The Doctor, that time-traveling alien mad scientist, is a clever man — but his foes often outsmart themselves. We may never know the Doctor's real name, but the Master's name is clearly Rube Goldberg. Here are the 10 most ludicrously byzantine plots that Doctor Who's baddies have cooked up.
In general, if your goal is to kill the Doctor, the best approach is to wander up to him and shoot him in the head. He's not bullet proof, and if you empty an entire clip into him, he probably won't regenerate. But just like classic Batman villains with their elaborate shark-tank-based death traps, the Doctor's enemies tend to go for the grandiose and impractical instead. (And yes, that's absolutely part of the fun, and this show wouldn't be the same if the villains' plots were sensible and logical.)
So, spoilers for old Doctor Who stories (including the Matt Smith era) ahead...
10) The Master ("The Mind of Evil", 1971)
The evil Time Lord has somehow gotten hold of an alien parasite that feeds on negative human impulses. So he puts it inside a fancy machine that plays Edith Piaf's "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" when it's in the presence of a psychopath (after which the machine siphons off all his/her violent emotions.) Then the Master pretends to be a Swiss psychologist and sells his machine to a British prison, as a way of "curing" inmates of their dangerous thoughts.
Meanwhile, he's hypnotized a Chinese diplomatic aide and is using her to assassinate other diplomats, to sabotage a peace conference, so he can steal a nerve-gas missile. Yes, a giant missile full of nerve gas! And once he has the missile and the machine full of people's psychopathic thoughts, he plans to... umm... Look, he's smoking a cigar! That's pretty hawt, actually.
9) The Slitheen ("Aliens of London"/"World War Three", 2005)
OK, so you're the Slitheen, a crew of baby-faced fart monsters who can impersonate any human who weighs over a certain amount. You have the ability to dispose of the British prime minister and replace him with one of your own. Which means you've basically already won, because you control the British government and can trigger nuclear armageddon any time you want. So you... uplift a pig to semi-human status and put it in a spaceship, which you crashland into London, so that the country's leading alien-fighting experts will come in for a meeting to figure out who put this pig in a spaceship. And then you can electrocute them to death using special lanyards. (Or you could just skip the part with the pig in the spaceship and take over the British government without anybody noticing. Just a thought.)
8) The Kraals ("Android Invasion", 1975)
We've already called out this ludicrous scheme in the past, but here goes again. You're the Kraals, a group of blobby-faced aliens, and you want to conquer the Earth. You've created a deadly plague that will kill all humans the moment it becomes airborne. Then you capture a human astronaut and convince him that he needs to wear an eyepatch, so he'll think you put him back together after his spaceship crashed. This grateful human will do anything you ask, so why not just send him back to Earth and get him to release the plague? But no. Instead, you create thousands of android duplicates of all the people in this one English village, along with a perfect duplicate of that village, on another planet. The duplicate village is so the androids can practice impersonating regular humans, see? And then you launch all of your androids to Earth in fake meteors — which absolutely will not attract any attention, nope — so they can arrive on Earth and help your unnecessary-eyepatch-wearing astronaut to release the virus, which is held in a tiny sphere that you didn't really need thousands of androids to deliver. But hey, why not build a disorientation chamber when you're at it?
7) The Daleks ("Resurrection of the Daleks", 1984)
The Daleks are not really known for their planning ability, it must be said.
In this story, they are being attacked with a deadly virus that causes shaving foam to burst out of their casings in a slightly obscene manner. The Daleks somehow manage to get hold of samples of this virus... which they hide on late 20th century Earth, the home of the species that has thwarted them countless times (humans.) This is also the time and place where their arch enemy, the Doctor, is most likely to be found. But not to worry, they have some android policemen guarding this plague! The android policemen are armed with honking great machine guns, so as not to attract attention on 20th century Earth. (In London, where all police officers carry machine guns.) The Daleks have a backup plan, though — they've mind-controlled a set of humans from the distant future, and their mind-control process only has like a 97 percent failure rate. So when the mind-control breaks down and the human slaves decide to flee, just have your android policemen gun them down in the street — nobody will notice dozens of people being massacred in London. (At this point, maybe the Daleks are wondering if they shouldn't have just stashed the disease samples on an uninhabited planet somewhere?) In any case, the Daleks connect their disease stash on 20th century Earth to a spaceship in the distant future, via a time tunnel — the entrance to which they don't bother guarding, so anybody at all can get to their disease samples. We're just getting started, by the way.
