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Doctor Who's 12 Scariest Episodes Ranked

There are few sci-fi franchises with a legacy like the one "Doctor Who" enjoys. The British series has captivated audiences since the early 1960s. Though it was put on pause in the late 1980s, it came roaring back in 2005 and hasn't slowed down since. The relaunched "Doctor Who" series has now delivered nearly two decades' worth of exciting stories.

But "Doctor Who" isn't just a sci-fi series about a time traveler getting into wacky misadventures. It's capable of exploring true horror — a tradition that stretches back to its earliest episodes. Some of the best "Doctor Who" episodes keep fans on the edge of their seats with shocking visuals, white-hot suspense, and truly disturbing monsters. Which "Doctor Who" episodes are the most terrifying? That's a tough question, but one well worth answering. So grab your sonic screwdriver and double-check your psychic paper, because we're going on a trip through the time vortex to rank the 12 scariest episodes of the modern "Doctor Who."

12. Mummy on the Orient Express

When it comes to horror, we often think of monsters like vampires, werewolves, and demons. "Doctor Who" has featured plenty of classic examples, and one of the creepiest episodes to do so is "Mummy on the Orient Express." Mixing old school horror tropes with a send-up of the Agatha Christie classic "Murder on the Orient Express," this episode begins with the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) taking Clara (Jenna Coleman) on a ride aboard a legendary space-faring train. 

After receiving an invitation from the star-soaring Orient Express, the Doctor learns of the mysterious death of a passenger named Mrs. Pitt. Apparently, she was killed by a mummy only she could see. Things take a turn when the train's computer reveals they weren't invited by happenstance. Every passenger has a role to play in the investigation of the killer apparition that can kill with a touch and only be seen by his next victim. One by one, the passengers are picked off as our heroes rush to figure out what the mummy wants and how to stop it. 

A nail-biting story filled with escalating dread, "Mummy on the Orient Express" is a perfect treat for those who love classic horror. Its ending also offers a clever twist, making for a satisfying conclusion to an engrossing mystery worthy of Christie's original yarn.

11. The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon

Few "Doctor Who" adversaries are as spine-chilling as the Silence. They make their debut in an episode that sees the death of the Doctor and a trip to the American White House. Though "The Impossible Astronaut" doesn't initially feel like it's going to be one of the more scary installments of the series, it quickly progresses from intriguing mystery to shiver-inducing horror, complete with some eye-popping jump scares that will leave you bailing for the blankets.

After receiving mysterious invitations to meet the Doctor in Utah, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), and on-again-off-again companion River Song (Alex Kingston) meet a cowboy hat-wearing Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) for a picnic at Lake Silencio. But while they're there, a person in an Apollo-era spacesuit emerges from the water and murders the Doctor with an energy blast. After burning his body, a version of the Doctor from the past emerges with his own invitation. Together, they travel back to 1969, where answers to this puzzle await them.

Our heroes soon discover President Richard Nixon, intrepid Secret Service Agent Canton Delaware III, and a mystery involving a kidnapped little girl. But they also find a race of insidious aliens known as the Silence, whose ability to drain a person's life force is only made more horrifying by the fact that you forget they exist the moment you stop looking at them.

10. Asylum of the Daleks

There's something innately frightening about the Daleks, one of the oldest foes in the "Doctor Who" universe. Perhaps it's that they were once flesh and blood beings who became little more than gooey brains in metal shells. Or maybe it's their unusually cone-shaped bodies, which are so unlike any other robot race. Either way, their chilling, high-pitched, monotone voices alone are enough to leave you running for the exits the moment they appear. But while the Daleks have appeared in countless "Doctor Who" stories since the '60s, their scariest might just be "Asylum of the Daleks."

It begins when the Eleventh Doctor and companions Amy and Rory are abducted and taken to Skaro, the Dalek homeworld. But the Daleks haven't brought them for execution — they want their help. Damage to critical infrastructure threatens to release countless insane Daleks. To stop a potential rampage through the galaxy, the Doctor must go into the asylum and deactivate a force shield that will allow the other Daleks to destroy them all.

But when they venture too deeply, the Doctor makes contact with a young woman apparently held prisoner in the asylum. As she remotely guides them through the facility in the hopes of rescue, the Doctor has a disturbing revelation about her that will rattle your bones. If you want a different kind of Dalek story with an unsettling twist and a generally creepy vibe, "Asylum of the Daleks" delivers all the fright you could ask for.

