In theory, The Doctor from Doctor Who is one of the most heroic role models in all of science fiction. The Doctor defends life throughout the universe, relying on intelligence and empathy while only resorting to shows of force when absolutely necessary. While the personality of The Doctor changes throughout the character's 13 and counting (14 if you count John Hurt's War Doctor) incarnations, in general The Doctor is an inspirational figure, someone who can show you how wonderful the universe can be while also comforting you when times get hard. The Doctor's general philosophy can be summed up in Peter Capaldi's lines from "Hell Bent": "Run like hell, because you always need to. Laugh at everything, because it's always funny…. Never be cruel and never be cowardly, and if you ever are, always make amends…"
Of course, that "if you ever are" addendum kind of says it all. For even The Doctor, who aspires to "never be cruel or cowardly," has sometimes been one or both at different points throughout the show's 851 episodes and counting. In fact, The Doctor's sins are so dramatic that at times they're pretty much a villain. To be fair, some of these actions might be semi-justifiable given the circumstances, but we really suspect someone as brilliant as The Doctor could have come up with better ways to deal with such problems. We've ranked The Doctor's worst moments, going from the mildly frustrating to the downright evil. Also, before any pedants complain about the article title, The Doctor was credited as "Doctor Who" for 18 seasons, so our SEO-friendly title is technically accurate!
20 HYPOCRITICAL PACIFISM
So far, Jodie Whittaker's 13th Doctor hasn't shown nearly the same dark sides as previous Doctors. In her constant lightness, it feels like something's up. 13 takes such a constant pacifist stance even when her preferred "non-violent" solutions are arguably more horrific than violent ones would be. Is putting a genocidal maniac in cryostasis really a better idea than just shooting him?
The New Year's special "Resolution" finally acknowledged The Doctor's darker side when facing her up against one of her classic nemeses, a Dalek. It was great to see the side of her personality that can still "think like a Dalek" to destroy one, but the show needs to do more to reconcile this with her stringent pacifism.
19 MANIPULATING JAMIE
The Second Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton, was a dramatic shift from William Hartnell's First Doctor. The grumpy grandpa became a "Cosmic Hobo" with a more comical, almost childlike attitude. While Troughton made for a funnier and friendlier Doctor than Hartnell, Two still had a manipulative side that could show every now and then.
This was made especially clear in "The Evil of the Daleks," one of the many Troughton-era serials where almost all the video footage is entirely lost. The Doctor might be forced to co-operate with the Daleks in doing secret scientific experiments on Jamie, but he seems to enjoy it all too much. Jamie calls him out once he finds out the truth, telling The Doctor "You're just too callous for me."
18 ERASING DONNA'S MEMORY
This would certainly rank higher on a list of the most upsetting things The Doctor's done, even if it's narratively justified enough to rank relatively low on the list of "worst" things. Companions of The Doctor often meet some sort of tragic fate, but Donna Noble having all memories of her time with David Tennant's 10th Doctor erased from her mind is particularly cruel.
It's really Russell T. Davies being the cruel one in this case rather than The Doctor. As written, erasing her memory is the only way to prevent her brain from frying up. Still, shouldn't someone as brilliant as The Doctor have other tricks up his sleeve? The show itself made fun of how ridiculously mean this was during Clara's departure.
17 LETTING ADRIC DIE
Adventuring with The Doctor is by its nature a dangerous proposition, and some companions don't end up surviving their adventures. Of the various companion deaths throughout the series, Adric's is perhaps the most infamous in Doctor Who history. While there's a reason why the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) was unable to save Adric in "Earthshock," it's still kind of The Doctor's responsibility.
Adric was unusual among companions because he was a stowaway from another dimension. The most sensible thing would have been to take him back home, but if The Doctor had to keep this annoying kid around, maybe you have a responsibility to make sure he doesn't needlessly sacrifice himself?
16 ABANDONING SARAH JANE
Companions of The Doctor usually get some sort of goodbye, often a tragic one. For Sarah Jane Smith, a companion of both Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor and Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor, the real tragedy was the lack of a real goodbye. Nothing terrible befell her in her final serial, "The Hand of Fear." The Doctor had to leave her to visit Gallifrey, but she asked him not to forget her.
Four 40 years, it sure seemed like he'd forgotten her. She was convinced he'd died until they ended up meeting up again in the 10th Doctor episode "School Reunion." While The Doctor has reasons for not getting too close with individual humans, Sarah Jane had every right to be upset with him ghosting her.
