50. Attack of the Cybermen (Sixth Doctor, 1985)
written by Eric Saward, Ian Levine & Paula Woolsey
directed by Matthew Robinson
Decried for its continuity porn and graphic violence, but the former is easily overlooked, and the latter -- though ill-advised -- lasts all of about a minute. "Attack" pinpoints that moment in time in which the Sixth Doctor era is at its most appealing: when the Doctor has recovered enough from his regeneration crisis that he's no longer homicidal, but still experiencing enough confusion to tame his bluster. Colin Baker is allowed moments of levity, empathy and introspection; it's his most charming performance. And Peri has recovered from the Doctor's attack in "Twin Dilemma" but not yet been beaten down by all the violence that will be perpetrated against her in the serials to come: she displays some of the pluck, compassion, thirst for adventure, and survival instincts that made her so winning in "Planet of Fire." There's a lovely parity between Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant here; from line to line, it's hard to say who'll have the upper hand, and surprisingly, often it's her. (Doctor: "I'm a Time Lord. A man of science, temperament and passion." Peri: "And a very loud voice." And, Doctor: "I suddenly feel conspicuous." Peri: "I'm not surprised, in that coat.") The reactivation of the TARDIS's chameleon circuit makes for a couple good sight gags, there are smashing guest turns by Maurice Colbourne and Brian Glover, and although things start to drag noticeably in the second half, the conception of the Cryons feels a nice nod to the Hartnell era: the all-female race reminiscent of the Drahvins, their balletic gesturing evocative of the Menoptra. "Attack" is also one of the few times that the Sixth Doctor, in his technicolor bad-dream coat, and Peri, dolled up here in a hot pink leotard, don't look like fashion eyesores. Robinson keeps the settings muted -- the grisly grays of the London sewers, the off whites of the TARDIS and the Telos tombs -- so that the Doctor and Peri stand out naturally and effectively. Instead of aspiring to new levels of garishness, as if to match the Sixth Doctor's attire (as later serials like "Timelash" and "Mindwarp" will do), Robinson mutes everything except his stars. It serves them well.
49. Galaxy 4 (First Doctor, 1965)
written by William Emms
directed by Derek Martinus
An average Who elevated by instinct, luck and artistry. The instinct: outgoing producer Verity Lambert suggested that the antagonists, the Drahvins, be all female; the result was an icy blonde warrior race led by Stephanie Bidmead, in a chilling performance that at one point all but consumes the small screen. The stroke of luck, awful as it is to call it that, is that original director Mervyn Pinfield fell ill during initial filming at Ealing, and Derek Martinus -- in his first Who assignment -- was recruited to step in. And thus the artistry: Pinfield was a serviceable old-timer; Martinus, fresh out of the BBC internal directors' training course, was a gifted up-and-comer. Even working with sets and set-ups that initiated with another, Martinus gives the serial weight and shape. The Doctor describes the Drahvin ship as primitive and the Rill ship as impressive; the production design doesn't really support that, but no matter -- through Martinus's lens, the Drahvin ship becomes a claustrophobic sweatshop, the Rill ship eerily expansive. He manages to suggest the potential perils lurking in each. The script is nothing special -- a variation on the "never judge a book by its cover" plot that all sci-fi and fantasy series seem to dip into at some point -- but the three principals (the Doctor, Vicki and Steven) are all well-served. Much has been made about how Emms devised the script when Ian and Barbara were still on board, and then, upon learning of the companion shake-up, transferred Barbara's role to Steven. Peter Purves himself has gone on record as saying the lines felt unnatural. But they don't come off that way; on the contrary, they serve to broaden his range. It's nice to see Steven use his brains and his wiles (as Barbara would have), and his inability to defeat Maaga in hand-to-hand combat doesn't make him appear weak; it makes the Drahvins seem that much more formidable. There's excessive moralizing in "Galaxy 4," and it's paper-thin in spots, but that doesn't keep it from being charming -- or effective.
48. Earthshock (Fifth Doctor, 1982)
written by Eric Saward
directed by Peter Grimwade
An irony of Matthew Waterhouse's tenure on Doctor Who is that, during his first season, when his acting abilities are -- to put it kindly -- limited (when something as basic as pointing and going "look!" seems beyond him), he at least makes himself useful to the Doctor. The following year, when his talents have grown a bit (he gets a second chance at the "Look!" bit in "The Visitation," and does much better), the new writers and story editors don't have a clue what to do with him. Although Adric could be an energetic, capable, attentive pupil (as in the bomb-defusing scene here), too often he's simply called upon to sulk. And sulk he does in the first episode of "Earthshock," so much so that it undermines his death three episodes later. Making a character as petulant as possible shortly before you kill him off is an odd writing choice, but then, the success of "Earthshock" isn't due largely to Saward. To his credit, though, the first half is unusually taut and effective. The Cybermen's two-pronged plan doesn't really bear scrutiny, but the action sequences are well conceived, and the revelations are well-spaced. And even when the second half gets a little flabby, the reliable Grimwade does his darndest to keep it engrossing. As the ship's commander, Beryl Reed proves a godsend. Devising distinctive characters isn't one of Saward's strengths; Reed is the kind of actress who can do it even when the lines aren't there. By contrast, aside from Reed, no one in the guest cast makes any impression, and Saward has no idea how to write for Nyssa or Tegan either. Reed and Peter Davison get a nice rhythm going, but every time Saward does those requisite cuts to the other members of the TARDIS crew, you're reminded how generic his writing can be. Nyssa stays behind in the TARDIS with a cypher named Professor Kyle, and they have exchanges like "What was that?" "I don't know. A robot!" "They're huge!" Their lines don't even function as exposition; they know less about what's going on than anyone. Near the end, Professor Kyle is killed by a Cyberman, but no one reacts much. Basically, she was only there till the final reel so she could lend Tegan her overalls. How do you mourn a clothes rack?
