50 great Doctor Who scenes
To celebrate its 50th birthday this month, Andrew talks us through 50 great Doctor Who scenes...
Doctor Who, what with being the greatest thing ever and all, has its fair share of great scenes. You could – and people have – write a list of one great scene per story. There are thousands to choose from. Here, we have a list of fifty in no particular order. The criteria is simply that we enjoy them.
Because we all know about 'Do I have the right?' and 'I'm not going to let you stop me now', I've also tried finding moments from less popular episodes just to give them some love. No story is completely without merit (Even Timeflight has Khalid) and like it or not, Time and the Rani happened, so we're all just going to have to deal with it.
So, here's a selection of fifty great scenes. Not the greatest scenes, just great ones. I expect your lists on my desk by the end of the month.
1. Ghost Light – The Doctor annoys an angel til it explodes
For all his aspirations of deviousness and meticulous planning, the Seventh Doctor did his fair share of totally winging it at the last minute. When confronted with a homicidal intergalactic trainspotter called Light, the Doctor deals with it by simply winding him up til he goes all Blue Screen of Death. The only way this scene could be improved is if the Second Doctor was there too, gleefully joining in.
2. Nightmare of Eden – The Doctor and Romana jump into Eden
Tryst, an accented scientist, has invented a CET scanner – an electronic zoo, capable of storing a space/time location as data to be displayed by projector. On the run from some divinely dressed Customs and Excise officers, the Doctor and Romana bomb across some corridors, activate the CET scanner, tinker briefly, and then take a run and jump into the screen, landing in the gnarled and gloomy forest within.
Douglas Adams' run as Script Editor produced some excellent Science-Fiction ideas, but also, occasionally, these wonderful, fantastic moments.
3. Vengeance on Varos - Sil laughing
Sil is a small slug-like businessman who twice encountered the Sixth Doctor, and had a laugh that sounded like expectoration struggling down a plughole blocked with colicky rattlesnakes. Actor Nabil Shaban was more than happy to make the character as disgusting as possible, and his rasping laughter makes the cliffhanger to Vengeance on Varos Part One just that little bit more disturbing, beyond the meta-fiction that makes the viewer feel culpable for the Doctor's seeming demise.
4. The Horror of Fang Rock – The Doctor makes an announcement
Picture the scene: one lighthouse keeper is dead, and a boat carrying three incredibly irritating posh types (who have their own secrets) has ran aground while the Doctor and Leela try to work out what killed him in their own inimitable way. In the midst of this tension, the Doctor announces the following:
"Gentlemen. I've got news for you. This lighthouse is under attack and by morning we might all be dead. Anyone interested?"
And then he just grins.
5. Doctor Who and the Silurians – Dr Quinn, mail-Hubris
The Doctor suspects Dr Quinn is hiding something in his cottage, possibly something to do with the deaths and attacks in the caves under the Nuclear Research facility. When he discovers Quinn dead in his armchair, he is confronted by a bipedal reptilian creature. Cue credits. One week later, we witness the Doctor's reaction to being in mortal danger: he offers the creature his hand, and his help, a marked contrast to Quinn's imprisoning it to force it into giving him scientific knowledge.
6. Human Nature/The Family of Blood – Goodbye Timothy Latimer
It is 1912. The Doctor has killed lots of people accidentally-on-purpose again, and wreaked a terrible vengeance on those who influenced him into doing so. It seems only right and proper for this most mercurial of Doctors (and the god Mercury shares many of his traits) to depart while blithely trying to impress a child. After all that we've seen painting the Doctor as some force of nature, there is a exemplary joy and hypocrisy to be had via the magic of a solid object disappearing into thin air with the departing promise:
'You'll like this bit.'
7. The Aztecs – Yeah, still got it. No biggie
'Where did you get hold of that?'
'I see...your what?'
'Yes, I made some cocoa and got engaged.'
And so the First Doctor downplays his engagement, as if this sort of thing happens to the old stud-muffin all the time. It's even funnier considering how much he bridles upon being surprised with the news by his fiancé, then rewrites history to appear cool in front of his young friend.
