For any long-term fan who has thought ‘seriously’ about their ‘top ten’ stories or lists to that effect, what that list ultimately shows–especially for a show like Doctor Who with an enormously long tail to it–is when that fan got into Doctor Who, or what era imprinted itself. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out which era worked its magic on the Tour.
Any list which purports to enumerate the ‘Best X (of Y–insert your own integers here) of All Time’ should, by necessity, start humbly and build to (hopefully) a momentous finish. There should, indeed must, be room for stories, especially at the bottom of the list, which have elements which make them distinctive and memorable in the best way. With that said, off we go.
#60 — Planet of Fire — The placement of this story is no accident in this respect. It was also at the bottom of the 50 for 50 list. Perhaps lost in esteem because it was part of a run of really good stories in Season 21, the opinion here is that Planet of Fire is a good, though not great story. But my goodness it had so much to accomplish (Turlough and Kamelion out, Peri in, the Master) that if it didn’t make sense at all it would be understandable. But it did. For that alone it’s an underrated gem.
#59 — Gridlock — Another perhaps overlooked story from the gem of a Series which was Series 3, any story which produces an emotional reaction from the Tour Honchos, specifically when the singing occurs and when the Doctor reminisces about Gallifrey, must be noted and remarked upon. That’s good enough for us.
#58 — The Web of Fear — Not included for the 2013 list, this 1st UNIT story has been helped enormously by having been recovered and made available for everyone to see. There are so very few examples of Troughton (relative to everyone else) to look at that is raises the profile for the survivors. It would take until The Invasion to get UNIT to be more of a presence, which we’ll note later when that story is discussed.
#57 — Mindwarp — Along the same lines as PoF above, this middle child of the misbegotten Trial Season 23 had so much to do and should be notable for this alone–not to mention is was also the best story in its Season. But what elevates it for the Tour is that it has one of those oh-so-rare ‘magic moments’ in classic Who when the Doctor is pulled out of the story near the climax. This was the point where the gravity of the Trial really hit home.
#56 — City of Death — The Tour has a ‘peculiar’ position about City of Death, at least relative to overall fan opinion. Although it is the shining jewel of Season 17, we think this is a story to primarily be enjoyed, perhaps admired, but not loved. The sly smile which washes through the proceedings never goes away, then reduces to next-to-nothingness once over. Demonstrating that the crew actually went to Paris can only go so far.
#55 — The Enemy Within — So many moving parts in terms of the interests behind reviving Doctor Who for 90’s and beyond, this story actually in sentiment set the template for 2005 and beyond. The money is all there on screen, but the lofty expectations which came with it ultimately meant this was something of a missed opportunity. Paul McGann would’ve been a great Doctor if only given the chance.
#54 — A Good Man Goes to War — Reverse recency bias at work here. Rated much higher in 2013 when Series 6 was much more resonant, this mid-series climax seems so much less important now than it did then. It doesn’t help that the ambition attempted in Series 6 ultimately withered away, so all the maneuvering and set-up which led to it are more of a shrug now. Still it was memorable, right?
#53 — The Android Invasion — The last UNIT story in the Pertwee sense of the word occurred during Bakers second season. The odd English village as story trope is well handled here. Eventually, the plot holes simply can’t be ignored. But it was fun, and Sarah Jane’s face fell off at the end of episode 2. I mean, come on!
#52 — The Ark — The Tour loves stories which play with conventional story structure, and The Ark is an early case in point for why Doctor Who was the most flexibly formatted show in TV history. Really it is 2-two-part stories strung together separated by time, but not place. As with many Hartnells, the pacing can be a problem for modern viewers, but the scope of ideas is what holds sway.
#51 — The Androids of Tara — The Fourth Segment to the Key to Time is found almost immediately, so the story is really all about court intrigue and ultimately how to get away. But who would want to? There’s a lightness to the proceedings which carries the viewer along, a hallmark of David Fishers scripts and one of the best examples for taking the horror out of Doctor Who (as dictated) whilst keeping the fun in.
#50 — Enlightenment — Again a story which highlights big ideas. Sailing ships in space powered by bored demi-gods. Executed to perfection. Easily the highlight of Season 20.