15 RACISM AND SEXISM
When a show starts in 1963, not every aspect of those early years is going to age particularly well. The First Doctor was already supposed to be a jerk at the time, but age has only made his attitudes cringier. Moments like him calling a place "full of Arabs" a "madhouse" and telling his granddaughter Susan she deserves a "smacked bottom" play badly today.
Supposedly many of these off-color comments were ad-libbed by William Hartnell himself, who was accused of both forgetting lines and for being fairly racist and anti-Semitic in real life. These attitudes were already being made fun of in the 1983 "The Five Doctors" crossover special, and made an ironic counterpoint to the first female Doctor's introduction in "Twice Upon a Time."
14 TRYING TO BASH IN A CAVEMAN'S SKULL
For evidence of the First Doctor intentionally being written as a jerkwad and not just simply being played by one, you don't need to look any further than "An Unearthly Child," the first ever Doctor Who serial. In it, the TARDIS ends up sending The Doctor and his companions to the Stone Age. There, the Doctor helps a tribe of cavemen make fire... and also threatens to bash a caveman's brains in!
Yes, the First Doctor had a much more violent streak than his later regenerations. This is just one of many examples of the First Doctor threatening to do something horrific. Fortunately, he was generally more bark than bite, typically not going through on the acts he threatened.
13 BEING TOO FRIENDLY WITH THE MASTER
Childhood friends now turned against each other, The Doctor and The Master still relish each other's company even as they fight. This certainly makes for a fun character dynamic, but it can also make The Doctor, the Third Doctor in particular, seem like he doesn't really care that much about The Master's evil deeds.
This is illustrated most clearly in "Terror of the Autons," where The Doctor straight-up turns to the camera to say he's "quite looking forward to" meeting The Master again in the future. This is after The Master has already made two attempts on The Doctor's own life and helped the Autons rack up quite the body count.
12 LETTING RIVER BE WRONGFULLY IMPRISONED
River Song really got a raw deal. She was genuinely in love with The Doctor and The Doctor mostly just used her to his advantage. The worst of this in the Series 6 arc, wherein she's seemingly destined to kill the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith). The Doctor convinces her to go along with a plan to fake his death, marrying her to further the persuasion.
The plan works... and River ends up in prison for a crime she didn't actually commit. To be fair, River is quite capable of breaking out of prisons herself, so this is far from the worst thing that could happen to her. Still, she did all that for The Doctor and he just let her take the fall.
11 TRYING TO REWRITE HISTORY
"The Waters of Mars," one of the 10th Doctor's last specials before his regeneration, provides one of the more fascinating examples of The Doctor going off the deep end. It's so compelling because The Doctor is so utterly convinced of his own righteousness even while attempting something he knows is wrong: changing a fixed point in time.
The psychology makes sense. The 10th Doctor has suffered too many losses to handle at this point, and he sees the chance to save the crew of Bowie Base One as a way to make things right while also proving himself above the laws of spacetime as "Time Lord Victorious." Still, he's messing with forces he shouldn't, and his ultimate failure is a relief.
10 TRICKING A SOLDIER TO HIS DOOM
Peter Capaldi's 12th Doctor spends a lot of time wondering whether or not he's a good man. Though he grows significantly, he leans closer towards "not" for much of his first year on the show. He's ruder, more violent and not always helpful. His controversial decision to ditch Clara in "Kill the Moon" almost made this list, but a relatively forgotten moment from "Into the Dalek" is definitely his most evil turn.
The Doctor flat-out lies to the soldier Ross, giving the soldier a power cell he claims will "save" him but does the exact opposite. Perhaps Ross was already doomed and the power cell's radiation proved useful for navigating the Dalek's insides, but it's still a ridiculously dark moment that's just glossed over.
9 ABDUCTING COMPANIONS
If the First Doctor's violence was mostly bluster, his poor treatment of his human companions was all too real. The first two human companions on Doctor Who, history teacher Barbara Wright and science teacher Ian Chesterton, were literally abducted by The Doctor!
The Doctor argued it was for the safety of himself and Susan. Barbara and Ian wandered into the TARDIS and he couldn't just let two humans wander out after seeing what they'd just seen! The two teachers do end up developing a friendlier relationship with The Doctor and Susan, but given how this all started, it would be fair to call this a case of Stockholm Syndrome.
8 HELPING AN INVASION OF HIS OWN PLANET
For someone celebrated for his intelligence, the Doctor can sure be an idiot at times. When the Fourth Doctor became President of Gallifrey in the serial "The Invasion of Time," he willingly assisted the Vardans' attempt to invade Gallifrey. He thought he had the upper hand, as part of a genius scheme to trap the Vardans in a time loop.
