With only two episodes left before the first new season of "Doctor Who" for almost sixteen years reaches what promises to be a tumultuous climax in a battle against the Daleks, I thought it might be an opportune time to compile my list of favourite stories that, as well as reflecting on some of the great stories of the past, also includes one from the ninth Doctor’s era. There are several new classic stories to choose from that have indeed justified all the hype and kept the show true to its original spirit and as fun as it always was. Coincidentally, I have the requisite number of eight choices as per the radio show from which this idea is affectionately borrowed!
From William Hartnell’s era my choice of favourite story would have to be "The Dalek Invasion of Earth". The use of extensive location filming, for the first time, enhances the atmosphere greatly. I know that, forty years on, the Robomen look and sound silly and the flying saucer is obviously dangled from a piece of string but the serial’s shortcomings are compensated by the imagery of the Dalek rising from the River Thames and a group of them patrolling Trafalgar Square, not to mention crossing Westminster Bridge in the trailer. And then there is the sensitive ending marking Carole Ann Ford’s departure from the series after playing the Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan, for ten stories...
So many perfect serials from Patrick Troughton’s time on the show! "Fury from the Deep" is my choice simply because it frightened me more than anything else I’ve ever seen. It has several excellent cliffhangers and I’ll never forget one of the characters walking out to sea and not stopping as she becomes totally immersed by the water or Victoria trapped in a locked room as the seaweed and foam threaten to engulf her. I long to see this story again but, alas, it seems gone forever. Years later, when I became interested in the programme in a more academic way, I discovered the director Hugh David (David Hughes) had taught my Dad maths at Grammar School and his wife, who had been the English teacher, guested in the Tom Baker story "The Ark in Space".
My favourite period of the Jon Pertwee era is the beginning. I love the first six serials because they are complex and challenging. Of the six, "The Mind of Evil" is my favourite though writer Don Houghton’s other serial, "Inferno", comes a close second. The reason I like it is because the idea of a parasite feeding off the fear in men’s minds is so much more frightening than some lumbering monster! It’s a cliché now but the camera closing in on the prisoner’s hand, pulling the trigger on the Doctor, only to pull out the following week to reveal the Brigadier’s gun preventing the death of our hero was new, and therefore clever, to me at the time.
My favourite Tom Baker serial is "Genesis of the Daleks" despite the BBC always falling back on it for repeat seasons! Writer Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks, devised the character of Davros in order to raise the standard of dialogue between hero and enemy, succeeding here in discussing many moral issues. Sarah Jane Smith seemingly falling to her death from the rocket scaffolding, as she tries to make her escape, and the freeze frame is another moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I just couldn’t see how they were going to get out of that one when it first aired!
Cliffhangers play an important part in making a good serial and "The Caves of Androzani" boasts two of the finest. When Peter Davison’s Doctor and new companion Peri are shot dead at the end of the first episode I didn’t foresee the resolution. It’s a shame it took until the last story of this era to get it right but director Graeme Harper presents us with a thoroughly gripping tour de force. Christopher Gable is electrifying as Sharaz Jek and I love the scene of the dying Doctor, coat caked in mud, struggling to carry his companion back to the TARDIS in an act of self-sacrifice that leads to his premature regeneration at the story’s close.
"Revelation of the Daleks" is "Doctor Who" for adults. Writer Eric Saward presents us with an alternative take on the Doctor through the character of Orcini, and his sidekick with personal hygiene problems, which is why Colin Baker’s Doctor doesn’t really enter the fray until over halfway through. Nicola Bryant, as Peri, is lucky to have worked with Harper on both his serials which probably accounts for why she is one of my favourite companions when all the others, Polly, Victoria and Zoë, hail from the mid-to-late Sixties. There are moments of real pathos in this serial such as Natasha discovering what has really become of her father and the death of Jobel, which is no mean feat when you consider the ghastly nature of his character!
From Sylvester McCoy’s three years on the show, my choice has to be "The Curse of Fenric". This period has come in for much criticism when, certainly during the last two years, the show was actually beginning to find its feet again. It wasn’t all played for laughs as is often suggested. One of the scariest things in this serial isn’t the Haemovores or the rather placid Ancient One but the transformation of the two girls into vampires because the allegory, equating loose morality with bodily decay, is far more frightening than any monster could be, even when those monsters are well-realized. The story contains some very memorable dialogue too. Who can forget the chilling menace of "We play the contest again... Time Lord", at the end of episode three, and "Don’t interrupt me when I’m eulogizing"?!!
Finally, from the single season that constitutes the Christopher Eccleston era, my eighth choice is Steven Moffat’s two-part story that begins with "The Empty Child" and concludes with "The Doctor Dances". Set during WWII, like "The Curse of Fenric", this production has everything including a spine-tingling transformation sequence featuring "One Foot in the Grave" actor Richard Wilson towards the end of the first episode. The unearthly boy of the title is called Jamie, no doubt after the second Doctor’s Scottish companion. His mum is called Nancy, undoubtedly after the character who befriends Fagin’s boys in "Oliver Twist", linking back to the earlier Dickens episode. And the Glenn Miller tunes were previously aired by the DJ in "Revelation of the Daleks". Just a few of the subtle references that help make this story as near perfect as possible.
And, if I was only allowed just one of the eight to take to my mythical island it would have to be, if it still existed in the BBC’s archive, "Fury from the Deep". I don’t think I would be disappointed, given the opportunity to see it again, as anything that can leave such an indelible mark on the memory has to have been an extremely powerful piece.