#49 — School Reunion — Amongst all of the charms of this story, perhaps the most important thing this story does is that it cements in the mind of the viewer that nu-Who and the classic series were all part of the same show, not something with the same name but the same continuous line. Then there is the Sarah Jane of it all. Elisabeth Sladen was simply luminous. The smart thing about the story though, is how the Doctor is made fun of at various points. Sentiment and smiles all around.
#48 — The Snowmen — One thing which this Christmas Special had going against it was that it wasn’t a stand-alone story not associated with a Series just past but instead was a bridge between Series 7A and 7B. It also has an unusual story weighting featuring Clara (and the Paternoster Gang) early on as much as it did as well as a thoroughly withdrawn Doctor. But when events start moving, it really is one of the most ‘magical’ of Doctor Who stories, and that counts for a lot.
#47 — Spearhead from Space — Unique stories in the history of Doctor Who always deserve a bit of recognition here at THT Towers and this story has it in spades. The 1st Pertwee, 1st in color, 1st all-film. While it is atypical for the Pertwee era, nothing signaled the abrupt turn in style and what Doctor Who could be more than Spearhead.
#46 — Vengeance on Varos — The highest rated Colin Baker story in the list, and isn’t that saying something, has a very clear idea of what it’s all about, like it or not, and given its inclusion on the list, we do. Is it overly nasty and a little too in love with the violence it also decries at various stages? Yes, and that’s the point. Sil is such a unique antagonist that he could only have existed in the mid-80’s.
#45 — The Masque of Mandragora — A charming example of that Doctor Who specialty, the pseudo-historical. Look … Masque is an above average story during one of Doctor Who’s most fertile and creative runs. It’s got Norman Jones, Tim Piggot-Smith, oodles of court intrigue, and just enough Portmeirion to make a fan of the Prisoner a little dusty. It’s also the penultimate story for SJS, need we say more?
#44 — Thin Ice — An unintended twinning with the previous entry, Thin Ice seems to be last great pseudo-historical made, probably in no small part because it feels so damn traditional in the ‘classic’ Who sense. And it’s full of heart, particularly because Capaldi looks great in period dress and has a distinctive glint in his eye.
#43 — The Time Meddler — Again … accident is no feat of design. The Time Meddler was the first pseudo-historical, marking a new direction for the series going forward, and quite nearly a black comedy to boot. Peter Butterworth as the Meddling Monk brought a lightness in tone and William Hartnell responded in kind. Butterworth was so successful, he was brought back the next season to help elongate The Daleks Master Plan to epic proportions.
#42 — The End of the World — Some stories on this list are here for their imagination, execution, and wit. Others are important for what they represent in terms of the evolution of the show, and this is squarely where this story falls, important more for what Doctor Who could be in the nu-Who era. RTD wanted to demonstrate that Doctor Who had moved away from the perceived wisdom of dodgy effects and even dodgier sets and look every bit as good as ‘the competition.’ A success all the way around.
#41 — Midnight — This story topped the 50 for 50 list, but, and we admit shamefully so, was not on the list of the Tour Brain Trust. This is the type of story mentioned above, a tense, bottle episode propelled entirely by imagination, execution, and wit. A rare example of where the Doctor loses control of the situation and escapes rather than resolves the situation, made all the more scary by being unseen.
#40 — The Keeper of Traken / Logopolis — A small confessional here. Because the Tour suddenly forgot how count these two stories, although linked, were separate entries. Fortunately their adjacency made combining these not only possible, but logical. Traken is a exercise in exquisite style and design, Logopolis prevails in mood, quite funereal as it happens. There’s a haunted look in Tom Baker, which had to match that of the audience, as they were about to be unmoored for the first time in seven years.
#38 — Vincent and the Doctor — Another story which, because it came from the pen of Richard Curtis, to be more of a tone piece. Instead there’s tons of heart on display. Anyone who doesn’t get emotional themselves watching Tony Curran as van Gogh getting overwhelmed by the legacy of his work simply must conclude that this type of Doctor Who is not for them. It certainly was for us.
