Whocember continues as we dive into the past. Whilst I may have grown up with the new series beginning in 2005, I also love the original run of Doctor Who from 1963-1989. It has so many iconic monsters, scenes, stories and Doctors. With well over a hundred stories it was very hard to pick just ten but I have picked stories which I believe to be the best Classic Who has to offer. Let’s start with a Colin Baker story (naturally)…
10. Vengeance on Varos
I’m going to play devil’s advocate here and say that I actually like Colin Baker’s TV stories. His Big Finish is better and The Twin Dilemma and Timelash are terrible but I enjoy the rest. Vengeance on Varos is a highly original and complex adventure which sees the Doctor and Peri trapped in the Punishment Dome on Varos, where people are tortured and ridiculed to keep the people of Varos entertained and to allow the Governor to stay in power. The alien Mentor Sil finances the Dome in exchange for the rare Zeiton-7, which the Doctor needs to fix the TARDIS. It’s a fantastic satire on television, mass media and corruption, with fantastic characters such as the Governor and Sil, who is easily the best villain from 80’s Doctor Who. There are two characters presented throughout the story who serve as a Greek chorus and comment on events transpiring through watching the Dome on their television. They exist to examine culture on Varos and give another perspective on events. It’s insanely clever and the story just gets more and more relevant. It’s dark and quite shocking but it adds to the story and gives the whole adventure a real sense of danger.
9. Carnival of Monsters
Much like Vengeance on Varos, Carnival of Monsters is incredibly meta and almost fourth wall breaking. Here, the Third Doctor and Jo are trapped inside a Miniscope owned by a travelling performer called Vorg who captures different specimens from planets and shows them to the general public. The story takes place on Inter Minor, where the natives are planning a coup against their leader and the border control who are in charge of letting Vorg through are planning to use the creatures inside the Miniscope to overthrow the government. It may sound convoluted, but it’s really not. The Doctor and Jo spend most of the story caught in the Miniscope and wondering what is going on, as they find themselves on an Edwardian boat which is soon overrun by the awesome Drashigs, giant worms which devour everything. The genius of this story is the sheer bonkers nature of the events and how the events inside the Miniscope tie into the plot on Inter Minor. The Third Doctor is at his best here as he finds out what’s going on and helps move events forward. This story isn’t trying to say anything, it’s just sheer joy and the imagination throughout is brilliant.
8. Ghost Light
The Seventh Doctor is one of my favourite Doctors and this story demonstrates why. The Doctor and Ace find themselves in a Victorian manor house full of bizarre and offbeat people such as a Neanderthal butler and a mysterious creature in the cellar. It also has links to Ace’s past and contains an incredibly complex but brilliant main plot involving a mysterious alien called Light. The atmosphere in this story is superb and the mystery builds and builds and presents so many interesting ideas and concepts such as evolution, racism and colonialism. The story isn’t afraid to deal with very dark subject matter and the story truly dives into the Doctor and Ace’s relationship, which is one of the show’s best in my opinion. The dialogue is amazing (I can’t stand burnt toast. I loathe bus stations. Terrible places. Full of lost luggage and lost souls. And then there’s unrequited love. And tyranny. And cruelty. We all have a universe of our own terrors to face’) and the story rewards multiple viewings to unravel every detail. It’s probably the most mature Classic Who story and I love it.
7. The Daemons
The quintessential Master story. The Master originally appeared for all five stories of Season 8, with The Daemons serving as the finale of the series. In it, the Master leads a cult of demon worshippers to revive Azal, a powerful being who the Master wishes to control. The Doctor and UNIT are called in to investigate. This is just pure class from beginning to end, with great cinematography that gives the whole story a realistic feel to it and fantastic direction and visual effects. One of the best things about this story is how high budget it feels and how the story feels epic on a tiny budget. I always love it when the show deals with supernatural beings and creatures beyond the Doctor’s understanding and The Daemons serves as one of the best examples of bringing in unnatural and magical elements into the show. I love the Third Doctor and this is one of his finest outings, with great roles for all of UNIT and a true sense of scale and threat barely seen in the show.
6. The Mind Robber
This one is hard to explain. Essentially, the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe end up in a fantasy land called the Land of Fiction where things get bizarre. There’s Robinson Crusoe, Medusa, a unicorn, a superhero, Rapunzel and a minotaur. It may seem simple but the whole story just shows how offbeat and weird Doctor Who could get and the literally endless potential it has. The first episode in particular is probably the best episode ever in Doctor Who, with incredible atmosphere and a simple but genius mystery that gets more and more bizarre as it goes on. Like with Carnival of Monsters, this story isn’t trying to make a point- it’s just trying to entertain and it does that with some of the best imagery and ideas in the show. There’s a part where Jamie loses his face and the Doctor puts it together, only for him to get it wrong and Jamie has the wrong face for an episode. The revelation of what’s really happening is great and I would love to see a sequel to this awesome, awesome story.
5. Remembrance of the Daleks
How can I not have this story on the list? One of my favourite Doctors is caught up in a civil war between two rival factions of Daleks who are desperate to seize control of the Hand of Omega. This is top ten of all time for me, as everything I love in the show is present here. Instead of just being action, the story actually explores the Doctor’s psychology and dissects his nature from the very first episode. The Daleks are also examined as their rivalry caused by a tiny difference in genes mirrors the racial conflicts of the 60’s, where the story is set. The Seventh Doctor’s chessmaster attitude and his manipulations are brilliant and there are so many iconic scenes- the Daleks flying up the stairs, the clip above where the Doctor questions what the consequences of his choices are, Ace with a baseball bat, unlimited rice pudding, the Doctor talking the last Renegade Dalek into self destruction… the list goes on and on. The music is awesome, the action is great and everything just clicks.
