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50 Minus 1

November 22nd, 2013

Here, in no particular order, are 50 of my favorite Doctor Who stories.

“Bad Wolf”/”The Parting of the Ways” — This is what I’m watching as I begin to type this list. The first season finale of the revived show is a brilliant fake-out. What seems to be a goofy tale about deadly game shows turns into a showdown with a half-million Daleks and the final moments of the 9th Doctor. Plus, it has one of my all-time favorite scenes: “But you have no weapons, no defenses, no plan!”

“Terror of the Zygons” — With one significant exception, this 4th Doctor classic is a triumph of 1975 production values: convincing rubber-suited aliens, gloopy organic technology and a spectacular spaceship explosion. It all falls down a bit with the puppet Loch Ness Monster. The Zygons themselves will make their long-awaited return in tomorrow’s anniversary special.

“Castrovalva” — The 5th Doctor’s introduction is special to me for being the first episode I saw with an audience of fans. The resurrected Master doggedly pursues his ailing nemesis back to the Big Bang and forward into a Escher-inspired dimensional trap.

“Smith and Jones” — NuWho at its lunatic best, with a mercenary police force of space rhinos teleporting a London hospital to the moon in their search for a vampire granny with a bendy straw.

“Hide” — From the most recent season comes this 1970s haunted house story starring Call the Midwife‘s Jessica Raine as a psychic paranormal investigator. It’s both creepy and surprisingly touching.

“Genesis of the Daleks” — It was twelve years before we learned the true story of the birth of the Doctor’s most persistent enemies. For my money, their perverse creator Davros is Doctor Who‘s all-time greatest villain.

“Inferno” — Admittedly, this 3rd Doctor story runs a bit long at seven episodes. It’s most notable for a side-trip to a fascist parallel Earth that the Doctor utterly fails to save from flaming death. “And they were all wearing eyepatches!”

“Midnight” — The 10th Doctor discovers that not having a companion to humanize him leads to distrust by a group of tourists beset by an invisible, impossible demon. Doctor Who does The Twilight Zone, and it’s just plain terrifying.

“The Five Doctors” — Tomorrow it will have been 30 years since Chicago enjoyed the worldwide broadcast premiere of this anniversary special. (Brits didn’t see it until two days later!) It’s a messy piece of fan service, with three Doctors–plus a replacement 1st Doctor and some stock footage of Tom Baker–teamed with old friends in a quest to the Dark Tower of Rassilon.

“Vengeance on Varos” — Granted, being the 6th Doctor’s best story is clearing a rather low bar. But I love this post-modern piss take on violent television, with its Greek chorus of passive viewers offering running commentary on the Doctor and Peri’s struggle against the money-hungry slug Sil.

“The End of the World” — While “Rose” was a very-nearly perfect reintroduction of Doctor Who to a modern audience, it was the second episode that said “look at what we can do now!” A party of bizarre aliens ranging from a giant head to a stretched piece of skin gather to witness the Earth melt away.

“Partners in Crime” — Donna Noble makes her first appearance as a series regular in a comedy romp about a relatively low-stakes alien invasion. A popular diet supplement promises that the fat will just walk away, and so it does…in the form of the adorable, dough-boy Adipose.

“The Robots of Death” — One of Who‘s most successful attempts at world-building is this Agatha Christie mystery set aboard a sand-mining ship serviced by ornate robots programmed never to go worng.

“The Eleventh Hour” — Matt Smith isn’t my favorite Doctor, but he’s terrific in his debut episode, particularly when interacting with seven-year-old Amelia Pond.

“Earthshock” — The Doctor’s second-most famous foes, the Cybermen, are mostly crap. But this is their finest hour, bringing inevitable doom down upon the Doctor’s closest friends. “Ex-cellent!”

“The Fires of Pompeii” — An episode which answers one of the nagging questions about the Doctor’s adventures: why is it that he can interfere in some historical events, but not others? There’s also a fun running gag regarding the TARDIS’ built-in language translator and Donna’s attempt to speak Latin to the ancient Romans.

“Blink” — Cause and effect loop around each other as the Doctor uses DVD Easter Eggs to communicate across the decades with a young woman menaced by living statues.

“The Time Monster” — This 3rd Doctor adventure isn’t well-regarded by most fans, but it’s the first Doctor Who episode I ever saw and therefore gets a pass. Atlantis, a Minotaur, the Master and a pair of Russian-nested TARDISes make for a hallucinogenic first exposure.

“Remembrance of the Daleks” — The notion of a manipulative 7th Doctor starts here, but I won’t hold that against it. The Doctor’s trap for the Daleks goes pear-shaped when two opposing forces of evil pepper-pots arrive in 1963.

“Night of the Doctor” — The mini-prequel to tomorrow’s anniversary episode is a wonderful, seven-minute slice of Who, with a surprise appearance by the neglected 8th Doctor and a callback to fan favorite story “The Brain of Morbius.”

And here are the other thirty!

“The Brain of Morbius” (I said it was a fan favorite.)

“The Time Warrior” (Welcome, Sarah Jane!)

“Gridlock” (A tribute to 2,000 AD comics with a cameo from a forgotten Who monster.)

“The Seeds of Doom” (A Bond villain nurtures a world-eating plant.)

“The God Complex” (Take The Shining, add another Minotaur.)

“City of Death” (Douglas Adams wrote this comedy about an alien’s heist of the Mona Lisa.)

“The Caves of Androzani” (The 5th Doctor goes out in a blaze.)

“The Aztecs” (The series’ first challenge to established history.)

“The Talons of Weng-Chiang” (A marvelous Victorian adventure pastiche.)

“The Christmas Invasion” (The 10th Doctor proves what kind of a man he is.)

“Horror of Fang Rock” (A shape-shifting alien stalks a storm-tossed lighthouse.)

“The Green Death” (aka “The One with the Maggots.”)

“Rose” (A shop girl meets a stranger with a blue box and learns to run for her life.)

“The Curse of Peladon” (Royal intrigue at a conference of alien ambassadors.)

“School Reunion” (The hearts of a million fanboys flutter as Sarah Jane returns. And K-9 too!)

“The Happiness Patrol” (Mandatory happiness is enforced by a candy-covered robot.)

“The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances” (The introduction of the roguish Captain Jack Harkness.)

“The Pirate Planet” (Another Douglas Adams script, this one about a planet-devouring planet.)

“The Curse of Fenric” (Vikings, vampires, Russians and an ancient evil converge in WWII Britain.)

“The Face of Evil” (The Doctor meets the savage Leela!)

“Planet of Evil” (A magnificent alien jungle set enlivens this spin on Forbidden Planet.)

“Pyramids of Mars” (If there’s a villain more frightening than Sutekh, I don’t want to meet him.)

“The Girl in the Fireplace” (The Doctor has a time-crossed romance with Madame de Pompadour.)

“Terror of the Autons” (The Master kicks off his decades-long vendetta.)

“The Ark in Space” (Proof, if any be needed, that bubble wrap is scary.)

“The Mind Robber” (The Doctor faces the surreal threat of becoming a fictional character.)

“Enlightenment” (Bored immortals stage a sailing race through the Solar System.)

“Army of Ghosts”/”Doomsday” (The Daleks and Cybermen talk smack to each other. And there’s something about Rose.)

“The Deadly Assassin” (Political conspiracy, Time Lord mythology and the Matrix 23 years before The Matrix.)

“Dalek” (After decades of being the butt of the joke, a lone Dalek proves that one is more than enough.)

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