Across Time and Space

By Tony Cross

An Unofficial Doctor Who Companion with an introduction from Daniel Hardcastle

Wednesday, 1 June 2022

Guide to Watching Classic Doctor Who . . .

I originally wrote this for a friend of mine, Katie, and I've edited here to help as a guide to getting into Classic Doctor Who if you've never dipped in before. I have put them in order of Doctor and broadcast. You do not have to watch them in that order. 

As you almost certainly know Classic Doctor Who stories usually consist of multiple 25-minute episodes. There is a bit of a blip during the Colin Baker era when they go to 45-minutes for a season. * They vary from 2-12** episodes in length.

I have focused mainly on four part stories. These are meant to be testers so that you can decide what you like. Television is a very different beast during the Classic era than now, particularly the 60s, so there will be that to get used to, although I sometimes think I worry about this too much.

I should also include a note on Missing Episodes. The BBC junked a lot of its film content in the 1970s to re-use the film. That means there are a number of 60s Doctor Who stories that are entirely or partially missing from the archive. Some of these have been animated. Others have not. All of them are available in audio. If, after you've watched the suggested examples here, you decide to watch all the Patrick Troughton era you'll find a lot of missing episodes. How you navigate those is up to you. I'd pick animations if they are available, then audio and then, if you can find them, reconstructions. Reconstructions are fan made versions of the episodes pulled together from surviving footage, photos and audio. But detail on both missing episodes and reconstructions are for another time and another blog.

The William Hartnell Era

The Romans (4), The Time Meddler (4), The War Machines (4)

I have picked these three because they are only 4 episodes long and they are all fun. The War Machines in the nearest Hartnell gets to doing a New Doctor Who story. 

If you enjoy those then go back to the first thirteen episodes, which if The Daleks had not been such a success might have been all the Doctor Who that was ever made. They are: 

An Unearthly Child (4), The Daleks (7), The Edge of Destruction (2)

The first episode of An Unearthly Child is magical. The Daleks is long at 7 episodes but essential Doctor Who mythology and genuinely rather good. There is also a film version of this with Peter Cushing as Doctor Who. That is fun to watch when you get a moment but is totally different. 

If you still like Hartnell after that everything else is your oyster, but I’d hold off The Web Planet for a while because, although I love it there is a lot of weird shit to overlook. 

The Patrick Troughton Era

The Troughton era has two problems for the newbie. There are not many 4-part stories and a lot of it is missing because the BBC wiped the films to re-use it and they have not been recovered so only 7 out of 21 Troughton stories exist in full. There are animated versions of some of them.

The Tomb of the Cybermen (4), The Enemy of the World (6), The Mind Robber (5)

If you like those then for a bigger challenge

The Invasion (8), The War Games (10)

Both of which are long, but great. 

If you then want to dip into an animation 

The Macra Terror (4)

The Jon Pertwee Era

Doctor Who in colour for the first time. 

Spearhead from Space (4) ***, The Curse of Peladon (4), The Three Doctors (4), Carnival of Monsters (4)

If you like those then pretty much any other story will be enjoyable. 

The Tom Baker Era

I am slightly biased here so I could pick loads. I would almost recommend starting Classic Doctor Who here. 

The Ark in Space (4), Genesis of the Daleks (6), Terror of the Zygons (4), The Robots of Death (4), Horror of Fang Rock (4)

If you like all those then Season 16, The Key to Time, is worth watching from the beginning. It is unusual in Classic Doctor Who terms for having a season long arc. But pretty much any Tom Baker is fun to watch.

The Peter Davison Era

Kinda (4),Snakedance (4) ****, The Five Doctors (1 x 90 Special), The Caves of Androzani (4)

If you like those then the whole Davison era is pretty good.

The Colin Baker Era

Poor Colin does not have a long era and one whole season is The Trial of a Time Lord, which is four separate stories within a courtroom element. 

Mark of the Rani (2 x 45mins), Vengeance on Varos (2 x 45mins), Revelation of the Daleks (2 x 45mins)

If you like those then Trial of a Time Lord is yours to enjoy. By that point you would have watched a huge chunk of Colin’s era so you should watch the rest.  

The Sylvester McCoy Era

Again, Sylvester’s era is a short one, which is a shame as after an initial blip the series started to get its act together again. If you like these then go back to Time and The Rani and watch the whole McCoy era. It is over

Remembrance of the Daleks (4), The Happiness Patrol (3), The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (4), The Curse of Fenric (4)

Paul McGann

You have got the TV Movie and that is it. You could listen to Big Finish, where he is fab, but that is a whole other kettle of worms. 

There you go. There are my suggestions.

*The Peter Davison story Resurrection of the Daleks was a blip as it was broadcast as two 45-minute episodes because of The Olympics.

** There is a single episode story called Mission to the Unknown, which is a prequal episode to the epic 12-part story, The Dalek’s Master Plan. It features none of the main cast or the TARDIS. It feels like a pilot episode for a spin-off, which it was in a way. 

***Spearhead from Space will remind you a lot of Rose. It is basically the same story doing the same thing, but with less focus on the companion.

****Kinda/Snakedance are linked so you want to watch them in that order.


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