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Doctor Who’s Most Memorable Monsters

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

by Maggie McAteer

As one of the longest running television shows of all time, and certainly the most successful science fiction program, Doctor Who has carved itself a permanent place in pop culture history. The series features an alien called the Doctor Who, who along with their many companions, travels through space and time in their time machine called the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space). The most stunning thing about the Doctor is that they possess the power of regeneration, allowing the show runners to bring in a new actor every couple of seasons. So far there have been thirteen long-running regenerations, with two more on the way, with over fifteen different actors portraying the character. Originally created as a way to teach children about history, the series has grown far beyond that, portraying travels across time, tragic love stories, and terrifying monsters. Next month, November 23rd will mark the 60th anniversary of the first episode’s broadcast back in 1963, and in recognition, three new TV specials will be released. These specials will feature the return of Tenth Doctor actor David Tennent (Good Omens) as the new Fourteenth regeneration of the Doctor, as well as Catherine Tate (The Office) reprising her role as Donna Noble. The three specials will also star Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) as the Toymaker, a classic Who villain who hasn’t appeared on screen since the third season in 1966. Before those drop live on BBC One in the UK and Ireland and on Disney+ for international viewers, Halloween is fast approaching, making it a great time to revisit some of the scariest, freakiest, and most memorable creatures that have appeared on the show.

The first real villains to appear on the show were the Daleks, now remembered as arguably the most iconic Doctor Who creatures of them all. The Daleks, who draw many similarities to the Nazis with their fanatical plans for racial purity, are relentless, merciless killing machines who are altogether the greatest enemy of the Doctor. Their deadly robot exterior comes complete with lasers and creepy cameras which, paired with the slimy octopus-esqe alien on the inside, makes for a chilling monster. They have appeared in nearly fifty episodes so far, the most recent of which was the 2022 New Year’s special, “Eve of the Daleks” featuring Jodie Wittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor. While the Daleks aren’t necessarily the most physically disturbing of Doctor Who’s aliens, and the amount of episodes in which they’ve been featured has diminished their fear factor, they are still one of the most memorable villains the program has ever put out.

Another classic Doctor Who villain is the Cybermen, a race of cyborgs intent on converting the rest of humanity to be like them. Originally humans, the Cybermen were created in order to help humanity survive, but after they got converted into shells of metal, they went rogue and now only focus on trying to “upgrade” everyone else. What’s most disturbing about them is that they feel no emotions at all, only cold electronic logic. The Cybermen first appeared in 1966 in “The Tenth Planet,” and over the years have had many fantastic runs. Most recently, they appeared in the two-part Season 12 finale, “Ascension of the Cybermen”/“The Timeless Children.” Mondasian Cybermen were the original design that appeared in “The Tenth Planet,” as well as in the Series 10 two part finale, “World Enough and Time” and “The Doctor Falls.” These variants, which are not as completely converted as other Cybermen, are more realistic (and ultimately scarier). Indeed, the hospital scenes in “World Enough and Time” seem taken straight out of a horror movie, with their tense music, masked faces, and bedridden Cybermen begging the Doctor’s companion, Bill (Pearl Mackie), to kill them. Certainly, the Cybermen have earned their spot as one of Doctor Who’s most haunting creatures.

The ninth episode of the first New Who season was “The Empty Child,” which, along with its companion episode “The Doctor Dances,” showcased a chilling new antagonist for Christopher Eccleson’s Ninth Doctor to fight: a little boy in a gas mask asking, “Are you my Mummy?”. The “empty children,” as they came to be known, are most scary precisely because they are children, asking child-like things but from behind an extremely threatening gas mask. The situation only gets worse when the infection spreads to hundreds of other people, leading to adults with gas masks fused to their faces asking for their mummys. This foe even proved so memorable that, a few seasons later during the Tenth Doctor’s run, David Tennant forgot his line (while wearing a gas mask) and instead said, “Are you my Mummy?”.

