- The Centenary Special set to air in October 2022 continues the recent tradition of Halloween episodes that began with the Flux plot in 2021. However, there have been excellent horror episodes throughout the years that fans can rewatch throughout the Halloween season. From horrifying plots set by the Doctor’s greatest enemies to aliens that haunt the audiences’ nightmares, Doctor Who provides scares from Classic Who through the modern era that are perfect for getting fans into the Halloween spirit.
Halloween is a special time of year when people celebrate the timeless act of scaring the pants off of themselves. Doctor Who is a show that has always flirted with horror and scares, from the Daleks to the Weeping Angels, making it one of the perfect substitutes for the traditional slasher horror movie marathon on Halloween night.
Both the original series and its 2005 continuation have caused children of all ages to hide behind the sofa on more than one occasion, and that trend doesn’t seem likely to let up any time soon. The scariest episodes of the series blend psychological terror with visual scares, imaginative monsters, and a tense narrative to sell the experience.
Updated on October 7, 2022 by Meagan Bojarski:
The Centenary Special set to air in October 2022 continues the recent tradition of Halloween episodes that began with the Flux plot in 2021. However, there have been excellent horror episodes throughout the years that fans can rewatch throughout the Halloween season. From horrifying plots set by the Doctor’s greatest enemies to aliens that haunt the audiences’ nightmares, Doctor Who provides scares from Classic Who through the modern era that are perfect for getting fans into the Halloween spirit.
Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead (2008)
“Silence in the Library” is a terrifying story for those who are scared of the dark. The Doctor and Donna land in an abandoned library only to discover that it is occupied by a species that lives in the shadows. The Vashta Nerada, “piranhas of the air,” threaten to strip any visitor’s flesh off their bones and use their bodies as a disguise.
This saga is one of the most terrifying stories in the modern era of Doctor Who, especially considering the Doctor doesn’t destroy the monsters at the end of the day. The Vashta Nerada live everywhere throughout the universe, and while they have not appeared in any other episodes, the idea that they might be lurking in any shadow is enough to make many viewers sleep with the lights on.
The Deadly Assassin (1976)
This Classic Who arc introduced much of the lore fans know about Gallifrey and its people, as well as being the only story to feature the Doctor with no companion in the original run of the show. The Doctor returns to Gallifrey after dropping Sarah Jane off, only to find himself unwittingly responsible for the death of the President.
Alongside the terror of being so strategically framed for murder, the Doctor ends up trapped in a simulation filled with torturous encounters intended to kill him. One of these moments was so horrifying it was highly criticized for being too harsh for young viewers and has even been cut from some future airings.
The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (2005)
While “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances” end up being a tragedy of sorts, the concept and imagery involved are thoroughly nightmare-inducing. The Doctor and Rose land in the midst of the London Blitz, where the community is terrorized by a child in a gas mask asking, “Are you my mummy?”
Anyone who touches the child takes on his symptoms, with gas masks fused to their face and seemingly no consciousness other than the need to repeat the child’s mantra. The horror genre discovered long ago that children can be terrifying, and this Doctor Who story uses that trope to its fullest extent.
Terror of the Autons (1971)
Doctor Who was resurrected with an episode featuring the Autons, terrifying mannequin-like creatures, and one of their best stories was “Terror of the Autons,” which also introduced the Master. The Master lands on Earth and uses the Nestene Consciousness and a plastic factory to mass-produce seemingly harmless plastic objects that spontaneously come to life and kill their owners.
With how much plastic is involved in daily life, this story is as scary now as it was when it first came out. The idea of plastic humanoids is concerning enough, but making all plastic materials deadly would be an invasion force humanity would be hard-pressed to stop.
While Doctor Who has provided fans with a lot of lore to dive into, the history of its titular character is still largely a mystery. This was part of what made “Listen” so captivating, because the episode explored the Doctor’s own childhood fears.
The episode explores the idea of a creature so good at hiding that it has prompted everyone to occasionally feel like they are being watched. Because this is such a common sensation, it tugs at the audience’s fear of the unknown to the point where they may feel the need to check the hidden spaces in their own room while watching or when they try to get to sleep.
