The Best, Worst, and Wibbly-Wobbliest Doctor Who Episodes to Star a Brand-New Doctor
In less than two weeks, Doctor Who will return with a new actor — Peter Capaldi — playing the daring/dashing/sometimes nutso good-guy alien from Gallifrey. And in the long history of the show, the Doctor has changed actors a bunch, meaning these first steps in the shoes of a Time Lord aren’t always so smooth. Plus, just because a certain Doctor becomes popular doesn’t always mean his first episode is all that great. Here’s a guide to the first adventures of the various Doctors so far.
“The 11th Hour” (11th Doctor)
Matt Smith’s first outing as the Doctor is one of the greatest introductions to Doctor Who ever. He gets to run around, be hilarious, and save the world in all of 43 minutes. There’s also a nice fairytale quality here with the Doctor meeting Amy Pond both as a little girl and as an adult. Fun, fast, funny: a nearly perfect first episode of any show for nearly any single person.
“Rose” (9th Doctor)
Christopher Eccleston’s first episode as the Doctor benefits from zero-baggage: the show hadn’t been around for over a decade, so there was no need for a bunch of exposition. This is a great one because it tells the story of who the Doctor might be from the perspective of an ordinary person named Rose. This single story re-launched Doctor Who so effectively and so hardcore that if it hadn’t been so dope, we wouldn’t be talking about the show right now. At all.
“An Unearthly Child” (1st Doctor)
This super-underrated gem from the show’s past also happens to be its very first episode. Here’s a great example of television that takes its time: a slow-burn of a story eventually resulting in a fantastic premise. The audience surrogates here are some school teachers, worried about the whereabouts and strange behavior of one of their brighter students. Welp. Turns out she lives in a junkyard with a kooky old guy (William Hartnell and — wait, what’s this box? Is it A TIME MACHINE??!!!
“The Spearhead from Space” (3rd Doctor)
Boom! The Doctor is exiled to Earth by the Time Lords and falls out of the TARDIS in FULL-COLOR as a dashing, curly haired guy who is kind of a smooth talker. Owing mostly to the total change in format (an Earth-bound Doctor!) this first Jon Pertwee adventure is fun mostly out of the novelty of how different it feels from the previous incarnation. Plus, like Dorothy walking into Oz, the fact that it’s the first Doctor Who in color is pretty huge.
“The Christmas Invasion” (10th Doctor)
Though this episode is often touted as one of the best episodes of the new series, it’s really, really not. So sorry to say this, but although David Tennant’s 10th Doctor is possibly the best of the 21st century Doctors, this really isn’t his best episode. Spending a lot of time in bed and only emerging right at the end of the episode to sword fight (which admittedly is awesome), this episode doesn’t give the audience what they want with a new Doctor at all. It’s sort of brilliant from a dramatic standpoint, but it’s certainly not the most pleasurable first Doctor adventure of all time.
Doctor Who: The Movie (8th Doctor)
Paul McGann’s Doctor only got one shot in the 1996 TV movie. He’s pretty good in the movie and it’s not a particularly bad one, per se. It’s also just not really memorable at all. If this had worked as a backdoor pilot to a full TV show, the 8th Doctor would have had tons more awesome adventures that were better than his first (and sadly, only).
“Robot” (4th Doctor)
For some reason, a lot of the best Doctors have had the WORST first episodes. Here’s another one in which the new Doctor (Tom Baker, who ends up being awesome) lays around and is super disoriented for a large portion of the episode. To be fair, this is a multi-part episode, so the action does pick up after it gets going.
“Castrovalva” (5th Doctor)
Pretty much the same problem as the previous episode, Peter Davison (who is the man) sleeps in something called the “Zero Room,” for way too much of the action. BORING.
“The Power of the Daleks” (2nd Doctor)
The first ever appearance of Patrick Troughton’s 2nd Doctor was briefly in the last William Hartnell story “The 10th Planet,” which features Doctor Who’s first “regeneration" (though they weren’t calling it by that term back then). However! His first regular episode is “The Power of the Daleks,” of which no known recordings have survived! That means this episode is loved by those who saw it, and treated with infinite curiosity by the rest of us. Though it’s a total tragedy so many of these Troughton episodes don’t exist, it kind of makes perverse sense with the overall mythos of the Doctor. Of course some of his most famous adventures have been deleted from history.
“The Twin Dilemma” (6th Doctor)
Colin Baker is by no means a popular actor to have portrayed the Doctor, but this first appearance is oddly the riskiest. This Doctor tries to choke his companion, Peri, and generally acts like a total jerk for most of the episode. It might not be a good choice, but it’s certainly original, too. Depending on how you look at it, “The Twin Dilemma” was either a really interesting idea or a completely terrible one.
“Time and Rani” (7th Doctor)
Because no one was really sure what kind of personality Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor (you probably know him best right now as Radagast the Brown from The Hobbit) would possess, this episode is a little uneven. Still, it’s exciting and very referential to the past incarnations of the show. It’s also one in which the Doctor wears the clothes of his predecessor for most the story, a tradition that has continued into the 21st century.
What are you hoping for with the 12th Doctor’s first episode? A lying-in-bed-the-whole-time number? Or a save-the-universe-in-tattered-clothes deal? A little bit of both?