What are the scariest Doctor Who episodes from the revival era? Ever since it began, Doctor Who has always had one eye on horror: of course it has, it’s about an alien traveler traversing through the vastness of time and space.
Especially in the early days of the Doctor Who revival era (helmed by Russell T. Davies who’s returning for the Doctor Who 60th anniversary and beyond), audiences were confronted by a number of episodes that were particularly terrifying. We love it when genres collide, so we’ve ranked the best of the best when it comes to Doctor Who’s attempts to terrify.
Dalek (season 1, episode 6)
Dalek isn’t creepy, it isn’t spooky, and there aren’t any particularly scary visuals. It doesn’t have any jumpscares, and there’s no unsettling, disturbing atmosphere. In that sense, it’s the antithesis of many modern horror movies. And yet, it’s still one of Doctor Who’s scariest episodes.
The episode’s scariness comes from the pure terror of the Dalek. The Dalek itself couldn’t be a more intimidating, threatening presence, and that’s scary in a remarkably direct way. The Dalek is completely relentless, blasting through people like a feather duster brushes aside a cobweb. The episode is a blunt instrument, and unlike other entries on the list it’s very straightforward. This is Doctor Who horror at its simplest.
Father’s Day (season 1, episode 8)
Father’s Day is an emotional big-hitter, as Doctor Who companion Rose learns about her late father. It’s a story about wanting something desperately, and not being able to have it. On an existential level, there’s not much that’s more scary than that.
Of course, that isn’t the only scary thing about the episode. If it was, Father’s Day wouldn’t have made the list. Instead, it’s The Reapers, and their terrifying, winged design that makes this one of the scariest Doctor Who episodes in the sci-fi drama series. They present a genuine threat; proven by the fact that they take away The Doctor. Father’s Day is a great story, with excellent moments of emotion and tension: it’s a scary one too.
The Empty Child (season 1, episode 9)
The Empty Child marked Steven Moffat’s introduction to writing Doctor Who for television – and what an entrance. The episode treats World War II as the horrifying subject matter that it truly is, which is acknowledged far too infrequently across fiction. This, coupled with an original twist on the ‘creepy kid’ cliché, ensures that The Empty Child stands out as one of the most recognizable episodes of Doctor Who overall.
The episode also had a huge cultural impact. “Are you my mummy” echoed across school grounds around the UK after the episode aired, repeated by children to one another in an attempt to freak each other out. Instantly iconic.
Girl in the Fireplace (season 2, episode 4)
The Girl in the Fireplace was, and still is, nightmare fuel for children. Another Steven Moffat episode, The Girl in the Fireplace is completely twisted in all the right ways. In many moments, it borders on body horror which is as bold as it is terrifying.
Plot aside, it’s the imagery – and what that evokes – in The Girl in the Fireplace that is the source of the horror. The animatronic masks will be seared into your mind with their deep, empty eyes, and their cruel smiles. Perhaps most impressively, however, is the episode’s ability to transcend the horror within it, and become a story about love and loss, too.
Blink (season 3, episode 10)
No list of the Scariest Doctor Who episodes would be complete without Blink. Everyone knows that Blink is terrifying, and it is arguably the definitive scary Doctor Who episode.
Blink is told through the eyes of Sally Sparrow as she encounters the Weeping Angels. It’s the perfect introduction to the villains, who go on to play an important and persistent role in future Doctor Who episodes too.
The Doctor and Martha only have a small role to play in this episode, and he mostly communicates with Sally through pre-recorded messages (which is also a great example of Doctor Who using its time-travel premise to its fullest). The Doctor’s absence contributes to a sense of deep unease, and he isn’t there to constantly reassure Sally and let her know what’s going on. That rubs off on us, the audience, too.
Silence in the Library (season 4, episode 8)
His fourth in a row on this list, Steven Moffat is at it once again. Silence in the Library makes the list for introducing audiences to some of the most fear-inducing antagonists in all of Doctor Who: the Vashta Nerada. There are lots of twists and turns, which add to a building sense of tension, and the episode also marks the start of a journey for a particularly important character in the future of Doctor Who. Aside from that, to appreciate the scariness of Silence in the Library it’s best to go in completely blind.
Midnight (season 4, episode 10)
Midnight is one of the rare Doctor Who episodes that is pure horror. It isn’t attempting to juggle another genre: it’s just horror, plain and simple. The story centers around The Doctor taking part in a guided, enclosed shuttle tour around a planet called Midnight.
While en route, The Doctor and the rest of the tourists become trapped by a seemingly invisible, malicious creature that knocks incessantly on the exterior of the shuttle. That knocking is disturbing enough, but when a fellow tourist starts repeating what the others are saying the tension really peaks. The ending is thought-provoking and horrifying in equal measure. If you have any nerves left after this episode, we applaud you.
(On a side note, with its self-enclosed setting and distinct characters, Midnight would make for the perfect Lego Doctor Who set, right?!)
Day of the Moon (season 6, episode 2)
Day of the Moon is the conclusion to the set-up established in Impossible Astronaut. And, while the episode attempts to unravel countless mysteries, it’s The Silence that steal the show. They’re the episode’s MVPs, and are both stunningly creative and stunningly horrifying.
They’re never used to a better, more terrifying effect than in Day of the Moon, most notably with their presence in the orphanage which is endlessly chilling and will leave you desperately reaching to turn on the lights.
Heaven Sent (season 9, episode 11)
Heaven Sent is one of the very best – if not the single best – episodes of Doctor Who ever made. Full stop. The end. Period.
However, while it isn’t a horror-first episode (the focus instead is on the unraveling mystery, and the emotional highs) it is still full of frights. The shrouded figure that pursues the Twelfth Doctor is legitimately terrifying, with its reaching hands, spindly fingers, and relentless shuffling. Aside from that, the episode is packed full of creepy imagery, from the sea of skulls, to the grave, to the castle itself. If only it wasn’t followed up by Hell Bent. Oh well.
The Timeless Children (season 12, episode 10)
The Timeless Child isn’t scary in the typical sense. But it is terrifying because of how heavy-handedly it screws up Doctor Who lore. The major reveal in The Timeless Children is that The Doctor has had an unknown number of lives, well beyond their 13 incarnations. Beyond that, The Doctor is actually the source of the Time Lords’ ability to regenerate and isn’t a native Gallifreyan.
Trying to figure out how it fits into decades of established canon is a horrific experience. It also demystifies the life of The Doctor, and calls into question just about everything we’ve been told about the show. Trust me, it doesn’t get much scarier than this.
For more on Doctor Who, take a look at our guide to the Doctor Who season 14 release date, and get the lowdown on the upcoming 14th Doctor, Beep the Meep, and 15th Doctor. Alternatively, if this list has got you in the mood for some science fiction movies, be sure to check out our guide to the best time travel movies.