The Whoniverse’s Saddest Stories: Part 3

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David Selby concludes his countdown of the saddest stories of the Whoniverse.

Throughout the years, we have been graced with a number of tearjerkers in Doctor Who – though some have been forgotten, especially when they concern the show’s spin-offs. But what are the saddest stories of the Whoniverse? And which scene earned the ultimate place?

Note: These do not include Classic stories as the new series takes a different tone, and may overshadow the classics purely by being more recent (and having a considerably larger orchestra). If these articles are a success, there will be one for the classics, too.

5. Doctor Who: The Family of Blood

The Family of Blood was an incredibly unique story with infinite possibilities in terms of the premise. The direction that the episode took was unexpected; yet equally captivating. The human Doctor had done two things which the Doctor hadn’t prepared for – fallen in love, and become afraid to change. The human Doctor wasn’t the Doctor; the human Doctor was John Smith, therefore Martha’s task in the story was the quite literally murder him – in fact, this was touched upon when John denoted her as his ‘executioner’.

The final scenes with John Smith were very emotive. I’d deem that the saddest parts were probably when Joan was persuading him to change, as the watch triggered the alternate future. What was most upsetting about that was that the future was perfect; yet it could never happen. Whilst you never saw the transformation, you really felt for John Smith, and of course, towards the end of the story, Joan finally decided that what the Doctor had done was immoral, in a well-constructed and thought-provoking scene where Joan made the Doctor realise that John Smith was, in fact, a better man than him.

There were, of course, a sum of other scenes from this episode which were fairly emotionally-based. There were the fates of each member of the Family, cleverly planned out by the Doctor who was undoubtedly very unstable and dark in this scene. Lastly, there was the culmination with the tribute to Remembrance Day, which was a lovely addition and a accolade to real life events.

4. Doctor Who/The Sarah Jane Adventures: School Reunion/The Man Who Never Was

My initial reason for listing these episodes is, due the tragic passing of Elizabeth Sladen, the stories that act as a goodbye to her character really do bring a tear to my eye as they echo back to reality. The prime example is The Man Who Never Was; the final scenes with the snippets of Sarah Jane’s life, ending on her teary farewell to the Tenth Doctor, knowing this was the last I was ever going to see of our Liz. Every time I watch it, I murmur a heart-broken, “Awww”, and sense a lump in my throat.

The same goes for School Reunion, which, due to the fact that it was prearranged, had a far more ‘solid’ send-off to her character. “Goodbye, My Sarah Jane” has a lot of significance the first time round, but even more this time, which is down to the aforementioned reasons, as well as the fact that I have now watched a lot of her classic stories. K9’s death is also very moving, Murray Gold’s music is at its finest playing a real helping hand, and of course, along with the fantastic acting of David Tennant and Elizabeth Sladen, there’s the profound script of Toby Whithouse, and many themes which were cogitated on throughout the story (“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for”/” You can spend the rest of your life with me, but I can’t spend the rest of mine with you”/” I’m so old now. I used to have so much mercy. You get one warning. That was it”/” No. The universe has to move forward. Pain and loss, they define us as much as happiness or love. Whether it’s a world, or a relationship… Everything has its time. And everything ends”).

3. Torchwood: Children of Earth – Day 5

After Ianto’s death, I think it was fair to say that I wasn’t prepared for another character to be killed off. I especially wasn’t ready for an actual child to be murdered by the show’s protagonist. It’s not an ending that sits comfortably with me and undoubtedly hits the ‘disturbing’ tone spot on (I’m pretty sure Russell T. Davies’ mind is downright warped). I find it tremendously distressing to watch the entire passage from the awareness that the strategy might work to the very close of the story.

It begins when Alice grasps, horrified, what the idea is, and pleads Jack not to go along with it. Jack, with no choice, decides to permit them, and Alice is removed, struggling to break free, whilst Steven is escorted unknowingly to the ‘slaughter house’. Jack positions Steven in the centre whilst Alice begs him to run, but the worst part is that he doesn’t – Steven places his faith in ‘Uncle Jack’ right until the end, and Jack can’t even look at him. He just stands there, trusting Jack with his life, as Jack takes it, and Alice watches helplessly. A mother should never lose her child, it is wrong, and destroys her inside, and watching her cradle Steven’s body felt just that – wrong. It was such a painful scene, even sadder as she had no family to speak of. She would never be able to forgive Jack and never be able to recover. Place yourself in her situation – actually, don’t. It’s a very disturbing notion.

2. Doctor Who: Doomsday

Here is, in my opinion, the saddest Doctor Who story. Yes, Rose was brought back and the episode was virtually ruined, yet on first time viewing, you just cannot beat Doomsday in terms of emotional impact. Even if you fail to feel compassion towards Rose, you must surely still feel remorseful to the Doctor. Despite all the poignant moments throughout the episode like when the Doctor decides to give up Rose and send her to the parallel universe, or when Rose and the Doctor face each other wall-to-wall, the one which stands on high for me is when the Doctor fades away after saying “Rose Tyler…” It’s not even the fact that he didn’t get to finish his line; just the pure emphasis that was put on those few seconds with the sudden hit of ‘The Lone Dalek’ and the Doctor’s tear streaming down his face. I think that if you saw this the first time around as I did, you probably felt that grief that I did.

1. Torchwood: Exit Wounds

I was somewhat shocked when I realised that what I consider as the saddest moment isn’t even from Doctor Who, but instead from its counterpart, Torchwood. Mind you, Torchwood evidently has the upper hand – it is an adult show, and consequently can delve into more uncertain, multifaceted and twisted themes which Doctor Who dare not venture into. Killing two characters off in one story was daring to say the least, and I was a little disappointed as they were my two favourite characters, yet notwithstanding, I admired the way their deaths were handled. It was right that Owen got the completion he needed – I wouldn’t have minded a little longer with him as the ‘dead man walking’, but Series 2 really was ‘his’ series, so a death was an appropriate culmination. What I found notable was the way he ultimately just accepted it – my suspicion there, however, is that because he was already dead; he lacked the human instinct to survive. During Owen’s death scene, I thought that the melancholiest part was perhaps Tosh’s reaction (“Why should I stop screaming?”, “Because you’re breaking my heart”), who, lying on the floor, frightened, dying, was being tortured by his pleas for help.

Moving onto the subject of Toshiko, her demise is what brings this episode up to the first place. What I loved about Tosh, and what made her my favourite Torchwood member, was her temperament; whilst others were depressed and going through tough times, she was always there, a confidante, strong, and entirely supportive of them. She was the one wholly good character in the Torchwood team; altruistic, philanthropic. The accompaniment of ‘Death of Toshiko’ by Murray Gold pretty much tipped me over the edge.

(Also, a little bit of additional information for you – Toshiko’s death was largely decided because of her Series 2 arc. Russell chose it because he felt that her character deserved closure, as we knew practically everything about her – he wanted it to finish as a “full circle”, and felt that killing her off was the best way to do that – and perhaps, most rightly of him)

The Runners-Up

There were a number of other stories which nearly made it into the least but were narrowly beaten by the chose 15. Here are those which I think deserve a mention (if you are clueless as to why any of these are listed, feel free to inquire in the comments and I’ll try to get back to you)

  • The End of the World
  • World War Three
  • Parting of the Ways
  • Love and Monsters
  • Gridlock
  • Blink
  • The Waters of Mars
  • Amy’s Choice
  • Vincent and the Doctor
  • A Christmas Carol
  • The Doctor’s Wife
  • The God Complex
  • Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
  • The Angels Take Manhattan

Finally, what do you judge as the show’s saddest moments?