Happy Who-lloween! It’s the festival of fear and fright, so we’re celebrating at Blogtor Who in appropriate fashion.
Doctor Who is known for its creepy monsters and hiding behind the sofa, but how has it fared with ghosts and ghouls?
Interestingly, ghosts are the one supernatural being that the series tends to shy away from. We’ve had mummies (on the Orient Express, no less) and werewolves, but very rarely ghosts. If we had to guess, it’s because apparitions from the afterlife are slightly harder to explain with technobabble than ancient monsters. As such, there’s not actually that many Doctor Who ghost stories out there. However, that’s not stopped us! There’s just enough to scrape together a Top 5 list to mark today’s spooky occasion. Will you be watching any of these this Halloween…?
5. The Talons of Weng-Chiang
In any other list, this excellent Victorian era serial would probably take a higher spot. Here, though, it falls short, because it isn’t really a ghost story. In fact, it barely qualifies at all. There’re a few worries that there’re ghoulies haunting the theatre, but it doesn’t go much further than that. It’s all just poor old stagehand Casey being a “pixilated leprechaun” (great phrase, by the way). Even the giant rat gets more attention.
However, what it lacks in ghostly goodness, The Talons of Weng-Chiang more than makes up for with everything else. This is a cracking classic Who story and, even if it isn’t entirely apt for Halloween, it’s one that’s well worth watching. Plus, it introduced the world to everyone’s favourite double act: Jago and Litefoot. What’s not to love!
4. Army of Ghosts
Again, another Who story that has ghosts-that-aren’t-ghosts, this time from the modern series. Army of Ghosts handles things better though by, y’know, actually using them as part of the plot. The citizens of Earth are visited by humanoid silhouettes and, trying to rationalise the situation, believe they are the spirits of lost loved ones. It’s a very intriguing premise and certainly fitting for the penultimate episode of David Tennant’s first series. The idea of the world having “ghost shifts” is also weirdly entertaining.
It’s important to note though that this list only includes part one of this two-parter, because by the time Doomsday rolls around, the terrible truth has been revealed. These “ghosts” are really those pesky Cybermen from the parallel universe, breaking down the barrier across time and space. They materialise into their proper forms and all hell breaks loose.
Oh, and then they end up fighting the Daleks for a bit. As you do.
3. The Unquiet Dead
Ah, now this is more like it! In Mark Gatiss’ first (and arguably best) script for new Doctor Who, The Ninth Doctor accidentally takes Rose to Cardiff, 1869. As well as meeting famous writer Charles Dickens (played by famous actor Simon Callow), they also encounter the ghostly Gelth. These gas-like creatures were left devastated by the Time War, so it’s up to The Doctor to help them find new bodies. An exciting adventure ensues, in which we’re introduced to Gwyneth, later revealed to be an ancestor of Torchwood’s Gwen Cooper. Small world!
After the Gelth departed, it would be a long time until we saw another ghostly creature appear in the show again. In fact, it arguably wasn’t until…
Let’s be honest, Series 7’s “movie of the week” approach was a little bit haphazard. There were loads of great ideas, but trying to squeeze a blockbuster into 45 minutes didn’t always work. One episode that did manage to pull it off though was Hide, the fourth episode of Series 7B. Or, if you prefer, the ninth episode of Series 7 overall. Those mid-season splits sure did complicate things!
This underrated gem from 2013 was the haunted house story we never knew we needed. It ticked all the usual tropes: paranormal investigators, creaky floorboards… even the obligatory Ghostbusters reference. It was well paced, well shot, and well lit – there’s a very spooky atmosphere all through Caliburn House.
There were some brilliant moments too: The Doctor trapped alone in the pocket universe forest was eerie and tense. And, while yet again there wasn’t an actual ghost here, the Crooked Man was still a fantastic monster design. The theme of ghosts was interestingly woven into certain moments, too. The “we’re all ghosts to you” scene was a particular highlight, and not just for the triumphant return of the orange spacesuit.
Also, fun fact: this was the first episode that Jenna Coleman filmed as Clara Oswald. By which we mean Clara Oswald, not Clara Oswin Oswald or Oswin Oswald. Not confusing at all.
1. Under the Lake/Before the Flood
Ta-da! The number one ghost story brings us bang up to date. Last year’s claustrophobic two-parter from Toby Whithouse takes home the gold in our list. It’s a very different ghost story to Hide, mainly because this one actually dares to have proper ghosts. Alright, so they’re not completely legit, but they’re the closest we’ve ever come – and they’re certainly played up as the real thing. The Doctor, though quick to dismiss them, even gets on board with the idea at one point. They can walk through walls, they only come out at night, they’re sort of see-through… they’re ghosts!
Even without the excellently realised apparitions, Under the Lake and Before the Flood make for a unique and engaging Doctor Who story. There’s tons of great ideas and moments spread out across these 90 minutes, and it ensured Series 9 continued on a strong note after The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar. It didn’t go down as an instant fan favourite for no reason, after all.
Oh, and of course there’s that cliffhanger. All things considered, we must say Peter Capaldi makes a very convincing evil ghost. Well, ghostly hologram… thingy. Whatever. It’s quite the surprising scene to end an episode on, we’re sure you’ll agree. You might even go as far as to call it a trick that turns out to be quite a treat! (…geddit?)