9. The Waters of Mars

Few horror tropes can match the flesh-eating zombie. What makes them all the more terrifying is that the threat they pose can often be invisible, spread through a virus that infects people alive or dead without their knowledge. Such is the case in the Hugo Award-winning 2009 "Doctor Who" special "The Waters of Mars," a nightmarish story that brings zombies into space.

Set in the year 2059, we find the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) struggling to face his prophesied death as he travels to Mars to witness one of Earth's early colonization missions. There, he meets Adelaide Brooke (Lindsay Duncan), a commander dealing with a crisis as her mission goes wrong. The Doctor knows from history that she won't make it out alive, but that doesn't make it any easier when the crew gets struck by a deadly plague that turns them into mindless monsters. As they fall to the infection, the Doctor must face up to his destiny while wrestling with whether he should save the crew and change history.

More than just a simple zombie story, this episode puts the Doctor in the midst of an existential crisis. He's not the self-assured hero we're used to, and that is truly unnerving.

8. Hide

With a mysterious apparition, a ghost hunter, and a psychic assistant to its name, haunted mansion tale "Hide" hits all the right notes. The Eleventh Doctor and his new companion Clara Oswald travel back to 1974. There, they find Professor Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott) and assistant Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine), who are investigating the haunting of Caliburn House. As Emma makes a psychic connection with an apparently paranormal entity, the Doctor and Clara arrive posing as government investigators. With the assistance of the TARDIS, the Doctor soon realizes that the so-called ghost is actually a time traveler trapped in a pocket dimension, where time is moving at an infinitesimal rate. 

When he enters the pocket dimension himself, however, the Doctor becomes prey to the deadly beast that resides there. It's then up to Clara to get him out. But there's yet another catch: If the Doctor returns from this nether realm, the deadly creature could follow him back into our world.

7. Listen

There are many different kinds of horror, from shocking ghost stories that curdle the blood to violent slashers that make you scream in fear. In "Listen," we get horror of a very different sort. Though there are few over-the-top scares or gory, jaw-dropping visuals, this episode is one of the finest examples of nail-biting suspense and sheer psychological terror that the franchise has ever produced.

In the present day, companion Clara Oswald is facing problems in her relationship with fellow teacher Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). But then, she's picked up by the TARDIS. The Doctor wants her help exploring the notion of a theoretical creature with the perfect ability to hide, which stems from one of his distant childhood memories. But in her first test, the TARDIS brings her back to Danny Pink's youth, where she finds a version of her boyfriend who's alone and afraid of the dark. When yet another trip leaves her in a remote barn, Clara comes to a terrifying revelation that makes her blood run cold.

A masterpiece of slow-building suspense, "Listen" lacks the traditional scares you might expect from a horror story. But while there is no rampaging monster or supernatural evil at hand, the way the story twists your mind might leave you wondering what lurks in the darkness ... and how it got there.

6. Night Terrors

With a title like "Night Terrors," you know you're in for a feverishly good time. This episode features a race of living dolls that will make your skin crawl. But while horror film icons like Chucky and Anabelle are diminutive dollies, part of what makes "Night Terrors" so terrifying is that its toys aren't tiny at all. In fact, these deadly dolls are larger than life. And while the victims in most stories of this sort are on the run, the Doctor and his companions are trapped in a house from which there seems to be no escape.

"Night Terrors" starts out with the timeless story of a young boy who's afraid of the monsters in his bedroom. Receiving his call for help, the Tenth Doctor, Amy, and Rory head to a flat where a lift mysteriously delivers them to an 18th century home full of confused people like themselves. The group is soon terrorized by giant-sized peg dolls, who transform the people into creatures like themselves. But something else is very wrong about this house, and the Doctor soon realizes that the little boy is more than he appears to be ... and that he may be the only one who can save them. Full of nerve-shattering imagery and hair-raising fright, "Night Terrors" may just leave you fearful of your childhood toys.

5. The Unquiet Dead

If you're going to pick a holiday on which to set a horror story, you'll likely land on Halloween. But "The Unquiet Dead" doesn't — it goes the Tim Burton route and sets its scary story on Christmas Eve. The first episode on this list to feature the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), it's also the first franchise appearance for actress Eve Myles, who would go on to snag a leading role on "Doctor Who" spin-off "Torchwood.

