Monday, December 28, 2015

Doctor Who: My Top 50 Stories

In my 2014 year in review, I hailed Peter Capaldi's first season as the Doctor as the best New Who season to date. I felt his second season, which wrapped up on Christmas Day, was just as good, if not better. It got me wondering how many of Capaldi's twenty-six episodes would make my Doctor Who Top 50 Stories, which I'd first posted in 2013 (Classic Who by serial, New Who by individual episodes), just as Matt Smith was leaving. Quite a few, as it turns out; when I did my (re)calculations, eleven Capaldi episodes made the list, as follows:

1. Blink (Tenth Doctor, 2007)
2. Snakedance (Fifth Doctor, 1983)
3. Silence in the Library (Tenth Doctor, 2008)
4. The Big Bang (Eleventh Doctor, 2010)
5. Castrovalva (Fifth Doctor, 1982)
6. The Enemy of the World (Second Doctor, 1967-68)
7. The Time of Angels (Eleventh Doctor, 2010)
8. Forest of the Dead (Tenth Doctor, 2008)
9. Enlightenment (Fifth Doctor, 1983)
10. The Husbands of River Song (Twelfth Doctor, 2015)
11. Hell Bent (Twelfth Doctor, 2015)
12. Kill the Moon (Twelfth Doctor, 2014)
13. The Deadly Assassin (Fourth Doctor, 1976)
14. The Crusade (First Doctor, 1965)
15. The Impossible Astronaut (Eleventh Doctor, 2011)
16. Turn Left (Tenth Doctor, 2008)
17. The Evil of the Daleks (Second Doctor, 1967)
18. The Girl Who Waited (Eleventh Doctor, 2011)
19. Listen (Twelfth Doctor, 2014)
20. Heaven Sent (Twelfth Doctor, 2015)
21. The Girl in the Fireplace (Tenth Doctor, 2006)
22. Father's Day (Ninth Doctor, 2005)
23. Planet of Fire (Fifth Doctor, 1984)
24. The Face of Evil (Fourth Doctor, 1977)
25. The Pandorica Opens (Eleventh Doctor, 2010)
26. The Zygon Inversion (Twelfth Doctor, 2015)
27. Kinda (Fifth Doctor, 1982)
28. The Androids of Tara (Fourth Doctor, 1978)
29. Terror of the Zygons (Fourth Doctor, 1975)
30. Let's Kill Hitler (Eleventh Doctor, 2011)
31. The Rescue (First Doctor, 1965)
32. Last Christmas (Twelfth Doctor, 2014)
33. Carnival of Monsters (Third Doctor, 1973)
34. The Doctor Dances (Ninth Doctor, 2005)
35. The Abominable Snowmen (Second Doctor, 1967)
36. Genesis of the Daleks (Fourth Doctor, 1975)
37. The Awakening (Fifth Doctor, 1984)
38. Before the Flood (Twelfth Doctor, 2015)
39. Vincent and the Doctor (Eleventh Doctor, 2010)
40. The Massacre (First Doctor, 1966)
41. Terminus (Fifth Doctor, 1983)
42. Dalek (Ninth Doctor, 2005)
43. Dark Water (Twelfth Doctor, 2014)
44. The War Games (Second Doctor, 1969)
45. The Name of the Doctor (Eleventh Doctor, 2013)
46. Image of the Fendahl (Fourth Doctor, 1977)
47. The Robots of Death (Fourth Doctor, 1977)
48. The Zygon Invasion (Twelfth Doctor, 2015)
49. Mawdryn Undead (Fifth Doctor, 1983)
50. The Rings of Akhaten (Eleventh Doctor, 2013)

Several things struck me about my Top 50. There were precious few female directors on Classic Who -- and New Who's track record, until recently, was even worse -- but nearly half the Whos helmed by women made my list: Fiona Cumming's "Snakedance," "Castrovalva," "Enlightenment" and "Planet of Fire"; Paddy Russell's "Massacre"; Mary Ridge's "Terminus"; Hettie MacDonald's "Blink"; and Rachel Talalay's "Hell Bent," "Heaven Sent" and "Dark Water."

