Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Eleven For Eleven: The Eleven Best Doctor Who Stories So Far

With The Day of The Doctor now officially reviewed, I have exactly 100 Doctor Who stories, Classic and NuWho, that I have written about.  With that in mind, I decided it would be good to pause and look over the Best of the Best.  Of course, I'll also have the Worst of the Worst, but for now, let's take a look at what we've done and select the Eleven Best Doctor Who stories so far.

Now, first some ground rules.   This is not a Best or Worst Doctor Who Stories of All Time.  The stories covered are as follows: all Classic Doctor Who stories released on DVD in the United States from the First Doctor adventure An Unearthly Child to the Third Doctor story Terror of the Autons with the exception of The Tenth Planet (which was released too late for consideration) as well as the Fourth Doctor story The Sunmakers.  This list also includes all NuWho stories from the Ninth Doctor story Rose down to the Tenth Doctor adventure The Idiot's Lantern, as well as all Eleventh Doctor story from The Eleventh Hour to The Day of The Doctor.  Therefore, do not look for anything past the Third Doctor or most of the Tenth Doctor Era.  They just haven't been reviewed yet.

As for the reason I selected eleven rather than ten, while it's tempting to say it's one for each Doctor, the truth is that eleven stories so far have earned a perfect 10/10.  I didn't want to leave one out, so I opted for Eleven.  Other than that, I think we're ready.  Therefore, without further ado, the Top Eleven Doctor Who Stories so far, starting at Number 11. I recommend reading this while listening to something like New Order's Blue Monday (one of the greatest songs ever written) or perhaps something from my favorite DJ, Andy Hunter (personal recommendations: On Automatic, Hold On, or Sandstorm Calling). 

Num. 11
The Ice Warriors (2nd Doctor)
Writer: Brian Hayles

The Ice Warriors have not been in many Doctor Who stories.  The time period between their last appearance in The Monster of Peladon and their return in Cold War was thirty-nine years.  However, they could have had a better debut story.  While The Ice Warriors is a long story (at six episodes, about two and a half hours long), it never slacks off in pacing.  The villains are intimidating with their slow serpent-like speech, and each cliffhanger works to build the tension of how our characters will get out of things.   

The Ice Warriors does what good Doctor Who has excelled at: it creates a memorable villain, it gives the characters dangerous situations, and most importantly, it keeps the violence to as little as possible and no overt violence from the title character.  The Doctor has to think his way out of things, and here, the triumph of intellect makes it all the more pleasant.

Num. 10
The Unquiet Dead (9th Doctor)
Writer: Mark Gatiss

Sometimes a simply great performance pushes an individual story higher.  The best example I can think of is Simon Callow as Charles Dickens in The Unquiet Dead.  Callow owns the role of the great writer, but what made The Unquiet Dead work (among other things) was that Dickens wasn't just there to lend color.  Dickens, instead, was a central and important character to solve the mystery of The Gelth, who go from almost innocent to malevolent within the hour.  The images of the reanimated dead and the Christmas setting of Victorian Cardiff (why Cardiff, I wonder) also work well.

Finally, I think this is where Christopher Eccleston had some levity to his interpretation of a darker Doctor.  As the lone survivor of The Time War, who had to destroy Gallifrey to save the universe, he could be rather morose.  However, here the Ninth was allowed some enthusiasm for Charles Dickens, and Billie Piper's Rose Tyler had that mix of empathy, vulnerability, enthusiasm and strength that started her out as a Great Companion. 

Sadly, The Unquiet Dead is the only NuWho story to make the list (and as sidenote, I imagine some of my acquaintances will be livid about this ranking).

Num. 9
The Evil of The Daleks (2nd Doctor)
Writer: David Whitaker

It is simply horrifying that perhaps the greatest Dalek story in Doctor Who has only one surviving episode.  Yet it is a testament to the power of The Evil of the Daleks that despite this, it has rarely failed to rank among the Greatest Doctor Who stories of All Time (and certainly here on this list, it won't go missing). 

The Evil of the Daleks gives us great moments of sheer tension (will the Doctor be forced to help the Daleks?) and destruction.  In the final episode, as the insane scientist/collaborator Maxible continues his mad quest for Dalek domination, the chaotic disintegration of the Dalek order (a virtual civil war with the Dalek Emperor thrown into confusion himself) instigated by the Doctor must have been a wild and brilliant 'final end' to the Daleks.  Of course, they would return, but as it stands, the story itself holds up brilliantly, and perhaps in the due course of time a full animated reconstruction will come about.

