Veronica’s Intro: I started watching Doctor Who because of Harry Potter. I was rewatching Goblet of Fire for the umpteenth time and found myself thinking, “Barty Crouch Jr. is a really horrifying character, but the guy playing him is really compelling.” Okay, I may not have used the word “compelling,” but you get the idea. All I really knew about him was that he played Doctor Who and that a new season (or series if we want to be British about it) was coming to BBC America. Ironically, it was 2010, so the first episode I watched was The Eleventh Hour featuring Matt Smith, not David Tennant. And while I still have a huge crush on David Tennant, I don’t actually love his Doctor, but I appreciate that he’s what drew me in. I do, however, love Smith’s Doctor because he is a clown and all of my favorite Doctors are clowns: Troughton, Smith, and McCoy. Granted, they are clowns covering up deep pain and immense power and intrigue, but you never doubt they care for their companions and that they trying to make things better, even when they are running away.
Erik’s Intro: I wrote more on the Doctors than Veronica did because writing is my thing. I first started watching Doctor Who when I was a Freshman at Brandeis and I met a group of like minded geeks and we would gather to watch that and Black Adder on Saturday nights. I never really took to Adder like I did to Who. Watching those Fourth Doctor adventures, with Sarah Jane Smith as a companion was great fun and nights like those were really the only things I missed when I decided to leave Brandeis after just one semester. It was after Veronica got into watching Matt Smith that I insisted we should do it right. We started with the halfway measure, watching from the start of the new series, but after catching up (in 2012), we bounced all the way back to the beginning and began everything with Hartnell and did it right. And long, as it took us five years.
The Doctors Ranked – Veronica
- #13 – William Hartnell
- #12 – Colin Baker
- #11 – Paul McGann
- #10 – Jon Pertwee
- #9 – John Hurt
- #8 – Christopher Eccleston
- #7 – Peter Capaldi
- #6 – Tom Baker
- #5 – David Tennant
- #4 – Peter Davison
- #3 – Sylvester McCoy
- #2 – Matt Smith
- #1 – Patrick Troughton
The Doctors Ranked – Erik
- #13 – Colin Baker
- #12 – Jon Pertwee
- #11 – William Hartnell
- #10 – Paul McGann
- #9 – Christopher Eccleston
- #8 – Peter Davison
- #7 – John Hurt
- #6 – Peter Capaldi
- #5 – Matt Smith
- #4 – Sylvester McCoy
- #3 – Tom Baker
- #2 – David Tennant
- #1 – Patrick Troughton
- Amy and Rory
- Sarah Jane Smith
Veronica’s comment: Companions are best when they can stand on their own and there is a parity between the Doctor and the companion. For me, the best example of this parity, and the resulting friendship and affection, is Troughton and Jamie. We no longer have the paternalistic relationships of Hartnell and his companions, but instead a slapstick buddy duo that worked so very well together. My only regret with Jamie is that he suffers the same fate as Donna – his time with the Doctor is wiped away as the Time Lords return him to his own time as if he’d never left. Those adventures are too good to forget.
- Sarah Jane Smith
- Amy and Rory
- Jamie and Zoe
Erik’s Comment: A lot of this has to do with the fact that Sarah Jane was my first companion, dating back 25 years ago when I first watched Doctor Who. With that in mind, there is no moment with a companion that I love more than that magical moment when she walks into the closet in “School Reunion” to discover the TARDIS, then backs away and there is the great shot of David Tennant behind her (I could only find a bad, blurry image of that moment) as she realizes who he is. That, coupled with her lines later in the episode that helped prompt an entire post of mine, really move her to the top. There were a lot of companions vying for that final spot (Liz Shaw, both Romanas, Ian and Barbara) but I ended up going with Leela because she’s so consistently brave and she’s running around in time and space with basically a leather bathing suit.