Best New Who scripter? Easily current showrunner, the polarizing Steven Moffat, with 18 entries -- roughly half his Who output -- in my top 50.

Best regular Classic Who scripter? Not fan-favorite Robert Holmes, who wrote some real stinkers, but David Whitaker, the show's first script editor, who taught everyone else how to write Doctor Who -- then showed them he could do it better. Half of Whitaker's eight scripts cracked my top 50 ("Enemy of the World" at #6, "The Crusade" at #14, "Evil of the Daleks" at #17 and "The Rescue" at #31), and in fact, if I extend my "Best of" list to 75

51. Flesh and Stone (Eleventh Doctor, 2010)
52. The Ice Warriors (Second Doctor, 1967)
53. The Pirate Planet (Fourth Doctor, 1978)
54. Flatline (Twelfth Doctor, 2014)
55. Hide (Eleventh Doctor, 2013)
56. The Myth Makers (First Doctor, 1965)
57. The Ambassadors of Death (Third Doctor, 1970)
58. Marco Polo (First Doctor, 1964)
59. Horror of Fang Rock (Fourth Doctor, 1977)
60. The Wheel in Space (Second Doctor, 1968)
61. Partners in Crime (Tenth Doctor, 2008)
62. Earthshock (Fifth Doctor, 1982)
63. The Empty Child (Ninth Doctor, 2005)
64. The Power of the Daleks (Second Doctor, 1966)
65. The Web Planet (First Doctor, 1965)
66. Face the Raven (Twelfth Doctor, 2015)
67. Black Orchid (Fifth Doctor, 1982)
68. The Savages (First Doctor, 1966)
69. The Caretaker (Twelfth Doctor, 2014)
70. Spearhead From Space (Third Doctor, 1970)
71. The Stones of Blood (Fourth Doctor, 1978)
72. Gridlock (Tenth Doctor, 2007)
73. The Time Warrior (Third Doctor, 1973-74)
74. The Unquiet Dead (Ninth Doctor, 2005)
75. The Claws of Axos (Third Doctor, 1971)

then three more of Whitaker's scripts -- "The Ambassadors of Death," "The Wheel in Space" and "The Power of the Daleks" -- clock in at #57, #60 and #64, respectively.

In terms of directors, I can't say I've a New Who favorite -- up until Season 8, I honestly couldn't tell one from another (although Season 9 seemed easily the best-directed season of New Who to date, in great part due to the talents of Daniel O'Hara, Daniel Nettheim and Rachel Talalay, plus a series-best effort from Douglas Mackinnon). But of the Classic Who helmers, I'm particularly fond of Derek Martinus, Douglas Camfield and Fiona Cumming, and, on a good day (theirs, not mine), David Maloney and Michael E. Briant. (I go into Cumming's output in depth in several other blog entries, and eulogize her here.) Sadly, though, Classic Who is littered with second- and third-rate directors (e.g., Richard Martin, Morris Barry, Peter Moffatt, Ron Jones, Chris Clough, the ubiquitous and overrated Christopher Barry) who worked constantly, while some of the most imaginative (Michael Imison, Tristan deVere Cole, Michael Owen Morris) were used only once.

Coming up with my top Whos was easy; determining my least favorite Whos is tougher -- once we get past my top 75, there are only a dozen or so episodes I'd care to revisit. (Quite a few stories highly praised by fandom leave me cold, including the First Doctor's "The Aztecs," the Second Doctor's "The Invasion," the Third Doctor's "The Curse of Peladon," the Fourth Doctor's "The Talons of Weng-Chiang," the Fifth Doctor's "The Caves of Androzani," the Seventh Doctor's "The Curse of Fenric," the Tenth Doctor's two-parter "Human Nature" & "The Family of Blood," the Eleventh Doctor's "The Doctor's Wife," and the Twelfth Doctor's two-parter "The Magician's Apprentice" & "The Witch's Familiar.") Every Doctor had his undistinguished adventures: moving chronologically from the First to the Twelfth (skipping the Eighth, who appeared only once), my list of one per Doctor might include "The Space Museum," "The Moonbase," "Colony in Space," "The Hand of Fear," "The Visitation," "Attack of the Cybermen," "Dragonfire," "Boom Town," "The Doctor's Daughter," "The Hungry Earth" and "Time Heist."

