NOTICE: I’ve removed the comments on this article because I was getting a lot of spam from people trying to sell Trainers and Leather goods and other such nonsense that has nothing to do with Dr Who.
Every once in a while there comes a time when the floodgates of Dr Who open wide and for a while everything is up in the air. And yes, with the forthcoming regeneration that time is now. I’m not going to pump out a list of who I think should get the job because let’s face it I’m never gonna be right. (Although I’ve got a hunch it might be either Ben Miller or Aneurin Barnard.) But now is also an excellent time to start watching. But with 800+ episodes behind you where the hell do you start if you want to catch up? Well, if you’re looking to start you can’t go much wrong with the following:
My first piece of advice if you’re new to Who is not to start with the B/W episodes of the first two doctors as they can look quite dated, off putting and be somewhat slow in places. My second piece of advice is don’t watch the multi-part episodes all in one go. They can be far too overwhelming that way, especially some of the six parters. Spread them out with one or two episodes at a time as they weren’t really made to be watched in one three hour slog. They were made to be viewed in instalments. Also, keep in mind that some of the stories are now getting on a bit and they aren’t quite up to the standards of modern day television. So I’d advise to expect a few dodgy looking effects here and there. But let’s crack on.
Season 1- An Unearthly Child (4 episodes)
Arguably there are better stories in the very first series but there are far worse ones as well. This one has to be included simply because this is where it all started… The thing that looked like a police box, standing in a junkyard that could go anywhere in time and space… The first episode is pacey and involving but one does suspect that they placed all their energy there and let the rest hang loose. It gets a bit once the Tardis takes flight for the first time and lands in the old fashioned idea of prehistory (IE: Bear skin clad savages with clubs…) Nevertheless, I’d still recommend this one as it is where it all begins and it’s much less overwhelming than some of the stories that follow. But for something that is now very nearly half a century old this actually stands up quite well, even if some of the later episodes are a bit laughable. Although saying that it is still one of the better stories of the first season.
Season 2-The Rescue (2 Episodes)
I had a very hard time choosing between this story and the preceding one, The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Both are equally good and both have a lot going for them. The Dalek Invasion has a lot of great lines for one thing: ‘They dare to tamper with the forces of creation? /Yes… They dare… And we have got to dare to stop them!’ And then at the end we have one of the defining moments in series history… the first departure from the Tardis (which is an absolute beaut of a scene BTW…) But for me that story can be a little long winded and it takes quite a mindset to sit through it, even if you watch one episode at a time. For my money I’d go for the story that follows it which, although not as epic it has to be said, has a nice feel to it and is equally as good. It’s where we see someone new step through the Tardis doors for the first time since the opening episode and the chemistry present between new girl Vicki and the rest of the cast, particularly with the Doctor where right from the off you can see there’s an affection between the two of them and it’s both well written and performed. Saying that like a lot of the earlier stories the plot is a bit thin on the ground but then again this is only about fifty minutes in total so it doesn’t feel like it’s been overstretched.
Season 3- The War Machines (4 episodes)
This issue here is that there only three stories surviving in their entirety and they all contain one of the most irritating people in the entire universe… Dodo. Right from the off in her first full story, ‘The Ark’ she’s as annoying as hell and this carries on right through to her final story, The War Machines. The War Machines is by far the best of these because by the middle of the second episode Dodo has been shipped of out of the series forever! (Apparently she later dies of syphilis… Possibly.). The story itself is a good one, offering a chilling foreshadowing of the as yet uninvented internet and the plot moves along quite briskly. It also features the first use of that idea whereby a famous building contains an evil threat, in this case the Post Office Tower, a trend that continues to this day.
Season 4- The Evil of the Daleks- (7 Episodes, 1 surviving)
The issue with Season 4 is that no story exists in its entirety, making it unique in Dr Who. Out of a total 36 episodes aired only 7 survive… So for this season I’ve had to go by the few scant episodes that exist and base my choice on that. This is a shame as this is probably the most important in the history of the programme. It contains the first regeneration and the first appearances of the Cybermen. I didn’t go for either of those episodes however and instead I opted for this one. The surviving episode is a cracker and features the Daleks in Victorian England trying to extract ‘the human factor’ in order to make themselves stronger and find out why they keep getting beaten. From what I’ve seen/heard/read of the original it has quite a brilliant and epic plot which ends up with a massive emperor Dalek and a mad Dalek rampage where they end up destroying each other. And it’s actually quite a shame this doesn’t exist because it really is one of the greats. It’s also quite sad as it was wiped only a year after transmission- Making it one of the earliest casualties. Although a preceding story, The Highlanders was wiped only a few months after transmission which is even more terrible when all things are considered. But either way this is definately the best of all of them.
