If you could save only 26 stories from classic Doctor Who (there are 157 of them), which would they be? There are 26 seasons, but I’m not necessarily asking for a favorite from each one. Just your 26 favorites wherever they come from, and see where the weight falls. For me, it’s a given that over half my choices are Tom Baker stories. His was the golden age. I have 3 Hartnell, 2 Troughton, 1 Pertwee, 14 T. Baker, 1 Davison, 2 C. Baker, and 3 McCoy. Here’s how they line up.
1. The Talons of Weng-Chiang. This was the second Doctor Who story I ever saw, and it spoiled me immensely. As a ten-year old I couldn’t believe it was television material; I’d never seen anything this dark on the network, let alone PBS. Talons is so gruesome, bizarre, and original despite the homages: Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, and Fu Manchu are in play, and the elements mesh in a Victorian setting where girls are being snatched off foggy streets to feed a ghoul. The Doctor assumes a Scotland-Yard persona and is attacked by one insanity after another — Chinese assassins, a giant sewer rat, a homicidal doll, a shifty stage magician, and then finally the ghoul at the end of the sewer. As far as I’m concerned, Magnus Greel is the vilest Doctor Who villain of all time. He operates on the basest level possible, is a megalomaniac like other classic villains (Davros, Sutekh, the Master) but also delusional (believing himself to be a Chinese god), and acquires artifacts like the Time Cabinet for the same reason he slaughters girls like cattle: to leech power for his dying body. This story is best at everything it works with: horror, mystery, drama, you name it; and no supporting cast has ever come close to matching the dual act of Professor Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago.
2. Pyramids of Mars. Egyptian mythology is mined brilliantly in this story, and the character of Marcus Scarman gave me nightmares. He has a hard look to begin with, but when possessed by evil he is utterly terrifying. There is the sequence where a poacher shoots him through the house window, the bullet slams into his back, and he screams; he quickly recovers, and turns around slowly to glare at the poacher outside who can’t believe his eyes; he sends a pair of mummies after the poacher, who eventually catch him in the woods, despite their lumbering slowness (for they never tire), and kill the poor bastard by sandwiching him between their chests and crushing him. That sequence serves as a commentary on Pyramids of Mars as a whole: there is no way to beat, escape, or survive Sutekh. He’s the ultimate Doctor Who villain, a god of limitless power devoted not simply to killing or subjugating others, but to eradicating all life everywhere in the universe, down to the last bacteria. He is nihilism personified, and in the Doctor’s words, “the greatest peril” the world has ever faced. Every supporting character is killed off (only Horror of Fang Rock would repeat this), and the Doctor wins only by exploiting a two-minute time window to propel Sutekh into an infinite time loop.
3. The E-Space Trilogy. I’m cheating here with three stories, but they work together despite the different plots and settings, the common theme being enslavement. In Full Circle a colony of people work routinely without ever making progress, preparing for a day of departure that can never come; their three leaders (the Deciders) aren’t overtly oppressive, but keep them in ignorance to maintain the status quo. In State of Decay a different planet of colonists are trapped in a state of serfdom, and treated as livestock by a trio of vampires. In Warriors’ Gate a species of lion-humanoids is literally enslaved to navigate space vehicles for human mercenaries. The Doctor’s role in each story is different. In the first he serves as a catalyst for change, mostly by yelling and heaping insults on the Deciders for keeping their subjects in ignorance. In the second he’s proactive by instigating a peasant rebellion against the vampire overlords. And in the third he does literally nothing –- but “the right kind of nothing” — at the behest of a Tharil who knows how things are destined to play out. See my full review of this brilliant trilogy full of plot twists and loaded ideas. I can’t say enough about it.
