Doctor Who: 20 greatest horror stories of the Classic Series

Since the very beginning of the series, Doctor Who has been a show that has featured a lot of horror and monsters. We list twenty of the best examples…
(Photo by Clive Limpkin/Express/Getty Images)

Looking for a scary story to watch from Doctor Who’s original run? No matter what your horror preference is, we’ve got some fantastic stories to recommend!

Horror has long been a core part of Doctor Who. Since almost it’s very beginning, it’s essentially been about monsters at least as much as adventures through time and space. In fact, the show’s most famous monsters of all – the Daleks – appeared in just the second-ever serial!

Of course, some stories have dipped more into the horror genre than others. In fact, there have been many Doctor Who stories that have been a firm part of it – one that many fans of the genre would enjoy.

But which are the best ones for horror fans? Which stories are great at scaring the audience? Which ones are more horror-based purely in terms of style? Which ones take a more psychological approach? And which stories are absolutely essential to watch?

That’s what we want to answer. For this list, we give you twenty stories from Doctor Who‘s original run that truly stand out in terms of horror. Stories that are frightening, shocking, fun, and just fantastic to watch. So no matter what your horror needs are, you’ll find something that’s perfect to watch for the Halloween season, or for any time of the year. Starting with…

20. Planet of Evil

We kick off our list with a story from an era that practically defined horror in Doctor Who – the era produced by Philip Hinchliffe and script edited by Robert Holmes. Together, they gave us many stories influenced by some of the classics of the genre, both in literature and in film, and Planet of Evil is no exception.

It probably says a lot that Planet of Evil is actually one of the weaker stories from Season 13, and yet it’s arguably still a pretty solid story in its own right. For one thing, there’s the planet itself. Thanks to strong design and fantastic use of lighting, there’s a huge sense of atmosphere to the world of Zeta Minor. It comes across as a place that’s dripping with malevolence, and its excellent execution helps to add a lot to this serial.

On top of that, the story also owes a strong influence to the classic novel Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with the scientist Professor Sorenson finding himself constantly transformed due to the effects of…anti-matter.

While the science of this story isn’t exactly great – even by Doctor Who standards – Planet of Evil still comes across as an highly enjoyable story to watch, especially for fans of pure atmosphere. An extremely solid example of the Holmes and Hinchcliffe era, even when it wasn’t at its best.

19. The Web of Fear

There are many great monster stories from Patrick Troughton’s run on Doctor Who, just in his second season alone. But there are a couple of reasons why The Web of Fear stands out – particularly as a horror story.

Firstly, it avoids the usual formula of being about a base under siege and instead presents a city under siege – in this case, the city of London being attacked by both Yeti and a web-like fungus. While alien invasion stories are rather common now – practically a key part of the show, in fact – seeing London attacked by monsters was something of a novelty back in 1968.

But that’s not what makes The Web of Fear an effective horror story. No, what really makes it stand out is its primary setting: the London Underground. Stations that every Londoner will recognize are transformed from crowded, busy areas into dark, quiet places that could hide anything – including monsters. It’s such a simple idea – turning something recognizable and every day into something scary – but it works.

The Great Intelligence also works well in this story. The fact that it has no form of its own and primarily exists as a disembodied voice actually makes it a rather creepy and sinister foe for the Doctor to face. The fact that it can possess anyone – including dead bodies – adds to its creepiness.

An inventive way of turning a key part of London into something truly fearful, The Web of Fear stands out as one of the creepier and more atmospheric stories from Troughton’s era.

18. Earthshock

There are many stories from the Eighties that were extremely violent, but you wouldn’t necessarily call them “horror”. Resurrection of the Daleks by Eric Saward is a prime example of this – in our recent review, we pointed out that, while the story surely had one of the highest body counts in Doctor Who history, it came across more as “shocking” than “horrific”.

However, Earthshock is a different story. Along with being a considerably stronger story than Resurrection, the violence in Earthshock has considerably more impact. Not just because of which major character dies at the end, but also because it genuinely feels scarier. Especially the opening episode.

