How are you celebrating Hallowe’en? Are you partying like it’s nearly Christmas? Are you dressing up as Jeremy Hunt and haunting the local A&E? Or are you watching some scary Doctor Who serials?
Following on from Matt Smith’s birthday on 28th October, we’ve been focusing on some spooky Eleventh Doctor serials you should watch with the lights off and a chill in the air.
Quite by chance, today’s suggestions are all from Series 7, so load that run of stories up on Netflix (because otherwise, you’ll need to swap DVD discs, completely ruining the atmosphere as you listen to “TO SELECT AUDIO NAVIGATION, PRESS ENTER NOW”) and enjoy…
Asylum of the Daleks
This is the second series-opener to make the list, but is massively contrasting in tone to The Impossible Astronaut/ Day of the Moon. For one, Asylum of the Daleks takes place largely in confined environments – notably the Parliament of the Daleks and the titular Asylum.
This is one of the worst places for the Doctor (or, in fact, anyone) to be: trapped on a world of insane Daleks. The menace is lessened slightly by necessity – anyone visiting a planet populated entirely by insane Daleks that are awake and active wouldn’t last long, whether that person is the Doctor or not. So yes, some are dozing. Still, the threat remains because they could all stir at any moment, and that just heightens the tense atmosphere.
Of course, here we also meet Oswin Oswald, played by Jenna Coleman, which was a massive shock for all who watched on transmission. Man, they did well to keep that surprise secret. And it paid off!
Why is this so scary? For me, it’s that scene in “Intensive Care”, i.e. the Daleks who survived the Doctor, located outside Oswin’s cell. The models are wrong, obviously, but I’m sure some personal head canons can explain that away. The point is, this is one of the rare instances in which we really do see the Doctor scared. Terrified, even. Matt plays it perfectly, making this a sequence you can’t take your eyes off.
With Neil Cross’ second script for Doctor Who (well, written first but aired after), we have another story in which the Doctor is really terrified. By his own admission, in fact: “I am the Doctor, and I am afraid.”
Hide has numerous fans here at the DWC, including Andy Reynolds and myself, and I’m baffled by anyone who doesn’t love it.
Indeed, it’s a love story – not just as the Doctor realises towards its end (a divisive twist, but one which I found satisfying), but also to The Stone Tape, and other 1970s horror stories. The Stone Tape was written by Nigel Kneale (Quatermass and the Pit) as a ghost tale for Christmas Day, 1972. Though the theory of residual hauntings had been around for a while before this, The Stone Tape introduced it to mass popular culture – and it’s a theory that resonates in Doctor Who.
The idea is literally that ghosts are the result of strong emotional imprints taken as recordings in stone and played back. This is also how the Doctor often explains away the spiritual world.
Cross peppers Hide with knowing winks to Kneale’s show, but despite this having all the typical trappings of horror, there’s a warmth between the cast that makes it a pleasure to watch. Plus, we get Clara’s chilling realisation that we’re all ghosts to the Doctor, presented against some gorgeous visuals.
If you can only watch one serial this Hallowe’en, make it Hide.
The Crimson Horror
Horror comes in many forms, and in this unusual take on Doctor Who, Mark Gatiss brings his wonderfully dark humour to the medium.
There are some genuinely horrible concepts at work in The Crimson Horror, including a mother’s manipulation of her daughter; a poison raining down on us all, seemingly unstoppable; and the Doctor’s helplessness as he’s left red-faced and “saved” by someone who sees a reflection of her supposedly-monstrous self in him.
Yeesh, and then there’s Mr Sweet, the disgusting leech reliant on Mrs Gillyflower. If the idea of symbiosis creeps you out, Sweet is absolutely gross, exacerbated by that horrible maw.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of laughs on offer in The Crimson Horror too. The gloriously ridiculous Sat-Nav gag, the jovial musical score, and Dame Diana Rigg clearly having a lot of fun. Let’s not forget a sequence unique in Doctor Who history: the montage resembling old film footage that brings us up to speed with what the Doctor and Clara are doing there. Oh, this one really is a treat.
On top of all that, the episode proves that a series focused solely on the Paternoster Row Gang – Vastra, Jenny, and Strax – would certainly work.
Those are our picks for Hallowe’en, but which other stories do you recommend? Yes, there’s The Ark in Space, Fury from the Deep, The Curse of Fenric, The Impossible Planet/ The Satan Pit, and The Daemons, but what about the Eleventh Doctor era…?