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Doctor Who’s Scariest Episode From David Tennant Era Addressed By Writer 14 Years Later


  • “The Waters of Mars” remains one of the scariest Doctor Who episodes to date, with viewers appreciating its intensity.
  • The writer, Phil Ford, was encouraged to make a scary Doctor Who episode as long as it didn’t traumatize or scar children.
  • The episode stands out not only for its terrifying monsters but also for how it pushes the Tenth Doctor to his breaking point, showcasing the negative impact of his actions on the universe.



Doctor Who writer Phil Ford opens up about “The Waters of Mars” fourteen years later and reveals why David Tennant’s penultimate Tenth Doctor story remains one of the show’s scariest episodes to date. The 2009 special starred Tennant as the Doctor, alongside Eternals‘ Gemma Chan, Dune‘s Shanon Duncan-Brewster, and Andor‘s Joplin Sibtain as member of the crew on the first Human colony on Mars. In “The Waters of Mars,” the Doctor arrives at the doomed Bowie Base One, forcing him to question what he can do as a time traveler.

While Tennant’s return is imminent for Doctor Who‘s 60th-anniversary specials, Ford sat down with to reflect on his contribution to the actor’s initial run and why it features one of the Tenth Doctor’s most terrifying moments. When discussing what makes the show scary for audiences young and old, the writer stated that many viewers had spoken to him about their appreciation for “The Waters of Mars” before citing it as a personal favorite and explaining how showrunner Russell T Davies aided him in achieving a perfect level of terror for young audiences. Check out Ford’s full explanation below:

“I’m not so sure that it’s moved away from that so much, I have no doubt that there will be another Doctor Who story coming down the road that will be every bit as scary, if not more than The Waters of Mars. I think scaring kids is what I’ve always enjoyed doing! Whether it’s in Doctor Who or Sarah Jane [Adventures]… I think Russell put it to me a long time ago that it’s OK to scare kids, what you don’t want to do is terrify them and scar them!

I’ve met at conventions an awful lot of kids that admitted they were scared by The Waters of Mars, but not so much to traumatise them! They loved it because it’s scary.

The Waters of Mars, from my point of view, was always going to be scary because that’s what I like to do. I think the team around Doctor Who then and now is just so good at what it does, I think we all have confidence in each other in knowing just how far we can go.

And certainly, whenever I went too far, I knew Russell was going to pull me up on something… my memory of Russell is not so much hauling me back on The Waters of Mars, but on other episodes, him pushing me harder to make things even scarier and even bleaker in some cases! Which is just wonderful, because he has this amazing opinion – and talent to back it up – that really there is no story you can’t tell for kids. It’s just a question of how you tell that story.”

What Makes “The Waters of Mars” David Tennant’s Most Scary Doctor Who Story

Doctor Who The Waters of Mars David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor The Laws of Time Are Mine And They Will Obey Me

Tennant’s initial Doctor Who tenure had no shortage of standout terrifying episodes that still rank high among the franchise’s darkest moments. These episodes range from the Weeping Angels’ terrifying debut in “Blink,” the unstoppable mimicking menace of “Midnight”‘s still an unseen entity, and the gradually worsening bleak what-if scenarios of Donna’s alternate timeline in “Turn Left”. Despite these story moments, “The Waters of Mars” stands out as the already-overpowering Flood virus is superseded in scariness towards the end by the Tenth Doctor himself, as the show’s main hero loses himself.

After grappling with his role in the universe, the Tenth Doctor casts aside every lesson he learned and changes history by saving them, declaring himself as the sole being who could change the Laws of Time. Left with the knowledge that these events should have never happened and would impact her loved ones’ fates, Bowie Base One’s captain, Adelaide Brook (Duncan), sacrifices herself despite the Doctor rescuing her, leaving him emotionally shattered. “The Water of Mars” isn’t just a scary Doctor Who story because of its monsters, but for how far the Doctor falls, as well as showing the negative impact his actions can have on the universe should he ever give in to his darker sides.

While the following adventure, “The End of Time,” may overshadow Tennant’s other 2009 Doctor Who specials, “The Waters of Mars” stands out for how far it pushes the show’s leading character. Rather than relying on monsters, the Tenth Doctor going too far leaves a greater impact by breaking the hero and twisting him into a barely recognizable figure. As such, it is understandable why Ford and viewers continue to rate the Tenth Doctor’s penultimate adventure as one of the character’s darkest stories.



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