Doctor Who has been on (and off) the air since 1963, and in that time, our Gallifreyan friend has made a few enemies. Although some of these adversaries made us shiver throughout an episode, a few of them genuinely disturbed our dreams for days, weeks and years to come.
For the 10th in our series of 31 posts for the 31 days of Halloween, we traveled the Time Vortex to bring you a few.
Doctor Who fans call the show "behind the sofa" television, that is, scary TV that's watched from a safe space. In fact, critics have long been concerned that Doctor Who is too frightening for children. But after meeting these enemies, you'll see that it may be too frightening for adults.
Oh, and something we didn't notice until just now: Most of the Doctor's best villains starred in two-parters or even became longtime combatants; rarely does a good villain remain in one episode.
The 2006 two-parter "The Impossible Planet" and "The Satan Pit" had the same claustrophobic quality that made Alien so very scary. (It even shared Dallas' crawling-through-ducts scene, but with less gruesome results.)
At the beginning of this two-part episode, we're led to believe that the baddies would be the Ood, a telepathic race who communicate through a translator device. But no, it turns out the enemy was the ultimate enemy: the Beast, a Satan analog that existed before time and light. It turns out the Beast was so malevolent that it took the threat of a black hole to keep it in check.
The Beast was chained up, but its mind was free to roam and infiltrate. Whenever it revealed itself, we were frightened. But somehow we were far more terrified when it said through the Ood in their calm voice, "The Beast and his armies shall rise from the pit to make war against God." Egads.
The Cybermen first appeared in 1966. They came to Earth from planet Mondas looking for resources, power and human body parts. The Doctor frequently fought and defeated his silver foes with gold, their Achilles' heel.
The Cybermen were worthy opponents of the Doctor, but they never really frightened us the way the others on this list did. Until "Rise of the Cybermen" and "The Age of Steel," that is. That's when we saw Cybermen corralling humans and forcing them into Cyber-Conversion. It froze our blood to see ditsy Jackie Tyler become a soulless automaton, the humanity ripped from her.
A shout-out to the Cybermats, most recently seen in "Closing Time," metallic sluglike creatures with fleshy mouths who feed off of electricity (and presumably tasty flesh).
We couldn't possibly have a Doctor Who villains list without mentioning his longtime foes the Daleks, first seen in 1963. Their metallic shells hide their squishy, octopus-like bodies (of evil). They use lasers (of evil) to kill their enemies. And their mission is pure (of evil): destroy all life. Or, as they put it, "Exterminate! EXTERMINATE!"
The Daleks' unswerving belief in their own superiority even caused them to turn on Davros and attempt to exterminate him; Davros then bred a second race of Daleks, this time unswervingly loyal to himself. Naturally, they fought each other. But while some died, others lived to keep plaguing the universe. And of course, the Daleks were the only race powerful enough to take down the Time Lords, in the (off-camera, oft-referenced) Time War.
Of all of the Daleks, the creepiest has to be Dalek Caan. One of the most powerful Daleks who ever lived, it managed to jump into the time-locked Time War. As a result, its mind shattered, but it gained a kind of precognitive ability. A psychic, psychotic Dalek that disturbs even other Daleks? Just typing that sentence has curdled our blood.
If you think the Daleks are bad, that's because you haven't met Davros, who last appeared after a 21-year hiatus in 2009. He's the brains behind the mutated bodies, grown from his own cells. He also removed all traces of compassion from his Daleks and ordered them to obliterate all life.
Then when his own people, the Kaleds, threatened to shut down his Dalek project, Davros betrayed them to their thousand-year-old enemies, the Thals.
If that's not frightening enough, Davros was really serious about that "obliterating all life" thing. When the Doctor asked him if he could destroy all life, say, with a capsule that held a powerful virus, would he do it? He answered:
To hold in my hand a capsule that contained such power. To know that life and death on such a scale was my choice. To know that the tiny pressure of my thumb, enough to break the glass, would end everything. Yes. I would do it. That power would set me up above the gods. And through the Daleks, I shall have that power!
Davros wasn't just an ordinary mad scientist. He was an extraordinary one.
"The Curse of Fenric" shows a World War II-era computer deciphering an ancient Viking text. Bad news: It somehow unleashes the evil Fenric. Turns out that the Doctor had imprisoned it centuries ago, and it wants revenge. Meanwhile, humans are being transformed into haemovores (vampire-like creatures), although these could be warded off by symbols of faith (such as a Soviet soldier brandishing a Red Army pin).
But the moment of genuine fear comes at the end, when the Doctor confronts Fenric. At the same time, Ace's faith in the Doctor keeps the main Haemovore from attacking. So the Doctor tears Ace down emotionally until she falls to her knees, sobbing. Her faith destroyed, the Haemovore attacks Fenric instead. It was gut-wrenching to watch.
