Doctor Who’s Greatest Hits
With Doctor Who’s new season premiering in the United States this Saturday, I thought it was high time to pay tribute to one of my lifelong nerd passions. I have spent this whole week on my blog discussing, reflecting on and just generally worshiping the best thing to come out of the United Kingdom since the Mayflower. Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith – who is actually the thirty-fifth actor to portray the Doctor, the twenty-fourth to do so on screen; largely thanks to a tremendous parody called The Curse of Fatal Death – begins his journeys (well, technically continues – he first showed up to replace David Tennant at the conclusion of last year’s amazing The End of Time [And actually, he began his journeys two weeks ago in the U.K., we’re getting the premier two weeks later. This would be a record in getting episodes across the pond if not for the premier of The Five Doctors in the United States back in 1983. But we’ll get to that later. You should probably re-read this paragraph now.]) in what is being extremely confusingly referred to as Series 1. This is confusing because it is actually the sixth series of the revival of Doctor Who that began in 2005, but technically the fifth series since the specials of 2009 were coded as fourth series; but chronologically the thirty-third season of the show – unless you don’t count the eighth Doctor’s telemovie. In which case this is the thirty-second season. Understand? No? Me either.
I was going to write a history of Doctor Who, but Wikipedia has a done a perfectly good job of that already. After abandoning that idea, I started a piece about why I loved the show so much. I got a couple of paragraphs in and realized my posts throughout the week would pretty much cover that.
So today I bring you, The Retarded, a list of the ten very best episodes of Doctor Who; with a special treat at the end for those who make it. It ain’t Jelly Babies, but it’s something.
10 – The Trial of A Time Lord
6th Doctor w/ Peri
Is the defendant aware that this is actually a whole entire season of Doctor Who and not just one serial?
Is the defendant also aware that The Trial of A Time Lord is somewhat of a mixed bag of awesome and not-very-awesome-at-all?
And is the defendant also, also aware that this episode features the supposedly inferior and disliked – in the defendant’s own words, no less – sixth Doctor, Colin Baker?
To this I say: Shut up.
The Trial of A Time Lord holds one of those special places in my heart because it was sort of a return to Doctor Who. I had been on my I-don’t-like-Colin-Baker strike, but I couldn’t resist the appeal of a night-long Who-fest (I think the last time this had happened was when Tom Baker left and Peter Davison took over). Yes, it was an entire season; but PBS showed the whole five-plus hours on a single Saturday night to support one of their numerous telethons (dammit, I wanted that canvas Doctor Who tote bag, but Mom just wasn’t willing to call up and donate fifty[!] bucks). Therefore it was a single viewing experience for me.
As to the Colin Baker point and the story’s quality, well; it remains the very best adventure of the sixth Doctor. The plot is strong throughout, the effects are top-notch for the series and the (SPOILER ALERT!) death of long-time companion Peri is handled well and impactfully. Despite not liking her a whole heck of a lot more than the sixth Doctor himself, I was still quite upset when she met her fate.
All in all, Trial served to make Colin Baker a bit more likable. About halfway in I was ready to accept him and once more follow the Doctor’s adventures through time.
Naturally, this was his last season. Fortunately Sylvester McCoy was to be the next (and final before the show’s seven-year hiatus) Doctor, and he and I got on well from the start.
9 – The Sound of Drums
10th Doctor w/ Martha, Captain Jack
Wow. Could there ever be a villain more satisfying than Evil Giles? Yes, but only if it’s the super-maniacal, mad diabolical nemesis to end all nemeses – THE MOTHERFUCKING MASTER, Y’ALL!
Proving that old villains never die, they just get updated (or regenerated); the Master returns after two whole seasons of hints to become… well, just watch it.
8 – The Girl in the Fireplace
10th Doctor w/ Rose, Mickey
This one does a very good job of portraying the human perception of the Doctor. While unraveling an evil alien plot (naturally), our hero meets Madame De Pompadour, who is apparently important to French people. Normally this would mean she doesn’t matter, but seeing as she plays such a key role in the Doctor’s life we’ll give her a pass.
