I have spoken about many of my passions all over the place — from murder mysteries, David Haller, and the wacky exploits of the Collins family. But, I have never really gotten a chance to talk about my TRUE passion, Doctor Who!
Well, that changes today because we are here to look at some of the spookiest moments in Doctor Who. Moments that are sure to send you cowering under your covers should you come across them on public access TV late at night and you are way too young to even know what Doctor Who is. That didn’t happen to me at all. SHUT UP. Let’s get on with the list.
The Mind Robber (1968-The Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe)
Our first entry has a truly bone-chilling concept. Escaping a volcanic eruption in the last serial, this Team TARDIS comes across lands in a void where storybook creatures and characters live and stalk through the whiteness. The Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe finally come across the source of the phenomena. It’s a broken, aging writer kidnapped from Earth. He has lured the Doctor to this void in order to have him replace him under Great Brain’s influence, spinning stories until he is a husk of a being.
The serial takes a bit getting to the endgame. The eerie, stark direction and set design give this story a real otherworldly feel, adding to the unsettling idea of storybook characters made flesh. And then we get to a choice mad science laboratory, featuring a hunched Renfield-like cretin, writing for his life under insane alien tech. It was one of my first Second Doctor adventures. It really knocked me for a loop. 10/10 V Spooky.
The Empty Child (2005-The Ninth Doctor, Rose, and Captain Jack Harkness)
This one is kind of a no-brainer. Due to three very simple words: Gas. Mask. Zombies. Landing in the middle of the Blitz, the Ninth Doctor, Rose Tyler, AND a debuting Captain Jack Harkness are swept up in a crazy plague transforming people which is the very picture of “Kill It With Fire.” This one isn’t explicitly horror. However, it is one of Steven Moffat’s finest turns in the early days of the Who reboot. Even more so for Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor. But, holy freaking cats, that catchphrase and the relentlessness of the episode’s tension.
Doctor Constantine’s stomach-churning transformation is often the water cooler moment of this episode. For my money, it is the Doctor and the Child’s first conversation through the mail slot that often sends the biggest chills down my spine. The herky-jerky, in-tandem moments of the other infected toward the end of the episode is a real close second. Basically Silent Hill: Doctor Who. The heebiest of goddamn jeebies.
The Brain of Morbius (1976-The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane)
Do ya like body horror? Do you like Tom Baker? Then have I GOT THE EPISODE FOR YOU! This episode is often touted as one of the highlights of Tom Baker’s era, and it is really easy to see why. It is also goddamn terrifying. Held hostage by an insane surgeon and his patchwork reincarnation of a Time Lord criminal, the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane have to try to keep their wits and heads about them in order to outsmart the unhinged butcher. A guy who literally wants their heads, especially the Doctor’s.
On top of the icky implications of THAT, this episode also features a mind-bending LSD trip-like sequence that is Ben Wheatley-ish. Compound all of that with the introduction of the ultra-creepy Sisterhood of Karn. Baby, you got a spooky stew going. A super entertaining riff on Frankenstein, this episode could and really should be a staple in your Doctor Who watch.
Midnight (2008-The Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble)
This one is gonna be a yikers from me, dawg. One of the very best episodes of the Russell T Davies era, an era that I kind of took for granted in the wake of the Moffat Regime. I think that way thanks to stories like Midnight. Locked on a windowless van with a bunch of strangers on an inhospitable planet, David Tennant’s chipper but mercurial Doctor is assaulted by some outside and unseen force that has a Sam Raimi-like penchant for terrifying theatrics.
Starting with simple knocks and graduating to full-on Poltergeist junk, this episode starts with small shocks and just keeps building toward sheer terror. While it could use 100% more Donna Noble, RTD really aims to scare the living piss out of us and, by Rassilon, he freaking does. Pretty much the entire runtime. Given extra punchiness thanks to its bleak ending, this episode really aims for the throat and, arguably, stands as one of the best episodes of the modern era.
In fact, Michael Farris, Jr., did a dope piece about it in the column “Horror In Unexpected Places” that you can take a look at here.
The Happiness Patrol (1988-The Seventh Doctor and Ace)
Okay. So, my editor, the wise and powerful Insha Fitzpatrick, has a real Thing(TM) with this episode. It’s always made my skin crawl. To know why you needn’t look any further than the monstrosity pictured above. The episode’s plot is a heady, dystopian nightmare based around a madwoman dedicated to eliminating happiness. Naturally, the Seventh Doctor and the wondrous Ace say “Fuck that” and join the resistance. But then they come across this walking nightmare. God, I seriously can barely look at it. Can you imagine watching this thing altered in any way? This thing is the definition of a bad trip. This episode gets a bad rap, despite my boss’ insistence that it shouldn’t, but that monster design is undeniable. This is the closest Doctor Who ever got to a “Hausu” homage.
