11 Terrible Doctor Who Cliffhangers
?From its beginnings in 1963 all the way until the hiatus in 1989, Doctor Who was a serial program. This means that each story consisted of multiple episodes, usually four, which in turn means that the average classic Doctor Who story is about as long as a feature film. When a story is broken up into that many pieces, it becomes necessary to keep the viewer hooked between weeks, requiring writers to think up creative new twists (or not). Thus the show became famous for its cliffhangers. There has been a lot of criticism regarding the length of some of the earlier stories, but when done well, those suspenseful endings were almost better than the episodes they came from (especially during the ’70s, with the introduction of the now-iconic theme stinger which always plays right at the moment when things get most intense).
So there have been some great cliffhangers. But there is an astronomical amount of Doctor Who out there, and much has already been said about the best. Unfortunately, for every spine-tingling moment of greatness, there are dozens of boring endings that got the job done but aren’t particularly memorable. And then there are these, the really terrible ones, the endings that utterly failed to generate any suspense, interest, or excitement, or are just really badly executed. Because it takes a true fan to appreciate the missteps as well as the masterpieces, I present some of the most egregious offenders, from both the old and new series. Obviously, spoilers abound, so be warned.
11) They’re All Going to DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIE!!!!!, “Terminus” Ep. 1
Apparently the writer of this episode, Stephen Gallagher, believed it wasn’t enough to have some sort of threat on the main characters’ lives; somebody needed to tell the audience as much. And they needed to say it loudly, in the most annoying way possible, while wearing poofy ’80s hair and a belt buckle the size of a fire alarm. I think it’s safe to say that actor Dominic Guard (Pippin in Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings!) probably could have done better making up his own dialogue. Or just not saying anything.
10) Unpleasant Journey, “Timelash” Ep. 1
Oh dear. While it’s true that Colin Baker is unfairly maligned as a Doctor, his televised episodes undeniably suffer from garish set design, monotonous direction, and some severely overwritten scripts. And though this is probably not the worst production of the entire series (as some fans say), it’s really kind of a perfect storm of badness: Paul Darrow’s transcendentally appalling performance as villain Tekker, the cheesy repartee, and Colin’s mouth opening in sync with the stinger music all add up to something truly, deeply, legendarily awful. Not to mention hilarious.
9) Slitheen Attack, “Aliens of London”
Fuck the Slitheen. That is all.
8) Sontar-HA!, “The Sontaran Strategem”
For some reason, I find these reimagined Sontarans adorable. There’s something about those ears, that voice, and that constant frown that makes them look less like merciless warriors than grumpy, lumpy trolls you just want to pet and serve tea to. I don’t care about their evil schemes or their military might: these guys seem like they’d be more at home getting photographed with toddlers at the mall. In any event, we will always have the now-infamous chanting scene whenever we feel this episode is void of any entertainment value. Lucky us.
7) Wait…What?, “The Hand of Fear” Ep. 3
While a good cliffhanger should be unexpected, it should also give a clear idea of what’s going on. Here, the Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane, and the alien warlord (warlady?) Eldrad prepare to “descend to the thermal chambers” of Eldrad’s planet when…something happens. Really fast. Seriously, I had to re-watch this a couple of times before I put everything together. Spear. Chest. Screaming. Oh, ok. Where did that come from, then? It’s ok to leave us with questions, but “what did I just see?” probably shouldn’t be one of them.
6) Freeze Frame, “Planet of Evil” Ep. 2
At about the six-minute mark in the above clip, the Doctor faces a creature made of antimatter rising from a pit. It grows larger and larger and gets more and more ferocious and then suddenly it overpowers our hero, pulling him into the abyss. Kind of. I mean, he does fall, but for some reason this episode ends with him freezing in mid-air. Why? In the next episode he really does fall in, and it would be pretty impossible for him to be rescued from the three-quarters tilted position he’s stuck in at the end of this episode. Did they really think their ending wasn’t exciting enough as it was? Doctor Who has pulled this crap a few other times, but this just might be the most needless example.
