5 unforgettable Doctor Who cliffhangers

A journey through time and space, the British science fiction television series “Doctor Who” has consistently entertained audiences worldwide for over half a century. Its enduring popularity is largely due to its imaginative storytelling, compelling characters, and ability to deftly blend genres, from comedy to horror, from drama to adventure. But if there’s one storytelling device that “Doctor Who” has truly mastered over the years, it is the cliffhanger. Everyone loves a cliffhanger!

The cliffhanger, a sudden and unexpected twist or revelation that leaves the audience in suspense until the next episode, is a staple of serialised storytelling. And “Doctor Who”, with its episodic adventures (yes, perhaps we’d like more!), has produced some of the most gripping cliffhangers in television history. These moments of suspense and surprise not only serve to heighten the drama, but also reflect the show’s central themes of uncertainty and constant change.

From the days of William Hartnell’s First Doctor to Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor, “Doctor Who” has used cliffhangers to keep viewers on the edge of their seats, anxiously waiting for the next episode to unravel the mysteries, resolve the dangers, and continue the Time Lord’s infinite adventures. Whether it’s the sudden appearance of a familiar foe, a dire predicament for the Doctor and their companions that they need to try to escape, a surprise revelation that changes everything we thought we knew, or a tantalising glimpse of events yet to come, these cliffhangers encapsulate the thrilling unpredictability of the Doctor’s journey.

Cliffhangers also serve another crucial purpose in “Doctor Who”: they underline the show’s exploration of time. As a time-traveller, the Doctor’s narrative is always in flux, and cliffhangers embody this fluidity. Each cliffhanger is a fracture in time, a moment where the present ends abruptly and the future becomes a realm of endless possibilities. They remind us that in “Doctor Who”, time is not a linear progression but a chaotic, non-linear tapestry full of twists, turns, and surprises.

As we prepare to delve into these unforgettable cliffhangers, let’s remember that they are more than just hooks to keep us watching. They are integral parts of “Doctor Who’s” storytelling fabric, moments that capture our imagination, fuel our anticipation, and remind us that, in the Doctor’s universe, anything can happen at any time. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at five of the most unforgettable cliffhangers in “Doctor Who” history.

“The Stolen Earth”

In the penultimate episode of series four, the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) is in the process of regenerating after being shot by a Dalek. The screen fades to white, and the “To Be Continued” message appears, leaving viewers in suspense about the Doctor’s fate. The cliffhanger was particularly impactful due to the uncertainty surrounding Tennant’s continuation in the role at the time. A classic of its genre…

“The Caves of Androzani”

At the end of the third episode of this classic Fourth Doctor (Peter Davison) story, the Doctor and his companion Peri are dying from spectrox toxaemia. The Doctor manages to find the antidote, but there’s only enough for one. He gives it to Peri, leaving his own fate uncertain. The cliffhanger leads directly into the Doctor’s dramatic regeneration in the next episode.

“Bad Wolf”

In the first part of the series one finale, the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) delivers a defiant speech to the Dalek fleet, promising to rescue Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and wipe out the Daleks. The episode ends with the Doctor’s resolute declaration, “No, I’m gonna save Rose Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet, and then I’m gonna save the Earth, and then – just to finish off – I’m gonna wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky!” It’s a stirring cliffhanger that sets up the epic conclusion in “The Parting of the Ways.”

“The Impossible Astronaut”

The series six opener ends with a shocking cliffhanger: a future version of the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) appears to die at the hands of a mysterious astronaut, and his companions are left with the knowledge of his impending death. The cliffhanger kick-starts the complex “Silence will fall” arc, which runs throughout the series.

“World Enough and Time”

In this Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) episode, companion Bill Potts (played by Pearl Mackie) is transformed into a Cyberman, and the Doctor discovers that his longtime frenemy, the Master, has been hiding in plain sight. The episode ends with the chilling sight of the Cyberman-Bill and the reveal of the Master, setting up a dramatic finale.