TV Highlights

Doctor Who: is this the scariest Who ever?

And you thought Chucky was scary...

As Doctor Who's Night Terrors comes to our screens this weekend, we take a look at Steven Moffat's Doctor Who legacy to date. Is the latest series too creepy for the kids?

The Silence. Will scare. Available for weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Everyone knows that dolls are creepy. Think of them, sitting in the shadows of a child's bedroom, gazing out with dead, glassy eyes, their creepy half-smiles fixed forever on their faces. And now Steven Moffat, the dark maestro behind Matt Smith's tenure as Doctor Who, is bringing them to life in what promises to be one of the scariest stories of the new season. Just to make sure we assume crash positions behind our cushions, they've even called the episode Night Terrors. Yikes.

The story is bound to stoke up yet more debate about whether or not this series of Doctor Who has become too scary for kids. But before we get onto that, let's consider the case for the defence: Doctor Who has ALWAYS done its darndest to give us the heebie jeebies.

Think back to the 70s and 80s (if you're old enough) and you'll remember how the phrase "hide behind the sofa" was pretty much the show's slogan. Nowadays we look back and laugh at the clumsy, rubber-suited monsters, but in those days they were considered genuinely scary. The bar HAS to be raised now, or the show will just amuse rather than excite.

But, as the debates on fan forums and even newspaper pages show, there's something particularly nerve-jangling about Steven Moffat's influence on Who. And that's because he doesn't use conventional roaring monsters to deliver shocks. Instead, with awful ingenuity, he plays on our most basic, gut-level fears. He focuses on the small things that give us (and particularly children) the creeps.

Like those moving dolls, for instance. The Night Terrors episode also features a child terrified by something in his bedroom at night – a theme that will chime wickedly with most viewers of a young age. A future episode called The God Complex even has spooky clowns and – like The Shining – exploits our unease about long empty corridors and locked rooms.

Yep, it's the little things. The cracks in the wall that the young Amy Pond saw in her bedroom wall. The silent astronaut. They exude a mysterious menace greater than any Dalek – and they're the sorts of things that REALLY give kids nightmares. And even when Moffat does big beasties like the egg-headed, warp-faced Silence, it's not so much their appearance that's truly scary as it is the way they stalk you. When you're not looking directly at the Silence, you forget they're there, watching you. Now THAT’S what makes us wet our pants (metaphorically, we hope).

That's pure Moffat. And it's no coincidence that the scariest episodes of the Russell T Davies era – the ones featuring kids in gas masks asking "Are you my mummy?" and the notorious Weeping Angels – were written by Steven Moffat. Again, he didn’t resort to conventional monsters. The Weeping Angels just stand there impassively – until you blink.

Many old school fans, the ones who've now grown up and have to worry about tucking their kids into bed on a Saturday night, may actually miss the days when the creepiest thing the Doctor had to deal with were the plastic, lumbering Autons. But we reckon kids themselves feel otherwise. Thanks to Steven Moffat, the great British tradition of hiding behind the sofa whenever Who's on is back with us. And long may the scares continue…

What do you think? Is Steven Moffat's Doctor Who too scary for kids, or is it just right for the new generation? Visit our Twitter page and let us know!

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