They’re the two Doctors who are instantly recognizable to the not sci-fi fan world–one for his wild hair and 10 foot scarf, the other for his clean cut cricketer look who happened to wear a vegetable, because vegetables are cool. They are the two Old Who Doctors you should spend the most time with. They are the fourth and fifth doctors–Tom Baker and Peter Davison.
In the spirit of trying to keep things to the length of a modern day series length, I have rounded up three serials for each of them, or about a season’s worth of episodes for you to enjoy.
- Pyramids of Mars–One of the best episodes between the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane. After dumbing her character down in response to BBC white men who worried that audiences couldn’t handle a strong female character, this was a script where many of the Doctors lines ended up being handed over to Sarah Jane, so that she was figuring things out on her own, rather than the Doctor endlessly lecturing her. Plus mummies!
- Robots of Death–This is great episode because the Doctor is in over his head from start to finish. One of the main problems with Older Who episodes is that the Doctor always knows everything, so the better episodes are the ones where he doesn’t. Also the companion in this episode is Leela. (Yes, Futurama’s Leela is named for her.) Originally conceived as a sort of bizarro world Eliza Doolittle, Leela is not only a warrior from a prehistoric tribe, she’s not even from Earth. More proof, in case we needed it, that companions do not need to be from 20th century earth for audiences to like her.
- The Ribos Operation–This is the opening serial to a season that saw a brand new concept–that of the season long arc. Is it also notable because this is the episode where Douglas Adams (yes, that Douglas Adams) took over as script editor. If I were a meaner person I would insist you watch the entire season (it was released as a DVD set under the title “The Key to Time”), but for the sake of this viewing guide, I will simply tell you to watch the opening salvo, and let you decide if you need to watch the rest. This serial is notable for the introduction of a Time Lady as a companion, Romanadvoratrelundar. Romana, as the doctor called her, is able to regenerate. This is her first incarnation, know to fans as Romana I. (For the record, Romana II was played by Baker’s wife, Lalla Ward. But those are other episodes.)
Forgive me if I seem a bit partial here, but Peter Davison was My Doctor. Though he is not nearly as long running as Baker, his three years as the Doctor coincided with the peaking of Old Who’s popularity. Here are the best serials to check out from his tenure.
- Castrovalva–This was the first Doctor Who serial I ever saw, so that’s probably why it’s on this list. It is the first episode with Peter Davidson as the Doctor, and is actually a bit of a “doctor-lite” one, to use the New Who parlance. But when Davidson finally does finish regenerating and makes his appearance, it is a character defining moment. After nearly a decade of Tom Baker, changing the face of Who was a big deal, and watching Davidson put his stamp on the character is why this is a serial worth watching. There are three companions at this point Adric–a young boy from parallel universe; Nyssa an aristocrat from a planet called Traken; and Tegan, an Australian flight attendant, and one of the longest running companions in the series.
- The Five Doctors–How I wish this could serve as a Short Cut the way The Three Doctors did ten years previous. Sadly, Tom Baker was damned if he was coming back, having been burnt out by his long work with the series. So his appearances in this episode is pieced together from unused footage from earlier serials. Also, Hartnall had been dead for nearly a decade at this time, so the First Doctor is played by a completely different actor (Richard Hurndall), since the CGI technology needed to put dead people into film was still a couple of decades off. Still, this episode is worth watching, not only for the return of the Doctors who do come back, but for the companions who return as well, including Sarah Jane, Susan, Romana II and the Brigadier from UNIT.
- The Resurrection of The Daleks–Yes, I am finally giving you a Dalek episode to watch. The Daleks are a difficult bad guy to pick episodes for, because to a modern day audience they are utterly ludicrous. Many of their serials from the earlier Doctors have missing episodes, or are just unwatchable. This serial has many interesting things going for it, including that it is only 2 episodes long, instead of the usual 4, due to the Olympics swallowing part of the regular time slot. Also, it includes not only Davos but the Supreme Dalek, and many of the events that are later referenced in New Who as relating to the Time War.
For the record, now that we have the CGI technology to put those who are dead and those who refuse to appear in an episode, perhaps we can have The Eleven Doctors for our 50th anniversary special?
Tomorrow: The rest of Old Who, Doctors Six-Eight.