8. Genesis of the Daleks – 'She is a Norm! All Norms are our enemies.'
Now, this isn't a typical example of a classic moment from Genesis of the Daleks, but I love it. It is spoken by a (very slightly) mutated inhabitant of Skaro after finding the unconscious form of Sarah-Jane Smith. Firstly, it conveys the plight of the Mutos on the planet Skaro succinctly; cast out from both factions in a Civil War, they live in the wastelands eking out an existence. Secondly, it places Sarah Jane-Smith in a perilous situation, whereby she can be plucky and resourceful, and from thence brave and scared at the same time. Thirdly, it conveys the notion that Skaro's plight is such that it has removed any sense of empathy from its populace. Fourthly, it suggests that the Mutos aren't very good at naming things, or at the very least it isn't an immediate priority for them.
Mainly though, I just find it intrinsically hilarious and there's not a lot anyone can do about that.
9. Attack of the Cybermen – 'Mm? Oh, shoot him Peri.'
The Doctor and guns. The Seventh preferred to kill masses at a distance. The Fifth and Tenth resorted to them when desperate. The Fourth and the Sixth on the other hand, you really don't know exactly what they're going to do. Thus, as the Doctor strides around the sewers in the midst of Cybermen-induced carnage, you genuinely don't know if he means it or not.
10. The TV Movie - We need a Beryllium Atomic clock
My favorite scene in the TV Movie is when Grace and the Doctor gatecrash the launch party for an atomic clock. The Doctor is there to steal a piece of tech, and Grace is there because the Doctor drove her. Mainly known for the line about the Doctor being half-human (on his mother's side), it's sometimes forgotten that it's mainly a fun scene Grace getting to know the Doctor while he interacts with other humans, who all look at him like Dr Grace Holloway has dragged some grinning, bedraggled English savant off the streets to be weird at them.
Then, because it's the Eighth Doctor, he jumps off something.
11. The Sea Devils – You really know how to cut to the core of me, Jo Grant
Jo Grant does more than pass the Doctor his test tubes and tell him how brilliant he is. She's a great listener, and when someone talks as much as the Doctor does this is invaluable.
When the Doctor and Jo visit the Master in prison, she's perceptive enough to notice that the Doctor feels sorry for his arch enemy (and murderer of thousands of people in the previous series) and, in a lovely wee scene, gently asks him about it. This prompts the revelation (at the time, anyway) that the Doctor and the Master used to be friends. 'You could almost say we were at school together'.
12. The Ribos Operation – Sheer Indignance
The Graff Vynda K (Paul Seed) is not responding well to the Doctor's frivolity. He rarely responds well to anything though, especially after being conned by Garron. Believing the Doctor to be his accomplice, the Graff takes off his leather glove and thwacks the Doctor with it. The Doctor indignantly reaches up to his cheek, nicks the Graff's glove and then slaps him back.
Contains some of Tom Baker's best usage of his own face.
13. Carnival of Monsters – the hand of God
When he came Script Editor, Robert Holmes aimed the show at older children, but his work in the Third Doctor era (this and The Time Warrior especially) are brilliant examples of family entertainment. Carnival of Monsters does exactly what it says on the can, while also mocking the BBC and celebrating Doctor Who from within. Rarely does meta-fiction entertain this much, or work such wonders as when, in one scene, Vorg reaches into his Miniscope to remove and obstruction, and in another the sky suddenly opens, and a hand reaches down into the hold of a sailing ship to take away the TARDIS.
14. An Unearthly Child – 'What is going to happen to you?'
Quite a lot, as it turns out.
15. Enlightenment – Eternal Flame War
There have been clues, but the reveal of the true nature of the Eternals in Enlightenment is better than anything that's been hinted at in the story. It's a breathtaking idea, implying godhood and all manner of polytheisms, immaculately delivered by Keith Barron as Captain Striker, the sheer scale of the concept being reinforced by his dismissal of the Doctor and his race:
'You are a Time Lord. Are there lords in such a small domain?'
'And where do you function?'
'Eternity. The endless wastes of eternity.'
16. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship – a mug of tea and the Earth
I have heard it said of Chris Chibnall that he is Eric Saward to Russell T. Davies' Robert Holmes, attempting to replicate his hero with less success. What this ignores is that Eric Saward delivered some pretty damn excellent television at times, and if you're talking Earthshock and Revelation of the Daleks, being compared to Eric Saward is a pretty good compliment. So when Chris Chibnall's on form, we get Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, a gloriously fun romp which ends with Brian Williams (the inheritor of Wilfred Mott's Throne of Irredeemable Loveliness) sitting on the ledge of the TARDIS with a mug of tea, watching the Earth revolve below. A simple, heart-warming image.
17. Time and the Rani – The Doctor gets to natter with Einstein in a giant brain
Oddly, this scene could probably only work in Time and the Rani. It wouldn't make sense anywhere else. With the Rani's suitably bonkers plan enacted, and the geniuses of the universe contributing to her giant brain (of course, what else does one collect the thoughts of geniuses in?), what she hadn't banked on was the Doctor yammering away at Einstein because – again, in hindsight, obviously – he's totally geeking out.
18. Midnight – I'm clever
You could argue that the Tenth Doctor is the Ninth Doctor with a better mask. He's still as damaged, dangerous and angry as he was, it's just that he hides it a lot better. In Midnight, Russell T. Davies' reminder to us all that he's read the forums, human nature is found wanting, but so is the Doctor's genius. The plot is twisted and turned using only dialogue, and you know that the Doctor has lost when he blurts out this weak, petulant defense.
19. The Keeper of Traken – Fairy tale exposition
Exposition is annoying to write. It often slows things down and is hard to make interesting. Likewise, TARDIS scenes aren't always necessary, and if you're going to spend a long time in there you'd better have something interesting going on. The Keeper of Traken manages to set up its fairy-tale with a heart of darkness world, squeeze the last drops of warped humor from Tom Baker, and establish the main characters. All via the medium of an old man telling a story from a chair.
20. The Empty Child – West End Musical or Marxism in action
Somewhere in the dark regions, where nobody goes, there is an ancient castle. Here lives Andrew Lloyd-Webber, overworked servant to his muse. 'I have it,' he cries, 'A musical set during World War Two, where orphaned or unwanted urchins gather in abandoned houses eking out an existence with their kindly but stern maternal figure!'
'But Master,' says Graham Norton, 'Doctor Who has already done such a thing, and it was a throwaway gag rather than the whole plot.'
'GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH,' cries Lord Webber, and his fall breaks the mountainside.
Somewhere in the dark regions of Steve Moffat's mind, where gas-masked Angels lurk, his brain suddenly gets the signal to make him cackle.
21. Rose – Clive dies
While times have changed, and the Auton massacres of nowadays are perhaps less savage than their heyday, one thing that stands out in Rose is that Clive – the family man, the geek who likes saying dark and dramatic things about the Doctor – is killed in front of his family on a day out shopping. Firstly it said to fans 'Hey, this is the same old Doctor Who, where death can strike anywhere', and secondly it said to fans 'Hey, isn't his death more tragic when we know what he's leaving behind?'.
22. The Unicorn and the Wasp – Harvey Wallbanger?
If Star Trek did an Agatha Christie episode you know they'd do the straightforward murder-mystery on the holodeck, and you know reading James Hunt's 'Revisiting Star Trek' article would be more entertaining than the episode. Doctor Who, on the other hand, uses the murder-mystery as a backdrop for a broad comedy and has ridiculous amounts of fun with it, the highlight being the giddy rush of physical comedy as Donna tries to cure the Doctor after he's poisoned.
23. Battlefield – Bambera and Anselyn
While Battlefield is a mixed bag overall, it has got some great little exchanges of dialogue and an excellent central idea. Best of all though, is Marcus Gilbert's Anselyn, a man whose performances is perpetually winking at the viewer, and even manages to cram in a Python reference ('Ah, you wish to run away'). The scene where they first meet and then get acquainted by beating the crap out of each other in the background always makes me laugh.
24. The Eleventh Hour – Can I have an apple?
We had seen very little of Matt Smith's Doctor. Some photos, some interviews, and two scenes (from Vampires in Venice and one from the end of the end of The End of Time), and the signs were promising, but there was still an air of nervous excitement as we sat down to watch The Eleventh Hour. It needed to be brilliant. It needed to keep people watching. What if something, somehow, went horribly wrong?
