Shocktor Who! It’s no secret that Doctor Who likes its surprises, and the Twelfth Doctor’s era was full of exciting twists and turns.
We’re not just talking dramatic cliffhangers either. That’s almost a whole different list in itself! Clara and Missy exterminated by Daleks. The Doctor seemingly dead and turned into a ghost. Bonnie gunning down the Doctor’s plane with a bazooka. Clara being struck down by the Quantum Shade and the Doctor zapped off to his doom. They’re all great moments. But here, we’re talking about real jaw-to-the-floor, out-of-the-blue whoppers. These are the shockers we didn’t see coming. The ones that melted our brains as much as they melted the internet…
Honourable Mentions (for Honourable Intentions)
But before we get started on the list proper, here are a couple of moments that deserve an honourable mention. First: the Doctor finding himself back on Gallifrey at the end of Heaven Sent. Second: the reveal that Mr Razor is actually John Simm’s Master in World Enough and Time. Both penultimate episode cliffhangers, and both equally extraordinary. But for all their weight in megatons, they miss out on the list for one simple reason. They weren’t shocks. They should have been, and clearly that was the intention narratively. But official publicity spoiled the impact of both. Gallifrey’s return was unceremoniously revealed in the Heaven Sent synopsis. As for John Simm, well, it was hard to escape his presence since before Series 10 began. It’s a shame, as these two moments could have been close contenders for the number one spot. As it stands, they remain incredible moments that, sadly, we just knew a bit too much about in advance.
5. “There Is No Clara Oswald” (S8 E12, Death in Heaven)
The ending to Dark Water (more on that later) left viewers anxiously waiting for the next episode with bated breath. But it wasn’t the fallout from *that* cliffhanger that caught us off guard at the start of Death in Heaven. Rather, it was what happened next after Clara found herself trapped in the 3W Institute with a Cyberman. It looks like there’s no way out, until she pulls off one of the most unexpected (albeit temporary) twists from Series 8. “Clara Oswald is a cover story, a disguise” she admits, “There is no Clara Oswald”. But if Clara Oswald has never existed, who is she? “I’m the Doctor!”. Cue opening titles, complete with Jenna Coleman’s name preceding Peter Capaldi’s in the roll call. Her eyes even replace the iconic Twelfth Doctor attack eyebrows.
Of course, it’s all a big fat lie. We know by this point that Clara’s a compulsive fibber – she learnt from the best, after all. And we’re sure no one genuinely believed she was really going to be the Doctor. But, at least for those few seconds as the titles rolled, there was clearly a moment of suspenseful doubt. Steven Moffat is no stranger to weird and wonderful twists, so we wouldn’t put it past him. Let’s face it, a mere week earlier, he’d revealed the first gender-swap regeneration. Clara as a female Doctor wouldn’t be too much of a stretch after that. But she comes clean before long, and Capaldi’s reign as Doctor Twelve safely continues. Phew.
4. “I. Waited. For. You…” (S10 E11, World Enough and Time)
With Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat both leaving after Series 10, speculation was also rife about Pearl Mackie’s future. Would she bow out after one season so that Chris Chibnall had a clean slate for Series 11? The answer appeared to be yes, but not in the way we imagined. The synopsis for World Enough and Time teased a major character would die. We just didn’t expect it would be Bill. Not only is she shot clean through the chest and left for dead, she’s taken below decks to a creepy hospital. The Doctor plants a message in her subconscious, telling her to wait for him.
Bill is kept alive thanks to a cybernetic chest, and she spends her time befriending the enigmatic Mr Razor. Bad move though – during a supposed escape mission, the Master-in-disguise tricks her into the conversion chamber. Surgeons and half-converted humans descend on her. No way out of this one. By the time the Doctor arrives to rescue her, it’s already too late. With a tear in her cyber-eye, the newly converted Bill utters those painful words: “I. Waited. For. You…”. Ouch. As we learn in The Doctor Falls, ten years passed between Bill’s death and the conversion. The Doctor missed her by just two hours.