First meeting the Doctor as a little girl (De Pompadour, not the Doctor), we see the French historical figure grow up into a smokin’ hot babe over the course of many years as she has multiple meetings with the Time Lord. Due to the nature of the nefarious alien plan, all of these meetings are taking place over a matter of hours for the doctor.
It turns out that Evil Clockwork Robots want to harvest the lady’s brain in a misguided attempt to repair their damaged starship, the crew of which all died out some time ago. Heroic heroism ensues, panties get moistened and the Doctor saves the day. And the babe.
7 – Terror of the Zygons
4th Doctor w/ Sarah Jane, Harry, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
This is one of the earliest episodes I remember watching after being introduced to our Time Lord hero by The Five Doctors in 1983. It might even be the first one I saw after that. It is a favorite of mine because it stars the inimitable Tom Baker fighting the Loch Ness monster.
Part of being a huge nerd is an interest in unusual subjects, and one of my first obsessive interests aside from Star Wars was cryptozoology. For those who don’t know, cryptozoology is the study of modern day mythical (or not) creatures such as the sasquatch, the goat man, the Jersey Devil and; of course, the Loch Ness monster. By the time I was ten I owned dozens of books on the subject and had read even more courtesy of this building you used to be able to go to and borrow books from to learn all of the things that you can sit at a computer and find out in about ten minutes today. And a loaf of bread was a nickel. Okay, I’m lying about the bread.
So anyway, the Loch Ness Monster – or Nessie, as we nerds refer to it – showing up in this great science fiction show was a HUGE fucking deal.
Over the course of the episode we discover that Nessie is actually part of an evil alien plot (naturally); that a race of evil water creatures called Zygons want to CONQUER THE EARTH! Naturally the Doctor and his team must stop them.
It is worth noting that this is the last regular appearance of Harry Sullivan and one of only two episodes to feature the Brigadier working alongside Tom Baker’s Doctor.
6 – Blink
10th Doctor w/ Martha
I suppose this one is the Doctor Who equivalent of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, Hush. It is a stand-alone story that is scary as crap.
Much of the narrative is shown through the eyes of non-regular characters, with the Doctor not even making an appearance until almost halfway through the episode, and even then it’s just on video to warn the girl the story revolves around to watch her ass. You see, there are these stone angels, or “Weeping Angels” that look incredibly sinister and – surprise, surprise! – are more sinister than they look. I don’t want to drop any spoilers on you, just know that this is one of those twisty-turny, timey-wimey episodes that make you say, “Oh, shit!” a whole lot. Unless you don’t curse, in which case I suppose you’d say, “Oh, deary, me!” or something.
5 – City of Death
4th Doctor w/ 2nd Romana
I came really close to making this one number one. Tom Baker is at his dry, witty best; the villain is fucking absurd and the companion is Hot Romana.
The story takes place in Paris and features a whole lot of time-hopping and extremely well-written plot-twisting. This comes mostly courtesy of Douglas Adams (yes, that Douglas Adams), who was a script editor for the show and ended up writing three episodes. It’s all about an alien (whose head is somehow twice as big as the human head mask he wears) who is trying to go back in time and prevent the accident that stranded him alone on Earth. Naturally if he succeeds this means bad things for those of us that currently call the planet home, so the Doctor must stop him by way of meeting up with Leonardo DaVinci and defacing six copies of the Mona Lisa. Trust me, it all makes good sense in context.
The villainous alien – Scaroth – is played by Julian Glover, a Parisian Inspector is played very well by Tom Chadbon and there is even a brief appearance by John Cleese (!).
I think this is an episode of Doctor Who that pretty much anybody could enjoy, and would likely hook a more casual science fiction fan. I will say, though, that I doubt there is a person on the planet who won’t fall into debilitating paroxysms of laughter the first time Scaroth takes his mask off.
