This year, Doctor Who has been back on our screen ten whole years. It feels like yesterday that the TARDIS materialised once more; suitably, it also feels like forever.
So join us as we celebrate a decade with the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctors. Let’s find out which serials are our favourites, and shine a light on the underrated ones too. Watch us run.
And then vote on your favourites. At the end of the year, we’ll find out which serials showcase our beloved show at the height of its game.
Daleks! Dinosaurs! Brian Williams! Yep, Series 7A certainly threw a lot of goodness at us. The last days of the Ponds saw them tackle a slow invasion, an alien cyborg looming over Mercy, the ruthless Solomon, the parliament of the Daleks… and culminating with those riskily Weeping Angels – in New York!
So join us, old friend, on the last page.
You know our favourites of Series 7A, but what’s the most underrated serial…?
Tony Jones: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
If Series 7A stories are mostly marking time between Asylum of the Daleks and the departure of the Ponds in Angels Take Manhattan there is one that still delivers in spades – Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. As Steven Moffat repeatedly said in the pre-publicity, the story is all there in the title.
This tale delivers on action: there is plenty of it. It may lead fans to speculation about Silurians in Space, but look also at the wonderful ensemble of characters (and note Big Finish has yet to grab any of these for a spin-off audio). There’s the evil Solomon played by David Bradley, he who would play William Hartnell in An Adventure in Time and Space, Rupert Graves’s Riddell and Riann Steele’s imperious Nefertiti. We even have a Mitchell and Webb appearance as two comedy robots! What’s not to love?
For those fans who want more than entertainment there was also plenty to worry over in the way the Doctor handled Solomon. The only weak link in this story was Amy and Rory, except of course they were the vessel by which Rory’s dad ended up in the story. Marvellous, bloody marvellous!
Andrew Reynolds: A Town Called Mercy
I love a good western; be it spaghetti, revisionist or a good old fashioned oater – there’s nothing finer than men in hats grumbling in single syllables pointing six guns at each other in the name of personal justice. And that’s nearly what we got here.
There was a brief moment where I thought we were going to get a proper take on the western genre; where tropes and archetypes were broken apart and reborn in a sci-fi guise without pastiche but, nope, the episode was a little too happy with its cyborg gunslinger and it all became a little uneven.
But there’s a lot that’s great here: the old fashioned western tropes of order battling chaos, civilisation and frontier peril, of desperate men looking for a second chance, and the unmistakable look behind their eyes that suggests they’ve done unspeakable things – all of which fit beautifully with what we’ve come to understand is the Doctor.
Here, where the greatest sacrifices are arguably made by the aliens – one decides to make the right decision and it costs him his life but, ultimately not his soul. The very thing the cyborg gunslinger wants back from the metal grafted onto his flesh. After all, it’s the Doctor (well, Dr. Jex at any rate) that says: “We all carry our prisons with us. Mine is my past. Yours is your morality.”
That’s the problem with the barren big country – you can’t lie about who are for long before someone calls you out.
Drew Boynton: The Power of Three
The Power of Three contains some of the best Doctor Who ever… at least in the first 20 minutes.
After that, it crashes and burns so badly that a person has to wonder if a) the budget suddenly ran out; b) part of the script accidentally got lost during filming; or c) UNIT censored the episode on a strictly “need to know” basis.
But those first 20 minutes! Great stuff: adventures with Amy and Rory, the Doctor trying to fit in to daily “boring” life, Kate Stewart making an appearance (Hey, it turns out she’s the Brig’s daughter!), and an intriguing and suspenseful mystery involving bunches and bunches of black cubes. This is absolutely one of the few episodes that I truly believe should have been a two-parter. The mystery involving the cubes is brilliant, but is totally wasted by a slap-dash finish. Has there ever been an alien menace that was so under-explained? And what in the world is going on with that creepy hospital – what is the whole story there?! And how was the ending ever approved – the Doctor waves the sonic screwdriver and everything is solved?! Ridiculous and frustrating.
But, man oh man, those first 20 minutes were amazing Doctor Who.
Katie Gribble: A Town Called Mercy
On the surface, it’s an adventure into the Wild West. In actuality, it’s a foray into the atrocities of war and injustice. The Gunslinger has been stalking Mercy for three weeks, stopping supplies and reinforcements entering the stricken town and holding it to ransom. However, the parts that stand out is when it plays with the simple binary of good and bad and reveals that it is not so simple. When waiting for morning to bring the Gunslinger into town, Kahler Jex tells the Doctor:
It would be so much simpler if I was just one thing. The mad scientist who made that killing machine or the physician who has dedicated his life to saving this town. The fact that I am both bewilders you.
This episode questions the nature binaries and proves that they do not always work. When the town was hit by cholera, Jex cured those in the town so that not a soul died from what was, in those days, a big killer for small towns in America. He rigged up rudimentary heating and lighting for the town and became a valued member of the community. Then everything changed with the arrival of the Gunslinger in Mercy. The Sherriff was prepared to temporarily ignore the past and see Jex as the man he had become. He was so much better than his past, but it now the past is back and has brought terror to the people of Mercy.
