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.
We’ve split Series 7 into two. There’s too big a tonal shift and so many new storylines to embrace. The Doctor has a secret, y’know. He has one he shall take to the grave. And it is discovered. The TARDIS is heading for Trenzalore, but first, a detour via Akhaten, a Russian submarine, the North, and Hedgewick’s World of Wonders…
James Lomond: Cold War
My most underrated episode from 7B is Cold War… Sadly some of the greatness of this seems to go unnoticed with the return of an Old Baddie. It’s a period piece but in more ways than one – the pitting of science and military against one another with David Warner’s Prof Grisenko against Officer Stepashin harks back to both the Doctor versus the Brigadier and every other benevolent, bumbling scientist that has stumbled into disaster and shown bravery and more sophisticated principles than their army-based counterparts. Mostly anyway. I’m thinking of the murdered scientist in Planet of Giants and lovely Rubeish in The Time Warrior – those goodly sorts. And more than that, Gatiss and Warner gave us such a wonderful series of character moments with a Soviet scientist who was a Duran Duran and Ultravox fan (!).
The rehabilitation of the Ice Warriors was one of the most successful since 2005’s Dalek. They added to both through their cultural history and biology. The catastrophic social faux-pas of Skaldak leaving his exo-armour, indicating how desperate he was, gave us one of NuWho‘s rare moments of Proper Science Fiction. Most of what we see on screen seems to be done to facilitate mystery plot-twists or to look good with the barest of explanations. Here was something that had been thought through and was effective within the narrative and WASN’T a timey-wimey plot-point.
Put together with Matt Smith at his height, some fantastic Actual Model Work and good performances all round, and an Ice Warrior ship in all its glory, and the HADS (hurrah!), this slice of Old-NuWho deserves more than a second look!
Jonathan Appleton: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
Not an easy task to pick an under-rated episode in what wasn’t a vintage series but I’ll go with this one, mainly for its concept (we’ve always wanted to see the heart of the TARDIS, right?) and the 2000AD feel which the opening, with its bunch of grungy space salvage merchants on the make, sadly didn’t follow through.
So much of the enjoyment of Doctor Who is about the anticipation and the first five minutes of this episode made me feel I was in for the kind of thrills I used to get years ago from the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, where the Doctor always seemed to meet dodgy types out to make a fast buck. Unfortunately the Van Baalens are not in the same league as the Freefall Warriors (now there’s a strip that would make a great episode…) and all that corridor wandering didn’t really lead anywhere very interesting. A missed opportunity, but sometimes it’s fun to reflect on what might have been…
Philip Bates: The Rings of Akhaten… and Hide
Oh, I know I shouldn’t really do this, but my New Year’s resolution is to be less decisive (or is it?), so I’m electing the two episodes of Series 7 written by Neil Cross. I make no secret of two things: Series 7B is vastly underrated (I truly believe that, in retrospect, the Eleventh Doctor tenure will be seen as a really classic era); and that Neil Cross is one of my favourite writers.
I think I first saw his work on Spooks, a show I love and one on which he acted as showrunner for a little while. You can download one of the scripts from the BBC Writer’s Room. Next must’ve been Doctor Who, and Luther, and his various (fantastic) novels. I greatly admire his range, his style, and his nerve. That diversity can be witnessed in The Rings of Akhaten and Hide, episodes that have very little in common, aside Matt Smith, Jenna Coleman, and true human beauty shining throughout.
Let’s start with The Rings of Akhaten, overlooked and sometimes mocked almost immediately after transmission. For years, there’s been call (likely jokily) for a musical episode of Doctor Who. This was an idea that instantly repelled me, but when it actually happened, it was wonderful, and everyone guffawed as “all the singing.”
I think it’s missing the point, though. This was something Doctor Who has ever done before: revel in the awesome incredibility of the universe. We get brief glimpses of that wonder, but as Clara’s first proper trip in the TARDIS, this was just the Doctor giving her something memorable and pretty mind-blowing. Normally, we’re distracted by the Monster of the Week, and although we do get that (numerous times), the first, say, 20 minutes is just finding humanity amongst this strange alien culture. Oh, I love Grandfather and the Old God and especially the Vigil, but getting to know a different society so completely is really special. It’s what made The Web Planet special all those years ago.
Added to this, we get some stunning performances, namely from Matt and Jenna, two of the best actors of our generation. The Doctor’s speech (and that lone tear) is breath-taking, and everything’s made better by Murray Gold’s powerful yet gentle score.
Powerful and gentle is a great way to describe Hide as well. It’s not as underrated as Akhaten, but it does tend to get overlooked and that’s concerning because it’s one of the strongest and most touching stories of Doctor Who.