Num. 8
The Mind Robber (2nd Doctor)
Writer: Peter Ling

The Mind Robber is without doubt the most surreal Doctor Who story in both the Classic and NuWho.  Its first episode is filled with simply bizarre moments where the TARDIS and the crew are eventually swept into the Land of Fiction ruled over by The Master of Fiction.  Even at its most bizarre there is a logic that goes with it. 

You get literary characters, you get a somewhat mad world where anything is possible (see Jamie change faces!)  Even this twist of basically having TWO Jamies work within the simply way-out plot of The Mind Robber, and the fact that Doctor Who took this offbeat turn AND MADE IT WORK elevates this adventure to among simply the most inventive, creative, and brilliant stories in the Canon.  Sadly, they didn't take many more chances like they did with The Mind Robber, which is a real shame given the overall premise of the show itself (the being who can travel in time AND space).

Num. 7
The Seeds of Death (2nd Doctor)
Writer: Brian Hayles

Like The Godfather Part II is a better film than the already brilliant The Godfather, so The Seeds of Death is a better story than the Ice Warriors' eponymous debut.  We get a clever story involving the high dependence on technology and how it can be ruthlessly used by these evil forces of the Ice Warriors.  We also get simply thrilling moments (such as the cliffhanger when Zoe is without a doubt going to get killed by the Ice Warriors), and throw in some beautiful looking cinematography and it isn't hard to imagine that The Seeds of Death could work as a feature film.

The pacing was great, the story never flagged.  This is especially noteworthy in that The Seeds of Death is a six-part adventures, and those tend to feel stretched out.  However, The Seeds of Death kept building and building on what had come before, and the Ice Warriors felt more menacing and dangerous than in The Ice WarriorsThe Seeds of Death moved quickly, making each turn more intense. 

Num. 6
Doctor Who and The Silurians (3rd Doctor)
Writer: Malcolm Hulke

This is the only Doctor Who story to feature "Doctor Who" in the title.  While NuWho has had stories that had "The Doctor" as part of the title (The Doctor's Wife, The Doctor's Daughter, The Day/Time/Name of The Doctor), none used the 'Who' except for Doctor Who & The Silurians.  From what I understand, that was a production error.  Still, whether Doctor Who & The Silurians or just The Silurians, only the second Third Doctor story, astonishes in its intelligence and subliminal messages.

In this the debut story for the Silurians, we get an intelligent allegory about preemptive war, the fear of 'the other', and how both sides can have elements that want to destroy rather than understand 'the enemy'.  Doctor Who & The Silurians was meant, I understand, as allegory for the Cold War, but more than that, the struggle between the worldviews of The Doctor and his best friend the Brigadier comes into sharp contrast.  What I really respected in The Silurians was that the Brigadier was not painted as evil, which would have been easy given his actions.  Instead, it was motivated by a sense of protection, but it doesn't stop the Doctor from calling it murder. 

Num. 5
The Time Meddler (1st Doctor)
Writer: Dennis Spooner

In many ways, The Time Meddler is a lighter story, but interesting in that rather than attempting to change history, the Doctor is attempting to keep history as is.  The Time Meddler is the first time we see another of the Doctor's own people (though the term Time Lord had not been invented yet), and it also has a villain that is less malevolent and more childishly reckless than anything else.  The Meddling Monk did not mean to create chaos, but he wasn't above doing so if it amused him.

This is another story where the pacing pushes forward, where bits of humor are allowed to enter (as when the Doctor tells an incredulous Steven Taylor when the latter refuses to believe the Viking headgear they found is genuine, 'What do you think it is, a space helmet for a cow?), brilliant and shocking cliffhangers (The Monk's got a TARDIS!) and which has one of the best endings in all Doctor Who: the three leads virtually becoming a constellation, heading off to new adventures.  A clever balance of comedy, drama, adventure, and a great turn by Peter Butterworth as one of the All Time Great Villains, The Meddling Monk: part clown, part menace, all excellent.

Num. 4
Inferno (3rd Doctor)
Writer: Doug Houghton

"Do you hear that?  That's the sound of the Earth screaming out its rage!"  The Third Doctor era was not afraid of tackling current issues in the guise of science-fiction, and Inferno looked at the uncontrolled use of natural resources and their potential impact on humanity.  However, Inferno gave the team both in front of and behind the camera a chance to create an alternate world where among the shocking things was the fact that The Doctor DIDN'T save the day.

