Picking the best episode from a show that’s been on air for over half a century is difficult. Of course, there is no right or wrong answer. Some episodes are almost objectively good or bad, probably with around a 95:5 approval/disapproval rating amongst fans and critics. Caves of Adrozani Genesis of the Daleks and Blink are generally adored by fans, whereas Time and the Rani, Love & Monsters and Sleep No More don’t receive much credit. Then you get episodes like Hell Bent, The End of Time and the TV Movie that all split fan opinion. When you ask a Doctor Who fan what their favourite story is, it’s pretty hard to guess what they’ll say. You could ask about a hundred people and probably receive at least thirty or forty different answers. I asked four fans and I got four different answers. Here’s Chris Robinson, Ian McArdell, the Gallifrey Stands Podcast and Rob MacLeod’s views on their favourite Doctor Who story, and what they think makes an episode so good.
First of all I asked, “Simply, what is the greatest story of all time, in your opinion?”
Chris: My favourite story of all time is The Christmas Invasion, which was David Tennant’s first full episode as the Doctor.
Ian: Such a toughie, and it changes so often… but I’m going to plump for The Caves of Androzani.
Gallifrey Stands Podcast: I don’t think I can objectively say what the best Doctor Who story is. The beauty of a show that has been going 50 years is that it has been so many things to so many people that you can only say your favourite. So in that vain, my best Doctor Who story is The Five Doctors.
Rob MacLeod: Okay, very possibly the hardest question I’ve ever had to answer, because every single Doctor has at least a couple of stories that I consider to be beyond excellent, but I’ve chosen this based upon the story that I have likely watched the most. That being The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
So four different stories named as their favourites. But what made these episodes stand out from the rest?
Chris: (talking about The Christmas Invasion) It stands out from the rest because of Tennant’s brilliant performance as he swaggers in at the last second to save the day. The speech he gives also perfectly encapsulates how exciting it is each time the Doctor regenerates. Tennant’s Doctor questions what kind of a man he will be, and seems to have no preconceived notions, but deep down he knows he’s the Doctor. That means that when his friends are threatened, or his favorite planet is in danger, he will stop at nothing to remedy the situation.
Ian: (talking about The Caves of Androzani) It stands out for brilliant guest performances, the wonderfully over the top Sharaz Jek, his loyal Androids and the vile Morgus. Drug running, big business and the value of human life all in the mix in a terrific script from the brilliant Robert Holmes. Plus Peter Davison got to be endlessly heroic and give his life for Peri, the new companion he barely knew.
Gallifrey Stands Podcast: (talking about The Five Doctors) It brings in so many tropes from the Doctors past. Companions, monsters & even lines of dialogue from, at the time, 20 years of Doctor Who are brought in. It’s like a comfort movie for me, produced as it was as one feature length adventure. A close second for me is The Day of the Doctor which brings in a lot of the same ideas.
Rob MacLeod: (talking about The Talons of Weng-Chiang) This story just never gets boring, and has stood up to multiple viewings in a single sitting. The writing was exceptional and the acting superb. Also, the fact that the story features two of the most brilliant ‘companions’ ever created in Jago & Litefoot also helps.
Obviously there are more than four stories that are worthy of the title of a fan’s favourite. So I asked “What story was close to being your favourite and what niggles stop it from being so?”
Chris: One story that I was very much looking forward to was The Time of the Doctor, Matt Smith’s final full episode as The Doctor. What stopped it from being a favourite was the drawn out, non-sensical plot of the episode. The Doctor remaining in a town called Christmas to defend it came across as silly. One town? In all of time & space? Just because it was on Trenzalore? The whole “fall of the 11th” story was very forced. It was looming over Matt Smith’s Doctor for far too long. Instead of the Doctor’s adventures being hopeful, mysterious, and surprising, the audience was always just waiting for the demise of 11. Unfortunately, this episode didn’t bring that story to a compelling conclusion. It felt like one big excuse to put Smith in excessive makeup and have him look like a senior citizen.
