With all the hoopla surrounding the "Doctor Who" 50th Anniversary episode, "The Day of The Doctor," one thing seems to be overlooked.
So much focus has been placed on the two Doctors, the villains, John Hurt, Clara Oswald, and so on… that I don’t think the scope of "Doctor Who" has been addressed. Fifty years. While maybe not the longest running show ever, "Doctor Who" is most assuredly the longest running science fiction program. I was raised on the Fourth Doctor, my best friend on the Fifth Doctor, but we really do love them all.
Each Doctor was special, and each had a run that was untouchable. In honor of the 50 years of "Doctor Who," and those who want to check out the older Doctors, I’ve come up with 11 Essential "Doctor Who" Episodes, one for each Doctor. Note that some of these episodes are actually arcs or two part episodes, but they're basically a single story.
These are our essential "Doctor Who" episodes. Share yours in the comment section below!
1. An Unearthly Child (1963)
The First Doctor: William Hartnell
While some may consider the first episode where "Doctor Who" introduced the Daleks as the major, essential, episode for the First Doctor, I have to go with the pilot episode.
It’s the first real introduction to a character that will endure for half a century. We also meet Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter, a troubling sore spot that will haunt the Doctor for years to come. The adventure here isn’t terribly exciting, but it does explain why the TARDIS always looks like a police box.
2. The Invasion (1968)
The Second Doctor: Patrick Troughton
This was a tough one. While most Whovians consider the Third, or even the Fourth Doctor, as the turning point for the series in excitement and adventure, you can’t deny the Second Doctor.
So much future Who cannon is established during the tenure of Troughton’s Doctor. I almost chose "The Fury From The Deep," which was the first appearance of the Sonic Screwdriver, but according to my research, it’s no longer in existence.
I also came very close to choosing "War Crimes," which gave the Doctor’s race their name (Time Lords) and was Troughton’s final appearance as the Doctor.
I arrived at "The Invasion" for three reasons. It was the first appearance of UNIT, the first appearance of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart as the Brigadier and the show explained how humans are turned into Cybermen. Really the entire, available, Second Doctor run is key, but this was my top episode.
3. Terror Of The Autons (1971)
The Third Doctor: Jon Pertwee
Trying to wrangle one episode from the Third Doctor era is tough because all the episodes are pretty much accounted for. The run of the First and Second Doctor had holes in their seasons due to tapes being lost or destroyed. With Jon Pertwee’s full run, a run that blew the needle off the meter-o-fun, available to watch, I was stressed choosing only one.
I decided to go easy on myself and go with a no brainer. "Terror Of The Autons." This episode not only introduces the Doctor’s longtime nemesis The Master, it also introduces companion Jo Grant and Captain Mike Yates.
Newer "Doctor Who" fans will dig this episode because of the Nestene Consciousness, which is behind the living mannequins in the first episode of the reboot with Christopher Eccelson's Ninth Doctor.
4. Genesis Of The Daleks (1975)
The Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker
Oddly enough, this was an easy one for me. Baker being “My Doctor”, I became really familiar with all his episodes. As many as there were, I find myself watching “Genesis Of The Daleks” over and over.
For all the Dalek stories, this was the most bizarre, and one of the darkest. Watching the true origin of the Daleks, especially with the obvious Mengele themes going on, was one of the first times the show seemed disturbing. All "Doctor Who" fans love the Daleks, and this is ultimate Daleks episode.
5. The Caves Of Androzani (1984)
The Fifth Doctor: Peter Davison
The Fifth Doctor is one of the only others outside of Tom Baker’s run and the new era, that I’ve watched in its entirety. While all of the adventures here are fun, they really don’t expand too much on the Doctor or his attitudes.
Few of the episodes amount to much more than sci-fi escapism. Choosing an essential episode came down to something asked about by all those not familiar with the Fifth Doctor: The stalk of celery on his lapel.
"The Caves Of Androzani" ends that mystery, and gives an overall view of what the Peter Davison run was all about. Sadly, it is the last episode to feature Davison as the Doctor.
