Right now, I’m working away on a series of reviews of Big Finish Doctor Who releases, which are coming to this site shortly. However, I’ve been contemplating of late just what it is that’s made Matt Smith’s run of Doctor Who stories the most consistently good. Because story after story, Smith’s reign as the Doctor has delivered.
So, it got me thinking: if I take each individual Doctor’s stories in order of broadcast, and eliminate one each round, which Doctor will be left standing? And will the Matt Smith/Steven Moffat run of Who have, in its early stages at least, proven itself to be the most consistent out of the blocks?
I should say from the start that, for me, Smith’s debut was particularly memorable, as I watched it in Manchester’s Lass O’Gowrie with a horde of other fans. That was the first time I’ve ever done that, and it was hugely enjoyable. But, anyway, let’s go through the debuts.
Debuts, then, can be great (see Spearhead From Space), but they often tend to be rather more middling affairs, (see most of the rest). They tend to involve the actor concerned finding his feet, and often the stories themselves suffer. Having said that, however, I do have a very soft spot for Castrovalva, and I really did enjoy The Eleventh Hour.
As for the rest, I think that An Unearthly Child/100,000 BC does at least do its job, likewise Rose and The Christmas Invasion, all of which were lacking a little something for my money.
Lesser plaudits would go to Robot, which feels like such a hangover from Pertwee’s first or third season, and Power Of The Daleks, which, as far as can be ascertained, is just a little too long and a little too, well, unexciting. In an entirely different way from Paul McGann’s single story.
This leaves us with the two real bottom of the barrel offerings from Doctors Six and Seven. Yes, folks, can we have a big hand for The Twin Dilemma and Time And The Rani? No, thought not. I suppose it’s quite contentious as to which someone prefers.
The Twin Dilemma gains marks for being so damn brave as to try something new by having a Doctor who is, let’s be frank, a really nasty piece of work. I know it made many uncomfortable, but I do feel Colin Baker should be applauded for tearing Doctor Who so far out of its comfort zone.Time And The Rani, on the other hand, is an unmitigated disaster of the first order. But it is so bright and cheerful that it eventually ends up being a more enjoyable story than The Twin Dilemma, which never recovers from the terrible acting of the supporting actors or the unremitting dullness of the script.
Thus it is that the slightly pacier Time And The Rani survives, whereas Twin Dilemma does not.
It does, quite literally, survive. This is our first round which will eventually lead us to showing just how great Matt Smith is. Colin Baker’s reign will not feature from here on in, as he’s eliminated in round one.
Round two, then. Let’s look at the second stories. This round is swifter as the Eighth Doctor, despite some excellent audio successes, hasn’t turned up. Not even a Dimensions In Time or a Time Crash for our appraisal. Not a sausage.
And so it is that the other nine Doctors survive Round Two without much of a challenge. We’re down to eight Doctors.
Round Three. The third stories. What have we got on offer here? Well, there are no real masterpieces, but there are some undeniably solid stories like Eccleston’s The Unquiet Dead and Tennant’s Tooth And Claw. We have some slightly less solid stories next including the admirably brave Inside The Spaceship and the seemingly Marmite-flavoured Victory Of The Daleks which I, for one, loved. Not that keen on the Spitfires in space, though.
What’s left, then? Pertwee’s overlong seven-episode Ambassadors Of Death, Tom Baker’s overlong two-episode Sontaran Experiment, Davison’s ropey snake-fest Kinda, Sylvester’s Delta and The Bannerman and Troughton’s woeful Underwater Menace.
Can we ditch a story largely based on “Nuzzink in ze vurld vill ztop me now”? Probably, yeah. Even Ambassadors doesn’t drag as much as this story.
Bye bye, Patrick Troughton.
Fourth round, fourth stories. Instant classics Genesis Of The Daleks and Mr Smith’s Time Of Angels jump straight through the hoop leaving us with Tennant’s (well, it’s Lis Sladen’s really, isn’t it?) School Reunion and Eccleston’s Aliens Of London, for starters. I’d take the former over the latter. I imagine that you probably would, too.
How about Sylvester’s Dragonfire and Davison’s The Visitation? I’d take the latter again. It’s a good, solid story even at its worst whereas, despite some lovely sets, Dragonfire really does struggle. Hartnell and Pertwee battle it out with Marco Polo and Inferno, but both these and Aliens Of London are surely better than Dragonfire, and so it is that Sylvester must bid us adieu.
Seventh Doctor gone. Seven Doctors left. With their fifth stories, Pertwee’s wonderful Terror Of The Autons, Eccleston’s dark and wonderful Dalek and Tennant’s masterpiece Girl In The Fireplace all have to survive.
That leaves us with Hartnell’s wobbly Keys Of Marinus, Tom’s ever so dull Revenge Of The Cybermen, Davison’s interesting Black Orchid and Matt Smith’s budgetary restraint of Vampires Of Venice. I’d take any of these over Revenge Of The Cybermen, personally. Maybe you’ll disagree, but if so, then I don’t think you’ve seen Revenge Of The Cybermen recently enough.
Ding ding. Tom’s gone.
Round six, with six Doctors left and there’s a bit of a mixed bag here. I think the best two stories are probably Hartnell’s The Aztecs, which has some wonderful acting and plot, and Matt Smith’s recent Amy’s Choice, which was genuinely unsettling in places. What else is there?
There’s Pertwee’s UNIT by numbers of Mind Of Evil, Davison’s love it or hate it Earthshock, Eccleston’s The Long Game and Tennant’s Rise Of The Cybermen. There’s nothing of particularly high quality here, although I think Earthshock has its merits. As does The Long Game, in which the Doctor realises that his new companion is a baddie at about a tenth of the speed that the Fifth Doctor did with Turlough.
So, what do you take through to Round Seven? Rise or Mind? I’ll plump for the Cyberfest, at a push.
Some stunners in Round Seven. Well, one. It’s Eccleston’s Father’s Day and it eats up the opposition for lunch. What is the opposition? The not quite good: enough Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, the fairly ropey Idiot’s Lantern, the overlong and pretty dull Sensorites and Time Flight. Even amongst the D graders, there’s still one for the chop, isn’t there, Peter?
The Empty Child, The Impossible Planet/Satan Pit, Vincent And The Doctor and The Reign Of Terror. Two amazing recent two-parters which have to go through, and also Richard Curtis’ surprising mini-masterpiece that actually made me shed a tear towards the end. Certainly, Reign Of Terror is pretty good stuff, but I don’t think it’s a match for these three.
And so it is that it’s the three most recent Doctors who scrape through to Round Nine. And it’s in Round Nine that we encounter the wonderful The Lodger, in which Smith proves he’s one of the very finest actors to have taken on the role. And we also encounter Boom Town and Love and Monsters.
Now, this might be contentious, but I do prefer the brave, funny, clever and pretty damn sad Love and Monsters over the pretty dull Boom Town Perhaps you don’t. Do let me know, won’t you?
And so it’s head to head for Tennant and Smith for the title. Will Matt Smith get it for the up and down and a bit plot holey Pandorica Opens or will Tennant get it for, erm, Fear Her?
He won’t, will he? The title is Smith’s.
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