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Every Doctor Who Series Ranked

After Season Nine took some swings and missed, all of Season 10′s gambles pay off: Bob Holmes′ meta-pisstake-cum-BBC-sideswipe ′Carnival of Monsters′ is an inventive joy, ′The Three Doctors′ was given to the overambitious Bob Baker and Dave Martin to write, and is accordingly a batshit revisionist creation myth for the Time Lords (where you suspect they probably sent Omega off into a black hole so his voice couldn’t escape). ′Frontier in Space′ is Doctor Who attempting a space opera and is another sign of how far Jo has come as a character since her introduction. It′s fitting that she′s at her best this series just before leaving in ′The Green Death′, a barnstorming combo of cosy romp and environmental polemic paying off character work across the series.

3. Season 26 (Seventh Doctor, 1989)

As with Series One, this functions as a whole.

As with Season 25, there′s an obvious weak point, but ′Battlefield′ is still a story bursting with ideas. ′Ghostlight′ is so witty and fun that understanding it isn’t strictly necessary. ′The Curse of Fenric′ spends three episodes spinning more and more plates before smashing them together to see what happens. It′s superb, but possibly not on first viewing.

Sylvester McCoy‘s Doctor makes Ace confront her fears in this series. This idea is explored in spin-off stories, but resolves itself in Season 26. In ′Fenric′ Ace confronts the Doctor about his behaviour, and there′s a cathartic moment for her at the end of the story. This leads into ′Survival′, where the Doctor asks Ace if she′s willing to put herself in danger, then risks his life to keep her safe. The story concludes – very unlike her comic and prose versions – with her and the Doctor walking off together for further adventures. ′Survival′ wasn′t written as the final story, and this is precisely why it works as one.

2. Series Nine (Twelfth Doctor, 2015)

A series designed to lure fans in with the returns of Davros, Missy and Gallifrey, it kills off Clara and then pulls the rug from under the viewer and saying ‘But have you considered this?’

Which, I concede, can be frustrating. However there′s a fundamental issue with Doctor Who that is hard to reconcile: it′s meant to be this big show that can go anywhere and do anything but there′s a frequent demand to play the hits. And indeed every showrunner since 2005 has done so, to some extent. Note how Russell T. Davies′ series structure seems to assert itself back on the show no matter what anyone tries. It′s difficult enough making one series of fairly traditional Doctor Who stories and making them good without having to expand what the show is capable of every year.

Moffat’s version of looking inward isn’t simply ‘Karn you dig it?’ but to ask bigger questions, with ′Heaven Sent/Hell Bent′ a more laser-focussed ′Good Man Goes to War′. Here the Doctor makes amends before settling down with River. The character grows and learns. They can’t do that if you only play the hits.

1. Series One (Ninth Doctor, 2005)

Here, Doctor Who has a sheen of Proper Drama, in large part due to Christopher Eccleston playing a Doctor haunted by unseen adventures. The series functions as one single story, the final episode of a then-unseen war. It’s written as if this might be the only series Russell T. Davies would get to make.

The weaker stories (the Slitheen two-parter, with its tonal uncertainty, ‘The Long Game’ and ‘Boom Town’) all have really strong scenes in them, with the family drama in ‘Aliens of London/World War Three’ expanding the show’s range. They all ask interesting questions of the series and the title character. They’re not the stories people drift towards from this series but they all contribute significantly to its overall payoff.

It also only really feels serious in contrast to the camper tones – if not content – that followed. The traumatised Doctor dances to Britney, flirts with trees and reads gossip magazines, all of which are novel within the scope of the TV series. Any awkwardness around this works in the context of someone putting on a front.

Companion Rose Tyler is a fantastic creation, the Ian and Barbara of 2005: she also has a significant impact on the Doctor′s behaviour and compassion. The masterstroke is her extended family (Jackie Tyler grows as a character each time we see her). Doctor Who is expanded, it can do more, and even its lesser episodes have something to recommend them. Given the pitches that were around in the preceding years, it′s hard to imagine anybody else bringing it back this successfully.

Doctor Who returns to BBC One on November 25.

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