2020 minus 61: Ten [more] Doctor Who stories I’ll happily rewatch any time

Posted: 1 November 2019 in 2020 minus, Doctor Who, ten things
Tags: , ,

I swear, when I did the post last week, I had every intention of making it a one-off.

There wasn’t going to be a second post on the subject; of course not. OK, sure, I knew today would be a “Ten Things” post… because I like the format and, with 75 posts to write, it’s useful to have a series of regular ‘ok, it’s Tuesday? It’s fiction. It’s Friday? It’s ‘Ten Things’,” type posts, to structure the run.

But, no, last week’s was supposed to be just one, and then today I’d find a different subject. I dunno: Ten legends about British politics that aren’t true, or Ten cop procedural I like. Ten other things, anyway.

After all, I’ve made a habit of these, the past few months.

And I did write a series of Doctor Who posts, about each incarnation/regeneration, and my sometimes tenuous relationship with the show.

So, last week it only seemed sensible to combine them, and list ten Doctor Who stories I’ll quite happily watch, and rewatch. And then, later, rewatch.

And of course, of course, I got to nine, realised I could list a dozen more… so promised another ten this week. Past budgie is a fucking idiot.

Anyway here are another ten. Again, no real rules, other than that they’re in chronological order for the most part.

And again, same caveat as last week: I’m not sayin these are the best ever episodes. They’re not even my ten favourite episodes/stories, necessarily. They’re just ten stories I’ll quite happily watch, and rewatch. And then, later, rewatch again.

OK, time to start.

Day of the DaleksThe Third Doctor
I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the first time I encountered the Daleks, but it’s the one that scared me; between the Daleks and the Ogrons, oh, eight year old me was very scared indeed. Classic “behind the sofa’ watching.

(And, upon checking, I see that this was the first Daleks story for five years, so I suspect the first time I saw the Daleks would have been in the Peter Cushing movie. Huh.)

The story is pretty standard: time travelling soldiers come back to kill someone to prevent a bad timeline taking place; wasn’t that original even fifty years ago (oh gods, it was broadcast almost fifty years ago), but it’s done with style and panache, and the only thing that’s kind of odd is… I’m not sure why the Daleks are included. They really weren’t necessary. There’s nothing about the story that requires their inclusion, and if there once was, it was cut in the edit. But while they’re there, while they’re on screen, they’re fun. And they set up the ‘The Doctor is [always] an enemy of the Daleks’ quite nicely for a new generation of fans like yours truly.

But it’s the Ogrons that I truly remember as terrifying me; strong, brutal, thick as pigshit. Which meant they couldn’t be bargained with, couldn’t be persuaded. Yeah they scared me. And a proper sf time travel story, complete with complexities.

The Ark In Space – The Fourth Doctor

The first story after Tom Baker’s regeneration tale (Robot), and the companions and the viewers are still figuring out what to make of this new incarnation of The Doctor.

And of course it’s another Harry Sullivan episode; there’s something that was just much more… fun… about the Fourth Doctor’s early run, when Harry was there, blundering around and basically being an idiot from the best of motives.

But again, the story’s a cracking one, there’s more than one genuinely cool sf idea being played with, almost thrown around i fact, and the baddie, the baddie, what can I say about the baddie that… shouldn’t be said if I have any respect for Doctor Who. Yeah, it suffers from 1970s-itis. Let’s just say it’s far scarier when you don’t actually see it, or see just a bit of it, or even see just a bit of transformation.

But even though this is arguably the first part of a four part season long mega-story (comprising this story, The Sontaran Experiment, Genesis Of the Daleks and Revenge of the Cybermen) it stands up well on its own, and there are some glorious backs and forths of dialogue. And the story goes out of its way to distinguish Baker’s Doctor from Pertwee’s. The scene attached, in which The Doctor… motivates Sarah is a case in point.

The End of The World – The Ninth Doctor
Ok, straight to the NuWho now. (Yes, yes, I know, your favourite Doctor is Peter Davison’s or Sylvester McCoy, or maybe even Colin Baker’s run is your thing. Cool. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it would be a bit difficult for me to have stories from any of their runs in this, to claim that I’d happily rewatch this story or that story… for the simple reason that I’ve seen only some of Davison’s run, a couple of episodes of Baker’s and almost none of McCoy’s.)

So, yes, straight to the Ninth Doctor, and – cleverly – RTD continued the ‘this is dangerous, this is weird, this is stuff you didn’t expect, and oh, did I mention it’s dangerous? I did? Good, because that’s important. Also? It’s worth it…’ attitude. We learn more about this Doctor, where he comes from, and more about how his devil may care attitude is just that… an attitude. He’s a deeply damaged character, and there’s the first hint that Rose not realising that is going to cost her… hugely.

And then of course, there’s a deliciously evil baddie whodunnit, a classic-style Who sacrifice, and a denouement of the mystery that shows us, shows the audience for the first time, what a bastard the coldly angry Doctor can be… which is something most of the audience had probably forgotten, what with all the clowning.

Ecclestone knocks it out of the park in this episode, and the final moments are a mixturere of mawkishness and essential lesson learning, for both the Doctor and Rose,

The story’s clever, the acting delightful, and the silliness just about perfect.

The Doctor Dances – The Ninth Doctor
I’m sure there’s a reason there’s a part one to this story, to which this is the second part. But I’m buggered if I know what it was. A Stephen Moffatt tale that’s creepy and nasty and just a little bit very, very dangerous, but about 30 minutes too long at 90 minutes. Of course, this is the story that introduces Cap’n Jack Harness to the Who universe, but he’s quite a different character here than how he developed, both in later episodes and later though Torchwood. (I’m still wondering whatever happened to those two years of his life, the memories of which he ‘lost’, by the way.)

