10 Dark ‘Doctor Who’ Episodes


The two-part season finale for the current Doctor Who run has caused a bit of controversy. Being thematically centred around a character grieving over the sudden, violent death of a loved one it has brought some confronting ideas into our living rooms, and some disturbing fantasy aspects including the souls of the dead being able to feel their bodies being cremated. Some has criticised the the inclusion of these concepts in what is generally considered a family friendly show. We’re not hear to judge this episode of those opinions, but remind everyone that this isn’t the first time the Time Lord has taken us down a dark path.

Wilfred Mott – ‘The End of Time’

Doctor Who 50 – The End of Time

Not that Wilfred is a dark character – everyone loves the kooky old grandpa of companion Donna Noble. But on occasion Wilfred presented a window in the recent past of humanity and it wasn’t always a good view. On one occasion he references dealing with Nazi Concentration Camps in WWII, and the public shaming he received for not killing any other people during his time as a soldier. This latter story is actually true to life for actor Bernard Cribbins, who plays Mott. Ultimately seeing this veteran breaking down trying to convince the Doctor go to his death is the most heart breaking moment.

The Axos – ‘The Claws of Axos’

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When an alien ship arrives on Earth is initially appears to be peaceful. Claiming to be needing fuel and willing to trade it’s miracle substance Axonite, it seemed a perfect deal. Until it is revealed that the Axonite ship is actually a living organism itself attempting to lure people inside and drain them of their life energy. A disturbing concept of a seemingly peaceful alien race seeking to infiltrate and use the human race has also been used in V and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and this episode is replete with twisted imagery including The Master being found caught up in the ‘ships’ tendrils. 

Poisoning the Ark – ‘The Ark’

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Amid their travels the original Doctor and his companions arrive on board a vast spaceship, housing the remnants of the human race as they seek out a new home. The Earth can no longer be inhabited and this is the only chance the species has of surviving. All seems well, however, and the Doctor eventually returns to the TARDIS. Surprisingly their next random stop is the Ark several years later, where they find most of the population wiped out. The Doctor’s human companions unwittingly brought a cold virus on board in their first visit, one that the human population no longer carried anti-bodies for. It’s a bleak outlook on the future, where one out of place bacteria has lead to an almost complete destruction of the human race.

Left to Die – ‘The Girl Who Waited’

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Poor Amy Pond, she never had an easy run of it. In one especially depressing outing Amy gets separated from The Doctor and Rory and stranded in a different time stream. Although the two men return only moments later Amy has been stranded for decades by herself in a world filled with constant threat. This future version of Amy has been shaped by loneliness and fear and struggles to reconnect with loved ones she felt abandoned by. In the end the Doctor has no choice but to do the unthinkably cruel: leave her behind once again.

Governmentally Sanctioned Genocide – ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’

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Imagine this: the human race discovers that they are not the original inhabitants of the planet Earth. The Silurians, a humanoid race of reptile people, pre-date humans by billions of years and co-existed with the dinosaurs. Aware of the incoming disaster that destroyed the dinosaurs the Silurians went far underground, utilising the heat from the Earth’s core to sustain their civilisation while they kept themselves in stasis. Now a regular feature in the series, the British government didn’t like the idea of an ancient race looking to share the planet with them and set about attempting to nuke them into oblivion. Damn it, people.

Losing Your Identity While in Love – ‘Human Nature’ and ‘The Family of Blood’

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You have a normal life. You have a job, a home and a history and best of all you’ve fallen in love. That’s when you find out that you’re not really you. John Smith has discovered that he is really the Doctor in disguise (even to himself) and the only way to save the day is to give up his life. David Tennent and Jessica Stevenson’s chemistry and performances sold this. John Smith struggling to accept having to end his life in order to do the right thing is tragic. This double episode also includes evil scarecrows, possessed children and school students forced to go to war…laying it on a bit thick.

Shooting a World Leader – ‘The Deadly Assassin’

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A beloved leader of people and in the distance a solitary man pointing a rifle. It’s an image that surfaces in many cultures, and something that a family show is unlikely to delve into lightly. That’s what happened during the time of the Fourth Doctor though. Stopping by his home planet of Gallifrey he is under the control of the Master and finds himself equipped with a sniper rifle and gunning for the president. Seeing the usually goofy, frizzy haired time traveller aiming a gun at someone, anyone, is disturbing at the least.

Faces in Stone and Skeletons in Spacesuits – ‘Silence in the Library’ and ‘Forest of the Dead’

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It starts out so nicely. A planet sized library and a nice new friend named Professor River Song. But then there’s so much unpleasantness. Human memories are loaded into a computer and projected as faces growing out of rocks. The victims of an alien parasite are reduced to skeletons, shambling around in spacesuits, Finally there’s the final thoughts of the dead, echoing endlessly through an electronic communicator. This is a twisted and creepy (albeit brilliant) pair of episodes for the Tenth Doctor.

The Pointless Death of a Child – ‘Earthshock’

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Adric was not only one of the youngest companions of The Doctor but he was the first to die on screen. The mathematical genius from an alternate universe didn’t always stay on the good side of viewers (he is a petulant teen after all) but this was harsh. Being left on a spaceship heading for the Earth, Adric attempts to solve the maths problems that will divert it’s course. When they reach the 11th hour and the third equation is unsolved the crew of the ship escape, but Adric runs back to console to put in his answer. It’s a pointless gesture as it is to late and the ship crashes before his answer is processed. Adric’s last thought is that he never even found out if he had the right answer. On top of everything else, it’s revealed that this crashing ship was the event that destroyed the dinosaurs, meaning that if he was successful he may have prevented the human race from existing. Pointless death doesn’t quite sum it up.

Torture in the Name of Science – ‘The Sontaran Experiment’

Sontaran Experiment

it doesn’t get much darker than this. Sarah Jane Smith and an astronaut are captured by a new villain – a Sontaran. A race now familiar to viewers as a race of creatures cloned and bred exclusively for combat, this advance guard, a scientist, proved far more terrifying. He uses the Doctor’s companion and his other captives as subjects in a series of experiments to learn the limitations of human suffering including their tolerance range for temperatures, drowning and other causes of pain. It’s as fucked up as you’d imagine.

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