So the Daleks decide that only their creator Davros can save them from this disease — so they bust him out of a future prison, but then they keep their ship docked with the future prison because Davros insists he can't be moved from there. (Which means the surviving humans on the future prison are free to attack the Daleks.) But we haven't actually gotten to the point of all this — the Daleks are actually doing all this nonsense with the time tunnel and the disease samples and whatnot so they can lure the Doctor, whom they plan to replace with a duplicate (controlled using their mind-control process, the one with the 97 percent failure rate) and use him to infiltrate the Time Lords' home planet of Gallifrey. Still with us?
6) The Sontarans ("The Sontaran Strategem"/"The Poison Sky", 2008)
Otherwise known as "the one where the Sontarans go into the car business." The Sontarans are military geniuses, whose main attribute is their ability to conquer lesser races with sheer cunning and military force. So they decide to team up with a young tech whizkid, who's basically Bill Gates or something, and they invent a clean car engine, with zero exhaust. They also develop a new car GPS system, whose main purpose seems to be taking over cars and driving them into lakes and things.
(Update: Various people have pointed out that the Sontarans don't actually manufacture the cars, just a new exhaust system, with a GPS attached. Why does the exhaust system come with a GPS, that can turn the vehicle into a driverless car? Still unclear.)
The point of the cars is that at some point, the zero exhaust system will start spitting out a deadly gas that will kill all humans and Sontariform Earth so the atmosphere is conducive to hatching Sontaran clone babies. It sort of makes sense... except it requires the Sontarans to manufacture millions of cars and distribute them all over the world, because presumably their zero-emissions engine is something that can't be manufactured in a normal human factory. (I'd love to see the specs the Sontarans would send to a human factory, carefully including the "emits deadly atmosphere-destroying gas" feature.) Oh, and they randomly duplicate people, including the Doctor's companion Martha.
5) The War Lords ("The War Games", 1969)
So the War Lords are an alien race who want — what else? — to conquer the universe. To this end, they want to recruit an unstoppable army. Luckily, they've joined forces with a rogue Time Lord, known only as the War Chief. The War Chief has helped them to build a slew of knock-off TARDISes, called SIDRATs. So the War Lords use their time machines to kidnap humans from various parts of Earth's history, and force them to keep fighting the wars of their own eras. So the people kidnapped from the American Civil War keep fighting the Civil War forever, and the people from World War I keep fighting World War I over and over. This happens on some alien planet, which has been divided into different war zones. Eventually the people who have survived the alien reconstruction of World War I will be the ULTIMATE WARRIORS, the fittest and deadliest specimens, and they will be fit to join the War Lords' army. Because not getting blown up by landmines or randomly shot in 1917 France is the perfect preparation for conquering the universe. Also, Roman soldiers who survived some Roman war are bound to be the absolute best universe-conquering troops. There's not any element of randomness to the process of selecting the survivors of these "war games," not in the slightest. Also, if these aliens already have a fleet of inferior TARDIS copies, I can't help thinking there might be easier ways to conquer the universe.
4) The Master ("Logopolis"/"Castrovalva", 1981-1982)
We could pretty much fill this list with the Master's schemes. There's that time he poses as a Greek college professor so he can build a time-travel experiment on Earth named TOM-TIT, which he can use to contact the lost continent of Atlantis in the past, so he can seduce Ingrid Pitt and get to the evil god Kronos, which he has no clue how to control. There's the whole "Toclafane" debacle. But the debut of Anthony Ainley's Master pretty much takes the cake — in "Logopolis," the Master wants to kill the Doctor, but he also wants to learn the secrets of Logopolis, the planet of pure math. So the Master traps the Doctor inside his own TARDIS, in a sort of nesting-doll, infinite-regression thingy. This has the desired affect of making the Doctor seek the help of the Logopolitans, after which the Master blunders around wreaking havoc, until it turns out he's actually doomed the entire universe to death by entropy. (Logopolis was keeping the universe energized by opening pocket universes.) The Master teams up with the Doctor to save the universe, but then decides to hold it hostage by sending a radio message to the universe. We're not at the silly bit yet, though.
