January 18, 2023
If you had to watch ONE story featuring your favourite Doctor - which one should you choose?
Ask anyone where’s the best place to start with any Doctor, and there’s an answer that’s bound to come up.
“Just start with their first episode.”
It’s the logical answer. So logical that if you were to ask the Cybermen that question, they’d all give this answer. It’s THAT logical.
Look, that’s not necessarily a terrible answer, and there are some brilliant first stories. However, maybe you’re looking for a distillation of a particular Doctor. A story that showcases the best of each incarnation. Taking first adventures out of the equation, here are some suggestions of what to start with every Doctor.
Okay, yes, we’re starting with an incarnation of the Doctor that basically flies in the face of the intro. Well, flies a bit in the face of it. Fugitive of the Judoon gives you all the context about the Fugitive Doctor that you’ll need for future appearances, while being a wild ride all of its own.
Still, Once, Upon Time shows the Fugitive Doctor in action. Leading a team for Division, we see her utilise some classic Doctor-y tactics to defeat an almost all-powerful enemy, as well as glimpsing the life that led to her becoming a… well, fugitive!
An Unearthly Child is, undeniably, a classic slice of telly. Within a mere 23 minutes, the opening episode sets the stage for the greatest adventure ever made. Thing is, if you’re coming to the First Doctor knowing the basics of Doctor Who, you don’t need to start here.
Enter The Dalek Invasion of Earth.
Across its six-episode runtime, this story is top-drawer Dalek action. Skaro’s murderous tin-cans invade Earth - the clue’s in the title we suppose - and you get to witness the Daleks' brutal efficiency at conquest and destruction. If that wasn’t enough, you’ll get to witness the final adventure of the first-ever TARDIS team. On top of all that, it ends with one of the defining speeches of Doctor Who.
Go and watch The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and you’ll have no regrets. Although, you might shed a tear…
Since the Daleks are getting an entry, it would be unfair to leave the Cybermen off this list. Fortunately, they’re in this cracker of a story. With the Cybermen defeated previously, an archaeological team are trying to excavate their tomb. Obviously, this leads to the Cybermen being revived and the Doctor needing to step in to save the day.
Patrick Troughton sparkles as the Second Doctor, with excellent chemistry with both of his companions and the Cybermen are at their chilling best. If our word isn’t good enough for you, this is the story that made Matt Smith fall in love with the Second Doctor. It’s a classic for a reason.
Completing the triumvirate of classic villains, the Master pops up in Terror of the Autons. In fact, it’s his debut adventure, alongside the companion Jo Grant! This story kick-started a brand new era for the Third Doctor, making it an ideal starting point.
Not only is this a must-watch for the above reasons, but you get to see the Third Doctor at the height of his power. Sure, he’s still stranded on Earth, working as UNIT’s scientific advisor. But throughout it all he’s dashing and witty, and also he is someone who you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of.
The bohemian in Paris! Written in part by legendary sci-fi writer Douglas Adams, City of Death pits the Fourth Doctor and Romana against a scheme to rewrite history. Along the way, they’ll try and foil an attempt to steal the Mona Lisa, meet a wonderfully violent butler and witness the most important punch in human history.
As funny as it is scary, this pacy adventure gained the most viewers of the entirety of Tom Baker’s time as the Doctor. Ask any fan of the Fourth Doctor and many would recommend this story without hesitation.
One of the defining features of the Fifth Doctor’s era is his ongoing efforts to get Tegan Jovanka back to Heathrow Airport. In The Visitation, he technically succeeds. Unfortunately, the TARDIS lands in the 17th Century rather than the 20th! While this is a disappointment for Tegan, it’s handy for the rest of humanity, as there’s an alien plot in progress…
Not only a great story in its own right, but The Visitation also shows the Fifth Doctor and his first TARDIS team in full force. It introduces you to the personalities of each companion, which is important for the stories that follow. It’s also noticeable for destroying the Sonic Screwdriver, which wouldn’t reappear on screen until the Seventh Doctor’s final adventure.
A story that was ahead of its time, Vengeance on Varos pits the Sixth Doctor and Peri against a terrifying reality TV show, where the contestants don’t always make it out alive. This twisted form of entertainment is used to distract an oppressed workforce from their problems.
Vengeance on Varos is not only a sublimely dark tale, but it’s the first time we see the Sixth Doctor having stabilised after his regeneration. In Vengeance on Varos he showcases his compassion, arrogance, literary prowess and truly alien nature.