The first Doctor Who story to use the parallel universe plot, the Doctor is caught up in a world where those he knows and loves are not themselves.  Inferno allowed the regular cast (Nicholas Courtney's the Brigadier, Caroline John's Liz Shaw, and John Levene's Sergeant Benton) a chance to play frightening versions of themselves.  We get two versions of the same story going on at almost the same time, heightening the tension of whether the Doctor can do anything to prevent both worlds from collapsing.  However, in the end we see that the Doctor and the Brigadier, friends to the end, are allowed a moment of levity to bring down the tension this six-part story created over all that time.

Num. 3
The Aztecs (1st Doctor)
Writer: John Lucarotti

"You can't rewrite history.  Not One Line!" How one longs for a time when such a thing was possible, rather than have the constant 'rebooting' that NuWho specializes in.   The Aztecs, the first historical Doctor Who still surviving, is a four-part breathless exercise in intelligence about the morality of imposing one set of values over another merely because one group sees the other's actions as evil or immoral.

There is simply so much brilliance in The Aztecs.  The best decision in The Aztecs is to make Jacqueline Hill's Barbara Wright the central character. As the history teacher, she would know more about Aztec culture than the others, but she also represents the Western idea that the European (or later on, the American) view that she could improve on their society.  Rather than use her influence to bring about slow change, Barbara decides human sacrifices must go in one fell swoop, endangering them all.  Apart from the questions of culture clash, we get some simply extraordinary sets and costumes, the likes of which we would not see again on Doctor Who.  Even with all the budget NuWho has, sometimes the surroundings look like they are from a studio.  The Aztecs looks stunningly authentic.  We even get a little romance on the show.  Long before Ten and Rose, we had One and Cameca.

Num. 2
Spearhead From Space (3rd Doctor)
Writer: Robert Holmes

There is something to be said about economy on Doctor WhoSpearhead From Space, the debut story for the Third Doctor, is I think the greatest debut story of any Doctor (sorry, Peter Capaldi).  It is the first Doctor Who story to be filmed in color, and literally filmed (as opposed to television recording, due to a strike).

Here we get a story by the great Robert Holmes, who is the best Doctor Who writer ever (not sorry, Steven Moffat).  As the Doctor struggles to recover from his latest regeneration, we get the invasion of the Autons (who curiously would be the first monsters in the revived Doctor Who).  The parallel stories of the Doctor's recovery and the invasion come to a head in the terrifying Episode Four.  It was actually quite economical: we don't see much in terms of when the plastic Autons come to life.  However, as they start marching through the city, killing civilians where they stand, I found it, even at my age, quite chilling.  If I had been a child, this would have had me completely behind the sofa.

And now, the Best Doctor Who story of the 100 stories reviewed so far is...

Num. 1
The Tomb of the Cybermen (2nd Doctor)
Writers: Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis

The Cybermen have been hit and miss throughout Doctor Who's history, but when they are good they are frightening beyond anything imaginable.  The Tomb of the Cybermen, I think, is there finest hour.  Drawing from The Mummy, we get a revived group determined to use those foolish enough to attempt to control the Cybermen themselves. 

The Tomb of the Cybermen has moments of tension and suspense but it also has a few moments of comedy.  It moves rapidly, never letting up on the thrills of these dangerous foes are placing on the Doctor and those dumb enough to ignore his warnings.  I think what really stands out in Tomb of the Cybermen (apart from the acting, the story, the pacing, and even the sets) is that it takes the Cybermen seriously as a threat.  Sometimes the villains, even the great ones like The Master or the Daleks, can look silly if not downright stupid.  The Cybermen have not escaped this, but in Tomb of the Cybermen, they are the villains to fear. 

Now, of course, we must turn to the Eleven Worst Doctor Who stories so far.  As for the continuation, we have three Doctors to balance. 

The next Third Doctor story is The Mind of Evil in the Classic Who series.
The next Tenth Doctor story is The Impossible Planet Parts I & II (The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit) in the Revived Who series.
The next Eleventh Doctor story is The Time of The Doctor, which will usher in the Peter Capalid Era, but as to whether he will be the 12th, 13th, or maybe even 1.2 Doctor, that remains to be seen. 

The End of Episode One of The Mind Robber

Simply the most beautiful shot in the entirety of Doctor Who...

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