Then Matt Smith poked his head up through the TARDIS doors, said 'Can I have an apple?' and we knew everything was going to be alright.
25. The Robots of Death – Would you like a jelly baby?
Borg is a bit hasty, it's fair to say. He leaps to conclusions, antagonises people, and raises his voice all the time. He also, quite quickly, decides that the Doctor and Leela killed Chubb (who 'talked too much', apparently), so that when the Doctor tries to fill an awkward pause by offering him a jelly baby, he hollers 'SHARRUP' and slaps the packet out of his hand.
I would love to see him deal with a chugger.
26. The Edge of Destruction – Barbara takes on the Doctor
Because Barbara is one of the most important people in the show's fictional universe. Without her standing up to the Doctor on several occasions, his character doesn't evolve into a heroic figure. Without Barbara pointing out his arrogance, he's an aloof and stern scientist who's largely racist and derogatory to what he perceives as lesser cultures. So, tucked away in the jarring filler piece, is the point where the Doctor starts becoming a universal saviour. He might get to do the big speeches and have people compare him to elemental forces, but he'd be none of that if it wasn't for a Sixities history teacher - with the best haircut the series has ever seen - taking him to to task.
27. Day of the Daleks – Some more wine, Doctor?
The Third Doctor liked the finer things, which is why he takes advantage of Sir Reginald Styles' wine cellar. The Dalek conquered future-Earth he finds himself in also has its perks for 'a few remarkable exceptions' such as the Controller, a quisling who provides a human face to Dalek occupation. The Doctor takes his wine, then utterly demolishes him, and then begins to rebuild. For you see, the Doctor always wins. The Doctor. In the TARDIS. Saving the universe. Even when he's probably half-cut and his breath reeks of cheese.
28. Trial of a Time Lord – There's a mystery here...
Arriving on a distant planet where life had been destroyed by a solar fireball, the Doctor and Peri discover the ruins of a building that has 'Marble Arch' written on the floor in the livery of the London subway. Peri's reaction is understandably distraught: she's seen the fate of her home planet. The Doctor tries to be sympathetic, but he's simply too intrigued to leave, and his attempts at kindness are over-ridden by his excitement at a mystery to solve. It's not just a great Sixth Doctor scene, but it's one of the most Doctor-ish moments in the show's entire history.
29. Arc of Infinity – Omega is alive.
While the commentary track on the DVD is more entertaining than the actual story, you can't deny that Arc of Infinity has its moments. Chief among them is the scene where Omega, the tragic figure from Time Lord mythology, thinks he has managed to achieve corporeal existence on this side the black hole he is trapped in. It's just a hurdy-gurdy man in the street, and a small boy smiling nervously at him, but it's the first contact he's had with another living being who didn't fear him in millennia. It'd be even sadder if he wasn't about to suffer a really undignified chase sequence through Amsterdam while covered in green make-up and Rice Crispies.
30. The Green Death – BOSS
Late on in The Green Death it is revealed that Stevens, the frontman of Global Chemicals, is actually just a henchman. The real villain is a computer called BOSS. BOSS' voice suggests that he finds everything incredibly amusing, and likes humming along to pieces of music while making grand proclamations. A bit like that big bloke at your Gilbert and Sullivan society would be if he was an insane Nietzschean supercomputer.
31. Hide – Have we just watched the Earth die?
I felt that Hide was undervalued, while still being pretty highly thought of, with its reception. A delightfully spooky tale that made you jump while telling a well-paced ghost story with a Science-Fiction explanation. It also had the best – of many similar scenes – bit where Matt Smith's Doctor recaptured the unpredictable alien qualities that many prize in both the Bakers' Doctors. The distance between his and Clara's reaction to seeing the entirety of history pass, and his failure to provide a comforting response, are both underplayed perfectly.
32. The Pirate Planet – But what's it for?
Few people can match Tom Baker for intense and righteous fury. That one of his finest outbursts comes in a Douglas Adams script might be more surprising. The Pirate Planet strains to fit Adams' imagination onto the screen at times, but his hard Sci-Fi concepts are achievable, non-violent, yet utterly horrible. It's a staggering scene, with the scope of the concepts battling with the Doctor's sheer rage for focus.
