Sunday, July 16, 2017

Classic Doctor Who: ranked & reviewed (#10 - #1)

Completing my Classic Who countdown. (For the previous ten, click here; to start from the top, all the way back at #158, with the serials I find most resistible, click here. Or if you're looking for a particular serial, you can jump right to the index.) The serials below are my ten favorites. They include the best performances by the two greatest actors to play the Doctor in the classic series. Coincidence? Certainly not. Four of the ten are written by original script editor David Whitaker, who taught everyone else how to write Doctor Who, then showed them that he could do it better. Classic Who's best writer? Certainly. The serials below have moved me and inspired me; they're miraculous creations, and I have returned to each a dozen times or more. I suspect if Classic Who had turned out only these ten serials, I'd be no less a fan.

10. The Abominable Snowmen (Second Doctor, 1967)
written by Mervyn Haisman & Henry Lincoln
directed by Gerald Blake

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Classic Doctor Who: ranked & reviewed (#20 - #11)

Continuing my countdown of Classic Who serials, from my least-liked to my most-loved. (For the previous ten, click here; to start from the top, click here. Or if you're looking for a particular serial, you can jump right to the index.) Remarkably, as we enter my top 20, and once we pass the first one (the ultimate "love it or hate it" serial, and the last of the seven unfairly maligned serials I wrote about in 2013), these next ten are probably the serials where my opinions most match popular consensus. They're some of the most beloved classic serials, and I love them too -- although, as I've discovered, not always for the reasons others do.

20. Terminus (Fifth Doctor, 1983)
written by Stephen Gallagher
directed by Mary Ridge

Friday, July 14, 2017

Classic Doctor Who: ranked & reviewed (#30 - #21)

Continuing my countdown of Classic Who serials, from my least-liked to my most-loved. (For the previous ten, click here; to start from the top, click here. Or if you're looking for a particular serial, you can jump right to the index.) As we enter my top 30, maybe this is a good time to discuss "lost serials," as some of my favorite stories remain missing. Recently, I heard a Whovian dismiss the lost serials by insisting, "There's no way of knowing what they're really like." Of course there is. If the surviving audio is engrossing, if the telesnaps and production photographs reveal a credible design, if the director's talents are well-established or the dialogue feels well-played and well-paced (suggesting he had a good grip on the material), then the reconstructions tell you most of what you need to know. Since I started watching Doctor Who, quite a few missing episodes have been unearthed, and not once has a discovery made me radically rethink my impression of a serial. My favorite Cybermen story, my two favorite Dalek stories, and my four favorite historicals are partially or fully missing. Let's pray they're someday recovered, but in the meantime, the lack of video footage doesn't impair my enjoyment.

30. The Pirate Planet (Fourth Doctor, 1978)
written by Douglas Adams
directed by Pennant Roberts

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Classic Doctor Who: ranked & reviewed (#40 - #31)

Continuing my countdown of Classic Who serials, from my least-liked to my most-loved. (For the previous ten, click here; to start from the top, click here. Or if you're looking for a particular serial, you can jump right to the index.) This next ten include the first serials filmed by Patrick Troughton and Peter Davison, the two finest actors to play Classic Doctors. When I first started watching Classic Who, their genius seemed obvious at once to me -- and to my husband as well: an actor himself, with a performer's insights and seriously high standards. I remember going online soon after and seeing a lot of Troughton love -- and seeing a fair bit of Davison anger: mostly by people who, I realized, were still upset, some thirty years later, that he'd replaced "their Doctor," Tom Baker. As if still clinging to a child's view that Davison had somehow "forced" Baker out. I still see this attitude occasionally from adults. Let's not beat around the bush: there's a lot you can be subjective about where Classic Who is concerned; as I've said here, I'm delighted, like most of fandom, to entertain all opinions -- but if you can't see what a gifted actor Davison is (I would say the strongest of the Classic Doctors), then seek help. Peter Davison inspired my first essay here, a four-part look at his career.