Sidenote: "The Curse of Fenric," with its 1989 makeup and effects, hasn't aged very well. But it is chock-full of fabulous quotes like "Ah, the sound of dying. When it comes to death, quantity is so much satisfying than quality. Don't interrupt me when I'm eulogizing."
Some villains in Doctor Who are frightening because of the threat they pose to the universe. The Mara is frightening because it feeds on fear. In the 1982 episode "Kinda," the Mara worked its way into people's minds through dreams (and stained their teeth the color of blood). Then, while on the planet Deva Loka, it possessed Tegan, one of the Doctor's companions.
It seemed as if the Mara left Tegan of its own accord in "Kinda," and this unstoppable evil was ultimately cut down by its own reflection. But in the 1983 episode "Snakedance," which aired one year later, we learned that the Mara had never left Tegan's mind and had been lurking within, waiting for its chance to reappear.
That was shocking. But it was even more shocking to see the Mara turn the plucky Tegan into a sinister, sneering villain.
Like the Doctor, the Master is a renegade Time Lord. Unlike the Doctor, he's pure evil. The Doctor and the Master go back a long time, and we don't just mean their boyhood on Gallifrey; the Master has been making life difficult for the Doctor since 1971. While the Master was not always portrayed as outright scary in every story in which he appeared, he was one of the few regular villains who looked like they stood a chance of actually succeeding ... after all, he did kill the Fourth Doctor in "Logopolis."
First played with menace by Roger Delgado, then played with malicious glee by Anthony Ainsley, we later saw him as a manic and brutal John Simm. Among his many crimes were attempting to conquer the universe, unleashing the Toclafane upon the world and using a tissue compression eliminator to shrink living, breathing people into doll-sized—and very dead—versions of themselves.
To this day, dolls still bug us. Thanks a lot, Master.
When we polled our friends to ask, "Which Doctor Who villain scared you the most?" every single one of them name-checked the Weeping Angels, first seen in "Blink," in 2007. Perhaps it's because they look exactly like harmless statues of angels ... but only when they're not observed. That's when they attack.
If you encounter them, the Weeping Angels send you back in time and feed off the life you could have led, in other words, steal your potential life energy. (Later, in the episode "The Time of Angels," they just snap your neck and use your voice to taunt their next victims. Creepy, yeah, but not as badass as marooning you in time.)
But that's not why we fear them. If you take your eyes off of them, even just to blink, they will take you. So when the characters are admonished not to blink, we, the audience, find ourselves riveted to the television, unblinking and dry-eyed and terrified.
The 2008 episode, "The Silence in the Library" and its second part, "Forest of the Dead," was a spine-tingling good time. The Doctor and Donna Noble land in the Library and try to ascertain why all of its inhabitants had disappeared. At the same time, another landing party (led by Dr. River Song) does the same.
We soon learned that the library wasn't completely empty; it was full of Vashta Nerada. The Vashta Nerada was a deadly swarm creature. It manifested as a second shadow, and once you spotted one, well, shadowing you, you were as good as dead. Unless you stayed in the light—its only weakness—the Vashta Nerada would silently and easily rip the flesh off of your bones. In a tale full of horrors (at one point, Donna was turned into an information Node), they were the easily most horrific.
Worst of all, because the characters in the episode were linked by neural communicators, when they died, they left remnants of their last thoughts and echoes of their last words.
It's not only a frightening way to die, but also terribly, terribly sad.
AND PERHAPS THE SCARIEST OF THEM ALL—The Doctor!
The Doctor has long been a character who fought for the forces of good. Perhaps he was a bit arrogant (we're looking at you, Sixth Doctor), but there was nothing about him to fear.
Until the 2005 New Who revival.
That's when we learned that the Doctor was responsible for the destruction of 10 million Dalek ships. And when he encountered what he believes is the last remaining Dalek ("Dalek"), he tries to kill it. This isn't the Doctor we've known and loved. This was something different and unsettling.
In "Tooth and Claw," he was banished by Queen Victoria, who created the Torchwood Institute to defend against alien threats like him. In "The Waters of Mars," he told a woman, "The laws of time are mine, and they will obey me"; it led to her suicide. In "The Pandorica Opens," we learn that the Pandorica, a prison built to contain the universe's deadliest being, was built for him. In "A Good Man Goes to War," we learned the word "Doctor" is synonymous with "warrior." And then there was the time he lied to Rory in "The Girl Who Waited," which led to the death of an alternate version of Amy.
Strange but true: The Doctor is evolving into one of the most frightening protagonists we've seen in sci-fi television.