June 12, 2013

Who50: The Bottom 20, #16-20.

Throughout 2013 I've been highlighting my 50 favourite Doctor Who stories and serials, counting down towards the 50th anniversary in November. Of course, as I have favourites it logically follows that I have least favourites. Doctor Who may be my favourite TV show, but that doesn't mean it's always good. Sometimes it's rather bad. Sometimes it even makes me want to punch my fist through the TV screen.

So this week I thought I'd examine a few of the low-lights of television's greatest science fiction drama. We're going to count down from #20 to #1. These are, in my opinion, the very worst Doctor Who has to offer. Today it's #16-20. I'm sure sooner or later I'm going to cite one of your favourites as one of my least favourites - feel free to defend the indefensible with a comment.

#20: "Love and Monsters"

2006. Written by Russell T Davies. Directed by Dan Zeff.
You almost want to give Davies points for trying, and certainly I've long been a staunch defender of "Love and Monsters". It's a Doctor Who episode that experiments with not having the Doctor in it, and in being and out-and-out comedy, and in leaving it to a child to design the episode's central monster via a Radio Times competition. So top marks for thinking out of the box, and to be honest that inventiveness does soften the blow somewhat that "Love and Monsters" is irredeemably terrible.

#19: "Time and the Rani"

1987. Written by Pip and Jane Baker. Directed by Andrew Morgan.
What a mess. It's easily the most garishly colourful Doctor Who serial ever made. Everybody's overacting in it. Sylvester McCoy clearly doesn't know what he's going to do with the part yet. Bonnie Langford is very Bonnie Langford. The plot doesn't make a lick of sense. Kate O'Mara, so effective as the Rani two years earlier, just looks vaguely awkward and embarrassed here. There may be (in my mind) eighteen worse stories than this in Doctor Who's 33 seasons, but there are no writers as appallingly untalented as Pip and Jane Baker.

#18: "Victory of the Daleks"

2010. Written by Mark Gatiss. Directed by Andrew Gunn.
The Daleks return! It's just a pity they don't really do anything. This episode feels like a mad collection of weird concepts that were simply thrown onto the screen without anyone actually bothering to write a script that incorporated them. We get military green servant Daleks ripped from "The Power of the Daleks", we got an oddly jolly Winston Churchill who looks and sounds nothing at all like Winston Churchill. We get all-new Dalek designs that absolutely everybody hates. We get a big promised lead-in to a Dalek epic that, to date, has never happened. We get Spitfires in space for no good reason. What we don't get is a plot: nothing actually happens in this episode. It's an awful waste of money and space.

#17: "Daleks in Manhattan"/"Evolution of the Daleks"

2007. Written by Helen Raynor. Directed by James Strong.
Doctor Who treads a fine line between being scary and being silly, and if it slips up - as I think it does here - it just winds up being dreadfully silly without any gravitas to balance it out. Dalek mutant heads on humans in pin-stripe suits aren't scary in the slightest, and the one redeeming feature of this story is that it let us all make that "Sec's in the City" pun over and over. It's rather sad that this is modern Doctor Who's sole story written by a woman - Steven Moffat should probably do something about that.

#16: "The Ultimate Foe"

1986. Written by Robert Holmes and Pip and Jane Baker. Directed by Chris Clough.

It's not really anybody's fault that this, the two-part finale to "The Trial of a Time Lord", is as awful as it is. The original writer, Robert Holmes, died. The second writer, script editor Eric Saward, quit the series in a fit of pique and refused to allow the production to use his script. The third and fourth writers, Pip and Jane Baker, weren't allowed to see the earlier drafts and had to make things up over a weekend as they went along. The result is a confusing mess: too long to be a diversion and too short to really mean anything. The rest of "The Trial of a Time Lord" was pretty ropey, but you could cut it some slack because it was clearly building to a grand finale; that finale never came.


  1. Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution is not the only modern Who penned by a woman - Rayner also wrote the far superior The Sontaran Strategem & The Poison Sky the following year...

    But, yes. More female scriptwriters would be an excellent thing, particularly as the show HAS attempted to balance old mate Doctor Who writers with new talent, or writers who have built a substantial reputation in a completely different kind of show.

  2. You know I completely forgot about the Sontaran story - that *was* much better.

    The show desperately needs female writers on the team. If nothing else it boggles the mind that they've never approached Rona Munro, who (a) wrote the well-received "Survival", (b) wants to write for the series again, and (c) is an award-winning and broadly acclaimed playwright.

  3. Holy shit, "Daleks in Manhattan". Apart from "Interbreeding Cats in Underground Spaceships", that is *absolutely* the neck-high point of shit for the current run. Just wall-to-wall drek from beginning to end.

    By the same token, wouldn't you just love to see the Rani come back and be done properly? A genuinely brilliant, genuinely evil, strong female antagonist, constantly outwitting the Doctor at every turn? She makes me *itch* to write to Moffatt and offer my services....

  4. Father Dougal in space as a talking cat is *brilliant*! The only bit of "Gridlock" I didn't like was the weird and pointless inclusion of the Macra.

    A good Rani would be great.

  5. Two of my favourite Ten episodes don't have much of the Doctor in them - Blink and Turn Left. Wilfred is quite heartbreaking in the latter.

  6. You and I remember Gridlock very differently. The first time I watched it (I had to watch it again, very reluctantly, with the kids) I threw my hands up in disgust and left the room when the cat and his wife point to their children, and it was a basket of kittens. The stupid just overloaded the system at that point. I know that part of the fun of Who is the handwavery, but not even Handy McHanderson of Handtown could make that episode watchable.

  7. I found "Gridlock" to be a lot like "The Beast Below", in that the only thing wrong with both stories was that they weren't shot in 1988 with Sylvester McCoy.


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