Classic Who – Four of my Favourites

So it’s been way too long since I last posted here, mainly due to life getting in the way.  But you’re not interested in that, you want to know about some of my favourite Doctor Who stories, don’t you?  Well that’s good, because I feel like telling you about them!

Now, I need to note here that this is by no means an exhaustive list.  There are some stories I haven’t seen for decades, or in the case of a few Patrick Troughton stories, haven’t seen/heard at all [1].  It also isn’t a list of what I consider to be the best Doctor Who stories, or all my favourites, just four that I find myself coming back to again and again.

The Daleks’ Master Plan

It really is an epic, high stakes adventure.  The Doctor comes across a Dalek plan to unite with the leaders of other galaxies to take over the universe.  How will they do this?  Using the deadly Time Destructor!

There are several things that make this adventure work.  One is that it doesn’t rely solely on Terry Nation to write it.  By part five he was basically handing in a sheet of paper with ‘In this episode, they land in ancient Egypt while the pyramids are being built’ written on it in purple crayon, so it was up to Dennis Spooner to do most of the heavy lifting.  Which is a good thing.  Nation at the time was becoming tired of the Daleks [2], so Nation’s ideas were a great jumping off point for Spooner to get things written that were in keeping with the tone he wanted.

This helped us avoid one of the issues that came with the Daleks previous outing, The Chase, where a bored Nation gave us a range of Dalek characters that were not the best.  Instead the Daleks here are back their old lethal selves.  If you screw up, you will die.  If you’re in their way, you will die.  If you ask them to turn down the music a bit, you will die.

The-Daleks-do-not-care-if-you-are-trying-to-sleep, puny-human! We-shall-continue-to-listen-to-our-Vanilla-Ice-collection-at-full-volume!

Which gives us that most wonderful element, their relationship with Mavic Chen.  The Daleks need Chen.  They can’t kill him, and it’s not very long before they are so obviously itching to.  Even better, Chen is a clever political beast and very good at shifting blame back to the Daleks themselves on more than one occasion, much to their chagrin.  What’s fabulous about this is that while the situation is funny, the Daleks themselves are not played for laughs.

Apart from the two middle episodes, which went out over Christmas Day and New Year’s Day respectively [3], the air of our heroes being hounded never really lets up.  Once they get involved, everything is about how they can escape the Daleks and keep the core of the Time Destructor out of the bad guys’ hands.  A pretty impressive feat for a story that is twelve parts long.  There’s very little light-heartness, and a number of good people die, as befits a high-stakes story.

The acting is solid throughout, too.  Everyone is in top form, with special props going to Kevin Stoney who is truly magnificent as Mavic Chen.  Chen’s character arc from mere arrogance to delusional insanity works mostly because of how well Stoney plays him.  William Hartnell and Peter Purves also put in excellent performances, especially as the cost of the ongoing battle starts to weigh on them.

It’s not a perfect story by any means.  The science is often rubber, and it’s written by people who don’t seem to know the difference between a solar system and a galaxy, but while those things are annoying, they don’t obscure the drama.


The Abominable Snowmen
This one starts off as a bit of a classic base under siege/monster romp, but slowly builds in terms of story telling and what the characters are up against.  I’m loathe to say too much about it in case you’ve not listened to it, but needless to say it’s the first Yeti story.

Apart from a few weak moments, this is very well written.  In one particular episode that in most other stories would have been nothing more than filler between one cliffhanger and the next, the writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln actually give us several revelations as to the nature of the threat.  Some of the things the characters come up against are personally confronting for them.

Fighting the Great Intelligence, and losing!

The adventure contains some great reversals, and by the end the stakes have never seemed higher, as the Great Intelligence seems truly unstoppable.


Warriors’ Gate

I’ve always had a love of the surreal in film and TV, so Warriors’ Gate is right up my alley.  Taking place within a white void, the theoretical point between times/universes, it’s a story of slaves who revolt against their cruel masters, and so much more.

This is a story that really isn’t for everyone.  Put it like this, there aren’t that many stories that would benefit from a guide to understanding them in the way that Warriors’ Gate does.

‘Now… explain this story to us!”

The story also takes place almost in real time.  In many instances you cut away from one element to look at what’s happening elsewhere, and when you return, time has passed.  It adds a subtle immediacy to proceedings that I like.

One day I dearly hope there will be the money found to give Stephen Gallagher’s original version of the novelisation a release.  In the meantime, this is one of my two ‘chicken soup’ Doctor Who stories.  For me, I get something new out of it every time, a subtlety of performance, writing, camera-work, or concept.  It balances the humourous and the dark, and plays with time in interesting ways.  It has one of my favourite soundtracks.

When I’m sick and feeling sorry for myself, I turn to this like a comfortable old friend.


This is my other comfort Doctor Who story.  And it’s another that isn’t for everyone, but that I love dearly.  Set at the theoretical limit of how far into the future the TARDIS can travel, it’s about a human colony under attack from a hidden enemy.

This one has a lot of wonderful ideas that the television production has trouble managing at times.  Where being studio bound worked for Warriors’ Gate, it works against this.  I could see Frontios as an interesting SF film, and it would certainly have benefited from a much bigger budget.

The Tractators are an interesting creature, and while their on-screen realisation is only partially successful, their use of human/mechanical tech adds a grisly edge that can only be hinted at on television. 

You don’t even get to see this much of the machine in the televised version. And the version described in the book is straight out of a SF horror film.

The plight of the colony, as its leaders try to maintain control in climate of growing desperation is an unusual one in Doctor Who – the reasons for the strictness of the rule are the continued existence of the human race in the face of an invisible enemy, with an unknown agenda.

Yes, there are many areas where the production falls down, but in terms of interesting ideas it’s a goldmine.  I once read Christopher H. Bidmead’s novelisation while watching it – I read to the part one cliffhanger, then watched part one, read to the part two cliffhanger… and so on – and came away with a much greater insight and appreciation of a story I was already fond of.

And that’s it!  Four of my favs.  Hopefully this will tempt you to investigate some of these [4], or view them again in a new light.


1. I’m currently slowly working my way through the Patrick Troughton period of the show, and so finally revisiting some of those old stories, or experiencing them for the first time.

There is that part of me that is secretly ashamed that I haven’t been through all the Troughton stories before now. But there’s also the part of me that is quite over-joyed, and I basically get ‘new’ Original Doctor Who stories.

Which is a great relief after last season, which committed the greatest crime it could have – I didn’t hate it, I simply stopped caring by the end of the season. BACK TO POST

2. But he wasn’t tired of the paychecks from them. Honestly, I don’t mind that he got tired of writing for them, but the bugger would have right of first refusal to write the stories, and then take the money and do a half-arsed job!

Later on, when he created Darvos, he became convinced that the Daleks needed a human mouthpiece as they were boring to listen conversationalists. This is the same guy who hated Power of the Daleks and Evil of the Daleks, two of the better Dalek stories ever produced. Gahhhh! /rantyDan BACK TO POST

3. Please don’t get the idea that these two episodes let things down. While they were effectively created as placeholders for the stories over the Christmas holidays, they are fun and enjoyable in their own right. In some ways, it’s a nice respite from things, before the story gets even more seriously fraught.

I am always saddened by the knowledge that the episode featuring Hartnell breaking the fourth wall to wish the viewers a Merry Christmas is lost, and unlikely to ever be found. BACK TO POST

4. But of course, you will only go through them one episode a night.


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