Top 5 Doctor Who Cliffhangers (2005-2017)

Back in the classic era, Doctor Who had a reputation for cliffhanger endings. With 2-6 episodes per story, the writers had to keep people coming back each week. They did this with sometimes exciting, sometimes a frightening, and sometimes just plain silly cliffhangers.

When Doctor Who came back in 2005, the format was different. Most stories have been one 45-minute episode, instead of being spread over four weeks. But, every now and again, we get a two-part story, (or even a three or four part story!) and once again, Doctor Who’s age old tradition of cliffhangers came roaring back.

So, let’s take a look at some of the most impactful cliffhangers that have kept us all on the edge of our seats for a whole week. Just from the renewed series, so 2005-2017 episodes. We will do a list for the Classic era soon, promise!

5. The Voidship Opens – Army of Ghosts (2006)

For David Tennant’s first full series, a big cliffhanger was called for. For years, Doctor Who fans have debated about a possible meeting between the Daleks and the Cybermen. At last, Russell T Davis granted that wish with a long awaited reveal.

Having established both the Daleks and the Cybermen as real and formidable dangers in the previous two series, the build up to this cliffhanger couldn’t have been better. Some say it was let down slightly by a coming-soon trailer that included a Dalek’s extermination ray being shown. But, for many of us, it was a complete shock and more than enough reason to come back next time for Doomsday.

4 – The War Doctor – Name of the Doctor (2013)

As the 50th Anniversary was drawing nearer, writer Steven Moffat needed a big reveal to pull the big audiences in. It needed to be something shocking, something never seen before, and it needed a big name attached. Few names were bigger than John Hurt (at least, names the BBC could afford, let’s be fair).

The idea of a secret Doctor certainly shocked and angered a lot of fans. It certainly messed up the number system. From a narrative standpoint, it was a pretty huge revelation, though. If there had been a little more build up, more planting of ideas and a thematic tie in for this, then it may have made it a little higher on the list. As it is, it did come a little out of nowhere and so, I think, lost some of its potential impact.

However, such a monumental shake up of continuity is well worth the number 4 spot.

3 – The Master Reborn – Utopia (2007)

Series three pulled heavily on the idea of the Doctor coming to terms with the Time War, and of being the last of his kind. Slowly but surely, with the help of Martha, he was accepting it and moving on. Then, right at the critical moment, he comes face to face with his oldest and most powerful foe – The Master.

Derek Jacobi’s lovable old professor Yana was transformed before our eyes into the terrifying would-be-tyrant. Even those who had not heard of the Master instantly understood that this character was bad news. (Seriously watch Jacobi’s performance and how he conveys so much through just his eyes).

2 – I’m Regenerating! – The Stolen Earth (2008)

We knew David Tennant was leaving, and we knew the Christmas special was going to be called ‘The Next Doctor’, so when this happened a fair number of us were sure this was it. Up to this point, for the new series, regeneration had been used fairly sparingly. It was a special, unusual occurrence, making this even more potentially game changing.

This was all confounded by the next-time trailers containing no footage of the Doctor at all, further giving rise to the feeling that yes, it might be the end for the Tenth Doctor. We spent all week on the edges of our seats, just waiting to see how this would all be resolved. There was no way to stop a regeneration, was there?


Before we get to number one, I’d like to acknowledge some of the other cliffhangers that didn’t make the list.

All great cliffhangers, but lacking just a touch of something special to make the list. Now, for the grand finale, and the Scifi-Fantasy Network number one best Doctor Who Cliffhanger…


1 – The Master Race / The Time Lords Return – End of Time Part 1 (2009)

A double cliffhanger ending! This big reveal was so important that Russell T Davis actually left the Time Lords’ return out of the press screenings to prevent spoilers getting out. (Though, thanks to some leaks of pictures of Timothy Dalton in his Rassilon outfit, some had already cottoned on to it).

This was the culmination of the last four years of storytelling. The Doctor was the last of his kind, and his home planet had been lost in the great Time War. These were the central pillars of the show for so long, the key aspects of what drove the Doctor’s character arc, that this was not only an exciting cliffhanger, but a terrifying one.

Coupled with John Simm’s brilliantly evil laughter, the sense of the sheer scale of the threat was hammered home as the camera panned out from the Earth. Then, this mysterious narrator delivers the words that would change the future of the show itself!

This was everything Russell T Davies had been building up to from the beginning of the Eccleston era. It felt like it had been planned out so as to lead here all along. With a few bumps along the way, we got here and we really felt like we had travelled with the ninth and tenth Doctors to this point. It was a climax not only for the characters, but for the audience too. The end of an era was approaching, and it looked like it might just be… spectacular!

What were your favourite cliffhanger moments? Did we miss out one you think deserved to be in the list? Leave a comment and let’s all remember the times when we couldn’t wait for the next episode…

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Joel Cornah
Joel Cornah is an author, journalist, and blogger. He is the author of a number of novels and novellas including; The Sea-Stone Sword, The Spire of Frozen Fire and The Silent Helm, with the upcoming novel The Sky Slayer, expected some time in 2016. He is an editor for The Science-Fiction and Fantasy Network, head of the Doctor Who department, and member of the Tolkien Society. He is a frequent blogger for the Pack of Aces blog, focussing on issues of Asexuality in media, specialising in sci-fi and fantasy.