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Gothic stories have become a mainstay of Doctor Who, and while Season 13 and 14 are often viewed as the "gothic seasons" of Doctor Who, elements of the gothic are present throughout the show's history.

Gothic novels have formed a part of horror and science fiction literary exploration from the 18th century onwards with Horace Walpole's novel The Castle of Otranto considered to be the first "gothic" novel.[1] "Gothic literature is devoted primarily to stories of horror, the fantastic, and the “darker” supernatural forces." Novels such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Bram Stoker's Dracula highlight these elements.[2] One of the elements considered to be a part of gothic fiction is its setting, in an antiquated space such as a "a castle, a foreign place, an abbey, a vast prison, a subterranean crypt, a graveyard, a primeval frontier or island, a large old house or theatre, an ageing city or urban underworld...a factory, laboratory...some new recreation of an older venue...an overworked spaceship, or a computer memory".[source needed] Within this space or combination of such spaces are hidden secrets from the past (sometimes the recent past) that haunt the characters psychologically, physically, or otherwise at the time of the story. These hauntings can take many forms, but they frequently assume the forms of ghosts, spectres, or monsters (mixing features from different realms of being, often life and death) that rise from within or sometimes invade it from other or alien realms. At this level the fictions often oscillate between the "laws of conventional reality and the possibilities of the supernatural".[3] Gothic fiction often places heavy emphasis on its setting or atmosphere, using setting and filmic elements such as music and sound effects to build suspense and a sense of unease in the reader. It also can incorporate a romantic plot or sub-plot.[4] Other key elements of gothic fiction that also flow into gothic horror (a sub-genre of the gothic) include literal transformations such as "loss of humanity" transformation of an individual into a beast-like being (such as werewolf). While this is mostly portrayed as a negative action, it is sometimes viewed as a liberating experience for the individuals, but this also leads to an ambiguous interpretation for these individuals, being both good and evil.[2]

Central characters are often revealed to have or be haunted by a second "unconscious" element to their personalities, or they have split elements of their psychological profiles that often attempt to resolve themselves throughout the piece.[3] Women are often cast in these pieces as in distress or threatened by one of the central (usually male) characters. These female characters are typically framed as being a heroine in the piece, both drawing the readers in and making them sympathise with the female character.[1]

Doctor Who TV gothic stories[]

While Season 13 and Season 14 are often seen as the most gothic of Doctor Who's stories, they are not the first to explore this genre.

Koquillion towering over Vicki in The Rescue.

1965's The Rescue, often seen as just an introductory story for new companion Vicki Pallister, has all the elements of a gothic story. The planet Dido is the "antiquated space", both the planet and the spaceship that Vicki and Bennet share. Koquillion is the being haunting Vicki, and Bennet and Vicki's relationship forms a somewhat twisted father-substitute relationship.[5] Both Vicki and Barbara take lead roles as the lead female characters placed in distress forming another part of the gothic genre's element. The natives of Dido also take up the mantle of the haunters, being almost unseen while the impression of them is felt throughout the story: the traps within the caves and the Doctor's relating of his previous meeting with them, presenting the natives of Dido as a duality of character, much like Koquillion and Bennet's duality, in a much style echoing Jekyll and Hyde's duality in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

In the 1971 Jon Pertwee story The Dæmons there is a much more literal form of "gothic", with a story set in the middle of the occult, with grotesques coming to life. The burrow is a quintessential "old space", with the crypt below the church also fulfilling this mark of a gothic story. There is also the haunting that Azal brings, both in the form of the heat barrier around the township and the more literal haunting from Bok's presence. There are many "hidden secrets" throughout this story, from the literal "secret within" freezing the Doctor to the more revelatory of the Dæmons' effect on Earth's culture. Again there is the romantic sub-plot of Jo's love for the Doctor, in willingness to give herself to Azal for the Doctor. In the story's final minutes the church, the main area below which Azal grouped his followers, is destroyed, lifting the gothic elements from the story at its close.

