2MTL 55: Why I'm a Bad Doctor Who Fan

Let's get this out of the way first: I haven't seen many classic Doctor Who episodes, but I do remember liking "Caves of Androzani" when I was a kid, and "Remembrance of the Daleks" was just as good on the DVD I got last year as when I saw it on a bootleg VHS tape in college. The other episodes I've dabbled in, however…

…well, I guess I need some help. So I can more properly appreciate my "roots."

Join the Conversation


  1. Just a sampling of classics eps I've really enjoyed, even though I'm a short attention span Gen X-er coming to old Who after NuWho. I've only ever watched them on DVD, so they're all available:

    1st Doctor–The Daleks, The Aztecs, and The Time Meddler
    2nd Doctor–Tomb of the Cybermen and The Mind Robber
    3rd Doctor–The Silurians and The Time Warrior
    4th Doctor–Robot, The Ark in Space, Genesis of the Daleks, Robots of Death, Talons of Weng-Chiang, and City of Death
    5th Doctor–Earthshock and The Five Doctors
    6th Doctor–The Mark of the Rani and (parts of) Trial of a Time Lord
    7th Doctor–All of Season 26 (Battlefield, Ghost Light, Curse of Fenric, and Survival)

    I'm sure you won't like all of these, but they're all on Netflix, so you can find the ones you like. I would also suggest that, when in doubt go for 4-parters as opposed to 6-parters. Have fun!


  2. Erik's suggestions are all great, but I'd like to add the entirety of season 18.

    First of all because I just like it, it's very cerebral and serious but not without moments of humor, and the stories are often very atmospheric. Also, all of the stories are on DVD except Meglos (which I quite like and it has Jacqueline Hill, but if you miss it then it's not the end of the world). And lastly because I think you might benefit (as I did) from watching a season continuously, complete with continuous threads, which it has. Not on the scale of Davies-Who, mind you, but there are definite continuing plot threads.

    I also have one other recommendation, which is not a story as such: the DVD special features. Always watch these if you can. Classic Who has a very different sensibility from anything else I've ever seen, so when I first saw it it was strange and difficult to understand or like. Watching the DVD extras bridged that gap a lot and it helped me to understand where the show's coming from, which made me better able to appreciate not only the particular stories but the show as a whole. The documentaries are usually very thorough and frank, which is unusual in my experience, so I love them.

  3. I'd second what Erik and Tom have said.

    I won't add to Erik's list because you've got plenty to be going on with there, but I will make a suggestion as to how to view the episodes.

    Classic Who (apart from maybe some of Sylvester McCoy's stuff) was not made to be watched in one sitting, but spread over several weeks due to the episodic format. Now my experience of the Classic series has been almost entirely VHS and DVD based where you can watch as much as you want in one go. Sometimes this is fine, but longer stories usually suffer when watched like this (The War Games is a notable exception).

    My only experience of watching Classic Who in its original format was when the BBC repeated Doctor Who and the Silurians back in 1999 and every Tuesday (I remember it was Tuesday because that was macaroni cheese night) we'd sit down at the dinner table and watch the next episode. Even though I had read the Target book the weekly wait to find out how the cliffhanger would be resolved really added to my viewing pleasure. Since then I've bought the DVD and watched it in a more condensed time frame which I think reduced my enjoyment of it.

    You said that you don't have much time for watching so why not pick a story and watch an episode per week and see whether that helps you appreciate the story better.

  4. Everybody who likes a show likes it for their own reasons, or at least their own personal variation. I've noticed from your podcast that you like ideas and contradictions, so I've picked one story – my favorite one from Tom Baker's time – that you should have some fun when you get. A story that shows just what classic Who could do.

    The Sun Makers often gets forgotten. It is not on DVD yet. A 4th Doctor story with Leela and the original K9 as the companions. It is a story that can be seen completely differently depending on the political glasses you want to wear. Or you can just smile at both sides and plot revolution against everybody.

    Conservative View – The government is taxing people to death. The taxing authority is even called the IRS. And it's all being ruled from a faraway place with no representation for the people. The Doctor and Leela pitch revolution against the taxes (how 1770s of them). The themes continue.

    Liberal View – the government is really a Business. One corporation to rule them all with an iron, uncaring fist. They even call it "The Company" and try to get the people to treat it like a religion. The Doctor and Leela pitch to the masses that they kick out the elites (how 1917 of them). The themes continue.

    I hope I haven't spoiled too much of a story from 1978. But it has clever dialogue (written by Robert Holmes, who is being profiled in the current set of Radio Free Skaro episodes), multiple ways of being perceived, clever tricks to cope with a small budget, and I don't think it has too many pratfalls or cliches that can trip up somebody who did not grow up with the show. Not perfect, but a forgotten gem in its own right.