47. The Claws of Axos (Third Doctor, 1971)
written by Bob Baker & Dave Martin
directed by Michael Ferguson
It's like Doctor Who on LSD: a trip you don't soon forget. There's a hallucinogenic aspect to all of Ferguson's Who serials: here he goes full throttle. "Axos" has long been dismissed as a walking-joke serial, and like most of Baker and Martin's efforts, it tosses around way more ideas than it knows what to do with. But it's visually arresting in a season that often looks flat and forgettable; the gaffes are easily forgiven, because the images stay with you, The interior of the ship is a psychedelic synthesis of textures and colors and shapes. (In its own way, it's as other-worldly as Hartnell's "Web Planet.") And "Axos" itself is full of memorable moments: the aliens materializing out of walls, then merging back into them; the Doctor and Jo escaping an exploding ship while golden faces block their path; Jo being hyper-aged, while the Doctor stares, horrified and helpless. "Axos" features one of Pertwee's best performances -- his reactions sharp, his timing impeccable, and his character deliciously ambiguous; it also has one of the era's best bureaucrats. The Pertwee years are strewn with self-serving businessmen and fatuous government officials -- after a while, it's hard to remember one from another -- and they constantly prompt Pertwee to go on the attack, a dynamic that quickly grows stale. But "Axos," to its credit, manages to eat its cake and have it too. It offers up a government official who's so loathsome that he provokes not merely testiness in the Third Doctor, but genuine rage (he lights a fire under Pertwee, rare for Season 8). And at the same time, the script takes the piss out of him by giving him a commanding officer who sees right through him. When the unctuous government official calls in his report, asking the head of the Ministry if they should scramble the call, and the Minister responds, "Just your report. I'm sure that will be scrambled enough," it's a welcome relief. Someone else can take care of cutting the bureaucrats down to size; Pertwee can just get on with the plot.
46. Full Circle (Fourth Doctor, 1980)
written by Andrew Smith
directed by Peter Grimwade
It's the first time Tom Baker seems to fully engage with his material since "Androids of Tara" (he engages with the actors and atmosphere in "City of Death," but not so much the situations), and what a difference it makes. His performance has a dangerous edge reminiscent of his first season (back when he had something to prove, and one could argue that Season 18 finds him with something to prove again), and because you haven't seen that side of the Fourth Doctor in a while, you recall the jolt you felt in adventures like "Ark in Space" and "Genesis of the Daleks." Sadly, Baker recommits at a time when the creative team is deliberately minimizing him, to ensure the show's future isn't dependent upon his presence; during most of the first episode -- as character introductions are made and key events get underway -- the Doctor is under the TARDIS console, making repairs. But minimizing the Fourth Doctor means the writers can no longer rely on the power of his personality to get them through the rough patches; they're forced to return to solid story-telling and world-building, and you realize how much that's been missed. Andrew Smith was a newcomer to Doctor Who, but Peter Grimwade had been working his way up the ranks as Production Assistant. Smith, guided by script editor Christopher Bidmead, juggles so many concepts that huge chunks of dialogue are little more than scientific jargon -- but Grimwade, in his first helming job on Who, intuitively understands how to ease and disguise the exposition. He seems particularly at home with the panoramic settings (the lakes and forests of Alzarius, the multi-tiered Great Book Room aboard the Starliner), and although the more intimate moments are hit-or-miss, he seems to be learning as he goes; you sense ideas bubbling like the waters at Mistfall. (The death of the Decider, at the hands of the Marshmen, is unconvincing, but when he re-stages essentially the same scene three episodes later with Adric's brother, he nails it.) There are so many intriguing concepts in play in "Full Circle" that -- although it doesn't come together at the end as cohesively as it wants to -- you're quite willing to cut it some slack. You're grateful for the thought put into it, even when its creators seem to be thinking on their feet.
45. Resurrection of the Daleks (Fifth Doctor, 1984)
written by Eric Saward
directed by Matthew Robinson
The scene in which the Fifth Doctor announces his intention to kill Davros -- "Once before I held back from destroying the Daleks. It was a mistake I do not intend to repeat" -- is one of Peter Davison's great moments. His voice shaking with both resolve and horror, it really does feel like the culmination of a decade of regret dating back to "Genesis of the Daleks." The Doctor, Turlough and Tegan are barely together for "Resurrection" -- they share some scenes at the top and reunite near the end -- but all three actors are at their most charismatic, and they go a long way towards keeping it watchable. As does first-time Who director Robinson, working closely with production designer John Anderson; the pair effectively delineate and diversify the settings, so that each time you jump to a new location, the serial instantly refreshes. The result is a stylish-looking action-adventure that wears its machismo like a medal. Calling it Eric Saward's best Who script may be damning it with faint praise, but it's praise nonetheless. Saward writes the principals true to form; he scatters some distinct character traits among the ample supporting cast; and he clears most of the plotting hurdles he sets for himself -- i.e., he gets by on the barest of minimums, but he gets by. Only near the end -- in the shoot-it-out, blow-'em-up finale -- does a sort of willful incoherence take over, but by then you take heart in the fact that incoherence trumps blandness. There's a good visual gag involving a cat, and only one scene that's a bust. The Doctor is being tortured, but seems to be getting through to his captor; we cut away to another scene, and when we return, the Doctor has stopped strategizing -- he's too busy screaming. But then his captor has a change of heart and frees him anyway. You're left wondering if the Doctor played any role in his escape; he's emasculated by his own editing. At the end, Tegan bids him goodbye, conceding, "It's stopped being fun." She's wrong, of course: "Resurrection" is more fun than four of the five previous serials. That said, if this slaughter-fest was a portent of things to come (and it was), she was right to get gone.