By the mid-70s, and with the change in producer and script editor to Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes, a new production strategy was adopted, with stories leaning towards a more gothic, or in some cases horror, aesthetic. This was for Robert Holmes to attempt to differentiate the programme from the era of Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks and Jon Pertwee,[6] following Revenge of the Cybermen, that Robert Holmes described as "only for children (and that it was) too straight forward and therefore rather dull."[6] Season 12 can be viewed as more of a testing ground for the stories that would follow in Season 14 and beyond, with its mix of phasing out of UNIT in Robot and the aforementioned "children's story" of Revenge of the Cybermen. Genesis of the Daleks, while not usually associated with the "gothic" of Doctor Who, does have many elements of the gothic genre: an oppressive environment and the domes of the Kaled and Thals form the main setting. It is the Doctor and Sarah's future knowledge of the Daleks' future deeds (and the audience's knowledge of this) that haunts the characters throughout this story, with elements of horror and possession following the Doctor's attack by the mutant Daleks. Genesis of the Daleks provides a view into the future stories that would come to be known as Doctor Who's gothic period. The Ark in Space, meanwhile, also delves into the gothic genre, but explores the nature of horror to a greater degree than any stories in this season, especially the themes of "body horror" (explored in further detail below).

In the seasons that followed, Doctor Who stories began to be literally set within gothic worlds of oppressive and hostile environments, castles, jungles and the exploration of horror.

With Season 13, Doctor Who begins to redefine how its stories are told. The title character of the Doctor is "reinstated as alien outcast in this period – moving away from the avuncular, patriarchal father figure of Pertwee - and became a figure representative of the Gothic novel's tragic outsider, at odds with himself, society and the cosmos."[7]

In Terror of the Zygons, the first story of Season 13, the beginnings of the gothic begin to make themselves known: the juxtapositioning between the sedentary setting of the village pub and the alien hands manipulating controls on the Zygons' spaceship, Angus the barman claiming to possess the second sight, whilst he himself is monitored (or "haunted"). There are also once more, as seen in The Ark in Space, elements of body horror and possession, with the Zygons taking on the forms of humans, not a literal possession, but one that is explored to great effect when the Harry Sullivan-Zygon is killed. Yet more juxtapositioning is found between the main locations found in this story: the pub, an old classical setting; the Zygon ship, alien and foreign to all the main cast; and the infirmary, a modern sleek location, but also alien compared to the others. There is also the appearance of a castle leading into the Zygons' ship, wrapping up the gothic elements, with the castle being linked to the Zygon ship and by extension the pub (as it was being monitored) and the infirmary (Sister Lamont's domain).

With Planet of Evil begins the theme of borrowing literally from gothic literature. In Planet of Evil the transformation of Sorenson through his own experimentations is an almost literal reference to The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. However the gothic references do not stop here; the Zeta Minor forest fulfills the "primeval frontier" together with the anti-matter monsters haunting the Morestran ship as it attempts to leave.

Philip Hinchcliffe even admitted that he liked to borrow such conventions as this, stating, "What I liked to do was to go to a literary convention or a science fiction convention... and borrow the trappings of it, and then re-dress that up within the Doctor Who format."[8]

With Pyramids of Mars the gothic genre is explored further, with Sutekh imprisoned in his "castle" on Mars, the duality of the Scarman brothers; Marcus being possessed by Sutekh whilst Lawrence the "believer" being killed by manifestations of man and by extension, his brother. The brotherly relationship is also mirrored by Sutekh and Horus' relationship mentioned in the story.

Sarah Jane Smith, the android, revealed in The Android Invasion.

The following story, The Android Invasion, may seem like something less of a gothic story than others in this season, but it does contain elements of gothic. One such is the torture of the hero - the Doctor in this case. Previous stories, The Ark in Space, Terror of the Zygons, Planet of Evil and Planet of Evil, have had the Doctor tortured, a common theme in gothic literature. This story continues the trend. In addition, this story revisited a major Gothic theme: "the doppelganger. This literature of duality, most potently evoked in Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde or Oscar Wilde's The Picture Of Dorian Gray, was at its heart about identity or lack of identity. The androids of Sarah, Benton and Harry exemplified this slippage of identity, the fragmentation of the self. The Doctor's duplicated companions become masked, both hiding secrets that speak of another self and haunted by their real selves."[9]

The fifth story of Season 13, The Brain of Morbius borrows heavily from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Morbius' body is created by Soloman within his castle. With this story begins some more violent and more horrific elements of Doctor Who. In this story there is decapitation, strangulation, and blood-splatter from gunshots. The Doctor is again tortured and Sarah is gassed into blindness. The story also mimics elements of horror films, most notably Frankenstein, with the monster and the crowd wielding torches at the story's ending.

