Following “a series-ful of classic Who plots”, some ideas for themes and moods that “flavour” plots rather than defining them. Yes, my Vampire Storyteller hat is sitting by my desk.
I’ll be including an example adventure hook with each of these - all Aliens Of London stories to show how different each theme makes this basic setup.
If Doctor Who is known for one thing, it’s the Fear Factor. Which is interesting since the Doctor is so mighty, but his enemies are so many and so terrible and have a tendency to pick on puny humans.
Because we know the Doctor isn’t always there to stop them. And he’s almost never there in time to save everyone. (The classic series had an on-screen death toll over twelve hundred in a hundred and fifty stories.)
Over the years, the show has had its share of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies and the like, and has made giant pepperpots, statues and shop window dummies into objects of dread as well.
So there’s a little horror in a whole lots of stories, and a whole lot of horror in a few. Not for nothing was one of the FASA Doctor Who adventures a rewrite of a Call Of Cthulhu adventure.
Some monsters can always be relied on to press fear buttons - which shouldn’t be used to torment the players, obviously, as their fears can overlap with in-character worries. I find the Cybermen conceptually creepy, so I might GM featuring them but I wouldn’t want to play a character in danger of conversion.
The scariest single episode of the revived series is likely Blink, which is a Doctor-lite episode with a new cast who we get to know, care about and fear for very quickly, while the Doctor has already been defeated and needs their help to get back. And it has a spooky old house, a melancholy sense of death and loss, and an all-time classic monster gimmick. (It was rated 5.5 out of 5 in the Who site’s Fear Factor chart - on a scale of one to ten it goes up to eleven!)
Personally, I didn’t find their encore performance in The Time Of Angels and Flesh And Stone as scary, partially because their communication humanised them too much. Sure, it was horrible, but not unnerving. A reminder that it’s all subjective.
Example: The Hollows
(An Aliens Of London episode where the aliens are designed to be highly creepy.)
The travellers arrive in the present to find the streets deserted after dark. Gangs are supposed to be running amok, but there’s no sign of any.
Until they find one man in a hoodie walking through an alley. And he pulls back his hood to reveal black, empty pits where his eyes and mouth should be.
The Hollows are mental constructs formed from fear, working to an alien agenda and seemingly killing or ignoring possible victims at random. What is their origin and their real purpose here?