Can we talk about these horrifying Doctor Who episodes that should not have aired at 6pm?
‘Are you my mummy?’ haunts my nightmares to this day
I was the kind of Doctor Who fan who was able to sell about 50 Doctor Who action figures for over £100 in 2015, so make of that what you will. I loved Doctor Who so much in its early revival hey day, and will always stay engaged with it today even when I think the standard has slipped so severely because I’m nostalgic for the reverence I held for it when I was a kid. I think a major part of what made me such a fan was that Doctor Who was (and to its credit, mostly still is) a show that never patronised its young audience despite the fact it was a family show. The scariest episodes of Doctor Who brought with them some terrifying telly, all airing on prime time BBC One before it even got to 7pm.
With that in mind, here’s a look back on some of the most terrifying ones that still get me shuddering despite being a fully grown adult.
The Unquiet Dead
In the revived season one, the third episode The Unquiet Dead was the Doctor and Rose’s first trip to the past – and it’s harrowing. The plot centres around a trip to Victorian era Cardiff and a funeral parlour where the corpses won’t stay dead. It’s eerie and gothic, there’s a seance and a scene where the ghostly alien race of Gelth possess the corpses and become an army of zombies that trap the Doctor and Rose behind a gate in a scary basement. This aired in 2005 when I was nine. NINE.
The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances
In this World War II era two parter, the Doctor and Rose are in London as the Blitz rages on and the streets are being terrorised by a gas mask wearing child that repeatedly asks “are you my mummy?” Honestly? Petrifying. The empty child on his own is scary enough – sing-song voice, slowly but menacingly following you and then to find out if he touches you you sprout your own gas mask fused face and die? Hell. A FAMILY SHOW!?!?
Another harrowing zombie contribution comes in the form of New Earth. Most of this episode is unthreatening, the gleaming and hyper futuristic hospital that the Doctor and Rose visit is a bit too clinical but most things seem in order. Until you go down to the basement and see the hundreds of thousands of people the nurses keep in tubes and inject with disease to test on. And then they all get releases and chase you down and if they touch you you explode into a ball of pus. Now we’re back in Doctor Who scariest episodes territory.
The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit
This two parter is honestly a horror film. From start to finish. It’s three parts Alien, one part Event Horizon. It’s sci-fi horror on the grandest scale, and centres around the actual DEVIL possessing the architect Toby Zedd and then slowly making the docile Ood race into a murderous army. As the planet and space station the episodes are set on orbits and eventually plummets into a black hole. Possessed Toby’s maniacal eyes and smile haunt me daily.
Human Nature / The Family of Blood
Scarecrow minions that look this terrifying? Yep. Pure evil. Never walking past a field again without looking over my shoulder.
Probably the most famous of all the Doctor Who scariest episodes is Blink, a “doctor-lite” episode that centres around a then-unknown Carey Mulligan facing off against statues that move when you stop looking at them, fast enough to kill you if you so much as blink. Blink is a showcase of how Doctor Who can focus on a tiny necessity like a simple blink and make a terrifying and honestly classic horror feature from it. The slight movements of the Weeping Angels when out of view only increase the terror, and it’s power to fright remains strong today.
Midnight is an understated exercise in the terror of the unknown. Since the shark didn’t work properly in Jaws, forcing Spielberg to make a shark-lite film that relied on the fear of what you didn’t see to scare its audiences, horror has been as much about what you don’t see as what you do. We never even learn the name of the threatening presence that possesses Sky Silvestry in Midnight – it’s simply known as the Midnight Entity. All it does is mimic and possess, but the hysteria and mob mentality it manages to cause make Midnight an episode that deeply unsettles and scares long after the credits stop rolling.
The Waters of Mars
All the possessed space crew of the water virus known as the Flood need to be terrifying is a cracked mouth and water pouring from every orifice and I’m honestly so unsettled. This episode is so frightening and dark, with the threat of the possessed crew just steadily increasing and the chilling visuals of them dripping in water and staring open mouthed and wet being enough to unnerve anyone. Couple that with the episode ending with a bleak suicide and you’ve got one that seems so adult in theme it’s honestly hard to grasp what we really made of it as kids. If anything, at least I remembered it as unforgettable.
All the scariest episodes of Doctor Who are streaming now on Netflix and BBC iPlayer. For all the latest Netflix news, drops and memes like The Holy Church of Netflix on Facebook.