#37 — The War Machines — Coming in nearly at the end of the Hartnell era this story takes place in modern day London and with Polly coming aboard in her first story, it suddenly felt like Doctor Who had made a crucial pivot turn (under the producership of Innes Lloyd) to a different sensibility in storytelling. This was a story where you saw the Doctor interacting, much like Pertwee would do years later, with people and characters who were pushing the bounds of earth-bound science (such as in Inferno or The Mind of Evil). And it all felt very modern.
#36 — Flatline — Other Capaldi stories may have had a better execution in terms of pure style, but this story scores as a concept carried out to a fun extreme. Not-so-much a Doctor-light story as a Doctor-small story, the images of the Doctor peering out of the TARDIS were wonderfully surreal, not to mention superbly executed.
#35 — The Face of Evil — It’s said any Doctor isn’t really the Doctor until one or both of the following happen: meeting the Daleks, or a change in companion. Tom Baker completed his set when Elisabeth Sladen ceded to Louise Jameson in The Face of Evil, and what a contrast it was! There may never have been so strong a companion character introduction as here. The ‘My Fair Lady’ education of Leela wasn’t developed here so much as it would later be, but it was genius, while it lasted.
#34 — The Invasion — Whereas The Web of Fear seemed like a proof of concept, The Invasion showed the direction of things to come, and thats important in and of itself. Tobias Vaughn was a villain worthy of this second-longest Doctor Who Story (to date) and the Cybermen were cunning and manipulative.
#32 — The Aztecs — Not the first true historical, but perhaps first in our hearts, and that’s not changing history, not even one line. For a series still very much figuring out what it was on-the-fly, this was just mesmerizing.
#31 — The Ribos Operation — The opening installment for ‘The Key to Time’ season, it once again falls to Robert Holmes to perfectly get what the new Doctor/Companion dynamic is all about. And in that sense Ribos is almost a comedy, delightfully puncturing the Doctor at numerous opportunities.
#30 — The Doctor’s Wife – What initially could be dismissed from the log line as fanfic instead turned out to be a rather touching meditation on the one long-term relationship which had never really been touched upon before. And it worked.
#29 — The Waters of Mars – While most think of the Tennant era as ‘sunnier’ Doctor Who, this was the flip side. Bleak and unremitting, right up to and through the point where Doctor went demi-god. Mars was a story which felt weighty, and it delivered. It’s important to have these tonally distinct stories within each era to provide contrast for the overall feeling an era has, although, of course, this can be taken too far (i.e. Kill the Moon)
#28 — The Robots of Death – An Agatha Christie mystery set upon a sandminer was not just a triumph of design and style, but in tone. Creepy mechanical men? Nuff said.
#27 — The Dæmons – Magic and mysticism in Doctor Who were never better executed than here. The espirit-de-corps amongst the main cast make this the beloved classic that it is.
#26 — Amy’s Choice – A sneaky, sneaky beast. Quite likely not tilting towards the populist end of Doctor Who stories and instead into more of the esoteric, the first viewing of this story with it’s laconic pacing and lack of the “monster” per se was merely “whelming.” A second, and it has to be said, more alert viewing, brought all sorts of revelations, most notably the nifty plotting and the amazing performances of Toby Jones and Karen Gillan.
#25 — Earthshock – Not unlike The Waters of Mars in the sense that this story seemed to have a sudden, darker tonal shift which set it apart from other Davison stories. Suddenly the 5th Doctor had weight, even though he was largely carried along by events. Also … Adric died.
#24 — The Unquiet Dead – Nu-Who’s first, albeit, hidden Christmas special, this story completed the loose trilogy of takes meant to show off the present, future, and past, in the series. It also revived that most beloved of formats, the pseudo-historical. Although best remembered for Simon Callow’s portrayal as Dickens, there were still plenty of fine character moments that still resonate.
#23 — Fugitive of the Judoon – One of the downsides of being a long term fan is that, after awhile, it’s hard to surprise anymore. The twin revelation of Jo Martin’s Doctor and the TARDIS truly did surprise, as did the misdurection about who the ‘Fugitive’ was.
#22 — The Mind Robber – A story of imagination so flexible that it could thrillingly withstand an extra episode (ep 1) being grafted on at the last minute and Frazer Hines coming down with chicken pox, being replaced, and coming back–seemlessly. A true joy for the Troughton era.