Before it brings in a major Doctor Who monster, Earthshock focuses on a team of soldiers investigating a series of caves. With them is Professor Kyle, the only survivor of an archaeological expedition. The soldiers think that they’re prepared for what’s hiding down there. But it’s not long before they’re being hunted down, one by one…

A strong opening

The opening episode of Earthshock works so well for several reasons. Saward is excellent at building up the suspense, particularly with the character of Kyle. With her letting the soldiers know exactly what happened to her last time – usually right before the same thing happens to the soldiers – the story is given an increasing feeling of dread and foreboding as it goes on.

Thanks to both great set design and some excellent direction from Peter Grimwade, there’s also a strong sense of claustrophobia, too. Add some simple but terrifying blank-faced androids, and you’ve got the makings of a strong horror story.

Earthshock goes in a slightly different direction after part one. Indeed, the stakes get considerably higher and it becomes more of a sci-fi action story. But it certainly holds up well across all four episodes, with an opening episode that should appeal to horror fans considerably.

17. The Curse of Fenric

The final two seasons of the Classic Series gave us several gems, and The Curse of Fenric is definitely one of them. There are many layers that make this story work so well – several of which horror fans will definitely appreciate.

Set during World War 2, The Curse of Fenric sees the Seventh Doctor and Ace arriving at a British military base, one with an advanced code-breaking machine. However, it’s not long before they discover that much more is going on: not only has a group of Soviet soldiers arrived to steal the machine, but the Doctor soon uncovers an ancient curse – and an even more ancient evil…

There are several clear horror elements that are used rather effectively in this story. Along with the curse itself, there’s also what the curse brings: vampires. It’s not the official name for the gruesome monsters of this story – they’re generally referred to as “Haemovores” – but they closely match the classic vampire archetype. Particularly Jean and Phyllis, two teenage girls who are not only turned into Haemovores but also become very good at attracting their victims…

The Curse of Fenric isn’t necessarily the scariest or the most stylish horror story on this list. But it certainly has plenty to appeal to fans of both Doctor Who and horror, especially when it comes to the many rich themes it features. Particularly the extended special edition included on both the DVD and on the Season 26 Blu-ray, which fleshes out the story considerably. Either way, it’s a highly recommended watch.

16. The Deadly Assassin

For a while, I was wondering whether it was worth including The Deadly Assassin in this list at all. While it was made during the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era – one that’s filled with great horror stories (as you’ll soon see) – it’s easier to think of The Deadly Assassin as a sci-fi conspiracy thriller than a horror story.

However, on closer examination, it’s certainly not without its horror elements – and some particularly strong ones, too. The first thing that leaps out is the appearance of the Master. While we had previously seen him played by Roger Delgado – who looked charming and urbane in the role – in this story, he’s played by Peter Pratt.

Not that we’d be able to recognize him, due to the fact that Pratt plays a horrifically scarred version of the character, with his flesh almost entirely burnt away. Needless to say, it’s one of the more openly horrific interpretations of the character!

The Deadly Assassin also has its own fair share of death and violence, too. Whether it’s by shrinking people or even by arranging the assassination of a president, the Master certainly has his fair share of fun in this story. One particularly graphic death that stands out is a character that’s literally stabbed in the back!

But what really stands out in terms of horror in this story is the third episode. Sending his mind into the Matrix on Gallifrey, the Doctor enters a virtual world that’s out to kill him at every turn. It gets pretty surreal, too – particularly during one moment where he looks into a reflection and sees a clown looking back at him!

Horror might not be the primary genre of The Deadly Assassin. But there’s still more than enough for the average horror fan to enjoy.

15. The Stones of Blood

Part of the Key to Time arc, The Stones of Blood was David Fisher’s first serial for Doctor Who. It was a story that proved that he was a natural fit for the show. The Stones of Blood wasn’t made for the Holmes/Hinchcliffe era, but its strong gothic horror influence certainly suits Tom Baker’s earlier seasons.

What really stands out about this story is the rather unusual monster. In some ways, like The Curse of Fenric, it’s another slight subversion on vampires. But in this case, it’s not vampiric people that are the threat, but vampiric stones.