So once the Doctor foils this scheme, sacrificing his own life in the process, the Master sees a chance to get rid of the Doctor once and for all. He doesn't just drop an anvil on the newly regenerated Fifth Doctor from the top of the radio telescope he's sitting on, though. Instead, the Master kidnaps Adric, the Doctor's companion and gets him to reprogram the TARDIS to set a course for the Big Bang, a death trap which nearly works. But when it doesn't, the Master sets his most crazily elaborate trap of all time — he gets Adric to use pure mathematics to create a whole fake city called Castrovalva, filled with manufactured people who have false memories. The Master disguises himself as a wise old man, using tons of latex, and rigs the whole city to turn into an MC Escher picture, so the Doctor will be trapped in the throes of art appreciation forever.
The Master has about 1,000 chances to kill the Doctor during all this, including one bit where he hands the Doctor a "medicinal" drink, but the Master winds up attacking a cabinet full of books and howling instead.
3) The Daleks ("Bad Wolf"/"The Parting of the Ways", 2005)
So you're the Daleks, and you've been basically wiped out in the Time War. You need to create a new army of evil mutants encased in super-armor — but you're really, really racist. So you don't want to turn just any humanoids into Daleks, you want to find a handful of humanoid cells that are worthy of mutating into Dalek life forms. So far, so good. So of course, you take over a media satellite in the far future and create spoofs of early-2000s game shows and reality shows. Wait... what?
No, see, it makes perfect sense. The Daleks want to kidnap humans without anybody noticing, to harvest their DNA. So they create exact replicas of Big Brother and The Weakest Link, and probably Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire too. Anyone who is "eliminated" on those shows is apparently killed — but is actually teleported millions of miles away, to the Dalek ship. The Daleks have the capacity to teleport people without being detected, but they don't just kidnap people from Earth or elsewhere, because that wouldn't be nearly as cool. At a certain point, the Daleks have amassed a huge, unbeatable army of Daleks and a nearly endless fleet of warships — but they don't launch their invasion of Earth, they just keep on running game shows until the Doctor stumbles on them.
Oh, and the Daleks randomly have a cyborg lady on their media satellite, running all their stuff for them, even though she isn't loyal and betrays them the first chance she gets. They also have a huge staff of humans working for them, who have to be kept ignorant about what the games are really about.
(Side note: given that Rose destroys an entire Dalek war fleet just by waving her hand, after looking into the heart of the TARDIS for a second, you have to wonder why the Time Lords didn't try that tactic during the Time War. Or if the Time Lords did try that, why the Daleks didn't develop a defense against the "look into the TARDIS and become a god" maneuver.)
2) The Silence ("The Eleventh Hour"-"The Wedding of River Song", 2010-2011)
The Silence are a rogue faction of a religious order of nudists. And these naked maniacs (wearing holographic clothes) decide to kill the Doctor before he can come to the planet Trenzalore, lest he answer a message from the Time Lords, who are trapped in a pocket universe. (Because if the Doctor answers the message, the Time Lords will know it's safe to return.)
Luckily, the Silence's members include a slew of confessors who are the perfect assassins, because nobody can remember seeing them and they have superstrong mind-control powers.
So... sorted, yeah? Send the confessors with the forgetting powers after the Doctor, and he literally won't see them coming. They shoot him in the head, case closed. Right?
Instead, the Silence hatch a scheme to blow up the Doctor's TARDIS, accidentally destroying the entire universe in the process. And when that doesn't work out, the Silence switch to Plan B: they go to Earth in the distant past and dig tunnels all across the planet, and they shape all of human history to their own ends, even creating an entire space program just so they'll have a cool spacesuit.
Then they set about creating their perfect assassin. When the Doctor breaks a longstanding practice and has a married couple traveling aboard the TARDIS, the Silence somehow get wind of this and find out that the woman, Amy, is pregnant with a child who's absorbed some TARDIS-y goodness in utero. So they capture Amy and replace her with a "Ganger" duplicate, using technology that won't exist for hundreds of years. (This duplicate is linked to Amy mentally, even when she's aboard the TARDIS or visiting the distant past.)
