And the Best Doctor Is (part 2/3)

The story so far… I decided to find out who is the best Doctor since the series returned in 2005. Since each “incarnation” of the Doctor is written with their own distinct character traits writers, directors and the production team (and not just the actor) shape the role. So it would be unfair just to compare the performances. The solution? A ten-round tournament using the unofficial series template that has been followed since the revival. After part 1 it’s two points to Ten (one each for a Martha/Ten and a Donna/Ten story) and one to Eleven. Now read on…

Return to the Present/Alternate Reality….

Aliens of London & World War III vs. School Reunion vs. The Lazarus Experiment vs. Silence in the Library & Forest of the Dead vs. Amy’s Choice

With the first three series since the revival, after travelling back and forth in time the Doctor and his companion would return to present day Earth for a story with “the family”. The returning enemy story (see the next category) fulfilled this role in series Donna but there was also a story which featured an imagined alternative present day, Forest of the Dead, something that also featured in the Amy Pond series in which the obligatory return to Earth consisted only of the brief scenes at the end of Flesh and Stone and the beginning of Vampires of Venice.

Aliens of London and World War III are fairly terrible. The former opens with a devastating scene in which Rose fails to realise the Doctor has brought her back 12 months late, but from then on tends to rely on its cartoonish set pieces and even more cartoonish monsters. School Reunion is a a vehicle for bringing back Lis Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith, which is wonderful, but the story is weak and David Tennant doesn’t seem to have quite found his pitch, trying to claim an authority – in his standoff with Anthony Head at the poolside – that he doesn’t quite convey. The Lazarus Experiment is a misfire; an interesting idea seems to have been disregarded for a less well thought out metamorphosis into a monster. But Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead is magnificent, bizarre, mysterious, beautiful and scary all at once. In typical fashion Moffat terrorises us with shadows and plays with the concept identity to great effect. He also rips off The Time Travellers Wife – great artists steal. Finally, Amy’s Choice alternates between two realities, one a leaden tale of Leadworth zombies which is both surreally funny and frustrating, another a fantastical but simplistic yarn of the TARDIS in peril. It’s good, but not good like the Moffat episode.

And the winner is: Silence in the Library & Forest of the Dead

The Returning Enemy

Dalek vs. Rise of the Cybermen & The Age of Steel vs. Daleks in Manhattan & Evolution of the Daleks vs. The Sontaran Strategem & The Poison Sky vs. The Hungry Earth & Cold Blood

A single member of the species that are the Doctor’s most popular adversaries was the first for from the Doctor’s past he faced. The daleks are often over-rated, in my opinion, leading to their being used lazily. I cannot stand protracted, stilted scenes of dialogue between daleks (usually waggling their eye-stalks for emphasis); can’t they just use Bluetooth or something? Having the one dalek, and focusing on the Doctor’s terrified reaction (emphasised by Rose’s balanced and empathetic response) was a brilliant way to reinvigorate this villain (certainly the best thing in the writer’s audio play Jubilee from which he took this). The episode is not without flaws (the dalek just downloaded the entire internet then, did he?) but it’s a terrific showcase for the bobble-coated exterminators. The following year’s reinvention of the cybermen went one step further and reinvented the cybermen by introducing them to a parallel universe. This was unnecessary baggage and suffers both from being compared with the original concept of the cybermen (gradual bionic-ment) and the audio play which inspired it (the outstanding Spare Parts). The following series didn’t bring back a “new” old enemy (until the finale, with the Master) but served up a lukewarm dalek two-parter in this slot. The cult of Skaro is a nice idea, but the story lacks any real menace. With the most popular recurring enemies all revisited, the series has gone on to those that were originally successful enough to merit a sequel or two: the potato-headed sontarans and the misnamed silurians (presumably the ice warriors will be back soon too). Since these stories have not been particularly original, this feels a little like barrel scraping, although the Doctor’s self-sacrifice in the former story is notably a lot more heroic and selfless than it seems in The End of Time. In fact only one of these stories feels like its added anything to the development of a species, and that one’s the winner.

And the winner is: Dalek

The Space Ship

The Long Game vs. The Impossible Planet & The Satan Pit vs. 42 vs. The Doctor’s Daughter vs. Victory of the Daleks

The (perhaps slightly tenuous) link between these contenders is the fact that they take concern future operation or mission aboard a spaceship or space station. They’re all solid mid-season stories (with one exception). The Long Game is an imaginative and entertaining on the parasitic media. The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit is an excellent and mysterious base-under-siege-in-space epic notable for a strong ensemble performance, a memorable new creature (the Ood) and a wonderful sequence accompanied by Ravel’s Bolero. I love it. 42 is a tense a slightly sweaty “real time” effort (like High Noon but with lots more doors) which showcases Tennant’s talent again. I like The Doctor’s Daughter too: not much happens, but Jenny is a brilliant new character and the Doctor’s reaction, and Donna’s reaction to the Doctor’s reaction (and so forth) is good mid-season character development fare. Only Victory of the Daleks is a dud.

And the winner is: The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit

In part 3: the contest concludes, I pick my winner, and compare it to our conclusion in the forthcoming Fusion Patrol Podcast on the same theme…

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See for more...

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