#21 — A Christmas Carol – Matt Smith’s first Christmas special was such a neat reworking of the Dickens classic that it has remained the Tour’s favorite of all holiday outings. And when the snow starts coming down, so do our tears.
#20 — Human Nature / The Family of Blood – An inseparable pair of Tennant’s which in a way was also an adaptation, from a 7th Doctor ‘New Adventure’ which allowed Tennant a showcase to show another side of his Doctor–one perfectly calibrated to one of the ‘human-er’ Doctors. Yet when he went cold, Tennant was downright firgid. We also really admire the performance of Freema Agyeman as Martha, who could see both sides of the story, and yet was powerless to do anything other than hope.
#19 — The Girl Who Waited – Wow. Just wow. The Girl Who Waited echoes Amy’s Choice as a sneaky little, and very personal, mind-bender which brought the series regulars into sharp relief. Those who had reason to be annoyed with Amy and Karen Gillan had nothing to talk about after a bravura performance here. This was definitely an episode which was all about the journey, not the destination,
#18 —Terror of the Zygons – For a very long time the Zygons were the great one-off monster in Doctor Who lore, and this story is the reason why. The last full UNIT outing had great esprit de corps, and a ‘memorable’ CSO monster to cap it all off.
#17 — Blink – Rightfully considered a classic in the nu-Who realm, this story, hastily written to solve another production issue, the Weeping Angels, nu-Who’s greatest villain, were minted here, but will be remembered forever, as long as we don’t look away of course.
#16 — The Christmas Invasion – Although we had previously declared A Christmas Carol as our favorite Christmas Special, and while we stick to that, this initial special had much more work to do. The first post-regeneration story of the nu-Who era had to reassure the audience that the show had changed, and yet was still the same show. ‘Classic’ audiences had seen this trick, but what would a ‘modern’ audience do? Turns out, in spite of the otherwise canny move of withholding Tennant for the 40 minutes, the audience rolled with it, and as such this marks it as not only entertaining, which it was, but important.
#15 — Heaven Sent – An exercise in style that might have been regarded as a gimmick, notably that it’s all-Capaldi, all-the-time, except that it’s not a gimmick if it works. And boy did it ever. Not intended for the Doctor Who fan novice, but quite rewarding for the long-term fan.
#14 — Terror of the Autons – While the Tour regards Jon Pertwee’s first season as one of the best of the classic series, it could be considered a bit on the dour side, and then Terror of the Autons begins Season 8, and everything pops brighter and more vibrant than before. Pertwee acquired a worth adversary in Roger Delgado, and he was suave, sinister, and ultimately … around for every story of Season 8.
#13 — The Tomb of the Cybermen – There’s a quality, a sensibility, about Tomb which marks it as NOT a Doctor Who story, at least for the time. It feels larger, more filmic, more of a mystery box, and, with the continued ‘evolution’ of what made the Cybermen special, unique, because the real villains in this story were the power-mad humans ,,, the friends we met along the way.
#12 — The Girl in the Fireplace — Steven Moffat’s first real experiment in timey-wimey storytelling told the segmented life story of Madame de Pompadour, whose unusual insight into the Doctor made her a singular character to encounter the Doctor. Did it make a difference that Tennant’s girlfriend at the time. Sophia Myles, added an extra spark to their interplay?. Of course it did.
#11 — The Seeds of Doom — This just might be the grimmest and most violent story that Tom Baker ever had. But with that said, the very, very, last gasp of the extended UNIT era is just compelling, and made all the more so with the weird and quietly unhinged performance of Tony Beckley as Harrison Chase.
#10 — The Eleventh Hour — There’s never been a better first foot forward for a Doctor than Matt Smith got here in this inaugural outing. While the show got an effective reset as the Moffat era dawned, the story used Smith to full effect by showcasing him in full as an overgrown Ivy League wunderkid. Charming with kids, and possessing his own kid-like sense of wonder. It was a bravura introduction.
#9 — The Day of the Doctor — That Doctor Who never had a higher profile than in the lead-up to the 50th Anniversary shouldn’t be a surprise. That Moffat, Smtih, Hurt, Tennant, et. al. delivered on that legacy is something of a minor miracle, and that it played to, and celebrated that legacy is what we remember even 10 years later.