In his previous life, Jex argues that he was a war hero who saved millions of lives in building an army which quelled a nine year war in less than a week. What he doesn’t reveal is that he and his team took volunteers telling them they had been selected for special training. He then experimented on those poor souls, fusing their bodies with weaponry and programming them to kill. This is found out by the Doctor who is determined to see justice done. However, as in any Doctor Who story, justice does not come in any simple form.
Jex ultimately blows himself up, denying the Gunslinger the opportunity. In Kahler culture, when you die you climb a mountain carrying the souls of those you wronged. By choosing to die, Jex goes to that death. However, other episodes which deal with justice, this ending is problematic. Is it a positive thing that Jex killed himself and got rid of the problem that was terrorising both Mercy and the Gunslinger? Or should Jex have confronted the Gunslinger and received the justice he deserved? Despite having watched the episode countless times, I still cannot work out whether Jex’s suicide was the best outcome. I constantly find myself swapping between thinking he did the right thing to get rid of himself whilst relenting that the Gunslinger did not get his own justice.
Philip Bates: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
When it comes to the most underrated, I was going to plump for A Town Called Mercy but that’s also my favourite, so let’s go for variety here. Then it went to The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe, which didn’t especially impress me on Christmas Day 2011, but actually it’s a really beautiful, gentle, and ultimately Christmassy story. Or The Angels Take Manhattan, which almost criminally, no one at Kasterborous selected as their favourite…
But my heart tells me to go for Dinosaurs on a Spaceship because it’s fun, and people disregard fun stories. The Romans! Daft, witty, brilliant, and overlooked time and time again. Ditto The Unicorn and the Wasp. Dinosaurs, however, deserves a bigger look-in. Yes, it’s great fun, but it’s also surprisingly dark.
The Doctor goes through such remarkable extremes in this episode: ecstatic at seeing the dinosaurs, happily revealing he has a Christmas list, and then up close and threatening. And eventually mercilessly killing Solomon.
Even the death of Tricey is touching and dark.
There are three bits that really stick out to me. Brilliant writing, through and through. This line struck me as something wonderful that I can’t see any other protagonist saying, but it’s just perfect for the Doctor: “Don’t ever judge me by your standards.”
That ominous scene that demonstrates not only sublime acting, but also the ultimate sadness of Doctor Who, of the Doctor, of the nature of his travels with humans: “You’ll be there ’til the end of me.”
“Or vice versa.” (Turns out, they’re both right.)
And finally, the stunning scene with the TARDIS above Earth. At this time in their travels, the Ponds needed to know how special their days have been, and Brian’s there to remind them. But the thing that steals that scene (and breaks my heart in the process) is the Doctor joining Amy and Rory by the door. His sadness at the inevitable. He knows it’s coming to a close. He’ll miss them.
And I knew I would too. I still do.
Becky Crockett: The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe
A great riff on the classic C.S.Lewis title, but turned sci-fi just past the lamppost. The special is a light on the Doctor Who landscape after concluding a very twisty and complicated story arc through all of Series 6, with the many reveals and creepy monsters you can’t remember and a stark contrast to the darker and scarier Christmas special that would begin series 7B.
The episode is all at once serious and a bit sad but shows us the strength and love of a parent and gives us a wonderful happily ever after ending.
Jonathan Appleton: A Town Called Mercy
Toby Whithouse does love a good moral dilemma (check out the fabulous Being Human if you fancy being well and truly emotionally strung out…) and he plays it for all it’s worth here, none-too-subtle allusions to ‘crossing the line’ included (the Doctor’s crossing a line of stones, see…). There aren’t enough westerns on TV these days so I enjoyed all the familiar tropes of the genre and I like to think the youngsters watching would have been enjoying them for the first time.
I’m not sure that the moral dilemma of whether to hand over Kahler-Jex has quite enough legs to sustain the episode and it would have been welcome to have had some more twists along the way to liven things up, but full credit to the programme for giving us a story where there isn’t a clear-cut villain and for spending time exploring the murky shades of grey of its premise.
Joe Siegler: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
It’s just FUN! This isn’t going to be one of my longer reviews, because honestly, I wanted to end it after the word “fun”, but I know my editor won’t go for that.
Too many people are caught up in having Doctor Who “make sense”, be “plot worthy”, or the specific writing – “I don’t like Moffat, I don’t like this, yeah, yeah, yeah.” Too many people forget to remember that the show is supposed to be FUN, and this was a fun episode.
My reaction to it is basically the Doctor’s. “There’s Dinosaurs – ON A SPACESHIP!” If you want a little more than that, I got a kick out of Queen Nefertiti getting all hot and bothered over the Doctor, the gang the Doctor had, the bits with Brian, etc… Having Amy act almost like a Doctor herself is a bit of foreshadowing of what they did with Clara as “The Doctor” in Series 8/9.
The episode also had the First Doctor, William Hartnell… er… OK, it had David Bradley, who played Hartnell in the most excellent Adventure in Space and Time. Wasn’t much depth to the character really; he just existed to be defeated by the Doctor.
But I loved watching the Dinosaurs run around the ship. And that last scene with Brian having a coffee hovering over the Earth is just gold. I liked this story. Sue me if you don’t. (Don’t actually sue me.)
That’s what we think. Now it’s your turn! Vote below for the most underrated serial of Series 7A, and we’ll find out the overall winner later this year…