Category Archives: summary

Articles not related to a particular episode, summarising a season or character in general.

[The Seventh Doctor: Summary + Best Episodes]

To say that Sylvester McCoy’s turn as the Doctor got off to a bad start is something of an understatement. Season 24 is dreadful, following on from two seasons that are almost just as dreadful. That he managed to turn things around is a testament to his talent as an actor and of the skill of the writing and production team, and thankfully it means that Doctor Who ended on a reasonably high point.

Seasons 25 is the turning point, throwing up a couple of good serials. Season 26 is where the show blossoms into a confident and modernised version of itself. There are definite hints of the current era show in these stories, particularly the final three that focus on Ace’s character. The lack of studio shooting also lends a more natural visual style to these episodes, more in line with what we expect on TV these days. These seasons are also the closest thing I have to “my era” of Doctor Who, with some vague memories of McCoy in his hat and umbrella, Dalek claws and chalk circles having stayed in my head for the past 25 years.

I’ve already commented somewhat on Mel, a total non-entity that the Doctor is lumbered with for his first season. That her departure coincides with the panto style being phased out is surely no coincidence. As for Ace, I like her as a character – her short temper and “act first, think later” style reminds me of Leela – but Sophie Aldred’s acting often verges on the cringeworthy, with lines like “oi, wotch it, tin ‘ed!” and “yeah, brill!” dominating much of her dialogue. That said, when she’s written well, like in Curse of Fenric or Survival, she is perfectly watchable, and a good companion for the Doctor.

Thoughts on the Seventh Doctor

In some ways, each successive actor has an easier time playing the Doctor, because they have increasingly more inspiration to draw from. In McCoy’s physicality and facial expressions, I see hints of Jon Pertwee. In his friendly professor-like tone, I’m reminded of Peter Davison. In his mannerisms and expressions, I see hints of Patrick Troughton. In his darker threatening side and righteous rants, I see hints of the Bakers. He even carries himself in a “dignified elderly gentleman” way that reminds me a little of William Hartnell. He’s basically all the best bits of the Doctors throughout history, but somehow makes this style his own.

He has a few quirks. McCoy retains his own accent, which makes me wonder why David Tennant never did. Perhaps they thought it would more difficult to understand a Scottish accent in other countries? Admittedly, McCoy does have a tendency to mumble through some of his lines, making them hard to hear, but his actual voice is great. I like how he rolls all of his arrs (Rs? Rrrs? Arse?) to such an extent that he makes a big thing about it, intentionally choosing words with Rs in them and rrrrrevelling in the lovely arriness of them.

McCoy has a lot of range, too. He can be the “pratfalling fool”, but also be a commanding presence, or calmly talk a gunman out of shooting him by delivering a somber speech about death. I can’t think of anything that he’s done wrong or handled badly. He had to put up with some terrible scripts early on, but he has really surprised me on the whole. I’m torn over whether I like McCoy more than Troughton. I think it’s a close call, and Troughton just about pips it, but maybe I’d have to revisit some of those early serials again to refresh my memory. Regardless of ranking, I consider the seventh Doctor a more than successful portrayal, and I doff my panama hat to Sylvester McCoy.

Tom Baker > Patrick Troughton > Sylvester McCoy > Peter Davison > Colin Baker > Jon Pertwee > William Hartnell

Episode Highlights

It’s safe to say that I will be discounting anything from season 24 in my best of list. Dragonfire was the only one remotely worth watching, but seasons 25 and 26 top that easily, with the “Ace Trilogy” being a particular highlight (although since I would have to watch Ghost Light several times before I could consider it a favourite, I’m afraid it doesn’t make the top three this time).

Remembrance of the Daleks (4 parts)
This smartly-written story uses some great misdirection, while exploring themes like racism. It makes amends for so many bad Dalek stories up until now.

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (4 parts)
This is a creepy story made on a small budget, but the performances and direction make it work remarkably well.

The Curse of Fenric (4 parts)
Like watching a different show entirely, The Curse of Fenric is classy, well-produced and features the most dramatic Doctor/companion scene since… well, ever?