- Liz Shaw
Erik’s Comment: We had been really looking forward to the Third Doctor because our friend Molly was a passionate fan of Pertwee and we ended up hating him. Just hating him. The brightest spot of his time was the first season when there was Liz Shaw, his smart and sexy companion. She could hold her own against him. And in the final serial of the season, the seven part Inferno, Caroline John also got to play an evil counterpart. But producer Barry Letts decided she was too intellectual and so she was dropped after just one season and replaced by Jo Grant, one of my least favorite companions and Veronica’s most hated companion ever. Sure, why bother having a smart, capable companion who can be a role model for young girls who are interested in science when you can have someone worthless like Jo? It was an idiotic move and it just meant that, aside from a terrible Doctor, the show was also stuck with a terrible companion for three years in the middle of that stretch before finally finding some redemption with the arrival of Sarah Jane Smith.
Worst Companion – Veronica
- Jo Grant
Veronica’s Comment: As Erik says above, much of the trouble with Jo is that she replaced Liz Shaw. Liz was so smart and was someone the Doctor could have a conversation with. Jo had no business being hired for the job she had; I don’t need a companion to be brilliant, but there needs to be something special about them – some sort of spark. Jo was relentlessly ordinary and it’s clear from some of the behind-the-scenes interviews we’ve watched that the production team was trying to have a companion that wouldn’t intimidate the viewers. The production team should have thought better of the viewers.
Worst Companion – Erik
Erik’s Comment: This wasn’t as easy for me as I thought it would be. First of all, I really hate Mickey. Can’t stand him, think it’s ridiculous that he got to end up with Martha. Second, I don’t count Jackie Tyler or I still might have put her in there. The first three companions of the new series all had terribly annoying mothers but at least the other two didn’t travel in the TARDIS like Jackie did. There is also Mel, the annoying, screaming, pointless companion who came between the super-hot Perri and the super-awesome Ace as if they just had to show how worthless Mel was (plus she made the Doctor drink carrot juice, though that’s an appropriate punishment for Colin Baker’s Doctor).
Best Serial / Episode All-Time – Veronica
- “The Doctor’s Wife”
Best Serial / Episode All-Time – Erik
The 1st Doctor: William Hartnell
- The Chase
Best 1st Doctor Serial – Erik
- The Chase
Erik on the 1st Doctor:
We had begun watching the 1st Doctor from the start and it quickly became apparent that, while the concept behind the show was good, most of the shows themselves were not particularly good. They often went on way too long, taking one small idea (let’s have them split up on this planet!) and making it last an entire episode with several of those strung-out episodes lining up to make a serial. I certainly never took to him very well and it was really Ian and Barbara that kept me interested in those early serials. So we actually started skipping serials (easy enough since a number of them are lost). But we had been told by our friend Molly that we should definitely see The Chase since it was the one where Frankenstein’s Monster body-slams a Dalek. That was no hyperbole and it was clear to me that The Chase was the best of the 1st Doctor serials even if we had already begun the revolving door of companions. Aside from the original three companions, all of the 1st Doctor companions run together in my head (and one of them, Sarah Kingdom, we never even saw since she was both introduced and killed off in a serial that hasn’t survived). But part of what makes The Chase poignant is that it’s the last for Ian and Barbara and at the end, we see them carefree and back in London again after two years gone with the Doctor. But what really makes The Chase worthwhile in spite of very long stretches that are just boring or going along with the same concept that so many 1st Doctor serials went with (let’s have everyone split up!) is the humor in the two episodes where the Daleks are chasing them across space and time. That involves the Empire State Building, a hilarious bit that explains one of history’s more famous mysteries (I won’t say what but you can easily look it up if you don’t want to watch the actual serial) and that great scene where, yes, Frankenstein’s Monster body-slams a Dalek. This serial was a reminder that what would always be one of the best hallmarks of the show would be the humor it would bring.
The 2nd Doctor: Patrick Troughton
- The Krotons
- The Tomb of the Cybermen
Erik on the 2nd Doctor:
This is my Doctor. Yes, Tom Baker was my first Doctor, but Patrick Troughton is my Doctor. I so absolutely love the way that he plays him, a bit playful, a bit serious, sometimes playing the clown, sometimes playing the recorder. His time in the TARDIS also involved the companionship of Jamie. There hadn’t been a companion like Jamie before and there really hasn’t been another one since. Jamie was the Doctor’s best friend, the pal who’s always there for him. The time with Jamie included Victoria (not a great companion) and Zoe (one of the best companions ever, saucy and sassy and smarter even than the Doctor at times, as well as being cute as a button). Yes, there are still story problems in the Troughton era and sometimes the serials go on too long (the last of them, The War Games, is a 10 episode marathon). But we also get the first appearances of the Brigadier, Sgt. Benton (then Cpl. Benton) and UNIT.
