Essential Movies – 1940 – 1949


So here’s another one of my fine essential guides! This time, we’re going to cover the movies of the 1940s.

This is another one of those lists where you’re going to know most of the films on it. This was the last decade before television started to cut seriously into the movie industry revenues and it’s also the decade of World War II and the start of the Cold War. It’s a decade that contains some of the best films in movie history! And as always, just because a movie isn’t on here, or a year is left blank, that doesn’t mean the movie was bad or that there wasn’t anything worthwhile that year. It just means I haven’t seen every great movie yet!

1940

Fantasia – For reasons unclear to me, this movie has never been as popular as it should be, even with the animation crowd. It’s a beautiful, amazing movie with some of the most incredible animation ever captured on film. If you haven’t seen it, you really should. Just check out this clip from below, which is easily the best in the movie, and remind yourself that it was all done by hand over 70 years ago.

The Grapes of Wrath – What do you get when you take a novel written as a socialist screed by an author who was basically socialist and give it to a filmmaker who was decidedly conservative? You get one of the best films of all time. Shamelessly manipulative? Oh, yes. Propaganda for the New Deal? That, too. But it’s also an incredible movie.

The Great Dictator – Flat-out simply Chaplin’s best film, and probably the best of 1940. With wonderful acting, pointed satire and some of the most hilarious scenes I’ve ever seen in a live-action film, this one isn’t just essential viewing, it’s also very enjoyable viewing. Somewhat dragged down by the last two minutes, but, really, how else was the film going to end?

The Mark of Zorro – One of those great swashbuckler films from back in the day! This one features Tyrone Power as the title character with, yes, Basil Rathbone as the bad guy. It’s one of the last of the great swashbuckler films and is very much worth seeing.

1941

Citizen Kane – You knew this was going to be on here, and well it should be. Generally regarded as the best film ever made, it is also one of the most culturally important. As I said in a review I wrote back in the day, watching it for the first time is kind of like watching it again, since if you’ve seen enough TV and movies, you’ve seen elements of this film used, reused and spoofed. But never is it so interesting as it is in the movie itself.

The Maltese Falcon – A great example of nearly film noir, and hugely enjoyable. Humphrey Bogart gives one of the best performances of his career, as do both Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet. Truly a great piece of film.

1942

Casablanca – Again, a predictable entry. Yeah, there’s parts of it that don’t make sense (letters of transit signed by who, exactly?), but the overall story is beautiful, and everyone in the cast is really at the top of their game. A classic that truly does not disappoint.

The Pride of the Yankees – Arguably Babe Ruth’s finest acting role. Oh, also, Gary Cooper is in it. The story itself (the rise and death of a great baseball player), is simple enough, but the execution is what matters, and that at least is great!

1943

The Ox-Bow Incident – I’m not generally into Westerns. I find them to be overly simplistic and rather silly. That said, this is one of the best, most amazing Westerns out there, and it’s at least in part because it ignores much of the conventions of the genre. Rather than clear good and evil roles, you have a lot of grey, and a great movie!

1944

Arsenic & Old Lace – To describe the plot of this film would be to spoil a whole series of surprises. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. It’s dark, it’s hilarious and it’s a great film!

1947

Gentleman’s Agreement – Ah, the joys of antisemitism. You’d think that having fought a war against a nation which existed to basically murder Jews, we would have learned our lessons about hatred and intolerance. Nope, not so much.

1948

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – Another one of those films that proves that Humphrey Bogart really was a hell of an actor. It looks like and feels like a Western, but it’s not. Instead it’s a deeply psychological movie about greed and betrayal. A really excellent film.

1949

The Third Man – The 1940s were, in many ways, bracketed by two great Orson Welles films, though one could also argue them as two great Joseph Cotton films. Regardless, this movie, while not quite as good as Citizen Kane is a fascinating, cynical, really exceptional film.

Up next, the essential movies of the 1950s!