44. Delta and the Bannermen (Seventh Doctor, 1987)
written by Malcolm Kohll
directed by Chris Clough
Just like the setting itself -- a Welsh holiday camp in the 1950's, where families of all walks of life come together -- "Delta" is about worlds colliding. On the surface, it's about a Chimeron Queen and her Bannermen pursuers bringing their battle to Planet Earth. But there's also a wonderful visual clash: between the gaudy holiday camps and the pastoral post-war landscapes they were overrunning. And the duality is there in the soundtrack, too: at one point, Delta describes the music emanating from her newborn daughter as "part song, part war-cry," which of course is how adults at the time viewed rock 'n' roll. But it's the love story that counts most, and here "Delta" short-circuits all "clash of culture" conventions. When grease-monkey Billy discovers that Delta, the camp's newest guest, is from outer space, he takes it in stride. "I'm the last Chimeron queen," she informs him. "My planet is right now in the grip of the invaders. My people are dead." And Billy has no questions or concerns: that explanation works. Delta suggests they take a walk, and they go on their first date. Every revelation Delta comes up with is met by the most untroubled of responses, as if the details were commonplace; his unquestioning, unconditional devotion makes it magical. "Delta" is light on its feet, and so is Sylvester McCoy. He maneuvers his trademark umbrella like a third arm: piloting the TARDIS with the tip, snaring a scarf with the hook. He's illusionist, mime and gymnast rolled into one, and he has to be, to stay one step ahead of the Bannermen. (At one point, he vaults onto a moving motorcycle with the ease of an Olympic gold medalist.) "Delta" is full of chases, across beautiful Welsh countryside overlooking the sea, down dirt paths as cows and goats scramble out of the way -- all to the tune of Keff McCulloch's mock-rockabilly score -- and McCoy always seems to be leading the charge, effortlessly. Even Clough's typically heavy-handed work is buoyant and bubbly, and he's aided indelibly by the great art director John Asbridge, in one of his first assignments. At the end, Delta and Billy, dressed in white, take off in their battle-cruiser for the Brood planet, and everyone waves them goodbye, as if they're just typical newlyweds pulling away in their car. It's a fairy-tale romance for the space-age set, and it's enchanting. (I offer up full review of "Delta and the Bannermen" here.)
43. The Web of Fear (Second Doctor, 1968)
written by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln
directed by Douglas Camfield
The recovery of missing Doctor Who serials is an odd phenomenon. People greeted "Enemy of the World" with amazement -- "it was far better than I'd imagined" -- even though 90% of the serial's delights could be gleaned from the audio. "Web of Fear," on the other hand, prompted sighs of "oh, I guess it's not a masterpiece after all"; the response was one of bemused disappointment -- whereas it should have been ecstatic. It was easy to hear, from the audio alone, that it was a pretty standard action-adventure piece, without the depth or ambition of Haisman and Lincoln's previous Yeti yarn, "The Abominable Snowmen," and one that ran out of steam roughly two-thirds of the way through. What we couldn't have foreseen -- even knowing the genius that is Douglas Camfield -- is how he would transform it, how he would mine it for every bit of tension and excitement. Camfield probably never worked harder in his life, and thank goodness, because with the visuals restored, you still see the flaws (the repetitive nature of the plot, the letdown of the reveal, the contrivances at the end), but now you don't really care, because the serial grabs you by the throat and never lets go. And one other thing you couldn't quite glean from the audio: the magnificence of Nicholas Courtney's performance. In the audio, you could hear the actor's confidence; the video reveals that, even in his first appearance, he was already at his most charismatic and charming. You understand instantly why he was invited back. As with Heisman and Lincoln's earlier effort, the characters are well-drawn, and unlike that all-male serial, this one boasts a superb female character, with one of the best smackdowns of male chauvinism in Who history. When Captain Knight asks scientist Anne Travers, "What's a girl like you doing in a job like this?", she responds, "Well, when I was a little girl, I thought I'd like to be a scientist, so I became a scientist." Later Classic Who seasons wrestled with the tenets of feminism; Season 5 -- in "Web of Fear," "The Enemy of the World" and "The Wheel in Space" -- celebrates them. All three serials are set in the future, but they're blissfully ahead of their time.
42. The Web Planet (First Doctor, 1965)
written by Bill Strutton
directed by Richard Martin
It offers up the most alien environment in all of Classic Who -- a world of giant, warring insects; of atmosphere so thick it shines and distorts; of underground dwellers and invaders from outer space -- and proves the ideal story for Martin, an imaginative sprite eager to experiment with camera and design. His serials are full of wonderful touches, but they often feel static, and typically, he runs out of tricks early on. The planet Vortis is his perfect playground; the story doesn't build any better than his other serials, but the images keep coming, and every five minutes or so, you're dumbstruck by their beauty. (The first time a Menoptra takes off into the air, effortlessly, as if its wings were truly carrying it aloft, if your heart too doesn't take flight, you should just turn in your Classic Who card.) "The Web Planet" is a serial where you follow the images, and that's fortunate, because you couldn't be asked to follow the dialogue: William Hartnell seems to be ad-libbing most of it. It's one of his most unfortunate performances, where whole passages seem to escape his memory -- and it's not a particularly good story for Maureen O'Brien either. There's one early scene with Vicki and Barbara that's charming, but it seems to have been added by story editor Dennis Spooner (it refers back to the previous serial, "The Romans," which he himself had written); as for the rest, Strutton seems to have devised Vicki's part with Susan in mind, and it shows. (It'll happen to O'Brien again three serials later, in Terry Nation's "The Chase.") But William Russell and Jacqueline Hill sell the serial, and then some. At one point, Ian is on a mountain ledge, lying reflectively on his back, conversing with a Menoptra, as if he were just out enjoying a picnic with an old friend. Russell and Hill have to spend most of the serial talking to giant butterflies, but the actors commit to the story-line so completely that it reflects well on the characters they play. Ian and Barbara seem at their most accepting and compassionate -- and ultimately at their most heroic.