My favorite of the 2nd Doctor serials is The Tomb of the Cybermen, but it’s close between that and The Krotons. The Krotons has the advantage of having Zoe instead of Victoria but the villains are better in Tomb. It’s not an accident that part of what I liked about Matt Smith comes from him having watched Tomb before beginning his tenure in the TARDIS. Troughton is the one Doctor outside of Tennant that made me actually try to start finding things he was in outside of the TARDIS (including being a murderer in Olivier’s Richard III, which I had already seen long before I knew who Troughton was). It is a shame that so much of Troughton’s time in the TARDIS has been lost but a number of episodes have been discovered just since we started watching Doctor Who so there’s always hope for more. One of them was The Enemy of the World, the great serial where Troughton plays both the Doctor and the villain.
The 3rd Doctor: Jon Pertwee
Best 3rd Doctor Serial – Erik
Erik on the 3rd Doctor:
Inferno is the best of the 3rd Doctor serials. The only other one that even comes close is The Three Doctors and that’s more because of the presence of Patrick Troughton and his interactions with the Brigadier and Sgt. Benton than anything about the serial itself. Yet, Inferno is at least two episodes too long and it’s easy to make the case that it’s four episodes too long. That, perhaps, says everything I really need to say about the 3rd Doctor. In this episode he is haughty and annoying and he does his ridiculous Venusian karate thing. What is great about this episode is the concept that runs through the center of it, and by center, I mean the third through seventh episodes, because it doesn’t even happen during the first two episodes. This is the “Mirror Mirror” of Doctor Who, the parallel universe in which our characters have become evil. “Mirror Mirror” has been my favorite Star Trek episode since the first minute I watched it and I love the concept of parallel universes (I read a lot of DC comics when I was a kid). Plus, when the Doctor gets to that parallel world, it really gives Nicholas Courtney and Caroline John the chance to play different takes on their characters, the Brigadier and Liz. Sadly, this would be the last serial for Liz Shaw, the most under-appreciated companion in Doctor Who history, a scientist who is also sexy, a great companion who only got one season.
In the second season with Pertwee, we would be stuck with Jo Grant, one of the most annoying companions in the history of the show. For the next three years, while the Doctor faced off against the Master continually (also introduced in that second season), we would always have useless, annoying Jo in the background doing nothing helpful. To replace one of the greatest of companions with one of the worst would actually be duplicated in reverse in the 7th Doctor’s era (see below). By the time we finally get to the last season, Pertwee has gotten so annoying you just want to be done with him, but we also finally get to Sarah Jane, my Sarah, my original companion (see below) and we get one final season with a breath of fresh air before we finally get things back to being great again.
The 4th Doctor: Tom Baker
- City of Death
Best 4th Doctor Serial – Erik
- City of Death
Erik on the 4th Doctor:
This was my first Doctor. As mentioned above, I started watching Doctor Who in the fall of 1992 when it aired on WGBH and I was a student at Brandeis. What I watched were Tom Baker episodes and he was a great doctor, fun and fascinating. Just look at City of Death, at the way he reacts to having a gun pointed at him or the line that Veronica loves, certainly one of her favorite lines in the history of the show: “What a wonderful butler. He’s so violent.” There’s a reason that Baker lasted so long in the role and why he so consistently comes out near the top of rankings. For so many people, for so long, he was the Doctor.
Baker would go through a revolving cast of companions and sadly, the trend seemed to go downwards. After all, he inherited Sarah Jane Smith, my #1 companion of all-time. From there, there was Harry, then Leela (a pretty good companion), the two versions of K-9 (amusing), the two versions of Romana (solid), but then we get Adric (arrgh!), Teegan (I think she’s cute but Veronica can’t stand her) and Nyssa (solid but not given much to do) before he finally departs.
