a young girl named Sally Sparrow, who’s investigating some strange goings-on at an old, abandoned house – with weeping angels in the garden. Naturally, these weeping angels are in fact silent assassins who can only move when they’re not being observed – hence why blinking could prove fatal. The rest of the time, they appear as lifeless stone statues who bury their faces in their hands – a necessary act on their part, lest they look at each other and end up permanently stonified.
I should clarify, though – the Weeping Angels aren’t technically assassins. Their M.O. is to zap people back in time, meaning that they kill their victims slowly and feed off the days they never lived. Clever.
And if you want to know more about their adventures, be sure to check out ‘The Time of Angels,’ ‘Flesh and Stone,’ and ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ – other examples of some of the scariest Doctor Who episodes. You won’t want to blink during those, either.
Knock Knock (2017)
Finally, if you’re in the mood for another haunted house story, be sure to check out this Twelfth Doctor adventure from Series Ten. His companion Bill is moving into a house share with a group of students, and as if this wasn’t scary enough, its walls eat people, egged on by the property’s killer landlord played by David Suchet.
In fact, the BBC was so committed to creating an immersive horror experience with ‘Knock Knock’ that it released a second version of the story with binaural audio. This means that – when enjoyed with headphones – the episode has something of a 3D audio effect, giving the impression that the eponymous knocks are actually happening all around you.
As such, ‘Knock Knock’ is undoubtedly one of the scariest Doctor Who episodes, for a number of reasons. Personally, I’m still haunted by the scene in which the genial letting agent shows the students around a list of awful properties. It seems so real.
But are these really the scariest Doctor Who episodes?
Well, this isn’t an exhaustive list, and the stories aren’t ranked. There are certainly a number of other adventures that would make for perfect Halloween viewing: ‘The Mind Robber,’ ‘Spearhead from Space,’ ‘The Mind of Evil,’ ‘The Daemons,’ ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang,’ ‘The Seeds of Doom,’ ‘The Stones of Blood,’ ‘Ghost Light,’ ‘The Empty Child,’ ‘Hide,’ ‘Listen’ and ‘Last Christmas,’ to name a few.
But what do you think are the scariest Doctor Who episodes? Are there any that you would add to this list? And has Doctor Who ever given you nightmares? Let me know in the comments below.
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