41. Black Orchid (Fifth Doctor, 1982)
written by Terence Dudley
directed by Ron Jones
Part One is all smart lines, high spirits and gorgeous production values. First-time Who director Ron Jones doesn't linger over anything; the scenes are brief, but his camera catches everything -- there isn't a missed moment or a missed beat. It's all plot threads, but the threads are golden, and the interactions between Dudley's titled aristocracy and the TARDIS team are priceless. In Dudley's version of '20s high society, you don't need to disguise your alien roots; the self-absorbed wealthier classes will decide exactly how and where you fit in. (Nyssa, who turns out to be a dead ringer for pretty heiress Ann Talbot, confides that she's from Traken, and her hosts waste no time normalizing her: "Where's that?" "Near Esher, I think." "Could there be Talbots near Esher?" "Not possible. The hunt isn't good enough.") In Part Two, Dudley tries to weave his threads into something substantial (not a murder mystery, as some mischaracterize it, but a family drama), and he flounders. Dudley understands well how to mill atmosphere for suspense, but give him a piece of plotting that he has to explore, justify or -- heaven forbid -- resolve, and he goes to pieces. He creates marvelous characters, then has no idea how to use them to generate story. He establishes Lady Cranleigh's proud maternal instincts, suggesting that she would do anything to protect her children, but when the moment comes for her to turn on the Doctor to save her son, he can't make her actions convincing; she seems to be throwing him to the wolves just so Dudley can keep the plot in motion. If you only watched Part Two of "Black Orchid," you might think this historical two-parter a disappointment; even Davison, that most dutiful of Doctors, has one scene where he seems to be holding his head in dismay. But if you watch the episodes in proper order, Part Two gets by on the good will built up in Part One; things come undone, but not disastrously so.
40. The Mind Robber (Second Doctor, 1968)
written by Peter Ling
directed by David Maloney
It starts brilliant and ends brilliant; it's sustained brilliance that eludes it. One of the dangers of a serial like "The Mind Robber" is that when you build a story on, as the Doctor describes them, "conjuring tricks," you'd better have an endless bag of them, because the plot isn't building in any traditional way. Ling's bag is three-fourths full. Make no mistake: "The Mind Robber" is remarkable -- it's the Troughton era stretching beyond its own technical capabilities, in a way the early Hartnell era did routinely. But there's also something static and uncertain at its core. By the time Episode 3 ends with basically the same cliffhanger as Episode 2, the repetitive nature of the plot starts to grow tiresome, and once Episode 4 dissolves into some shaky set-pieces (Zoe doing repeated judo flips on a 21st-century comic-strip character, and later setting off an alarm in panic, as if she's never faced danger before; the Doctor bluffing his way into a castle with a comic accent that brings to mind the worst parts of "The Highlanders"), you can feel Ling flailing for ideas. Ling tries to suggest that the traps set for the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are there to gauge the Doctor's resourcefulness, to see if he's a worthy successor, but that's not borne out in the final confrontation, when we learn that all that's required is "a man of boundless imagination." So ultimately, the conjuring tricks serve no real narrative function, and David Maloney -- in his first professional directorial gig -- offers no solutions. Maloney would ultimately blossom into one of the best Who helmers; here he has good ideas and a "can do" spirit, but at times, he seems overwhelmed by the material. The last episode -- charged with imagination and filmed with precision -- compensates for a lot, and the scope and ambition of the story is never less than impressive. But you're left with a nagging irritation that the serial deserved one final rewrite, and someone more experienced calling the shots.
39. The Romans (First Doctor, 1965)
written by Dennis Spooner
directed by Christopher Barry
Doctor Who meets Plautus, by way of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (then enjoying its second year in the West End). "The Romans" is only the third effort by director Christopher Barry, whose Who career would span seventeen seasons, and it may well be his best work. A proficient story-teller who rarely came armed with more than the basics, here he adopts an easy elegance that keeps the script from growing too frantic or foolish. There's only one spot where his guiding hand falters: a series of quick chases and pratfalls down a long hallway that's a mess of mistimings. Otherwise, he seems to step back and look at everything with gentle fascination, much as Fiona Cumming would later do during the Fifth Doctor era. "The Romans" is best remembered as the serial to add humor to the historical, but Spooner doesn't just do jokes. He ensures that the humor grows naturally out of the story-line by setting the Doctor and his team on holiday (a Roman holiday) and letting their high spirits dictate the tone. Ian and Barbara see their vacation cut short (the pair are kidnapped and sold into slavery), and their story quickly turns dark. The Doctor and Vicki don't encounter any real threats till the end, and their adventure remains relatively lighthearted. And because Spooner intercuts between the two -- the frivolity of the Doctor and Vicki's story-line and the starkness of Barbara and Ian's -- he's permitted a duality in his realization of Nero (part lecherous buffoon, part cutthroat killer), a duality that only serves to make him more unpredictable and menacing. The same man who pursues Barbara down palace corridors in search of a quick snog is equally capable of stabbing a man in front of her, to assert his dominance. Still, in 1965, on the heels of the series' somber portraits of Marco Polo and the Aztecs, Nero seemed a bit of a lightweight. In 2016, we're more aware that, in the political arena, blustering know-nothings and serial philanderers can be at once laughable yet deeply dangerous. You could say "The Romans" is a serial that sadly has aged well.