  5. Thanks, Benjamin, for taking the story I was going to mention. Thanks….

    I'll stick with the Robert Holmes angle, though, and recommend first:

    – Carnival of Monsters, which is just so clever.
    – The Power of the Daleks, which doesn't exist, but a superb official BBC CD-MP3 reconstruction is out there. All the best parts of "Genesis of the Daleks" and "Dalek" whooshed up together into the greatest story of the 1960s.
    – The Seeds of Doom, which features a uniquely angry performance by Tom Baker.
    – Horror of Fang Rock, which is the epitome of how to make an utterly compelling and tense drama with four sets and a tiny cast.
    – Enlightenment, which is tremendous and original (although it might require watching Mawdryn Undead and Terminus before it).

    And I echo Tom's pick (Season 18) and Erik's (Season 26) – the first and last (and both the best) of the JNT era. And JNT had next to nothing to do with why they were so great.

    Get on the trolley, Chip! Classic Who is a fun ride.

  6. Erik: Ticking the boxes here, I've (only, yikes) seen Earthshock (hurray for drama and Davison), The Five Doctors (nonsensical but fun romp), and Ghost Light (nonsensical in such a not very good way). From what I know of the rest, I think I'll be most enthused about checking out the Fourth Doctor stories…

  7. Tom: Series 18. There's a challenge for me. I have the New Beginnings boxset, and Tom Baker just seemed dead on his feet in Traken and Logopolis. (I've mentioned on Twitter my revulsion at the scene when he bonks the guards' heads together in Traken.) Is it safe to assume that the earlier S18 episodes are stronger?

    I'll likely first take up Erik's suggestion for the earlier Baker episodes. I feel like I'll get a better measure of the man.

  8. Luke: Will do. That is sort of the way I viewed Inferno, although there was a definite air of have-to-finish-my-homework about it even so. (Hoo on Who #9 had been sitting on my hard drive for SO long!) But you're right. I'm used to (and frankly prefer) the modern show's pacing, and I ought to force myself to honor the old format.

  9. Done and done, Benjamin. If I can get my hands on it (is it on DVD?) that'll be my next classic episode. I did thoroughly enjoy the chess scene that BBC Worldwide posted to YouTube — the sort of humor and interplay that seemed lacking in Traken and Logopolis.

    ("I think we should go for a W-A-L-K." "What?" "Whu-a-(gargle)-kkk!" "Entreat, Master! I'll be good!")

  10. Steven: My early experiences of S18 and S26 haven't been that good — we may be looking for different things out of our television! Which S18 and S26 episode (outside of Traken, Logopolis and Ghost Light) would you say is the strongest?

  11. Chip: The Leisure Hive is a triumph of early 80s style over substance, but, oh, what style. The E-Space trilogy is what hooked me as a kid. i didn't know what a story arc was until I saw that, and it's still brilliant today.

  12. Ghost Light is a divisive story, so I'll allow you to be wrong on that one–but it bears rewatching and reveals more each time I do so. But it may be, perhaps, an acquired taste. Can't wait to hear what you make of our zillions of suggestions.

  13. Good lord – don't subject the entirety of Season 18 upon yourself if you are trying to delve into classic who.

    Season 18 is a season filled with such incomprehension as to drive away any prospective fan! For every State of Decay we have a Warriors Gate for example.

    I found Erik's initial suggestion a great way to get into Who. Except for his suggestion to watch all of S26. Good god! Ghostlight is in that season you realise! As is Survival! Not the ideal stories to show someone to get into the program.

    Also may I suggest from the Troughton era The Invasion, the DVD release for this is superb!

    Also, for any stories not mentioned here but are available on DVD, the making of documentaries on the respective releases are great ways to get into the stories, without actually watching them. I find myself gettting enthused about stories I would otherwise dismiss merely based on their DVD making of docos.

    And on a purely personal note, I am quite offended that somebody running a DW podcast doesn't like the original series! It offends my sensibilities!


  14. Trev, Trev, Trev — it's not that bad. As I said above, there are a few classic episodes I really dig. And even in the ones I had problems with, there have been moments. For every Venusian Karate Famous Spock Neck Pinch in Inferno, there's a moment where a sheepish Pertwee returns from having materialized the TARDIS console in a rubbish dump.

    So I certainly don't hate what I've seen of the classic series, and I'll readily concede that there's much to like. (If I don't, then I fear for my life at Gallifrey One.) But I can't say that I love the classic series yet.

    (Invasion is definitely on my list, BTW.)

  15. Firstly, I have to admit that I am (all) Doctor Who fan. I started watching Doctor Who (accidentily) when I was five and was firmly hooked. I am now 37 (that math really scares me). My first episode was The Ark in Space, which remains to this day one of my favorite episode and in my opinion one of Tom Baker's very best stories. If I'm going to watch a classic episode of Doctor Who, I do tend to go for a four-part story. I love the longer stories, but four parts is a good length when you don't have a lot of time to spare.