But those are merely the mediocre adventures. Then there are the unwatchable ones: the ones you'd be mortified to show to friends. My really bottom-tier Who list includes the First Doctor's "The Keys of Marinus" and "The Sensorites"; the Second Doctor's "The Underwater Menace" and "The Krotons"; the Third Doctor's "Planet of the Daleks" and "Monster of Peladon"; the Fourth Doctor's "The Invisible Enemy," "Underworld" and "Invasion of Time" (half of his fourth season), plus "The Power of Kroll," "The Creature From the Pit" and "The Horns of Nimon"; the Fifth Doctor's "Arc of Infinity"; the Sixth Doctor's "Twin Dilemma," "The Two Doctors" and "Mindwarp"; the Seventh Doctor's "Time and the Rani," "Silver Nemesis" and "Battlefield"; the Ninth Doctor's "Aliens of London"; the Tenth Doctor's "Love and Monsters," "Fear Her," and two second-season two-parters, "Daleks in Manhattan" & "Evolution of the Daleks" and "The Sound of Drums" & "Last of the Time Lords"; the Eleventh Doctor's "A Town Called Mercy" and "Nightmare in Silver"; and the Twelfth Doctor's "Sleep No More." And that's just off the top of my head...


  1. Interesting list. I don't know if I could rank them like that - my view changes from week to week. You're a much bigger Davison fan than me (I do love Snakedance and Enlightenment) and you also seem to rate Matt Smith's tenure more highly too. Our big difference is Tom Baker. He's my Dcotor and I'd have Terror of the Zygons, Genesis, City of Death and Robots of Death high up my list. Interesting to see so many historicals yet you don't rate the Aztecs. Why not?

    1. As I mention in the piece, "Aztecs" is just one that doesn't appeal to me. I like a lot of Hartnell historicals, but not that one particularly. And again, as noted, the fact that it's so highly-regarded doesn't make me like it more. :) Interesting that your view changes week to week. Mine don't change much at all from first impression -- and I've watched each Who at least twice, and some a dozen times. The only time I really altered my view of a serial was in my recent rewatch of "Wheel in Space" earlier this month; I came to realize on third viewing that it was a classic -- it's harder to judge the "lost episodes" effectively. As for the plethora of Davison and Troughton: I just like them as actors best -- so yes, indeed, I favor their serials because, for me, when the scripts are strong, their performances lift them that much higher. But I certainly don't think I miminize Tom Baker: you mention "Zygons" and "Genesis" and "Robots", and I love 'em too -- and I think I rank them pretty high.

  2. Pertwee was my seminal childhood DW, his glamour cemented by seeing him as Madame Lucy in Irene, one of the first West End musicals I ever saw.

    1. I regret that I didn't get to experience Doctor Who when I was a kid. (I didn't discover it until I was 50.) It would be fun to see what childhood memories and favorite serials I couldn't shake as an adult, and conversely, what things that I adored a child seemed less-than-stellar now. When I started watching Who, I had trouble making peace with Pertwee: thus my writing my unsubtly-titled blog entry this past spring, "Making Peace With Pertwee." Probably from being married to an actor, I gravitated to the Doctors who seemed to me the best actors in the group: Troughton and Davison. I think their stories particularly engaged me (and still do) because they elevated them so much more in my eyes than the others.

  3. You're weird, Krasker. (I'm not going to elaborate - your list is elaboration enough)

    1. Well, that made me roar! For some reason, I didn't see your comment when you first posted it, Tim. I was doing blog clean-up today, and just re-read my post, and thought, "Yah, that's still pretty much how I feel," and then I saw your comment! I love how we view some eras so similarly (like our recent Hartnell comparison), but are diametrically opposed on others. But then, that's fun of being a Who fan. I truly wonder if there are any two people out there with basically the same opinions about every classic serial and new episode. What are the odds?