Genesis Of The Daleks (1975)
The Daleks quickly went from frightening alien foes to lovable pop culture icons during the ’60s and ’70s, and that presented problems for their longevity. Thankfully, original creator Terry Nation drafted up a story that made the creatures scary again, by going back to the moment of their creation.
Not only is “Genesis of the Daleks” one of the single-best Doctor Who stories ever, but it’s deeply frightening. The clever use of lighting and camera angles gives the Daleks an intense presence, especially when they are first activated. The story itself is dark, deeply complex, and woven together with philosophical and moral questions that resonate to this very day.
The Seeds Of Doom (1976)
This classic 1976 Who story finds the Fourth Doctor in Antarctica investigating a mysterious pod that houses a lethal alien plant species known as the Krynoids. This invasive weed is capable of devouring animal life — humans included — and begins doing so right away.
The serial is notorious for its violent imagery in comparison to past Who stories – a fact capitalized on by Mary Whitehouse, an outspoken advocate for censorship (and a thorn in the side of the BBC) widely criticized for her knee-jerk, out-of-context reactions to what she considered objectionable material.
Asylum Of The Daleks (2012)
“Asylum of the Daleks” is a different kind of Dalek story altogether. It features a kidnapped Doctor deposited onto a prison planet populated exclusively with Daleks who are too dangerous to be controlled.
The story has its humorous moments, but the bulk of it is tense, nerve-wracking horror as the Doctor, Amy, and Rory descend into the bowels of the Dalek asylum. These highly dangerous and unpredictable Daleks are just one problem; the other being the reanimated corpses of a human crew infected with a Dalek pathogen.
The Unquiet Dead (2005)
The 2005 reboot of Doctor Who started out largely as a sci-fi adventure series, but it wasn’t long before the show started diving into horror territory. “The Unquiet Dead” was a ghost story full of spiritual human possessions, séances, and reanimated zombie corpses designed to give viewers the willies.
This episode revealed the ghostly antagonists to be the Gelth, a form of life devastated by the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks which caused their bodies to convert into a gaseous, apparition-like form. It helped give the Ninth Doctor a bit of backstory leading up to the season 1 finale.
Pyramids Of Mars (1975)
One of the Doctor’s most fearsome and unrelenting foes is undoubtedly the alien Sutekh, an Osiran masquerading as an ancient Egyptian God who wished to bring the “gift of death” to humanity, and had more than enough powers to make it happen.
Sutekh was capable of destroying entire star systems at the peak of his power, and not even the Time Lords would have been able to stop him. This is shown to be the case when Sutekh’s will is more than enough to dominate the Doctor’s mind and turn it to his own control.
A recurring foe of the Fifth Doctor was the dreaded Mara, an entity bred of complete and utter violence, hatred, and malice. It spreads via psychic interaction with victims, one of whom was the Doctor’s companion, Tegan. It made its first appearance in the episode “Kinda,” before being vanquished.
Later in “Snakedance,” it resurfaced to ensnare Tegan’s mind so it could exact a plan to gain back its corporeal existence. The story is notable for its frightening imagery, psychological terror, and the final act showing a giant rubber snake, which has thankfully been replaced by a CGI version for the DVD release.
The Dæmons (1971)
The Third Doctor era of Classic Who pushed a full-on Halloween-worthy story with the creepy serial “The Dæmons.” It’s a mixture of science, sci-fi, and gothic horror ripped right from the pages of a Hammer horror film script. It’s also one of the only episodes to feature The Master involved in the practice of black magic and other nefarious rites.
The principal antagonist in the story was Azal, a being who could have represented the real Satan, if not for the fact that his species the Dæmons were an alien race with matter-energy conversion technology akin to black magic. They represent one of the few classic Doctor Who villains who should make a comeback in the future.
The Vampires Of Venice (2010)
Vampire stories are the backbone of good Halloween scares, and this episode brings them to the forefront in a unique way. The story focuses on the Eleventh Doctor, Amy, and Rory visiting Venice way back in 1580, where they come across a girls’ school whose students appear to be full-fledged vampires.
It’s later learned that the creatures are actually an aquatic alien race in disguise, but that does little to stem the terror. There are a lot of laughs thrown in with the scares, making this a much more fun and exciting horror romp than some of the spookier Who stories out there.
