It would be remiss of me to not occasionally write about Doctor Who in my weekly ditherings, but I’ll do my best to spread it out.
One of the podcasts I listen to (http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/discussing-who) has been doing some “Top 5s” – companions, villains, etc., and that inspired me. Now, top 5 villains and top 5 baddies who actually scare me are not the same thing. It also means, you’ll only find one classic series villain on my list. (It’s hard for classic baddies to scare, due to the low budget nature an grown-up eyes as I watch it.)
That being said, you won’t find the Master, the Daleks, Cybermen, the Rani, or Davros on this list. In my opinion, a good villain doesn’t have to necessarily be scary, but a long-lasting influence/effect is important. It’s hard to be both, as when something is scary once, it’s hard to do it again.
Note – potential spoilers, but only if you’re REALLY behind.
#5 – The Autons
This probably comes from a fever dream I had as a little kid. I’m not sure how old I was, but my brother wasn’t born yet, so I was less than six years old.
In the nightmare, I had gotten separated from my parents in an empty mall — one that actually was in our town. (I remember because shortly after the dream, we went there….near closing, and I was terrified.) While separated, the mannequins came to life and chased me around.
I’ve never forgotten that, so when I went back and started the 2005 reboot (I started in the middle, see #3) and these were there, it was pretty scary. And I know the classic version has terrible costuming for the autons, but it doesn’t matter.
I may be able to walk into a mall these days without feeling any fear, but there’s just something about the potential of something that’s almost-but-not-quite-human-looking walking around.
#4 – The Creature from Midnight
Anything that involves a conscious loss of self-control or brain function is scary — things like Alzheimer’s, ALS, and cerebral palsy.
This wasn’t any different, except it has the added factor of a parasite that can jump from creature to creature.
What’s interesting about this is that it pairs two very different fears: knowing that you’re losing something/an awareness of it and your lack of ability to stop it, plus not knowing what you’re dealing with. We don’t even know what this creature looks like, let alone its motives, though we can guess. That fear of the unknown is why humans have feared the dark since, well, the beginning of humans.
#3 – The Empty Child
I never watched Doctor Who as a kid. The most science fiction my parents were into was the Twilight Zone, and that was more for the good storytelling. I’d go to a sleepover, and other people would get really excited when Doctor Who came on PBS. I was intrigued by their enthusiasm but would usually fall asleep within the first few minutes.
So it came as a surprise to me in 2005 when the Dish schedule on PBS read “new” for Doctor Who, a show that I thought was long gone. I tuned in, and “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” were my first legitimate foray into the Doctor’s Universe, and I was hooked.
This. Kid. Scared. Me.
A little kid, in a gas mask, who follows you everywhere, who can control and manipulate electrics and the phone….and is searching for “mummy.” Need I say more?
Yes. I can. If he touches you, you become a gas mask zombie too.
The zombie aspect is probably a good part of my fear, as I can’t do zombies. (Another time, though, maybe to go into that.)
The good news? The kid is really a victim, and the two-parter has a happy ending.
“Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once – everybody lives!”
The boy is restored, all the people he changed are restored, and he finds his mummy.
#2 – The Weeping Angels
Again, fear of the unknown, plus we’ve all had that feeling of being watched and/or followed — paintings that seem to watch as we walk by, the echoes of our own footsteps that sound like we’re being followed, etc.
“Blink” is one of the scariest episodes of Doctor Who ever. I show it in the time travel unit in my science fiction class, and I really enjoy watching the students watch this episodes. Everyone jumps, from the current fans, to the toughest and most resistant kids.
Even though I have issues with subsequent episodes where they change the rules – (the whole “image of an angel” junk, it could be any statue, including Lady Liberty, etc.) – I still place them as number two. Part of the problem is that, as mentioned earlier, once you scare your audience once, it’s hard to repeat it. You have to up the ante, because to do the same thing over again makes the creature lose its power.
The thing with the angels is that even with later disappointments, these monsters have a basis in statues that you are most likely to find in cemeteries. Visiting a grave, or even taking a walk in a quiet place, and those fluttering noises, even the “dying” ones in the “Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone” two-parter – still come to mind, and you start to question everything around you. (Wasn’t that statue covering its face before…?)
#1 – The Vashta Nerada
I’m not referring to the skeletons in space suits here, but the actual creature concept. The chicken legs devoured in thin air. The multiple shadows attached to the victims. (Again, that idea of knowing your own demise and being helpless to do a thing about it.)
As stated before, humans have feared the unknown and the dark since the dawn of humans. Like the creature on the planet Midnight, we don’t know what these look like.
Like the weeping angels, they may not be in every shadow, but they could be in any shadow.
The Doctor says it best in part one (“Silence in the Library”):
DOCTOR: The piranhas of the air, the Vashta Nerada. Literally “the shadows that melt the flesh”. Most planets have them, but usually in small clusters. I’ve never seen an infestation on this scale, or this aggressive.
DONNA: What d’you mean, most planets? Not Earth?
DOCTOR: Mmmm, Earth, and a billion other worlds. Where there’s meat, there’s Vashta Nerada. You can see them sometimes, if you look. The dust in sunbeams.
DONNA: If they were on Earth, we’d know.
DOCTOR: Nah, normally they live on road kill. But sometimes people go missing. Not everyone comes back out of the dark.
RIVER: Every shadow?
DOCTOR: No. But any shadow.
RIVER: So what do we do?
DOCTOR:Daleks – aim for the eyestalk. Sontarans – back of the neck. Vashta Nerada… Run! Just run.
There you have it – the top five that scared me. So don’t blink, count the shadows, and run.
Oh – and good luck.