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The Essential Guide to Big Finish Audios


UPDATED 7-19-2014

So you’re new to Big Finish and want to know how to get started, especially with the Doctor Who lines? Friend, have I got something great for you. My essential guide to Big Finish audios.

Now this isn’t a comprehensive list, and it only includes those titles I’ve actually listened to. How many is that? Hard to tell. Close to two-hundred of the main range of Doctor Who along with others scattered around throughout. And Big Finish themselves have a nice little guide of where to start with their titles. But I think my list of essential audios holds up well.

For the sake of convenience, all the Doctor Who titles are grouped by Doctor. Beyond that, you’ll find each non-Who range has its own entry. Enjoy!

The First Doctor

Of course William Hartnell, who played the First Doctor all those many years ago, is long dead. This means that he’s not available for appearances in…well, really much of anything, honestly. So in order for Big Finish to do stories featuring him, as well as the Second and Third Doctors, they created the Companion Chronicles line. This line enables them to tell stories of these Doctors without having the actors who played them. So while you might see Companion Chronicle titles turn up for Doctors 4 – 8, with 1 -3, they’re going to be most of what you get.

The Companion Chronicles

5.06 – “Quinnis” – This story features Susan and the First Doctor and takes place before the start of the TV series! It features the TARDIS landing on an alien planet and actually disguising itself! It also winds up tying into the fourth season of the Eighth Doctor stories, and therefore is very essential listening!

*** NEW *** 3.05 – “Home Truths” – One of the great strengths of Big Finish is their ability to make something big out of something very little. In this case, the First Doctor companion character, Sara Kingdom. She was only in one story, “The Dalek Masterplan”, which is now missing. During that twelve-part (!) story, her character was killed. But Big Finish managed to find a way to bring her back, played once again by Jean Marsh. This is the story that features her return, and it’s quite interesting.

5.08 – “The Perpetual Bond” – This story, narrated primarily by Peter “Steven Taylor” Purves, who does an excellent job recreating the First Doctor, takes place in London in 1966. It’s a fascinating tale about aliens, slavery and secrets. It also introduces a new companion for the First Doctor in the form of Oliver (Tom Allen), an accountant who is on the run from the law. This was the first Companion Chronicle story I listened to, and it remains one of the best.

5.12 – “The Cold Equations” – Part two of Oliver’s journey with the Doctor finds him and Steven facing life or death in an odd bit of corridor floating in the cold vacuum of space. It’s a weird situation, but it’s a great story, and features not only the reason Oliver was on the run from the law, but also gives Steven a chance to be a space pilot, something which he never really got to do on the show, despite being…well, a space pilot.

6.05 – “The First Wave” – The conclusion to the unofficial “Oliver trilogy” finds our heroes stuck on a planetoid named Grace Alone, where they face alien invasion and death. This is something of a downbeat story in some ways, but very much essential listening for anyone who likes good drama.

*** NEW *** – 8.03 – “Upstairs” – This is a really creepy little story featuring the First Doctor, Steven and Vicki. They arrive on Earth and find themselves wandering around in a strange attic, where each room seems to exist in a different time period, but all at the same location: Number 10 Downing Street.

805-the-beginning_cover_large

*** NEW *** 8.05 – “The Beginning” – The Doctor and Susan have their first adventure off of Gallifrey! Yes, this is the first story, and it begins with the Doctor stealing the TARDIS. Unfortunately, there’s someone else inside it; a man known as Stoyn. He’s a technician who was working on the ship when the Doctor stole it, and this is the first part of a three-part adventure featuring him as the main antagonist. The other parts are “The Dying Light” and “Luna Romana”, both of which I also recommend.

The Lost Stories

These are stories that were at various stages of production, but never quite made it to the TV screen. With Big Finish you can now get a taste of what those would have been like! For the First and Second Doctor, these Lost Stories are in a form not unlike the Companion Chronicles line.