4 – The Keeper of Traken
4th Doctor w/ Adric, Nyssa joins the crew
This series marks the beginning of the end for my Doctor. As much as it bums me out every time I watch it, it is a tremendous episode. It features a peace-loving society with a deep turmoil beneath the surface and that turmoil turns out to be long-time Doctor nemesis and phenomenal dickweed, the Master.
The Master is reintroduced in this, the first of three closely connected series, to smooth the transition from Tom Baker to Peter Davison. I believe the theory was probably that people wouldn’t be quite so upset at Baker – widely regarded as the most popular Doctor (although David Tennant may well have taken that prize) – leaving if they were busy hating the Master. The Master is portrayed by the amazing Anthony Ainley here, and would be until the series’ extended hiatus in 1989.
We are also introduced to Nyssa in this episode. She is definitely on my Hot Companion list and travels with the Doctor for the next thirteen adventures, with a cameo in a fourteenth.
3 – Journey’s End
10th Doctor w/ Rose, Donna, Martha, Captain Jack, Sarah Jane, Mickey
They got the band back together – so to speak – for this last grand adventure before the Doctor set off on his own to face the reality of his impending demise (and rebirth). Not only do we get the big honkin’ finale to the past four years of Russell T. Davies plotlines, we also get Daleks threatening not just the Earth or the universe; but reality itself. Those guys are such absolute fuckers.
Journey’s End is the second part of the previous episode – The Stolen Earth – and it is a rollercoaster ride. The episode begins with the tease of regeneration and, if you’re like me and avoid spoilers like urban youths with boxes of candy bars, it seemed like a real possibility. Me and the Missus had no clue what had happened on the show in the UK, we thought it was entirely possible the eleventh Doctor might take over right then (everybody did know at that point that Tennant was on his way out). Given that we all know now that David Tennant came back for several more specials, I don’t feel I’m betraying anything by saying we did get a new Doctor, but not in the way we thought.
All of our favorite companions from the new era work together to assist the Doctor in this final (okay, that’s doubtful) showdown with his mortal enemies, the Daleks and their one-time leader, Davros. We also get to see the TARDIS piloted as it was meant to be, along with a nifty explanation for the craft’s famous unreliability. Which is not the only thread to be tied up.
Everybody gets bittersweet resolution at the end of this episode. It’s not quite the heartbreaker that Doomsday was, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t get misty several times over watching the end of this one. It’s funny, the new doctor – Matt Smith – may look all emo, but Tennant’s run could definitely use a Cure song over a WWE-style recap video.
2 – Rose
9th Doctor, Rose is introduced
To clarify – these are not necessarily the best episodes of the new Doctor Who series, they are my favorites. As such, Rose is more important and beloved than the others for many reasons:
1)It was a great episode that showed the chances were good that this new iteration of Doctor Who could be around for a very long time. It brought back the super-creepy Autons – android villains from the original run, as well as just feeling like Doctor Who in a way the 1996 telemovie almost completely failed to. Also, the seeds were planted for many future stories and dilemmas, conveying that sense that the show was here to stay.
2)Christopher Eccleston was fantastic. He was manic and clever and dry and mysterious, all while being totally accessible. He managed to convey a sense of being in control while being sucked along for the ride; kind of like the guy steering the raft in the rapids.
3) Everybody immediately fell in love with Rose. Wide-eyed and cynical at the same time, Billie Piper played the Doctor’s newest companion in a way that made her charming enough and tough enough to be the audience’s conduit without being pointless baggage. Rose doesn’t just accept everything, which gives the creative talent on the show an excuse to reintroduce all of the old conceits of the franchise to a new audience.
4)To quote an esteemed rock band: Everything that’s old is new again. While the exterior of the TARDIS was relatively unchanged, the inside was redone to look much more imposing and majestic than it ever had before. The Doctor was using his sonic screwdriver again, and it was a new model. Additionally, the show itself featured slick, new credits and the first ever Doctor Who theme song that didn’t sound like it was recorded from a Casio.
