Monday, August 11, 2014

A Purely Personal Top Ten Doctor Who Stories (Classic)

I thought, whilst this blog is at a loose end, the time had come for a Patient Centurion Top Ten Doctor Who stories. This is, of course, a temporary Top Ten. Ask me again in a month and it will probably change but nevertheless here goes...

Oh and there in no particular order of Top Ten-ness. I've chosen them on the basis of...well...I'll explain...

The Web Planet: I know. I can hear all your whinging now. It's so slow. It's direction is so slipshod. But you know I don't bloody care. I love it's vaulting ambition. It's attempt to show an utterly alien world on a budget that can barely cover the cost of a single moth costume. I love this period in the Hartnell era when the Doctor Who production team kept trying everything. Some things work. Some things don't. And I still maintain that there's a couple of moments in it that are among the most horrible and heart-breaking in the series history. Honestly it's a magnificent effort. It doesn't all work but I love it anyway.

The Gunfighters: Once head of the cavalcade of the unloved in Doctor Who terms this is actually rather wonderful. Hartnell's wonderful in it. There's some comedy accents. It's tone shifts rather dramatically when Johnny Ringo arrives. It's historically inaccurate and it has a song. A chorus rising above the action. That's I suspect because the writer had recently seen Cat Ballou. It's a fine parody of television and film westerns. But really it is worth watching for Hartnell's comic timing. Just don't take it too seriously.

The War Games: Ten episodes long. Ten. It shouldn't keep us glued to our seats but it does. Yes, there's lots of escaping, getting captured and escaping again but it is done with such panache that how can you not love it. Really. It's majestic. Troughton ends his time as The Doctor on a high note. Jamie and Zoe get possibly the saddest departure of any companions ever. We finally meet the Time Lords. And the scene where the Doctor and The War Chief set eyes on each other for the first time - and in an instant recognise each other - is rather brilliant. The Troughton era suffers from a lot of missing stories, which is a shame for a lot of reasons but mostly because it deprives us of Troughton himself.

Invasion of the Dinosaurs: If you can ignore the rather dodgy T-Rex - which is the worst of the dinosaurs by miles - this is all rather brilliant, even if the whole thing seems to be a massive grandfather paradox waiting to happen. It's got a deserted London, it's got UNIT, it's got Sarah Jane, it's got Pertwee at his most majestic and it's got Captain Yates, whose story is perhaps the most complicated of any 'companion' in the series history. It's a story arc before Doctor Who was supposed to do story arcs. It manages to feel epic despite the short-comings of budgets and effects.

Horror of Fang Rock: I could pick lots of Tom Baker but this is the first one I remember with absolute clarity as a child. It's the first one that I can remember being genuinely frightened of and it is still rather wonderful now. It's claustrophobic, relentless and dark. Everyone - almost - dies. It's got Louise Jameson as Leela in a rather fetching wooly jumper*. Tom is brilliant. It has some fine lines in it and it is still rather creepy. Age has not - quite - withered it. Definitely a story for winter's evenings.

The Horns of Nimon: This is where I will lose a lot of people. I can hear the tutting from here. But I don't care a jot. This is my comfort Doctor Who. The story I reach for to cheer me up on those horrible days when nothing seems to go right. I'll admit now that I have a soft spot for all of Season Seventeen. That might be nostalgia but I love the Fourth Doctor - Romana combination, even if they are dangerous close to be too smart-arsey for their own good. I like K9. I like Graham Crowden's mad, mad Soldeed. I find it utterly joyful to watch from the first 'weakling scum' to the very end. How any Nimon have you seen today?

Kinda: Utterly unlike most other Doctor Who stories this is all a little weird. Too weird for some people but I love it. I love the fact that it has layers. I like the fact that Janet Fielding gets to be more than just a walking Aussie whinge - at least for a bit. I like Simon Rouse's performance. I love Nerys Hughes understated Todd. I love Richard Todd's appearance as a sort of representative of a England lost in the mist and is the perfect actor for the bumbling colonial chap. It's a story you can watch over and over again. A story to get lost inside. Just be careful you don't find the Mara inside.

