The BBC reboot of Doctor Who has been insanely successful, but many people – including myself – grew up watching the classic Doctor Who series.
My love of Doctor Who is thanks to my half-brother, who had a huge collection of VHS tapes and we spent hours watching the classic Doctors doing their thing. Growing up, my favourite Doctor was Patrick Troughton, the second Doctor.
So let’s take a look at some of the classic episodes that you need to watch. Now, much like the current series of Doctor Who, some episodes had a “monster of the week” flavour, and some had a part of an overarching storyline.
Most of the time, though, you didn’t need to watch the whole series to understand what’s going on. This is essential, as some episodes have been lost forever, and some only have the audio remaining. (For example, the regeneration of the first Doctor is audio only with stills, the original recording is gone.)
First on our list is a Patrick Troughton classic – The Tomb of the Cybermen.
This wasn’t the Cybermen’s first appearance (that honour belongs to the 1966 episode The Tenth Planet) but it’s one of the best. This episode was aired in 1967, so naturally it is in black and white.
The setting is simple: The Doctor and his two companions, Jamie and Victoria, land on the planet Telos where an archeological expedition is going on. The leader of the expedition, Parry, explains that they have found the lost tomb of the Cybermen who supposedly died out five centuries before.
While they try to enter the tomb, the archeologist’s spaceship is sabotaged, trapping them on the planet. They enter the tomb, and here begins a story of betrayal and subterfuge as some of the group work to revive the dormant Cybermen within. The storyline is gripping, tense, and there are some great lines from Patrick Troughton’s Doctor.
Try to push past the aged costumes and the questionable character of Toberman (remember when it was filmed, people), and you are in for a treat of brilliantly executed Doctor Who.
Let’s skip ahead a few Doctors to one of the few good episodes that Colin Baker’s Doctor had – Vengeance on Varos.
Overall, Colin Baker is not seen as a particularly good era of Doctor Who, and overall his reign had some pretty forgettable episodes. But, he did star in one of the best episodes of classic Doctor Who.
The premise is that something is wrong with the TARDIS and the Doctor explains to his companion, Peri, that he needs the exceptionally rare Zeiton-7 to fix it. This can only be found on the planet of Varos.
This planet was originally a prison planet, but it has now been transformed into a totalitarian nightmare where voting is mandatory and torture and executions are televised. The Doctor arrives just as the Governor, after having lost a vote over the price of Zeiton-7, is forced to execute the leader of the rebels, Jondar to please the public – as another vote loss will kill him.
The Doctor quickly falls foul of the guards and makes a hasty escape, while his escape is being televised for all to see. He is inside an area known as the Punishment Dome, which can have several psychological effects.
For example, he feels as as if he is in the middle of a vast desert and begins to die from thirst. This show is pretty violent, especially for Doctor Who. The Doctor narrowly escapes death and disposal in an acid bath, but is then sentenced to execution by hanging. The “big brother” vibe is strong with this episode, and the desperate fight not only to survive and the removal of the totalitarian regime is well executed.
To finish things up, let’s dial things back to the very first Doctor, William Hartnell. This Doctor is very different from the ones we see even a few regenerations later, he is hard and unforgiving, but gradually softens to his human companions.
The episode I want to focus on is The Dalek Invasion of Earth. This is another black and white one, as this was aired in 1964. This was not the first appearance of the Dalek’s (that was The Dead Planet, another excellent episode), but it is one of their most harrowing appearances.
The Doctor and his companion, Susan, find themselves in London in the sometime after the year 2164. London is not only in ruins, but a troubling sign points to a more long running concern: “Emergency Regulation – It is forbidden to dump bodies into the river.”
It quickly becomes apparent that the Daleks have completely taken over the Earth and have made short work of subjugating the human race.
Things go from bad to worse as a quake blocks them from returning to the TARDIS, and they quickly meet up with members of the human resistance. There they hatch a plan to fight back against the Daleks. This episode is harrowing because of how complete the Dalek’s dominance is – they have humans working tirelessly to drill to the core of the earth, and they are forcing humans to be their slaves with strange mind controlling helmets.
They even terrorise people to the point where they would give up members of the only resistance for extra rations of food. It shows in stark detail the helplessness of humanity against the superior firepower of the Daleks. Naturally, it is up to the Doctor, Susan, and the resistance members to fight back.
They quickly get on the case of why the Daleks are drilling the earth, and also work on freeing the humans from slavery. This episode, while it is very old, actually stands up in a lot of ways. The Daleks have certainly held up a lot more than the Cybermen in the costume department, and overall the story and world are well portrayed to show this oppressive regime of the Daleks.