With the final story of season 13, it's a return to elements of The Ark in Space. The Seeds of Doom features a horror transformation of a man into a monster, set within a large country estate and with a (mad) lord of the estate prodding his experiment along. There are also gothic elements of science perverting nature and being triumphed by it: the Krynoid and its transformation into a house sized monster, eventually defeated by UNIT's laser technology.

With Season 14 there is a new and revisited exploration of the "gothic". The Masque of Mandragora typifies a classic gothic setting, with crypts and alien possession, all set within a classic gothic setting. The possession by the Helix and Count Frederico are paralleled together with Guiliano stating at one point that under his uncle's rule, "All attempt at learning would be repressed". Again the references between learning (science) and superstition rear their heads in this story.

The Hand of Fear, the last story to feature Sarah Jane Smith, again features familiar ground of possession, torture, haunting, castles and parallels between technology and superstition. Sarah Jane Smith is possessed by Eldrad, the Doctor is tortured by Eldrad, and Eldrad is haunted by his people. Kastria is quite literally an antiquated space. In the story's close the Doctor is summoned home via a "higher power".

With The Deadly Assassin, the first solo Doctor Who adventure, the story plunges into new territory and familiar elements.

The Doctor, tortured by the Time Lords in The Deadly Assassin.

The Doctor is tortured, both within the Matrix and on Gallifrey. Everything within the Matrix can be viewed as both a time of possession and haunting. Indeed, the Master and Goth's presence on Gallifrey and within the Matrix are hauntings: Goth, a figure from the Doctor's Gallifrey-based past and the Master, an individual he has crossed paths with on numerous occasions. With Goth serving the Master and the Doctor himself (and therefore enlightenment), with the Master literally representing darkness in his blackened and burnt attire and seeking to de-stabilise the Eye of Harmony.

The Master's emaciated form seen in The Deadly Assassin.

The setting of Gallifrey is also of gothic nature, of senility and decline.[10] An alternate reading of the Master's situation is that it is mirroring the decay of Time Lord civilisation, with the Master lurking beneath the Panopticon in an allusion to the Phantom from Phantom of the Opera.[6] It was in The Deadly Assassin that one of the better known sequences in which the Doctor is (once again) tortured raised the ire of Mary Whitehouse - at the end of episode 3 the Doctor is almost drowned by Goth.

In both The Face of Evil and The Robots of Death, there are explorations of self and mimicry, with both stories exploring the nature of god-hood and hauntings, with the Doctor being both god and haunted in The Face of Evil, and in The Robots of Death Taren Capel is god and haunts his fellow crew members through his automaton. Likewise in setting, they both have the classical elements of a gothic tale: a remote location under attack from a mysterious force, a futuristic world where technology is fighting back in the case of The Robots of Death and a villainous man who betrays his own side to the enemy, before they fight back and destroy him as well.[11]

The Talons of Weng-Chiang the final story of Season 14, is a Victorian gothic tale. Sherlock Holmes is one of the story's most obvious influences with the Doctor dressing as Holmes himself. Leela has been "cast" into the role of a femme fatale, both becoming the type and subverting it within the realms of her character. Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood best describe this story as "Doctor Who does Victorian Hammer Horror", but in all honesty no single Hammer film is as accomplished as this. Checklist of Victorian / Sherlock Holmes / Fu Manchu / Phantom of the Opera standards here"[12] With all these references, this story can often seem to be almost a pastiche of the genre, and yet it is something of a favourite in Doctor Who Magazine polls and amongst the fan-community in general. It is likely because of these familiar elements that this story is so appealing to fans and non-fans alike, with its recognisable gothic and other genre fiction elements: Greel the masked villain, the Doctor in a culturally recognisable manner of Sherlock Holmes, with two identifiable sidekicks of Jago and Litefoot. Brought together like this, it manages to cover "all the bases of classic Doctor Who: the action, the humour, the wit, the thrilling ride...this is the acme of everything that early, gothic Doctor Who was trying to achieve."[13]

