back to article Ten top stories from Classic Doctor Who

‘Classic’ is a word that was already worn out back in the mid-1980s when fanzine editors and contributors couldn’t help themselves attach it to any Doctor Who story they were particularly keen on, whatever its merits. Thirty-odd years on, the word is no less overused, but the release of stories on VHS and, later, DVD has helped …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The vast majority of the studio sequences in Inferno were directed, uncredited, by producer Barry Letts as Camfield had been hospitalised by a heart complaint. Camfield was so upset by this and worried about his prospects of working again if it got out that he had a heart condition that Letts swore not to tell his BBC bosses and directed the remainder of the serial uncredited.

    Camfield did return to Doctor Who to direct a Tom Baker story, but afterwards his wife made him swear on the alter of Ely Cathedral that he would never do another Doctor Who as she was scared it would kill him!.

    Incidentally Graeme Harper could be said to be a progeny of Camfield and they certainly share same directorial flair and energy.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Inferno

      Harper worked several times with Camfield, so for one not to have influenced the other would be strange. No Seeds of Doom ( a 6-parter which is more a 2-parter plus a 4-parter) though, perhaps that would have been taking the Hinchcliffe love-in a bit far...

      Oh, and a quick comment re Ark, although the budget is limited the set design breaks out of the normal confines and puts the sleeping humans on multiple levels a bit like the Cyberman tombs.

      1. ThomH

        Re: Inferno

        If memory serves, the Ark set is used to bookend the series — the Cyberman story at the end returns to and reuses parts of it. That was presumably some sort of budgetary jiu-jitsu?

  2. Uncle Slacky

    "his loathing of violence and force"

    Apart from bashing a Neanderthal in the head with a rock in just the second episode...

    1. TheProf

      Re: "his loathing of violence and force"

      He didn't. He was stopped from killing the cave-man by Ian Chesterton.

      1. Uncle Slacky

        Re: "his loathing of violence and force"

        The point is, he *wanted* to do it, and was quite prepared to go through with it.

  3. joeldillon


    I think you'll find the ancient Greek for man is άνθρωπος 'anthropos'. Andro- is a prefix meaning something like 'manly' or 'masculine'.

  4. James Hughes 1

    Dr Who and the Daemons? The one where The Doc gets frozen by an icy wind from opening an old barrow - with the very creepy gargoyle thingy?

    Nothing of the recent crop? Blink was good.

    1. Flawless101

      Midnight was a fantastic episode. I also liked the Devil episodes in the 2nd of new who.

    2. Steve Knox

      Re: Nothing of the recent crop?

      Per the title, "Classic Doctor Who" is generally recognized as meaning the original series.

      1. Ian 55

        Re: Nothing of the recent crop?

        And all of these are better than anything since McCoy...

  5. Dave Fox

    Interesting that 4 out of your 10 picks are from the Tom Baker era when Philip Hinchcliffe was the producer, as are a good percentage of those that didn't quite make the cut.

    Whilst this was definitely my own personal golden age for Who (I was born in 1970), these stories stand the test of time well despite the low budget. I do enjoy Nu-Who very much, but I would like to see more of this "style" of episode.

    Next year, Big Finish will be releasing a "Philip Hinchcliffe Presents" range of 4th Doctor audio plays, which I very much hope will recapture the spirit of that fantastic era of Classic Who.

  6. Jared Hunt

    Great list

    My girlfriend has got me into old school Dr. Who. Nice to see a good number of the episodes in the article are already in her collection. I've just done a spot of splurging on Amazon to add the ones that aren't :D

    1. wondermouse

      Re: Great list

      Now that's a top girlfriend!

  7. returnmyjedi

    I'm rather partial to Remembrance of the Daleks and Survival, which demonstrate what a nifty Doctor McCoy could be when he was given a decent script. Mind you, I quite like the one where he defeats Bertie Bassett with a bottle of lemonade so maybe I'm not the best judge.

    1. lglethal Silver badge

      Are you sure it was Dr McCoy and not Doctor McGayver?

    2. Scott Bartlett

      I agree that Remembrance — arguably along with Resurrection and Revelation — should be on the 'bubbling under' list. Each has it's odd faults, but each is also a better example of the show, as is The Curse Of Fenric (all things considered).

      On the flip side, many will (probably rightly) argue that some on the 'bubbling under' list have been hard done by — notably Terror of the Zygons and The Brain of Morbius in my view — but then a top ten can, by definition, only have ten entries.