Like John Simm, we knew the Mondasian Cybermen were returning for the finale. But we never predicted that Bill would be their genesis…
3. “The Original, You Might Say” (S10 E12, The Doctor Falls)
Speaking of unexpected cliffhangers, who saw this one coming?! Well, quite a few people who’d read the tabloid rumours, as it happens. But anyway. Whether you half-knew it was coming or not, this was quite the early Christmas present. Bringing back an old Doctor is always a big deal for the show. Gifting Peter Capaldi a multi-Doctor story for his regeneration episode is all the more exciting. But when that other Doctor is the Doctor (the original, you might say!)… wowzer!
What makes this an especially unprecedented move is that the First Doctor is, ironically, the last Doctor you’d expect to return. For starters, the late great William Hartnell is sadly no longer with us. Okay, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the First Doctor played by someone else. He was portrayed by Richard Hurndall in The Five Doctors – but lightning very rarely strikes twice. Instead we have David Bradley (sort of) reprising his role from 2013’s An Adventure in Space and Time. But playing Hartnell in a biopic is one thing. Playing the actual character in a canonical episode of the series? That’s all sorts of brilliant, wibbly wobbly madness. Thankfully, David Bradley was excellent before, and he was just as excellent again in Twice Upon a Time.
2. “You Know Who I Am” (S8 E11, Dark Water)
The reveal of Missy’s identity in Dark Water was easily the biggest moment of Series 8. Not only is it the definitive Missy moment, but it managed to cause waves both on and off our screens. Ever since she first appeared in Deep Breath, there were theories abound about who she really was. The truth though was hidden in plain sight all along. Congratulations to everyone who deciphered Steven Moffat’s fiendishly obvious puzzle in advance.
As Cybermen pour out of St Paul’s and invade London, the big moment arrives. The Doctor knows Missy’s a Time Lady – her two hearts gave that away! But which one? Minds across the nation quickly raced through names like Romana and the Rani. As it happens, it turned out it wasn’t either of them at all. Missy is (drum roll) the Master reborn… as a woman! The last time we saw the character was as John Simm in The End of Time four years prior. No wonder the Doctor didn’t recognise her…!
Time Lord re-gender-ation was now officially canon and anything became possible. Through media and internet frenzy, Missy’s shocking reveal actually transcended television itself. When we remember Michelle Gomez’s Master, this is what it will be for. And, perhaps even more importantly, her influence surely played a part in casting Doctor 13…
1. “My Name is Davros” (S9 E01, The Magician’s Apprentice)
Now this is how you start off a new season of Doctor Who!
Series 9 opens on a muddy battlefield, set in the middle of a terrible hundred-year-long war. Advanced technology fights primitive weaponry. It’s a conflict completely unlike anything we’ve seen before, and yet at the same time it’s all too familiar. As far as we know, this could be anywhere. Only die-hard fans who paid very close attention to the background detail in Genesis of the Daleks would realise it’s Skaro. But even then, that doesn’t spoil the surprise to come.
A young boy gets trapped in a field of Hand Mines, and the Doctor shows up just in time to save him. He gives the little ‘un a motivating speech about his chances of survival. “Tell me the name of the boy who isn’t going to die today!” he insists. But the reply hits him right between his two Time Lord hearts. “Davros. My name is Davros…”. At this point, heads presumably exploded across the nation. The camera pans in on Twelve’s shocked, conflicted face as the opening title sting kicks in. Does he save his future nemesis, or effectively leave a child for dead? It gets even darker at the end of the episode when he’s physically pointing a gun in young Davros’ direction. Exterminate!
Amazingly, some newspaper speculation aside, this was one shocker that didn’t leak out early. Advance previews played along and kept Davros’ name a wonderful secret. We could tell from publicity photos that the Daleks were back… but their creator too? What a masterstroke! After that, it was just pleasant surprise after pleasant surprise, with Julian Bleach also reprising the role after a 7 year absence. But we’ll never forget that very first moment on the battlefield. The pre-titles to The Magician’s Apprentice are simply iconic, and a firm statement of how bold and brave Series 9 would turn out to be. Simply put, shockers in the Twelfth Doctor era don’t come much bigger or better than this one…