In the long awaited follow-up to WBW Tops’ first edition, we take a look at the best the First Doctor had to offer.
Welcome to the Ninth Instalment of Time Lord Tops! Some of you may recall the first instalment of this series was the Most Terrible First Doctor Stories, so I’ve been meaning to get to this one for a long time. So, without further ado, here’s the very best of The First Doctor.
#10: AN UNEARTHLY CHILD (1963)
When you think of this serial, you always think of Episode One. But the rest of An Unearthly Child is a pretty forgettable caveman story. It suffers from the same problem as a handful of Hartnell serials: a good beginning, but not much else. Unlike another serial I mentioned in my previous Hartnell list, this one knows when to stop. Episode One alone nabs it a spot on this list, but the rest of it drags it to the #10 spot.
#9: THE TIME MEDDLER (1965)
Okay, so the Time Meddler is a pretty good story. Obviously the highlight of it all is the other Time Lord: The Monk. Finally, we know that there are more people like the Doctor out there. But that’s all I really remember from The Time Meddler, aside from a line about space helmets for cows and the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Peter Butterworth is fantastic as the Monk, though. I wish we could see him more, and I’m happy he got in another performance.
#8: THE ROMANS (1965)
When making the original Most Terrible list for the First Doctor, the Romans almost went on it. Then I decided to bump it to the Honorable Mention spot when I rewatched it the first time around, and eventually I bumped it off the list entirely after rewatching it a second time. Why? Because it is absolutely hilarious! Its comedic stuff is great, with Nero being the obvious highlight. And Hartnell going full Roman is just great.
#7: THE REIGN OF TERROR (1964)
So, I’m sure many of you would be surprised to know that this was my gateway serial into the world of Classic Doctor Who. It was the first Classic Doctor Who DVD I had ever purchased and it still remains one of my favorites. I mean, you got all you need with the final days of Reign of Terror and the Fall of Robespierre. I mean, by all accounts, this is as historically accurate as 60’s Who gets!
#6: THE DALEKS (1963)
Okay, the first Dalek story. I believe out of all the Hartnell Dalek stories, this one is just boring and really sags in the middle. Mind you, the Daleks had yet to become the universe-conquering machines they are today. Instead, they were survivors trying to wrap up a war. I’d be lying if I said The Daleks was bad, because it isn’t. It just has a ton of filler. That said, it launched the show into the stratosphere, so it definitely would be a crime if I left it off this list.
#5: THE AZTECS (1964)
If there’s one story I really like, it’s this one. Probably one of the best pure historicals because it has so many good moments. The Doctor accidentally getting engaged was funny to watch, the fights were well choreographed for 1960’s television, the First Doctor’s “you can’t rewrite history” speech is perfectly written, and it didn’t involve any specific historical figures. When Doctor Who tries to do historical events with historically important people, it definitely can look like the Doctor got too involved. But here, no major historical events were triggered by the Doctor and co, which is good.
#4: THE WAR MACHINES (1966)
I love The War Machines. It has a good villain, some really creative robots, and a great cliffhanger for Episode 3. As much as this story had to be scotch-taped back together when it was rediscovered, it looks really good. If I do have one gripe, it’s how poorly Dodo’s exit was handled. She basically just disappeared off screen. But it’s a small thing, and it was all the behind-the-scenes BS at the time that caused her exit. It’s probably the only reason it’s not in the top 3, though. Handle Dodo’s exit better and you definitely get at least a bronze medal finish. As it stands, though, it’s still a good season finale.
#3: THE DALEK INVASION OF EARTH (1964)
This story does suffer from some of the issues that plagued the previous Dalek tale, but it ranks higher on my list because it doesn’t have a ton of boring moments. Sure, there’s padding — lots of seven part stories have padding. But the stuff in-between is great. The cliffhangers were good, with my favorite being episode one’s cliffhanger with the Dalek coming out of the river. The end of Episode 7 with the Doctor’s goodbye to Susan was written very well and handled beautifully. Overall, a very well done Dalek serial.
#2: MARCO POLO (1964)
Another of the best pure historicals from this era of the show. It’s interesting because even though a ton of images exist from Marco Polo, absolutely no footage whatsoever comes from this serial. It’s such a shame. If we had the footage, this might just be the best Hartnell story, period. It also doesn’t involve a major historical events, just a historical figure. And even though the serial is very long, it doesn’t have a ton of padding. It’s a road trip, basically.
#1: THE DALEKS’ MASTER PLAN/MISSION TO THE UNKNOWN (1965)
What else could it be? This 12 part epic is possibly one of the greatest Who tales ever told. With the Doctor and his friends on the run from the Daleks, this grim tale is full of dramatic and pretty dark moments. From Katarina being sucked into the void of space to Sara Kingdom turning to dust before our eyes, this story pulls no punches and ends on a pretty somber note. It’s a commentary on how bleak the world seemed to be in 1965, with the war in Vietnam raging and the threat of nuclear war hanging over people’s heads, Doctor Who hasn’t dared to be this dark since. Even in the modern series a companion has yet to be properly killed off (no, Clara doesn’t count anymore). We also got to see the Monk again, who was a delight in otherwise so gloomy a context. My only issue with The Daleks’ Master Plan, if I had to have one, would be that Episode 7 is super out of place. But overall, it’s a very solid serial and I very much want it to come to DVD one day.
HONORABLE MENTION: GALAXY 4 (1965)
Okay, here’s something a little controversial. Not many fans think this, but Galaxy 4 is a small diamond in the rough. Even though only one full episode exists, I wanted to throw a curve ball in here because these lists get boring if I don’t. I’ve experienced this serial through the bonus feature on The Aztecs Special Edition DVD, and I really enjoyed it. Honestly, it was the only reason I got Aztecs SE. Doesn’t get much love from other fans, but I like it enough, and this is my list, so it’s getting a shout from me.
HONORABLE MENTION: THE FIRST DOCTOR ADVENTURES Vol. 1 (2017)
I’ve wanted to talk about the First Doctor Adventures for a while now. I quite enjoyed The Destination Wars and the cast from An Adventure in Space & Time, especially David Bradley as The First Doctor. We even get an early incarnation of The Master, played to perfection by James Dreyfus. I’m glad Big Finish has gone and done David Bradley’s portrayal of The First Doctor justice. Seriously, do yourself a favor and pick up this set. It’s almost like listening to the audio from a missing episode.
So, what do you think? Are there other stories that deserve to be on this list? What stories don’t belong here? Let’s debate in the comments and over on Twitter!