Making stones scary could be a bit of a stretch, even for Doctor Who. But somehow, The Stones of Blood makes it work. One thing that helps is that the stones in this story aren’t tiny little rocks – instead, they’re part of a stone circle, similar to Stonehenge, making them large and imposing.

What also helps is that the script completely sells the horror of the story. Along with having a clear sense of style (one that’s especially highlighted during the scenes of the cult worshipping the stones), the story doesn’t shy away from violence. There’s a particularly gruesome scene where someone touches one of the stones, before her flesh is completely absorbed by it…

The story’s second half takes quite a turn, one that doesn’t match up to the horror of the first half and goes for something of a sci-fi legal drama. But overall, The Stones of Blood works extremely well, and stands out as one of the stronger stories from The Key to Time.

14. The Tomb of the Cybermen

On the surface, The Tomb of the Cybermen seems like a typical Doctor Who story. The Doctor and his friends join an archaeological expedition, they head into the Cybermen’s tombs, the Cybermen are of course still alive and looking for new people to convert. It’s a pretty solid example of a Cybermen story.

But when you look more closely, you start to see many elements from classic monster movies that Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis use as key influences for this serial. In some ways, The Tomb of the Cybermen is your classic take on a mummy story, one that’s only slightly subverted. There’s an ancient tomb, a team investigates, it turns out the dead bodies are still alive and the team needs to find a way to escape.

It’s not hard to see why the Cybermen would be used for such a story. With so much of their bodies replaced with cybernetic parts, the Cybermen have as much removed from their bodies as mummies have from theirs.

And of course, as with every great mummy movie, the audience knows from the start that the monster of the story isn’t quite as dead as any of the characters believe. Naturally, this adds an element of tension, as we wait for the monsters to eventually wake up and cause havoc. So while the Cybermen themselves don’t show up until halfway through, both the buildup and the payoff make it worth it. In short, The Tomb of the Cybermen is a classic monster story under the extremely thin veil of a sci-fi adventure.

Ghost Light may not be the most cohesive story of the Classic Series, but it certainly is highly atmospheric.
Image Courtesy BBC Studios, BritBox

13. Ghost Light

Just like The Curse of FenricGhost Light is another story that’s very easy to recommend from the Classic Series’s final season. From the very beginning, it’s an absolutely gorgeous story to watch: depicting a Victorian mansion on a couple of dark and stormy nights, Ghost Light has the quality of a Victorian ghost story.

One thing I will warn about Ghost Light is that it’s not the most straightforward of stories. Honestly, it’s packed with so much detail and plot – much of which is hidden in subtext – that it can take a couple of viewings to really absorb everything.

But that’s not a problem. Because what the story lacks in cohesiveness, it more than makes up for in terms of both style and atmosphere. There are so many clear and distinctive characters that feature in this one, characters with their own unique quirks and peculiarities, giving us the strong impression of a house haunted by madness.

The house itself, meanwhile, is perfectly realized. Along with having an excellent design and a clear sense of location, the house is also lit perfectly, casting plenty of shadows and only adding to the rich sense of atmosphere.

The result is a strange, unsettling, and rather unique experience. One that you may not understand fully on the first watch, but – like many great horror stories – certainly one you’ll be happy to revisit.

12. The Daemons

For many Third Doctor fans, The Daemons is a story that comes at the top of their list. It’s easy to see why. Along with featuring both Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado at their very best as the Doctor and the Master, the story also owes a lot to the horror genre. Not in terms of how scary it is, but in terms of pure style.

The Daemons feels like a family-friendly Hammer Horror story, particularly films focused around black magic and Devil-worshipping cults. It’s so easy to imagine Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in the titular roles and having just as much fun as both Pertwee and Delgado clearly do. (In fact, many years ago, Doctor Who Magazine speculated what a movie version of The Daemons would be like – complete with artwork imagining Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee in the key roles. So it’s definitely easy casting to imagine.)