4. Genesis of the Daleks
It’s an obvious choice, but it’s a classic for a reason. One of the most famous and iconic stories the show has ever done, this story is utterly brilliant in every way. The nature of war is examined on both sides as the Kaleds and the Thals both try to end their endless war by any means necessary and the story never holds back in showing the dark sides of both of them. The Doctor is never better than when he is contemplating whether to end the Daleks for good or when he is talking to Davros about the power to end all life. Behind the scarf and jelly babies, the Fourth Doctor was a really complex and very dark Doctor, at least in his early years. Sarah Jane and Harry (one of the most underrated companions may I add) have their best showings here too, with Sarah Jane acting as the moral compass to keep the Doctor in check. I haven’t even discussed Davros, who gets his absolute best story. Later stories tended to portray him as a ranting maniac, but in Genesis of the Daleks, Davros is cold, calculating and captivating to watch. This story is a masterpiece on every conceivable level.
On the whole, the Fifth Doctor is probably my least favourite Doctor. Peter Davison is awesome and the era still had good elements but I just didn’t get into his Doctor as much as the others, mainly due to the writing and the frequently annoying companions. That said, Kinda is a work of art and stands head over heels above the majority of stories. It’s about an entity called the Mara who takes over Tegan and seizes control of the Kinda, the native population of Deva Loka. The planet also has an expedition crew of humans led by the mentally unstable Hindle and Sanders. The stunning script discusses the nature of dreams, the different layers of human mentality and more obvious themes such as the pros and cons of colonialism. The Doctor is superb in this story and even though I don’t like Adric or Tegan both of them, especially Tegan, are fantastically characterised in the story. Well, Adric less so but at least he’s not ultra annoying in this one. The Mara is an awesome villain and I desperately want to see it return. I also adore the dynamic Five has with Todd and it was certainly an interesting pairing which I would have loved to see more of. All in all, an amazing story.
2. The War Games
A mindblowing end to one of the best Doctors. Ignoring the questionable Mexican stereotype towards the end, I can’t think of a single fault with this epic adventure. It starts off with the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe seemingly stuck in World War One before turning into the most bonkers adventure ever, with multiple wars being fought at the same time under the control of the mysterious War Lords. Sounds simple right? There’s a reason this story is ten parts long and it’s due to the complex dynamics at play between the hierarchy or villains (the War Lord, the War Chief and the Security Chief in descending order, not to mention Smythe and Von Weich) the vast array of characters, the thoroughly engaging mystery and plot and a magnificent sense of escalation. The Second Doctor proves why he is one of the best Doctors and his steadfast determination to save everyone is one of the noblest acts the character has done. The story gets even better when the Time Lords are introduced and the Doctor is presented as the outcast from Gallifrey that he is. Never again will the Time Lords be portrayed in this way again. When I did my 60’s Who retrospective last year I called this my favourite Classic story, but that was before I saw…
- Warriors of the Deep
What a perfect, perfect story. Where to begin with this one? Let’s start with…
Wait, hang on. My sarcasm mode on my keyboard has broken. Whoops. Whilst I fix things, let’s dive into some honourable mentions-
The Ambassadors of Death
The Curse of Peladon
Planet of the Spiders
The Seeds of Doom
The Deadly Assassin
Image of the Fendahl
City of Death
Revelation of the Daleks
The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
The Curse of Fenric
And with that, let’s move onto my favourite story from the show’s original run…
Yeah, it was gonna be Pertwee. What else did you think it was going to be? I watched this story aware of its reputation as a classic so I was worried that I might be disappointed by the hype but it did not disappoint one bit. The final story from the perfect Season 7, Inferno is one of the most nail biting experiences a Whovian can have. From the very first frame the gritty camerawork and direction make this a very realistic and tense experience. The incidental music is replaced by the constant sound of drilling and the superbly layered characters have to constantly yell to be heard. The mere premise is genius, as a drilling project UNIT and the Doctor are investigating produces primeval slime that turns people into mutated monsters. This may not sound particularly original, but the story throws in a whole new parallel universe which the Doctor slips into- a universe further ahead in the drilling project and is about to tear itself apart with the lava spewing out of the Earth. It’s a race against time as the Doctor must escape back to his universe before the one he’s in is destroyed and warn his Earth of the impending disaster. Episode 6 is perfect, as the tension is racked up to the extreme and the cliffhanger is in my opinion the show’s finest, with a wall of lava engulfing the parallel Earth and the Doctor unable to help as he is pulled back to his universe. The parallel universe is very well detailed, with the British Republic as a facist regime being overseen by the awesome Brigade Leader. Despite the characters being from a facist regime, they are still sympathetic and their deaths have a strong impact on the Doctor. The characters in both universes are brilliantly fleshed out, the Doctor is at his absolute best and Liz is great. She is such an underrated companion. Everything about this story clicks to become one of the best stories the show’s produced, and my favourite story from the Classic era.
Whilst these are my ten favourites, there are so many strong episodes in the show’s original run. I haven’t even mentioned The Caves of Androzani, Pyramids of Mars, The Robots of Death, The Power of the Daleks or The Web of Fear. There’s just so much good in Classic Who. Up next in Whocember, the Christmas specials ranked.