4. Inferno. Whenever I watch Inferno, there’s no stopping for breaks — I’m glued through all seven episodes. I consider the Pertwee era the worst by far (though Pertwee himself was an excellent Doctor), plagued by redundant invasion-of-earth stories involving UNIT, but it did produce this one story of awesomeness, and it’s so good that it’s in my top five. Its success lies in the use of the parallel universe, which works on several levels. For starters, we get to see dark counterparts to the Liz Shaw and especially the Brigadier, who is the “Brigade Leader” in this fascist version of Britain, and completely steals the show. Unlike the Brigadier we love, this version with an eye-patch is an interrogating sadist who thrives on abusing the weak without any concern for truth, guilt or innocence. But best of all, the alternate universe allows high stakes to play out, and allow the Doctor to lose — the earth is destroyed in floods of lava. The dramatic intensity is as high as Doctor Who ever gets; the cliffhangers genius; and the alternate Britain with alternate characters creepy as hell. Stories like this come once a decade, if that.
5. Genesis of the Daleks. Possibly the most famous Doctor Who story, and definitely the most grim; it presents the bleakest image of war ever seen in the series. The Time Lords send the Doctor into the past on a mission to avert the Daleks’ creation. We know he must fail, for of course time can’t be rewritten (these weren’t the days of Steven Moffat), and this comes to a head in his last-minute moral dilemma, as he agonizes over whether or not to commit genocide. His argument is that killing an intelligent lifeform like the Daleks would make him no better than they, and that future worlds will become allies because of the Dalek menace. That many of us disagree with the Doctor (I disagree with his first point, though agree with the second in the wider context of changing history) only makes his alien way of thinking more fascinating. But he’s able to set the Daleks back a few centuries, and gets into thundering arguments with Davros, who steals the show in a way no villain has ever matched since. I’m always chilled by the final scene of the Doctor, Harry, and Sarah spinning through the blackness of outer-space, around the Doctor’s half-convincing assurance that out of the Daleks’ great evil must surely come something good.
6. The Seeds of Doom. If David Cronenberg ever wrote a Doctor Who story, it might look something like The Seeds of Doom. It contains the most disturbing images of body horror ever seen on the show (prompting the inevitable cries of indignation from Mary Whitehouse), not to mention thuggish violence, that as a kid I remember thinking it was the TV-equivalent of an R-rated movie. I loved horror from a very early age, but even so was shocked by Keeler’s disgusting transformation into a Krynoid over the course of episode four. Another thing that stands out is the exceptional use of the villains. The insane botanist Harrison Chase goes without saying, but his thug Scorby is brilliantly scripted and completely convincing. A true mercenary, he tries to murder the Doctor and Sarah in Antarctica, and also on Chase’s estate, but then allies with them against Chase and has no interest at all in revenge against them. Classic Who was always good with the enemies-to-allies thing, and Scorby is exhibit-A. For a long time as a kid, I considered this my favorite story. The idea of massive carnivorous weeds taking over the earth’s plantlife and wiping out all humans and animals is one of the show’s best, and it works epically across a six-episode length.
7. The Face of Evil. This was the last story I saw in the four-season Tom Baker package (12-15) released to PBS in 1978. Its successor, Robots of Death, was my first story, and so I had to wait for the replays to loop around and find out how the Doctor actually met Leela. And I had to wait through two cycles of replays, because somehow I missed it on the first rerun. So The Face of Evil had long since acquired a weird mythic status for me. I had friends who talked about the psychotic god-computer who resembled the Doctor, and it sounded scary. Parts of it ended up terrifying me, especially the episode-three cliffhanger of Xoanon’s face(s) getting larger, and his voice louder, until the Doctor is cringing on the floor with the computer bellowing rage over its confused identity. The story skewers religion and technology, which is remarkable in a show that usually revels in taking down the former. The tribal savages and the scientific community serve the Face in equally misguided ways, and with Xoanon’s healing they are able to return to unity. The story still has a mythic hold on me; it’s like something out of a paranoid dream state, or a feverish imagining of how the Doctor and Leela hooked up.