But I dunno; there’s very little to me that marks out the first part (‘The Empty Child‘) as a particularly important episode. You can gather pretty much everything you need from the “previously…’ before the second part’s opening titles, especially since the opening seconds dispose of the cliffhanger.

But it’s the interplay between Harkness and the Doctor, the final resolution – oh, you clever bastard, Moffatt – and the growing maturity of Rose, hugely developed since the opening episodes, that mark this out. Oh, and a special nod to Richard Wilson who steals the screen every time he appears and yet somehow never quite appears enough.

And it has one of the finest ‘bigger on the inside’ moments in Who history.

The Girl In The Fireplace – The Tenth Doctor
Oh yes. Not sure how this one got missed last week. Sophia Myles is incredibly good in the episode, and again it’s proper sf, with a nasty twist. And a clever, nasty, beautiful ending.

Oh, and a horse. I should probably mention the horse. Unfortunately, the ‘mystery’ is so bloody obvious you kind of have to pretend it’s not there, as you do the ‘oh, this Doctor’s impulsiveness can really fuck things up for others unless you’re very, very lucky’.

After a couple of episodes when the Doctor was the undoubted hero, he really isn’t in this episode. He’s foolish and silly and entirely unaware of just how much danger he exposes his companions to. And it’s beautifully portrayed as if his annoyance is justified, while letting the audience know it’s really not.

Cleverly written and acted. Very nicely done.

Smith & Jones – Tenth Doctor
Martha’s first story, which is fun, and a bit scary, had a great monster/baddie, a completely silly ‘getting rid of radiation’ scene. And Roy Marsden. Lovely.

I really like this story; cleverly and correctly shows Martha as a completely different character to Rose, sets up the relationship between the Doctor and Martha in two clever scenes, and ends with not only a nice call-back to the first scene of the show (which answered a long standing disagreement: what’s the fastest way to convince someone you can travel in time?) but a ‘you get one trip as a thank you’ setup that everyone knows ain’t gonna last.

Clever plotting, hugely enjoyable overacting throughout and you really really do sympathise with Martha for ohso many reasons by the end.

Blink – Tenth Doctor
When the show does a Doctor-light episode, it often doesn’t work that well. Except this story and the next one I’m listing, when it absolutely does work, and works beautifully. This isn’t a story about The Doctor, not really. This is abut what happens when your world collides with a world you have no idea existed, and you still come out stronger the other end.

It’s Carey Mulligan’s episode and she deserved every plaudit she got from it. The story’s clever, the baddies – the Weeping Angels – are terrifying, the plotting is immaculate and the resolution very clever. Moffatt adapted his own story from a Doctor Who annual and did it beautifully. The pacing is perfect; there’s something ‘new’ every five minutes; the threat and the suspense don’t let up for a moment.

For a story that barely features The Doctor or Martha, it’s one of the best Who stories ever.

Turn Left – Tenth Doctor
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sucker for ‘What If…?’ stories. For obvious reasons, Doctor Who doesn’t do many of them specifically in that genre. Well, let’s face it, the whole show is pretty much a ‘What If…?’ story. But this takes it further.

Basically, it’s Donna Noble’s life had she never met the Doctor… and the Earth’s story had the Doctor died before he met Donna… and how everything turns to shit.

Oh, and Rose Tyler’s back, but this is a Rose the viewer’s aren’t sure they know or trust. (That’s horribly cleverly done)

And just as you think the story’s over, just as there’s a ‘ok, you can relax now’, the cliffhanger hits you in about 60 seconds of ‘oh shit’.

Very nicely done, indeed.

The Name of The Doctor – The Eleventh Doctor
This shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. Honestly, it shouldn’t. I mean, it’s clever, it brings together characters that shouldn’t be together. It melds comedy and tragedy, nastiness and silliness, history and continuity (in a show where some continuity is always optional). It shouldn’t work.

And yet it does. It works perfectly. And – as far as the show was concerned at that point – it also brings an end to the River Song saga. (I’ve avoided River Song so far for a deliberate reason, but more of that in a future entry.)

But it’s the first story in Clara’s tenure with the Eleventh Doctor where I actually cared what happened to her. I never liked her that much as a character. The occasional story, sure, but she seemed far better as an occasional focus rather than having so much of the season rest on her.

But here? Yes, here her character works beautifully.

Oh, and yes, the whole final ten minutes is very, very good tv. You’re not sure what’s happening, when it’s happening, how it works… you’re just very pleased it does.

And the final thirty seconds with that reveal. Yeah. That just topped off the ‘what the fuck?’ And made everyone watching desperate for the The Day of the Doctor that was coming that November.

Oh bugger. We’re back at nine again.

I only have one more to choose.

OK, one more set next week, solely from Deep Breath onwards, ok?

HideThe Eleventh Doctor
The basic plot is ok. The resolution’s ok. The dialogue’s ok. the ‘baddie’? Ok.

The acting? Off the charts. Seriously, everyone in this story, Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman, sure, but Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine are the starts of this episode. And they show it with every gesture, every glance, every word. I don’t think I’ve seen either of them quite as perfect as they are in this episode, in this story, to the point that it’s a genuine pleasure to to watch them on the screen individually and together.

There are three or four genuinely clever set pieces and the ‘fake’ ending is better than the actual one. But yes, it’s the acting that blows the one off the charts.

OK, one more set next week.

And the usual tomorrow.

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