It’s not just the horrors of the reality show that Doctor and Peri have to overcome. This is the debut of Sil, a defining villain of the Sixth Doctor’s era. Sil wants to exploit the workers and their government, whereas the Doctor wants to liberate them.
In 1963, the First Doctor and Susan left Earth with Ian and Barbara. When they departed, they left something behind. The Seventh Doctor and Ace return to Shoreditch, and just in time. Two factions of Daleks have come to claim the object the Doctor left on Earth…
Remembrance of the Daleks is the first story in Season 25, a significant turning point in the Seventh Doctor’s journey. He went from jovial jester to master schemer, and we get the first hints of his darker nature in this story. You’ll also get to see Ace in action, a companion who would remain at the Doctor’s side till the end of the series. It’s an ideal jumping-on point.
The Eighth Doctor is trickier. The first time we see him, he’s just regenerated. Young, full of energy and off to see the universe. The next time we see him, he regenerates!
In a little under seven minutes, you’ll get to see everything that made us all fall in love with the Eighth Doctor when he first appeared. Not only witty and charming but utterly heroic, even when the odds are stacked against him. In The Night of the Doctor, we see how much the universe has turned against the Time Lords, and how the Eighth Doctor has refused to lower his moral standards.
Another incarnation without a lot of options, but fortunately the War Doctor stars in the brilliant 50th Anniversary Special, The Day of the Doctor. After his surprise reveal at the end of The Name of the Doctor, we finally got to see him in action, teaming up with the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors.
The destruction of Gallifrey at the end of the Time War had been referenced ever since the Ninth Doctor burst onto our screens. However, we’d never seen that moment until The Day of the Doctor. We saw how tired of the fighting the War Doctor was, how weary this incarnation had become. Most of all, we saw that he wanted there to be any other way. When he finally resigned himself to carrying it out, he was… well, go and see for yourself.
“Are you my Mummy?”
This simple question sent shivers down all our spines when we first saw the nail-biting two-parter The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. The Ninth Doctor and Rose chase a mysterious pod through the vortex and follow it to London during the Blitz. They have to chase down the pod while trying to survive encountering a seemingly innocent child in a gas mask. A child that everyone - us included - is scared of…
This chilling adventure showcases all sides of the Ninth Doctor. Not only his anger but also the hopeful and joyful aspects of his personality. Despite it being one of the darker stories, it has an ending that’ll have you cheering in delight.
Yes, both Blink and Midnight are stone-cold classics, but if you want the essence of the Tenth Doctor’s era distilled into a single story, look no further than the superb two-parter Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead.
This story has it all. An utterly terrifying villain in the form of the Vashta Nerada, microscopic creatures that live in the shadows and eat people. The introduction of the legendary Professor River Song, kickstarting a romantic tale literally for the ages. A series of mind-bending cuts to a girl watching the whole adventure on TV. Go, enjoy, and never look at a shadow the same way again…
Brace yourself for this one. It will make you cry. That’s pretty much a guarantee.
An adventure that’s smaller in scale than some on this list, but hits harder than most episodes. Vincent and the Doctor sees the Doctor and Amy visiting Vincent Van Gogh, after spotting something rather alien-looking in one of his paintings. Rather than tackling a world-ending threat, the focus is on Vincent, and the plight of the alien from his painting.
The Eleventh Doctor is a walking contradiction, the ancient man in the body of a young one. Vincent and the Doctor shows the strengths of both, with brilliant jokes as well as a rousing speech packed with wisdom.
This is a pure, unadulterated Gothic Doctor Who.
There’s a spectral Mummy haunting a train that flies through space. If you see the Mummy, you’ve only got 66 seconds to live. Also, you’re the only one who can see the Mummy, and you can’t outrun it. Luckily for everyone aboard, the Doctor and Clara have arrived.
In terms of showing the eccentricities of the Twelfth Doctor, Mummy on the Orient Express is an ideal starting point. You’ll get a great feel for what this incarnation is like, all wrapped up in a glorious horror/mystery mash-up.
Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror is a fantastic story that illustrates the dynamic of the Thirteenth Doctor and her fam, without requiring in-depth knowledge about who each of them is. The celebrity historical is a magical slice of Doctor Who, and - as you’ve almost certainly guessed from the title - this adventure pairs Team TARDIS with the famed inventor, Nikola Tesla!