8. The Deadly Assassin. Few people know that the Matrix didn’t start with Keanu Reeves. It started with the Fourth Doctor. It’s even called the Matrix in this story, and it functions exactly like the model everyone knows — an electronic neural network that turns thought patterns into virtual reality. In any case, The Deadly Assassin is a classic that has undergone drastic reassessment with the passage of time. Panned during its release for breaking with so much formula and daring to not use alien creatures or monsters, it is now praised for precisely these reasons, for doing something entirely new, and for the first time involving a close-up look at Gallifrey and the Time Lords. The Master has never been a favorite of mine, but here he’s used very well and in a manner fitting of the Hinchcliffe era — hideous, disfigured, and corpse-like, with a skull-like visage and black cloak evoking the Grim Reaper. He frames the Doctor in assassinating the president, and the Doctor has to chase down his identity through the wastelands of the Matrix. This story was #1 on Mary Whitehouse’s hate list, for scenes of prolonged violence, and there’s no question it remains one of the most adult-feeling stories of the series.
9. The Caves of Androzani. Some say it’s the best Doctor Who story of all time, and while I don’t think it’s that good I wouldn’t call it overrated. Its genius lies in its nihilism, though few stop to ponder how bleak the canvass really is. There are no good guys, no winners, everyone is venal and selfish, and there is certainly no universal threat. The Doctor and Peri stumble into a gun-running mess, and their mission is simply to save their own asses and escape the foul people on all sides of the conflict. The world is one of a capitalism gone mad; drug wars, labor camps, and corporate backbiting are the way of things. It’s also a revenge story. I wouldn’t exactly call Sharez Jek a sympathetic villain — he was ruthless even before being betrayed and disfigured — but in this stew of characters he’s about as sympathetic as they get. He’s a grotesque and lonely figure, and his romantic feelings for Peri are genuine if predatory. By the end, everyone is dead — shot, blown apart, or poisoned. That includes the Doctor, who saves Peri by allowing himself to die and regenerate into his sixth incarnation. His self-sacrifice is the single bright ray in a landscape of pure backbiting amorality. That turns out to be a perfect swan song for the Fifth Doctor, whom I could never otherwise warm to.
10. Robots of Death. My first Doctor Who story was a perfect introduction. It’s straightforward, fast-paced, and intelligent: a murder mystery involving killer robots set on a desert planet. The setting is a claustrophobic mining vehicle, and the tension never lets up as people are stalked and strangled one by one. Even though it was the second-to-last Hinchcliffe story, it was Leela’s second story — and her first inside the TARDIS, meaning that the story conveniently introduced me to the time box through her eyes. Her initiation is the best of the companions (Amy Pond’s in The Eleventh Hour a close second), and the Doctor’s explanation of trans-dimensional engineering so priceless for being ridiculous. He plays the “Which box is larger?” trick, claiming that since a large box looks smaller when its far away, “if you could keep it that distance away and have it here, it would fit inside the small one”. But trans-dimensional engineering has nothing to do with how the eye is fooled; he’s just bullshitting Leela to shut her up. This remains one of the most psychologically intense stories ever, and some scenes still get me on edge.
11. The Brain of Morbius. In some ways this is the quintessential Hinchcliffe story. It’s influenced by Frankenstein, and set on an alien planet that resembles an alternate Transylvania, with a gothic castle on a bleak mountain, a mad scientist, a hunchbacked servant, and a nearby coven of witches. It’s macabre at its essence, the plot being Solon (the mad scientist) wanting to cut off the Doctor’s head for Morbius’s brain. The Sisterhood of Karn (the witches) are used superbly, one of my favorite enemies-to-allies of all time. They end up on the same side with the Doctor fighting Morbius, but it takes them a long time to reach that point (at first they’re hell-bent on sacrificing him), and frankly they’re as bad as Solon. Solon is motivated by his servitude to Morbius to commit murder, but the Sisterhood are motivated by their jealous worship of the Elixir of Life to commit atrocities just as bad. Finally, I consider The Brain of Morbius to be Sarah Jane Smith’s strongest story. Every single cliffhanger involves her instead of the Doctor; she gets blinded and stays that way throughout two episodes, and is sexually fawned on by Solon’s creepy hunchback. She is bloody terrified throughout this story, and rises above it splendidly.