Thoughts on the entire show, 1963 to 1989

On the whole, I am glad I embarked on this journey through time and space. My intention was to familiarise myself with the whole story of “The Doctor” from beginning to end, and I by watching every single episode, I have done just that.

However, as is the case with many TV shows, the quality does vary. In Doctor Who’s case, the quality varies a lot, and watching every single episode is like an exercise in masochism. That’s why I made a note of my favourite serials while going through them. For anyone with a more casual interest in the show’s early years, it’s probably better to watch the “highlights” and ignore the rest. Maybe I’ll revisit some of these stories and revise my lists accordingly, but for the time being, I think my favourite picks for each Doctor hold up well enough. You can see them on the ‘Summary’ link next to each Doctor on the Episodes page.

As any show that goes on for as long as Doctor Who has done, there are changes over the years. Black and white to colour, film to video, stage to location, a range of styles from humour to tragedy, melodrama to hard science, fantasy, history, monsters and characters. Changes of actors, changes of tone, changes in theme, of music and directing and editing. An Unearthly Child couldn’t be much more different from Survival, and yet the core threads of humanity and adventure run through them.

Despite all these changes, there is one consistency that makes “Old Who” difficult for many new fans to digest. I don’t want to come across as superficial, but unfortunately studio video productions like this have a certain look and feel to them that is decidedly un-modern. It’s not just the “video look” of the picture, but by shooting a multi-camera production in a three-walled set-up like that, you have certain limitations. It feels more like a stage play, particularly in the early days where they rarely did any retakes. Everything is shot straight through. Everyone tilts their bodies towards the cameras. Dramatic angles are few and far between, and the lack of additional takes makes for some unconvincing edits, particularly where monsters are involved. Lighting looks artificial, sets look like sets. There were times when some directors pushed the boundaries and tried something visually interesting, but it’s quite telling that they usually went over-budget and weren’t brought back. There’s a reason that Spearhead from Space is still a pleasure to watch, and it’s not just Robert Holmes’ script – the studio strike was a blessing in disguise.

Nevertheless, despite all its issues, despite all of its cheapness, its low budgets, its melodramatic style, Doctor Who is still a science fiction show with some great ideas, some great writing, and some great performances, you just have to dig a little to find it. Over the course of this adventure, I have crammed in so much content in such a short space of time, that it’s difficult to digest it all, but I think Tom Baker’s era will remain my favourite. He is a superb actor that made the role of the Doctor his own, and it coincided perfectly with a writing and production team that took some risks and weren’t afraid to make Doctor Who scary and memorable.

This isn’t quite over yet. Doctor Who is still alive and well today after 50 years, and I want to revisit the 2005 reboot and onwards to see if I have a fresh perspective on it now. I also have one more chance to enjoy a new appearance from Sylvester McCoy in the Paul McGann TV movie, which I actually saw when it was first shown, but I cannot remember much about it.

But this point now officially marks the end of “stuff I haven’t seen before” and anything else will just be a catch up. Preferably over a nice cup of tea with some crumpets.

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[The Sixth Doctor: Summary + Best Episodes]

I gather that Colin Baker’s version of the Doctor is not all that popular with fandom. With only two short seasons under his belt, he doesn’t get much of a chance to cast a good impression. I understand there are some audio plays featuring the character that paint him in a better light, but that is outside of the scope of this project, so I can only comment on what I’ve seen in these episodes.

Seasons 22 and 23 and have been, shall we say, “mixed”. Although that’s perhaps being a tad generous. A change of tone has crept into the show lately, a weird mix of silly and creepy, and my overriding memory of these stories is of some poorly-judged moments and not much else. Generally speaking, the quality of the production has remained consistent, but the writing and performances have not. Early Colin Baker episodes are more focused with convincing us that this change of actor was a good idea, throwing in some classic references, whereas the the latter half is in a more experimental format, with mixed results.

The modern trend of the single female companion possibly began here, as the sixth Doctor travels with one at a time. Firstly, there’s Peri, who seems to focus so hard on getting her accent right that she forgets to act convincingly. The Doctor and Peri have a strange relationship, bickering like a married couple. Since Peri rarely seems to be enjoying herself, I have to wonder why she didn’t decide to leave sooner. It’s not like the sixth Doctor is the person she originally agreed to travel with, and she never seems to get on well with him. That said, her exit is awful and so out of character, as if she was written out on a whim and they couldn’t decide how to do it. Then there’s Mel, who isn’t even introduced, she’s just suddenly there. There’s not much bickering between them so far, but I don’t particularly like her either.

