5 Classic Doctor Who Stories for Fans of New Who

Doctor Who Series 6 Part I is over (or soon over, if you're one of THOSE people) and the long stretch of Who-less summer is before us. Sure, there's a new season of Torchwood, but that's not really the same, is it? So for all you New Whovians out there, I thought I'd recommend a few Classic Who stories that are in many ways like New Who. We wouldn't want you to suffer complete cultural shock with, say, The Web Planet, and vow never too look at a Classic Who story ever again, now would we? These five selections are not only close enough to New Who that you won't feel alienated, but they're also good-to-excellent. No stinkers here. Well... hopefully.

City of DeathMostly written by Douglas Adams (David Agnew is a pseudonym), City of Death is probably one of the most "New Who" scripts of the classic era. It's got a timey-whimey plot, an international location (Paris), an incredibly witty script that'll inspire smiles and laughs, big name guest stars (Julian Glover, Catherine Schell, Eleanor Bron and John Cleese), a completely ridiculous and camp villain, a brush with historical greatness (the Mona Lisa) and an ambiguously romantic relationship between the Doctor (4th) and his Companion (Romana). The tone of this story often feels like exactly what RTD was aiming for when he resurrected the show.

The Curse of Fenric
The 7th Doctor and Ace era, especially in its last year (indeed, the show's last), is a prototype for what Doctor Who would become in 2005 and beyond. Ace has the first focused story arc for any Companion, as she grows from teen delinquent to full-blooded woman and (potentially?) apprentice Time Lord through lessons taught by the Doctor. It's also the start of the Doctor's characterization as a cosmic know-it-all and mastermind, who hides things from villains and companions alike and plays a far longer game than ever before (sound familiar, Moffat fans?). In the Curse of Fenric, New Who fans will not only find an important part of Ace's journey, but a timey-whimey element as well. And there's a tv movie edit on the DVD that fixes some of the effects. Oh, and creepy Viking vampires.

Spearhead from Space
The 3rd Doctor's first story has a certain modern look to it by virtue of being all on film (an aberration caused by a strike) and it's interesting to New Whovians because 1) it introduces the Autons (sorry, Nestenes), something RTD references in "Rose"; 2) it also sets up UNIT, and they may recognize the Brigadier from his Sarah Jane Adventures appearance; and 3) they might like to compare this first story with their Doctors' first (i.e. "regeneration") stories.

The TV Movie or The Visitation
Here, a choice. Neither story I'm about to recommend is perfect, and in fact, there are dreadful things wrong with each, but New Whovians will still recognize their show in them. The TV Movie is the 8th Doctor's only filmed outing, and this reinvention of the show for American television screens (in 1996) suffers from a convoluted nonsense plot, continuity plug-ins that don't make sense, and an over-the-top performance by Eric Roberts as the Master. However, it does have a wonderful TARDIS set, excellent effects, real directorial flair, an iconic Doctor, and for the first time, romance between the Doctor and his companion. It's better than its reputation, you just have to ignore the "half-human" nonsense. If you'd rather go for more classic fare, I suggest The Visitation, featuring the 5th Doctor (whom you've met in Time Crash), Adric, Nyssa and Tegan. It's a pseudo-historical of the type often seen on New Who, featuring a witty historical character (fictional) and intersecting with well-known historical events. It's a bit slow and straightforward for my tastes, but it should work as an introduction to this era of the program, without shocking modern television watchers.

Genesis of the Daleks
The 4th Doctor is tasked by the Time Lords with destroying the Daleks before they are born! I couldn't end this article without including one of the Sarah Jane Smith episodes. Most are quite good, but Genesis of the Daleks ties into Davros' first appearance and the Daleks' very origin. It puts Sarah Jane meeting with them in Journey's End into its proper context. It's also one of the very best Dalek stories in existence (ironically, because it features so few Daleks) and is one of the best regarded Doctor Who stories of all time.

These aren't my 5 favorite Doctor Who stories, or even the 5 best, but they are stories that can warm you up to the classic series if all you've ever known is the new one. Once you've dipped your feet in and found the water to be warmer than expected, then you can move on to The Talons of Wang-Chiang, The Green Death, Kinda, or God forbid, something in black and white like The Aztecs or Tomb of the Cybermen!


snell said...

I might have found a way to wedge Pyramids Of Mars in there, if for no other reason than to make fans get a taste of (pseudonymed) Robert Holmes, regarded by many as the Moffat of his day. Otherwise, fine list.

Siskoid said...

For me, the best Holmes script is Talons of Weng-Chiang, which was on the list until I realized Sarah Jane was nowhere to be seen.

It had the time agency, a Victorian double act, a killer doll, and of course, Holmes. The only flaw is the giant rat (of course).

Anonymous said...

"Spearhead from Space" also includes the first topless scenes with the Doctor, and also the first female assistant depicted as intelligent and competent without making gender a thing. Kind of ahead of its time.

snell said...

Oh, I just remembered Holmes wrote Spearhead. Duh. That'll tech me to post before breakfast.

OK, how about Pyramids Of Mars as a prototypical example of the Hinchcliffe era motif, recycling gothic horror into sci if stories? Or just because I love it to pieces?

Siskoid said...

Hopefully, interested parties will take the comments as extra recommendations.

Toby'c said...

By an utterly hilarious coincidence, you've actually mentioned the first four original Doctor Who serials I ever watched, mainly because they were the only ones my video shop had at the time (except Ghost Light, which was the fifth).

I have the movie rented at the moment but i have yet to see The Visitation.

Matthew Turnage said...

While Curse of Fenric is the better story, Survival is probably the closest the original series came to the type of story we saw in the RTD era, so it would probably get my recommendation.

I'm not crazy about City of Death (perhaps I had been exposed to too much hype beforehand?) but it's hard to argue with its inclusion on the list. Still, I'd be tempted to drop it for Caves of Androzani. Directorially, I think it's perhaps the most modern of all the old series.

Siskoid said...

You're right, Androzani is pretty amazing and directed by a New series director.

Craig Oxbrow said...

Somewhere on the internet is the "homework list" of classic episodes that Russell T Davies had Julie Gardner watch to see what he wanted to do. City Of Death is on there, and IIRC Spearhead and Genesis as well. Damned if I can find it though.

Siskoid said...

I remember that! Wasn't there something terrible on there as well?

I have a feeling I might've seen this information lately in Chicks Dig Time Lords or something.

Srith of the Scrolls said...

I might be tempted to throw The Hand of Fear in the mix. Tom Baker and Elizabeth Sladen had such great chemistry. Something that fans of new Who should appreciate. I'd say pretty much any of the stories with these two together--there were so many classics with this pair.


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