As Doctor Who finds itself in the news cycle after BritBox featured a highly controversial and racist classic episode with no disclaimer, it's worth mentioning this isn't the only time viewers have complained about the franchise in its history. Long-running shows are bound to ruffle feathers a couple times in their runs, and Doctor Who is no exception.
The following are times a Doctor Who storyline angered fans for reasons beyond the direction it took the franchise's story. Let's be honest, if those moments were included, this list would never end. With that in mind, here are some notable times a Doctor Who episode caused a stir with something it showed or did.
"Dark Water" (Season 8, Episode 11)
Doctor Who isn't afraid to kill characters, but it's a rare occurrence that the show touches on the afterlife. Sure, there was that one time where David Tennant's Doctor may or may not have faced off against Satan, but the show tends to leave the mythos of what happens in the afterlife untouched. That's not quite the case with "Dark Water," in which Peter Capaldi's Doctor learned a horrifying "fact" about what happens to people after they die.
According to the episode, the human body retains some form of physical connection to its own body even after death. The episode specifically noted that the departed could feel their bodies burning during cremation, which didn't sit well with some Doctor Who viewers. Sure, it's fiction, but no one wants to be reminded of a recently cremated loved one, or the possibility that they could feel their body being burned to ash. It's completely understandable why folks would take issue with the moment, though the show and BBC stood by the moment and have not altered the episode.
"Love And Monsters" (Season 2, Episode 10)
Long before Doctor Who was making the afterlife a miserable sounding experience, David Tennant's Doctor was resurrecting departed characters in rather grotesque ways. "Love & Monsters" saw the character Ursula brought back to life, albeit as a head fused to a concrete slab of pavement. That was a little disturbing, but it was an unsavory joke made following The Doctor's feat of mad science that really sent some viewers over the edge.
In the final scenes of the episode, which revealed Ursula's transformation, another character from the adventure, Elton, is revealed to have started a relationship with her. Elton discussed the struggles of their relationship as opposed to a normal one, but did make a point of mentioning they do have a love life. It didn't take long for viewers to do the math on how that would work, and some complained that the show felt it necessary to make a cheeky reference to oral sex.
"Dalek"- (Season 1, Episode 6)
Doctor Who was only a little under halfway through its first season when it ran into its first major controversy. The episode, which was the first appearance of the Daleks in the newest iteration of the series, was criticized by the British Board of Film Classification for a torture scene in which Christopher Eccelston's Doctor participates in the electrocution of a Dalek.
Of course, the complaint was not because of the actual torture against a Dalek, but rather that it was The Doctor doing the torture. The organization felt the episode sent the wrong message to children, who just saw a character labeled as a hero committing a particularly cruel act of violence on an enemy. Of course, The Doctor mellowed out after Eccelston's run for the most part, perhaps because writers agreed The Doctor may have gone a little too strong out the gate?
"Deep Breath" (Season 8, Episode 1)
Peter Capaldi's run in Doctor Who had a bumpy start, for more reasons than Clara Oswald and the fandom at large adjusting to the switch from Matt Smith. "Deep Breath" drew a fair share of criticism from select fans of the series, after the premiere featured an on-screen same sex kiss between Madame Vastra and her wife Jenny Flint. The inter-species same sex couple had been featured on the program before, but this would be the first time audiences had seen them kiss.
Complaints filed to the Ofcom communications company accused Doctor Who of pushing a "gay agenda" with the scene, and the episode was edited for Asian audiences to remove the moment. The complaints were certainly bizarre, especially considering Season 1 featured a same sex kiss between Christopher Eccelston's Doctor and John Barrowman's Captain Jack Harkness. When a show starts that strong out the gate, wouldn't viewers expect to see it again at some point?
"The Deadly Assassin" Classic Doctor Who (Season 14)
Classic Doctor Who is almost cheating for the random violence and plot lines that would now be deemed insensitive by modern standards, but this one is notable enough that it would be negligent to leave it off the list. In terms of story, "The Deadly Assassin" was pretty tame by modern standards, but its cliffhanger was a little extreme for audiences of the 70s. Part 3 ended on a cliffhanger in which Tom Baker's Doctor was held underwater and drowning, only for the episode to end with The Doctor merely seconds from death.
Of course, The Doctor survived, and even if he hadn't, he had regenerations to spare! That wasn't the issue to British activist Mary Whitehouse, however, who frequently mentioned the episode in her campaign to clean up television for British children. In her eyes, the scene was one of the most frightening in Doctor Who's history, mainly because children were forced to wait and learn of the Doctor's fate while being stuck with the image of him drowning in the meantime. The master copy of the episode was ultimately edited to change up the controversial scene, but copies of the original sequence have survived via other means.
"The Magician's Apprentice" (Season 9, Episode 1)
By Season 9 in the Doctor Who reboot, there became a new classification of "veteran fan." That is, the classification of fans who may not have watched the classic run, but have been following the reboot since its beginning and are now a decade into the fandom. Season 9 really threw this crowd for a loop and many were angered when they saw Peter Capaldi's Doctor had seemingly ditched his sonic screwdriver for a pair of sonic sunglasses.
As we now know, The Doctor did not abandon his sonic screwdriver. The sunglasses were just an additional device, and even if they weren't, The Doctor constantly having a sonic screwdriver was not always a thing until the reboot of the series. This may be a smaller controversy in terms of some of the other entries on this list, but in the age of social media people were flipping out and getting loud about this moment.
Doctor Who is done for Season 12, but there's a holiday special headed to viewers potentially towards the end of the year or towards the start of 2021. Continue to stick with CinemaBlend for more on the series, and for the latest major happenings in television and movies.
Mick likes good television, but also reality television. He grew up on Star Wars, DC, Marvel, and pro wrestling and loves to discuss and dissect most of it. He’s been writing online for over a decade and never dreamed he’d be in the position he is today.
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