5. Earthshock (Peter Davison, 1982)
This wasn’t an easy pick – Peter Davison is my second favourite Doctor, after the great Troughton, and I love… well, most of his serials, in all their gritty 80s glory. But while there are many that are better made and more interesting, Earthshock is the one that I always come back to.
The return of the cybermen following a seven year absence, Earthshock is basically Tomb of the Cybermen meets Alien. Which is to say, it’s more or less wall to wall action, with some great character moments, some bizarre directorial decisions, and some truly shocking violence (if you don’t mind spoilers, look up the ending on Youtube and count how many times the cyberleader gets shot. Just count ’em).
The TARDIS got really busy in season 19, with three companions vying for the audience’s attention, so a decision was made to make one story focusing on each companion. Nyssa gets to meet her double and go to a fancy dress party, Tegan gets possessed by a demon, and Adric gets to… save the world, at great cost. I won’t spoil it, but Earthshock gets darker than you’d expect real quick. Thoroughly recommended.
(Runners up: Enlightenment, Kinda)
6. The Two Doctors (Colin Baker, Patrick Troughton, 1985)
This… was an easy pick, actually! Much as I love Colin Baker’s Doctor, his two-year run was, shall we say, not the best Doctor Who has ever been. But it did produce this madcap gem. Patrick Troughton had such fun filming the twentieth anniversary special that he asked if he could come back once more – and this time he brought Frazer Hines!
In The Two Doctors, the Sixth Doctor crosses his own timeline to rescue his younger self, and becomes embroiled in an adventure involving Sontarans, cannibal aliens, and a butterfly hunter. The action takes place in and around Seville (New Orleans was planned, but proved too expensive).
The Second Doctor and Jamie part of the plot is so confusing that it’s sparked an elaborate fan theory that’s led to the writing of multiple expanded universe stories. The ethics are so weird that one reviewer proposed that author Robert Holmes is straight-up playing mindgames with the viewer – side with the villain and you’re agreeing with a eugenicist. Side with the Doctor and you’re siding with a bigot.
In short, it’s a bit of a mess. But it has Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines in one last outing together, a messy Robert Holmes script is still a Robert Holmes, and I just find it all-round endearing.
(Runners up: Revelation of the Daleks, Terror of the Vervoids)
7. The Curse of Fenric (Sylvester McCoy, 1989)
Another difficult choice – pretty much every story to come out of seasons 25 and 26 is pure gold. But at the moment, my favourite has to be Curse of Fenric.
Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor, originally introduced as more of a clownish figure, was increasingly played as a chessmaster, and Curse of Fenric is the result. Years – perhaps centuries – before, the Doctor bested the Elder God Fenric in a game of chess and imprisoned him in a bottle. But Fenric’s influence never died and now he’s breaking free, in the middle of a WWII power struggle between Britain and Russia for the ultimate code-breaking machine… also, there’s vampires.
The Curse of Fenric is a startlingly grown-up story, with a simmering undercurrent of sexuality and some major emotional punches in the gut. It’s also really complicated, like a lot of Seventh Doctor stories – I’d recommend watching the director’s cut, which smooths out some of the more confusing plot points.
Above all else, it’s a story about Ace, the Doctor’s companion, overcoming her fears, maturing, coming to terms with her trouble childhood. Ace has perhaps the most emotionally complex arc of any Classic Who companion, and it’s a real shame that it was cut short.
(Runners up: Ghost Light, Remembrance of the Daleks).
8. The Chimes of Midnight (Paul McGann, 2002)
Here’s a really tricky one. To date, Paul McGann has only appeared in two televised Doctor Who stories – Doctor Who aka The Enemy Within aka The TV Movie, aka the 1996 special that introduced him, and Night of the Doctor, a short prologue to the fiftieth anniversary special. Of those, Night of the Doctor is quite definitely my fav.
But in this instance, it really wouldn’t feel right not to look at the expanded universe, because that’s where Paul McGann’s Doctor really lives, with something like sixteen seasons of audio adventures under his belt. And of those, I have to go right back to the beginning, to The Chimes of Midnight, recently voted Big Finish’s best ever Doctor Who adventure.
The Doctor and his companion, Charley Pollard, land in a deserted Edwardian townhouse that seems to be frozen in time. Meanwhile, in an indentical house, a group of servants are preparing Christmas dinner. When the clock strikes ten, the two merge – and the Doctor and Charley promptly find the body of the scullery maid, Edith Thompson.
Fortunately, the rest of the staff are absolutely certainly that the Doctor is a detective from Scotland Yard. No-one can agree on the date. Charley starts seeing Edith Thompson’s ghost, who tells her that Edward Grove is alive. Every time the clock strikes the hour, someone dies.
And then things get weird.
The Chimes of Midnight is one hell of a ride, blending surreal horror with farce, managing to be in equal measures uproariously funny and deeply disturbing. I really can’t recommend it enough – you can download the mp3 from Big Finish for £2.99. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
(Runners up: Immortal Beloved, Solitaire)
Next week: the New Series Doctors!