Where To Begin Watching Classic Doctor Who
Guest contributor James Hunt suggests five stories.
This is a question I have seen posted numerous times on various Doctor Who sites, and everyone always gives a different answer.
A logical place to begin would be with ‘The Beginning’ box set; but maybe being thrown into a black-and-white story with a much slower place and considerably lower production values than we’re used to nowadays is not the best way to start. Another reasonable place to begin would be with the stories often voted as ‘classics’; but these tend to be mainly gothic stories from Tom Baker’s first three seasons, hardly giving a full picture of everything Classic Who has to offer.
And so, I have compiled a list of five stories I believe are the perfect way to welcome a brand new viewer to the crazy world of Classic Who.
Remembrance of the Daleks
This is largely regarded as one of the best stories of the McCoy era, and is a fantastic first episode for a new viewer due to its fast pacing, tight direction and engaging script. It adds a new dimension to the Daleks, with different factions at war with each other, and – despite what many people believe – properly shows the first time a Dalek manages to elevate up a flight of stairs. It also features references to the very first episode of Doctor Who, with the Doctor returning to 76 Totter’s Lane in 1963.
Furthermore, it boasts some stunning production values, including an impressive first use of the skeletal death effect, an enormous spaceship prop actually landing in a school playground, and some of the largest real explosion effects Doctor Who has ever dared to do. This shows how despite a lack of computer effects and money, Doctor Who has never been scared to be ambitious.
The Time Warrior
Companion Sarah-Jane Smith and the Sontarans both make their first appearances in this Jon Pertwee story, and it’s a fun historical piece written by Robert Holmes, who many would argue is the best writer of Doctor Who ever. The BBC were well-known for their attention to detail when it came to historical dramas, and as a result there is not a wobbly wall in sight in the fantastic medieval castle set.
The Sontaran mask is especially effective, making it easy to see how they have managed to remain so popular, and the witty dialogue by Holmes gives this story buckets of energy. Although UNIT were beginning to be phased out by this stage in the programme, the Brigadier makes an appearance at the start of the episode which highlights the family relationship which was such a key feature of the Pertwee era.
The Two Doctors
This is probably the most controversial choice on the list, as it is never voted particularly highly on fans polls. However, I feel it is sorely underrated and offers a lot for a new viewer to Classic Who. Firstly, it is another Sontaran story by Robert Holmes, which allows you to see how much the show developed in tone and pace since the Sontarans’ first appearance in ‘The Time Warrior’. Secondly, the mix of the gloomy, decaying space station and the beautiful location filming in Seville gives it an epic scale and unique feel.
Finally, it is a multi-Doctor story which sees great chemistry between the Sixth and Second Doctors. Patrick Troughton is on particularly fine form – giving a great performance as an Androgum later on in the story – and Colin Baker can be taken more seriously when he is not forced to his wear his dazzling coat of many colours.
The DVD cover sadly spoils the first shock of this story – the return of the Cybermen – but the first episode is nevertheless chilling and tense with some of the most gothic deaths in the history of the programme, and eerie caves stalked by two silhouettes. Peter Davison is fantastic in his first series, adding energy to every scene and echoing Patrick Troughton’s performance at times.
The Cybermen have been given a brand new design, and David Banks gives a powerful performance as the emotionless Cyber Leader. This is a dark story, with a tight script, filmic direction, and a much bigger shock at the end of the story.
City of Death
Consistently ranked as one of the best stories of all time, ‘City of Death’ is bursting with wit and features one of Doctor Who’s maddest plots. It’s written by Douglas Adams (ignore the pseudonym on the opening titles) and sees an alien with impeccable fashion taste and fetish for the Mona Lisa hiding in modern-day Paris. The location filming is sublime, and the relationship between Tom Baker and Lalla Ward is fantastic – somewhat ironic in retrospect.
Everything just seems to work about this story! It’s fun, imaginative and clever, and also features a cameo from a very famous comedian. I believe this is the very best Doctor Who story, and a must-see for any new viewer to Classic Who.
Whilst every fan will have very different opinions about where a new viewer should begin watching Classic Doctor Who, I believe this is a solid list of stories which shows how the classic series handled historical, modern-day and futuristic tales as well as classic monsters. Furthermore, these stories are all fast-paced with impressive production values, which makes it easier to watch for viewers used to the tone of the new Doctor Who series.
Finally, if you are a new viewer of Classic Who and enjoy watching these five colourful stories, I’d then highly recommend getting ‘The Beginning’ box set to see William Hartnell’s fantastic First Doctor and the origins of Doctor Who.