Thoughts on the Sixth Doctor

Unlike Davison, Colin Baker’s version of the Doctor seems intent on making you dislike him. Right off the bat, he’s arrogant, dismissive, rude and righteously indignant, as if the whole universe has gone mad and blames him for it. This leads to a bit of a one-note performance, best characterised by his repeating the last word someone says to him as a question, in an increasing pitch. “Lost? LOST?!!”

This isn’t the first time the Doctor has been played as an arsehole, of course. The first Doctor was rarely friendly, and the less said about the grumpy old third Doctor, the better. However, even Jon Pertwee’s take on the character would occasionally mellow and show a more charming side (okay, VERY occasionally). Colin Baker’s version tries to do the big ego thing like Tom Baker, only he doesn’t have the gravitas for that either. Well, to be fair, I don’t think Colin Baker is a bad actor, it’s more a case of poor writing and a one-note style. However, in The Trial of a Time Lord (and all of the linking sections from that season), Colin Baker shows that he does have a good performance in him. Ranting about the Time Lords becoming decadent and corrupt is superb, the perfect way to channel all that indignation towards something positive.

Which leads me to my ranking. This is becoming increasingly difficult to decide upon. I don’t think Colin Baker was particularly good as the Doctor, but likewise he didn’t have very long to become good, either. Jon Pertwee’s the better actor, but his character was regularly detestable as well, and he stuck around for far longer than I would have liked, whereas Colin Baker’s run was short-lived enough to be tolerable. I also want to try to separate the quality of the character from the quality of the episodes, which isn’t always easy. And my thoughts on Hartnell haven’t changed much since, either. With that in mind, I would currently settle on the following order (subject to change, terms and conditions apply):

Tom Baker > Patrick Troughton > Peter Davison > Colin Baker > Jon Pertwee > William Hartnell

Episode Highlights

With barely two seasons to pick from, it’s no great task to pull out the “best of”, although none of these would rank amongst the overall best. The Trial of a Time Lord makes things slightly harder, because it’s one story spread across many, and some of the good bits are interspersed with truly awful episodes like Mindwarp. Picking out the three top stories seems appropriate, so here they are:

Vengeance on Varos (2 45-min parts)
Grim and darkly comic, this serial is nevertheless enjoyable and has some memorable moments.

The Mark of the Rani (2 45-min parts)
Daft and lighthearted, the unique setting and the Master/Rani team-up make for some fun scenes.

The Trial of a Time Lord – The Mysterious Planet (4 25-min parts)
A good sci-fi story that would function just as well without the courtroom framing narrative, but opens with its most impressive sequence.

[The Fifth Doctor: Summary + Best Episodes]

Davison’s run of episodes is the shortest so far. Even though he had three seasons plus a special (roughly what Hartnell and Troughton both had), each season has been shorter since the show went to colour, which means, in terms of episodes, Davison’s time on the show feels remarkably short-lived!

Not much has really changed since the latter half of Tom Baker’s stories. The show still flirts with science, mythology, humour and darkness. There are still scary monsters, disturbing imagery and a fair dose of silliness. There are still over-the-top villains, good and bad theatrical performances and action scenes that range from competent to absolutely dreadful. Peter Davison takes on a more action-heavy role, but it hasn’t really changed very much overall.

The show has begun to indulge in its own history a bit more, but this was in part due to the anniversary year. Season 20 and the anniversary special contain a lot of fun throwbacks and some good stories too. Season 21 is rather poor until it picks up at the end. Overall, the range of stories in these three seasons is quite mixed, with some more lighthearted adventures than usual sprinkled throughout.

