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Fear, as no one has ever said ever, is in the adrenal gland of the beholder. One person’s nightmare might be another person’s bank holiday weekend away from the stress of the working week, so compiling a list of scary moments from Doctor Who is a risky endeavour. There are, however, some areas of common agreement, without which this list would be laughable.
So let’s start with the most obvious:
Horror writers dream of hitting upon these ideas, the one where the things you do naturally, that you cannot prevent yourself from doing, are the things that will kill you. Nightmare on Elm Street being an obvious example. You can run, but as soon as you fall asleep, you’re doomed. So, even though the Weeping Angels don’t actually kill you, even though they could easily be defeated with a decent sledgehammer, it’s the idea that your own involuntary reflexes will be your downfall is what makes them terrifying.
The Empty Child
This has a few horror tropes blended together into an artful fear smoothie. The disturbing child, the fear of masks (in this case gasmasks), possession, and the creeping dread that something innocent has been taken over by something malevolent. Plus, and I really can’t stress this enough, those kids are really, really, really creepy.
The Scarecrows in Family of Blood
Scarecrows are icky. Moving scarecrows are icky squared. Put that against the backdrop of the First World War, give machine guns to schoolchildren and make the Doctor a human and…well it’s all horrible. All of it.
Actually far scarier in concept than in reality. Those lightbulb heads, the chewing-gum skin, the shrunken oily suits are all fairly gross, and yes they sleep upside down like bats, but it’s the idea that they can chase you (and get you) without you being able to keep the knowledge of their existence in your head that’s the really creepy bit.
Y’know like, “is everything alright?” “Yes, I think so” “Then why are you dead?”
The Robots of Death
Smiling robots with friendly voices, some of which are being programmed to kill humans. Did I mention fear of masks earlier? Yep. That too.
The Vervoids convert a human – Terror of the Vervoids
Possibly a personal choice, but the human/vegetable hybrid in the sick bay in this Sixth Doctor story is hugely disturbing. That vein, her distress, their horrified reaction to her, and the fact that she just gets tucked away again at the end. Brr!
The Vashta Nerada – Silence In The Library
Another episode in which the horror hits from more than one direction. So you’ve got flesh-eating shadows, the Vasha Nerada, and they’re at large inside a planet-sized library. But the people they eat are wearing space-suits with neural doohickeys in them that can actually store parts of your personality after you die. Oh and they can reanimate your corpse too. Talk about playing with your food!
Internal Spiders – Planet of the Spiders
Even the least arachnophobic person would balk at having a spider disappear into their back like this. And doesn’t it remind you of a certain scarab creeping up Donna Noble’s past and very nearly eating it whole?
Cyberman conversion – Doomsday
Just as with the Vashta Nerada, the idea that you, a person, can be trapped inside a machine, is horrifying. The fact that you have to endure being sliced up like a Thanksgiving turkey in order for the conversion to happen is doubly so. And in the case of this particular moment, it’s made all the more horrible when Yvonne realises she’s brought it all on herself, simply by doing what is expected of her. LIKE A CYBERMAN WOULD.
Oswin Oswald – Asylum of the Daleks
A similar level of horror to that of the Cyber-conversion, but made all the worse because she had blocked the trauma from her memory. So the revelation that Oswin has been made into a Dalek carries all the weight of that bit in The Next Doctor where David Morrissey relives the trauma that led him to believe he was the Tenth Doctor, but with none of the hope. There is nothing anyone can do except make the best of a terrible situation.
What’s your most horrifying Doctor Who moment? Tell us here (remember to begin your comments with “I can’t believe you forgot…” or we won’t know you’re a real fan:
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic