In season 9’s Under the Lake, someone tells the Doctor that he can stay here and do the “Cabin in the Woods” thing, but the rest of them are getting out of there. These “Cabin in the Woods” episodes are a plot structure frequently used by Doctor Who scriptwriters, sometimes as often as two or three times per season. The Doctor lands in the midst of a group of people who are already in peril. They usually (but not always) know each other pretty well, as they are co-workers or family. Then one by one, they begin to get picked off by the monster or whatever it is that haunts them until the Doctor puts a stop to it. They are always in a confined space with no hope for escape. Usually the characters are vivid, with one or two characters with companion potential, and often there is a love story. I cheated a little with the title of this article. I’m going to survey the “Cabin in the Woods” episodes, but instead of choosing the ten best of all time, I’m choosing the best one from each season.
The End of the World
Confined space: For Rose Tyler’s first journey in space and time, the Doctor takes her to the viewing deck of a satellite spaceship orbiting the Earth at the end of the planet’s life.
Group of people: An assortment of alien creatures, including a blue technician, the first to be killed; the Face of Beau, who will become important later; self-sacrificing tree lady Jabe; and the last living human–Cassandra–a piece of stretched-thin skin that needs to be constantly moisturized by her companions.
Danger: There are mechanical spiders on board bent on destruction, but which of the invited passengers is behind this unpeaceful little token?
The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit
Confined space: A spaceship full of Ood, which are usually passive creatures when they aren’t possessed by Satan. The spaceship is orbiting a black hole, which just sucked up the TARDIS, with no chance of breaking free of its gravity.
Group of people: Zach (Shaun Parkes) is acting captain, with his crew Toby, the first to get possessed; Mr. Jefferson; Ida; Danny; and Scooti.
Danger: Well besides that black hole, there’s also a monster in chains on the nearby planet, which the Doctor is fascinated to find not only looks like famous depictions of the king of hell but actually claims to be him. Like Satan, he can influence people from a distance, even to the point of possessing them to kill.
Confined space: This time, instead of a spaceship orbiting a black hole, it’s a spaceship hurtling toward the sun with just 42 minutes to answer all the door-opening quiz questions (a victim of their own security system).
Group of people: Korwin, the first to be infected by the temperature rise; Riley, who helps Martha answer the quiz questions to get to the bridge; and Ashton, the next to be infected.
Danger: Well besides that sun they’re hurtling toward, the sun is actually a living creature, feasting off the ship’s fuel. One look at the sun and your brain gets infected and you get overheated.
Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead
Confined space: An entire planet made of library, but it is eerily quiet and desert.
Group of people: A group of scientists, including archaeologist River Song, who already seems to know the Doctor though he doesn’t know her; a young secretary named Miss Evangelista, who dies tragically; Anita; Dave; Other Dave; and rich-boy funding the insane mission Lux, who dies not so tragically.
Danger: The Vashta Nerada, piranhas of the air. They live in shadows and will eat your flesh instantly until you are nothing but bone. They find a way to not only get inside their spacesuits but move the suits around like a person once they’ve devoured their prey. Victims to their own comm system, the voice of the dead continues on repeat after the monster have eaten them, causing walking/talking space suits filled with invisible, hungry predators.
Waters of Mars
Confined space: The first moon base, destined to go up as a nuclear explosion that will trigger humanity to go out and explore the galaxy.
Group of people: Astronauts Andy and Tarak, the first to be infected with some kind of water-zombie disease; ship captain Adelaide; Maggie, the next to be infected and go into quarantine; Steffi; Roman; Ed; and Yuri and Mia, the only survivors.
Danger: Well besides the inevitable nuclear explosion, there is a disease infecting them, turning them into dried out, thirsty zombies, their flesh dribbling out all their body’s moisture. Like Satan or the sun creature, it possesses them to try and kill the crew, this one through flooding the base.
The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone
Confined space: The planet Alfava Metraxis in the Maze of the Dead, a stone labyrinth through caves filled with eroded statues.
Group of people: Military astronauts, mostly, including Bob, an early victim to the Weeping Angels, but also the Doctor’s old/new friend River Song.
Danger: Besides the radiation leak on starship Byzantium, which harbors one of the scariest Doctor Who monsters, a weeping angel, the Maze of the Dead, too, harbors a whole underground world of decaying Weeping Angels, who can grab you and transport you through time as long as you’re not looking at them (and also apparently break your neck). Too bad it’s so dark in the Maze of the Dead. The angels can also enter your mind through the eye. Surprise!
The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People
Confined space: On a remote island slightly in the future, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory meet a factory crew who use fleshy avatars (aka “gangers”) to do all the dangerous work like working with hazardous waste.
Group of people: The factory crew includes foreman Cleaves, Jennifer, Jimmy, Buzzer, and Dicken. There are “gangers” of all of them, including eventually one of the Doctor.
Danger: The gangers have ganged up on the factory workers. They are real people, too, real flesh and blood, and when they are not being controlled by their counterparts, they live and breathe (and plan rebellion) on their own. They are the episode’s monsters, but they are also people wronged by their creators. Is it wrong to kill them even if they pose a threat?
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
Confined space: A space salvage ship, which has caught the TARDIS in its magnetic tractor beam.
Group of people: Gregor (Ashley Walters), his brother Bram, and their semi-android brother Tricky.
Danger: The damaged TARDIS is leaking time, so when they go to the center of the TARDIS to repair it, they find strange dark creatures that turn out to be shadows of themselves in the future.
Mummy on the Orient Express
Confined space: A train in space.
Group of people: Captain Quell, Professor Moorhouse, Maisie, and Perkins (Frank Skinner)
Danger: There’s a mummy on board the train, but a mummy that people can only see right before it kills them? It isn’t likely. Something else is going on, and it’s up to the Doctor and Clara to figure out what it is before the mummy becomes visible to them, too.
Under the Lake/Before the Flood
Confined space: An underwater base, which the TARDIS refuses to get too close to because it is afraid of ghosts.
Group of people: Moran, the first victim of the crew; Cass; her sign language interpreter Lunn; O’Donnell; Bennett; and Pritchard, another rich boy funding the mission. A couple love stories here, with O’Donnell and Bennett’s love for each other unrealized until O’Donnell’s death, and Cass and her interpreter Lunn admitting their love for each other in the light of Bennett’s heartbreak.
Danger: Ghosts. At first, the Doctor suspects them of being real ghosts until he discovers they are the souls of the dead being hijacked as an SOS signal to rescue the monster called the Fisher King. The threat the ghosts pose is that they can touch and wield anything made of metal, and as soon as you read the magnetic markings left by the Fisher King that lead to his whereabouts, the ghosts attempt to turn you into a ghost as well, to boost the signal. Can the Doctor go back in time to stop the Fisher King before he too becomes a ghost?