City of Death is the best of the Baker era, partially mainly because it’s one of the ones that Douglas Adams himself helped to write. It’s got a lot of humor, including the idiotic investigator that helps them out and can’t seem to do anything except get in trouble and hit people. It also has Julian Glover as its villain, the only person to have been in a Best Picture winner (Tom Jones), a Doctor Who adventure, a Star Wars film (Empire), an Indiana Jones film (Last Crusade), a Harry Potter film (he’s the voice of Aragog) and in Game of Thrones, so he wins the Fantasy Geek Checklist Game.
The 5th Doctor: Peter Davison
- The Five Doctors
Best 5th Doctor Serial – Erik
- The Five Doctors
Erik on the 5th Doctor:
I don’t really feel much the need to say anything here. I wrote a pretty long piece on The Five Doctors after we watched it and I included in that piece my feelings on Davison as the Doctor (good doctor, hampered by very bad stories and weak companions). Veronica especially couldn’t stand the companions as it included Adric (arrgh!), Teegan (who Veronica couldn’t stand) and Nyssa (mostly wasted until that final serial where she kept leaving her clothes behind), then Turlough (blech) and Peri. Now, we discussed Doctor Who at dinner one night with friends and our friend Deborah said that Peri was unwatchable and her partner commented, “Well, I wouldn’t say unwatchable.” That infuriated Deborah, but I have to agree. Peri is damn cute and they emphasize her looks (and body). But, yeah, she’s still pretty worthless.
The 6th Doctor: Colin Baker
- The Two Doctors
Best 6th Doctor Serial – Erik
- The Two Doctors
Erik on the 6th Doctor:
I had been warned about Colin Baker as the Doctor long before I had ever seen him as the Doctor. I knew about the horrible coat. I knew that he would try to strangle Peri in the very first episode. I knew that he was unpopular. There was good reason for that. He’s terrible. His Doctor is terrible. Now, those are two different things. I think Baker gives the worst performance as the Doctor, that he kind of stumbles around and never really embodies anything I would associate with the Doctor. He doesn’t have to be the same as other Doctors but he does need to at least be in the same ballpark. But Baker just doesn’t ever really settle into the role. Now, to be fair, the scripts are also terrible. They just never really knew what to do with Baker as the Doctor and a lot of the blame for that goes on John Nathan Turner. The stories are terrible. Look at the first part of Trial of a Time Lord, when the Doctor and Peri spend the entire first episode just wandering around a planet. Look at the ridiculous level of violence that’s out of proportion for anything that had ever been on the show. Look at the terrible storylines and how they don’t know what to do with anyone. They never make good use of Peri, then they suddenly kill her off with barely a mention. Then, two episodes later, they’re pretty much say “Oh, we were just kidding.” But by then, we’re already on to Mel, who I think is much worse (in one of her first serials, Mel screams to conclude the first two episodes). At least Peri, while being pretty useless, was eye candy. Mel is just annoying as can be and is also pretty useless. Baker’s stint as the Doctor was one of the shortest and it’s just as well. We plowed through both years in less than a week just to be done with him. By far the best serial is The Two Doctors, not because of anything that Baker does, but because it brings back both Troughton and Jamie. It’s not a great serial and there are again problems with violence, but at least it has a good Doctor and a good companion to counteract all of that.
The 7th Doctor: Sylvester McCoy
- Remembrance of the Daleks
Erik on the 7th Doctor:
From the minute he regenerates, the 7th Doctor is much more of a joy to behold on screen than the 6th Doctor was. Part of it might be that I was predisposed to like McCoy in the role since by the time we got to him all three of the Hobbit films had been released (when we began this journey they hadn’t even begun filming yet). But McCoy is just simply a great doctor. It’s too bad that he got such a short time in the role (and that he got such a pathetic send-off in the movie). He brings a level of planning that we had never seen before and we get the feeling that he’s not just the man who’s running away from all of his responsibility. His doctor is darker but also smarter. In that first season, we’re still stuck with Mel, who is absolutely one of my least favorite companions of all-time, but then she gets pushed off on Sabalom Glitz (which I find hilarious and a perfect punishment for him), a notion that is expanded upon in one of the novels (that he deliberately pushes the more cheerful Mel off so that he can become the darker doctor). Then we get Ace, who is perfectly willing to beat the hell out of a Dalek with a baseball bat, part of which makes Remembrance of the Daleks one of the very best serials. But it’s also the start of the two season arc that starts to show the Doctor’s long-term planning coming to fruition and that there is much more going on beneath the surface than we had been seeing in the last number of years. Part of what makes these last couple of seasons so enjoyable is McCoy’s doctor, who is smart but also nutty (watch him chasing the cat in Survival) but it’s also in part due to Ace, who is definitely one of the best companions and a vast improvement over pretty much every companion since the days of Tom Baker.