Here, Myles plays Gwyneth, a young clairvoyant living in 19th century England who gets tangled up in a string of bizarre attacks involving reanimated corpses. The Doctor and companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) have landed there by accident, and take the opportunity to attend a public appearance by renowned author Charles Dickens. When it's discovered that the attacks are being perpetrated by a non-corporeal race of aliens who are trapped on Earth, the Doctor and Rose team up with Gwyneth and Dickens to set them free. But soon, the Doctor discovers that their true purpose is anything but benign. With cataclysmic stakes at hand, "The Unquiet Dead" is a different kind of ghost story. Its spirits are creatures from another realm attempting to take over planet Earth — and they might just do it. It's perfectly "Doctor Who," and perfectly scary.

4. The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit

When a two-part episode includes a title like "The Satan Pit," it's a fair bet you're in for a seriously scary installment. "The Impossible Planet" and "The Satan Pit" are a loving homage to the space horror genre. The Tenth Doctor and Rose are trapped on a gloomy space station at the edge of the final frontier, where they are stalked by a malevolent being that could kill them all.

The station's crew is studying an unusual planet called Krop Tor, which orbits a black hole. Together with the Ood, a race of malleable alien servants, they delve into the depths of the planet, only to uncover an ancient being that can possess their bodies. Once it takes control of the Ood, the entity sends the Doctor on a harrowing chase through the planet's bowels, where he is tormented by the spirit of the most ancient evil he has ever faced.

With plenty of suspense and petrifying scares, "The Impossible Planet" and "The Satan Pit" comprise what might be the closest thing you'll find in "Doctor Who" to a classic '90s action-horror movie.

3. Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead

Milestone two-parter "Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead" gives Whovians a new villain in the Vashta Nerada and a riveting space thriller. Called to a remote planetary library, the Tenth Doctor finds it entirely abandoned but for a small research team led by Professor River Song, a time-traveling archaeologist who claims to know him intimately. But while she's met him many times in his future, for the Doctor, this is their first encounter, and he doesn't entirely trust her. Soon, they discover that the library is being controlled by a mysterious young girl. Then the research team is attacked by an unseen enemy that doesn't just live in the darkness ... it is the darkness. 

On the run from a sinister force that could be his own shadow, the Doctor must uncover the mystery of the library, save its people, and get out alive. A terrifying journey into fear itself, not everyone is promised a happy ending in "Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead." Its high creep factor and genuine scares are expertly paired with a bittersweet and surprisingly empowering ending that kicks off Professor Song and the Doctor's long journey together.

2. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances

"The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances" serve up what is easily one of the creepiest alien adversaries in modern "Doctor Who." This two-parter is set in Blitz-ravaged London, where the Doctor and Rose follow a time-traveling object that falls to Earth amidst the bombs. In the attack's aftermath, a young boy named Jamie is hospitalized with a vicious injury, and also seems to develop strange abilities that nobody can explain. Shortly afterwards, an infection sweeps through the hospital ward. Suffering patients undergo a horrifying mutation, growing gas masks on their faces and becoming mindless drones who repeatedly ask everyone they see one simple question: "Are you my mummy?"

Though this story is obviously creepy on the surface, words cannot describe just how disconcerting it becomes. One of the best spine-tinglers in the series' long run, "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances" is also the product of the "Doctor Who" relaunch's first year. "Doctor Who" is back, this two-parter declares, and it is going to scare the pants off you.

1. Blink

An iconic episode for a number of reasons, "Blink" features what is arguably the greatest new villain of the relaunched "Doctor Who." Set in the modern day, "Blink" is told entirely from the perspective of a young woman, with the Tenth Doctor only appearing on a video screen in pre-recorded messages sent back in time. Sally Sparrow's (Carey Mulligan) best friend mysteriously disappears in an abandoned home full of bizarre angel statues. When said friend's brother Larry comes across a videotape with a seemingly indecipherable message from the Doctor, they go on the hunt for answers. But soon, Sally and Larry are forced into a horrifying showdown with the statues themselves. They're actually an alien race who can only move when nobody is looking at them, but are capable of acting faster than the human eye can perceive. What's worse, a single touch from one of these statues can make one disappear forever.

Rapidly rising tension transforms "Blink" from a sci-fi mystery into a tale of terror. It's not just the scariest episode of the new "Doctor Who" — it's one of the show's finest-ever episodes. The Weeping Angels are utterly terrifying, from their unique design to their fascinating powers. Watching them close in on Sally and Larry is almost unbearably suspenseful. You'll never look at statues the same way again.