Just thinking about this episode gets me excited and makes me want to watch it again. It was such a relief to find that not only was the Doctor back, he had everything well in hand.
1 – The Five Doctors
1st – 5th Doctors w/ multiple companions
This was the first episode of Doctor Who I ever saw. We were in North Carolina for Thanksgiving and at my Auntie Sue’s house on Wednesday night. The adults were having boring adult conversation, so I retired to one of the bedrooms to watch TV. I don’t recall how far along The Five Doctors was when I came across it, I just know that I was powerless to change the channel. I have seen the telemovie many times since 1983, having owned it on VHS and now the 25th Anniversary DVD; but certain scenes still stand out from that first viewing.
I remember the Second Doctor’s Moe Howard haircut and fur coat making an impression. I recall being scared of this tireless robot pursuing the First Doctor and his companion through a disorienting maze (even if it did look like a giant pepper shaker). What stands out the most, though – and is one of my favorite Doctor Who scenes of all time – is the silent silver assassin android that bars the path that the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith attempt to traverse. As much as the Dalek had made me uneasy, the Raston Warrior Robot chilled me to the bone.
I thought at the time that Doctor number three – John Pertwee – must be the leader, not only because of his stature and regal manner, but also because he managed to survive that terrifying robot. It wasn’t until I found Doctor Who again a couple of years later that I realized all of those men had actually been the same person, somehow (and I wouldn’t actually understand the mechanics of that until years later). You see, television executives want to keep successful shows on TV even after the actors want to leave; hence, regenerations! Okay, so that’s not exactly how the show explains it; but that’s the real story. The fictional one is that the Doctor’s race – Time Lords – can regenerate their physical form twelve times over the course of a normal life span. The Doctor is actually older than Yoda. Naturally, the creative team behind the show gave themselves an out years ago by stating that Time Lords could be granted a second set of regenerations. Good thing, too; because the Doctor is now on number ten (ten regenerations, eleven Doctors – get it?). Two more to go and somebody better start that “Quest For Twelve More” plotline. Either that or a reboot, and nobody wants that. I hope.
So anyway, the story is that some nefarious character is pulling the Doctor’s various incarnations out of their rightful place in the timestream and placing them on Gallifrey to be pawns in an evil (of course) master plan. Shenanigans occur and, needless to say, the Doctor(s) win the day.
What makes The Five Doctors so amazing is that it united all five Doctors up to that point on screen. Sort of. William Hartnell – the man who portrayed the first Doctor – had passed away a few years before; so Doctor number one was played by Richard Hurndall. Hurndall looked very similar to Hartnell and played the part perfectly. Tom Baker was also technically absent, not wanting to return to the role he had abandoned so recently. The footage of the fourth Doctor and his companion, Romana, was taken from an incomplete, never-aired episode. They spent almost the entirety of The Five Doctors trapped in a Time Vortex, never interacting with the rest of the cast.
Despite my favorite Doctor not taking part in the proceedings, I love this story. It is a classic case of taking the past and present elements of a franchise and mashing them together for one big extravaganza, and I am a complete sucker for that kind of thing. The Five Doctors has all the heroes, all the villains and a story that is just good enough to justify them being together.
And now, for those of you that just devoted a hopefully tiny portion of your lives to reading about Doctor Who; here is a lovely treat to eat up even more of your valuable time. It is an official parody of Doctor Who produced by the BBC for the Red Nose Day charity telethon in 1999. It features several well-known British actors portraying the Doctor; including Hugh Grant, Rowan Atkinson and Joanna Lumley(!).
So please, sit back and enjoy Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death. And don’t forget to visit Needless Things for a whole week of Doctor Who goodness, including the full two-part version of this article (as if you need it).
Until next time, stay creepy
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