It’s tempting to be like Veronica and to pick Battlefield as my top serial, partially because of the King Arthur mythology that plays into it (god, I love the Arthur legend) and partially because it brings back the Brig and I love the Brig (“I just can’t seem to let you out of my sight.” “Same as ever, eh, Brigadier?”). But Remembrance of the Daleks has the moment where, and I cannot stress this enough, Ace beats up a Dalek with a baseball bat.
The 8th Doctor: Paul McGann
If the only appearance of Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor was in the movie, would he have finished in last place? It might have been close. He would have slipped below Hartnell, that’s for certain, but I don’t know if he could have dropped those final two spots below the two doctors that I genuinely don’t like. It’s not just that I don’t like the way the actors played the Doctor, but I genuinely don’t like those Doctors. They are fairly unpleasant people. McGann doesn’t have that aspect to him. He’s hampered by a very bad script, a pretty boring companion and a truly awful villain (every time I look at Eric Roberts, I think to myself, how could he be related to two such beautiful women as his sister and daughter and then I wonder how he could be related to his sister when she’s such a good actress and he’s such an awful actor). But then came “The Night of the Doctor“, that wonderful little short that almost completely redeemed McGann as the Doctor. It wasn’t enough to move him very high because there are so many good Doctors and because most of his time as the Doctor is in the truly awful movie (which also gave a horrible send-off to McCoy, who was such a wonderful Doctor). But the way he pops on the screen, the way he grabs her hand and runs towards the back (“Because the front crashes first. Think it through.”) and the choice that he makes the finally enter the Time War and become the War Doctor. The various little shorts done over the years since the revival of the series have been some of the best things done, whether they rely on humor (“Space“, “Time“) or nostalgia (“Time Crash“) and “The Night of the Doctor” shows that you can bring a Doctor back and do something remarkable with him, even one who had previously been one of the worst.
The War Doctor: John Hurt
When the Doctor and Clara descended into the Doctor’s timesteam at the end of “The Name of the Doctor”, I genuinely had no idea what was going to happen. Never did I expect that they would find the other Doctor, the one who fought in the Time War, the War Doctor, or that he would be played by John Hurt. The people who have played the Doctor have generally been good actors but I never would have expected someone of John Hurt’s status to come onto the show. It was one hell of an ending. And when we got to the excellent “The Day of the Doctor” we finally got a full showing from Hurt and he was fantastic. He was weary and bitter and ready to end everything.
The 9th Doctor: Christopher Eccleston
- “The Doctor Dances”
Best 9th Doctor Episode – Erik
- “Bad Wolf”
Erik on the 9th Doctor:
I knew who Christopher Eccleston was long before he became the Doctor. I had seen him first in Jude and then again in Elizabeth (where I thought he was Joseph Fiennes, because he looks so much more like Ralph than Joseph does). When he first stepped into the shoes as the Doctor, I wasn’t paying attention, as we were busy moving for the first of three times that year and that Doctor Who had come back on the air went right past me. I came back to Eccleston after Veronica had gotten interested in Matt Smith and I insisted we do it right and start from at least the new beginning. Eccleston’s Doctor was cool in a way that the Doctor hadn’t really even been before. That black bomber jacket, his swagger, even when he dances, this was a different kind of Doctor. It helped as well that it had Eccleston, an actor with some real power, playing him. And there were some good adventures for the Doctor as well, namely because he refused to bring Mickey along. I never loved Rose but she was a tolerable companion and then along came Captain Jack and he was, to borrow a phrase, fantastic.