The Doctor’s companions don’t change much over his shorter run. He almost always has a group, as that seems to be how he works best. Tegan is with him for almost the entire time (having joined shortly before his regeneration, and left shortly before the next one!). Nyssa and Adric are bland and awful respectively. The arrival of Turlough is intriguing and he becomes very entertaining and over-the-top. Kamelion might as well have not been there at all, appearing all but twice. And Peri has only really just settled in, but she makes quite an entrance. Then there’s the younger model, the new Doctor himself…

Thoughts on the Fifth Doctor

If Tom Baker was your mad uncle, Peter Davison is your favourite school teacher. On the whole, he’s a friendly type, but if you step out of line, he will not hesitate to scold you for it. The fifth Doctor is very much an adventurer, with all the same curiosities inherited from his previous incarnations, but with the energy of youth within him too, who wants nothing more than to share the wonders of the universe with his “students”.

He’s wise beyond his years, naturally, but at times he is pushed to physical violence and aggression. I think it’s fair to say that Davison has had a mixed time as the Doctor, but when he’s written well, he can really pull off a good range. As he’s often written into situations where he is virtually powerless, he does handle desperation and panic well. He’s not an eccentric like Baker or Troughton’s versions, but he has some funny lines or quirks. More than once he’s done that thing where he tosses a coin to choose a direction, but tosses it again anyway to get the outcome he wanted.

Mostly, Davison’s Doctor is just a “nice guy”. It’s difficult to dislike him, but at the same time, it’s tough to say that he has a strong personality either. Coming after Baker, the worst you could say is that he’s a little bit bland. However, he is never a detestable bore or anything less than likeable, so that leaves my order of preference looking something like the below (feel free to disagree, naturally):

Tom Baker > Patrick Troughton > Peter Davison > Jon Pertwee > William Hartnell

Episode Highlights

I haven’t had too much trouble picking out my favourite Davison serials. There aren’t as many to choose from and the good ones are fairly easy to pick out. That said, there are some stories that had potential that was squandered by poor plotting or bad production (such as Earthshock). Likewise, there are those that are glossy and well-made but make very little sense (like Resurrection of the Daleks). My list favours originality, style and good fun. Naturally, I’m open to discussion and I always reserve the right to completely change my mind. Here are my picks:

The Visitation (4 parts)
A standard historical alien invasion, accompanied by a loveable rogue highwayman. Good fun!

Mawdryn Undead (4 parts)
A clever use of time travel, some excellently grotesque creatures and the return of the Brigadier.

Enlightenment (4 parts)
Nicely wraps up the Black Guardian Trilogy and provides a big sci-fi idea in a unique setting.

The Five Doctors (1 special)
Is it cheating to include this? A smorgasbord of nostalgia, the best bits of Doctor Who join forces for a fun romp.

Planet of Fire (4 parts)
Character drama comes through as Turlough leaves and Peri joins. A good story and nicely filmed.

The Caves of Androzani (4 parts)
This dark and sophisticated story pushes Peter Davison to his best performance.

[The Fourth Doctor: Summary + Best Episodes]

The arrival of Tom Baker seemed to bring with it a change of tone – not for the first time. Since the character was more jovial (compared to the stern Pertwee version), the stories developed a humour to them as well. When coupled with dark themes, this gave some of the stories a distinctive style of their own. It added wit and charm to darkness and horror, and handled it all with confidence. I’ve watched this show gradually transform from melodramatic stage drama to rather ambitious TV sci-fi that pushed the envelope in many ways. Some serials, like The Deadly Assassin, made bold changes to shake up the format, and it’s been an interesting journey to work through them.

This era of Doctor Who is widely regarded by fans as the definitive era, the golden years, and I can see why. Certainly, seasons 13 and 14 represent a high point of quality and consistency. There are a few missteps along the way, and towards the end things start getting a bit stale, but nevertheless, this is the most consistent run of good stories so far.

Along the way has been a collection of companions who have perhaps been overshadowed next to the Doctor. Sarah Jane Smith was witness to the Doctor’s transformation from Three to Four but her potential was never fully realised. Romana was an attempt to match the Doctor’s intellect, but she was never developed much as a character herself (before or after her change of appearance). Leela was my favourite, being so out of touch with the world(s) around her, and providing a primal energy and resourcefulness that complimented the Doctor nicely. Her departure was weakly handled.