38. Four to Doomsday (Fifth Doctor, 1982)
written by Terence Dudley
directed by John Black
The TARDIS companions are dismal (Janet Fielding actually gets worse as the serial goes along), but Peter Davison is already making some wonderful acting choices that will come to define the Fifth Doctor. Dudley was a second-rate writer, forever derided by Davison in the DVD commentaries, but he had one thing going for him: from his years spent directing All Creatures Great and Small, he knew Davison's rhythms and inflections. (He couldn't resolve a plot to save his life, and in two of his three Who serials, his solution when the Doctor finds himself in a jam is to make him ineffectual, so he won't wrap things up too quickly. No wonder Davison detested him.) "Four to Doomsday" was Davison's first serial filmed; Dudley had to set the tone for what follows and, armed with precious little information about Davison's take on the role, he does. Parts of it read like a Tom Baker script, but it doesn't undermine the Fifth Doctor the way, say, "Frontios" and parts of "Caves of Androzani" do. Quite the contrary: he nails the "reckless innocence" that Davison spoke of prior to assuming the role. Much of "Four to Doomsday" is exposition masquerading as plot, but it's so blithe and civilized, it doesn't much matter. For the first two episodes, characters meet, chat, posture, scheme, and trade secrets; nothing happens, but it's full of felicities (there's even a choreographed divertissement), and the set-design and direction are top-notch. (The sets are lit to match the costumes; even if you can't get into Dudley's gentlemanly exchanges, you can bliss out staring at the pretty colors.) Sometime after the halfway mark, Dudley tries for more traditional suspense, but few of the set-pieces -- Tegan's frantic efforts to fly the TARDIS, Nyssa's aborted reprogramming -- truly come off. And two sequences near the end -- a pantomime fight in an airlock and the disposal of the villain against a sea of chaos -- are an embarrassment. Still, for much of its length, the low-key "Four to Doomsday" is unexpectedly appealing.
37. The Savages (First Doctor, 1966)
written by Ian Stuart Black
directed by Christopher Barry
Hartnell always fared better in the historicals than in the futuristic serials, but the new production team wanted sci-fi, so Black does Hartnell the best turn possible: he writes a historical set in the future. Oh, "The Savages" has its out-of-this-world technology -- the plot turns on a machine that can absorb the life force from one human and plant it in another -- but at its heart, it's about the Doctor and his companions visiting a society whose methods and mores are familiar to the Doctor, and Hartnell doing the sort of deliberating and pontificating at which he excelled. Like Season 3's earlier "Galaxy 4," this one's a little light on plot and heavy on message. But its straightforward story-telling is confident and occasionally clever, and it's a good match for Christopher Barry's lean, efficient style. Ian Stuart Black invariably had a good handle on how best to use the Doctor and his companions -- sometimes better than the script editor himself. Dodo's curiosity and suspicious nature seem to spring from her upbringing and background; you're reminded how nice it is to have someone from modern-day Earth back on the TARDIS. Steven is ingenious, brave, sensible and authoritative; when the time comes for him to say goodbye to the Doctor and Dodo, you believe those qualities will serve him well on his new home. (Black creates the template for all the companions who leave the Doctor upon finding their true calling, from Jo Grant to Romana II to Nyssa.) And Black's handling of the Doctor is nothing short of cunning. Season 3 writers were challenged with devising scripts as original and entertaining as anything that came before them, but also minimizing Hartnell's role so that he could power through. Black solves the problem by having the Doctor drained by the life-force machine at the end of Episode 2, so that he's able to sit out much of Episode 3. But his energy -- and, unexpectedly, his personality -- are transferred to Jano, the leader of the Elders, and that allows Frederick Jaeger, in a bravura performance, to do a spot-on impression of Hartnell's Doctor. It keeps the Doctor's spirit alive while Hartnell gets time off to recharge, but more than that, it asserts that although Hartnell's screen time is dwindling, nothing can suppress the power of his personality.
36. The Power of the Daleks (Second Doctor, 1966)
written by David Whitaker
directed by Christopher Barry
Troughton comes out swinging, simultaneously more foolish and more fearsome than his predecessor, traits that would serve him well in the serials to come. Unfortunately, at this point, no one quite knows what to do with those traits -- they get defined without cohering into anything useful -- and the new Doctor is left in a reactive mode for much of the serial. The particular genius of "Power" is that even though we've seen the First Doctor transform into the Second, Troughton and Whitaker are content to let the doubt linger as long as possible ("Is he really the Doctor?") -- and in a masterstroke, we're ultimately convinced only because a Dalek recognizes him. Even Ben and Polly can't be sure, but his greatest enemy can, and therefore we can as well. But then, where Whitaker succeeds most is in his reimagining of the Daleks; he manages both a deconstruction and an upgrade. "Power" nods to the basic absurdity of their design: the Daleks use it to fool the colonists into thinking them harmless and subservient -- because logically, who'd be threatened by a verbally-challenged pepperpot? But it also gives them a long con that transforms them from mere mass murderers into master tacticians: able to analyze, manipulate and exploit human behavior. (In a way, the ruse that the Daleks execute in "Power" is precisely the one that will come to define the Second Doctor: using his appearance and demeanor to ensure that his enemies underestimate him.) The problem with "Power" is that Whitaker was unable to do the necessary rewrites; the script ran long, and Dennis Spooner was called in to do what was clearly a chop-fest: a key subplot is discarded with one line of dialogue. ("We've won! The revolution's over!" the chief scientist's assistant announces at the top of Episode 6. We didn't even know it was underway.) It's a moment that feels unlike Whitaker, who always liked to work tidy, and was probably a script doctor/script editor truncation. The rare six-parter that feels like it would have made a stunning eight-parter, "Power of the Daleks" has a few bracing cliff-hangers, a great bloodbath at the end, and some effective performances. But it gets the era off to a solid rather than sensational start.
