Doctor Who is such a big part of my life. I’ve watched the show ever since I was about three years old and it has stuck with me ever since. Broadening my mind and helping me expand my imagination as a creative person. It has such wonderful characters. A fascinating concept. Such brilliant stories. And some of the best villains and monsters within television.
I’m always trying to find new ways to express my creativity and I often fall back to discussing about Doctor Who. After all, it’s where it all started. There’s so much to talk about in this 53 year old programme. And that’s why the show is so exciting. It not only captivates me whilst I’m watching, it also gets me thinking long after the episode has finished. I really enjoy immersing myself within this universe, especially when it means starting from the very beginning and following it through to the present day.
So, I’m proposing a brand-new article series. In the past I have undergone extremely ambitious ideas, such as my 50th Anniversary Retrospective and The Story Thus Far series. But this time I want to bridge ambitious with simplicity. Something that is broad but easy going, and fun to participate in. This time I will be once again looking through the entirety of the show. But instead of trying to cover everything I’ll be just concentrating on the stories themselves.
“But surely you can’t be mad enough to review every single serial, episode and special?” No. But I would be lying if I said “I wouldn’t want to do that.” I will be looking through each season and series of Doctor Who and picking out my favourite and least favourite stories.
Now just to warn my fellow Whovians, just because I rank an episode my least favourite episode of that particular season doesn’t initially mean it’s the worst. This will be explained within my reviews as I explain my choices. As an added bonus I will also give my rank for the serials and episodes of each season.
So without further ado, let us travel anywhere and everywhere as we look for The Doctor’s greatest and deadliest adventures in time and space, starting with Season 1 (1963-64).
Disclaimer: Due to the absence of “Macro Polo” I have not been able to view or criticise the serial so it will be excused from the article.
BEST: “The Aztecs”
Written by John Lucarotti (Original airdate: 23rd May – 13th June 1964)
I know a lot of you will be wondering why “The Daleks” hasn’t been ranked as my favourite. I have to admit it is a fantastic serial, one that not only established Terry Nation as an incredible addition to the show’s history but also established The Doctor’s greatest, and most iconic enemy. But it does suffer with some flaws, with its length being a little overwhelming at times as its narrative (though interesting) dragging on and on.
My original pick was going to be “The Keys of Marinus”, another Nation penned serial, which managed to spread the narrative over a course of mini-adventurers that had a linking journey, incorporating a story about mind-controlling brains, killer plants, a dangerous trapper, and Ian Chesterton being placed on trial. But after re-watching Season 1 I was reminded how good “The Aztecs” is due to its intriguing look at the civilisation, both their good and bad, and seeing how we were introduced to the concept of ‘changing history’.
Barbara Wright stole the show as she took on the mantle of Aztec Goddess Yetaxa and attempts to use her knowledge of history to prevent the Aztecs’ destruction at the hands of the Spanish. Her attempts to banish their barbaric ways of sacrifice is met with conflict by Tlotoxl, the High Priest of Sacrifice, as he quickly starts to doubt Barbara’s authenticity and begins scheming against her. This brings about many problems for the TARDIS crew to face, including Ian being pitted against the Aztec champion Ixta, whilst Susan Foreman is made to learn about the ways of being a woman within their backward society.
It’s a great moment when The First Doctor attempts to explain the rules of time to Barbara as she foolishly tries to get her way (for all the right reasons) and soon comes to terms with how time has its own ideas and that their survival was the only thing that mattered. Despite the earlier era of Doctor Who having the troubled matter of squeezing in a reasoning behind the TARDIS crew not being able to simply return to the TARDIS (in this case the space-time capsule being trapped inside a tomb) the serial utilises this aspect cleverly, making it a thrilling adventure as you witness the safety of the TARDIS crew fade away the longer they are trapped with the Aztecs.
There’s even the wonderful moment where we witness The First Doctor undertake a romantic connection (the only one seen within the entirety of the Classic Series). “The Aztecs” is great for its suspense as Tlotoxl constantly tries to prove Barbara as a fake Goddess whilst the TARDIS crew attempt to manoeuvre around his twisted games with intelligence. Despite Barbara being unable to change the course of history she at least manages to cheat Tlotoxl of his desire to kill her and her friends whilst Ian ultimately becomes the new champion after a fierce final confrontation with Ixta after the Aztec warrior attempted to stop them from reaching the TARDIS.
WORST: “The Sensorites”
Written by Peter R. Newman (Original airdate: 20th June – 1st August 1964)
I remember watching “The Sensorites” on my original viewing and walking away rather bored by its drawn out plot, but upon re-watching it I did get more enjoyment out of it (though it did help with separate sittings to break up the serial’s six-part run). It’s fair to say the first two episodes, “Strangers in Space” and “The Unwilling Warriors”, drag out the narrative in order to fill up the time-slot. Though it is slightly clever to reveal the Sensorites in a mysterious manner, in which you are unaware whether they are good or bad, it doesn’t justify for filler.
Episode three, “Hidden Danger”, is clearly where the narrative begins in earnest as The First Doctor, Ian, and Susan go down to the Sensorites home-world, the Sense Sphere, to make some sort of understanding between them and humanity after the alien race became frightened by their presence and trapped one of their ships in suspended animation. Then we have the added plot of the Sensorites being mysteriously poisoned, to which Ian succumbs to, leading to a hasty investigation by The First Doctor.
Things become troublesome by the continuous interference of the City Administrator, who believes all humans are bad and wants to rid them from the Sense Sphere. This dim-witted thinking takes his paranoid, and insufferable opinions to new heights as he builds a rebellious group of Sensorites and acts against the wishes of the Elders, even going as far as killing the Second Elder and taking his place. The City Administrator is just a villain you want to hate because they are so annoying, with their attitude adding further frustration into the narrative.
“The Sensorites” isn’t entirely a bad serial and does keep you interested for the most part but it can wear you out after a while because of its lengthy beginning before anything particularly interesting happens, along with the fact that the writing is rather simplistic. Throughout the serial it becomes very obvious what is going on but the character’s are forced to act stupid in order to keep the mystery ongoing. The worst example is the very beginning when the TARDIS crew are oblivious to the fact that the Sensorites are stealing the TARDIS lock just behind them. Thing like this made this somewhat deep serial turn into pandered down children’s television.
It was also disappointing to see the wasted potential of social commentary. It was made clear that the Sensorites’ society was corrupt at is core due to their disregard of freedom, the blatant ranking system which ultimately makes certain members of their race less important, their hypocrisy and lack of identity. All this made their race rather irritating, especially considering they spend a lot of the serial being convinced humanity isn’t as bad as they first thought when they are clearly the lesser species despite their apparent intelligence and telepathic connection.
The only saving grace of “The Sensorites” was its ability to make Susan an enjoyable character to watch. Her character was penned to be an intriguing character but was quickly changed to pander to a teenage audience, resulting in her becoming rather pathetic as she screamed at nearly every given moment, lacked common sense and a back-bone, whilst being overly dependent on those around her, particularly her grandfather who she couldn’t be without. Here, however, she proves to be rather intelligent, independent, and above all, helpful to the ongoing plot. Her connection with the Sensorites made her an interesting character and reminded us that she wasn’t a human child but rather an alien like The First Doctor.
Season 1 Episode Ranking:
- “The Aztecs”
- “The Daleks”
- “The Keys of Marinus”
- “The Edge of Destruction”
- “The Reign of Terror”
- “An Unearthly Child”
- “The Sensorites”
And there you have it. My favourite and least favourite serial of Doctor Who Season 1. Do you agree with me? Let us know your episode rankings in either the comment section below or on Twitter!