Your friendly neighbourhood editor, Christian Cawley, has been moonlighting. He’s been doing so for some time. He’s been working at a lovely tech site called MakeUseOf, which you really should check out some time. Doctor Who is where his heart truly lies, so he’s written a great piece on which episodes you need to watch.
The tech link? They’re available online, and on streaming services like Netflix and Hulu!
His choices are all obviously classics, from The Web of Fear to The Day of the Doctor, City of Death to The Curse of Fenric. Sadly, I agree with most of these choices (though he criminally misses some of my favourite stories – including my all-time #1), so I can’t exactly rip his work to shreds. But it did get me thinking. Say you’re being introduced to Doctor Who and only have two storylines from each Doctor to get a good feel of their incarnations and their eras – which would you choose?
I think I have my answers – though naturally, this is likely to change in time, because Doctor Who grants you new perspectives every time you watch.
The First Doctor
An Unearthly Child: You’ve got to start at the start. That first episode is glorious. It truly is a wonder. It’s even greater after watching An Adventure in Space and Time and seeing the pressures the cast and crew were under. And you know what? The rest of the serial is greatly underappreciated. It’s good to see that the Doctor isn’t always the likeable fella who drops in and saves us from the monsters.
The War Machines: But most of the time, that’s exactly what he does. This is the Doctor, really recognisable as the man we have piloting the TARDIS today. I can’t praise the Part 3 cliffhanger enough.
The Second Doctor
The Tomb of the Cybermen: It’s the Second Doctor, so you’ve got to have a Cybermen story in here somewhere. Some would go for The Invasion, but that’s simply too long and pales into comparison to this gem from 1967. Oh, that’s not me ‘dissing’ The Invasion, but there’s something amazing about Tomb‘s claustrophobic setting, great cast, and eerie music.
The War Games: This is also too long, I know. To be absolutely honest, I’m not a huge fan. It’s alright. But in understanding Doctor Who, you need to see the final few episodes at least. Everything becomes so intense and dreadful when the Doctor realises he needs the assistance of the Time Lords; you can’t help but feel this peek into the Doctor’s origin makes sure the show will never be the same again.
The Third Doctor
Spearhead from Space: Oh, I love Spearhead. Autons! Liz and the Brig! Shoes! No excuses. Just watch it.
The Three Doctors: It’s not the best story of all time (though Bob Baker and Dave Martin always were solid writers who seemingly knew the show from the off), but you can’t deny the joy of seeing the dandy and the clown together. It’s such a shame William Hartnell wasn’t there by their side, but thank God we see his final portrayal as the First Doctor in glorious colour.
The Fourth Doctor
The Ark in Space: With so many serials, how do you choose just two? Gut instinct, basically. And my gut tells me this is a beautifully put-together story that sticks in the mind of any who witness its glory. Bring back the Wirrn!
Robots of Death: Sure, there are plenty of Robots Gone Wrong stories through the history of sci-fi, but this is Doctor Who at its best. Plus there’s Leela, of course, who never fails to impress, even in her dodgier tales. I know this one is considered a Classic, but I still don’t think it gets enough attention.
The Fifth Doctor
Frontios: Yep, I bet that surprised you. But Peter Davison is one of my favourite Doctors and one of my favourite actors. He’s simply brilliant. And I’m a sucker for these moody tales, especially ones with Turlough in. It’s an often-overlooked tale that actually makes woodlice creepy. Sure, there’s some less than top-notch special effects, but that’s also the case for… well, quite a few stories!
The Caves of Androzani: The Time of the Doctor had me in tears. I don’t know how anyone watching Caves back in 1984 didn’t choke up when the Fifth Doctor breathed his last, and I don’t know how anyone couldn’t love Caves.
The Sixth Doctor
The Two Doctors: Patrick Troughton is back, and it’s been too long! We have Spain, a hungry Androgum, Sontarans (for some reason), and an overly-dramatic death nobody really cares about! What’s there not to love?
Terror of the Vervoids: Yeah, I’m a maverick. Why don’t people like Vervoids?! You’re all nuts. This is the best part of the Trail of a Time Lord, and sees Colin Baker have his Mummy on the Orient Express moment, proving once and for all, he is the Doctor, whether you like it or not. It’s typical Doctor Who, but people use that as a stick to hit it with. Yet that’s exactly what the show needed at that time.
The Seventh Doctor
The Happiness Patrol: Such a great Doctor, and such a good era. How to choose just two? Sure, I could’ve gone for Remembrance of the Daleks, but The Happiness Patrol summarises Sylvester McCoy’s years on the show perfectly. The Doctor drops by and overthrows the government. We needed that in the Eighties, and we need that today too! It’s a beautiful satire, grim and complex.