33. The Time Warrior – Lynx passes judgment on getting jiggy wit' it
From the second Lynx gets out of his ship and claims the medieval Earth for the glory of the Sontaran Empire (and I really want to see the Sontarans vs the British Empire – 'Do you have a flag?' 'Yes.' 'Oh.') you realise there's going to be a lot in The Time Warrior that might be aimed over children's heads. Chief among these moments is the scene where Lynx meets Sarah-Jane Smith for the first time, realises that humans have different genders, and states:
'You have a primary and secondary reproductive system. It is inefficient, you should change it.'
It's simply begging to be sampled in a funk odyssey.
34. Galaxy 4 – Maaga's Soliloquy
Doctor Who has to be cleverer than movies. This is especially true of its early days, where it remained insanely ambitious for a very long time. Despite this, Maaga – the leader of the Drahvins – and her speech about watching a planet burn are more powerful and chilling than any explosion. To use Star Wars as a comparison, it isn't the moment Alderaan blows up that you remember, but Alec Guiness' words afterwards. Doctor Who did it first. And better.
35. Mawdryn Undead – The Brig's flashback
While the Brigadier is a strong and popular part of the Third Doctor era, his character really starts getting fleshed out in his guest appearance in the Eighties. Battlefield states his creed as parable, and Mawdryn Undead dares to suggest that the Brigadier ultimately couldn't cope with his job. By taking his reaction shot on entering the TARDIS for the first time (in what was a funny scene) and cutting it together with shots of various monsters, the effect is of a man being overwhelmed until his mental health suffered as a result, and suddenly the Brig feels that much more human.
36. The Tenth Planet – NICE COMEBACK
The best comeback in the history of Doctor Who is delivered by the man who thematically and militarily opposes the Cybermen, General Cutler. He has not warmed to the Doctor, who in turn is not overly fond of the General, leading to the following exchange:
'I don't like your tone!'
'Well I don't like YOUR FACE.'
37. Vampires in Venice – It's another dimension
Rory, perhaps a little bit annoyed from the Doctor's crashing his stag party and being an unseen presence in his entire life via Amy, is not impressed by the TARDIS. In fact, he's established how it works. The Doctor is not only annoyed, he's downright threatening. As it's Matt Smith's Doctor, though, it just feels like an overtall child is miffed that he can't get to do his most favouritest bit of showing off.
38. Paradise Towers – Are these old ladies annoying you?
Pex lives. OOH. Maybe John Hurt is playing Pex? Probably not. While Howard Cooke's introductory scene may not have set Twitter ablaze, it does perfectly set up Pex's character: a hapless, well-meaning meathead who has no place in the world of Paradise Towers.
'Are these old ladies annoying you?'
'...are you annoying these old ladies?'
39. The Underwater Menace – The fish people go on strike
There's something ineffably glorious about one of the show's most 'a bit garbage' creatures – fish/human hybrids in the sunken future Atlantis - doing something as jarringly real-worldly as going on a strike. In the midst of the strange clash between religion and science, it's something recognisable. It's precisely the kind of thing Doctor Who should be doing, because no-one else is going to.
40. Mark of the Rani – Not to me she isn't
Of all the companions, it's Peri's continued presence in the TARDIS that's a real mystery. She doesn't seem to be having a huge amount of fun, and the Doctor does have this habit of repeating everything she says back to her at incrementally louder volumes. So, when she's understandably upset at that nice young man being turned into a tree by the Rani, who is berating her for being useless, it's genuinely pleasant to hear the Doctor defend her.
41. Deimos – As long as the Doctor's conscience is clear
Indulge me a Big Finish moment please, because for the Eighth Doctor they're really his home. In Jonathan Morris' Ice Warrior two-parter (written under Alan Barnes' edict to make the Martians properly horrible), it's a hugely important part of the series arc, and a ruthless examination of the Doctor's morality. The Doctor does what he is famous for: he refuses to kill, he will not be part of another creature's machinations, he clings to his absolute moral code steadfastly, like the hero he is.
And, as a result, he severely fails to save the day.
