Doctor Who's 17 Worst Cliffhangers

Because not every Doctor Who cliffhanger is going to be a classic…

 

 

Doctor Who used to be famous for its cliffhangers. Most of them were great. Some of them were okay. A few were terrible. Here, in chronological order, is a list of those that are even worse than terrible. They're so bad, they might make you want to watch Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

 

The Sensorites: The Unwilling Warriors (2)

A scene from The Sensorites

Although The Keys of Marinus is the series' first bona fide dud, its cliffhangers are pretty cool. Ironically, The Sensorites has one of the finest cliffhangers in the series' history — a spooky alien face hovers into view outside a spaceship porthole. It's the next five episodes that lets things down, and the ending to episode 2 is particularly woeful. Susan goes down with the boring Sensorites (stop sniggering at the back) to their boring planet. And that's it. William Russell is too busy doing 'one foot on block while looking pensive' acting, he doesn't even notice.

 

The Chase: The Executioners (1)

scene from The Chase

The cliffhanger to episode 1 of The Dalek Invasion of Earth — a Dalek rising from the Thames — is masterful, even though it doesn't make sense. Terry Nation liked it so much he copied it for episode 1 of The Chase. This time with sand instead of water. And with a model. And some coughing. Yes folks, the poor little Dalek rises from the sand coughing and spluttering its little guts out. It's so cute. Actually, it's not — it's rubbish. But then this is a story that brings us a thick, stuttering Dalek, so we shouldn't be surprised.

 

The Invasion: 7

scene from The Invasion

The most over-rated Cybermen story ever finally looks like ending. But no, having endured seven episodes of macho posturing and dire jazz music (that's three more than The Underwater Menace for fuck's sake), the Cyber-Planner announces that a 'Cyber- megatron bomb' is being delivered. By courier? Yes, we have another twenty-five minutes of this to endure. God help us all.

 

Spearhead from Space: 3

Spearhead from Space

While the Doctor and Liz are messing about with a Nestene control unit in an underground car park pretending to be a UNIT laboratory, a minor character opens his front door to be greeted by a facsimile of himself. With a shiny face. A pause. Then the end music lazily fades in. Where is the threat here? Do we care what happens to the aforementioned General Scobie, a clichéd Colonel Blink from the pages of Beezer comic? I'll answer that for you — no.

 

The Time Monster: 2

The Time Monster

After last week's exciting cliffhanger in which Roger Delgado summons the great god Kronos (cf Robert Sloman's previous season closer The Daemons), we get another variation on it. But this time the Master has summoned…um…an old man. An old man in a Red Indian costume and a silly wig. It's Charles Hawtrey in Carry On Cowboy. Seriously. No, seriously, it is.

 

Frontier in Space: 4

Frontier From Space

Roger Delgado says goodnight to Jon Pertwee, and Pertwee promises him a cup of tea in the morning. Can things get any more exciting? They certainly can. Deep in Ealing Studios, the camera gracefully sweeps across a spaceship control room to where an Ogron sits at a control console. The Ogron presses some buttons. And the end titles crash in! Great director, confident (if rather dull) story, nice characters — and this is what they choose to make the viewers return? Incredible.

 

Horror of Fang Rock: 1

Horror at Fang Rock

After three years of tight, brilliantly choreographed cliffhangers under the aegis of Hinchcliffe and Holmes, a new producer arrives on the scene and completely doesn't get it. Horror of Fang Rock is a beautiful story in almost every way — except for the final few seconds of episode 1. To jog your memory, it's a model shot of a yacht crashing into some rocks. It's not a bad model shot, as such, but it just goes on and on. It's filmed in a very undramatic way, from the side, and you see it enter the screen, rise up and flounder a bit, then settle again, in a very small-scale model-like way. Then it settles a bit more. And a little bit more. And then the scream of the closing credits at last puts it out of its misery.

 

Underworld: 2

Underworld

The Doctor has been running about in some CSO tunnels (this will happen a lot, so you'd better get used to it) when he suddenly smells gas. No, this is not the smell of shit emanating from Norman Stewart's direction, it is, in fact, some generic gas pumped in by some generic guards. He struggles with a wobbly stopcock in front of a yellow-fringed model cave backdrop. The audience ponders the meaning of existence.

