Thomas's Rant

Story, myth, writings

Doctor Who story registry

Some years ago I watched all episodes of the television programme Doctor Who from 1963 to the present as part of a study of narrative structure. Doctor Who today (and for many decades) has, I argue, shifted away from great storytelling and instead tends to pay lip-service to idiosyncratic minutiae and back references, rarely producing a story that makes any internal or consistent sense to the average viewer (as one of my friends put it, modern Doctor Who is “a closed society for those initiated“). Hence, the purpose of this list of Doctor Who stories is to make my research findings accessible to others – to help locate the few stories made today which may be of interest to the general viewer.

My main selection criteria involve stories which:
– have a clear and involving beginning, middle and end- are surprising and unexpected; without formulaic plots or timewasting
– make internal sense without the need for elaborate explanations or references to earlier stories or fan fiction etc.
– feature characters who behave approximately consistently and as if they are human beings
– are basically entertaining.

The list follows. I’ve included the story or episode title as distributed on DVD in the order in which the stories were broadcast, under headings indicating the actor who plays the Doctor.

1st Doctor: William Hartnell
I am a huge fan of the originality and freshness of Hartnell’s stories. See my blog post about this strange and wonderful era of the show here. I strongly recommend watching this era in chronological order as there is far more continuity between characters and incidents (without being totally necessary) which adds further depth. I have marked the uncharacteristically bad stories in this era with an asterisk (*), but have kept them in the list as even Hartnell’s dud stories tend to have narrative aspects which are unusual and interesting.

Series 1: 1963-1964
1. An Unearthly Child
2. The Daleks
3. The Edge of Destruction
4. Marco Polo
5. The Keys of Marinus*
6. The Aztecs
7. The Sensorites*
8. The Reign of Terror

Series 2: 1964-1965
1. Planet of Giants
2. The Dalek Invasion of Earth
3. The Rescue
4. The Romans
5. The Web Planet*
6. The Crusade*
7. The Space Museum*
8. The Chase
9. The Time Meddler

Series 3: 1965-1966
1. Galaxy 4
2. Mission to the Unknown
3. The Myth Makers
4. The Dalek Masterplan
5. The Massacre*
6. The Ark*
7. The Celestial Toymaker*
8. The Gunfighters

At this point, a new producer changes the direction of the show, and the stories start to become formulaic and less focused on strong storytelling. I do not recommend Hartnell’s final 4 stories at all.

2nd Doctor: Patrick Troughton
The story standard drops sharply as this era is made up almost entirely of stories constructed using the same formula: the ‘Monster In A Military Base’ formula (monsters run rampant while boring military/scientific types take ages to figure out a convenient solution).
I only recommend the following unusual stories:

Series 4: 1966-1967
9. The Evil of the Daleks

Series 6: 1968-69
2. The Mind Robber
7. The War Games*

Troughton’s final serial, The War Games, is recommended only because it has a lot to answer for in terms of the unadventurous first few series of the Pertwee era (see below).

3rd Doctor: Jon Pertwee
This is the most straightforwardly formulaic of all the eras of Doctor Who. Most stories are set boringly on Earth, where the Doctor has joined some highly dull military organisation as a kind of scientific adviser. The ‘Monster In A Military Base’ formula is augmented by the ‘Villain Is Always The Same Guy’ formula.
Originality is scarce in this era and I can really only recommend one story:

Series 7: 1970
4. Inferno

The only other Pertwee stories I can vaguely suggest are actually only faded, poorly executed versions of Hartnell stories:

Series 10: 1972-1973
4. Planet of the Daleks*

Series 11: 1973-1974
3. Death to the Daleks*

4th Doctor: Tom Baker
I consider Tom Baker to be the most interesting performer to play the Doctor. However, the quality of the writing in his era can be a little hit and miss. His initial producer, Philip Hinchcliffe, radically improved the production standard of the show but introduced some formulaic elements of his (and his writers’) own. Notably he manages to make the tired old ‘Monster In A Military Base’ formula exciting and fresh at times, but introduces horror film tropes such as ‘Person Transforming Into An Animal’ or ‘Mystics Chanting Nonsense’ which can get tired and convenient.

