Everyone has a favourite Doctor (right?) but how can you really decide who is the greatest? There are so many factors – not just how the character is written and played, but how their stories are written and realised.
We need a fair fight, a contest… So as before I’m taking advantage of the fact that each season since the show came back in 2005 has followed a very similar pattern, so we can look at group contenders from each season, decide a winner on a case by case basis and declare the best Doctor the one who wins the most. Note that this means that only the most recent Doctors can enter; and Tennant gets three entries because he’s made three times as many series as Eccleston or Smith!
I’ve already announced the draws, and as I write this I’ve genuinely no idea who is going to win! Let the contest commence…
The New Person
Rose vs. The Christmas Invasion vs. Smith and Jones vs. Partners in Crime vs. The Eleventh Hour
I love these episodes because they allow us to see the Doctor from the companion’s point of view. It’s wonderful device, we see the Doctor as a stranger. Rose was the first to put the companion in the title role. The Christmas Invasion sees a new Doctor, rather than a companion, being introduced but to see it from the companion’s point of view he spends most of the episode unconscious. This builds the anticipation exquisitely so that when the new Doctor confronts the Sycorax in his pyjamas, wielding a sword and a satsuma, it is the perfect crescendo, rounded off nicely with Murray Gold’s Spector-like Song for Ten and the Doctor all togged up in converse and a brown pin-stripe. Smith and Jones pulls the trick again from Martha’s point of view. Partners in Crime is less successful because we’re introduced to a slightly moderated version of Donna, we have already met her, so it becomes just a bit of a runaround for the two established companions. The Eleventh Hour has both a new companion and a new Doctor and this time the focus is on the Doctor. With some clever timey-wimey writing, the companion (at least believes she) already knows the Doctor who, newly regenerated and unpredictable, keeps us on our toes for the whole episode before emerging through a montage of his previous visages with a new confidence. Keen though I am on The Christmas Invasion, I’m talking myself into declaring this one for the Matt Smith episode.
And the winner is: The Eleventh Hour
The Future of the Human Race
The End of the World vs. New Earth vs. Gridlock vs. Planet of the Ood vs. The Beast Below
The The End of the World features a parade of weird and wonderful aliens. There’s a developing relationship between Rose and this strange man with whom she finds herself in peril whilst watching the destruction of her home planet which is beautifully written, as is the resonant loneliness of this new Doctor. By contrast New Earth is something of a cut-price sequel, resurrecting a couple of the aliens from its predecessor. We discover the Doctor’s views on little shops in hospitals but it has little else going for it. Then there’s Gridlock. Technically it may be a sequel to New Earth but it constructs a smoggily atmospheric future reflecting our predisposition for spending much of hour lives inside literal and metaphorical capsules. It’s also beautifully, in the cinematography, in the music (Abide With Me) and in the writing of that scene where Martha begins to show her metal, and refuses go anywhere before the Doctor tells her about his home. There’s not much point in me writing about the other episodes, actually, now I’m remembering how good Gridlock is. Planet of the Ood is a successful episode to do something different with the imaginative aliens introduced in The Impossible Planet and it’s a great episode for Donna, but ultimately there’s still too much businessmen and running around with guns. The Beast Below has a spectacular opening which had me behind the sofa before the titles, and in fits of giggles soon after but ultimately it feels just a little bit less than the sum of its parts. Okay, can I declare Gridlock the winner, now?
And the winner is: Gridlock
The Celebrity Historical
The Unquiet Dead vs. Tooth and Claw vs. The Shakespeare Code vs. The Unicorn and the Wasp vs. Vincent and the Doctor
Charles Dickens is the first historical figure to get the celebrity treatment and The Unquiet Dead is a strong story helped by excellent performances from Simon Callow and Eve Myles which introduces The Rift that later is to become so important to Torchwood. Queen Victoria is the second in Tooth and Claw which is a fun werewolf yarn, almost as good as its predecessor. Another writer, William Shakespeare is third, in a story which implies that having wondered “why haven’t we done him yet” the writers felt it necessary to come up with something. The aliens in this are particularly lacklustre. By contrast The Unicorn and the Wasp both reveals a genuine interest in the mystery of Agatha Christie’s disappearance and affectionately pastiches her work and the onscreen adaptations of it. It has a classy 1920s score and style to it, and an original and memorable alien. AND both Felicity Kendall and Fenella Woolgar. Then there’s Vincent and the Doctor which almost dispenses with the obligatory alien by having only Vincent see it, but failing in nerve and featuring a CGI turkey. It’s a nice story, with beautiful climax (albeit sentimentally manipulative) but flawed.
And the winner is: The Unicorn and the Wasp
To be continued in Part 2….