Series 8 of Doctor Who was arguably the most brilliant — and the most controversial — since the new era began with Christopher Eccleston. As we approach the Christmas Special and the end of 2014, let’s take a look back across five decades and 12 Doctors (or maybe 13 — damn you, Steven Moffat!) and admire the show’s many great moments: some sad, some frightening, and nearly all surprising.
Here, in chronological order, are 10 classic Doctor Who moments:
- Barbara steps into the TARDIS (An Unearthly Child, November 1963). In that first episode of that first story, schoolteachers Barbara and Ian investigate the mystery of their student Susan. After an argument with Susan’s mysterious grandfather in a junkyard, Barbara pushes her way into the tiny British police call ball and … discovers that it’s bigger on the inside. MUCH bigger. We’re jaded now, but for the early ’60s audience, this was wild stuff.
- The Doctor and Barbara argue over the fate of the Aztecs (The Aztecs, May 1964). We miss the series’ purely occasional forays into the purely historical dramas, because of moments like this. After the TARDIS lands in ancient Aztec times, Barbara is mistaken for the avatar of the sun god. She decides to use that leverage to turn the Aztecs away from their bloody religious rituals and make them a strong, enduring, progressive force in history. The Doctor is horrified. “You CAN’T!” he angrily pleads. He tries to make her understand that history cannot be altered like this without devastating consequences. Wonderful acting by both William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill.
- The Dalek emerges from the Thames (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, November 1964). The first time we saw the Daleks a year earlier, they were on a far-off world, oppressing their historical foes, the Thaals. Here, the TARDIS lands in 22nd century London to find it devastated and policed by ruthless, cybernetic “Robomen.” At the end of the first episode, they see a Dalek rolling imperiously out of the Thames River. The Daleks are on Earth, and they’ve already won.
- “All these evils I have fought, while you have done nothing but observe! True, I am guilty of interference. Just as you are guilty of failing to use your great powers to help those in need!” (The War Games, April-June 1969). The Second Doctor’s farewell, and the viewers’ introduction to his people — the Time Lords. And during the Doctor’s trial (the first of many!), he makes it quite clear why he’s on the run from them in a rackety old TARDIS.
- “Have I the right?” (Genesis of the Daleks, April 1975). Doctor Who usually hasn’t shied away from exploring the grayer areas of morality. In Terry Nation’s epic, most of the characters aren’t heroes and villains as much as they are people arguing over principles. The Doctor, at the birth of his archenemies, has a golden opportunity to destroy a Dalek nursery and ensure that the Daleks never threaten the galaxy. But he can’t bring himself to connect those two wires and commit genocide. It’s Tom Baker at his best.
- “Nice to meet you, Rose — run for your life!” (Rose, March 2005). After a decade’s absence from the TV screens, the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) had returned. An engrossing start to the series’ revival, as producer Russell T. Davies wisely chose to let us see things through the eyes of Rose (Billie Tyler) and not the Doctor.
- “Everybody lives!” (The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances, May 2005). In a creepy two-part story set in 1940s Britain, the Doctor is determined to end the death that constantly follows in his wake. He’s a man who is desperate to find a happy ending … and he does. “Just this once, Rose… everybody lives!” (Thinking about these scenes again makes me newly sad that Eccleston called it quits after just one year.)
- Oswin Oswald (Asylum of the Daleks, September 2012). Doctor Who fans had known for some time that Jenna-Louise Coleman would become the new companion for Matt Smith’s Doctor in the Christmas special that year, once Amy and Rory were gone. So, Whovians around the globe were shocked to watch the start of the new series’ seventh season and see… Jenna-Louise Coleman?! Acting all companion-like?! But how…? She’s not starting for months! How did showrunner Steven Moffat keep this a secret, and how… what, now she’s DEAD?! But how… MOFFAT!! Overall, just a brilliant bit of misdirection by Moffatt, and even though he dropped the ball on resolving the mystery of Clara Oswin Oswald several times during the season, there’s no doubt that he stuck the landing in the season finale, The Name of the Doctor.
- “I’m a Doctor… but probably not the one you expected.” (The Night of the Doctor, November 2013). In another surprise that’s stunning for its secrecy, Paul McGann appears onscreen as the Eighth Doctor for the first time since the 1996 TV movie — and he is magnificent. In less than 7 minutes in this prequel to the 50th anniversary special, McGann leaves a legion of old and new viewers wondering about what could have been. And Moffat’s script gives fans everything we needed, including a few items we didn’t even realize we needed.
- “No, sir! All THIRTEEN!” (The Day of the Doctor, November 2013). The 50th anniversary episode had many wonderful moments that made you sit up with surprise and glee, but the one that made you jump out of your chair was the shocking sight of Peter Capaldi and his baleful stare, weeks before he would actually assume the role of the Twelfth Doctor, joining the other Doctors in the salvation of Gallifrey. Just when you didn’t think that scene could get any better, it did.
Thoughts? Disagreements? Let us know — and Happy Holidays!
–Ken & Mike