12. The Horror of Fang Rock. The first story of the Graham Williams era gives searing homage to its predecessor. Not only is it more creepy and gothic than some of the best Hinchcliffe stories, it ups the ante by killing off the entire supporting cast. Pyramids of Mars did this too, but Horror kills off even more people in closer quarters. The deaths, moreover, are not just for the “sake” of a high body count. Each murder is a slam in the gut that escalates the plot. The setting is a lighthouse in a stormy sea, and the murderer a shape-shifting alien who can assume the appearance of its slain victims. Of all Leela’s stories, this one draws most creatively on her tribal savage background. At one point she whips out her knife and yells at a self-important twit: “You will do as the Doctor instructs, or I will cut out your heart!” Later, when a murder victim is found, and a woman screams her bloody head off, Leela slaps her face in disgust. And in the end, she gloats over the dying body of the alien and scolds the Doctor for not wishing to “celebrate the death of an enemy”. This is a character story, bottle episode, and severe horror piece all in one.
13. The Power of the Daleks. This is one of the many lost stories from the Hartnell/Troughton periods. It survives in audio form with reconstructed stills, and while some insist that a story can’t be judged based on a recon, that’s not true for a dialogue-driven show like Doctor Who. The Loose Cannon team has done such a great job with the recons that I kicked myself for putting off watching them for so long. So let’s be clear: The Power of the Daleks and The Evil of the Daleks stand as masterpieces on recon value alone. For a long time I couldn’t conceive a Dalek story without Davros, because from Tom Baker onwards there was no such thing. In these two Troughton stories, the Daleks are at their scariest completely on their own, and in the case of Power, the plotting works over a slow build. Every single thing advances the plot and escalates tension. A Dalek ship has crash-landed on a planet and they rely on the assistance of a human scientist to reactivate them, while pretending to be servants of the human colony. The “I am your servant” refrain is milked for all its worth; three Daleks ooze more Machiavellian terror than armies of them do in other stories.
14. The Evil of the Daleks. If Power is the slow build, Evil is the epic blow-out. It starts as a mystery in the 19th century, with a wonderful Holmes-and-Watson act on the part of the Doctor and Jamie, and then moves into the far future on Skaro, where the dreaded Emperor Dalek is revealed. I find this thing just as imposing as Davros in the later stories. The plot is basically a chess game played between the Doctor and the Emperor, with Troughton’s Doctor extraordinarily devious and manipulative, in a way that anticipates McCoy’s seventh incarnation. The character of Maxtible is genius, and his ultimate motives come as a genuine shocker, namely that he sells out his friends and associates for unlimited wealth; the secret of turning metal to gold. There is some delightfully twisted humor on display, with some Daleks being injected with the Human Factor and playing childish games, and then prodded by the Doctor to question their orders, which ends in them getting blasted to smithereens. This was intended as the last Dalek story, and while thankfully that didn’t happen, the all-out war and explosive carnage at the end would have admittedly made a perfect send-off to the creatures.
15. Ghost Light. A Victorian piece with drenching atmosphere. A centuries-old spaceship lies underneath a gothic mansion, and its crew of three are at each others’ throats: the spiritual force called Light, who can move at the “speed of thought” and whose mission has been to catalog every known form of life on Earth; Josiah Smith, his survey agent, who has lived among human beings to evolve as one of them; and the beast-like female known as Control, who serves as a “control” for the evolving experiment. Woven through this plot are hilarious pot-shots against creationism, as when Reverend Matthews denounces Josiah for his Darwinian blasphemies and suddenly devolves into a hairy ape on the spot. Light’s murders of guests and house residents are horrifying, particularly in he way he blasts the police inspector into “primordial soup” which is then served at the supper table. The entire drama takes place inside the house where servants fear for their lives, and homicidal byproducts of hyper-evolution lurk beyond dark corridors and sliding doors. The cerebral challenges of Ghost Light have been matched only by Warriors’ Gate, and like the E-Space story is a work of art.
