History tells us that Doctor Who has been watched by several generations of children from behind sofas or through gaps in their fingers. I grew up with the show and I can’t say I ever found myself running for cover but when it comes to creating original unnerving creatures and unique scary Aliens then Doctor Who is hard to beat.
Since it triumphantly returned in 2005 with bigger budgets and better production values there have been a handful of episodes that have without question raised the bar when it comes to injecting a little fear and horror into our Saturday night viewing and these are the shows I’m going to look at this week.
While putting together this list it became noticeable that many of the episodes included are considered to be high points for the show in general which seems to suggest that when Doctor Who is at its very best it is blending science fiction AND subtle horror to create TV perfection.
So let’s get to it … Here are the first five of the ten most creepy and spooky episodes of Doctor Who from the modern era. Every one of them very much worth watching …
10. ’42’ 2007.
A claustrophobic and sweaty episode that presents the story in loose ‘real time’ (42 minutes, give or take). The Doctor and Martha not only have to contend with being trapped onboard a giant spaceship that is crippled and drifting towards a star but also must avoid the clutches of a masked crew member who likes to burn his victims to death by exposing them to his recently acquired heat vision.
42 was the seventh episode of the ‘third’ series and marked the starting point for several very strong stories that year.
9. The Waters of Mars 2009.
When the Doctor arrives at a Mars colony in the year 2059 he soon remembers that in the future historical records will show the entire facility was destroyed for reasons unknown prompting the human race to explore further into the galaxy. The loss of the base and all of its crew is a fixed point in time meaning he cannot and should not interfere … but when did that ever stop the Doctor?
It turns out the colonists have come into contact with a sentient water dwelling virus that turns humans into damp and very aggressive zombies, complete with genuinely scary facial effects work. Think of the rage virus from 28 Days Later with water instead of blood.
A running theme during Tennant’s tenure was that his Doctor is burdened with a strong sense of loss and loneliness, both of which start to overwhelm him towards the finale of The Waters of Mars. When combined with the gruesome infected humans the end result is a truly powerful 60 minute special.
8. The Girl in the Fireplace 2006.
Possibly a surprising choice but makes it onto the list thanks to the incredibly creepy clockwork androids that haunt Madam de Pompadour throughout the episode. The scene where the Doctor hears a ticking noise in her bedroom then notices the clock on the mantlepiece is broken builds tension brilliantly, followed by the classic line “Ok, that’s scary” …
With my personal dislike of clowns and similar imagery, I know for a fact they would have genuinely spooked me if I had watched this in my youth. Children all across the UK checked under their beds that night before attempting to sleep.
7. Midnight 2008.
An episode that met with lukewarm praise when it first aired but has steadily gained more appreciation and love in the years since. The Doctor goes sightseeing on a distant planet, trapped within what is basically a radiation shielded tour bus. When one of the passengers starts behaving oddly the episode takes you into an intense look at paranoia and the dangers of mob mentality.
This is Doctor Who on a maturity level above what you normally see. I can’t imagine it entertained the younger viewers very much but David Tennant delivers one of his finest performances in what I consider to be a haunting and brilliant episode.
6. Silence in the Library 2008.
The first of a very creepy two part story that also featured the introduction of River Song into Doctor Who mythology.
When the Doctor and Donna pay a visit to a planet-sized library they are surprised to find it totally deserted. They soon discover the library has become home to carnivorous, flesh eating ‘shadows’ called the Vashta Nerada.
The idea of a killer shadow is frightening enough but the real terror within this episode is to be found AFTER characters have been killed. The members of River Song’s archaeological team are all carrying personal communication chips that store thought patterns, even after death. On more than one occasion they discover skeletal remains and can still hear ghostly voices coming from the chips attached to their space suits. With every second that passes after death the voices become more confused and repetitive until finally they fade away.
Oh, and the Vashta Nerada also enjoy taking control of the space suits from time to time meaning we get chase scenes involving skeletons!
Coming shortly, the top 5 … when things get REALLY spooky!
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