Debuting in the Season Two double episodes “The Impossible Planet”/“The Satan Pit,” the Ood are some of the more disturbingly designed aliens that have been on the show. With tentacle-covered faces reminiscent of Davey Jones, the Ood were originally designed as slaves for the Human Empire circa the 42nd century. However, due to their empathetic nature, they are extremely susceptible to possession and usually end up fighting their human owners while they’re being controlled by another entity. In their first appearance, the Ood are possessed by “The Beast,” and relentlessly attack any humans still alive. The sheer creepiness of their design, including the glowing red eyes they take on when possessed, puts them on this list, as well as the importance they have during the two part 2009/2010 Christmas Special “The End of Time,” when the Tenth Doctor finally regenerates. The Ood also appeared in “Survivors of the Flux” and “The Vanquishers” during the 2021 Flux season.

Introduced in one of Doctor Who’s scariest episodes, “Blink,” the Weeping Angels might just be its most terrifying monster. Appearing as stone angels, they can move incredibly fast and when they touch their victims, they send them back in time so that by the time of the present, they’re dying. The angels can’t move when they’re being looked at but as soon as the victim looks away, or even so much as blinks, the angels move in on them. This makes for some pretty scary scenes, especially at the end of “Blink” when two people are trapped in a basement, surrounded by Angels who keep getting closer every time the light goes out. Since “Blink,” the Weeping Angels have appeared several times, notably during season five in “The Time of the Angels” and “Flesh and Stone,” season seven in “The Angels Take Manhattan,” and season thirteen in “Once, Upon Time” and “Village of the Angels.”

The double episodes “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead” not only introduced the mystery of Professor River Song, but also the Vashta Nerada. Playing on one of humanity's most basic fears, the Vashta Nerada are carnivorous shadows. In these episodes, the shadows are able to possess the crew’s spacesuits after they eat them, causing it to appear that a skeleton is attacking. To add on top of all of that creepiness, the spacesuits keep speaking with the voice of the person who died inside, leading to this iconic line repeated over and over by a skull in a spacesuit: “Who turned out all the lights?”.

The very next episode after those two was “Midnight,” in which the Doctor is trapped on a train with an unknown entity outside causing panic and paranoia for those within. While the episode focuses more on the psychological effects of a group of strangers being put in a life threatening situation, the Midnight Entity (it was never actually given a name) regardless is one of the creepier monsters on the show. It is never shown fully, only through its possession of one of the people on the train, Sky Silvestry. The Entity can only mimic what those around it says, increasing the paranoia of those on the train and the viewers. The most chilling thing of all is that the Doctor, known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the universe, has no idea what the creature is and in the end, it is never revealed. Overall, the whole episode is very well filmed and definitely worth a watch for something scary this Halloween.

One monster that wasn’t memorable was the Silence, but only because you forget about them as soon as you look away. With their twisted features and slick black suits, the Silence seem like creatures pulled right out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (indeed, they seem inspired by Buffy’s “Gentlemen”), and are made all the scarier by the fact that you can only remember them while you’re staring at their terrifying faces. This ability also makes them incredibly difficult to fight, and even harder to find. During their first appearances in “The Impossible Astronaut”/“Day of the Moon,” the Doctor’s companions write tally marks on their arms in order to count the terrifying creatures they can’t remember. In one particular sequence, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Canton Delaware (Mark Shepard) enter an orphanage. Amy gets locked inside a room, and every time she moves more and more tally marks appear first on

her arms, then all over her body, building the tension until the nest of Silence are finally shown. Although one of the newer Doctor Who villains, first appearing only in 2011 during Matt Smith’s run as the Eleventh Doctor, the Silence immediately cemented themselves as one of the creepiest Doctor Who aliens to ever be on the show.

In the end, the Doctor Who monsters are scary and memorable because many of them take ordinary occurrences, like shadows, stone angels, or forgetting why you walked into a room, and twist them into something completely different and sinister. A writer from BBC said it best: “I can't even look at a statue without considering if it's an Angel, so I force myself not to blink…”(“Weeping Angels Voted the Scariest Ever Monster”). This Halloween season, consider checking out any of the episodes mentioned in the article. In particular, “Blink” is a fantastic choice given that it is a standalone episode with great characters and scary monsters, with almost zero background knowledge about the series needed to watch it. Currently, all of the episodes from the rebooted series, starting in 2005 with the Ninth Doctor, are available on Max (HBO), while the classic series is available on BritBox. Happy Halloween, and remember: Don’t blink.



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