16. Logopolis. Tom Baker’s send-off. There’s some padding that bogs down the later episodes, and the completely ludicrous attempt of the Doctor to flood the Master out of the TARDIS, but I still consider Logopolis a masterpiece. Its gloomy funereal tone foreshadows the Fourth’s death in almost every frame. The idea of a colony of mathematicians who maintain the integrity of the universe by keeping the forces of entropy at bay with math codes is brilliant. It’s easy to overlook the holocaust of solar systems because we don’t see anyone dying, but it’s one of the highest body counts (in the millions) in the show’s history. There are unforgettable scenes here, notably the TARDIS trapped within itself over and over again, which the Doctor and Adric keep trying to exit. The best scenes, however, involve the bantering between the Doctor and Adric in episode one, which showcase how naturally Tom Baker breathed his own dialogue so fluidly into the script. Logopolis was a perfect exit.
17. The Ark in Space. This preceded Alien by four years, but the similarities are striking: a remote space-station environment and insect-like aliens who use human hosts to replicate. The far-future setting is one where earth has been decimated by solar flares, and the last survivors of humanity have been “asleep” aboard the Ark in a cryogenic fugue state. Now awakened, they show signs of a fascist society, where people are valued by their abilities alone, and the leader Noah is willing to destroy the Doctor and his friends for fear they will contaminate his people’s gene pool. Given this unpleasant lot of humans, who are even hostile, it’s all the more intriguing that the Doctor sides with them against the alien Wirrn. By Time Lord standards, the Wirrn have as much right to exist as a species as humans do, and their purpose to multiply and spread and devour humanity doesn’t seem too far away from the fascist mindset of Noah’s people. Noah’s metamorphosis into a Wirrn is just deserts, though I confess feel sorry for him all the same; it’s a ghastly transformation. The Ark in Space sets a solid tone for the new Hinchcliffe era of gothic horror, and for the new Doctor as well.
18. Revelation of the Daleks. Without question the most weird and morbid story in the Who canon. It’s entirely Davros’ story — even more so than in Genesis — showing him twice as insane, and five times as sadistic. He has taken control of a galactic funeral parlor, for the purpose of using corpses as building blocks for his new and improved Dalek army, though he seems far more interested in manipulating and killing off the parlor’s personnel for reasons that are completely pointless besides satisfying his sadistic urges. I said that Keeler’s transformation into a Krynoid in The Seeds of Doom is the most disturbing image in the show’s history, but Stengos’ mutated head is a close second — encased in a glass Dalek shell, his body gone, his head purple and grotesque, his voice alternating horribly between human and Dalek. As for the Doctor, he is little more than a bystander and moral commentator, doing nothing proactive to save the day. This isn’t a fault (I love Chris Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor precisely because he’s so ineffectual), but it’s striking in this period of the show; and it allows the mercenary Orcini to resolve things in a dramatically satisfying way, as his rigid honor code demands.
19. The Curse of Fenric. Norse mythology, vampires from the sea, and World War II. At this point in the series (the tail end), the Doctor hadn’t gone against a god since the days of Tom Baker in Pyramids of Mars and Image of the Fendahl. The latter is worth mentioning, because there is no reason the Doctor couldn’t have done to the Fenric flask what he did to the Fendahl skull: dump it in a black hole. Instead he hid the flask so that an elaborate game of chess can now play out, in which innocent people die and Ace is horribly abused. He defeats Fenric by emotionally crushing her: making her lose her faith in him. Faith is the striking theme of this story, uncharacteristic of the classic series (and much better handled than in new-series fiascoes like Last of the Time Lords), whether it be a belief in higher powers, trust in other people, or even ideas. So the Doctor is able to keep the sea-vampires at bay by muttering his companions’ names; Sorin can do so by intoning the Revolution; but the Vicar Wainwright is overpowered because of his crisis of faith in God. Last of the Time Lords could have learned from this faith-story that shows the Doctor at his darkest and most manipulative, instead of treating him as a mythic superhero.