2.01 – The First Doctor Box Set – “The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance” is a decent enough story, but the real gem here is “Farewell, Great Macedon,” which has the TARDIS crew arriving in Babylon just in time for a visit by Alexander the Great. But is this the first time he’s there, while on the way to India, or is this the second time, where his next stop was the afterlife? While Carol Anne Ford’s performance isn’t perhaps all we might ask for, the story itself is really excellent and William Russell’s take on the First Doctor is every bit as good as that of Purves.

Essential Movies – 1930 – 1939


The 1930’s were when film really started to hit its stride. It was when we started to get many of the major movie stars that we think about even today, like Errol Flynn, Judy Garland, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. It was also the era of great directors, like Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang and John Ford. Black and white film neared its pinnacle and Technicolor started to become viable. It was an era of great sights and, for the first time film, an era made up of wonderful sound.

Events in Europe and the Great Depression hung like dark clouds over everything, and those clouds were made even darker by the imposition of the Hays Code, which stiffed filmmakers’ freedom. There was a silver lining to that, in that it forced filmmakers to be very creative in how they showed things like violence, sex and “immoral behavior” like adultery and homosexuality, but it also greatly sanitized the cinema and derailed much of America’s film artistry until the 1960’s.

Despite those limitations some great films were made, and the first truly classic age of movies began.

1930

All Quiet on the Western Front – The decade began with a bang, or rather several bangs, as this classic film of World War One rolled into theatres. Staring the incredibly attractive and talented Lew Ayres, the movie won one of the first Best Picture Oscars and has gone on to become a classic. Of particular note is that this film was made before the days of the Hays Code, and features not only a surprisingly sophisticated script that pulls no punches, but also features some brief flashes of nudity.

1931

City Lights – Chaplin’s last really silent film, and also one of his most famous. The little tramp falls in love with a blind woman who thinks he’s a rich man. It’s a very simple starting point for a very complex, entertaining and heartfelt movie.

Dracula – Here it is, folks! The first of the filmed “Universal Horror” movies! This is the film that introduced Bela Lugosi to audiences worldwide and led to hundreds of imitators. Thick with atmosphere and some excellent acting, the movie is suspenseful, if not at all scary, and is certainly worth seeing.

M – If you thought the first really good movie about serial killers was The Silence of the Lambs you are 100% wrong. Here’s the first really excellent movie about the subject. It’s a police procedural following the investigation of a series of child killings in Berlin in the 1930’s. Directed by Fritz Lang and starting Peter Lorre in his first major role, this film remains incredibly compelling even today.

1932

Freaks – Now here’s an odd film. It’s all about goings-on at a circus sideshow and is notable for having using actual sideshow performers in the film. It’s very creepy and very strange, as well as fascinating and interesting.

1933

Duck Soup – “One taste, and you’ll duck soup forever!” was Groucho’s comment when asked about the title of this film. It’s the Marx Brothers at their best when Groucho, as Rufus T Firefly, is made leader of the nation of Freedonia. The musical bits derail the movie at times, but the comedy is pure gold.

1935

The Bride of Frakenstein – Vastly superior to the first film! The Monster in this movie is much more like he was in the novel, and Dr Frakenstein is more interesting. Also of note is the character of Dr Pretorious, who was very definitely gay.

Captain Blood – Here’s the film that launched Errol Flynn’s career! Big, exciting, entertaining swashbuckling at its finest! Starring Flynn, Olivia de Haviland, and Basil Rathbone, all of whom went on to great careers, often playing essentially the same roles they played here.

Mutiny on the Bounty – Not a very accurate film history-wise, but some great performances by Clark Cable and Charles Laughton really lift this film into another level that overcomes the lousy history.

1936

Modern Times – Not Chaplin’s best film (that honor goes to The Great Dictator), but this is still a very important and impressive movie that really highlights the amazing things Chaplin was able to do. The singing at the end is really incredible and must be heard to be believed!

1937

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – What some people think is the first animated feature film, this movie has a mediocre plot, but some incredibly lovely visuals! For anyone who disses on American animation, you need to see this and see what we can do when we really put forth the effort!