      A special sideways 'must watch' special mention should also go to 'The Edge Of Destruction/The Brink Of Disaster' for it's insight into the early TARDIS crew.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > The Brain of Morbius

        I can't argue with that. Gave me the right willies when I was a young un'.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "The Moff" is a big fan of Remembrance. He recalls running home to watch it. At the time he was script editor on Press Gang!

    4. Shane Lusby

      Was coming here to say the very same thing. I think McCoy is treated very unfairly because some of his Doctors scripts were such complete rubbish. His darker take on the Doctor was great and Remembrance particularly and moments of Survival and Silver Nemesis were brilliant. And if Survival overall was far from the greatest episode ever at least the final lines felt like a bit of a closure when they killed the series off,

      'There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea is asleep and the rivers dream; people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere else the tea is getting cold. Come on, Ace, we've got work to do. '

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I seem to remember reading somewhere that McCoy regretted taking on the role, it being one of his worst decisions, although it could be my memory playing tricks on me.

        However, as you say, the scripts and stories were shit. No-one could have prevented the death of the original series, and I too think that McCoy got way too much of the heat over it.

  8. Xofer

    Thanks to Clara's heroism in "The Name of the Doctor" we finally have an explanation for Sutekh's bum hand:

  9. netean

    +2 for Genesis +1 for Earthshock

    I think Genesis of the Daleks is certainly one of the best, if not the best Who story. It's very well written, it's well acted, it makes sense and the whole Nazi/Eugenics sub theme is done very well IMO, thanks to the excellent writing of Terry Nation.

    I'd also add Earthshock to this list. Certainly the first part of the story is just superb, the second part falls down a bit - especially as the Cybermen have always just been a bit naff, but add to the fact that they kill of a main character at the end, it's quite a departure from the usual "everything works out in the end" storyline.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: +2 for Genesis +1 for Earthshock

      A lot of these early stories score well because they have a more measured pace and can develop in a more intelligent way.

      Although I enjoy it as well, the newer series suffer from felling rushed and lack proper story development often leading to the deus ex machina finishes which leave you feeling a bit cheated.

  10. hammarbtyp

    Dirk gently

    The main reason I think of the The City of Death is part of it seems to have become part of Adam's 1st Dirk Gently novel.

    A Dirk Gently/Doctor Who crossover ..hmmmmm

    1. Uncle Slacky

      Re: Dirk gently

      Dunno about "City", but certainly a lot of "Shada" was recycled into the first Dirk Gently novel.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Dirk gently

        Dunno about "City", but certainly a lot of "Shada" was recycled into the first Dirk Gently novel.

        The major plot driver of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is the same as in "City of Death". If you know both, it's impossible to miss the connection. Of course, the general SF/Fantasy concept of "going back in time to correct a mistake" has been widely used,1 and the treatment in the two stories is very different.

        1I'm quite fond of Pamela Dean's use of it in Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary, for example. Her antagonist isn't worried about trifles like an explosion that resulted in life on Earth; he has some serious historical editing to do.

  11. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Another vote

    for genesis here

    If only for the terrified memories of Tom Baker staggering about being strangled by a baby dalek and him having to choose if he wanted to destroy them all.

    About the only one to come close to that was Chrispher Ecclestone in 'Dalek' where he rants and raves about killing all the daleks and the poor all alone dalek rasps... "you would make a good dalek"

  12. David Given

    The funniest moment in 26 years

    People may be amused by this brilliant clip from _City of Death_:

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: The funniest moment in 26 years

      Yes, that's a great Baker / Ward scene. "Well, you're a beautiful woman, probably." "You won't be able to open it." &c.

  13. Graham Marsden

    What about "Battlefield"?

    Forget about the ropey acting and dodgy special effects, the Doctor as Merlin, Ace as the Lady of the Lake, the Brigadier as Arthur and the new Brigadier Winifred Bambera (Winifred is derived from Guinevere...)

    This episode should have been included. "What are you going to to [to stop the battle] just run down there and shout 'Stop'?" "Yes!"

    1. Richard 26

      Re: What about "Battlefield"?

      One of my favourite Sylvester McCoy episodes, for sure; a fitting sendoff for the Brigadier (last appearance in classic Who). Bambera was great fun: 'You call me my lady once more and I'll break your nose.' And Morgaine and the Doctor at the end; top class.

  14. EddieD

    That's a good list

    I can't fault you - I wouldn't choose the same one myself, but there are some real goodies there.