Vengeance on Varos: The Colin Baker era gets a constant kicking. It's usually the butt of jokes. And yes, it has its problems. The Sixth Doctor's costume is ridiculous, he stays dark and unsympathetic for too long - something that must surely weigh upon Moffat as he plots a darker, less sympathetic Capaldi incarnation - and there's just not enough joy to out-weigh the death and bleakness in some of the stories. This story has moments where the Doctor isn't behaving as the Doctor should - or the version of the Doctor in our heads - but it is still rather well-written and directed. Writer Philip Martin wrote the marvellous Gangsters, which I recommend to your perusal - and plays with the fourth wall here a little too. Add Nabil Shaban's memorable Sil and you've got a winner.

Remembrance of the Daleks: Anyone who thinks Sylvester McCoy isn't a good Doctor should be strapped to a seat and made to watch this. Over and over again. This is a real tour-de-force and I remember this as the story that restored my shaken faith in Doctor Who after Season Twenty-Four (which in retrospect has more positive moments than I felt it did at the time.) It's well-acted, well-directed and well-written. This is the moment Ace and the Seventh Doctor establish themselves up there with Leela and the Fourth Doctor and Romana II and the Fourth Doctor as my favourite Doctor/Companion pairings** It really is better than it probably had any right to be at this point. If you've not seen it you really should stop reading this immediately and go and watch it. Go on.

The Happiness Patrol: I love this story. For similar reasons to why I love The Web Planet. Only Doctor Who could - or would - do this kind of thing. Only Doctor Who would make such a wonderful parable on the wonders of melancholy and what it means to be a minority in a tiny studio with pink wigs and a villain that looks not unlike a certain Bertie Bassett. People get rather sniffy about this story. It's too obviously sets. Of course it is. Terra Alpha is a Potemkin Village writ large. It looks artificial because it is artificial. Terra Alpha is an illusion. It's the creation of a woman who tried to do the right thing but couldn't understand why her people weren't happy with this right thing. It's pink and fluffy and all rather lovely.

There you go. That's my ten.

I'm sure you'll viciously disagree with some - or all - of my choices. You'd be wrong of course. My life in Doctor Who fandom has taught me that however bad a story is seen to be by fan consensus it is always someone's favourite. And however brilliant a story is there's always someone out there that hates it. Sometimes to a baffling degree of rage.

That's another of the fun bits of being a Doctor Who fan.

Be seeing you.

*I may have become obsessed with Louise Jameson in knitware since watching The Omega Factor
**Companion-Doctor favourites is a blog for another day.


  1. The Horror of Fang Rock may be the only one of these in my off-the-top-of-my-head Top Ten, but I understand how each one could be in someone's. Yes, even The Web Planet. I have to confess I have never enjoyed Vengeance on Varos, but I acknowledge your points in its favor.

    Terminus is probably the closest I can come to a classic series story that nobody seems to love as much as I do, even while I admit its failures.

    In the new series 42 may be that one for me.

  2. Hmm, have you been inside my head? This is easily a list I could have put together too! I adore Horns of Nimon - "Weakling Scum!" - and Web Planet! :) :) :)

  3. I find it interesting that two of your top ten shows (Horror of Fang Rock & The Horns of Nimon) are from the much reviled Graham Williams era of the show but you have no picks from Philip Hinchcliffe's time as producer.

    When I was younger I was "supposed" to venerate Hinchcliffe's episodes and scorn Williams.

    As I've rewatched these shows over the last few years I find that the Hinchiffe era doesn't grab me so much anymore (if it really ever did) and the Williams stories have a special magic.

    I totally agree that the Gunfighters is a classic. This was another show that I didn't like the first time I saw it largely, I am sure, because I was 'supposed' to thik it was wretched. But rewatching it 20+ years later with an open mind I can appreciate it on its own terms.