35. Horror of Fang Rock (Fourth Doctor, 1977)
written by Terrance Dicks
directed by Paddy Russell
Dicks strips the horror story down to basics. It's the Doctor, Leela, and seven supporting players holed up in a lighthouse where an alien invader goes on a killing spree. Dicks wastes little time before the first murder; that frees him to separate the killings that follow by shrewd exposition and smart exchanges that ramp up the tension. But none of "Horror of Fang Rock" would count for anything without Louise Jameson. Dicks is the only writer other than Leela's creator, Chris Boucher, who envisions her without condescension: who marvels at the qualities that make her singular and weaves them into the fabric of the story-telling. The supporting players are fine -- there are some familiar types, well-drawn -- but there's not a standout performance, and sometimes they seem to be doing that slightly two-dimensional overplaying that was a hallmark of the Pertwee era. And Tom Baker is dripping with self-absorption. "Horror" is the serial during which Jameson took him to task for his poor treatment of her (he had been vocal from the start about not caring for the character of Leela, and his arrogance had bled through the screen in their first three adventures), and ultimately, he gained appreciation for her. That new-found respect is evident in "Horror," but now he's busy demonstrating his disdain for the director. (He and his previous co-star, Lis Sladen, were vocal about their dislike for Russell.) He seems to be going out of his way to be disruptive -- you almost sense him daring Russell to yell "cut." Truculent and undisciplined, he frequently stares into space while other characters are speaking, or upstages them with business; sometimes, he doesn't even seem to be putting much thought into his own lines, trusting his charisma to carry the day. Ironically, what sees him through is how much respect Louise Jameson is according him. She's giving the only flesh-and-blood performance, as she continues to develop Leela's ability to process information, trust her "savage" instincts, and reach smart conclusions -- all while balancing the womanly aggression and girlish innocence at the character's core. In a serial that boasts the most shameful performance by a Doctor in the classic series, Jameson serves up the single best performance by a companion.
34. The Time Warrior (Third Doctor, 1973-74)
written by Robert Holmes
directed by Alan Bromly
There's some hearty laughter that goes on a beat or two too long; the scene where Sarah Jane first enters the TARDIS is oddly filmed and edited; the nods to women's lib are tiresome and misguided; and the final part feels padded. Those flaws are noticeable, but prove minor. "Time Warrior" is a pseudo-historical romp that's devilishly designed and slyly sustained, neatly establishing a world in which a Medieval plunderer and an alien warrior would become frenemies -- and playing out that odd-couple relationship against the new, burgeoning partnership between the Doctor and Sarah Jane. Holmes had to lead off Doctor Who's eleventh season by introducing its eleventh new companion; he seizes on a novel approach that energizes the serial, letting her discover the show's time-traveling premise -- which had long since become second-nature to us -- without the Doctor present. Sarah Jane snoops around a police box and finds herself in the Middle Ages, and is left to her own devices: the character there to "ask the questions" has no one to offer the answers, so she's forced -- while her life hangs in the balance -- to fill both roles. ("Now, it's not a village pageant, it's too elaborate for that... A film set! No, no lights, no cameras.") It lets Holmes establish her quick wits and intelligence, and also allows him to gently comment -- as he so often would -- on the sweet absurdity of the show's conceit. Alan Bromly keeps the tone cheeky without letting it slip into camp, and Pertwee and Sladen enjoy instant chemistry. An irony of the Pertwee era: the companion he's most remembered with is Katy Manning, but the ones who inspired his most consistent performances were Caroline John and Lis Sladen. Pertwee was at his best when he was challenged, not coddled, and the conceptions of Liz Shaw and Sarah Jane Smith -- two no-nonsense companions who match him beat for beat -- did wonders for him.
33. Marco Polo (First Doctor, 1964)
written by John Lucarotti
directed by Warin Hussein
It operates on so many levels that its failings don't much matter. "Marco Polo" is about a journey: three of them, in fact. On the surface, it's about the journey that Marco Polo made to the Imperial Court in Peking in 1289: a journey that, however embellished, we're led to believe is historically accurate. Layered over that is the journey that the TARDIS crew makes with him -- turning fact into fiction. And finally, and crucially, it's about the weekly journey we make with the Doctor and his companions. Polo's expedition takes roughly three months, and when the serial first aired, over seven episodes, it seemed almost to take place in "real" time -- viewers were meant to feel the weight of the adventure as much as its participants. But impressive as its scope is, it's the tone that sets it apart. There's a marvelous synergy between Lucarotti's deliberately dispassionate recounting of events and Hussein's oblique framing of them. (Hussein is lent intoxicating support by Tristram Cary's musical score.) As with any long ride, the turning points aren't easily discerned as they fly by; as events unfold, you're frequently left off guard, uncertain whether moments are coming to a head, or whether they'll pass, unremarked upon and undeveloped. So you find yourself paying attention to the small gestures as much as the grand ones -- just as you would on any journey. (Notably, the only underwhelming episode is the fourth, guest-directed by John Crockett, where the set pieces build to more traditional climaxes. It takes Hussein nearly half the following episode to recover the quietly hypnotic tone.) "Marco Polo" celebrates the wonders and the dangers of traveling, and recognizes that the two aren't always distinguishable. Barbara is sidelined a bit, but Ian, the Doctor and Susan are all given strong characters to play opposite, and enjoy superior outings. It's a particularly good story for Susan, who has someone her own age to gossip with, scheme with, and fret about; it's one of the few times that she doesn't seem like the fifth wheel of the original TARDIS foursome, and Carole Ann Ford responds with a suitably radiant performance.
32. Image of the Fendahl (Fourth Doctor, 1977)
written by Chris Boucher
directed by George Spenton-Foster
Chris Boucher does Gothic horror just as the program is laying it to rest -- and outdoes most of his predecessors. A team of scientists working out of a manor house unleashes an ancient evil thought to have been destroyed by the Time Lords. It's got all the stock ingredients of the genre: the evil mastermind who turns out to be an innocent dupe; the disagreeable colleague who turns out to be the evil mastermind. Add one clairvoyant old lady and her rube grandson, shake and stir. It's nothing we haven't seen before, but Boucher comes armed with two secret weapons, and their push and pull on the viewer is almost intoxicating: on one side, the intuitive Leela, with her passionate defense of powers beyond our understanding; on the other, Adam Colby (winningly played by Edward Arthur), the least likely of scientists -- a dapper cynic, dripping with sarcasm, who comes down firmly on the side of logic and reason. Through these two, "Image" manages to both honor and mock the genre, often in quick counterpoint -- and it has one other thing going for it. As horror, it's not about mummies or alien plants or patchwork monsters. "Image" is about the unknown: it's the nightmare when something evil approaches, and you're paralyzed with fright; it's the threat calling from across the room that you shouldn't approach, but do. "Image" is rooted in our primal fears and most disturbing dreams, and that's fortunate, because once the unknown gets a face, it all becomes rather limp and ridiculous, and by the time one of the Embodiment of Evil's minions makes its way down a hallway, a paper mâché snake dripping with streamers (sort of a reject from a Chinese New Year parade), you've already adopted a "oh hell, why not?" attitude that sees you through.