There was one problem with his plan: the Vardans were only invading Gallifrey as a test run for the Sontarans' actually dangerous invasion! This was less a malicious move for The Doctor than a stupid one, but it still deserves this spot on the list simply for how much trouble he caused for his own planet!
7 TORTURING A DALEK
The Ninth Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston, believed himself to have just committed a genocide against both the Daleks and the Time Lords. It was later revealed The Doctor actually just removed the Time Lords from the universe and that the Daleks annihilated themselves, preventing such an attrocity from topping this list. The Doctor's mistaken belief, however, strongly colors his actions in "Dalek," an episode where he finds a surprise survivor.
"Dalek" reestablishes the creatures as scary, but also pushes The Doctor's sadism to the point where you actually feel sorry for the poor Dalek he tortures. Even if the Daleks are all evil, genocidal creatures, how close to their level is it appropriate to sink in retribution?
6 TORTURING THE FAMILY OF BLOOD
If the Ninth Doctor torturing a Dalek was a temporary lapse in judgment, the 10th Doctor's treatment of the Family of Blood is all the more horrifying because the punishments are eternal. The mom will always be falling into a collapsing galaxy, the dad will be eternally chained up, the daughter's trapped in every mirror in existence and the son is frozen as a scarecrow.
To be clear, the Family of Blood were truly evil and deserved some sort of punishment, but considering The Doctor hardly ever goes this far with worse villains, doesn't this all feel excessive? The Doctor might say he was merciful by giving the Family a chance to avoid this fate, but seriously...
5 MIND-CONTROLLING ALL OF HUMANITY
This is highest raking entry on this list where you could maybe argue that the ends justified the means. The Silence did seem like a threat to Earth, and by their very nature of being forgotten when out of sight, they're an enemy genuinely hard to fight off successfully. So how did the 11th Doctor drive The Silence away from Earth in "Day of the Moon"?
By brainwashing all of humanity into attacking any Silence on sight! Even if you can argue desperate measures were necessary, that sort of mass mind control is an ethical mess, especially in the name of defeating an enemy which, while scary, aren't even necessarily evil by nature.
4 DESTROYING SKARO
How did we go from the Fourth Doctor refusing to destroy the Daleks at their creation so as not to play God in "Genesis of the Daleks" to the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) just blowing up their whole planet in "Remembrance of the Daleks"? Even if the Daleks themselves deserve to be destroyed, Skaro had other inhabitants as well!
This decision from classic Doctor Who's second-to-last season was so bad that it was undone the second Doctor Who returned. We're not even talking about in the big 2005 series reboot undoing it; we're talking the 1996 TV movie! The novel War of the Daleks tried to explain this change by saying actually the Daleks tricked The Doctor into destroying a completely different planet.
3 EMOTIONALLY ABUSING ACE
Ace has the distinction of being the final companion to accompany The Doctor before Doctor Who's initial cancelation in 1989. She's one of the more popular classic era companions, often considered a template for how the modern Doctor Who develops its companions. Unfortunately the Seventh Doctor was kind of awful to her.
The Doctor might believe he's helping this troubled teenager reach her full potential by exposing her to things he knows will seriously upset her, ranging from the haunted house that traumatized her as a kid to taking her back in time to meet her hated mother as a baby. Ace thankfully calls out The Doctor repeatedly for his cruelty.
2 STRANGLING PERI
Colin Baker's run as the Sixth Doctor was for many the beginning of the end of classic Doctor Who. If Peter Davison's Doctor was perhaps too nice and sedate, Colin Baker's Doctor went in the opposite direction of being such a dark and unstable anti-hero that many viewers dropped out of the show. Certainly his introduction didn't give the best first impression.
Shortly after regenerating, The Doctor actually strangles his companion Peri! True, he wasn't in full control of his body, but still, introducing your "hero" strangling one of his female friends certainly is a way to make an impression. The Sixth Doctor would eventually drop the physical abuse, but he was still quite a jerk to Peri from then on.
1 COMMITTING GENOCIDE
The Doctor might be cleared of committing genocide in the Time War, but that doesn't mean he hasn't committed genocide. The Sixth Doctor's second and final season put him on trial for multiple crimes, the most horrific of which was the genocide of the Vervoids.
The Vervoids were a species of sentient plants artificially created by humans for slave labor. Who could blame the Vervoids for fighting back against the humans in the name of freedom? While The Doctor's desire to defend human life is admirable, if he wouldn't wipe out the purely evil Daleks, wiping out a species with completely sympathetic motivations might just be the worst thing The Doctor's ever done.