I’m continuing with Marco Polo tomorrow, but I keep seeing questions and discussion from people who are interested in getting a handle on classic Doctor Who. This is an overwhelming prospect if you became a fan with the revived series in 2005—after all, there are 48 years (and counting) of some great (and, frankly, not so great) stories to get through. If you want to dip into the classic series, but don’t know where to start, try these eight serials.
But first, two warnings. Classic Doctor Who was meant to be watched episodically, with breaks in between. I don’t recommend tackling an entire serial all at once, because there’s a good chance you’ll get a little bored, even with the very best stories. Second, the videos here may contain spoilers, so you might skip them if you like to avoid plot elements.
Along with The Edge of Destruction, The Time Meddler is one of my favorite First Doctor stories, and the first so-called “pseudo-historical” that takes places in an historical setting, but relies on science fiction plot elements. The Doctor, Vicki, and Steven arrive on the coast of Northumbria, ostensibly in 1066, the same year King Harold is defeated at the Battle of Hastings. Things don’t seem quite right, however, and a strange monk whom the time travelers encounter seems to be at the center of it.
Sadly, like many of Patrick Troughton’s stories, only episode two of The Evil of the Daleks is known to still exist on film. It was meant to be the final Dalek story, as Terry Nation was attempting to spin the Daleks off onto American TV (?!). The Doctor is coerced into collaborating with the Daleks to develop the so-called human factor to create a new breed of Daleks. But the new Daleks aren’t quite like the old ones, and the ensuing events will take the Doctor back to somewhere he hasn’t been for a very long time: Skaro.
Before there was Star Wars, there was something better (gasp!): Frontier in Space, an epic space adventure spanning the galaxy. In the twenty-sixth century, the Earth Empire is on the bring of war with the Draconian Empire following acts of aggression by both sides. The Doctor, however, believes another player is involved, and works to expose them—before all-out interplanetary war breaks out.
I have to admit: I’m not a huge fan of the Fourth Doctor’s era, but there are certainly stories that stand out and are enjoyable, and The Talons of Weng-Chiang is one of those. The Doctor brings Leela to Victorian London, where they become involved in the police investigation of missing women from the local playhouse. (Yes, it sounds mundane, but it’s one of best examples of 1970s Doctor Who, and it lays some of the narrative background that would later be developed into Torchwood.)
The Fifth Doctor was my Doctor, as they say, the first one whom I saw on our local PBS station as a kid in the 1980s. His stories are among my favorites (even more so than the First Doctor, if that’s possible), so it’s somewhat ironic that I’m recommending his final story as representative of his era. Frankly, though, it really is one of the best: a dark, gritty, tragic story that’s remarkably modern. By now, the kids who had started watching Doctor Who in the 1960s were all grown up, and The Caves of Androzani is grown up Doctor Who where the Doctor and Peri get caught up with interplanetary drug smugglers shady corporate empires, love, betrayal, and loss, while slowly and painfully dying from a lethal poison.
You thought I was going to say Terror of the Vervoids, didn’t you? The Sixth Doctor is often derided as the “worst” Doctor of them all. Sadly, judging his television stories alone, there may be a spark of truth there; the Sixth Doctor (and actor Colin Baker) really shines in the Big Finish audios. That said, Mindwarp, like The Caves of Androzani is another dark, tragic story that makes up the second serial in the overarching Trial of a Time Lord season. The TARDIS arrives on Thoros Beta, where dangerous experiments threaten the course of nature. At the same time, however, the Doctor must defend his actions to the Time Lords.
Twenty-five years after it all started, Doctor Who returned to its origins—literally. The Doctor has unfinished business in London, 1963. The Daleks have business there, too, and have set up their headquarters in Coal Hill School, where two schoolteachers and a student have recently gone missing. There’s more going on than the Doctor lets on, and an ancient Time Lord relic, sought by rival Dalek factions, seems to be at the heart of the conflict.
The TV movie may be his only television appearance, but the Eighth Doctor has lead a full life in books, comics, and especially audios. The Chimes of Midnight is one of those stories that belongs in the same category as, say, The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances, Blink, or any other Steven Moffat-penned tales in modern Doctor Who, and it’s one of those stories that should be adapted for television. In an 1930s manor house on Christmas Eve, the servants are dying over and over again at the stroke of midnight. The Doctor and Charley only have one clue to go by: Edward Grove is alive.
OK, here’s a bonus, because I vacillated between it and The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Eleven years before Howard Carter would excavate King Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, archaeologist Marcus Scarman makes a frightening discovery at his field site in Egypt: something has been waiting for a very long time to get free. Now the Doctor and Sarah Jane must work to discover what the connection is between Egypt and Mars is before the future is changed forever. Ohhh, scary, you guys.
What do you think? Agree? Disagree? What stories would you recommend? Please leave your comments below, and please be sure to like our page on Facebook!
Daniel is the owner and Managing Editor of Time and The – !. He's been a fan of Doctor Who since watching Tom Baker regenerate into Peter Davison on his local PBS station as a kid. He launched Time and The – ! in 2011 after having the bright (?) idea to watch every Doctor Who story from the beginning and blog about it. (Yeah, he's way behind.)