  16. I can say I don't buy, the "Bad Doctor Who" thing. When you consider the sheer volume of Doctor Who, (not to mention the missing/lost stories) It does feel quite daunting. Anyone who can appreciate the series in whatever capacity is enough. Are you a bad Doctor Who fan if you haven't heard all the Big Finish audios? Are you a bad Doctor Who fan if you haven't read all the books? Are you a bad Doctor Who if you haven't read all the comics? The answer is no. You are a Doctor Who fan, that's enough!


  17. I have to agree with Alan, we are all just Doctor Who fans. Not good, nor bad.

    I surely haven't seen all of the classic series episodes, and even some that I have seen I haven't enjoyed. Over all though, even the cheesiest, lowest budgeted episodes are great for different reasons. I even like the 1996 movie, mostly due to Paul McGann's wonderful performance. The DVD bonus features are awesome too! They're the main reason I buy the classic series DVDs.

    Also, http://www.dailymotion.com/tardismedia has a huge amount of classic episodes available to watch for free. Tom Baker, Colin Baker, Davison, McCoy, Pertwee, the whole lot of them. Definitely worth checking out. I just watched Planet of Fire on there last night actually.

    You've got some great suggestions there so I'll only suggest one more. I, personally, really liked Black Orchid. Davison was my Doctor as well, and that episode is a fun murder mystery type show. Not the best episode by far, but still really enjoyable.

    – Carl

  18. Oh Gawd, The Inferno? I love that episode but I wouldn't have if I wasn't already enjoying the classic series. Not one I would suggest to somebody right off the bat.

    I also could count on my hands the number of episodes (and that's just episodes, not full serials) that I watched when they aired on PBS. I imprinted on Tom Baker but in going back and binging on the classic series (not quite in order but almost) I have to say Peter Davison has nudged him aside.

    The first couple of seasons are very "theatrically" paced and staged (Web Planet, for instance, has not such a great story but the costumes are AWESOME!) The show was given to the department in the BBC that produced Dramas even though it was intended to be a children's show. So in the beginning it was more like a Drama (slow pace, lots of exposition given in duologue… lots and LOTS of duologue) and as time went on it started to be more like other kids shows. (clumsy fight scenes, billboard sized labels for things, huge bulbous monster costumes)

    I think I've said this before, but I found the things you listed as not liking as part of its charm. It's very like Star Trek in that way. Very earnest in its desire to tell a story despite the limitations of budget or technology.

    I have to agree, for the first Doctor The Time Meddler and The Aztecs are excellent serials.

    The Aztecs is one of those wonderful early serials where the challenges to the Doctor and his companions come only from the people and conditions presented by the historical era they've landed in. The TARDIS ends up in the burial chamber of a very important priest, one thing leads to another and Barbara is mistaken for a spontaneous reincarnation of that priest. (Making her a living goddess.) On top of that, once they leave the chamber where the TARDIS is, they're unable to get back in. Hilarity ensues… Here's what makes this serial great IMO; They don't use advanced technology to get through the episode, they use their brains. (Mostly.) I really like that.

    The Time Meddler is almost the antithesis of that story. Another Time Lord ("The Monk" or "The Meddling Monk") is popping around trying to change Earth's history to "improve it". Once again, the TARDIS is inaccessible, due in part to high tide, and The Doctor and his Companions have to deal with the local population and the current social/political climate. I really enjoyed the ending of this one.

    For the Second Doctor I particularly like anything with Jamie in it. I'm a huge Jamie fan. Tomb of the Cyberman and The Mind Robber. The Mind Robber is one of those "insane funhouse" type stories that nearly every sci fi show has at one point or another, but it's actually good. (Which is rare for "insane funhouse" type stories.) I'm also fond of "War Games", which was PT's last serial as the reining Doctor, but it's VERY LONG and get repetitive in places.

    For the Third Doctor I agree that Time Warrior (Sarah-Jane's first serial) is great but I would suggest Spearhead from Space (his first serial) instead. I like the Time Warrior because while the title character has all sorts of fabulous futuristic toys, the most advanced thing the Doctor actually uses (besides his brain) is a pen light. Spearhead from Space just set the tone nicely for a new Doctor.

    For the Fourth Doctor… Tom Baker was the Doctor for… 2.3 million years it seemed. So it's hard to pick just two episodes for him (and that's a self imposed limitation because this is already pretty huge.) But I'm going to go with "Seeds of Doom" because it has Sarah-Jane in it and is about plant rights, and Horror of Fang Rock (there are some great lines from Lela in that one). If you've already seen those, I'm also fond of "Robot" which is Baker's first serial, "Creature from the Pit" which involves a society where metal is extremely rare, "City of Death" which is about art and paradox, "The Ribos Operation" which is about a con job gone wrong, "Nightmare of Eden" which is about nature preservation and drug running, and "Logopolis" in which we discover that the TARDIS works on the same general principals as The Heart of Gold.