Then they spirit Amy away to a stronghold in the future, and keep her there for nine months until she gives birth. The Doctor rescues Amy, but they manage to steal the newborn baby away. Now they have a baby who has special TARDIS-y powers, and they can train her from infancy to be the perfect assassin on some planet in the distant future. But instead, they take her to 1960s Earth so she can be raised in "the correct environment" — a hellish nightmare orphanage, run by a crazy person. Eventually, she escapes because the Silence give her an Apollo spacesuit to protect her from any harm. (Bear in mind, the Silence have access to technology from the distant future, including the Ganger thing and the ability to travel from Demons Run to Florida in an eye blink. So they don't really need an Apollo spacesuit.)
Anyway, the girl, Melody Pond, gets away and is missing for decades. The Silence apparently make no attempt to track her down between 1969 and the early 1990s, when she becomes Amy Pond's childhood best friend. Then Melody does actually succeed in killing the Doctor... but she immediately changes her mind, because her assassin training and indoctrination were kind of rubbish.
The Silence allow Melody, now calling herself River Song, to go get an archeology degree in the 51st century, before they finally track her down and force her to get back in her Apollo spacesuit. At this point, she's basically their meat puppet, because she no longer wants to go through with killing the Doctor — but they manage to haul her to a lake in Utah in 2012, where her TARDIS-y powers will help them create a "fixed point" in time, an event that can't be changed. Even then, River refuses to pull the trigger, because why would she? (The not-pulling-a-trigger thing creates a paradox, but that's probably the Doctor's own fault, since he invited Future River and River's parents to watch Past River kill him.)
Again. You have a small army of super-invincible pseudo-Gentlemen, who have both mind-control and super-forgetting powers. The perfect assassins. (Or you could just pay a guy $20 to gun the Doctor down on the street. It worked for those Chinese gangsters in the 1996 TV movie, with an assist by Grace the opera surgeon.)
Oh, also, even though the Silence already have the ability to travel from Demons Run to 1960s Florida, and from far-future Trenzalore to whenever, they still spend a lot of time and energy trying to construct a knock-off TARDIS in their 1960s tunnels and in a London house in 2010, for reasons that are super unclear.
1) The Valeyard ("Trial of a Time Lord", 1986)
The Valeyard is actually an alternate future incarnation of the Doctor, an amalgamation of the Doctor's dark side, somewhere between his 12th and 13th bodies — so between David Tennant and Matt Smith, in other words. Maybe in "The Waters of Mars" when the Doctor starts going off the rails, that's him almost turning into the Valeyard.
The Valeyard wants to kill the Sixth Doctor and steal his remaining lives, so he makes a deal with the Time Lords — he helps them put the Doctor on trial. Instead of just manipulating things from behind the scenes, the Valeyard puts on fancy robes and stands right in front of his alternate self.
The Valeyard resorts to evidence-tampering to get a guilty verdict against the Doctor, so he can seize the Doctor's future lives — but actually, the Valeyard has no intention of going through with his deal with the Time Lords. He's already built a "megabyte modem" and hidden it inside the Matrix, the supercomputer that holds all Time Lord knowledge. And the Valeyard has constructed a whole pseudo-Dickensian world called the Fantasy Factory inside the Matrix's virtual world.
The Valeyard also has managed to foment a coup on Gallifrey, overthrowing the High Council of Time Lords, and the trial is just a ploy to get some of the most influential Time Lords into one room so he can kill them with his megabyte modem.
Fair enough... but if the trial is a sham designed to trap the Time Lord jurors, why risk blowing the whole thing wide open by tampering with evidence in such an obvious fashion? (The fake scenes of the Doctor being evil are sort of egregious, and the fake evidence includes the Doctor's companion dying when she actually married Brian Blessed — just the sort of thing that's guaranteed to make the Doctor more dangerous.)
Also, the Valeyard chooses to show the jury the adventure where the Doctor stumbled on evidence of the Time Lords' greatest crime (moving the planet Earth millions of light years and renaming it Ravolox) — which means that the very thing that the Time Lords were trying to cover up gets aired publicly, and even gets entered into evidence in court procedings. You'd think if the Valeyard was trying to lull the Time Lords into a false sense of security so he could spring his megabyte modem/coup scheme on them, he would make the trial run as smoothly as possible.
But as the Valeyard himself says, "You cannot prevent the catharsis of spurious morality." Truer words were never spoken.