Horror author Robert McCammon once wrote, “Horror fiction upsets apple carts, burns old buildings, and stampedes the horses; it questions and yearns for answers, and it takes nothing for granted. It’s not safe, and it probably rots your teeth, too.” This is almost exactly how I felt after watching the Doctor Who season 8 finale, “Death in Heaven.”
I’ve heard many stories of British school children who watched episodes of Doctor Who from behind the sofa. The title character is a traveler through time and space who has encountered many tyrants and monsters over the course of the show’s run, which started fifty-one years ago. An alien from the planet Galifrey, the Doctor is the kind of hero who uses his wits rather than weapons to defeat the monsters he encounters, which can create some pretty terrifying situations. The Doctor’s nemeses have ranged from the Daleks, which are megalomaniacal blobs in high-tech personal tanks who kill everything in sight, to the Weeping Angels, aliens that only move when you’re not looking at them. I discovered the show when I was thirteen years old and loved it, but honestly, I can’t say it made me want to watch from behind the sofa. Until this week, that is.
I’ll avoid spoilers of the Doctor Who finale, just in case you haven’t seen it yet. In “Death in Heaven”, the Doctor confronts a woman from his past called Missy. She has a plan to take over the world with super soldiers she can create from the dead. These super soldiers, called Cybermen, are one of the staples of Doctor Who, but these undead Cybermen are a new twist. The episode features several great horror movie moments. We see Cybermen clawing their way out of graves and one even appears at an airplane window, recalling William Shatner’s famous encounter with a gremlin in The Twilight Zone. However, these are not the moments that made me want to hide behind the sofa.
What made me want to hide behind the sofa was the way this episode upset apple carts, burned old buildings, and stampeded the horses. It showed us familiar, likable characters weren’t safe. It suggested that things we’d been told about the Doctor and his people weren’t in the happy place we thought. Horror questions and yearns for answers. It takes nothing for granted. This episode questioned the very nature of death and the very last scene in the episode almost certainly will rot your teeth!
Science fiction and horror have a long history together, going all the way back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It’s perhaps not surprising, since science fiction is a genre well suited to imagining the results of possible paths. When those paths are frightening, horror results. When I write horror, I like to root it in a certain scientific plausibility. I think horror is most effective when the reader or viewer thinks the situation could happen.
Over the years, the Doctor has not only only battled monsters from the stars, but vampires, ghosts, and even possibly the devil himself. These creatures all had science fictional explanations which I enjoyed. When I created my vampires, I took a cue from Doctor Who, and gave them a science fictional origin. Find out what it is in Vampires of the Scarlet Order, if you dare!