The Fantasy Review’s list of 11 Most Terrifying Episodes of Doctor Who Since 2005.
#11 – The Unquiet Dead
This list of the 11 most terrifying episodes of Doctor Who was planned well before the 60th Anniversary episodes aired, as I was not expecting what we saw in Wild Blue Yonder… But, I did not want to remove this excellent episode from the list.
The Unquiet Dead is the third episode of the first series of Doctor Who when it was brought back by Russell T Davies in 2005. After a couple of introductory episodes (one in the present-day and one set in the future), the 9th Doctor and Rose went back in time to see Charles Dickens for one of the most horrifying episodes.
As a kid, this episode scared me a lot, especially with the weird ghost-things screaming and reanimating corpses. I think the element that makes this episode continue to stand up over time is how the Victorian setting adds to the horror. The gas lamps are essential to the plot, with light literally being a vessel for evil (in the gas) or threatened by it (with candles going out).
Without a doubt, The Unquiet Dead set the tone for many of the horror-based episodes to come.
#10 – Wild Blue Yonder
Some might argue that this 60th Anniversary episode was not terrifying, but I say if David Tennant doing the exorcist thing or Donna having two knees doesn’t freak you out even a little bit, I don’t know what is wrong with you!
Wild Blue Yonder was Davies back at his best, with a simple premise of just having the 14th Doctor and Donna exploring the mystery of an eerily silent spaceship at the edge of the universe. Reminiscent of Midnight, many of us fans of that episode will have felt its tremors reverberate through Wild Blue Yonder.
#9 – World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls
The season 10 finale was a fantastic end to one of my favourite seasons of Doctor Who, but it was terrifying. The cybermen were brought back, but not the flashy, shiny ones we have gotten used to seeing, rather we got the Mondasian cybermen.
These villains originate all the way back to William Hartnell’s days in the role as the Doctor, and were the scariest version by miles. The cloth faces and human-like movements made their creation all the more terrifying for viewers.
We are confronted with this awful reality when the Master has Bill Potts turned into one of the cybermen, while keeping her mind intact. She has no idea what has happened to her. It’s chilling, tragic, and will go down as one of the most terrifying episodes of Doctor Who ever, in addition to one of the best cybermen stories too.
#8 – Night Terrors
This is one of those stories that will terrify children the most. It’s an episode about monsters in the wardrobe, and this time they are real.
The 11th Doctor has to save a child and his father from a creepy doll, and even as an adult Night Terrors has me wanting to check the wardrobe before I go to sleep! Doctor Who does what it does best when flirting with horror, bringing small, relatable fears from our lives and exploring them.
#7 – The Waters of Mars
I was a child when this episode aired and it freaked me out! I hadn’t even seen Shaun of the Dead at this point, and was very unused to being properly scared by TV and film, so Waters of Mars was certainly a shock to the system!
Pulling inspiration from some of the best sci-fi horror stories, this episode pits the 10th Doctor against people turned into zombie-like monsters by contaminated water. It is one of the best episodes from David Tennant’s final days in the role (until he came back in 2023!) and felt like one last scare from Russel T Davies before he bade us all goodbye (until he also came back in 2023!).
#6 – Blink
The weeping angels are the most terrifying monsters from this new era of Doctor Who, and their debut episode, Blink, was an interesting experiment. We see very little of the Doctor, but instead follow Sally Sparrow as she is hunted by the weeping angels. Her only guiding light are some weird DVDs (remember when they were a new, exciting thing?) made by the Doctor.
Since this episode, we haven’t seen the weeping angels at their best in any of the future episodes (The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone came close), but I hope we do because these statues that move only when you are not looking digs deep into the subconscious. We are terrified by the unknown, and if we can’t see it move then we never know when the danger is coming.
#5 – The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit
In Russell T Davies’ second series as Doctor Who showrunner, he wanted to take us away from Earth and into space. There he could continue to terrify us but in more unknown and isolated places.
In comes one of the best two-parters in Doctor Who, The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit. I remember being freaked out by the symbols on that guy’s face and the possession of the Ood by whatever dark power was lurking under the surface of the planet.
It was almost a shame that we actually came face-to-face with the villain at the end, as it took some of the mystery away, but otherwise this is definitely one of the most terrifying episodes of Doctor Who.
#4 – The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances
Who doesn’t remember this one? “Are you my mummy?” God, I hope not.
Not only did this episode serve as Steven Moffat’s fantastic debut on the show, and the introduction of the fantastic Captain Jack Harkness, it also became a cultural phenomenon. Everyone knows those creepy lines, spoken in monotone by the little boy through the letterbox.
I’m getting shivers just thinking about it.
The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances is one of the most iconic stories in Doctor Who, and one of the scariest. The Blitz setting adds to the confusion and horror, and those masks that grow out of people’s faces… This story traumatised a lot of kids and adults and cemented a love for the show in little me, who loved the thrill of being scared to death by Doctor Who!
#3 – Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead
Speaking of being scared to death, Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead had me avoiding shadows as much as possible for months after watching the episodes! “Hey! Who turned out the lights?” still rings a terrifying tone in my mind when I think about it.
I believe this is yet another story by Moffat who at this point in time seemed like his main goal was to give the children of the world nightmares for the rest of their lives. He would then go on to lead a whimsical, fairytale-esque era of Doctor Who with Matt Smith in the main role, so maybe he got all that creepiness out of his system in these first few years on the show?
#2 – The Girl in the Fireplace
Some of you might be surprised to see The Girl in the Fireplace rank this high on this list of the 11 Most Terrifying Episodes of Doctor Who but to this day I can’t have a ticking clock in my bedroom. For years as a kid I would lie there in bed terrified, absolutely sure the ticking of my bedside clock was actually one of those machines with the regency era masks under my bed, waiting to murder me.
The lasting impact the horror elements of this episode have had on me, and my love for this wonderful, magical episode, are the reasons it ranks at the number 2 spot on this list.
#1 – Midnight
This is the only episode of Doctor Who I stopped watching live as it came out and never came back to until years later. I wasn’t even in secondary school yet!
I watched it a few years later and it still scared me, but I have grown to love it more and more over the years, especially as I have fallen more in love with the horror genre as a whole. This premise is so simple, yet so effective.
There is a reason that Midnight is one of the most talked about Doctor Who episodes when people are picking their favourites. This is the Doctor pitted against a malevolent being he knows nothing about and technically never defeats. We still know nothing about what it was that knocked on the transport vehicle, and I hope we never do; it’s the unknown that will keep this episode as terrifying as it is, even when rewatching for the tenth time.
What do you think?
Let me know in the comments what you think of this list and what you might add or remove!