We also get the Master at his villainous best in this story. Disguised as a priest, (well, barely disguised – he calls himself Reverend “Magister”, which is Latin for – yes, you guessed it – “Master”), we see him having plenty of fun. When he’s not summoning ancient powerful beings while cackling with laughter, we also see him gradually manipulating the villagers so that they all side with him – or be disposed of. He’s completely evil in this story, and yet you can’t help but love him, thanks to Roger Delgado’s effortlessly charming performance.

Gloriously stylish and full of fun, The Daemons is an essential watch for those who like to enjoy their horror with a great big smile on their face.

11. State of Decay

During this list so far, we’ve given you a couple of vampire variations. But we haven’t given you actual vampires. Not until this entry, anyway. And if you’re a fan of old-school vampires, then you’re definitely going to love this one.

Set in the middle of the E-Space trilogy – where the Doctor, K9, and Romana find themselves trapped in a much smaller universe – State of Decay is a rather unique story, in several ways. The first thing that stands out is that it’s the only story to feature vampires, or at least, to have creatures that are explicitly the vampires of legend. Writer Terrance Dicks really makes sure to give us a good, solid horror story – one that’s stylish and presents us with three powerful and distinctive takes on the monsters of legend.

The second thing that stands out about this story is that it’s the only example of something resembling classic horror during Christopher H. Bidmead’s run as script editor. Overall, Season 18 was more focused on telling stories with a harder sci-fi edge than before, and while this worked rather well overall, it was nice that State of Decay took a distinctly different approach.

Lastly, the story surprisingly reveals a great deal about the ancient history of the Time Lords, and how their war with the vampires had been a crucial part of it. It also presented us with the idea of vampires so incredibly powerful that they could suck the life out of entire planets!

Sadly, the war between the Time Lords and the vampires hasn’t been explored further on-screen, but it is currently a big part of the multi-platform event Time Lord Victorious. However, regardless of how well State of Decay works as part of the E-Space trilogy or at establishing major mythology, what really makes it worth watching is that it’s a great horror story in its own right.

10. Terror of the Zygons

Invasion of the Body Snatchers in Scotland. That, right there, is an absolutely fantastic idea for a horror story in its own right. But Terror of the Zygons is far more than that. It’s a truly iconic Doctor Who serial – one that introduces one of the show’s most distinctive races.

The Zygons are brilliantly designed in this story. It’s incredibly surprising to think that this is their only appearance in the Classic Series, as their look is extremely unique and distinctive. It says a lot that when they were finally brought back in the fiftieth-anniversary episode The Day of the Doctor, very little had been changed regarding their appearance, especially when compared to the Silurians when they had been brought back in the New Series.

The story also has its fair share of violent and horrific moments. One example that stands out is Harry – one of the Doctor’s own companions – trying to attack and kill Sarah in a barn. Of course, in this case, it’s not Harry, but a shapeshifting Zygon. But the scene is handled in such a way that it feels both claustrophobic and disturbing – something that suits the dark tone of this story very well.

With a well-realized monster, a strong tone, and some great shocks, Terror of the Zygons is another great story from the golden era of Holmes and Hinchcliffe. More than that – it shows how fantastic Robert Banks Stewart was at both writing Doctor Who and horror. Something that would also be proved by his second and last story in the series. But more on that later…

9. Kinda

We get something rather different with Kinda. It doesn’t have a high body count, far from it. But that doesn’t make the story less than absolutely terrifying, primarily because of how well it works on a psychological level. Especially with how it handles one of the Doctor’s own companions.

Now, we’re used to seeing companions find themselves in trouble. We’ve seen them hypnotized or possessed in many instances of the show – sometimes, in their first-ever appearance!

But what happens to Tegan in Kinda is different. Darker. It isn’t that she’s simply possessed. It’s that she chooses to be. Not at first, oh no. During the course of a horrific nightmare, Tegan is psychologically tortured and beaten down by a manifestation of the Mara – a form of pure evil that exists primarily in dreams but wants to break through into physical existence.

Psychological torture

The scenes focusing on Tegan’s suffering are truly uncomfortable to watch. At several points, she’s forced to doubt not just her own sanity but even her very existence in several different ways. When she gives her “consent” to be possessed, it’s a horrifying moment because you know that it isn’t real consent at all. She’s just finally surrendering after suffering for so long.

