Hello again! In installment three of my dream/nightmare seasons, I have compiled the best episodes of each slot for the classic run. Now, this endeavor was both easier and harder than it was for the modern show, because I’ve seen only a fraction of the classic episodes so there wasn’t much to consider, but the classic show’s seasons don’t line up well with each other. There seems to be very little rhyme or reason when it comes to the number of episodes in a season. The First and Second Doctors’ seasons lasted seven to ten episodes; the Third Doctor did four to five; the Fourth Doctor’s seasons were five to seven episodes long; and then the Fifth Doctor did seven episodes for all three of his seasons. The Sixth Doctor’s episode numberings are odd, depending on how you treat Trial of a Time Lord. And then then Seventh Doctor did three seasons of four episodes apiece.
As far as my viewing patterns go, as I work through the classic shows, I’m starting with the ones with the highest ratings, so most of the ones I’ve seen are good. Therefore, I won’t be putting together a nightmare season. So, here’s my dream season, which includes the list of episodes I’m choosing from (only the ones I’ve seen in a slot).
Doctor Introduction Episode: “Castrovalva”
“Robot” had a great plot and some fantastic comedic sequences (including the Doctor selecting his wardrobe), but “Castrovalva” had a great mind-bending puzzle and I preferred the overall plot (though the sequences of Nyssa and Tegan dragging the zero box through the woods could have been a lot shorter).
List: “Spearhead from Space”, “Robot”, “Castrovalva”, “Time and the Rani”
Episode 1: “Remembrance of the Daleks”
This episode starts out looking like it’s just going to be another “defeat the Daleks” episode, and then you slowly realize what the Doctor is doing, and it’s just stunning. “Arc of Infinity” would have topped this list if they hadn’t dropped the ball in the last half-hour and abandoned Omega’s return to the universe and his recovering from his millenia-long isolation in favor of showing off that they were actually filming on-location in a foreign country.
List: “The Three Doctors”, “Horror of Fang Rock”, “Arc of Infinity”, “Remembrance of the Daleks”
Episode 2: “The Ark in Space”
The Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Harry Sullivan find themselves on a space station with aliens trying to take over the humans in suspended animation. It sounds pretty trite, but this is an episode that I started watching without any idea about and then started going, “Oh my god, this is a fantastic story.” Whenever anyone asks what’s a good classic episode to watch for an introduction, this is the one I suggest (though I always add the caveat that you have to ignore the dodgy alien larvae that are obviously actors in green bubblewrap). The other two episodes in this list are also very good.
List: “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”, “The Mind Robber”, “The Ark in Space”
Episode 3: “Mawdryn Undead”
This was a hard choice. I didn’t really like “Pyramids of Mars,” but I think that’s mostly because I didn’t really get it. It needs a rewatch. “The Deadly Assassin” is very good, but the middle part, where the Doctor is fleeing the assassin in the Matrix, didn’t age well and is very boring. “Mawdryn Undead” is good episode, dealing with death and the curse of immortality, bringing back the Brigadier twice, and introducing Turlough.
List: “Pyramids of Mars”, “The Deadly Assassin”, “Mawdryn Undead”
Episode 4: “The Face of Evil”
I think most people would choose “Genesis of the Daleks,” because of its famous plotline about the choice of genocide, but I prefer “The Face of Evil.” The overall plot is engaging, but I especially like the way they constructed the Sevateem and Tesh societies, and the personal journey of the shaman Neva through the episode makes it shine.
List: “Genesis of the Daleks”, “The Face of Evil”, “Terminus”, “Survival”
Episode 5: “Black Orchid”
On the face of it, just looking at the plot, “Black Orchid” is an average or below-average episode. However, the thing that’s appealing about it is that it’s different. There’s no science fiction element or direct threat in it (just a murder mystery, though it’s terribly written), and instead, you get to watch the Doctor enjoy himself playing cricket, and the rest of the crew get to interact with each other on a social level. I’d like to see episodes like this done every so often.
List: “The Robots of Death”, “Black Orchid”, “Enlightenment”, “Planet of Fire”
Episode 6: “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”
This is a fine story, with a lot of well-created characters, including the villains and the pair of Jago and Litefoot.
List: “The Aztecs”, “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”, “The Keeper of Traken”, “Earthshock”, “Revelation of the Daleks”
Episode 7: “The Five Doctors”
Okay, so there’s only one episode in this list. “The Five Doctors” doesn’t have the sturdiest plot, but with so many Doctors and companions, and companion cameos, it’s just a lot of fun. Plus, you get to see the Brigadier punch the Master.
List: “The Five Doctors”
(I have not seen any of the later episodes in seasons that lasted longer than seven episodes.)
Doctor Regeneration Episode: “The Caves of Androzani”
This is one of the best Doctor Who episodes ever. On the one hand, you have this huge political/economic war going on, while on the other hand, the Doctor is simply trying to find a way to save Peri’s life, a task made difficult by getting innocently embroiled in the battle. The people in all of the factions are complex, with multiple goals motivating their actions, and you never quite know who’s going to succeed in the end, or even if the way it all turns out is actually a good thing.
List: “Logopolis”, “The Caves of Androzani”