Published on August 20th, 2014 | by Brad0
Doctor Who – The Nine Best Ninth Doctor Stories
Doctor Who is back on Saturday! Peter Capaldi will be making his full debut as the Twelfth Doctor. In preparation and celebration, I’m going to be looking back over the three gentlemen who have preceded him in the new Doctor Who, with the Nine Best Ninth Doctor Stories, Ten Best Tenth Doctor Stories and Eleven Best Eleventh Doctor Stories. Couple of quick criteria points; multi-part episodes count as one single story, and Day of the Doctor is an Eleventh Doctor story, despite the prominence of the Tenth Doctor in the episode. We begin with the Ninth Doctor.
After an absence of 16 years, not counting the TV movie featuring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, Doctor Who made its triumphant return to the BBC in 2005. Produced by Russell T Davies and featuring Billie Piper as assistant Rose Tyler, the ninth actor to step into the Doctor’s Gallifreyan shoes was Christopher Eccleston. Never much of a one for the limelight, Eccleston walked away from the role after one series, but his place in the lore is forever established. It needed the right performance at the heart to bring the show back, and Eccleston nailed it. The Ninth Doctor was the lone survivor of the then-mysterious Time War, having taken action to end the war by destroying the Time Lords and Daleks alike. The fact that Eccleston was going to regenerate at the end of the first series allowed for the Ninth Doctor to have a complete character arc unlike anything we’ve really seen since in the show, as we see him open up and re-join the universe after the trauma of the war. These are my nine favourite stories from the Ninth Doctor era of Doctor Who.
9. The End of the World
The series’ first foray into outer space took us to an observation deck, as various alien beings gathered to watch the death of planet Earth. This episode is mostly notable for being the introduction to Lady Cassandra, probably the worst recurring villain in the history of the show. This is also the first real mention we get of the Time War, and the Doctor’s cold demeanour as he lets Cassandra die is a bit chilling, but that’s about it. Not a great episode, but it has its moments.
8. The Long Game
I think this was meant to be a satire on how obsessed we were becoming with technology and instant access to information. In 2005. Nothing if not prescient, the gag about putting a chip in your brain and a flap in your forehead for the data to be downloaded through doesn’t seem massively outlandish. Simon Pegg is a lot of fun as the villain, and I can get behind anything which satirises tabloid journalism. Solid episode.
7. Boom Town
This one gets a bit unfairly maligned, I find. I can see why bringing back the Slitheen from Aliens of London/World War Three might not be the most popular decision (there were ten stories in the Ninth Doctor’s series; guess which one didn’t make the top nine?), but I like how Margaret is used here. The scene where they go out to dinner and discuss whether the Doctor has the right to pass down a death sentence on her is a genuinely terrific one, and it achieves its purpose as the calm between the twin storms of Steven Moffat’s debut in the two weeks before and the action packed two-part finale to follow.
6. Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways
Speaking of the action-packed finale. The Ninth Doctor’s tenure ends with a pitched battle against the Daleks for the future of the human race, the mystery of the Bad Wolf is revealed, and Reality TV is satirised a-plenty. The comedy is well-handled in the first part, and Eccleston’s performance is stunning throughout. The Daleks still felt more like a threat and less like a nuisance at this point, and the reveal of the Dalek Emperor is brilliantly handled. The regeneration is a great moment, as the Ninth Doctor, so cold in his execution of Cassandra in episode two, is able to die with a smile on his face. Absolutely fantastic.
The new beginning. This episode had a challenge unlike no other in the run of NuWho, to bring the show back to TV and get people on board straight away. The decision to set the episode from Rose’s perspective is a stroke of genius, giving us a window into the world as we meet the Doctor at the same time as she does. Billie Piper’s performance in the first series is probably the best work I’ve seen her do, she’s brilliant, and this might be her best episode. Using the Autons as the villain to bring the show back is a ballsy decision, but I’m glad they went that way. The Autons are recognisably classic Doctor Who villains, without being so iconic as the Daleks or Cybermen, who may have overshadowed the fact that this was Doctor Who’s comeback, and we needed to invest in the Doctor and Rose first. Brilliant start.
4. The Unquiet Dead
A big feature of the new show has been the interaction with historical figures, a tradition started here as the Doctor and Rose accidentally end up in 18th Century Cardiff on a planned trip to Naples, and meet Charles Dickens in the middle of a ghost story at Christmas. I love that the show has the ability to just say “yeah, we’re going to do that” and it be perfectly normal. Simon Callow is glorious as Dickens, by then already his signature role, bringing a mixture of twinkling charm and grouchy irascibility which typically characterised the Doctor himself, back in the classic era. The moral dilemma posed by the Gelth before their true plans are revealed is an interesting one, and the episode is just a great romp.
The last Time Lord and the last Dalek, locked in a bunker, playing a deadly game of cat and mouse. This episode is so badass. This is the reintroduction to Doctor Who of his greatest nemesis, and it’s probably the best Dalek episode so far. The carnage caused by the lone Dalek really emphasises the threat they possess. Eccleston’s performance is brilliant again, the scene where he and the Dalek are locked in the room together, and he goes from terror, to glee at its inability to attack him, to malicious rage as he decides to kill it. Very tense, very exciting, great episode.
2. Father’s Day
A classic trope of time travel fiction is the protagonist trying to change a tragic event from their past, and the consequences this causes. This episode sees Rose wanting to comfort her father as he dies in a hit and run, and she winds up saving him, breaking time, and causing the arrival of Reapers, dragon-like creatures who have come to cauterise the wound in time by killing everyone until they get to the person who shouldn’t be alive. It’s a very emotional episode, with a heart-breaking finale.
1. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances
Who knew the phrase “Are you my mummy?” was so bloody terrifying? Future showrunner Steven Moffat makes his Doctor Who debut in spectacular style, with this two-parter set during the London Blitz. The Doctor and Rose are there in search of a time-displaced object, and wind up in the midst of a rampage from a creature which used to be a small boy in a gas mask. Also making his Doctor Who debut is John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness. This is the perfect storm of what Steven Moffat brings to Doctor Who on his best day – frightening scenarios, funny dialogue, great characters, and a brilliant mystery to be unravelled. And that’s without even mentioning the Everybody Lives scene. I’m just going to let you enjoy this. This is my favourite moment in NuWho.
So those are my favourite Ninth Doctor stories. I imagine some may quibble with the order, and maybe someone out there even likes Aliens of London/World War Three. Let me know in the comments. I’ll be back tomorrow with The Ten Best Tenth Doctor Stories.