Season 5- The Tomb of the Cybermen (4 Episodes)
For years this story was one of those stories that was missing. And I can’t believe anybody would ever want to get rid of it… This is an awesome story and shows Dr Who at it’s finest… And for the once the special effects aren’t too bad either. It’s a cracker of a tale involving a team of archaeologists on an expedition to unearth the long lost tombs of the Cybermen… You can probably guess what happens next but the way the story weaves through it’s agenda beautifully, finally crashing into to it’s violent and thundering conclusion. The only way this story can be faulted is in a few minor production blunders… Even the cheesy sixties music still sounds good.
Season 6- The Mind Robber (5 Episodes)
This season contains so many good stories it’s hard to pick. There’s the wonderful ‘The Invasion’ which, although long, is utterly brilliant and has some very memorable scenes such as The Cybermen emerging from the sewers of London. Then you have Troughton’s swansong, The War Games which in itself is a masterpiece. That story is the first to introduce the Time Lords and the last episode is a real belter. However, at ten parts it is very long and can be very difficult to sit through even in instalments. But the one I opted here for was ‘The Mind Robber’ which is really about as trippy as the programme has ever got. Basically the Tardis is dragged into a place called the Land of Fiction and the Doctor + Jamie and Zoe have to find a way to escape… Along the way meeting such characters as Lemuel Gulliver, Medussa and ‘The Karkas,’ who is apparently some 21st century superhero. It’s sounds bizarre and it shouldn’t work… And yet somehow it does. It’s brilliant and insane but a lot of fun.
Season 7- Inferno (7 Episodes)
My entry into the world of Dr Who was Spearhead From Space, the opener for season 7, and a good enough story overall… But better still is Inferno. Inferno is far superior to spearhead in every way. This one concerns a massive drilling project that needs to be shut down… And the Doctor ends up in an alternative timeline where the drilling wasn’t stopped… And Britain is run by an evil dictatorship… The thing, for a seven parter, rattles along at quite a pace and there isn’t much padding involved, as is usual for the lengthy ones. It’s exciting and engrossing and the near three hour run time just flies by.
Season 8- Terror of the Autons (4 episodes)
This was a difficult one to choose as almost all of the stories are of a reasonably high quality and yet they don’t really stick well in the memory. They come across as being a bit stodgy. The only one that isn’t is ‘Colony in Space‘ but the less said about that one the better. Terror of the Autons brings us one of the doctor’s most formidable opponents for the first time: The Master… And this isn’t just any old Master… This is the Master, the original at his coldest and most villainous before he became super camp and started prancing around to the scissor sisters. This was when the Master was a worthy adversary… And pure evil at the same time. The episode itself is also a good story… An Auton invasion propelled the Master… Complete with killer inflatable chairs, ugly children’s toys and strangling daffodils… There’s not much not to like really. The only shame is that it doesn’t stick well in the memory.
Season 9- Day of the Daleks (4 episodes)
This is a rareity in classic Dr Who… A story where time travel is actually at the heart of the story. That sounds strange but in most of classic Dr Who time travel is just a way of getting from A to B. I can only think of perhaps four others that actually use time travel as it’s fundamental principle. The story focuses on a group of rebels from the future who come back in time in order to assassinate a man who they believe helped to instigate a Dalek invasion… Only it was his death that did it… It’s a piece of hard-core sci fi jam packed full of alternative timelines, people running around with guns and Dalek bombs. It’s a cool story and one that’s well worth checking out.
Season 10- The Three Doctors (4 episodes)
Let’s face it… This isn’t the best of Dr Who episodes… It can be a little slow at times and the plot is wafer thin… But’s it worth it. It is very worth it just to see the Doctor teaming up with himself. There are some good moments to it, mostly in the first two parts before it has to deal with the little amount of plot there is, but it’s perfectly watchable and it never drags. Yes, it has it’s faults… The walking christmas tree decorations and the wafer thin plot for a start… But as an introduction it’s perfectly suitable and it’s fairly decent fun at the same time.
Season 11- Planet of the Spiders (6 episodes)
This is another season with some very strong episodes… But also some weaker ones. The Time Warrior and Invasion of the Dinosaurs are both good stories filled with potential (even if Dinosaurs has a few dodgy special effects problems) for instance. But the highlight is the very end: The Planet of the Spiders. It’s John Pertwee’s swansong, his final curtain call… And despite an array of dodgy special effects and plastic spiders it’s a decent enough story. It centres around a spiritual retreat where people are being taken over by alien spiders. At times it can be a bit hard going and there is some padding (the twenty minute chase scene for one thing!) but if you give it a chance it’s worth it as the story itself is also quite a good one. I won’t spoil the ending for those who don’t want it spoiling but it’s a good one. The point is, however, that it works.
At some point I shall carry on with the 4th doctor… And by then we should know the identity of the 12th… So Happy trails.