(Editor’s note: It’s a REAL good episode. #JusticeForKandyman)
Knock Knock (2017-The Twelfth Doctor, Bill, and Nardole)
Here is ANOTHER episode with tremendous monster design. A low-key great entry into the 12, Bill, and Nardole era, as it is refreshingly focused on a companion that didn’t get nearly enough time in the TARDIS. But along with its character work, it also presented a pretty slam-bang “haunted house” story. Plus bugs! Everybody hates bugs. Even more than that, this contained spookhouse tale really nails the Hammer-esque tone and vibe of old-school British ghost stories. To be honest, this entry was between this story and the Eleventh Doctor and Clara spook show “Hide” which is ALSO quite good and creepy. But I liked this one’s bittersweet resolution and the big ol’ NOPE that is a wooden person made out of space bugs. This one is probably the most underrated entry on the list, but I urge you to give it another look.
The Waters of Mars (2009-The Tenth Doctor)
This special is probably the most shocked I have ever been watching Who. I mean…you can take your pick as to the episode’s most horrifying moments. From the monsters, leaking, feral demons, to the “fixed point in time” dread, this one is definitely a highlight of David Tennant’s farewell special run. HE even gets to be goddamn scary! Faced with the hopelessness of the situation, the Doctor momentarily transforms into the Master and flaunts the very rules of time in order to prove himself godlike. “The Time Lord Victorious,” he states with a chilling certainty. By now, we know what this arrogant godling gets himself into in the wake of his “victory,” and it really is a belter of a turn. This one really blends visceral monster horror with psychological terror as Ten marched on to his regeneration.
Night Terrors (2011-The Eleventh Doctor, Amy, and Rory)
When I think “Doctor Who Horror,” I think Mark Gatiss and “Night Terrors” is one of his best efforts. Almost like a Doctor Who/Goosebumps crossover, the Eleventh Doctor, Amy, and Rory make a “house call” to a terrified boy, tortured by waking nightmares. They come at night with their giant heads and raggedy period clothes. They are the kind of Who monsters that are just instantly striking. This episode took a bit of a ding from fans for being wedged in the middle of the Madame Kovarian Mystery (which, if we are being real, was kind of a wet fart of an ending, but that’s a whole other article), but it is a really solid episode. Almost Speilbergian with the father and son being at the source of the manifestations. If you want an affecting creepshow and you don’t like “Sleep No More,” this is a real sure bet.
Blink (2007-Sally Sparrow, The Tenth Doctor, and Martha Jones)
By the time the Moffat Regime fell, the Weeping Angels had been done to death. But that doesn’t make their debut episode any less chilling. Moffat, at the height of his standalone episode powers, really sells the creeping dread of their central idea. He also makes the most of David Tennant’s limited screen time. Carey Mulligan really rises to the challenge of carrying the episode because she is Carey Fucking Mulligan. Even better, especially now, the Weeping Angels are TRULY and utterly skin crawling. They lurk just off screen, basically just lawn statues that are deployed around the set in juuuuuusssttt the right way. It is nothing short of masterful. The episode even hammers home that literally ANY statue could be an Angel, making that shortcut through the Wal-Mart Garden Center you think about taking just all the more harrowing. *Full body shudders*
Human Nature/The Family of Blood (2007-The Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones)
Full transparency, I know this is a cheat because it is two episodes. If you ever buy me a drink, I will 1000% start slurring about how this is one of the best Doctor Who stories ever produced. But on top of my slobbering fandom of it, it is a truly terrifying experience armed with a dynamite hook. Attempting to outlive a roving band of intergalactic serial killers aiming for immortality, the Tenth Doctor and Martha hole up in rural England, 1913. Soon, Harry Lloyd and his dead-eyed family gather to track them down. They put the fear of god into the locals with their laser weapons and an army of sentient scarecrows.
In the words of the Eleventh Doctor, “I KNOOOW!” The icing on this scary-ass cake is the showing on a true ruthlessness in the Tenth Doctor. He coldly dispatches the Family after their tragic sojourn in pre-WWI England. If you watch any episode from this list, I truly hope you will make this one a priority; you won’t be sorry.
So, there you have it, creeps! A ready-made list of spacey, spooky delights for you and yours. Should you need a break from the slashers and found footage gross-outs of the year, take a spooky trip in the TARDIS with various Doctors. Have yourself a ghastly good time while you gorge on candy. You’ll be glad you did. Be seeing you.