Adventures in time and space sound like a lot of fun, and no one has done that better than the BBC series Doctor Who. However, it’s been going on for nearly 60 years and can be a daunting task when looking for a good starting place. There are over 850 episodes totaling nearly 300 stories. It’s a lot.
But that’s where we come in. The GateCrashers Doctor Who extraordinaires, Ethan and Justin! A quick rundown on how this is going to work: Over three articles covering Doctors 1-4, 5-9, and 9-13 respectively, we’ll give you two episodes from each Doctor’s era. One chosen by Ethan, one by Justin. These will be a look at the kind of stories that encompass the era they’re from. We want to give you a distilled experience of what each Doctor is like so you can decide what best fits your tastes. So here we go. Let’s take a trip into the Vortex!
The 1st Doctor – William Hartnell (1963-1966)
“Have you ever thought what it’s like to be wanderers in the Fourth Dimension? Have you? If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds, and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?” -The 1st Doctor (An Unearthly Child)
- The Mutants (Ethan’s Pick) – While not the first episode of the show, Doctor Who as we know it today would not exist without it. It may have not even made it past its first season. This is the episode that introduces The Doctor to his arch-enemies, the Daleks, and they are terrifying. It’s easy to see how these villains gripped the public consciousness. Set on a distant planet, The Doctor and his companions have to find a way to defeat the metallic drones or risk losing their lives. For an excellent early episode of the show full of great moments with both Doctor and companion, you can’t go wrong with this.
- The Romans (Justin’s Pick) – Not the first “historical” episode of the show, but certainly one of its most fun. Waylaid slightly in the time of the Romans, The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki are forced to take refuge in an abandoned estate on the outskirts of Rome while the TARDIS repairs itself. But mistaken identities and historical intrigues gather them all to the ancient city, where Emperor Nero is tuning up his fiddle. Though optically kind of dicey in parts, The Romans shows a real cheek and historical detail for the show and proves that even the early days had some knack for charming hijinks amid real settings and eras.
The 2nd Doctor – Patrick Troughton (1966-1969)
“There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything we believe in. They must be fought.” – The 2nd Doctor (The Moonbase)
- The Invasion (Ethan’s Pick) – Moving on to the 2nd Doctor, a much more personable, quirky incarnation than his predecessor. This story sees The Doctor, and his companions Jamie and Zoe, coming up against some of his greatest foes, the Cybermen, in then-present day London. A great entry in the canon, it introduces one of the most important aspects to the series, UNIT. The military force tasked with protecting the planet from extraterrestrial forces. And with this comes The Doctor’s greatest ally, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Arguably the most beloved recurring character in the show’s history. If you want a truly epic story, that features some of the most evocative imagery in the show’s history, this is the one to watch.
- The War Games (Justin’s Pick) – This was the moment that, as the kids say, shit got real for Doctor Who. Co-written by the absolute powerhouses of Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks, two names that would become synonymous with Doctor Who, this mammoth serial finds The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe locked in a war that doesn’t make sense. A megalomaniac known as the War Lord has been kidnapping and brainwashing soldiers from across time, sweeping them up and depositing them into a grand conflict for their own amusement. But beyond that incredible setup, The War Games finds The Doctor facing his own people, The Time Lords, for the very first time, explicitly naming his race and setting the show up for all sorts of mind-bending Time Lordy insanity for literal decades to come. A true watershed moment for the show, early even, in its own run.
The 3rd Doctor – Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)
“Courage isn’t just a matter of being frightened, you know. It’s being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway.” – The 3rd Doctor (Planet of the Daleks)
- The Dæmons (Ethan’s Pick) – The Doctor’s third incarnation, having been stranded on Earth by his own people at the start of this new life, has set up shop as UNIT’s scientific advisor, assisted by the ever loveable Jo Grant. Also on Earth, concocting plots in the shadows is The Master, The Doctor’s old friend from his home planet, now a suave, maniacal bad guy. He’s been causing a fair amount of trouble for The Doctor, Jo, and UNIT. This story sees him attempting to awaken an ancient demon beneath a church in an old English town. The UNIT family, as they’re lovingly known, all come together to put a stop to this latest nefarious scheme. It’s some of the purest fun ever had in the show. If you’re looking for a story where the cast is just having a grand old time, this is the one for you.
- The Green Death (Justin’s Pick) – The Third Doctor, having regained his ability to travel in space and time, faces a personal metamorphosis in The Green Death. A mine in South Wales has been poisoning the populace of the town. Making matters worse, large insects have been plaguing the workers as well, causing the Doctor and UNIT to leap into action. But while The Green Death is a wonderful example of the sort of eco-conscious, grounded storytelling the Pertwee Era excelled at, this serial also marks the final appearance of Pertwee’s companion, Jo Grant, as played by actual ray of human sunshine. Katy Manning. Though bittersweet, The Green Death provides a wonderful send-off for Jo, and sets the blueprint for the show’s always affecting take on the exits of companions for years to come.
The 4th Doctor – Tom Baker (1974-1981)
“The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common – they don’t change their views to fit the facts. They change the facts to fit their views, which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs changing.” – The 4th Doctor (The Face of Evil)
- Terror of the Zygons (Ethan’s Pick) – If The Invasion was the beginning of the UNIT era of the show, and The Dæmons was that era’s high point, then Terror of the Zygons is its grand finale. Having been away from Earth for some time, The Doctor, now in his fourth incarnation, along with his companions the iconic Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and the loveable idiot Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter), return to help UNIT investigate strange goings-on in the Scottish Highlands. A major portion of Tom Baker’s run was very much immersed in the horror genre, and this kicked that off. Featuring treks through foggy forests, shapeshifting aliens, and a constant sense of unease, this is the story to introduce you to the darker side of Doctor Who.
- City of Death (Justin’s Pick) – Probably the closest Doctor Who has ever gotten to a “party episode”. Fresh off the regeneration of Romana (passing from iconic actress Mary Tamm to the equally iconic and inhumanly adorable Lalla Ward), the Doctor and Romana II find themselves in “present-day” (read: 1979) Paris thanks to the TARDIS Randomizer. But not content with sightseeing, the pair are swept into the dangerous time experiments of a roguish count, played by Julian Glover who is absolutely playing to the rafters here. Funny, breezily performed, and more than a little goofy, this episode is perfect for a rowdy Sunday screening for your non-dork friends to show just how it can sing during this iconic run with Baker. Also of note, this episode carries with it a tremendous BritCom cameo and a script co-written by Douglas Adams (using a pen name made up of his name and the names of two other writers). Watch while having a stiff double ice water!
And that’s it for now. Let us know if you check out any of our recommendations, and make sure to come back next week for even more!