Doctor Who has been sending viewers behind the sofa in fear for over fifty years now, but it would be fair to say that Steven Moffat’s tenure on the show has delivered some of the most terrifying episodes by far. Not only did he create the likes of the Weeping Angels and the Silence, but he’s not afraid to dip into real world terrors, too. For instance, season 10’s finale “World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls” took some very chilling turns. In particular, when Bill was trapped in a spaceship hospital, eventually being converted into a Cyberman.
While talking with Digital Spy, the outgoing Doctor Who showrunner was questioned about his thinking behind the finale. Firstly, he explained that he wanted to capture “the horror of the hospital,” something he’d experienced recently as his mother sadly passed away last year. This then led into a discussion about whether the show can go too far with scaring the audience, in particular the thousands of young kids who love Doctor Who.
In response, Moffat explained that he definitely didn’t think this was the case, as he feels that seeing such real-life horrors on TV could prepare them for tragedies in later life.
“I have got no compunction about doing that in a children’s show, it’s absolutely right and proper. There’s no point in shielding kids from things in dramas that they aren’t shielded from in real life. What’s the point? Give them a vocabulary, give them a feeling that other people have felt the way they feel right now, even if that feeling is awful.”
“If you’ve been scared of what a hospital looks like, you might think, ‘I’m the only person that’s been scared this way.’ If you see it in Doctor Who you think, ‘Oh, so that’s normal to be scared of that.’ You can’t say, ‘You’ll never have to go to one.’ Yes, you will. And some of the visits will be very grim indeed.
“That’s just responsible programming. I don’t think that’s wrong at all. You’ve done them a favour.”
It’s an interesting viewpoint. While many parents would naturally want to protect their children from potentially upsetting entertainment, Moffat is right about it also having a reassuring and emotionally educational affect. As for kids themselves, many of them clearly love the relative dark places that Doctor Who sometimes goes to, as the younger generations have been flocking to the show for decades.
Still, Moffat has been sending young’uns to their beds terrified for long enough now, and will be bowing out of the series after the upcoming Christmas special. From season 11 onward, Broadchurch writer Chris Chibnall will take over. So far, his episodes have been mostly lighter fare, so it remains to be seen whether he’ll inject any scares into his take on Doctor Who.