With the departure of Philip Hinchcliffe at the end of Season 14, his influence over Doctor Who's genre mix declined. However there were several more stories that continued to be influenced by the gothic. State of Decay rightly feels as though it is part of Season 13/14, mostly because it was an undeveloped script from Terrance Dicks and script-editor at the time, Robert Holmes. It was developed (though unused at the time) under the title The Witch Lords. Bram Stoker's Dracula is one of many stories to have influenced creation of this story, with director Peter Moffatt eager to accentuate the Hammer Horror elements of this story. However script editor Christopher H Bidmead re-edited the story's script to downplay these elements of the story to give it more of a science based grounding. [14] This does not stop the standard gothic genre elements appearing in this story: with spaceship as a castle, the atmosphere of a downtrodden populace, secret wars from the Doctor and Romana's races' past and even something of a mixed romance possession sub-plot through Adric.

The era of Fifth Doctor Peter Davison has less truly gothic stories than Tom Baker's before it, Black Orchid is occasionally attributed as a piece of gothic television, with its scarred anti-villain of George Crangleigh adopting a Phantom of the Opera role. The story does take place within an antiquated space (viewed through the main cast) but it is lacking in any atmosphere to really define the gothic elements of the story. In The Caves of Androzani Robert Holmes revisits an element of his past stories, with a masked figure, seen previously in The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Here Sharaz Jek is the madman in his underground lair [15], who fulfills another of the elements of gothic, last seen in force in The Android Invasion: doppelgangers, and once again these are android doppelgangers. What really brings this story into the gothic though is the intensity of the story, brought to life by director Graeme Harper. There is genuine atmosphere and believability to every scene, Peri's poisoning by the spectrox rapidly devolves, placing ever more emphasis on the two men vying for her attention: the Doctor and Jek, with Jek attempting to resolve elements of his personality and appearance towards his love, Peri. It is in his final moments, having saved Peri, that the Doctor goes through the ultimate transformation, facing his inner "unconscious", and regenerates.

In Sylvester McCoy's portrayal of the Seventh Doctor, particularly in his later seasons, a darker, more subdued Doctor is present and the stories likewise take on a more malevolent nature. Ghost Light, like The Dæmons before it, focuses on an alien scientist attempting to catalogue everything. In this story there is an ever present dark humour, with such elements as Reverend Ernest Matthews, a reverend who disbelieved Josiah Smith's theories of evolution, devolved to an ape. Again, as with The Talons of Weng-Chiang, the setting is a literal manifestation of the gothic theme: a Victorian gothic manor house, one that literally haunts Ace.

Prose and audio based gothic[]

With the end of television-based Doctor Who in the late 1990s, prose, audio and comic-based gothic stories took the lead, with some novels such as The Shadow of Weng-Chiang taking their thematic lead from television stories, whilst audio story The Stones of Venice, with its hundred-year curse, a duke moping for his lost love and a cult readying for her resurrection, and Venice's gondoliers, is an all too present reminder of the city sinking beneath the waves.

Doctor Who TV gothic stories: Redux[]

When Doctor Who returned to television in 2005 it brought a new group of writers, many of whom had grown up on Doctor Who's past stories. They had also been part of a larger cultural mediascape, aware of the tropes and genres of modern fiction. Even with this knowledge everything was "ramped up to the max, including Gothic genre tropes. The barbaric forces of the past became the Time War,... Contemporary anxieties are addressed more regularly than ever, with Daleks becoming religious zealots and the Master as a smarmy policy-free Prime Minister. Gothic's other obsession (sex) finally figures, with unrequited love and ambivalent sexual relationships as recurring story lines. Lawrence Miles has even suggested a reading of The Parting of the Ways in which the Dalek army is vanquished by an unfulfilled Rose Tyler's time-space orgasm."[5]

More specifically the third story of 2005, The Unquiet Dead, once more revisits elements of the gothic: aliens seeking direct possession of the dead. With a more supernatural theme than scientific, this story veers away from Doctor Who's usual scientific explanations of such things. This is also the true beginning of the haunting of Rose Tyler, albeit a haunting from her own future.