40. The Savages (First Doctor, 1966)
written by Ian Stuart Black
directed by Christopher Barry

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Classic Doctor Who: ranked & reviewed (#50 - #41)

Continuing my countdown of Classic Who serials, from my least-liked to my most-loved. (For the previous ten, click here; to start from the top, click here. Or if you're looking for a particular serial, you can jump right to the index.) I think it tickles me that, as I begin my top-50 countdown, these next ten might be my most iconoclastic: to some, my most objectionable. What many consider the most lightweight Fifth Doctor serial (#46), sitting just ahead of the one often labeled a classic (#49). A Seventh Doctor serial that many hate, from a season they hate even more (#45). A Third Doctor serial that, even among its cast and crew, has become a Doctor Who punchline (#48). And a couple of First Doctor marmites (#50, #44). I adore them all. When I wrote earlier about the Hartnell era, I hailed its unwillingness to settle on a formula; in Who's later years, when formulas have become standard, I gravitate towards the serials that surprise me -- that shake things up. I'm happiest when I see the creative team straining to do something different: angling for originality, for boldness in the face of complacency. When they do that, I'm more than willing to forgive the gaffes and misfires.

50. The Gunfighters (First Doctor, 1966)
written by Donald Cotton
directed by Rex Tucker

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Classic Doctor Who: ranked & reviewed (#60 - #51)

Continuing my countdown of Classic Who serials, from my least-liked to my most-loved. (For the previous ten, click here; to start from the top, click here. Or if you're looking for a particular serial, you can jump right to the index.) It's been fascinating for me to rank the serials, and discover things about my own viewing preferences I never realized. I knew I liked the William Hartnell era (I devoted a three-part essay to it), but I didn't realize how much. But of my top-60 serials, Hartnell crops up more than any other Doctor (14 times, then 12 each for Tom Baker and Peter Davison). And although I'm fond of Hartnell himself, I don't respond to him as an actor the way I do Troughton or Davison -- so it's not because of him that I rate the era so high. I love its spirit. It's a creative team working without a net, with no template for what will work and what won't -- and even when they latch onto a winning formula, they're insistent not to repeat themselves. When the scope of your show is so broad -- all of time and space -- why would you repeat yourself? You never know what's coming next in the Hartnell era, and much of the time, it's masterful. Doctor Who would never again get so jazzed about being Doctor Who.

60. The Daleks' Master Plan (First Doctor, 1965-66)
written by Terry Nation and Dennis Spooner
directed by Douglas Camfield

Monday, July 10, 2017

Classic Doctor Who: ranked & reviewed (#70 - #61)

Continuing my countdown of Classic Who serials, from my least-liked to my most-loved. (For the previous ten, click here; to start from the top, click here. Or if you're looking for a particular serial, you can jump right to the index.) This ten includes two helmed by Douglas Camfield, my favorite Classic Who director. My top five would be Camfield, Derek Martinus, David Maloney, Paddy Russell and Fiona Cumming; I prize their taste and talent above the others, but I've never stopped to think if their serials are among my favorites. But I see that, of their combined 31 serials, over half are in my top 50, and 24 are in my top 50%. So although the limited budgets and time constraints meant that Classic Who was rarely a director's medium, there's no denying that the best of them had an enormous impact; as these five showed, they could elevate a modest story into a good one ("Galaxy 4," "Invasion of the Dinosaurs"), and a good story into a great one ("Castrovalva," "Terror of the Zygons," "The Deadly Assassin").

70. The Two Doctors (Sixth Doctor, 1985)
written by Robert Holmes
directed by Peter Moffatt

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Classic Doctor Who: ranked & reviewed (#80 - #71)

Midway through my countdown of Classic Who serials, from my least-liked to my most-loved. (For the previous ten, click here; to start from the top, click here. Or if you're looking for a particular serial, you can jump right to the index.) Two of the serials below, #77 and #78, were included in a set of essays I wrote in October of 2013, in defense of seven Classic Who serials that I felt were unfairly maligned. Most of fandom, from what I've seen, would place them much lower. I see the issues folks have with them, but I find their flaws outweighed by elements that are imaginative, invigorating and audacious -- everything I love about the classic series.