The Mara itself is a terrifying entity. While its physical realization at the end is…disappointing, shall we say, it’s still terrifying to see it cause good people to do terrible things, whether through possession or by other means. On top of that, the way it possesses others is pretty freaky to watch. As a kid, the image of a snake tattoo suddenly coming to life and crawling onto someone else’s arm scarred me for life!

So if you’re looking for a story that messes with your head more and features some of the more disturbing psychological horror in Doctor Who history, then you can’t go wrong with Kinda.

8. Spearhead from Space

There are two reasons why Spearhead from Space will always be one of the all-time greats. First, it does a brilliant job of establishing both the Third Doctor and the new era. Second – and much more important to this list – is that it introduces the Autons.

Despite having very few appearances in both the Classic and the New Series, the Autons have always remained a truly iconic enemy for Doctor Who fans. In fact, Russell T Davies made the very smart choice of using them for the Ninth Doctor’s first episode, Rose.

It’s easy to see why they work so well. With the ability to possess any form of plastic – including dummies – Robert Holmes’s idea for this unique monster is simple and yet terrifying. And while both of their follow-up appearances in Terror of the Autons and Rose are fantastic, they’re arguably at their most terrifying in Spearhead.

There are several moments in this story that are truly iconic. Whether it’s the dummy slowly coming to life behind Ransome, the Auton breaking into the Seeleys’s home, or one particularly harsh and brutal death, Robert Holmes certainly had a gift for creating shocking and truly horrifying scenes.

But the very best moment has to be when the invasion truly begins. Beginning with the rather unsettling image of ordinary shop window dummies coming to life, the scene then escalates into something both larger scale and extremely violent. While Davies made sure to pay tribute to this in Rose, the original invasion in Spearhead will always be the best example. More than that – Spearhead from Space still stands out as the greatest and scariest story featuring the Nestenes.

7. The Brain of Morbius

In terms of pure style, I absolutely love The Brain of Morbius. It’s a shameless rip-off of Frankenstein – at least several classic movie versions of the story – but that’s what makes it so brilliant.

The world of Karn is probably one of the purest representations of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era and its love of classic horror. It’s a world of dark, stormy nights and treacherous cliffs. It’s a world of mad scientists and disfigured henchmen. It’s a world of witches and horrific monsters. Honestly, there’s so much in The Brain of Morbius that’s specifically designed to appeal to fans of classic horror, and the story works brilliantly because of it.

Like State of Decay, it’s also a horror story that adds a great deal to the show’s mythology. The serial introduces us to the former Time Lord villain Morbius and how he planned to conquer the universe. We’re introduced to the Sisterhood of Karn – a group that would become central to the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration decades later in The Night of the Doctor. And the serial even hints at the concept of pre-Hartnell Doctors – something that was addressed and expanded on in the most recent episode The Timeless Children.

But of course, what really makes this serial work so well is that’s a great tribute to horror, especially the classic movies made by Universal and Hammer. So fans of those are definitely going to enjoy this one.

6. The Robots of Death

In some ways, The Robots of Death has a slightly misleading title. Oh, I’m not saying that it isn’t about killer robots. Trust me, the story does exactly what it says on the tin in that regard. But it’s such a basic title that you expect a basic story. To be honest, when I watched it for the first time many years ago, I certainly wasn’t expecting to find it actually scary. And yet honestly, that’s exactly what it is.

This is even more surprising when you consider that there are hardly any actual death scenes, as many of the characters are killed off entirely off-screen. In fact, this is almost true of the first death of the story.

Yet at the same time, the death of Chub is probably one of the most chilling moments in the Classic Series. There’s an excellent sense of buildup and tension that leads up to it, as the viewer knows that something is wrong with the robot before the upcoming victim does. And when the robot stretches out its hands towards Chub, there’s a strong sense of claustrophobia as he backs away but can’t find a way out.

That sense of claustrophobia continues for the rest of the story. As the crew of the sandminer are bumped off, one by one, it becomes clearer and clearer that there’s no room to escape.