5) Christmas Party, “The Daleks’ Master Plan” Ep. 7
I have to admit, although it is indeed a cheesy and completely silly way to end a Doctor Who episode, I have a guilty affection for this one. Occurring just about halfway through the epic — and mostly lost — story “The Daleks’ Master Plan,” subtitled “The Feast of Steven,” is a violent change of pace, an aggressively slapstick comedic episode that partially takes place on a movie set and, if reports are to be believed, is completely irrelevant to the actual story.
Everything culminates in this final scene in which the Doctor and companions Steven Tyler and Sara Kingdom drink a toast to the holidays, and then the Doctor turns to the camera and actually wishes us viewers a happy Christmas as well. Now, at the time, it was common for characters in Christmas episodes of British TV shows to do this, and it’s always fun to see Hartnell’s Doctor loosen up (in one episode he goes crazy just because he can hear his voice echo). It just doesn’t, you know, have anything to do with the plot. But who knows? From what we’ve heard from Steven Moffat about the upcoming Christmas special, we could be in for something similar in just a few months…
4) Completely Suspenseless Shots of Colin Baker’s Face, “Trial of a Time Lord” (pretty much every episode)
The “Trial of a Time Lord” arc is an extremely complex piece of work, chockablock with intrigue, deception, and obscene-looking alien costumes. Somehow, with all of that range and drama, most of these endings get boiled down to closeups of the Doctor. Something happens and then we see him looking confused. Angry. Determined. Shocked. I guess the upside is that by focusing on his face we don’t have to deal with the rest of his costume…
3) Regeneration Cop Out, “The Stolen Earth”
I might be in the minority here, but as a long-term Whovian, I believe in suspension of disbelief. See, since the Doctor can regenerate upon death, and since there is always buzz when a particular episode is a Doctor’s last, it’s almost always a given that a Doctor will never die in a non-publicized episode. Therefore, the viewer agrees to ignore this in order to get caught up in the story, and the episode, in turn, doesn’t address regeneration, as that tends to ruin tension in most (but not all) situations. Some recent episodes have managed to toy with this by suggesting that the Doctor really believes he is going to die from whatever danger (as in “42”) or perhaps won’t regenerate. Regardless, the bargain is simple: nobody mentions regeneration, and we don’t think about it, unless it is eminent.
So what, may I ask, the fuck? We all should have known nothing was going to change when Rusty pulled this one on us towards the end of series 4 (it would be one of many similar teases as his era came to a merciful close). Although the Doctor’s hand did finally serve a purpose, how much ballsier would it have been for the Doctor to have actually regenerated here, forcing his new incarnation to solve the current crisis while struggling with his transformed body? We’ve never seen that before. Instead, we got this obnoxious false alarm, which is exactly what we’d seen before, and, unfortunately, what we would see several times after as well.
2) The Literal One, “Dragonfire” Ep. 1
This one is especially notorious amongst fans, and it’s just about as arbitrary as they come. I’d like to say that it makes sense within the context of the episode, but it really doesn’t. Oh, it was supposed to, and there’s an extra on one DVD in which the screenwriters attempt to explain themselves, but there’s no disguising it: the filmed version, in which the Doctor, for no apparent reason, lowers himself by his umbrella so that he actually hangs over a cliff, is pretty inexcusable.
1) The Dumbest Fucking Ending Ever, “Revelation of the Daleks” Ep. 2
It’s 1985. Colin Baker has just wrapped up his first full season as the Doctor, and the reviews have been mixed at best. The final part of the final episode has already been filmed and produced, and it ends with the Doctor promising a Blackpool vacation to his companion, a hint as to the first planned episode of the next season.
But wait! The show is too controversial, and may be canceled! We aren’t going to produce the Blackpool episode, so what do we do about this season? Film something else? No, no. Leave it as is? Can’t–it’d be to confusing. Oh, wait, I’ve got it! What if we just STOP THE EPISODE RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DOCTOR’S SENTENCE. That’s a great ending! There’s no way the fans won’t enjoy this! Show saved, everybody!