And like with so many good things, endings must come. And just like the original Doctor Who program ended after 27 seasons with the Sylvester Mccoy era, such ends my run downs of the top 5 Doctor Who stories from every Doctors reign as the most enigmatic Time Lord to ever steal a Type 40 TT Capsule and have countless adventures across Time and Space.
As I mentioned in my previous article about the Peter Davidson era, I was never planning on covering “New Who” on this particular set of articles. Not because I think “New Who” is bad or anything, but honestly I do think it’s gone off the rails more than a couple of times. What with the massive season long events, and universe changing consequences, it seemed like every season attempted to “outdo” the last by ramping up the stakes. Suddenly the Doctor was THE MOST IMPORTANT FORCE IN THE UNIVERSE, and I use all those caps on purpose because, boy did Russell T. Davis and Steven Moffat never let you forget that.
Gone were the days with just simple tales of the Doctor fighting the Nimon or getting stuck inside a Miniscope. Nope now everything was much more grand and epic, and although it wasn’t all that bad with some real corkers in terms of storytelling, it’s just not the same as old Who with all it’s rubber suited BEMs and 4 part cliffhangers. So with that said, I might some day get around to writing top 5 lists on Doctors 9-13, but not anytime soon.
So with that said, some of you might be wondering why I have decided to just do one list with the final 3 Doctors of the Classic era. Honestly, it’s because they just don’t have that many stories to pick from to make up their own lists, especially great ones. Peter Davidson was the last Doctor to actually have a solid chunk of stories amassing 20 tales in his 3 years in the role. The 6th, 7th, and 8th together have pretty much the same amount across all their runs, so I think it’s only fair to lump them all in one group and really compare apples to apples.
Besides this list is somewhat of a cop out anyways given that any fan of the Big Finish Doctor Who audios knows that really the best Doctor Who stories from these eras are the audio adventures that they cut many years after their own Doctors disappeared from TV screens.
That especially true for the 8th Doctor, Paul McGann, who has grown to be my 3rd Favorite Doctor of all time thanks to his incredible work at Big Finish, becoming what I consider the definitive “Radio” Doctor. But I digress. There will be more time to throw praise Mr. McGann’s way as we take a look at the best stories available from these twilight years of the greatest science fiction series ever on TV.
5.) The Two Doctors
I hate the Sixth Doctor era.
Not to say that I hate Colin Baker, as I’ve seen him to be a wonderfully charming person in real life, but everything about the Sixth Doctor is just the worst. From the costume, to the obnoxious personality, this era was a “101” on how not to do Doctor Who, and it’s no wonder that a show that stood the test of time up until this point for decades quickly was off the air within years of his appearance.
That being said, there was one shimming jewel among all that rough that came from this era, and again like The Three Doctors, the main reason it’s so good has really nothing to do with the current incarnation but has everything to do with it’s past. The Two Doctors marks the last time that the beloved Patrick Troughton would play the Second Doctor as he would soon after pass away of a heart condition after its airing. Not only that though but the story reunites him with his long standing companion, Jamie McCrimmon, giving this Doctor Who dream team one last ride off into the sunset.
Sure the story is somewhat bonkers in that it starts with the Second Doctor doing a task for the Time Lords, which if you read my “Top 5 Second Doctor Stories” article, you’d know wasn’t even possible from a continuity perspective. However, so strong is Patrick’s performance here that Whovians united to create a fan explanation in the “Season 6B” theory, postulating that the Second Doctor didn’t immediately regenerate after the events of The War Games, and instead worked for the Time Lords for an indeterminate number of years as an agent for the Celestial Intervention Agency (the Time Lord secret ops program) before becoming the Third Doctor. It’s all super interesting stuff really.
Anyways, as you can see, I haven’t really mentioned the Sixth Doctor at all in why this story makes the list, and really he has little to do with it other than he appears. This is all Patrick, baby, and if he hadn’t been in this adventure, I would have skipped over this era of Doctor Who completely. Luckily for us though, you have this one story to fall back on if you are forced at gunpoint to watch a Sixth Doctor story…
4.) Ghost Light
If there was a tonic for the abysmal Sixth Doctor era, it was final 2 seasons of the show which paired the solid Tardis crew of The Seventh Doctor played by Sylvester Mccoy and his companion Ace played by Sophie Aldred. They had solid chemistry in the teacher/student type role, with the mysterious power broker type Seventh Doctor grooming Ace to someday take his place in the constant war against ancient forces which were poised to tear the universe apart.
As such, Ghost Light works well as one of those “grooming” sessions. Ace revealed she had burnt down a dilapidated mansion house in her hometown of Perivale in a fit for teenage angst, but the Doctor was convinced she had not done this randomly. Returning to the house a century before, the pair find that it was actually the scene of a gross cosmic experiment in genetics being carried out by the sinister Josiah Smith under the director of an omnipotent alien being known as simply Light.
The tight confines of the story taking place all within the mansion house make it extremely claustrophobic, but at the same time heighten the realism and drama by not having too many outside distractions. It’s almost more akin to a Sherlock Holmes mystery than a Doctor Who episode with it’s Victorian backdrop and use of classic archetypes like The Butler, the Explorer, and the Chambermaid.
But at the heart of the story, lies true Doctor Who type grit, as science fiction concepts like time displaced neanderthals and super powered star ships attempting to categorize all life forms on a planet merge well into ultimately what becomes a terrific example of the Steampunk subgenre within this historic TV program.
3.) Doctor Who: The TV Movie
Yes, the black sheep of the Doctor Who continuity.
