Doctor Who: Every Main Villain Ranked

The following article contains spoilers for every season of modern Doctor Who.One of the most iconic aspects of Doctor Who is its massive rogues’ gallery of memorable villains — some more memorable than others. But only a few antagonists have had the opportunity to be the ultimate enemy for a whole season of the modern series.

Many of these villains have served as the overarching threat for an entire season, receiving an ongoing story arc devoted to their machinations. Meanwhile, some only pop in at the last minute to star in a climactic finale. Either way, here’s every main villain of modern Doctor Who, ranked from worst to best.

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At the bottom of the list is, fittingly enough, the most recent additions to the Doctor’s rogues’ gallery. The Ravagers are ostensibly the main antagonists of Series 13, but they accomplish so little that the story would be mostly unchanged without them. Despite all the hype around them, the Ravagers have one-dimensional personalities, unexplained motives and backstory, and mediocre designs. Thankfully, it’s all uphill from here.

The villain of Series 11 isn’t much better, but he’s at least more straightforward. Tzim-Sha is a member of a warrior race called the Stenza — basically a Predator, but without any of the style or menace. It doesn’t help that the Thirteenth Doctor and her companions always refer to him as “Tim Shaw”. Even his grotesque design, which features the teeth of his victims grafted onto his skin, comes off as more edgy than intimidating. Considering how controversial Chris Chibnall’s time as showrunner has been, it's only natural that both of his original big bads would take up the bottom two spots on this list.

While not a villain in the traditional sense, Ashildr (played by Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones fame) is the closest thing Series 9 has to an overarching antagonist. Initially a normal viking girl, Ashildr is killed in battle against the alien Mire. The Twelfth Doctor’s guilt causes him to resurrect her with Mire technology, making her immortal. However, Ashildr’s eternal life proves to be more of a curse than a blessing, causing her and the Doctor to clash in their future encounters. This premise has plenty of potential, but the execution proves to be clumsy, with Ashildr receiving too little screen time for her tragic bond with the Doctor to feel believable.

The Silence are the only villains on this list to be the main threat in two seasons in a row, though they never appear on screen in Series 5. In Series 6, they take center stage to menace the Eleventh Doctor, though their actual goals are never made clear until the end of Series 7. Despite their striking designs and interesting memory powers, the Silence are victims of showrunner Steven Moffat’s convoluted writing, making their story arc one of modern Who’s weakest.

There isn’t much to say about the Great Intelligence in Series 7 — he’s a classic villain who originated in the Second Doctor era, and while he’s motivated by revenge against the Eleventh Doctor, there isn’t much depth to him beyond that. However, he’s still played by a pair of brilliant actors: first Ian McKellen, then Richard E. Grant.

The main antagonist of Series 12, Sacha Dhawan’s portrayal of the Master is easily the weakest one in the modern series so far. Dhawan does his best to imbue the role with a sense of unhinged cruelty, but under Chibnall’s pen, the Master lacks the same depth as previous regenerations. There’s no tragedy to his relationship with the Doctor, only mutual hatred. And of course, being the one to reveal the controversial Timeless Child retcon doesn’t help his reputation.

At first, the newly reintroduced Cybermen are set up as the main antagonists of Series 2, but they’re ultimately upstaged by the sudden appearance of the Cult of Skaro. This quartet of Daleks was formed in the Time War to innovate new methods of conquest, embracing the very un-Dalek-like qualities of creativity and individuality as a result. And while this is certainly an interesting concept, it goes mostly unexplored, even in their Series 3 reappearance. In practice, the Cult of Skaro mostly serve as typical Daleks.

While the 2009 specials are technically part of Series 4, they effectively serve as their own season. In that storyline, Rassilon, Lord President of the Time Lords, plots to survive the end of the Time War, at the cost of unleashing its horrors onto 21st century Earth — a fate so nightmarish that the Tenth Doctor nearly kills him to stop it. Rassilon may not get much screen time, but former 007 Timothy Dalton still brings enough cruel gravitas to his performance to leave an impression. It’s a shame that Donald Sumpter’s Rassilon in Series 9 was so underwhelming by comparison.

The tyrannical creator of the Daleks has been mostly absent from the modern series, but he does appear as the mastermind behind the Dalek invasion in Series 4. Yet despite a chilling performance by Julian Bleach and some brilliant dialogue by showrunner Russell T Davies, Davros doesn’t actually get much focus in the story. Ironically, he’d be much more compelling under Moffat’s pen in “The Witch’s Familiar”.

Series 3 brought the Master into the modern series with a bang, with Jacobi turning in a brief yet spellbinding performance before regenerating into John Simm. But while Simm’s demented sadism is plenty entertaining — as is his chemistry with the Tenth Doctor — it doesn’t save him from the shoddy writing of the season finale. Again, Moffat would utilize Simm’s Master better Series 10.

The Daleks’ overlord isn’t much of a nuanced character, but he’s a perfect figurehead for the apocalyptic Dalek invasion at the end of Series 1. He’s been manipulating humanity for centuries, biding his time until his empire is finally rebuilt. And when he finally reveals his master plan, the epic battle that ensues in “The Parting of the Ways” is not only one of the best episodes of the modern series, but one of the best Dalek stories in the entire franchise.

After playing second fiddle for all of the modern series, the Cybermen finally get their time to shine in Series 10, creating one of modern Who’s best stories. Moffat plays up their human origins for both horror and pathos, making them more chilling than ever. And while the return of the original Cyberman design could have looked laughably silly, it manages to come off as downright disturbing. They even manage to kill the Twelfth Doctor, causing his regeneration.

Debuting in Series 8, what can be said about Gomez’s Master (aka Missy) that hasn’t been said already? She strikes a perfect balance of humor, menace, and tragedy thanks to Gomez’s stellar performance and some standout writing from Moffat. She even proved to be so popular that she reappeared in Series 9 and 10. She’s not just the best modern Master, she’s one of the most charismatic, sympathetic, and unforgettable villains in Doctor Who history.

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Barrett Smith is a Movies & TV writer for Gamerant, and a lifelong fan of fantasy, sci-fi, and superheroes. When he isn't reading comics or watching movies, he's hard at work on his first novel.

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