A Selection of Scary Doctor Who Episodes
Autumn is upon us, my fellow Whovians. The leaves have fallen and there is a chill in the air. Halloween has also come and gone by the time this is out, so it only seems appropriate that we take a spooky turn for this piece. Doctor Who is no stranger to that theme. This show is beloved by many, but it is also retained as a memory of childhood scares. And they are varied levels of frights. From a Dalek shooting down innocents to a monster that preys on your most personal vulnerabilities, Doctor Who can surely find a way to make you squirm.
One of my favorite Classic Who episodes, “The Caves of Androzani” (originally aired in 1984), features a variety of elements that contribute to the story being as eerie as it is interesting. A war ensues between Androzani Minor and Androzani Major over valuable resources on Androzani Minor. It is a long battle with major players in a game of strategy. The plot ventures into some dark territory when The Doctor and Peri arrive, and they end up being held hostage by the rebellious Sharaz Jek on Androzani Minor. Unlike many Doctor Who fans, I did not grow up watching the show, so viewing it for the first time as an adult allowed myself to clearly identify the rather mature and violent aspects of this serial. There are some points where a monster (i.e. cave bats) just comes and kills people as a method of straightforward fear. But the majority of the story has some disturbing sequences. The Doctor and Peri are “executed” by firing squad (they turned out to be just androids), Morgus kills the President of Androzani to cover up his corruption, The Doctor is tortured, and several people die within the caves at the hands of other men.
But perhaps the scariest part of “The Caves of Androzani” is the villain Jek. Jek can easily be strewn as a cliché, one-dimensional bad guy due to his disfigurement and drive for revenge. But he is more disturbed; gone slightly mad by the life he’s lived. The most fearsome part of his character is his fixation on Peri, which is unwelcomed and borderline obsessive. There is a sense of unpredictability with Jek as well. He is frightening because he is a danger to everyone, including himself. Jek ends up getting killed after some redemption and you can’t help but feel a little bad for him. But when he is alive and creeping around, he can easily make one uncomfortable. The end of “The Caves of Androzani” is an emotional one, which finds The Doctor regenerating after saving Peri’s life. And although that is a huge change in itself to throw in at the end of the serial, I was just relieved that The Doctor and Peri made it out of there alive.
Fast forward to the current run of the series, or the modern era as we call it. Shock value is higher than it was before. Nowadays, film and television require a perfectly executed formula for scary that is a blend of writing, atmosphere, music, and editing. One of the scariest New Who episodes, and one of my favorite stories in general, is the Tenth Doctor episode, “Midnight” (originally aired in 2008).
“Midnight” finds The Doctor going off on a trip by himself without companion Donna. The destination is a foreign planet called “Midnight” and the only way to get to there is by a completely enclosed shuttle. On the way to the resort, the pilots are forced to take an unexpected alternate route that has never been chartered before. The shuttle breaks down and the environment is too extreme to allow the passengers to exit, let alone open a window to physically see what is outside. Things soon take a turn for the worst as they realize that they are not alone. A mysterious being knocks on the outside of the shuttle, toying with and frightening the stranded passengers. But it somehow makes its way inside and begins possessing the bodies of those inside.