Series 12: 1974-1975
2. The Ark In Space
3. The Sontaran Solution
4. Genesis of the Daleks

Series 13: 1975-1976
3. Pyramids of Mars*
4. The Android Invasion*
6. The Seeds of Doom*

Series 14: 1976-1977
3. The Deadly Assassin
6. The Talons of Weng-Chiang

Series 15: 1977-1978
6. The Invasion of Time

Series 16: 1978-1979
1. The Ribos Operation*
2. The Pirate Planet
3. The Stones of Blood
4. The Androids of Tara*

Series 17: 1979-1980
1. Destiny of the Daleks*
2. City of Death

5th Doctor: Peter Davison
The last series of Tom Baker (series 18) is the point where the fanboy lip-service begins, when the series is taken over by a fan (producer John Nathan-Turner). Nathan-Turner is noted for a highly superficial focus on special effects; 1980s fashion; recycling of old ideas, characters and situations; and with an exceptionally poor grasp of narrative structure. Common features of his stories include inconsistent character arcs, nonsensical plot progressions, constant intercutting, stories in which the Doctor hardly appears or bumbles around unrelated to the main action, and, later on, increased violence and unpleasantness in lieu of drama. Consequently there is little of note in the remaining 3 incarnations of the Doctor until the series is cancelled in 1989 (yes, Nathan-Turner remained producer for this long).

Series 21: 1984
2. The Awakening*
6. The Caves of Androzani

6th Doctor: Colin Baker
Series 23: 1986
1. The Trial of a Timelord (ep. 1-4): Mysterious Planet*
2. The Trial of a Timelord (ep. 5-8): Mindwarp*

7th Doctor: Sylvestor McCoy

I cannot recommend any of McCoy’s stories.

8th Doctor: Paul McGann
McGann starred in the highly Americanised Doctor Who TV Movie in 1996. A big budget production which combines the cliches and formulas of the past with seemingly random unexplained story inconsistencies of its own. I cannot recommend this either.

9th Doctor: Christopher Eccleston
The series was rebooted in 2005 with a larger budget and a 50 min. largely self-contained episode format. The 50 min. episodes, I feel, limit the depth and complexity of stories that can be told (I find that once a dramatic problem has been established, it is pretty much all over 10 minutes later which seems rushed and undramatic). The shorter format also seems to encourage superficial characterisation; abrupt, undeveloped dialogue (more a series of one-liners); and bizarre overarching ‘meta-stories’ which seem more like fan conspiracy theories than story arcs. The series also adopts the Nathan-Turner features of constant backward references, a focus on special effects, recycling of the conveniences and formulas of the past, and adds extreme sentimentality to the mix (with its overblown melodramatic orchestral score).
I can recommend only the stories that suddenly have a brilliant writer involved.

New series 1: 2005
9. The Empty Child
10. The Doctor Dances

10th Doctor: David Tennant
New series 2: 2006
4. The Girl In The Fireplace

New series 3: 2007
10. Blink

New series 4: 2008
10. Midnight

11th Doctor: Matt Smith
Some particularly brilliant scripts win writer Steven Moffat the role of producer. Sadly, his writing abilities seem instantly to crumble as he continues producing the earlier story issues while adding bizarreness, hyperactivity, and incomprehensibility to the mix.
I cannot wholeheartedly recommend any of Matt Smith’s stories, except perhaps the first two episodes, which remain just bearable.

New series 5: 2010
1. The Eleventh Hour*
2. The Beast Below*

12th Doctor: Peter Capaldi
Moffat’s era continues, thankfully with some of the hyperactivity reigned in.

New series 8: 2014
9. Flatline.

Written by tomtomrant

23 December 2015 at 5:40 pm

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