#8 — Genesis of the Daleks — A consequential story from 1975 that has always been very well regarded by fans. And the shadow it cast which has run all the way up to the Peter Capaldi story The Witch’s Familiar in 2015. That’s a 40-year legacy and for one very simple reason, Davros. While the Daleks were of course very well established before Davros was a glint (albeit a desperate glint) in Terry Nation’s eye, the ‘ret-conning’ of Davros into Dalek lore, and the ‘human’ face he put onto the Daleks, not to mention the superlative performance of Michael Wisher, gave the Daleks a more relatable form for prospective Doctor Who writers to plot against. In fact it would be until Dalek in 2005 that the Dalek(s) would prominently feature in a story without the pull of Davros as an anchor.
#7 — Utopia — There are precious few ‘punch-the-air’ moments in Doctor Who, but the revelation that the Master had been surpressed in Derek Jacobi as Professor Yana and his subsquent unleashing brought all of the threads in nu-Who’s best series–3–into sharp relief. Even as part one of a three part story (which most would agree are a letdown after this start), it stands, and shines alone enough for us to rate it very highly.
#6 — The Ark in Space — The Tour argues that Ark was the most successful second story for any Doctor ever. It’s certainly a stark shift away from the slightly frothy tone of Robot. At once both bleak and hopeful, this is where Tom Baker made his bones as the Doctor, and was given some memorable speechifying to make the point. He also does a lot of expressive eye-acting. There’s tension from the jump, from the airless episode 1 where Sarah Jane gets caught in the works to the Wirrn advance in episode 4, it’s just terrific throughout. The Tour Honchos can’t begin to be objective about The Ark in Space. It was the first story we saw (oh so many years ago) so to say it made quite an impression would and should be obvious. Not a bad way to start is it?
#5 — Inferno — An epic story (and, in the opinion at least of this fan, his favorite UNIT story, noting also that his favorite Pertwee overall, The Sea Devils, is not a UNIT story in any real sense) and also makes my Top Ten from the classic series. It’s a tribute to Caroline John how well her ‘Section Leader Shaw’ squared off in intellect and reserved cool against both Pertwee and Nick Courtney when the whole world was crumbling around them. At seven episodes the story still seems taut and never flags, even if some of the interpersonal dealings, especially with Stahlman, did seem repetitious after awhile.
#4 — Pyramids of Mars — An ancient Egyptian tomb, a possessed human professor, killer Mummies, a deranged, evil alien god and menacing organ music – what more could you want?
#3 — The Deadly Assassin — So much of what we call Doctor Who mythology happened in The Deadly Assassin from Time Lord fashion to the 12-regeneration limit (a problem that one couldn’t have envisioned needing solving at some indeterminate point) that it would not be facetious to state that The Deadly Assassin should be required viewing for any dedicated Doctor Who fan. Then again, the beauty of Doctor Who lies in that (mythology) this is simply accepted today and some clever writer can still make both it and the future continue to propel Doctor Who forward.
#2 — The Talons of Weng-Chiang — While it’s hard and perhaps needlessly difficult to claim any single Doctor Who story as required viewing, even for relatively new converts to the show, Talons certainly comes close. Tom Baker in a deerstalker, Christopher Benjamin as Henry Gordon Jago, Leela at least partially as a proper English lady, magic and mysticism. This is a dark story from the pen of the absolute master of the craft Robert Holmes, and it all works amazingly well. Thanks in part to Big Finish one of the lingering impressions from Talons is the combination of Jago and Litefoot as Victorian Adventurers. They’re certainly in the pantheon of great Holmesian double-acts no question about it, but at least in Talons it’s worth remembering that the characters didn’t actually meet until midway through episode 5.
#1 — The Caves of Androzani — It’s hardly an audacious statement to say that Caves has been so loved and for so long that it’s almost dismissed in some corners. But if it’s been awhile since you either saw Caves or even considered watching it. curiosity will not be your downfall. The Tour regards Caves as an old reliable friend. and we make sure to watch the story once, perhaps twice a year, but not more than that. Holding the memory of a great story is every bit as important as the story itself, and the occasional booster shot makes the story indelible.