Ian: But for the hideous over lighting and disastrous Myrka, I think Warriors of the Deep might be a classic. Somehow we forgive ‘Androzani’ for the bat though… how does that work? Equally Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks tonally felt a bit off… with the Dalek Sec reveal spoilt by the Radio Times and robbing the story of its big cliffhanger reveal.
Gallifrey Stands Podcast: As I am clearly a fan of the multi Doctor adventures, one adventure I would change is The Two Doctors. It’s not bad & always great to see Patrick Troughton come back, this time to be along side 6th Doctor Colin Baker. It just goes on a bit long & for me takes too long to get the 2 Doctors working together. When you bring two Doctors into one story, let’s see them together more. I also think David Tennant’s last adventure, The End of Time could use some work. The Master is comical and it’s just silly that he is trying to make everyone into him. I also don’t care for them saying the Doctor is dying when he regenerates. He is always the same man in a different body. Then you get a regeneration that takes days to complete, if he’s that close to death then that just seems silly too. It’s a shame because you get some classic acting from David Tennant & another welcome return by Bernard Cribbins as Wilf.
Rob MacLeod: Runners up include stories such as Remembrance of the Daleks, Genesis of the Daleks, The Two Doctors, The Girl in the Fireplace, The Snowmen, Listen and Marco Polo. The first two only failed to reach the top spot due to slight pacing issues, Two Doctors due to questionable casting, and Marco Polo because I’ve never been able to actually watch it.
Finally I asked: “If you wrote an episode of Doctor Who, what aspects would you include and what aspects would you avoid to make the episode as perfect as possible?”
Chris: If I wrote an episode of Doctor Who, I would definitely have it be a two-parter, with the Doctor’s companion in serious trouble. I’d want the audience to be completely unsure about whether or not the companion would survive. We’re so used to the companions being around for multiple seasons and never being in any real danger. I’d want the audience to wonder if I’d just killed off a companion mid-season. I would avoid using a classic villain like the Daleks or Cybermen. I’d create an entirely new evil entity that would challenge the Doctor’s intellect. I think more new villains need to be created and creatively elevated to the same level as the Daleks or Cybermen. So the one thing I would definitely avoid is using either one.
Ian: If I wrote an episode… well that’s the magic, isn’t it. I would choose to do a historical one and try to use the time traveller’s foreknowledge of events against them. I think the show is brilliant when it shines a light on lesser known events in history. I love the show’s ability to be comic in one story, dark and deadly serious in the next. That range, that suprise is essential.
Gallifrey Stands Podcast: I actually wrote & produced a radio play for my podcast called ‘Doctor Who: The Time Trap’. All I did really was to bring in all the elements I love from Doctor Who. I wrote the Doctor around my favourite version of him, bringing in elements of the 5th & 11th Doctor (my favourites). The companion, I used a lot of elements of my friend who played her, so as to make her a rounded real character. I then used the multi Doctor idea I loved so much. I used people from other fan productions playing their Doctors. I think that’s all you can do as a writer, use what you love most from the show. Everyone has an idea of who the Doctor is & what makes a perfect story & one person’s worst episode is another’s favourite.
Rob MacLeod: I actually do write Doctor Who stories, albeit in novel form, and I have to admit that I tend to use the Moffat method of overly complex time travel plots, simply because the basic idea of the show lends itself to this so perfectly. Basically, the timey-wimey approach. As for what I avoid… I try not to make the stories too mundane because real life is not what people watch for, in my opinion. Hence why the character of Danny Pink failed so spectacularly! Regular people who only want normal lives don’t make for exciting science fiction.
As I said, picking the best story from around 250 is such a subjective task. My personal favourite, The Waters of Mars didn’t even get a mention. I’m glad Genesis of the Daleks and The Five Doctors were discussed though as those two are close to being my favourite. There were several episodes that got name checks throughout which only proves how hard it is to pick a favourite. What do you think the greatest story of all time is?
If you enjoyed hearing these fans’ opinions, follow them on Twitter:
Chris – @ChrisRobinsonNJ
Ian – @IanMcArdell
Gallifrey Stands Podcast – @DoctorSquee
Rob MacLeod – The_27th_Doctor
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