The new series of Doctor Who has brought many new fans to the fold. But what about classic Doctor Who. Produced on a much smaller budget and without the benefit of modern special effects, classic Doctor Who can be quite a culture shock for new viewers. But if you can look beyond the production values to the plot themselves there is a lot to enjoy.
New viewers are familiar with modern Cybermen from Rise of the Cybermen and the Age of Steel, but he Cybermen go all the way back to the First Doctor.
Tomb of the Cybermen
This black and white 1967 episode features Patrick Troughton as the Doctor and I apologize in advance for the horrendous American accent that one of the actors uses throughout the four episodes. The story is set almost entirely within the “tomb” and the small cast and cramped location feed into a sense of claustrophobia throughout the story.
In comparison to the the previous story, Earthshock which was broadcast in 1982 and features the Fifth Doctor Peter Davidson features far more locations and much more action. The studio bound nature of the show is still very apparent though.
The Daleks have featured in every season of the new Doctor Who but they were also a key element in the classic series right from the beginning.
Genesis of the Daleks
Broadcast in 1975 and starring Tom Baker and the Fourth Doctor is the pinnacle of Dalek stories. Not only did it introduce the character of Davros who would return (again and again) as the Dalek’s mouthpiece, but it gave us an origin story for the Daleks. To top it off, it has one of the most memorable speeches by the Doctor. “Do I have the right?”
Remembrance of the Daleks
Remembrance of the Daleks inevitably comes off as a runner-up when put up against Genesis of the Daleks, but it does have the advantage of one of the largest budgets for Doctor Who prior to the new series. Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor is an acquired taste mind you.
The Autons of course were the aliens chosen to feature in the first episode of new Doctor Who. They were a peculiar choice having only featured in two stories prior to this.
Spearhead From Space
Introducing Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor, this was the first story to be shot in color and on film. The producers took full advantage of that fact with lots of location footage. The Autons were perhaps the perfect alien for Doctor Who at the time, being scary without requiring extensive special effects.
Although a science fiction program, Doctor Who has always been at least as much fantasy as SF (if not more). There are however some episodes of classic Who that are particular strong science fiction stories.
The Keeper of Traken, Logopolis & Castrovalva
This trilogy not only features the regeneration of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor into Peter Davidson’s Fifth Doctor, but also (particularly in Logopolis and Castrovalva uses some concepts that you would normally expect to find in a hard science fiction novel, such as shunting excess entropy into another universe; having a TARDIS inside a TARDIS and the Escher-esque structure of Castrovalva. This sequence is also worth mentioning for returning the Master to Doctor Who.
Kinda is a very different sort of story. Not at all hard science fiction, it nevertheless uses themes that resonate. Browing heavily from Buddhist philosophy for its setting and tone, the story dwells heavily on the nature of imperialism and social structures and is unusually philosophical for a Doctor Who story.
One of the most highly regarded periods in Doctor Who history was during seasons 13 and 14 which are often described as Who’s gothic horror period. All three stories I have picked come from season 14 which may be the most consistently high quality of any season.
The Masque of Mandragora
Set in 15th century Italy, this gives as an alien that is essentially just living energy and a religious cult. This story also debuts the secondary console room in the TARDIS and impressive wooden set that resembled an old fashioned study.
The Robots of Death
The costume design is the real star of this story. It’s a classic Doctor Who scenario and a solid murder mystery, but the unique robot designs are what really stand out. Spot the modern Doctor Who story that was obviously inspired by them.
Talons of Weng Chiang
Weng Chiang has taken some criticism for racism. Keep in mind however it was produced in the 70s (when for some reason it was seen as okay for white actors to play Chinese roles) and the story is set in the Victorian era and the characters reflect those values. Putting those issues aside this story has simply brilliant writing and dialogue.
Doctor Who has had mixed success when it comes to humor. There is frequently an element of it running througth the stories, but when it comes to dominate things tend to fall apart.
City of Death
This is probably the best example of humor in Doctor Who. Written by Douglas Adams it features his trademark humor. There’s even a cameo from John Cleese.
Originally Doctor Who was envisaged as an educational show and every second story was a historical adventure. This format was dropped fairly early on in the shows run.
This is my personal favorite of the early historical stories. It’s a black and white story featuring William Hartnell, the First Doctor and it does it’s best to be historically accurate. One of the really nice things is that the Doctor really doesn’t come out ahead on this one. He’s lucky to survive.
The Caves of Androzani
This is as good as 80s Doctor Who gets and in some ways it’s quite reminiscent of modern Who. It’s heavy on action, there’s a high death toll and a grittiness to it. Also worth noting is that the director of this story Graeme Harper also directed many episodes of New Who including Rise of the Cybermen, The Age of Steel, Doomsday, The Stolen Earth, and Journey’s End. It also features another of my favorite Doctor speaches, “You’re not going to stop me now!”.eoghann.com..