Veronica loves “The Doctor Dances” I think mostly because of Captain Jack. I went with “Bad Wolf” because I love how the whole season’s storyline finally comes to full fruition.
The 10th Doctor: David Tennant
- “The Stolen Earth” / “Journey’s End”
Erik on the 10th Doctor:
Veronica, oddly enough, loves David Tennant, but doesn’t love his Doctor. I, on the other hand, absolutely love his Doctor. I love his playfulness (“I’m just gonna step into the police box and arrest myself”), the way he is so so sorry, all the running (“there’s an awful lot of running”). But most of what I love about the Tennant era is the great well of anger that has built up inside of him. This Doctor is different than the previous ones and he is not afraid to let it show. There was a streak of anger in Eccleston, but more at the way humans behave while the 10th Doctor is just angry. You see it especially in the specials as he also works to overcome his loneliness. By then he no longer has that family that Sarah Jane had extolled.
The family, the extended use of companions, is one of the best things about Tennant’s time – just look at the wonderful opening to “The Stolen Earth” when it puts all those companions above the title. There is Rose (okay) and Martha (totally hot, but it gets sad as she just pines for the Doctor). Then there is Donna and how you feel about Donna is measured by how you react to a joke that I find funny but Veronica finds infuriating: “Remember when Donna became the coolest companion ever? Neither does she!” But there is also the return of Captain Jack (“Why are you taking your clothes off?”) and the sometimes companionship of Mickey (arrgh!) and Jackie (double arrgh!). There is also the return of Sarah Jane, my most favorite moment in all of Doctor Who, not to mention another moment in that episode which is so moving that it helped prompt an entire post.
Most of all, Tennant’s time in the TARDIS saw the return of the Cybermen, the return of the Sontarans and, best of all, the return of the Master and that brings us to the two part special where Tennant finally says goodbye, with that whole last half hour, after he has been irradiated but before he regenerates being one of my favorite half-hours in all of the show’s history.
So why do I pick “Blink”? Because it’s just so brilliant, from start to finish, even if it is a “Doctor lite” episode. And it introduces the Weeping Angels, and they are a magnificent villain, the best introduced since the show came back on the air in 2005. Veronica goes with the two part-finale, mostly because of those moments with all the companions together in the TARDIS.
The 11th Doctor: Matt Smith
- “The Doctor’s Wife”
- “The Snowmen”
Erik on the 11th Doctor:
It has been said that Eccleston’s Doctor was a tiger that Tennant’s Doctor was Tigger and that Matt Smith’s Doctor was a cat that falls off the bannister on onto the floor and then tries to make it look like it did it on purpose. Smith’s time in the TARDIS is perhaps best summed up in “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” when he says “Do what I do. Hold tight and pretend it’s a plan.”
Veronica was won over by Matt Smith because he was her first doctor. I liked him a lot, partially because I liked his companions (like Amy, love Amy when she’s with Rory (a perfect song for them), liked Clara a lot with Smith, love River) and partially because he’s kind of just goofy like Troughton but every now and then, like at the end of his first appearance, he seems a darker Doctor, more like McCoy.
“The Doctor’s Wife” has pretty much been Veronica’s favorite episode since the moment she first saw it and it is great. But I go with “The Snowmen” mostly because of Strax (“Madama Vastra was wondering if you were needing any grenades.”), but also because that version of Clara was fantastic.
The 12th Doctor: Peter Capaldi
- “Death in Heaven”
- “The Husbands of River Song”
Erik on the 12th Doctor:
Of course, if Matt Smith was the uncoordinated cat then that makes Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Grumpy Cat. That was probably going to be obvious from the day they had that special which announced Capaldi as the new Doctor.
Capaldi has been a very good Doctor but he has been a bit hampered by the scripts. It has also been frustrating that Clara, who had been privy to the Doctor’s entire history before his regeneration, then acts like a typical companion faced with a regeneration and she was never the same character again. I still liked her but Veronica was definitely down on her after that. We also disagree on the sonic sunglasses (I liked them) though we both agreed that Missy was cool, especially the moment when we got the revelation of who she was.
Veronica’s choice of “Death in Heaven” probably really comes down to those moments in the cemetery (thus the picture) while I love the interaction with River in “The Husbands of River Song”.