Both of 2006's The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit have many forms of gothic, with possession, haunting and body horror as Toby Zed is possessed by the Beast, in addition to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Sanctuary base and the additional haunting of the masses of Ood massing around the group, with the Doctor as a tiny figure confronting the mass (implied) evil being of the Beast, yet defeated by the innocent (Rose).

By 2007, with The Lazarus Experiment, it is a return to familiar territory of body horror and the transformation of humanity, with extra emphasis on the gothic with the final scenes of the story occurring within a gothic church.

Stories penned by Steven Moffat have come to take on a further gothic edge with familiar ideas of possession and haunting present throughout stories such as The Empty Child, Blink and The Time of Angels.

With 2010's The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang, there was something of a resurgence of the gothic doppelganger, combined with an inversion of body horror aesthetic with the appearance of Rory Williams as an Auton duplicate. An Auton duplicate had appeared previously in the new series with a duplicate of Mickey Smith in the 2005 series' first episode Rose. However this was very much a comical appearance and only briefly veered into a dangerous framing.

With Rory however, there is a duality to his role within the doppelganger genre of gothic, as he is also possessed/psychologically tortured by the duality of his Auton "heritage", with Amy Pond also leading a dual role throughout their interaction as heroine and hero, heroine and sympathiser to Rory and heroine, tortured and ultimately killed by him as his body transforms and he is unable to resist the "dark side" of himself.


With the arrival of Torchwood in 2006, its stories were generally far darker and more mature than those that had gone before in Doctor Who. In the very first story, Everything Changes, the use of the Resurrection gauntlet evokes a theme of resurrection and life-giving similar to Frankenstein. However the whole of the series is an exercise in elements of gothic, with hauntings, romance, death and possession. Practically all characters in Torchwood pass through all elements of the gothic. Torchwood can be seen, if nothing else, "to offer a far more reparative exploration of subjectivity and desire than most popular culture – underscoring possibility, pleasure, understanding, belonging and healing. That's precisely what the pansexual postmodern postcolonial gothic is all about".[16]


In looking at the "gothic" it is also necessary to look at the role that horror plays in the formulation of gothic stories, with gothic fiction often viewed as a sub-set of the horror genre.[17] The horror sub-type that is most often explored in Doctor Who (and its spin-offs) is body horror, most succinctly described by TV Tropes.org as "Someone is about to turn into a monster.

Noah, partially transformed in The Ark in Space

Or they have something inside them that is definitely not supposed to be there. Or they wake up to find that they are missing some bits."[18] Stories such as The Ark in Space, The Seeds of Doom

Partially transformed into a Krynoid in The Seeds of Doom.

and Vengeance on Varos explore this theme with some veracity. Noah, the "primary unit" in The Ark in Space, transforms into a Wirrn in a shocking and horrific transformation for both the character and audience; likewise The Seeds of Doom features several detailed scenes of bodily transformation, with even Sarah Jane Smith threatened with becoming a Krynoid at one point in the story. In Vengeance on Varos it is almost the reverse as a masked scientist performs experiments on women to his master's perverted glee. This horror transformation is not limited to one off examples, but also two of Doctor Who's most popular villains: the Cybermen and the Daleks; the true horrifying nature of the Cybermen is realised in Attack of the Cybermen with half-converted humanoids in various stages of transformation. It is true that earlier '60s era stories showed humans partially converted; in them it was a psychological horror more in keeping with the gothic, whilst in Attack of the Cybermen it becomes a more viceral horror. 1985's Revelation of the Daleks is the first literal body horror of the Daleks, with a man literally pleading with his daughter to kill him from within the casing of a Dalek.

Prose and audio horror[]

Prose and audio stories also pursue the horror element, with 1992's Virgin New Adventures novel Love and War exploring in vivid detail the "body horror" with the transformation of several individuals, a church glorifying this monster-transformation and the Doctor (with knowledge of the events) manipulating Ace who was framed as a powerful "hero" into the role of betrayed (somewhat) powerless heroine. Ace's character from this point would undergo something of a rewrite and reversal of events portrayed in this novel; this is just one example of Virgin's era of novels. During BBC Books' Eighth and Past Doctor range of novels there were several other novels that explored this genre and style.


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