    For the Fifth Doctor… I'm fond of Castrovalva. With the exception of the first, second and seventh Doctors, I tend to really like the first episode of a new Doctor. I'm not sure why that is. In this case because there are two mysteries he's trying to solve. The mystery of who he is and what the heck is going on around here. The other 5th Doctor episode I would suggest is a "Warriors of the Deep". That serial, more then any other really shows a lot about the 5th Doctor's personality and is the most like the episodes we've been getting from Tennant. So a fan who is primarily interested in "New" Who will like it (I think). Honorable mention goes to "The Kings Daemons", which contains one of the very few episodes of Davison's that I actually watched as a kid when it aired on PBS, and the Doctor's observations about history made a lasting impression on me for many years for reasons I can't even begin to understand.

    For the Sixth Doctor my all time favorite serial is "The Two Doctors". This is unsurprising since Jamie and the Second Doctor are in it. It also includes very tall Sontarans and a very fun ravenous race called "Androgums". "Vengeance on Varos" is another one of my favorite Sixth Doctor serials, it's about a dictatorship where people vote all the time. Vengeance on Varos also has one of the best ending lines of any serial ever.

    I like the Seventh Doctor better then I like any of his episodes. But I'm particularly fond of "Paradise Towers", not only because it's about a dystopian highrise with evil old women and the female equivalent of lost boys but because… No. Actually. That IS why I'm fond of it.

  19. I'm going to controversially advise you to stay away from the classic series unless you have a specific reason to go there. I like the old series because I was rather steeped in it from a young age, so its pacing and dialogue and special effects are all things I accept without question. I also like it because I enjoy the study of television history. I'm fascinated with the ways in which the production of the series changed over time. I think it's interesting to see the ways in which the current writers draw from the old series without being slaves to it.

    But modern DW in no way requires the old series. Davies, and most especially Moffat, have explicitly said they're writing for classic fans last. Don't let pressure from the online fan community drag you kicking and screaming into stuff you've tried, but on balance, don't like. It's perfectly acceptable to be a fan of "New Who" only.

    I think there will increasingly be people, like you, who view the old series as historical document more than cherished narrative. And that's okay. If an old monster or companion is brought back, and you want to get a sense of what they were like in the beginning, the DVDs are there for you to do your homework.

    Otherwise, you're exactly right to draw a parallel between Silver Age comics and present day ones. There's no cause for most modern readers to dig up Superman #$2 in order to understand a damn thing about the current problems between Clark and Lois. Those early tales now largely exist in different universes anyway.

    And it is, as you pointed out, exactly the same with Doctor Who. The Time War draws a veil over the classic series, allowing current writers to pick and choose what they will from the past. Enjoy the benefits of this by letting "New Who" entirely surprise you. I envy the people for whom "Dalek" was their introduction to Daleks, or "The Parting of the Ways" was their introduction to regeneration.

  20. I basically asked this question on GallifyBase because I was totally clueless to the classic Doctor Who shows and since there isn't much happening right now in the DW world, except waiting for the 3 specials at the end of the year, I thought it might be a good time to start watching some of the old shows.

    There is a thread on this forum which has several lists of shows to watch so you can "catch up" on the old stuff, but only watch the good stuff. Opinions do vary, but if you are thinking about watching just a few of the better episodes of the oldWho after seeing all the nuWho, it might be worth your time to look at these suggestions…


  21. Old Who for a New Whovian…. Let's see:
    2nd doctor's "The Invasion" has a very modern pace and a crackling script.
    "The Time Meddler" is a third doctor story I will watch again and again–one thing the BBC has always done well is historical drama and Sarah Jane Smith really starts out as a "modern" style companion–tremendously fun story to watch.
    Alot of people recommend "The City of Death", but I find one of the supporting parts literally as painful to watch as Peri being "American". (Ouch!) For the 4th doctor, I would recommend instead anything from Leela's first season (Face of Evil, Robots of Death, Talons of Weng-Chiang). Although Tom Baker wasn't crazy about the character, she is a perfect foil for him, and really energizes the series.
    For the fifth doctor, I would recommend Kinda, which I feel has the tightest story line.
    For the sixth doctor–well I wouldn't recommend any stories from the series for a new fan. But I would recommend any Colin Baker's Big Finish audios, particularly "The Marian Conspiracy", which introduces a marvelous companion, Evelyn Smythe (an older female history professor). (Although perhaps one could consider Big Finish "New Who".)
    And the 7th doctor era is so steeped in nostalgia, it didn't seem to pick up any new fans at the time. My personal favourite is Battlefield (Jean Marsh as Morgan LaFay, oh yes).
    Hope you find something you like—there's quite a smorgasbord out there.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.