The Curse of Fenric: Throwing aside the parallels to The God Complex for a minute, this feels like new territory for Doctor Who – and yet it’s quite a simple tale. But to paraphrase Shrek, even supposedly-simple stories have layers like onions.
The Eighth Doctor
The TV Movie: I’ve thought long and hard about this, but I’m plumping for the 1996 movie because, even though it’s the most 1990s thing you’ve ever seen, we also get McCoy’s last on-screen performance as the Doctor, and Paul McGann making his debut. McGann really is incredible in everything he does, but without doubt, he’s the Doctor through and through. Not bad for a man wearing a wig.
Night of the Doctor: Well, duh. But maybe no one will experience that feeling we all got when he returned for the 50th anniversary short. No, he’s not the Doctor we were expecting, but no one’s complaining! (Except Cass, of course.)
The War Doctor
The Day of the Doctor: Yeah, I’m cheating. I guess you’ll just have to live with it. This special really was just that: special. I love, love, love it. Seeing all the Doctors again just sent shivers down my spine. I wish it never ended.
Listen: Oh-ho! I’m really flaunting my privileges here, aren’t I? Listen features only a flashback of the War Doctor, but I think it’s still a crucial episode if you want to understand John Hurt’s incarnation. He’s a man driven desperate by not only the Daleks, but also his own race. And what do you do at the end of your tether? You go back to some of the places you sought solace as a child, then consider activating a WMD.
The Ninth Doctor
The Empty Child/ The Doctor Dances: There was never any doubt that this Steven Moffat-penned two-parter would make it here. One story infected the minds of a nation. Children everywhere used to scream “EXTERMINATE!” Now, they were chanting “are you my Mummy?”
Bad Wolf/ The Parting of the Ways: This has to be one of the best regeneration stories. It’s quite heart(s)-breaking actually: this man, who we got to know in the past couple of months, charmed us and made sure we all knew the Doctor was back in town. Here, he’s facing the enemy we all knew would come back to plague him sooner or later. And they’re not the ones to cause his regeneration. Nope, in true Caves of Androzani fashion, he loses his life just to save his companion.
The Tenth Doctor
The Impossible Planet/ The Satan Pit: Words can’t describe how amazing this two-part serial is. It’s so haunting and unusual. It’s contemplative and foreboding. There are leaps of faith, genuine scares, ventilation shafts, Ood, strange writing, and the death of the Scooti Manista, one of the best in Who‘s history. “He bathes in the Black Sun.” And there’s so much left unexplained – so much you ache to find out more about. But we cannot return to Krop Tor. This is the true unique beauty of The Impossible Planet/ The Satan Pit.
The Waters of Mars: Let’s face it, the 2009 Specials year was a bit of a downer. We had to wait forever for stories that ultimately disappointed. Not so, The Waters of Mars. It’s not just the Time Lord Victorious. It’s the whole horrible situation: the claustrophobia, the emotion, the hopelessness, the Flood.
The Eleventh Doctor
The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang: Okay, so this is my ALL TIME FAVOURITE STORY. 2010 was such a quality year for Doctor Who, and I’m not sure it’ll ever be bettered in my eyes. This two-part finale delivers so many moments that send goose-bumps across my arms and chills down my spine. That cliffhanger is just glorious. To me, this is what Doctor Who is about.
The Girl Who Waited: This was the hardest choice I had to make. Because I love the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure – even the stories most don’t enjoy. But The Girl Who Waited holds a special place in my heart. The performances are just mind-blowing. Amy and Rory have never been so gut-wrenching. And yet we now this is the beginning of the end for the pair. That final look the Doctor gives them – like he knows he needs to give them up if he really wants to keep them safe, to keep them happy.
The Twelfth Doctor
Mummy on the Orient Express: The problem with Series 8, to me, was it tried too hard to shock. That’s not what we needed right then, when trying to embed a new Doctor in the TARDIS. What we needed was Mummy on the Orient Express, where the Doctor proves to everyone he’s exactly the same man who fought Axons, who battled at Trenzalore, who thought life was “fantastic”, who stole a box and ran away.
Last Christmas: In the most recent episode, we finally get to see a joyful Twelfth Doctor riding a sleigh. In a lovely use of that “it was all a dream” cliche, we can’t be sure what is real and what is not. I was skeptical about the inclusion of Santa, but I was wrong. It worked. Last Christmas, Doctor Who delivered.
Okay, so those are my choices. What do you think? Which two stories per Doctor are essential viewing for newcomers? And don’t forget to check out the inspiration for this article!