31. The Macra Terror (Second Doctor, 1967)
written by Ian Stuart Black
directed by John Davies
The surviving clips look remarkably good, but the audio sounds even better. Davies lets the dialogue find its own pace and dynamic level. He shapes the serial, in a way that no Troughton director had to that point. But Black is the true hero of "The Macra Terror," and in fact, he's one of the forgotten heroes of Doctor Who: forgotten because, as with others, most of his serials are missing. "Macra Terror," like his earlier "Savages," offers a glimpse into a dystopian future masquerading as an idyllic one, where people are treated as commodities, where individuality is sacrificed to conformity, creativity to obedience. In some ways, in its depiction of a fascist society, yet one eerily like our own, it's even more relevant today than it was when originally aired. Black invariably knew how to create well-defined characters with short, bold strokes -- and then how to further develop them across four episodes -- and he always had a good grasp of how to use the regulars. The change in Troughton when he's given a good script and an empathetic director is astounding; his performance in "Macra Terror" is the first time all the traits he'd been playing with since "Power of the Daleks" coalesce; at times, his line readings take your breath away. It takes five serials, but in "Macra Terror," the Second Doctor finally becomes the Doctor. Black uses Michael Craze's edgy intensity to cast him in a villainous light, and he's never been better; with Ben's sanity temporarily derailed, Jamie is then able to assume more of a leading man role, and it suits Frazer Hines splendidly. Only poor Anneke Wills is reduced to shrieking in terror for much of the serial; it's almost as if producer Innes Lloyd and script editor Gerry Davis, once they'd decided to let her go, were determined to give her material that suited her least, so they wouldn't get second thoughts.
30. Frontier in Space (Third Doctor, 1973)
written by Malcolm Hulke
directed by Paul Bernard
It's ostensibly Hulke riffing on Cold War tensions, of the interplanetary kind. But "Frontier" isn't really about superpowers poised to strike; it's about The Power of Jo Grant. Katy Manning has never been as striking as she is here, with the warmth and fragility we've come to love now fortified by a tougher hide. As she bursts out of the TARDIS at the top, she's equal parts waif and moll, chewing gum as she informs the Doctor, "Well, I'm never going in that thing again!" And when he parries, she attacks: "Only you could have an accident in space!" Later, with the pair imprisoned by the Master, Jo is charged with prattling on long enough for the Doctor to escape. Her monologue has to be winning enough to entertain us, yet inconsequential enough for the Master to ignore -- and Manning knows just how to pitch it, delivering a tour-de-force performance. And finally, Jo and the Master get the rematch we've been waiting for since their first joint appearance, as she shows how far she's come: now able to beat him (twice) at his own game -- and relishing it. Jon Pertwee is also in top form. He was vocal about hating acting with rubber-faced aliens; reward him with some splendid masks that allow for facial expression, and he springs to life. The contours of the script are standard-fare Hulke -- multiple conversations hammering home the same points, the Doctor and Jo being dragged from one prison to another -- but the scenes themselves, mostly two-handers, show off the actors at their most appealing. (There's a nice exchange about a purple horse with yellow spots.) "Frontier" craves a better director, and the best you can say about Bernard is that he doesn't get in the way. But the serial boasts austere yet impressive futuristic settings, and when you place these actors in front of them (not just Pertwee, Manning and Roger Delgado, but Vera Fusek, Michael Hawkins, Peter Birrel and John Woodnutt, in imposing guest shots), it's the Pertwee era at its most charismatic.
29. The Pirate Planet (Fourth Doctor, 1978)
written by Douglas Adams
directed by Pennant Roberts
After a season where the writers flounder so with the character of Leela, it's gratifying to see how clearly and convincingly her follow-up, Romana, is defined. And the characterization is cunning. For over a season, Tom Baker had been disengaging from the material; in Romana, the creative team invent a character whose own aloofness forces Baker to pick up the slack. But even if they realized how useful Romana would be, they couldn't have envisioned how gloriously funny Mary Tamm would be in the role -- and never more so, perhaps, than in "The Pirate Planet," whether she's rattling the Doctor (referring to his TARDIS as a "capsule"), barking orders to K-9, or deferring to guards who are determined to arrest her. Forced into a squad car -- "Get in!" -- her politely imperious response is "I shall take that as an invitation"; Romana makes everything work on her terms. And speaking of everything working, "The Pirate Planet" is like an overstuffed goodie bag. It's not the first Who with a "throw it against the wall" mentality, it's merely the first one where everything sticks: air cars, linear-induction corridors, planets within planets -- plus the ultimate in dog vs. bird smack-downs. In an in-joke best seen in hindsight, Adams, then completing his first set of scripts for Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, has Romana and the Doctor do their own version of the famed hitchhiking scene in It Happened One Night. The serial may be called "The Pirate Planet," but it's Adams who's the real pirate, willing to plunder anything in the interest of self-amusement. All the usual caveats about Pennant Roberts' direction apply -- some mealy acting among the supporting cast, some shoddy effects -- but perhaps his brand of well-meaning scrappiness is just what's called for. With a more smooth technician at the helm, "Pirate Planet" would have been more polished, but would it have been more fun? You don't reach into a box of crackerjacks hoping to find a real diamond.