1938

The Adventures of Robin Hood – Hands down one of the best films in the genre period. Even today, it’s hard to find any action adventure films that are better than this! You get Errol Flynn as the heroic Robin, Olivia de Havalind as the lovely Maid Marion, Basil Rathbone as the sneering Guy of Gisbourne and Claude Rains as Prince John. A really excellent movie!

The Lady Vanishes – You knew there’d be Hitchcock on here somewhere! This is his first really major film and a very good one. It contains all the elements we’ve come to expect of his work and is truly fantastic!

1939

Gone With the Wind – One of the more obvious choices for this list, but nevertheless a great movie. You know what it’s about already, but what you might not realize is just how incredibly good it really is! Yes, it’s long and drags a bit at times, but ignore that and just lose yourself in the magnificence!

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – One of Frank Capra’s best films and a real classic, fundamentally American movie. It stretches credibility at times, but wins the audience over with some really great performances and an uplifting message about the American political system.

The Wizard of Oz – Another no-brainer for this list, and another classic film that deserves all the accolades it’s received! It’s a really great, entertaining movie, and it remains the only Oz film that actually works.

Next time, the 1940’s! No prizes for guessing the movies we’ll see on that list!

Essential Movies – Prior to 1930


Back a couple weeks ago I posted up an article on the essential Doctor Who episodes. It seemed to be well-received and so I decided that I might do another essential guide, only in this case a series. It’s going to be about the essential movies that everyone should see, and that I think almost everyone will enjoy.

I’ll be doing these by decade, for the most part. This first installment, which covers everything from the start of cinema up to the end of 1929, will be the only exception, and that’s at least in part due to me not having seen too many films that are in this zone. There’s also not too many of them out there that I think are really worth seeing. But some of them certainly are! With that in mind, let’s get started.

Movies got their start with some wonderful inventions by that clever fellow, Thomas Edison. Most of the earliest films of this era were shot in and around New Jersey by his studios, including the recently recovered 1910 film, Frankenstein. Before long, though, the film industry realized that the weather in California was slightly better, so they packed up and moved.

It was in California that we got the first major film stars. Names like Pickford, Fairbanks, Keaton, Chaplin, Arbuckle and Valentino are names that are still known today. Less well known to the general public, but still very, very important, are directors like Griffith and DeMille. America didn’t have a monopoly on filmmakers, though, as people like Murnau and Lang were beginning to make waves in Europe that would wash ashore in America, bringing vivid, strange images to our screens.

Silent films and black and white films dominated this era, but were by no means the only ones. Early experiments in sound and color took place in this era, and included primitive Technicolor. By the end of this era, sound films would be the dominant ones, but there were some incredible silent movies out there.

This was also the era of the first Hollywood scandals. Roscoe Arbuckle went from being the highest paid film star for his time to being accused of murder and sent through three trials that destroyed him. Director William Desmond Taylor died in mysterious circumstances. Wallace Reid died of a drug overdose. These scandals eventually lead to the formation of the Hayes Code, which would cast a huge shadow over artistic freedom during the upcoming decades.

Some of the movies on this list are ones you’ve heard of, and some you haven’t. All are worth seeing. Also, please note, as with my other guides, the only things on here are movies I have actually seen. Great films I have not yet watched will not be added until I have seen them.

1909

A Corner in Wheat – The early 20th century was a nasty time in US labor relations. Anarchist terrorists were bombing banks, mills and mines on a regular basis, strikers fought with police, and Communism was starting to be seen as a major threat to the American Way of Life. Into this chaos came the film A Corner in Wheat, a cautionary tale by D W Griffith showing what can happen when industrialists trample on the rights of the average American. The film is in the public domain (as are all films before 1922), and below is a YouTube video of it. It’s short and simple, but still has a lasting impact, so watch it! Besides, when was the last time you saw a movie that was over 100 years old? 😉

1915

The Birth of a Nation – Every bit as unpleasantly racist as you’ve heard. I’ll be honest; I haven’t been able to watch this movie. I’ve tried, I really have. I can recognize that it’s a great artistic accomplishment, but, man, is it ever obnoxiously racist. It was considered bad for its time and has not aged well in the 95 years since. But it is a landmark film, and you should at least make the effort to sit through it.

