My daughter is deathly afraid of the house two doors down. Not the people in it, no, the house itself. Why? Because flanking the front door are what she thinks are two Weeping Angels.
Since Doctor Who returned in 2005, I’ve been watching Doctor Who with my daughter, who’s now 10. We watched Blink together, when she was 5, – I’d not seen it to vet it, we just watched it raw, so to speak, – and I hadn’t realized the potential impact it could have.
After the episode was over, I glanced at her and her eyes were round and she was clutching her blanket. She was terrified. I mean, to rigidity. She had to sleep with us for a week before she could sleep on her own, and even now the mere mention of Weeping Angels can send her off. Now, it’s not really Doctor Who’s fault – it’s meant to be a bit scary – it’s my fault for not vetting the show first.
But it did drag up a memory of my own.
When I was about 8, I remember seeing The Ark In Space. For those that remember, at the end of the second episode, there’s a cliff hanger where Noah, the stations commander, has been infected by the Wirrn (and if you don’t remember or have never seen this classic episode, please stop reading, locate this adventure and watch It, NOW. Liz Sladen once told me this was one of her favorite stories, so you’ve got her recommendation too as well!). His left hand was touched with Wirrn mucus and it began transforming him. Up till the end of the episode, Noah had kept his left hand firmly in his pocket. However, at the end of the episode, the music comes up and Noah removes his now green mutated hand and stares at it in horror.
I remember being terrified of this. Just out of my mind scared. I spent the next week avoiding ANYONE with their hands in their pockets, for fear of what might come out. It’s a very specific memory I have.
I’ve asked around with some of my friends, asking them what their earliest memories of being scared of Doctor Who – here are some of the ones I was given.
Rhianna Pratchett, award winning videogame writer, mentions being scared of “Some strange spider women who were going to eat Bonnie Langford.” – which, as we’ve established in prior columns, had it come to pass, this author believes would have been to the net positive of the Doctor Who experience**.
My good friend Les Ellis, a videogame producer currently living in The North, mentions being terrified when “the landing light was turned off when the parents went to bed” after an evening’s Doctor Who Watching. Presumably he was afraid because the star ships would have nothing to guide them in to land?……I’ll get me coat.
While we are at it, let’s find out what Sophia Myles (yes, that one) has to say about being afraid of Doctor Who as a kid. Asked on Twitter what she was afraid of on Doctor Who as a child, she replied “Sylvester McCoy” – one suspects she isn’t taking the question as seriously as it deserves, but she’s cute so we’ll overlook it this time.
We all love to be a bit scared, no? That “safe scared” feeling, where we scare ourselves, but in a safe way so deep down, subconsciously, we know we aren’t going to encounter Freddy or a weeping Angel, because our subconscious knows they aren’t real, even if our conscious mind doesn’t address that.
From the research, it’s believed that this kind of self-scaring, or placing ourselves in a situation where scary visuals and situation are presented to us, is our minds way of having the ‘fight or flight’ stimulation – increased adrenaline, increased perception and all that being truly terrified carries with it – without the actual physical danger that often goes with it. Apparently, we are hard-wired to have those responses to dangerous situations in order to promote survival, which is why some people tend to be thrill junkies.
In the case of children, where there is less conscious perception of this phenomenon, it’s been suggested that, for them, it’s a more bonding experience. Being scared means leaning on Mom & Dad more, needing more of their time and attention and in the process, becoming closer in terms of that attention budget.
Whatever it is, it appears to be a niche that Doctor Who settles into nicely. Scary, but in an outlandish sort of way – not the kind of scary that relates directly to the real world, since we all now there are no such things as Weeping Angels,- but the “safe” kind of scary.
And frankly, we love it. Well, I do anyway, and since I’m representing myself as you, you do too!
The return to some of the gothic style horrer-esque stories of the Hinchcliffe era is welcome, be it to a greater or lesser degree (Blink goes right to it and doesn’t let up, whereas stories like The God Complex have it as an element rather than total focus.). One thing that is interesting though, is that a fair number of stories that feature a horror element tend to get swamped by it – often the story ends up serving the horror element, rather than the horror element serving the story. Horror of Fang Rock, The Web of Fear, The Green Death, The Masque of Mandragora, Image of the Fendahl, Kinda, Ghost Light, Night Terrors, even The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit are all stories that, in this authors opinion, tend to get a little overwhelmed by the horror aspects as opposed to the telling of a story, which is the root of what an episode is supposed to do.
However, on the other side of that coin, when the horror elements are combined with strong storytelling, you get the very best of what Doctor Who has to offer – witness Blink, Human Nature / Family of Blood, 42, the Waters of Mars, Ark in Space, Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead, Midnight, The Unquiet Dead, The Caves of Androzani, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, The Brain of Morbius etc etc etc.
One of the coolest things about Doctor Who is its ability to make many things horrific and scary. Physical manifestations of the extreme and unlikely (the monsters like Daleks, Morbius, The Silence and so on), concepts and idea’s (Losing yourself and becoming an emotionless monster, ala The Cybermen, the idea of allowing dead bodies to be hosts to gaseous life forms in The Unquiet Dead, or losing 30 years of your life waiting for someone to rescue you, in The Girl Who Waited.) or the mundane (The child in The Empty Child, The Weeping Angels in Blink, Maggots in The Green Death, the plastic daffodils in The Terror of the Autons) – Doctor Who has done it all and what’s more, for the most part, done it well. Something to be proud of, in a behind-the-sofa kind of way.
Oh, and that Ark In Space episode I mentioned at the start of this article? I re-watched it recently, when the reconditioned DVD was released. Nostalgia at its finest! Right up to the point where Noah pulls his hand out of his pocket and my heart leapt into my mouth, and it revealed…. A hand wrapped in green bubble wrap. No, seriously, it is. If I’d have known what bubble wrap was in those days, it would have saved me a LOT of sleepless nights, let me tell you. You can have HOURS of fun wrapping it round a hand and popping it.
Boy do I feel an idiot now.