It’s a shame that for years Paul McGann’s 8th Doctor was somewhat kept at arms length by some circles of Whoivans, over his appearance in the ill fated TV movie made for Fox back in the mid 90s. This reputation however is one of the greatest misnomers in all of Doctor Who in my opinion. It’s in fact criminal the lack of respect and love given to the 8th Doctor by the fan base in general, as for all intents and purposes, Mcgann is an excellent Doctor and its a real shame he never got to showcase his talents on the big screen to the fullest extent.
Plus, I still don’t know what the big kerfuffle was about this movie as being “bad” Doctor Who. Trust me, I sat through all of the Sixth Doctor era. That’s “bad” Doctor Who. What was so wrong with this? The Doctor kissed a companion in a romantic style way? The Doctor said he was “half human”? Eric Roberts chewed up so much scenery that they had to bring in an entire carpentry team to build more?
Eh, none of these are really massive offenders that should automatically blackball this story in the way that some fans have suggested. The kissing has become pretty much normal in New Who, and the half human thing, well, it just adds another layer on that often conflicting mystery around the Doctor’s origin. It doesn’t really mean anything in the long run as some other writer will just come along and dump something else on top to make it irrelevant.
What the story is though, is one of the better post regeneration stories out there other than maybe Power of the Daleks. I mean let’s be honest. Most of them like Twin Dilemma, Time and the Rani, and Robot are all bollocks compared to this one which is cohesive, complete, and has a dramatic showdown between the Doctor and the Master to boot.
Honestly, I think it’s because it’s American and I get it that would bother me if I was a British Doctor Who fan, but if that’s it’s biggest crime, I think it’s time to let that go.
Besides, his interpretation lives on very strongly in the Big Finish series of Doctor Who audio adventures, many of which have been broadcasted on the BBC radio arm of their communication empire. I myself have listened to a ton of these adventures over the years and as a result, I think it’s nice to think that Mcgann has this special carved out niche of Doctor Whodom that is his alone.
2.) Remembrance of the Daleks
One thing I forgot to mention above when it comes to the saving graces of the Seventh Doctor’s era is the fact that they had some terrific writers coming within these final years to really pivot the franchise in a younger, edgier direction. Although those words sometimes strike fear into the hearts of long time fans, for Doctor Who, it was really the kick in the butt that this show needed to refocus its energies and continue building for the the future.
One of those writers happened to be Ben Aaronovitch who in working with story editor, Andrew Cartmel, started the show down a brand new path by first revisiting its very origins with the incredible story, Remembrance of the Daleks. As I mentioned in my Fourth Doctor article, if Genesis of the Daleks was the opening shot in the Time War between the Time Lords and Daleks, Remembrance was the first real battle.
For the first time ever, we get a really shrewd calculating Doctor, not showing up randomly in his Tardis and hoping for the best. Instead this is a Doctor that has a plan. He has manipulated events so that two warring factions of Daleks, the “original recipe” Grays and the “Davros created” whites, would show up in 1963 shortly after he originally departed from the junk yard way back in the first episode ever, An Unearthly Child.
They would searching for the Hand of Omega, a powerful Time Lord artifact that the Doctor left there years ago, and in capturing it, the Doctor would trick them into blowing up their own planet, thus dealing a crippling blow to the Dalek war machine.
This story would ultimately lead the show down a new direction as we would start to see the Doctor as not so much a cosmic hobo flying around the timestream aimlessly, but as a Machiavellian planner, settling old scores against those that would continue to threaten it with guile and cunning for the sake of peace in the universe. It was a direction so popular that for years after the show went off the air, it would continue in a series of “New Adventure” novels that would keep that spark alive for fans in the dark days before New Who.
1.) The Night of the Doctor
Alright, I’m sure I’m going to get some grief on this top spot, especially from classic Doctor Who fans that are going to rail at me because Remembrance is at number 2. Plus the fact that technically this story is “New Who” given it came out in 2013 as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the show.
But this is my list, damn it! And I could not end my countdown of classic Doctor Who stories without giving some more love to Paul McGann. As mentioned above, he is easily among my favorite Doctors of all time, and in this short vignette, we finally get to see his “death” as it were and regeneration into the next Doctor which provides a bittersweet bookend to an era of Doctor Who we fans should have gotten but were denied due to cruel fate.
Plus by providing this story look back on the end of the 8th Doctor’s reign in someways, this little story is also a canonical book end to the entire Classic Doctor era as immediately following this, you get into the larger story of the Time War in earnest which is the hallmark story line of the entire New Who run.
But in terms of why I personally think this is one of the best of the best, let’s look at the facts:
1) Paul McGann is in absolute top form. It shows why it was so unfair that he was never allowed to reprise the role when the show was relaunched in 2005 or given his own show back in 1996. In fact, as a result of his performance on this short, Doctor Who fans at the time campaigned with the BBC to give him his own spin off show, including a petition that was signed by tens of thousands of fans (including myself). In short, Paul is an insanely good actor and if he had been given a chance, I have no doubt he would have created a Doctor that would have been for the ages. This short is a tantalizing glimpse of that.
2) It makes all of his Big Finish audios officially canon as he mentions all his Big Finish companions by name. I can’t remember squeeing so hard that when this moment happened for me as a fan. It meant that all of those hours I spent listening to his audio stories were as if I was listening to real Doctor Who. For fans, The 8th Doctor is officially well established and anyone that wants more can just listen to those audios. As I mentioned above, I really suggest that you do!
3) Finally, for those of you that like New Who, it gives us probably the best glimpse of what the front lines of the Time War was really like and what a closterflock of mess it was. I also like bringing Karn back into the story as a throw back to the classic Tom Baker story “Brains of Morbius”
But don’t let me convince you. Watch it in its entirety thanks to the BBC You Tube page and judge for yourself!