But before I agonise over my favourite serials, there is the matter of the Doctor himself.

Thoughts on the Fourth Doctor

What can I say about Tom Baker as Doctor Who that hasn’t been said countless times before? All I can add, as an outsider (coming from modern era first), is that I see exactly from where Eccleston, Tennant and Smith draw their inspiration. He IS the Doctor, the yardstick by which others will always be judged. Tom Baker portrays the Doctor as an eccentric alien, but maintains an air of humanity and compassion. He always gives the impression that he has a universe of thoughts running through his mind, evidenced by his absent-mindedness and in the way he changes his mind or contradicts himself and others at the drop of a hat.

He is able to be preoccupied by the smallest of things, like his scarf or jellybabies, even while the fate of the universe hangs in the balance. The way he faces down death with a smile, mockery and an undercurrent of threat, is just masterful. Such is the Doctor’s strong presence, that he is even able to assert his authority in any given situation, pretending to be somebody else or simply dodging the questions and taking charge, without the need for the ‘psychic paper’ McGuffin of later series.

If I have any complaints about Tom Baker’s version of the Doctor, it would simply be that some of his mannerisms start to wear thin. After seven years of TV (crammed into four months), that is understandable. Admittedly, offering jellybabies to people remained as funny to me as ever, but his contradictory plans, low mumbling punctuated with shouts of “come on” in the last couple of seasons did start to grate. The way he would escape death so often could weaken the sense of threat and drama. Also, on occasion, his character became a little too detached and inhuman, but this was a rarity.

On the whole, Tom Baker has been superb, so much so that even the poor stories are brought to life by his performance. He has effortlessly topped my list of Doctors, so my order of preference right now looks like this:

Tom Baker > Patrick Troughton > Jon Pertwee > William Hartnell

Episode Highlights

Picking out the cream of the crop of Tom Baker stories has been difficult. Not only do I have to choose from seven seasons of stories, more than any other Doctor, but there are just so many that are almost impossible to separate without being a bit ruthless. It would be easier for me to list the bad ones, or certainly quicker, or to pick twenty-odd serials that I thought were good enough to mention. Alas, I am imposing a limit of seven, which seems fair, so inevitably, some good ones slip through the net. A shame, as I enjoyed The Android Invasion and The Pirate Planet, for instance, but they won’t get a mention. Oh, hang on, they just did!

The Sontaran Experiment (2 parts)
A low-key tale of Sontaran wickedness and Time Lord cunning. Gripping sci-fi done on a tiny budget.

Pyramids of Mars (4 parts)
A change of scenery and an imposing villain add a lot to this well-written four-parter.

The Deadly Assassin (4 parts)
This mystery story changes to a darker tone, brings back an old villain and explores the Time Lords home world.

The Robots of Death (4 parts)
A “Who-dunnit” with robots, thought-provoking themes and a cast of likable characters.

The Sun Makers (4 parts)
An Orwellian nightmare pushed to farcical extremes, it is nevertheless very modern and watchable.

City of Death (4 parts)
A jaunty contemporary style makes this a lighthearted adventure in Paris and beyond.

The Leisure Hive (4 parts)
A solid story is backed up by the best studio direction and audio work I’ve encountered in this series so far.

[The Third Doctor: Summary + Best Episodes]

Colour picture wasn’t the only change to Doctor Who for its seventh season. In fact, far bigger was the change to Earth-based stories and a stronger emphasis on story arcs and recurring characters. Some of these quite successfully showed that you could still have exciting adventures and alien threats without actually leaving home, while others demanded a larger canvas to work and suffered as a result. Still, one benefit to the Earth-based stories was the regular presence of Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, the most entertaining recurring character to appear on the show so far. The arrival of the Master also did a lot to improve the eighth and ninth seasons, although he did become overused and something of a crutch.

I think the third Doctor’s era started to get quite stale. The rota of companions didn’t really change enough, with the rather bland Jo Grant sticking around for too long. Even when his exile was ended, the Doctor still stayed with UNIT. Another problem I had with some of these was the sheer length of some of the serials. The four-parters were mostly fine, but some of the six-(or seven!)parters were just drawn out tedium, particularly in the early serials where every story seemed to feature the same setup (science facility goes wrong, creatures appear, corrupt leader denies everything, etcetera, etcetera.). Really, it fell to the Doctor himself to carry these stories, and this was done with mixed success.