80. The Five Doctors (Fifth Doctor, 1983)
written by Terrance Dicks
directed by Peter Moffatt

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Classic Doctor Who: ranked & reviewed (#90 - #81)

Continuing my countdown of Classic Who serials, from my least-liked to my most-loved. (For the previous ten, click here; to start from the top, click here. Or if you're looking for a particular serial, you can jump right to the index.) We're nearly halfway through, and fittingly, midway through this next ten, we moved from serials that I consider flawed, but with elements I quite love, to serials that I quite love, despite their flaws.

90. Destiny of the Daleks (Fourth Doctor, 1979)
written by Terry Nation
directed by Ken Grieve

Friday, July 7, 2017

Classic Doctor Who: ranked & reviewed (#100 - #91)

Continuing my countdown of Classic Who serials, from my least-liked to my most-loved. (For the previous ten, click here; to start from the top, click here. Or if you're looking for a particular serial, you can jump right to the index.) As we enter my top 100, I'd like to offer some "special thanks." When I started watching Classic Who in late 2011, I went into it "cold." But within six months, I was anxious to see what others had to say. I wasn't looking for folks to validate my opinions; I was looking for folks with fresh and distinctive points of view, who'd get me thinking about the serials in ways I hadn't expected. When I started my blog in September of 2012, those were the folks who inspired me. I knew I could never be as informed as they were, but I hoped I could follow their example and write from the heart. My deepest thanks to Paul Reed, to Walt Dunlop, to John Bensalhia, to Mike "Siskoid" and to John Bierly. Your willingness to pour out your spirit in prose emboldened me to try; as the five of you know, this blog has been a balm for me, and I will be forever grateful.

100. Logopolis (Fourth Doctor, 1981)
written by Christopher H. Bidmead
directed by Peter Grimwade

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Classic Doctor Who: ranked & reviewed (#110 - #101)

Continuing my countdown of Classic Who serials, from my least-liked to my most-loved. (For the previous ten, click here; to start from the top, click here. Or if you're looking for a particular serial, you can jump right to the index.) Once again, a great example of how some of my opinions veer from the "norm." This next ten includes three (#103, #106, #107) considered among the First, Second and Fifth Doctors' worst, which I can't bring myself to hate nearly as much as many do. (Their flaws are clear, but in each, there are elements I admire.) Oh, and the story that fanzines often cite as the single best classic serial, which just misses my top 100.

110. The Chase (First Doctor, 1965)
written by Terry Nation
directed by Richard Martin

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Classic Doctor Who: ranked & reviewed (#120 - #111)

Continuing my countdown of Classic Who serials, from my least-liked to my most-loved. (For the previous ten, click here; to start from the beginning, click here. Or if you're looking for a particular serial, you can jump right to the index.) This next ten, I see, includes three serials from Seasons 8 and 9. When my husband and I first started watching Classic Who in 2011, we were armed with a dozen DVD's recommended by a friend. As Third Doctor serials, he'd suggested his first two, "Spearhead From Space" and "The Silurians." "Spearhead" we found enjoyable, but "Silurians" felt endless, and when it was over, we turned to each other with the same request: "Can we move on to another Doctor?" The Jon Pertwee era, or at least what promised to be a "Doctor stranded on Earth" set of stories, wasn't the Who we wanted to view. (Having come to NuWho first, we had been weaned on David Tennant and Matt Smith, with big adventures through time and space.) I obviously returned to the Pertwee era later on, and grew to admire many things about it, but Seasons 8 and 9 are not, to my mind, a high point for the series, as I note more extensively in my three-part Third Doctor essay.

120. The Seeds of Doom (Fourth Doctor, 1976)
written by Robert Banks Stewart
directed by Douglas Camfield

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Classic Doctor Who: ranked & reviewed (#130 - #121)

Continuing my countdown of Classic Who serials, from my least-liked to my most-loved. (For the previous ten, click here; to start from the top, click here. Or if you're looking for a particular serial, you can jump right to the index.) A year or so after I fell in love with Classic Who, I began to interact with more and more fans, and came to appreciate how the community -- at least, the best of it -- embraced all opinions. With 158 serials to choose from, there was an understanding that no two people were going to feel the same about the entire classic catalog, and so fandom adopted a "live and let live" policy. As I noted in my first entry, my opinions deviate from "popular consensus" more than most, I suspect, and perhaps these next ten are a good example of how often I seem to offer the "minority report." They include four serials (#130, #129, #123 and #122) that most fans seem to hate much more than I do, and three beloved nods to the horror genre (#128, #126 and #121) that I consider, well, pretty horrid.

