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Thursday, 3 July 2008

The 10 Greatest Episode of Doctor Who EVER!

With the final episode of series four approaching, the Daily Telegraph's in-house team of Doctor Who buffs (including, we might add, Gavin Fuller, who won Mastermind in 1993 with Doctor Who as his specialist subject) has compiled a countdown of the sci-fi spectacular's finest ever episodes. They've been selected from both the original era (1963-89) and the new (from 2005); in some cases, multi-part storylines have been counted as single episodes.

Blink (David Tennant, 2007)

Writer (and soon to be executive producer) Steven Moffatt has consistently come up with the most scarily memorable stories of the reborn series, and here he gives us chilling statues that move and menace when you don’t look at them. Unusually the Doctor is somewhat on the periphery here, but this only adds to the threat that central character Sally Sparrow (Carey Mulligan) is faced with. We've never been able to look at statues the same way since.

The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve (William Hartnell, 1966)

A sober tale of the lead-up to a massacre of Huguenots in France in 1572 is not the most obvious historical event to be mined by the programme, but it proves to be gripping fare, and it pulls no punches in bringing the horrors of religious persecution to life. This is the first time we get a double for the Doctor, in the shape of the fanatical Catholic Abbot of Amboise (also played by Hartnell), and with the Doctor himself absent for much of the story, companion Steven (Peter Purves) is effectively left adrift in history and has to cope as best he can. A perfect example of the educational remit of the original series being fulfilled. Tragically only the soundtrack survives, because the BBC wiped the tape.

Inferno (Jon Pertwee, 1970)

The original series is at its most mature in this seven-part fable about the powers that could be unleashed if we start to mess with our planet. The use of a parallel universe heightens the drama, as the Doctor actually witnesses the destruction of Earth while on a parallel world where his friends are all fascistic versions of themselves. It's a fine example of the work of one of the series’ great directors, Douglas Camfield, and the pace never lets up.

Human Nature/Family of Blood (David Tennant, 2007)

A Paul Cornell tale adapted from his 1995 Doctor Who novel that sees the Doctor transformed into the human school-teacher John Smith on the eve of the First World War. David Tennant and Jessica Hynes superbly delineate the relationship between the humanised Doctor and nurse Joan Redfern and the Doctor is forced to confront the death and destruction that seem to follow in his wake.

The Curse of Fenric (Sylvester McCoy, 1989)

A fantastic tale from the final series of the classic run. A complex tale of awakening ancient evil, faith (or lack of it), sexuality and betrayal, with companion Ace (Sophie Aldred) really being put through the emotional wringer by the Doctor and coming of age as a result. Even Nicholas Parsons as a vicar doesn't let the side down. Remarkably, we get a scene spoken entirely in Russian (with subtitles). Shame no one seemed to be watching the show at the time.

City of Death (Tom Baker, 1979)

A plot about the theft of the Mona Lisa; a script co-written by Douglas Adams; Tom Baker in fine form; a suave Julian Glover showing why he’d be later cast as villains in the Star Wars, James Bond and Indiana Jones franchises; cameos from John Cleese and Eleanor Bron… All of these things confidently combine to make the single most entertaining story from the original run for non-fans to watch. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the final episode of this four-part story holds the record for the highest viewing figures of any episode in the series' history at 16.1 million.

The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (Christopher Eccleston, 2005)

Arguably the most memorable story of the series since its return. Second World War London is brilliantly brought to life as a backdrop, Captain Jack (John Barrowman) enters the scene and enjoys some great interplay with the Doctor, Rose (Billie Piper) flies across London hanging to a barrage balloon during an air raid, Richard Wilson metamorphoses into a man with a gas mask for a face - and who would have thought that the question "Are you my mummy?" could prove so frightening? The titular empty child is one of the most chilling figures the series has produced, and just for once we have a happy ending.

Genesis of the Daleks (Tom Baker, 1975)

The Time Lords send the Doctor to Skaro's home planet to ensure that the Daleks will never be created. It's the first appearance of Davros, who, like the Daleks, was such an iconic design that the current team haven’t felt the need to rethink his design in the new series, and Michael Wisher gives an extraordinary performance in the role. Some of the dialogue between the Doctor and Davros is among the best the series has ever had. The Daleks, created by scriptwriter Terry Nation, were inspired by the Nazis, and this influence is laid bare in the militaristic Kaleds (the Daleks' forebears). The production pulls no punches when it comes to the horror of war, naturally upsetting Mary Whitehouse in the process.

The Caves of Androzani (Peter Davison, 1984)

Peter Davison bows out of the role with easily the best regeneration tale. There is something of a Jacobean revenge tragedy in this grim story of corporate greed, conflict and betrayal, and the Phantom of the Opera motif rears its head in the figure of Sharaz Jek (Christopher Gable), the first of many villains to lust after the nubile Peri (Nicola Bryant). John Normington’s asides as Trau Morgus add to the character's evil machinations and Graeme Harper's direction lifts the story to new levels. No wonder he was asked to return to the new series (he's the only director to have that honour). There’s huge body count in this episode as every single male character dies, leaving only two women survivors. Davison gives the performance of his life.

The Talons of Weng-Chiang (Tom Baker, 1977)

A superb pastiche of the Sherlock Holmes and Fu Manchu novels with a bit of the Phantom of the Opera thrown in for a good measure - and it’s all beautifully scripted by the best Doctor Who writer of them all, Robert Holmes. Holmes (who also wrote Caves of Androzani, above) always seemed to have a knack of creating great double acts, and in the impresario Henry Gordon Jago (Christopher Benjamin) and pathologist Professor Lightfoot (Trevor Baxter) he comes up with his best - two memorable allies for the Doctor who were nearly given a show of their own as a result. Also memorable is the psychopathic miniature villain Mr Sin (Deep Roy). No cliché of Victorian London (fog, hansom cabs, Chinese laundrymen, Music Hall and opium dens just for starters) is left unmined, making this marvellous six-parter seep atmosphere. The top-notch characterisation, direction and performances, with Tom Baker at the top of his game, make this the perfect Doctor Who story.