20. Image of the Fendahl. If The Horror of Fang Rock gave homage to Hinchcliffe by going even darker, Image of the Fendahl does so by copying the plot of Pyramids of Mars to a tee. Here again is an ancient godlike evil, seeking release after millennia of dormancy, and set on an old priory with wooded grounds. The chief difference this time is that we don’t really get to see the Fendahl, as it never fully manifests through the woman it has taken over. This actually works for the better, because it leaves much to the terrified imagination, while the horror is explicitly carried on atmosphere — mist-shrouded woods, glowing skulls, decaying corpses, and scientists killing each other for purely venal reasons. The Fendahl overshadows of all this, and its reputation alone terrifies; even the Doctor shows uncharacteristic fright, warning that if the evil isn’t stopped no one on earth will be alive in another year. This entity is as nihilistic as Sutekh, minus the megalomania and sadism; it just does what it needs to do. This was effectively the last story of the golden age. After it, Graham Williams started putting a much lighter stamp on the show.
21. The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve. This one survives only as recon, and is the best of the Hartnell historicals. It’s a unique story in that the Doctor is off-stage most of the time, and his companion Steven takes the lead as a man stranded in time. And what a time: the Huguenot-Catholic wars of France, and the few days in 1572 leading up to the notorious bloodbath. For a stagey Doctor Who story, it taps remarkably into the politics of the time and how both Protestants and Catholics were likely feeling. There’s a suspenseful feeling of impending doom that never lets up. The Doctor’s double is interesting. On the one hand it allows Hartnell to showcase his acting talents as the menacing and humorless Abbot of Amboise. On the other, we share Steven’s point of view, not sure if he’s really the Doctor or not. In the last episode it’s revealed that he’s not, though apparently in the novelization he was indeed impersonating the abbot. The plot was deemed too complex to juggle in a 100-minute TV story, but if that’s the case, then it’s a mystery where the Doctor was all this time. The ending is heartbreaking, as a furious Steven rails against the Doctor’s indifference to human horrors and the impending slaughter of over 10,000 Huguenots in Paris.
22. The Crusade. I love the crusades, and the subject was perfect for a Hartnell historical. The Doctor and his companions find themselves caught between the looming personalities of the Third Crusade, Richard The Lionheart and Saladin. Neither is very sympathetic, but both are totally believable, and of course Julian Glover (Richard) is always a superb guest star in Doctor Who. Most striking about The Crusade is the adult content, with references to harems, incest, and especially the despicable character of El Akir. I consider him the most upsetting villain in the show’s history, because he’s extraordinarily realistic in the context of a family program. He’s a rapist who killed Haroun’s wife and son, and then took his daughter captive, adding her to his harem. He’s sadistic, and not in a cartoonish way, which makes him so chilling to watch, especially after he is shamed by Barbara. He’s driven by honor-revenge, pursuing her throughout the entire story, and with every intention of raping and torturing her in order to break her spirit. His line to her in episode three is unforgettable: “The only pleasure left for you is death, and death is very far away”. In any case, he is certainly the most despicable human villain to ever appear in Doctor Who. The plot to the story is the Doctor and his friends trying to escape with their lives, and that’s all the plot necessary in the time of the crusades.