    As you say, there are howlers - but in a 50 year history, Dr Who has less than most things that have hit their half century.

    Keep the articles coming - I'm a market you can't glut, as the other good Doctor said...

  15. Simon Harris


    Can we have a dedicated Dr Who tab added to those under The Reg banner so we can go straight to all the Dr Who articles and skip all the computery bits.

    Please... pretty please...

    1. DiViDeD

      Re: Tabs...

      Plus 1'd (that appears to be an acceptable English phrase these days, unfortunately) and a hearty 'Me Too!' Sometimes you need to be sure you've left enough downtime for all the Dpctor Who articles and obviously the best way is to get your Who fix first

  16. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. hammarbtyp

      Don't forget Bonnie Langford whose entire acting ability seemed to consist of being able to scream very loudly

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Poor Bonnie. Very talented lady who was given nothing at all to work with. Blame the writers, blame the producer, blame the script editor, but don't blame Bonnie.

        When your character outline is just a couple of sentences and you were hired on a producers whim against the wishes of the script editor, you try and make something of that character.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "I know I'm not the only one that thought the McCoy episodes were an attempt by JNT to just kill off the show."

      though you may not be the only one, you are probably wrong. from what I've heard JNT was dedicated to the programme even though he kept trying to leave it. The poor quality of the work may have been - on top of the low budget, status as a "children's show" etc - due to the loss of morale at a point when the production team were essentially being told by upper management that it was no good. Hard to do your best work when people are doing you down.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      McCoy was unfortunate as he was drafted in at a late stage and had to work with reworked Colin Baker scripts. Sadly many people judge him by his diabolically awful first story rather than the superb stuff he was turning out towards the end. Everything about Time And The Rani is awful but by the time you get to Fenric, Ghostlight etc he's putting in good performances and it all feels far more settled.

      JNT was not trying to kill off the show. In fact at times it was a miracle he kept it running at all against bosses who absolutely loathed it and literally wished him dead. People are often quick to point out his duff decisions but he also made decisions that are with the modern show today.

      There's a superb book on JNT that came out a few months ago called The Life And Scandalous Times Of John Nathan Turner. It's certainly the best book on Doctor Who I have ever read due do the sheer breadth of sources it quotes, how deeply it delves and how it tracks JNT's career from being one of the youngest producers at the BBC to his tragic demise. There's also some wonderful input from Russell T Davies who manages to put into context just how appallingly the BBC management treated both JNT and the show

      Honestly, get it.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. graeme leggett

        re Miwk and the JNT book - I advocating also listening to the podcast interview with the author.

        It's in two parts - the first part is mostly how he got into the BBC in the first place and climbing up the career path to become editor in chief of Blue Peter. But its all a fascinating insight into how TV used to be made. and if you're a 30-something to 40-something you'll be taken to back to your youth.

        The recent Radio Free Skaro podcasts have also covered the JNT era in their "Miniscope" segment (about an hour in length in practice). Listen to them and get more background on what was going from the production side of things. You can also listen to the Miniscopes and hear how the earlier episodes were produced and the different sort of fun and games going on during Hartnell and Troughton's tenure.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ark in Space

    As an 8 year old kid when this aired, I can say that I didn't notice the bubble wrap, it was just horrible green goo consuming Noah. And by god it was scary, then a few weeks later it was Davros - AND HE HAD NO EYES, JUST SOCKETS! Not long after that it was the Zygons and a killer Harry Sullivan. A couple of years later giant robot mummies and the utter horror feast that was Brain of Morbius. Followed by the gorgeous, creepy robots in Robots of Death, a walking ventriloquist dummy in Weng Chiang and that bloody skull in Image of the Fendahl. God it was good to be a kid in the 70s.

    We even had Spangles.

    I really wish someone at the BBC had the courage to commission equally scary stuff these days.

    1. graeme leggett

      Re: Ark in Space

      In my youth (7 to 8 years) I was scared by the maggots in Green Death, then by the Spiders and so avoided the programme for a bit. When I did catch a bit of it again, it was to see Rogin die horribly in the blast from the Ark's shuttle and I so didn't watch it again until the Key to Time season.

      Fortunately when I was older there was VHS and then UK Gold.

      By comparison my 8 yr old son has no problem with the Hinchcliffe horror at all. And he's not bothered by the bubble wrap either.

