Doctor Who’s most controversial episodes

We look back at some of the show's most contentious and complained about moments

The Doctor has lived for more than 2,000 years, and not all of them were good – in fact some of them were downright controversial. From violence to unwanted phone calls, complaints have dogged the Doctor ever since he first set out in the Tardis. Here are the moments that caused headlines.


The Time of Angels (2010)

The tense cliffhanger to Matt Smith’s fourth episode saw the Doctor facing down an entire army of Weeping Angels… and Graham Norton. At the critical moment, a cartoon version of the talk show host marched out onto the screen in a banner advert for talent show Over the Rainbow. Doctor Who fans were not happy, to say the least, with more than 5,000 writing to the BBC to complain. The Corporation apologised and claimed the advert had accidentally run too early. Norton is actually a long-time enemy of the Doctor, though. Due to a similar mix-up, his voice was heard bleeding into the opening seconds of Rose, the first episode in the new-Who era.

The Deadly Assassin (1976)

The Doctor has never had a more implacable foe than Mary Whitehouse, the British moral crusader who spent decades fighting against smut and violence on TV. Doctor Who was a frequent target of the Clean-Up TV pressure group, especially during Tom Baker’s era, when it must be said the show was particularly bloodthirsty. Whitehouse was most upset by the cliffhanger ending to episode three of The Deadly Assassin, which ended with Tom Baker’s head underwater, moments from drowning. Whitehouse claimed “the programme contains some of the sickest and most horrific material ever seen on children’s television” and said it represented “a new barrier broken.” 

Deep Breath (2014)

One from the recent past. Peter Capaldi’s very first episode triggered much attention on Twitter, and six complaints to Ofcom, for a kiss shared between Madame Vastra and her wife Jenny Flint. Viewers complained about the “blatant gay agenda” – but let the show’s blatant lizard-loving agenda go completely unremarked upon.

Dalek (2005)

Daleks are a rum lot, but the British Board of Film Classifications (BBFC) felt sorry for one when releasing their first new-Who appearance on DVD. Awarding the episode a 12 rating – meaning only children 12 and older should watch it – the BBFC objected to a scene where Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor tortures the captive Dalek with electricity. In their statement, the organisation said: “We are concerned about role models for children using the sort of tactics that Doctor Who used against the Dalek. If that was transferred into the playground it would be something we would want to tackle.”

The Stolen Earth (2008)

You don’t get more ex-directory than the Tardis, so fans were thrilled when its phone number flashed on screen in this David Tennant episode. More than 2,500 people supposedly tried to call the number – 07700 900 461– expecting to be put through to the Time Lord. Unfortunately for them, it was chosen from a list of ‘safe’ disconnected numbers, meaning all they got was a dial tone or automated message.

Incidentally, the question of who might know the Doctor’s phone number has been central to this series’ overarching storyline. Either the Doctor has forgotten he gave it out to 7 billion people, or he’s dropped his phone in the toilet since then.

Dark Water (2014)

The most recent controversy came when Missy revealed death was…well, a fate worse than death. The implication that every corpse remained conscious and capable of experiencing pain –including its own cremation– was off-putting to say the least, and triggered hundreds of complaints to Ofcom“Doctor Who is a family drama with a long tradition of tackling some of the more fundamental questions about life and death,” the BBC said in a statement.

And here we thought it was about bow ties and technobabble.