 

The Power of Kroll: 2

The Power of Kroll

A man called Harg, played by Grahame Mallard who was apparently in The Land That Time Forgot, investigates a cardboard pipeline in a gas refinery. As he does so, a pathetic green tentacle operated by a wooden stick and some string, 'smashes' out of the pipeline and drags him inside. We don't know who he is. We don't really care, to be honest. But we know what this cliffhanger is. That's right — bloody awful.

 

City of Death: 1

City of Death

Controversial choice here. Douglas Adams wrote the script pretty much on his own, and the story is generally considered untouchable. But come on — this cliffhanger, in which Count Scarlioni reveals he is really Scaroth of the Jagaroth, is pretty poor stuff. The rubber Scaroth mask is entirely unconvincing, and almost comes away with the rubber human mask. And we can see right through the mask to the actor's face beneath. The idea is great. The execution, however, is shite.

 

Kinda: 3

Kinda

Now obviously this is the best Doctor Who story ever made. Goes without saying. Which is why it's especially sad that the cliffhanger to episode 3 is so bodged. After an orgiastic dream sequence that may well be the creepiest, most nerve-jangling thing we've seen in the series, we cut back to the garden centre world of Kinda and Nerys Hughes' deathly line: "I think she's dead!" The episode closes on Mary Morris, looking pretty much the same dead as she looked alive. It's the only mistake Kinda makes, but it's a big one.

 

The Visitation: 1

The Visitation

The Doctor (Peter Davison) goes down some steps. A gay robot slides a bolt shut. Adric, Nyssa and Tegan — Doctor Who's dullest companions — take turns exclaiming "Doctor!". The final shot is of a brick wall. That's a brick wall, folks.

 

 

Mawdryn Undead: 1

Mawdryn Undead

After a lot of head-scratching time travel shenanigans, and a lot of walking about not knowing where anyone is, we built to the climax of this promising Brigadier story. Shifty newcomer, Turlough, goaded by evil pantomime villain, The Black Guardian, picks up a polystyrene rock with one aim — to drop it on the Doctor's head! Shot like an amateur super 8 home movie, this is dramatically undramatic on almost every level. The rest of the story, by the way, is absolute bollocks. (Just thought I'd mention that.)

 

Attack of the Cybermen: 1

Attack of the Cybermen

Contemporary documentation suggests the production team ran out of time on this one. But we've heard this before on previous stories, and nothing was ever as bad as this. Cybermen pour into the Tardis. While Colin Baker looks on, contemplating his future career as an actor, Nicola Bryant shouts "No!". Then Terry Molloy, playing an unconvincing policeman, shouts "No!" Then Nicola shouts "No!" again. The Cyberleader threatens destruction. Nicola shouts "No!" for the third time and curdles her face like a strained teabag. Who wrote this excrement? Ah yes — of course.

 

The Trial of a Time Lord: 11

Trial of a Timelord

It's the Vervoid segment and a butch chap called Bruchner has hijacked the Hyperion III and is steering it into an electronic special effect of a black hole. The camera shakes, the music goes all dramatic, the lighting is dark and suspenseful, and the camera gives us a tight close-up on Bruchner's face as he calmly awaits his fate, Adric-style. Unfortunately, we then cut to Colin Baker in a brightly-lit corridor giving the sort of performance that Tod Slaughter might consider a trifle OTT. Many cliffhangers this season were spoilt by a crash zoom into Baker's face. This is probably the worst.

 

Dragonfire: 1

Dragonfire

This cliffhanger first previewed on Saturday Superstore (I think). It looked quite good. Indeed, it is quite good. Very good in fact. If only McCoy had fallen over the rail, perhaps caused by a minor planet-quake, or been pushed over, or skidded and slipped or…well, anything other than calmly climbing over the rail and just hanging there for no reason. Such a shame that a well-executed cliffhanger like this is spoilt by a complete lack of narrative logic. And it could have taken just one line of dialogue to explain it…

 

Aliens of London

Aliens of London

Not so much the cliffhanger itself, which is fine (although hardly earth-shattering) but the ridiculous way that the BBC immediately spoils it by showing us Eccleston running around like a grinning idiot when we've just seen him about to be fried by the Slitheen seconds before. Great work, you morons at BBC Presentation.

 

There aren't many cliffhangers in modern Doctor Who, which is a pity. And with Season 33 shaping up to be single-episode stories — although I'll believe that when I see it —we could be robbed of some classic cliffhangers. And possibly one or two rubbish ones too. Oh, and one final thing — I really c… (continued next week)

 

Mark Campbell

 

 

Doctor Who's 17 Worst Cliffhangers
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