Thoughts on the Third Doctor

I would have to describe Jon Pertwee’s Doctor as predominantly “grumpy”. This is partly down to the situation the character found himself in, exiled and surrounded by fools, and thankfully his character loosened up a bit once he had free reign again. But even then, he was not a joyful, playful type at all. He was very stern, very authoritative, overly confident in his abilities to the point of arrogance, and often quite patronising. Even when he was trying to be nice, he had this way of making his friends feel like children who couldn’t possibly understand.

There were some superficial similarities with the previous incarnation, and in Spearhead from Space, he was actually quite funny and nice – but then he did spend much of that story unconscious. There were also moments throughout his five seasons where he opened up a little. Jo certainly brought out the lighter side in him now and again, when he might reminisce and tell a little story, or say something inspirational. There’s no doubt this was a clever man, burdened with centuries of knowledge and feeling rather weary for it, but he just wasn’t alien enough. He was, basically, a normal grumpy man, but he knew how to fight. Venusian Akido – very useful.

There were very few moments of comic relief or silliness on the Doctor’s part, and I think that’s a shame, because when it did happen, Jon Pertwee was very good at it. Even so, I thought his acting in general was good and convincing, and for that reason I would still put his character above William Hartnell’s version. So, if we’re going to do one of those order of preference things, so far mine is as follows:

Patrick Troughton > Jon Pertwee > William Hartnell.

Episode Highlights

Picking out my favourite serials from Jon Pertwee’s run has been pretty easy, really. The quality of stories is not as consistent as with previous series, so the good ones spring to mind quite readily. Also, there are no more missing episodes to worry about, everything is complete and on equal footing (some missing colour aside). These are my top picks:

Spearhead from Space (4 parts)
A short story with a fresh style, and the best of the third doctor’s character.

Inferno (7 parts)
A little long, but plays with the parallel universe concept to excellent effect.

Day of the Daleks (4 parts)
A thought-provoking time travel story that uses the Daleks well.

The Time Monster (6 parts)
Potentially hokey but goes full-on insane brilliant.

The Three Doctors (4 parts)
Contrived setup but easily excusable because it’s lots of fun and Troughton is a delight.

Invasion of the Dinosaurs (6 parts)
Ropey effects aside, this is a really good plot, well thought out.

[The Second Doctor: Summary + Best Episodes]

A remarkable thing happened when Patrick Troughton took over the leading role on Doctor Who – the show changed from ‘occasionally good’, to ‘often great’. I can’t put that entirely down to the character, because it seemed to me a result of the writing and the types of stories that they wanted to tell. Half of William Hartnell’s run were historical type stories, where our heroes would be temporarily trapped in the past. The other half would be futuristic or science-fiction based. After the Doctor’s regeneration, this changes – there is only one ‘pure history’ story (probably a leftover script) and that’s it, not a single other. Every story from then on is either set in the future, or set in the present day, or has some sort of alien threat or science-fiction element to it. Oh, and monsters. Lots of monsters. The start of The War Games is even more stark, then, since it seems like the first historical episode in three years, and even then it turns out it isn’t!

Basically, I want to point out that the improvements made (and they were massive improvements – I was tempted to give up during some of Hartnell’s more boring episodes) are not purely down to the change in actor, nor just the stories, but both of these things combined. I can appreciate the difficulties Hartnell had, but also the writers, in pinning down exactly what sort of show they wanted Doctor Who to be. Arguably, that’s something that is still happening to this day.

There were some other series mainstays introduced during Troughton’s run. For one thing, the title sequence changed (finally!) and introduced ‘the face’. We also got the first use of the Sonic Screwdriver, first use of the alias John Smith, and first appearance of the Earth unit… er… UNIT. And, of course, there was a new Doctor himself.

Thoughts on the Second Doctor

Immediately after regenerating into his new appearance, it’s clear Troughton’s portrayal of the character is markedly different. It’s a confident character, more on top things, more capable. He’s still a little self-involved and weird, but ultimately compassionate. He has a few quirks of his own (a recorder!) and manages to make the character something new.

