While Doctor Who is a series that has had many styles over its long history, fear and horror have been a constant presence. Indeed, very early on, it gained a reputation for being best watched from “behind the sofa”.
With Halloween approaching, here is a list of some of the creepiest and scariest stories. The list is by no means comprehensive (there are too many to list them all), but it does contain at least one story from every Doctor except the eighth (who, unfortunately, had only one televised story). The stories are listed in broadcast order.
The Scariest Doctor Who Stories
First Doctor, 1963, seven 25-minute episodes.
This is the story that introduced Doctor Who’s most iconic alien monsters—the evil Daleks—and started the show’s long association with fear. The first episode, in particular, is especially creepy, featuring only the four main cast members as they explore a seemingly dead world. The first episode ends with what is still, today, one of the most effective and terrifying cliffhangers the show has ever had.
The Tomb of the Cybermen
Second Doctor, 1967, four 25-minute episodes.
A group of future archaeologists explore the tombs of the supposedly extinct race of Cybermen—Doctor Who’s second-most iconic aliens—who might not be so extinct after all.
Third Doctor, 1971, five 25-minute episodes.
This story deals with witchcraft, the occult, and ancient aliens who long ago manipulated the development of humanity as part of a sinister experiment.
Pyramids of Mars
Fourth Doctor, 1975, four 25-minute episodes.
The early fourth Doctor period contains quite a few stories directly inspired by common horror tropes.
This one delves into Egyptian tombs and mummies.
The Brain of Morbius
Fourth Doctor, 1976, four 25-minute episodes.
Inspired by Frankenstein, this story tells of a scientist trying to create a new body for the brain of an infamous Time Lord criminal, and he decides the Doctor’s head will be perfect for it.
This one gave me nightmares as a child.
The Caves of Androzani
Fifth Doctor, 1984, four 25-minute episodes.
This one goes more for psychological horror, as an evil genius becomes infatuated with the Doctor’s companion, Peri. It is one of the darkest regeneration stories in Doctor Who’s history, and widely regarded as one of the all-time best stories.
Revelation of the Daleks
Sixth Doctor, 1985, two 45-minute episodes.
Davros, creator of the Daleks, has somehow gained the moniker “the Great Healer”, and has gone into the business of grave robbing, with sinister, gruesome results.
The Curse of Fenric
Seventh Doctor, 1989, four 25-minute episodes, also available in a 103-minute special edition.
A complex tale of the British and Russians in World War II—plus Vikings, vampires and an evil from the dawn of time!
I highly recommend the special edition, which includes additional footage cut from the original broadcast for time reasons, and updated special effects.
The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances
Ninth Doctor, 2005, two 45-minute episodes.
Another visit to World War II, this time the Blitz, where gas mask-wearing zombies terrorize the people. Never has a young boy searching for his mum been so creepy. “Are you my mummy?” is a line that will send shivers down your spine.
Tenth Doctor, 2007, one 45-minute episode.
The Weeping Angels are creatures that turn to stone whenever anyone is looking at them, but if you look away for even a moment… They move like lightning! After this story, you will never look at another statue the same way again. Just remember one thing: Don’t blink!
Tenth Doctor, 2008, one 45-minute episode.
You never see the monster in this one, and it’s made all the better for it. A group of passengers trapped on a train together have to stop something from getting in—something that gets into their heads instead, even the Doctor’s.
The Waters of Mars
Tenth Doctor, 2009, one 60-minute episode.
The first human expedition to Mars is besieged by a terrifying plague in their water supply, slowly turning the crew into monsters.
The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon
Eleventh Doctor, 2011, two 45-minute episodes.
How do you defeat something if, when you’re not looking at it, you forget it even exists? This story introduces the Silence, one of Doctor Who’s creepiest aliens.
Twelfth Doctor, 2014, one 45-minute episode.
Have you ever been in a situation where, even though you are alone, you feel like someone else is there, yet when you look, you confirm there’s no one else there? This story posits that maybe you’re wrong. Maybe there really is something else there.