Revelation Of The Daleks (1985)
The classic Daleks were at their absolute worst in this Sixth Doctor story that also brought back Davros as “the Great Healer,” a man responsible for helping to end galactic famine, while simultaneously breeding a deadlier form of Daleks in the bowels of a mortuary company.
It’s notable for subject matter that borders on the macabre, from beheaded humans used as Dalek test subjects to the themes of grave robbing, and (perhaps most controversially) human cannibalism. It plays out like a horror film from start to finish and is one of the darkest in classic Who.
Tomb Of The Cybermen (1967)
The very first Cybermen shown on Doctor Who weren’t particularly threatening, and in many ways, they were downright silly. That all changed when the creatures were upgraded for their next appearance, opposite the Second Doctor. “Tomb of the Cybermen” continues to be one of the most chilling Who stories in the franchise, and for good reason.
These Cybermen were far more ominous, believable and creepy than their first-gen predecessors. At the time, the very sight of Cybermen tearing through their alcoves was enough to scare young and old alike. The scares aren’t quite as effective nowadays, but it’s still a fun Halloween watch with the lights off.
The Waters Of Mars (2009)
One of the final episodes featuring the Tenth Doctor, this story focused heavily on his impending “doom” during the return of Gallifrey. The story revolves around one of mankind’s first Martian colonies, whose staff has been infected by an intelligent water-based virus.
The story is deeply unsettling and dripping with darkness from start to finish. Whether it’s the terrifying images of the screaming zombie-like infected or the shocking twist in the final act, few stories are this bleak and ominous. It’s scary, intense, and chilling, which is perfect for Halloween viewing.
The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit (2006)
The Doctor has run into many fearsome and frightening beings before, but this excellent two-part Doctor Who story was the first to pit him against Satan. The entire premise of the show is incredibly creepy and disturbing – so much so that it’s a surprise it made the cut given the show’s family-friendly focus.
The Beast served as the main antagonist for the story – a creature formed before the beginning of the known universe who did battle with the Disciples of the Light and was subsequently imprisoned on an “impossible planet” adjacent to a black hole. Its consciousness would serve as fodder for every Devil figure in the universe, across multiple alien cultures. The frightening use of satanic imagery, demonic possession, and Exorcist-style telekinesis makes it a Halloween winner.
The Curse Of Fenric (1989)
One of the most Halloween-worthy Who episodes is undoubtedly this classic 1989 story that came just prior to the end of the series. It found the Seventh Doctor and his companion Ace battling an ancient malevolent entity known as Fenric, who had been inadvertently set free by a scientist who used a supercomputer to translate ancient runes underneath a church crypt.
The episode saw the Doctor and Ace go up against not only Fenric, but his terrifying Haemovores, a mixture of vampire and ghoul that fed on the blood of humans and could only be taken out with a stake to the heart. Psychic barriers such as sheer force of will and the concept of religious faith were capable of keeping them at bay – another creepy element to an already terrifying Doctor Who story.
Few Doctor Who episodes give fans the chills more than “Blink,” the first story to feature the terrifying Weeping Angels as a major villain. The episode is one part mystery, one part time-hopping adventure, and one part horror movie with a strong emphasis on the unseen versus the seen.
The concept of the Weeping Angels as a predatory species “time-locked” to prevent them from existing whenever they are looked upon by another being is ingenious. It forced the director to rely on clever use of shadows and lighting to compensate for the complete lack of movement on the part of the Angels. This is one Doctor Who story suitable for casual fans and diehards alike.
“Blink” might be universally regarded as the scariest Doctor Who episode, but “Midnight” has it beat by a slight edge. It’s one of the most terrifying and unsettling Doctor Who stories ever written, and its effectiveness at scaring people is derived solely from how simplistic and straightforward the subject matter is.
Things go bad when the Doctor takes a joyride on a train to visit a famed alien site, and an unknown malevolent entity takes over the mind of one of the passengers. The entity forces its host to repeat anything someone else says, eventually becoming adept enough to mimic their speech at the very same time. It’s one of the most chilling and frightening moments ever seen on Doctor Who, and the rest of the story is a descent into utter fear and paranoia as the Doctor fights for his very soul against an unstoppable force.