    2. Allan George Dyer

      Re: Ark in Space

      We had a discussion last night on the scariness of the modern series, during the vampires in Venice episode. My wife thought it was too scary for the children. My daughter (11) disagreed.

    3. John G Imrie

      Re: Ark in Space

      I really wish someone at the BBC had the courage to commission equally scary stuff these days.

      Are you my Mummy?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Web of Fear

    I forgot to mention this one, but the recent iTunes release of the recovered tapes is absolutely brilliant. Unlike a lot of six partners, this one really doesn't flag. Well worth a look.

  19. Zippy's Sausage Factory
    Thumb Up

    A good list, but I'm sorry, I think Enemy Of The World should be on there. A ho-hum story when only heard, and the weakest episode was the only survivor until recently, but the recent recovery of it reveals it as being one of the best ever.

    Much as I love The Robots Of Death, I think I'd happily lose that one in favour of Enemy. In fact, quite probably any of the other nine actually.

  20. Petrea Mitchell

    But what about...

    Totally with you on "Inferno"; that's the first thing I thought of when reading the introduction. It's also got one of the best commentaries of any of the classic Who DVD releases.

    But some days I'd say "Warriors' Gate" is the best Doctor Who story ever. (Other days, I think it isn't possible to pick one.) The depiction of the slavers, some of whom might even be decent guys in other contexts but who have completely lost all sight of the fact that their cargo consists of sentient beings... the chief villain done in entirely by his own actions... the glimpse of the Tharil empire and the turnabout it's suffered. And sure, you can tell the effects were done on a '70s TV budget but IMHO they still hold up surprisingly well.

    I think I'd put that in place of "The Pyramids of Mars" or "Robots of Death" and replace the other with "Mawdryn Undead". Partly that's because I'm a sucker for any story where they bring back an old favorite like the Brigadier, but partly also the sleight-of-hand involved in setting up the mystery of how two groups of people can be in the same place but can't find each other.

  21. SVV

    Glad you said ten top and not top ten

    I think Ark in Space is pretty rubbish myself.

    Would replace with Horror of Fang Rock for it's budget induced claustrophobia, or my personal favourite Carnival of Monsters for the sheer breadth of imagination and brilliant storyline involved.

    Much prefer these to the "ooh, there's a big dark secret the doctor has but we're not going to explain it and the whole existence of the universe is at stake" plots that the current series rolls out every time in the Moffat era. My old teachers would surely have given the last couple of series a 4 / 10 for not having decent well plotted stories with a beginning, a middle and an end (let alone surprising twists and turns worth more than a million quid's worth of CGI effects).

    1. teebie

      Re: Glad you said ten top and not top ten

      "presented in alphabetical order" was a wise choice too

  22. Chz

    Keeper of Traken on the short list? Are you sure you're not confusing that one with something good? Maybe it's because I've always found the Nyssa character irritating, but that one plods along worse than most do.

  23. Z-Eden

    Robots of Death

    One of my favourites and well deserved as one of the top ten. Very horror movie esque in it's story and presentation.

    I stumbled across this picture a while back and it made me realise how sinister they are. Take away the silvered 70's style clothes and dress the robots in ordinary clothes or a tuxedo and they would be a very disquieting set of characters. Could you image the script taken as is and updated with modern production values. That would be chilling to watch.

  24. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    The novelization of "The Crusaders" does a good job of conveying the complexity of the characters. Since the video isn't available, that's another option for people interested in that story.

    All in all, a good list. As others have said, probably not my personal top ten, but I do have fond memories of all of the ones here that I saw (the Baker and later ones), and the others sound good. Of course it's all so subjective; I know many people hate "The Creature in the Pit", but it never failed to amuse me ("We call it 'The Pit'." "Ah, you have such a way with words.").

    I'd add the "Kinda" sequel "Snakedance" to my personal list of honorable mentions. While it has its flaws, I do like the continuity with "Kinda", and Tegan facing the mirror with the Mara's snake-skull head staring back at her is nicely creepy.

  25. Vociferous

    Good list.

    I have only seen a very few episodes from the 60's, but the Ark and Pyramids of Mars are my two favorite Dr Who of the Classic era.

    However, much as I love Tom Baker, I think the scripts do get better in the Modern era. I just watched all episodes of 2011, and it's really very impressively the way the entire season has a (rather powerful) framing story, but the episodes are still stand-alone. Sadly the very last episode of the season, was a christmas special and, like all holiday specials in all series ever, pure unadulterated crud.

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