Matt and Jenna are fantastic once again (and this is the first story she filmed too!), but let’s further highlight Jessica Raine and Dougray Scott who were astonishingly understated and honest. I’d like to particularly shine a spotlight on two intercutting interactions: Clara and Emma Grayling, and the Doctor and Alec Palmer – the former being an apt discussion about love (and notable for the cutting warning to Clara not to trust the Doctor because “he has a sliver of ice in his heart”); and the latter being a brief but beautiful examination of a grim fascination of death.
The reason Alec is looking for ghosts? “Because I killed, and I caused to have killed. I sent young men and women to their deaths, but here I am, still alive. And it does tend to haunt you – living, after so much of the other thing.” But what would he do if he could speak to the deceased? “I’d very much like to thank them.”
Torchwood had violence, and sex, and swearing, but this is proper adult drama.
Watch this and then watch The Stone Tape too, and you’ll further appreciate what a clever intricate script this is. I loved the sci-fi shift, and the change of scenery, and yes, the love story too. Hide teaches us about monsters, that they’re not always what they seem, and that’s special. There are too many grey areas, and in another notable scene whereby we see the Earth, from birth to death, we learn more about perspectives. And to some, the Doctor might be the monster after all.
Andrew Reynolds: The Crimson Horror
The threats presented in Doctor Who have to rise to the occasion – some do this by presenting a near impossible, impervious enemy for him to face, like the Silence. Others take away accoutrement such as the TARDIS or the Sonic Screwdriver in order to level the playing field.
So when it comes to the events of The Crimson Horror with its mad eugenicist and her symbiotically linked leech who threatens to launch a deadly toxin against all humanity, everything feels a little, well, small.
In creating a sense of jeopardy The Crimson Horror becomes less effective once the Doctor is back in business – not to mention the presence of the Paternoster Gang, who when combined with the Doctor, are more than a match for anything Victorian Yorkshire can throw at them.
No, what elevates this episode above the usual fare, are three things.
One, the performance by national treasure Diana Rigg, who brings a genuine bite and menace to Mrs Gillyflower; she may be just another over-the-top villain with a mad scheme to threaten the Earth, but Rigg revels in the character’s madness (if anyone can sell the genuine threat of an infernal leech attached to her chest, it’s her).
Another is the bold stylistic choices. The episode might have been so insubstantial as to be forgettable were it not for the Doctor’s absence from the story for about 15 mins (we are left with the entertaining and effective services of Jenny, Madame Vastra and Strax – you do wonder if the budgetary constraints of the make-up required to bring them to life means we’ll never see an impossible to resist spin-off for the trio), and the sepia toned grainy flashbacks.
It’s a welcome departure for the show. The quick snippets of plot happily dispense with story beats that even casual fans might have grown tired of seeing. What’s more, they’re genuinely fun and keep the energy levels high.
The last and by no means least intriguing development is Ada Gillyflower – our villainess’ invalid daughter played by real life daughter of Diana Rigg, Rachel Stirling.
Crushed by the cruel Victorian standards, she finds solace in her ‘monster’ – the crimson Doctor – who, once she is eventually rejected by her mother, and turns to self-pity, shows us another interesting facet to Matt Smith’s Doctor.
In labelling her pity as ‘backwards’, the Doctor implies a hitherto unseen value system behind his belief in the worth of all cultures – the Doctor recognises nascent cruelty in humanity and the dangers of abuse. He won’t let Ada be sucked into her mother’s primitivism but also, and perhaps crucially, he won’t take her vengeful step (in this case, a very literal step) and pulverise the offending leech.
A lot is made of the Doctor’s aloofness throughout this series and the contrast with his calmer approach to dealing with the fate of the parasitic enemy and Ada’s furious vengeful rage at what has been taken from her, makes a far subtler point out of a very silly joke than this episode has any right to make.
Drew Boynton: The Snowmen
I’m not sure if The Snowmen is underrated exactly, but I do think it tends to get overlooked. (Probably because it is a Christmas special, and sometimes the less said about them, the better.)
This episode gives us our first real look at Clara, and there is real suspense to her character, as we’re unsure why a) she’s living in the past; and b) why she is living a mysterious double-life. The Snowmen also offers a creepy performance from Richard E. Grant, some voiceover work from the legendary Sir Ian McKellen, and an appearance by the Paternoster Gang. In fact, it’s the Paternosters, especially a humorously winning spotlight for Strax, almost steal the show from the Doctor and company.
The Snowmen is well-made entertainment, and for me, probably the best of the Christmas specials… even if they can get overlooked.
Those are a few of our most underrated serials from Series 7B. Now it’s your turn! Vote below for the most underrated, and we’ll find out the overall winner very soon…