Yes, The Robots of Death is a basic story. But it’s a perfect example of how to handle so many key elements right, including taking a basic story and making it terrifying.

5. Horror of Fang Rock

It’s funny to think that Doctor Who‘s fifteenth season opened with a story like Horror of Fang Rock. You see, by the end of Season 14, while Robert Holmes’s and Philip Hinchcliffe’s joint run as script editor and producer had been highly popular, they had also received many complaints about the level of horror and violence in the show. (Probably mostly from TV campaigner Mary Whitehouse, to be honest.) New producer Graham Williams had been strongly encouraged to lighten the tone considerably with Season 15 as a result.

So it’s kind of ironic that the season opened with a story like Horror of Fang Rock. Make no mistake, Terrance Dicks’s story definitely lives up to its title, in several ways.

Firstly, it has a strong sense of atmosphere. Taking place on a dark and foggy night at a lighthouse on the island of Fang Rock, the story has a strong sense of atmosphere from the very beginning. Like The Robots of Death, it also has a strong sense of claustrophobia, with all the characters having to shelter inside the cramped lighthouse.

Of course, like The Robots of Death, it also features a high body count, too. What increases the horror is that everyone is picked off silently, one by one, without anyone else noticing for the longest time. The moment the Doctor realizes that he’s locked the creature in with them is a terrific cliffhanger.

With both a strong sense of atmosphere and an extremely high body count, Horror of Fang Rock is a fantastic example of the horror genre at its best.

4. Pyramids of Mars

Another easy classic of the Holmes and Hinchcliffe era, Pyramids of Mars also features many of its greatest strengths. For one thing, it not only steals from strong horror influences, but it uses those influences extremely well.

Earlier, we mentioned how The Tomb of the Cybermen used mummy movies as a key inspiration. That inspiration is definitely more direct in Pyramids of Mars, right from the very beginning. A mysterious tomb is opened in Egypt and an ancient evil is awakened. The story even features actual mummies! (Or at least, something designed to look as close to mummies as possible.)

Of course, it’s not just faithfully following classic monster movie tropes that have helped to make Pyramids of Mars such a much-loved classic. It also features Sutekh – one of the most potentially powerful villains in Doctor Who history. I say “potentially powerful” because, while he has the ability to wipe out entire worlds with a mere thought, he’s also completely trapped inside his pyramid. More than that – he’s utterly paralyzed, unable to move even a single inch.

A monster that’s unable to move can easily come across as completely non-threatening. But Gabriel Woolf’s performance as Sutekh is utterly chilling. Particularly in how quiet it is. Many monsters in Doctor Who want to come across as powerful because of how loud they can shout, but Woolf’s performance is always restrained and full of menace. Sutekh doesn’t come across as someone trying to act powerful – he is powerful, looking at all other forms of life as nothing more than insects compared to him. It’s why he’s one of Doctor Who‘s more terrifying villains, and a big reason why Pyramids of Mars is a horror classic for the series.

3. The Seeds of Doom

After such classics like Pyramids of Mars and The Brain of Morbius, Season 13 ends with the fantastic story The Seeds of Doom by Robert Banks Stewart. This is his second and sadly last serial for the show, and yet it still stands out as one of the best. Especially in terms of horror.

First, there’s the central monster of the story: the Krynoid. A form of galactic weed, a Krynoid pod first lands on a planet, (usually as one of a pair,) takes over a host, gradually transforms it into a Krynoid before germinating and consuming the entire planet.

It’s a pretty horrific monster, and we get not one but two examples of what happens when it takes over a host. Featuring not just plenty of body horror but even an antarctic base, fans of The Thing will likely enjoy the first two episodes of this story a great deal.

Central villain

But there are more reasons why The Seeds of Doom stands out as a great horror story. There’s also the central human antagonist – Harrison Chase, a mad millionaire obsessed with plant life who actually wants the Krynoid to take over the Earth. Played brilliantly by Tony Beckley (who horror fans will likely recognize from When A Stranger Calls), he fits the mould of some of the best villains you’d see in the James Bond movies, while still coming across as a terrifying Doctor Who baddie in his own right.

