Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Best and worst Doctor Who list

Today is the unofficial "Science Fiction Nerd Day," May the Fourth. As in "May the Fourth Be With You." If you've seen Star Wars, you get it.

But I am a fan of all kinds of science fiction. I love hard sci-fi from Niven to Gibson's cyberpunk, the space opera of Star Wars, the wonder of Star Trek, Doctor Who's playful attitude towards sci-fi drama, the hard-hitting Blake's 7, and more.

I'll let others post about Star Wars today, and instead let my Doctor Who nerd flag fly high. And I am a huge Doctor Who nerd. My brother and I ran a fan club in the 1980s. I've been to the major conventions, even helped organize some of them—through which I met some of the original cast! I also love the Doctor Who audio stories from Big Finish; you may remember I shared a few recommendations of my favorite stories. And a few years ago, I put together a cool Doctor Who quiz for a fan event, sort of a Jeopardy! style trivia contest.

Like any fan of the series, over the years I've assembled my own list of the best and worst classic Doctor Who stories, and I wanted to make a single list of everything. For each Doctor in the classic series, which are the best stories, the stories that still stand up? And which are the worst stories, the stories that are truly unwatchable on their own merit? It's a fun list. I'd like to share it with you.
Thinking about the "Best" list, I looked for stories that still stand up for modern viewers. While classic Doctor Who was produced with a tiny budget, many stories were outstanding. For this list, I picked stories with good pacing, decent acting, and not (too) wobbly sets. The 4th Doctor gets two stories in the "Best" list, but Tom Baker also had the longest run so that seems fair:

1st: The Time Meddler
Features the first appearance of another Time Lord, although the title "Time Lord" would not be used until much later.
2nd: Tomb of the Cybermen
Not the first appearance of the Cybermen, but you can see the beginnings of the modern design.
3rd: The Time Warrior
The first appearance of a Sontaran.
4th: Ark in Space
The only classic story that could be produced in the new series without editing. This would have made a great story with Matt Smith's Doctor, Amy and Rory.
4th: State of Decay
The middle story of a three-part "E-space" trilogy of stories, featuring vampires.
5th: Caves of Androzani
A very strong regeneration story. And interestingly, the only story on my list to feature the Master, albeit as a cameo.
6th: Revelation of the Daleks
The last 6th Doctor story before the series was put on temporary hiatus, which is why this ends on a freeze-frame.
7th: Remembrance of the Daleks
Returns to the show's roots in Coal Hill School and Totter's Lane. A few references to the 1st Doctor in this story.
In selecting stories for the "Worst" list, which stories were awful not because of the acting or the sets, but because the story was just a bad idea? If a story could be improved through better acting, sets, or editing, then I did not consider it for the "Worst" list. These stories are truly bad on their own merit:

1st: The Web Planet
Featuring a civil war between giant insects.
2nd: The Dominators
Awkward story introducing the Quarks, little robots where the BBC aimed for "menacing" and achieved "adorable."
3rd: Carnival of Monsters
Takes place entirely within a sort of terrarium for different aliens.
4th: Planet of Evil
The best thing about this story is the amazing alien jungle set. It's a shame the rest of the story was dreadful.
5th: Time Flight
This is what happens when the producer decides "If we feature the Concorde, they'll let us ride in one!"
6th: Vengeance on Varos
Slow paced and awkward, featuring two main characters who interact with no one else in the story.
7th: The Happiness Patrol
When I was in high school, I recognized Doctor Who was nerdy. To avoid teasing, I only asked that my favorite show not feature a monster made out of sweets. Enter the Kandyman.
What's your most and least favorite Doctor Who story?
image: Doctor Who wiki (© BBC, used under fair use)


  1. How on earth "Blink" didn't even make it to the Best list? It should be on the top!

  2. Blink was good. But he said this list is his best and worst from classic Doctor Who. And Blink is from the new Who.

  3. Glad to see Revelation in your top 6 — a really great story.

    My overall favourite changes too much to pin one down. 'Greatest Show in the Galaxy', 'Power of the Daleks' (sadly audio only) and 'Talons of Weng Chiang' are all up there .

    Worst would easily be Warriors Gate or Castrovalva...

  4. Thanks! A hidden rule here is that I wanted to pick one story per classic Doctor. That should make seven Best stories and seven Worst stories. I tried really really hard to keep each list to seven stories, but I couldn't decide between Ark and Decay so I included both.

    Another rule I made for myself was pacing: the story had to keep moving along, no filler. Generally, that limited the stories to four episodes. I wanted to include Talons in there, because I do rewatch that one occasionally. But the pacing just isn't there like it is in Ark or Decay.

    When I started rewatching the classic series as an adult and collecting the DVDs, I must admit to being more impressed with Greatest Show in the Galaxy than I was when it originally aired. It's a very strong episode. I think the asbestos abatement in the BBC studios, forcing them to film in an actual tent, actually helped the story. Unfortunately, the pacing is a little off, probably because it was originally a three-episode story that was expanded to four parts.

    I agree with you on Castrovalva not being great. I always liked Warriors Gate, though.