23. The Aztecs. It’s fascinating to compare this one to The Fires of Pompeii. At first blush they seem to make the same point about rewriting history. The Tenth’s scolding of Donna for wanting to save Pompeii seems prefigured by the First’s tongue-lashing of Barbara for wanting to stop the Aztec practice of human sacrifice. Neither is possible, and yet each companion effects a small change (Donna persuades the Doctor to save a single family, and Barbara enlightens one high priest). Yet there’s a difference. The Aztecs is about the inability to change history despite trying, whereas The Fires of Pompeii is more about the immorality of making the attempt. The First declares, “You can’t rewrite history, not one line. What you are trying to do is utterly impossible.” In the new series such things are not at all impossible; they just result in something nastier. In any case, this is a wonderfully dramatic story that gets good use out of Barbara. My favorite part is when the Doctor blows up at her in a fit of hyper-tolerance that outdoes even today’s multiculturalists: “Human sacrifice is their religion! Their tradition! Don’t you realize that man wanted to be offered to the gods?” Wisdom coming from 1963.
24. City of Death. Everyone loves this one, and many would place it in their top five. It’s the only masterpiece from the Williams era that feels like a Williams story (Horror of Fang Rock and Image of the Fendahl seem like Hinchcliffe leftovers), involving more comedy and adventure in place of horror and violence. It wasn’t a strong era, but City of Death worked the new formula to perfection, and honestly, some of Tom Baker’s ad-libbing is the funniest in the series’ history. The scene where he socializes warmly with his captors, even pours drinks for them, flatters the Countess, and then chastises Duggan for mishandling an antique chair to resist imprisonment (politely requesting that the Count escort him, Romana, and Duggan to their cells), is an all-time classic. The plot is an ambitious one involving time paradoxes: an alien has splintered itself into twelve identical parts throughout history, and each self lives out its life trying to guide human development so that the next self might have access to time travel technology — the ultimate goal being to change the past and stop the human race from ever having evolved. Julian Glover plays the selves brilliantly, especially at the stunning reveal when the Doctor goes back in time to visit Leonardo da Vinci.
25. Vengeance on Varos. The Deadly Assassin held the record for “most adult” story until this one came along and offended everyone’s sensibilities. Also like The Deadly Assassin, this one doesn’t revolve around terrifying creatures but rather terrifying virtual or TV realities. Varos is a society on the fringes of space whose people are dependent on sadistic TV entertainment — torture, state executions, blindness, and (best of all) acid baths. This voyeurism is used to keep the population in its place by an exceedingly corrupt government. The scene that has taken on legendary status is the one in which the Doctor supposedly pushes two men into an acid bath. He doesn’t, actually, but he does mock them as they fall into the bath and start dissolving. It’s a case of audiences becoming so easily convinced of a character’s monstrosity beyond what actually happened, and the Sixth Doctor was controversial anyway, right from his debut-attempt to strangle Peri. Then there is Sil, for my money the most entertaining villain since Davros. He looks like a giant turd, and indeed with his gurgling laugh sounds like someone who might dwell in a filthy toilet. He’s a completely repulsive sadist, but entertaining in the extreme, making Vengeance on Varos a Tarantino-like commentary on the way its viewers participate in what the story is attacking.
26. Remembrance of the Daleks. I said that The Curse of Fenric shows the Doctor at his darkest and most manipulative. But some argue that his morality is so bankrupt in this story to be beyond repair. They have a case. He engineers a Dalek civil war on earth, and tricks Davros into annihilating his home planet of Skaro. Far from being squeamish about wiping out a race of xenophobic killers (the Fourth Doctor in Genesis), the Seventh has come to believe that the destruction of an entire solar system is worth an attempt to cripple the Daleks in any way. It’s unclear, however, as to what other forms of life existed in the Skaro solar system, if any; with the Imperial Daleks (created in Revelation) at the height of their powers, probably none. But there’s no denying the Doctor’s ruthlessness. The Seventh Doctor acts with foreknowledge and an ugly plan up his sleeve, unlike the other six incarnations who for the most part walked blindly into random situations. It was a refreshing change, and a shame that Doctor Who was cancelled abruptly during McCoy’s tenure. The show had just begun to reattain greatness, starting with this story.