Top 10 ‘Doctor Who’ Episodes – Fourth Doctor Edition
Now we’ve reached the end of the Fourth Doctor’s adventures it is time to look back and pinpoint those stores that stand out as the best. For some of our previous Top 10’s and reviews check out the Doctor Who Archive above.
#10 – Shada
Although this episode famously remained unfinished it still contains more than enough quality television to squeeze into the list. Written by Douglas Adams and unfinished due to industrial action it featured a genuinely disconcerting villain who was hell bent on unleashing the enemies trapped inside a prison so secret the memory of it has been wiped from the minds of the Time Lords. The Doctor and Romana encounter the evil Skagra while visiting and a retired Time Lord in Cambridge, where he has an immensely imaginative TARDIS that only Adams could’ve dreamed up.
#9 – Warrior’s Gate
After spending two serials trying to escape from E-Space the Doctor, Romana, Adric and K9 find themselves lost in an endless void between the two universes. Trapped with them is the crew of a slave ship who use the powerful Tharil as slave navigators, enclosed within the dense dwarf star alloy hull. The Doctor discovers an old stone archway that leads to an ancient banquet hall filled with decayed bodies and robots. He learns that the robots were build by slaves to overthrow their masters – the Tharil. With the different layers to the story and the lack of distinction between the good and the evil make it a stand-out episode, as well as the rich visual style.
#8 – The Brain of Morbius
The Time Lords divert the TARDIS to the planet Karn, much to the annoyance of the Doctor who believes that they want him to deal with something they ‘don’t want to sully their hands with’. Sarah Jane finds a valley full of wrecked spacecraft from various different races of alien. Much of the story involves the Doctor getting caught between two factions on Karn, one of whom wants him burned at the stake. The selling point is the villain Morbius, the most ‘despicably criminally minded Time Lord’ who ever lived. He’s been reduced to a brain in a jar and has been operating through a cult of followers to build a new body, for which he only needs a head. It’s a shame that Morbius doesn’t make it through the episode as he could’ve become the next great arch-enemy for the Doctor.
#7 – The Androids of Tara
Whilst the Doctor and Romana are out searching for the lost pieces of the Key to Time they land on the planet Tara, a medieval society who have advanced technology including robots and electrified swords. It turns out that Romana is the exact double of Princess, and is kidnapped by Count Grendal in a bid to steal the throne. What follows is intrigue and deception based around robot duplicates and quick thinking, and concludes with the Doctor taking up the sword to fight in a duel for the first time in the long time. All of the actors are on great form and the setting is rich with imagination.
#6 – The Horror of Fang Rock
This serial doesn’t seem to turn up in many favourites lists, but it is well deserving of a spot. With Tom Baker disliking Louise Jameson’s character Leela so he didn’t put much effort into the role during her early episodes until she put him in his place. This particular story is vey much a classic horror in the vein of The Thing. The Doctor again steers the TARDIS wrong and they wind up in a lighthouse on a desolate piece of rock. With a terrible storm coming a ship lands on the rocks leaving the passengers stranded in the lighthouse as well. With them is an alien taking the form of the people in the lighthouse to pick them off one by one. An atmospheric and tense adventure.
#5 – The Genesis of the Daleks
Out of the two major Dalek episodes during this era either one could’ve made the cut, but Genesis edges ahead for introducing the evil Davros. The Time Lords intercept the Doctor and send him back in time to prevent the creation of the Daleks and the destruction they cause over the centuries. Along with Sarah Jane and Harry the Doctor returns to Skaro where the inhabitants – facing extinction – are torn over the research and experimentation of the lead scientist Davros. The Kaled people (get it?) begin the process of mutating into Daleks and the Doctor’s actions wind up creating a paradox that inverts what he set out to do. It’s a well written and nail-biting episode and Davros is a frightening looking creation who would go on to clash with the Doctor more often in the future (whatever that word means in this show).
#4 – The Pirate Planet
Douglas Adams yet again. The second part of the ‘Key to Time’ saga sees the Doctor and Romana land on a giant, planet shaped spaceship (yes, it pre-dates the Death Star). The ship is piloted by a group of pirates who teleport their giant craft around smaller planets, trapping them in their core and extracting their precious resources. The plot thickens when the travellers discover that the captain of the ship is being mind controlled by an ancient tyrant who seeks to regain her power. More than just an imaginative story it also sees the new companion Romana step up to the fore in an immensely funny sequence where the Doctor is unable to gain the attention of the locals. Although the pirate captain looks…silly…it’s one of the most unique and imaginative ideas to ever be written into the show.
#3 – The Deadly Assassin
The Doctor, travelling alone, has a startling vision – someone is going to try and assassinate the President of Gallifry. He quickly steers the TARDIS back to his home world, thinking that he had been summoned by the high council. Upon arrival he is arrested, and he realises that he had not been called there by the Time Lords. It is revealed that the Doctor is being manipulated into acting as assassin by none other than the Master. A tense thriller of an episode that reveals more inner workings of the Time Lord society than previously seen and pits the Doctor against one of his greatest enemies (although he looks like beef mince that was forgotten at the back of the fridge).
#2 – The Sontaran Experiment
This short two episode serial drew criticism from critics and ‘Clean Up Television’ campaigner Mary Whitehouse for it’s intimidating concept, but it’s those very things that make it stand out. It’s a brutal story and in one of the earliest stories to frighten audience, something that has become a mainstay of the show. The Doctor and Sarah Jane, along with a group of astronauts, run afoul of a Sontaran who operates as an advance scout for an invading army. After capturing humans the Sontaran conducts vicious experiments on them in order to test their limits to fear, drowning, crushing and other awful tortures. This set the Sontaran up as a truly deadly foe and takes the viewer of guard with the unusually high stakes.
#1 – City of Death
What looks from the outset to be a typical adventure in a tourist city (Paris) along with standard story involving the Mona Lisa being stolen devolves into something far more impressive. Whilst investigating some art thieves the Doctor and Romana meet the villainous Count. The Doctor is surprised to find that the Count has six copies of the painting, all done by da Vinci, between a secret wall in his manor. The truth behind this anomaly is that the Count is the last remaining member of the Scaroth who arrived on Earth 400 million years prior but when they tried to leave their ship exploded, killing them all except for the Count whose consciousness was scattered across the ages. Existing simultaneously in different decades he has pushed ahead the advancement of the human race so they could provide the technology he needed to change history and save his people.
The concept is downright brilliant and perfectly executed. Although it sounds complicated the pacing is perfect and the layers of the plot peel back at a steady pace. The Count is played by Julian Glover – these days best known has the guy whose flesh fell off in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Grand Maester Pycelle in Game of Thrones. The inclusion of da Vinci’s workshop is fun to see, and the plot is helped out by a comedic private detective who seems compelled to break windows and knock people out at every opportunity.
With a record breaking audience count at the time of airing the episode was not widely accepted, some finding the humour in it to be out of place (not to mention a very funny cameo from John Cleese). In hindsight it has been remembered as one of the best of the retro series, and definitely the best of Tom Baker’s run. Funny, intriguing and unique, only the combination of Douglas Adams, David Fisher and Graham Williams could manage this.