This post contains mild spoilers for the episode Empress of Mars and for some Classic Who episodes. Consider yourself warned.
The ninth episode of Doctor Who Series 10, Empress of Mars, had a whole lot of Classic Who love. We had the return of the Ice Warriors in a story befitting their cool factor after the abysmal Eleventh Doctor episode Cold War. Scaly head massages anyone?
Empress of Mars also featured a cameo from everyone’s favourite large-eyed Alpha Centaurian diplomat Alpha Centuari, who appeared in the Third Doctor stories The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon. With all these Classic callbacks, and the announcement that streaming service BritBox has all 26 seasons of Classic Who, it is a good time we revisit the seven classic Doctors and their best adventures.
And yes I left out the Eighth Doctor because his TV movie was awful though I hear his radio adventures are good, and that minisode Night of the Doctor was most entertaining. But anywho, back to out list:
#1 First Doctor – The Aztecs, Season 1
The show was originally created to teach children about science and history and the First Doctor had a number of historical adventures during his run. This early story, where the Doctor et al meet the Aztecs in 16th century Mexico, is not only the best of those serials but the best of his run.
The costuming is fantastic, companions Barbara and Ian all have interesting arcs, the story is engaging and features tense action. And the Doctor even gets accidentally engaged which is always fun.
Runner up – The Daleks
#2 Second Doctor – The Tomb of the Cybermen, Season 5
In The Tomb of the Cybermen the Second Doctor, Jamie and Victoria Waterfield visit the planet Telos and encounter an archaeological expedition and a hive of Cybermen. It is an intense, claustrophobic and thrilling adventure and one of the best to feature the Classic Who villains.
The Cybermen are terrifying and the scene where they escape from their tomb is iconic. This episode also features the first appearance of Cyber Controller and those pesky Cybermats. Quit biting my ankles you bastards!
Runner up – The Evil of the Daleks
#3 Third Doctor – The Three Doctors, Season 10
The Season 10 premiere featured the very first multi-Doctor story and it was three times the Doctor, three times the fun. When the evil Omega threatens time itself the Time Lords send the Second Doctor and the First Doctor (via messages as William Hartnell was ailing at the time) to aid the Third.
The interaction between Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton is wonderful and Hartnell calling them a “dandy and a clown” respectively was hilarious. Omega also had a cool design and large presence; he should really make a come back in Nu Who. The story is stretched out a bit with some mind wrestling and so forth but it detracts little from this historic and epic outing.
Runner up – Spearhead from Space
#4 Fourth Doctor – Genesis of the Daleks, Season 12
The Fourth Doctor had so many superb stories during his unprecedented run but Genesis of the Daleks is the best of the lot. The Time Lords send the Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan to the planet Skaro to the time when the Daleks originated to either stop their birth or alter it to make them less evil. We not only see the creation of the Daleks but meet their creator and recurring Who villain Davros for the first time, making it required viewing for any series fan.
Besides the lore the story is also great and the interaction between the Fourth Doctor and Davros electric. And the Doctor’s dilemma of whether to commit genocide and destroy the Daleks to save billions of other lives in the future is an intriguing one. Genesis of the Daleks is not only the best Fourth Doctor story but one of the best Classic Who stories as well.
Runner up – City of Death
#5 Fifth Doctor – The Caves of Androzani, Season 21
The Fifth Doctor may have been a bright and cheery bloke but he certainly had his share of dark stories. In the Caves of Androzani the Doctor and companion Peri visit the barren world of Androzani Minor and get involved in an underground war.
Christopher Gable gives us one of the best Who villain portrayals as the scarred android dealer Sharaz Jek. Like The Phantom of the Opera, Jek becomes obsessed with Peri and overprotective of her. Peter Davison also puts in a commendable performance in this his last regular story. This episode was voted the single best televised story by a Doctor Who Magazine poll in 2009, so you definitely need to check it out.
Runner up – Earthshock
#6 Sixth Doctor – Revelation of the Daleks, Season 22
Years ago when I went back to watch the Classic Who seasons I remember trying to like the Sixth Doctor but I just could not. Maybe other fans could – and more power to you – but his arrogant, abrasive and condescending attitude was just too much. And it did not help that they put him in outfits so loud they could make your eyes bleed and in stories so awful they make your brain bleed. Yes I’m looking at you Twin Dilemma and The Two Doctors.
Revelation of the Daleks, which sees the Doctor and Peri visiting the planet Necros and getting caught between warring Dalek factions, is the most watchable of his stories. And it featured the return of Davros and his twisted plan to create Daleks out of organic material stored in cryogenic stasis. This plot alone makes the story worth checking out.
Runner up – Terror of the Vervoids
#7 Seventh Doctor – The Curse of Fenric
We end our list fittingly with a story from the final season of Classic Who. In The Curse of Fenric the Seventh Doctor and Ace go to England in 1943 and battle the evil entity Fenric and the vampire-like Haemovores.
In this tale we learned that Fenric had been manipulating our heroes and the Doctor had been doing some manipulating himself. The Haemovores are disgusting and genuinely scary, Ace gives a strong performance, the Doctor is at his best and the story overall has a grand epic feel. It is definitely worth the effort tracking this one down.
Runner up – Dragonfire
So that’s my list of the best stories for the seven Classic Who Doctors. With 26 seasons of Classic Who I am sure to have missed some of your favourite stories. Feel free to list them below.
For my Top 10 Classic Who companions you can click here.