28. The Ice Warriors (Second Doctor, 1967)
written by Brian Hayles
directed by Derek Martinus
If there must be monster stories (and, of course, there must), could they all be directed as well as "Ice Warriors"? In anyone else's hands, the serial might have dissolved into a puddle of goo, but Martinus holds it together in his nerviest style. His visual approach is so bold, he almost dares you not to watch -- right from the start, as he sets the creative credits against an icy backdrop while sirens sing. If "Evil of the Daleks" showed he could weave disparate plot strands into something cohesive, "Warriors" proves he can take a potentially stagnant story and dazzle. (It's the show's greatest directorial tour-de-force until David Maloney on "Deadly Assassin.") And to Hayles' great credit, although his assignment was "give us a new monster," he understands that the true monsters are those in human form: here, the ones who destroy each other in the name of science. At the heart of "The Ice Warriors" is a frosty relationship desperately in need of thawing: between the imperious Leader Clent (Peter Barkworth, a triumph of method-acting mannerisms) and his canny but erratic chief scientist Penley (Peter Sallis, all avuncular scuffiness). "The Ice Warriors" feeds off those characters; it's also blessed with Troughton's best team. The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria were the perfect trio -- in particular, because of what Victoria inspired in Jamie: someone brave, bold, protective, and occasionally flirtatious. (Because more of Season 6 existed until recently, more folks prized the Doctor-Jamie-Zoe combo. But Zoe diminished Jamie; the Highlander with the street smarts and the sex appeal was no match for the two geniuses piloting the TARDIS, and Jamie was too often reduced to the role of village idiot.) Deborah Watling certainly wasn't the strongest actress to join the TARDIS crew, but that's not what she was there for: right from the start, in David Whitaker's "Evil of the Daleks," she was there to bring out the best in Jamie, who in turn brought out the best in the Second Doctor.
27. The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (Seventh Doctor, 1988)
written by Stephen Wyatt
directed by Alan Wareing
The one story from the final two seasons that truly showcases Sylvester McCoy, and not the Doctor that script editor Andrew Cartmel wishes he were. McCoy had shown enormous agility and charm throughout Season 24; at the top of Season 25, Cartmel reinvents the Doctor as a cunning mastermind -- not a bad idea, but one that does little for McCoy. He's forced to barrel his way through serials with ferocity and authority that don't come easy to him, and too often (most notably in "Ghostlight"), he turns to gurning as a substitute for rage. And from a pure plotting perspective, a Doctor who knows most of the answers going in, but has no time for explanations, frequently renders the supporting cast superfluous. (It happens to one of the series' best batch of featured players, in "Remembrance of the Daleks.") But "Greatest Show" is a marvelous vehicle for McCoy. It's not just the magic act that consumes most of the final episode, and that only McCoy could pull off; it's how the Doctor is caught off guard for much of the serial, and the nimble ways in which McCoy recovers. It's him stumbling out of the TARDIS at the start, and later tumbling into his seat under the big top. It's the thrill and embarrassment he conveys when told it's his turn to perform. And more than any specific moment, it's Wyatt's understanding that the Seventh Doctor triumphantly belongs among the misfits who frequent -- and work at -- the circus. Alan Wareing directs with the showmanship of a P.T. Barnum; the fragmented story-telling of the late McCoy era seems particularly suited to its procession of circus acts, but "Greatest Show," unlike the serials on either side of it, never feels frantic. On the contrary: it takes its sweet time, savoring every absurdity. We don't even reach the circus until Part 2, but the first episode is filled with so many memorable moments, you don't mind a bit. Part 1 also has one of the great character-based cliffhangers, in which the Doctor asks Ace, "Well, are we going in or aren't we?" Ace, for a change, isn't being swept along by events beyond her control, forced to confront her demons. She's simply being given an opportunity, and the serial asks: will she seize it?
26. The Myth Makers (First Doctor, 1965)
written by Donald Cotton
directed by Michael Leeston-Smith
A delight. Doctor Who, already adept at turning history into stories, now flips the script, as the Doctor turns a story into history. In Episode 1, the TARDIS sets down during the Trojan War; the Doctor is mistaken for Zeus and brought before Agamemnon and Menelaus. It's novel and entertaining, but you feel like it's not quite enough to build a script on. It's not: it's all preamble. In Episode 2, Cotton shifts his attentions to Troy and introduces King Priam, his daughter Cassandra and his son Paris, and this dysfunctional family both grounds and ignites the story. It's Doctor Who as ethnic sitcom, at that spot where insult humor and character comedy intersect. High Priestess Cassandra, with a voice pitched to the mezzanine, warns Paris, "The augeries were bad this morning. I woke full of foreboding," and Paris deadpans to the studio audience, "Never knew her when she didn't." Cotton weaves wonderful variations around The Odyssey and The Aeneid. Cassandra has had a vision of the fabled Trojan Horse: "I dreamed that out on the plain the Greeks had left a gift, and although what it was remained unclear, we brought it into Troy. Then at night, from out its belly, soldiers came and fell upon us as we slept." Except that Paris has found the TARDIS on the plains and brought it into Troy, and everyone presume that's the gift of which she's dreamed. (And indeed there is someone inside: Vicki, who emerges sheepishly.) Back at the Grecian camp, Odysseus has charged the Doctor with helping the Greeks sack Troy; eager to avoid turning the legend of the Trojan Horse into fact, the Doctor improvises madly (Hartnell at his funniest), suggesting a fleet of flying machines that could be catapulted, one man at a time, over the Trojan walls. But when told he'll be making the test run himself, he changes his tune ("I'm afraid we must face up to it, Odysseus: man was never meant to fly") and defaults to a hollow wooden horse. The brilliance of Cotton's conceit is that he doesn't tell the story of the Greeks invading Troy; he tells the story of Troy being invaded. One by one, everyone heads to Troy -- of course they do: that's where all the fun is. And only then, once everyone we care about has arrived, does the slaughter commence.