The Best Pre-Title Sequences
Guest contributor Cooper Jennings counts down six of the best.
The pre-title sequence is half the battle. It is the reason why I’ve seen The Beast Below more times than most.It is the reason why I have to hold A Good Man Goes To War in high esteem. It is the reason why I can’t fully agree with distaste for The Idiot’s Lantern.
The pre-title sequence is the thumbnail picture, the trailer to Prometheus, the lead single off the album – it is self-sufficient, an art to itself – to be enjoyed separately and viewed most of all.
Often the POST-title episode lets down the sequence preceding it – but at best – the pre-title sequence makes an otherwise poor episode worth watching in full. Often the writer and/or director over-think the sequence, as in The God Complex where the writer was trying too hard to be enigmatic and the director misinterpreted claustrophobia providing us instead with light complexity.
The Doctor’s Daughter is a try hard. The Doctor’s Wife is so confident (deservedly so) that it needed to not try hard at all!
Which are the best? And why? Because of the monster? Because the rest of the episode is poor in comparison? Because it is the first episode or the finale? Ultimately, what must the writer conjure to give us a pre-title sequence that sees us returning to the first five minutes of the same episodes?
I’ve decided to list some favourites. But how? Should I watch them all again back to back? Not necessary – like all you Doctor Who fans, I’ve seen ALL of New Who several times already and should trust by now that I know which ones have made an impression!
How shall I explain each choice? Easy – in the style of the sequence itself – short; with a line or two. For the pre-title sequence has not time to explain itself, it is all about impression! It is that little nag we all feel, that immense excitement we feel that makes us want to watch the episode in the first place! What was it precisely that first grabbed me about my favourite pre-title sequences? And in short – what was it specifically that first grabbed you about yours?
(Some pre-title sequences are fairly long; this often occurs when the writer opts for exposition [with good reason] in favour of spontaneity and impact. Sometimes the writer builds the exposition slowly and STILL finds a way to surprise and punch the audience – these are often the very best.)
6. CLOSING TIME
There is something Old Who about this New Who opening. This shows the power of the returning monster tied in with modern day setting. It is immediately relatable and reminiscent of the most famous Doctor Who images – men in silver marching through London, monsters in the underground. It immediately creates a kitsch culture reference which grabs you with its acknowledgement of old and familiar.
5. THE STOLEN EARTH
Planets in the sky: (“The TARDIS is still in the same place but the earth has gone…”) The scale of the problem and breadth of characters PLUS the image of the planets (and not forgetting the pre-pre-titles trailer teased return of Davros) build this episode up superbly from every angle.
4. THE BEAST BELOW
Don’t underestimate the introduction of a brand new Moffat monster! Upon it’s reveal – the Smiler (in the lift) promised potential. Great design of monster let down by poor directing/editing rather than poor script. The set up is stronger than the episode – maybe that’s why I rate it – every time I watch it I think “what if…!”
3. THE IDIOT’S LANTERN
Maureen Lipman (The Wire):
“Now, are we sitting comfortably? Good. Then we’ll begin.”
Deliciously camp and creepy. Something from The Twilight Zone. Great casting and concept. Perfect Doctor Who opener.
2. A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR
Moffat’s super short use of the Cybermen once again proves that they deserve some attention from a writer who is serious about them. When asked what the best Cyberman episode is of New Who I HAVE to argue in favour of The Pandorica Opens and A Good Man Goes To War – whilst they are not soul Cyberman stories, they demonstrate BY FAR the best use of them.
1. THE BIG BANG
Amy Pond: “OK kid. This is where it gets complicated.”
Just perfect. How best answer the best Doctor Who cliffhanger ever? With another one! Sheer genius from a writer who is confident with the story and not afraid to have fun or be taken too seriously.
Many other pre-titles sequences deserve to be on my list… and I’m easily persuaded to include them as I love them all!! But these are the ones that immediately jump to my mind. The ones I love to watch over and over!
Which pre-title sequences do you love – simply, what is it that continues to grab you in those first few minutes?