6. The Twin Dilemma (1984)
The Sixth Doctor: Colin Baker
At the risk of bringing down the wrath of the Whovian loyalists, the Sixth Doctor sucked. While regenerating, something goes wrong, leaving the Sixth Doctor as an unbalanced, smug, know-it-all jerk.
"The Twin Dilemma" is Baker’s first episode as the Doctor, and pretty much allows you to know how the rest of his run will be. The plot of the show isn’t the point, I’ve included the episode as an essential one because it will hopefully allow fans to avoid the entire Colin Baker run.
7. Dragonfire (1987)
The Seventh Doctor: Sylvester McCoy
I really do enjoy the Seventh Doctor. Many seem to fire unnecessary shots across his bow for being the reason behind the cancellation of the series, but I think Colin Baker’s Doctor was so reviled that Sylvester McCoy had little chance.
"Dragonfire" has a solid story, and also introduces Ace, the 16 year old companion of the Doctor with a penchant for blowing things up. McCoy’s Doctor is much more demure than past incarnations, but I think he’s a much better Doctor than people give him credit for.
8. Doctor Who The Movie (1996)
The Eighth Doctor: Paul McGann
Okay, this is a weird hiccup in the history of "Doctor Who." While McGann’s run is the longest in "Doctor Who" history, he only made one full length celluloid appearance.
In 1996 the powers that be attempted to reboot "Doctor Who" with the movie, which failed horribly. It’s too bad because the film has some great moments. The Master being tried and executed by the Daleks, the Doctor collecting his remains rather stoically considering their history, the Doctor’s first on screen kiss, the unexplained absence of Ace, and the Doctor claiming to be half human.
The movie has serious flaws, but it is entertaining. One historical point, the Eighth Doctor was the only Doctor to not have a regeneration scene... at least until McGann's recent appearance in "The Night of The Doctor" short that leads into "The Day of The Doctor."
9. The Empty Child & The Doctor Dances (2005)
The Ninth Doctor: Christopher Eccleston
Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor only ran one season, but he was a brilliant, and woefully underrated Doctor. It was hard to choose a single episode with the Ninth Doctor. His first meeting with companion Rose is wonderful, as is the post Time War discovery of an existing Dalek.
However, for my money, "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances" two part episode is the must see story of the Ninth Doctor's era. Creepy dead children in gas masks asking for their mommies, and the introduction of Captain Jack Harkness, who would later anchor the "Torchwood" spinoff. This episode has everything.
10. Army Of Ghosts & Doomsday (2006)
The Tenth Doctor: David Tennant
Wow, this was tough. Tennant’s run as the Doctor is my favorite, second only to Tom Baker. At first I thought of "School Reunion," since it brings Sarah Jane Smith back into the fold, as well as being a turning point for Rose and Mickey.
The episode where the Tenth Doctor meets River Song was another good one, as was the tragic and heart breaking final episode of David Tennant’s run. I finally rested on "Army Of Ghosts" and "Doomsday" simply because the two part episode was so beautifully written.
The war between the Daleks and Cybermen is exciting, but the real beauty is the final moments between Rose and the Doctor. Your heart will absolutely break at the exchange.
11. The Christmas Episode (2013)
The Elventh Doctor: Matt Smith
Okay, this might be seen as a copout, but for me it’s a last hope. I like Matt Smith as the Doctor, I think he’s exceptional. I don’t, however, find his run to be very satisfying.
There were good episodes, but overall nothing really sticks out besides the awful way the show dealt with Amy Pond and Rory.
As a fan of this Doctor, but not his run, I’m looking to The Christmas Episode in 2013, the one where Matt Smith finally falls as the Doctor, to be his most essential episode. Fans will bid a top notch Doctor goodbye, and a rather lackluster run as well.
NOTE FROM THE EDITOR:
For those of us who like the Matt Smith/Steven Moffat era, the answer is "The Eleventh Hour," Smith's first full episode that serves as a second pilot for the rebooted "Doctor Who."
The intro of Amy and Rory was charming, but it's Smith's engergetic "Mad Man with a Box" that makes this one a classic. I knew Smith would be a great Doctor as soon as he popped out of the crashed TARDIS.
And he was.