42. The Dominators – Know Your Limits
Another joy of seeing The Web of Fear is that the Brigadier and Jamie - probably the Doctor's most loyal friends in the show's history - are in it together. The Second Doctor and Jamie are adorable, and are understandably shipped all across the interwebs. Any episode with those two in is guaranteed to have some memorable business or deviation from the script, and hence we have in The Dominators:
“An unintelligent enemy is far less dangerous than an intelligent one, Jamie. Just act stupid. Do you think you can manage that?”
43. Silver Nemesis – Blow up that vehicle
Silver Nemesis is saved by a few things, one of which being the infectious amount of fun that Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred are having yomping about the countryside, annoying Cybermen with jazz. Before the Doctor starts messing with Ace's head in the next series, he stops her getting shot at by making bird noises, takes great relish in telling her to blow up the Cybermen's spaceship (using the explosives he expressly forbid her from making), and makes a detour by standing up and yelling 'Hello! I'm the Doctor! I believe you want to kill me?'
44. The End of the World – Everything has its time and everything dies
This scene does several important things: one is that it gives the villain a memorably splatty demise, another is the realisation of how battle-damaged the Doctor has become, and another is its wrongness in the context of Doctor Who. This moment is important for the rest of the Ninth Doctor's tenure, a marker that the character has to get as far away from as possible before he recovers himself at the end of the series.
45. Fear Her – I'm being facetious, there's no call for it
The Tenth Doctor remains the Fourth's main contender for the favor of the public because of, not in spite of, his arrogance. The writers knew this, and that's why they make conflicts from and call him up on it occasionally. It's nice to see the man who spent Tooth and Claw making jokes understanding that perhaps sometimes flippancy isn't helpful.
46. Shada – Skagra's logic
As seen on the back-cover of the recent Gareth Roberts adaptation:
“At the age of five, Skagra decided emphatically that God did not exist. This revelation tends to make most people in the universe who have it react in one of two ways – with relief or with despair. Only Skagra responded to it by thinking, 'Wait a second. That means there's a situation vacant.'”
47. The Wedding of River Song – Hello Dalek
An excellent piece of economic storytelling, the scene where the Doctor finds a damaged Dalek and proceeds to remove its eye-stalk hints at the realities of the wider universe. He takes data from the Dalek on the silence, and then later uses the Dalek eye-stalk as currency. In one short scene Steven Moffat makes the Doctor seem scary, adds to the mythology, advances the plot, and builds a detail of the wider universe much like Robert Holmes used to. Of course, out there in the rest of reality, a Dalek eye-stalk has power.
48. The Caves of Androzani – And Sharaz Jek thought he had company for life
There's so much great stuff in The Caves of Androzani to pick from, but one bit I've always wondered about is the scene where Salateen (Robert Glenister) reveals to the Doctor and Peri that they've fatally contracted Spectrox Toxaemia. When the Doctor asks for more information, Salateen ends up giggling because their captor – Sharaz Jek – had been going to kill him now that he had 'company for life'. The Doctor's reaction to this is to spin Salateen around and wordlessly reduce him to gibbering everything he needs to know, but Graeme Harper shoots it so you never see the Doctor's face. It leaves you wondering.
49. The Web of Fear – Defeat from the jaws of victory
The Web of Fear is so good. For a six parter in a confined space it never flags, has one of the most harrowing fight scenes in the history of the show, and really makes you care for all the minor characters who don't make it. After all that, though, the real clinching piece of genius is the Doctor's frustration at not being able to defeat the Great Intelligence after his friends rescue him before he can trick and destroy it. Troughton's Doctor has some great morally ambiguous moments, and this is perhaps the peak of them.
50. Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor – It's Peter Capaldi, and he's clutching his lapels
There's a period, between the new Doctor being announced and their first baby steps on screen, when it's just excitement. You don't know how he's going to play it, you don't know what he's going to look like doing it or how he'll shape the kind of stories they tell, you only know that it's going to be brilliant. In this case, it's Peter Capaldi, and he was introduced to us as the Doctor while performing an immaculately rendered Hartnell clutch. This is currently all we have of the Twelth Doctor, but dear god, the future and the past...