Troughton gives a thoroughly consistent performance. Whether he’s shouting panic-stricken commands to people or engaging in more solemn discussion about the wonders of time/space travel, so long as the writing it good, he’s always enjoyable to watch, and he becomes what the show needed him to be – a strong leading character. Nonetheless, he’s almost always helped out by the supporting cast, and at times even Jamie has to help set him back on the straight path.

Episode Highlights

It’s difficult to pick out the best episodes of Troughton’s run. Firstly, because the quality is more consistent, so few stand out as remarkable against the rest. Secondly, because so many of these serials are incomplete or missing that I may favour a completed serial over a reconstructed one, despite its quality. That said, I have managed to choose what I think are the best examples, which I now list below.

The Power of the Daleks (6 parts, all missing)
The Tomb of the Cybermen (4 parts, all complete)
The Web of Fear (6 parts, only part 1 complete)
The Invasion (8 parts, 2 missing but animated)
The War Games (10 parts, all complete)

[The First Doctor: Summary + Best Episodes]

When I started watching classic Doctor Who episodes, it was minor curiosity more than anything, but once I’d started, I felt compelled to continue watching, and then decided that I would watch every single episode in order. Part of this compulsion was probably due to how serialised the episodes are. Pretty standard practise in TV shows these days, but I’m unaccustomed to it in shows from back in the 60s. The only other shows I’ve gotten into from back then are The Prisoner and Star Trek, and both of these feature very ‘standalone’ episodes. You can tune in every week and see a complete story, with no reliance on knowing what happened before. I was very surprised by the ongoing continuity in old Doctor Who episodes. Every episode carries on from the last (although the effect is diminished somewhat if you don’t see the ‘lost’ episodes) and although each story is separated from the next, the characters continue and change.

Thoughts on the first Doctor

William Hartnell’s Doctor is a strange old man with a time machine. He’s a mystery throughout the whole show, aside from learning that he and his granddaughter are from another planet. His character is brash, short-tempered, quick to criticise, but nonetheless a genius. His mean spirit and ruthlessness don’t last very long, and he quickly becomes a bit of a mad giggling nutter that finds every little thing amusing, chuckles to himself, talks to himself, and ALWAYS ends his sentences with “hmm?”.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan. The character is fine, but the performance is rarely convincing. Hartnell often fluffs his lines, which was amusing at first, but I always get the sense that he’s trying to remember the next one. He doesn’t speak convincingly. His “I’m thinking now” pose, where he looks down at the floor or holds a finger to his mouth, always seems like the thing he’s trying to think of is what his next line is. No-one else, even the guest stars, have this problem. When the main character on the show is arguably the worst at acting, we have a bit of a problem. I’ve never seen him in anything else so I don’t want to judge his ability entirely on Doctor Who. I will say that he does some things well and he did have a few excellent performances in some episodes. Saying goodbye to Susan at the end of The Dalek Invasion was one of them.

Episode highlights

I would recommended the below serials as the best of William Hartnell’s Doctor Who. There are some other good episodes besides these, like the first Dalek story, but I haven’t included them in the list because they drag on too long. Some stories start well but end disappointingly, like The Space Museum, The Chase or the very first story, An Unearthly Child. I pretty much exclude any historical episode, as these were all much the same, terribly dull, and usually missing some or all of the video footage. As such, most of my picks are from the end of Hartnell’s run, and are complete serials.

The best of the reconstructions that I watched was The Daleks’ Master Plan, which I would still recommend as a good serial, but only if you skip a couple in the middle (the awful Xmas Special at least). Also a good reconstruction was and the final episode of The Tenth Planet, complete with the original regeneration footage. Worth a watch just for that, but it’s also a good serial in itself.

The Sensorites (6 parts, all complete)
The Dalek Invasion of Earth (6 parts, all complete)
The Rescue (2 parts, all complete)
The Time Meddler (4 parts, all complete)
The Ark (4 parts, all complete)
The War Machines (4 parts, all complete)
The Tenth Planet (4 parts, last episode reconstructed)