Lastly, the final reason why this story is so horrific: violence. A lot of characters get killed in particularly nasty ways in this one, even characters that you grow to like. One that stands out involves a compost machine – it’s entirely off-screen, but it’s certainly easy to imagine in its gruesomeness!

With scary monsters, great villains and plenty of body horror and violence, The Seeds of Doom is another classic example of why the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era was so perfect for horror fans. And, of course, it’s not the last such example in our list…

2. The Ark in Space

Let’s be honest: if you know anything about Doctor Who, you definitely won’t be surprised to see this one on the list. You probably won’t be surprised to see it in such a high position, either. The Ark in Space is one of several examples of Doctor Who at its very best. Both Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat have said that it’s one of their favorite stories from the Classic Series, and it’s definitely easy to see why.

First of all, it’s extremely well-constructed. Sometimes, the four-part format can be tricky to manage – often, it feels like a story has a beginning, middle, and an end, plus something extra included to drag the story out.

But The Ark in Space doesn’t have that problem because writer Robert Holmes uses a great trick with the first episode: he focuses entirely on the regulars, as they investigate a mystery on a silent space station. It’s not until part 2 that they meet the guest characters, and that’s when the story properly kicks off. So you have a simple but effective opening episode that provides a feeling of unease, before bringing in the death and violence for the rest of it.

Body horror

And there is certainly a lot of horror in this story. Some of it comes down to the violence, but a lot more of it comes down to the body horror. While there’s no question that the Krynoid transformations in The Seeds of Doom are horrifying, what makes The Ark in Space stand out just that little bit more is how much it focuses on Noah, who slowly loses himself to the Wirrn. Not just his body, but also his mind, too. Kenton Moore gives a fantastic performance in the role, and you really feel the horror of a man who’s slowly losing everything that he is.

So that’s our number two entry for the Classic Series’s best horror stories. But what’s number one? There’s only really one option, isn’t there…?

1. The Talons of Weng-Chiang

If there’s one single Doctor Who story that I’d recommend horror fans to check out, (and there are so many that it’s difficult to choose sometimes,) then The Talons of Weng-Chiang definitely stands out as one of the top three choices I’d pick. (Seriously, those last few entries were really hard to choose between.) It’s one of those stories that has it all: atmosphere, violence, evil villains, and extremely distinctive characters.

Robert Holmes was never one to shy away from a clear horror influence, and The Talons of Weng-Chiang was no exception. Along with a (sadly dated) influence from Fu Manchu movies, Holmes also takes plenty of inspiration from The Phantom of the Opera. It’s a pure stylish influence, one with none of the tragedy of that classic story’s titular character, but it works so well. (He’d save the more tragic aspects for the Fifth Doctor’s final story, The Caves of Androzani.)

The sheer style of the story continues with the Doctor himself, who acts like something of a sci-fi Sherlock Holmes – complete with a deerstalker hat. Add to that the excellent setting of the dark, foggy streets of Victorian London, and you’ve got a great mix of both style and atmosphere.

Jago & Litefoot

But there’s much more to Talons than just its sense of style. It also features many characters with a lot of depth. Which brings me to the magnificent duo of Jago & Litefoot. While they’re entirely separated for the first four episodes, each character stands out brilliantly on their own terms, and add plenty of comedy and depth to the story.

However, it’s when they’re brought together in the final two episodes that the magic really happens. These two men from such different backgrounds seem like such an unlikely pairing in any circumstances, let alone as two Investigators of Infernal Incidents! But that’s exactly what they become. It’s not surprising that Big Finish eventually gave them a spin-off series of their own – one that was heavily based in horror and the macabre, of course. It’s also unsurprising that it became one of the company’s most successful Doctor Who spin-offs.

Of course, The Talons of Weng-Chiang stands out for far more reasons than leading to another series altogether. It works because it combines so many elements and works on so many levels. Indeed, it’s not just one of Doctor Who‘s greatest horror stories, but arguably one of the best serials in Doctor Who history.

Do you agree with our list? What are your favorite horror stories from Doctor Who‘s original run? Are there any missing from this list that you feel should have been included? Let us know in the comments below.