130. Time and the Rani (Seventh Doctor, 1987)
written by Pip & Jane Baker
directed by Andrew Morgan

Monday, July 3, 2017

Classic Doctor Who: ranked & reviewed (#140 - #131)

Continuing my countdown of Classic Who serials, from my least-liked to my most-loved. (For the previous ten, click here; to start from the top, click here. Or if you're looking for a particular serial, you can jump right to the index.) Two of the next ten are helmed by Morris Barry, two by Chris Clough and one by Paul Bernard, among the dreariest directors to ever darken the Doctor Who soundstages. It's probably not a coincidence that I rate these serials so low. But lest you fear that I'll be trashing the classic series for pages to come, I see that just below, somewhere around #134, there's a perceptible shift in the tone of my reviews, as we move from serials for which I have little affection to ones that, despite their flaws, have an element or two that keep drawing me in, every time.

140. The Tomb of the Cybermen (Second Doctor, 1967)
written by Kit Pedler & Gerry Davis
directed by Morris Barry

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Classic Doctor Who: ranked & reviewed (#150 - #141)

Continuing my countdown of Classic Who serials, from my least-liked to my most-loved. (To start from the top, click here. Or if you're looking for a particular serial, you can jump right to the index.) A lot of firsts this time: the first appearance of one of the Doctors, the first appearance of one of the most popular companions, and the first script by the show's most prolific (and many fans' favorite) writer. I kind of hate 'em all. When I did my series of seven neglected Classic Who stories, a friend asked if I was trying to make a point that, even in the worst serials, there's plenty to love. Not at all. There are quite a few serials I find unlovable. And that's OK. When I was younger, you could like a show and still dislike some episodes; today, in some circles, appreciation means unconditional surrender -- if you complain about a series, you're not really a fan. I adore Classic Who, but find only about half the serials hugely entertaining. And I won't pretend that all the actors who played the Doctor were equally talented, and of the most talented ones, I don't claim that they're equally brilliant in every serial. I call 'em as I see 'em, but that doesn't diminish my affection for the series. For me, its highs more than make up for its lows, and even at its worst, there's always that delicious and delirious premise -- of traveling through time and space in a blue police box that's "bigger on the inside." And so I can adore Classic Who and still be forthright about its faults -- as I try to be here. The following ten serials are, to my mind, wildly unsuccessful, for an assortment of reasons.

150. The Twin Dilemma (Sixth Doctor, 1984)
written by Anthony Stevens
directed by Peter Moffatt

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Classic Doctor Who: ranked & reviewed (#158 - #151)

I discovered the classic series of Doctor Who in late 2011; the following summer, it inspired my first blog post. Having since developed a fairly unhealthy addiction to Classic Who, and with my blog still chugging along after five years, I wanted to do something special to celebrate them both: the TV series that's given me enormous pleasure, and the blog that's helped me focus my thoughts, share them with others, and get through some patchy health periods. I wanted it to be a "grand gesture." So I figured I'd rank and review all 158 classic serials, from the ones I like least to the ones I cherish most. (If you're looking for a particular serial, to see where I rank it and to read the review, you can jump right to the index.) I came to Classic Who "cold." I knew nothing of which Doctors and companions were revered and which reviled: which periods were most beloved and which most belittled. But I quickly formed strong feelings about the various Doctors and the actors who played them, as well as about companions and writers and directors -- and was ultimately surprised to see how much my feelings differed from "fan consensus." But I've never been swayed by popular opinion. If you're looking for another paean to Hinchcliffe and Holmes, you won't find it here. I can only offer you thoughts (and perhaps an insight or two) informed by my background, my outlook, my preferences and my passions. This is the last Classic Who essay I'll be writing, but it's certainly not the last time I'll be sitting down to most of these serials. That said, we begin with eight serials that you couldn't pay me to watch again.

158. Mindwarp (Sixth Doctor, 1986)
written by Philip Martin
directed by Ron Jones