1920

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – The first major horror film, and something of a surrealist nightmare. This is the movie that, more than anything, seems to have inspired Tim Burton. Watch it and marvel at how much inspiration he and others seem to have drawn from the film. It was ground-breaking even for its time and helped to create a style of cinema known as Expressionism, which would be brought to its height by people like F W Murnau and Fritz Lang.

1922

Nosferatu – Speaking of Murnau, here’s the film he’s best known for. This was the first adaptation of Dracula, though it was a very unofficial adaptation, since Stoker’s widow wouldn’t allow them to do a real one. Eventually the matter went to court and the film was nearly destroyed. Thankfully it was salvaged and to this day remains a masterpiece. It isn’t scary anymore, but it contains some fascinating visuals and very cool sequences.

1923

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame – Lon Chaney, the so-called Man of a Thousand Faces, turns in an excellent performance as Quasimodo in this adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel. It isn’t the best movie ever made, but Chaney’s performance makes it more than worth seeing.

1924

The Last Laugh – One of the most creative silent films of all time, this movie is unique in that it is done with no intertitles. You get the movie itself without any explanation of what’s going on with the plot until one single screen of words at the very end. The film itself tells the story of a hotel doorman (Emil Jannings), who is very proud of his job. That is until the day he gets a demotion to washroom attendant. He tries to hide this fact from his neighbors, not wanting to bear their scorn, and is mortified when they find out. What happens then needs to be seen to be believed.

1925

The Gold Rush – One of Chaplin’s better films, this tells the story of a would-be miner who goes the Yukon seeking his fortune. Along the way he gets into one hilarious situation after another. A great comedy with some very famous scenes, including the one with the dancing potatoes.

The Phantom of the Opera – Remember how I mentioned that color was in development in this era? This movie is almost entirely in black and white except for one very small, very excellent scene where everything is in color. That scene, combined with Chaney’s makeup as the Phantom, make this an exceptional movie that holds its own against the more recent musical versions.

1926

Faust – Yep, another Murnau film. This is the last film that Murnau made in Germany prior to leaving for Hollywood, where he’d had an offer from Fox (just Fox. This was before they merged with 20th Century), to make four movies. This last German film is a wonderful example of great sets, fascinating visuals and interesting performances.

1927

Metropolis – Well, you knew this had to be on the list. Yes, it’s rather dull and boring, but like bran it’s good for you. This is one of the most influential films on this list and is one of the greatest films ever to be made by Fritz Lang. Don’t bother buying it on DVD just yet. There’s a restored version coming soon that includes a great deal of lost footage recovered a year or two ago. That footage apparently actually helps the movie to make sense, so I’d wait on buying a copy.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans – Remember how I mentioned that Murnau had gone to the US to make movies for Fox? Well, here’s the first one. It’s an incredibly fascinating film with a very simple plot that’s wonderfully executed. It won one of the first-ever Academy Awards, isn’t entirely silent in that it uses some sound effects, and, while largely forgotten today, is a real must-see.

Coming next time! The films of the 1930’s! From All Quiet on the Western Front to Wizard of Oz and everything in between, you’ll see films you know and love and a few surprises!

Essential Doctor Who


*** UPDATED JUNE 8, 2011 ****

I got an email a while ago from someone who was a new fan of Doctor Who and, among other things, wanted my recommendation on which episodes were essential viewing. I compiled a list and sent it to her, and I have since decided that I should put up a list on my blog. For her I sent only three episodes from each Doctor, but there’s a few more episodes than that which are really recommended.

Sadly, there’s a lot of missing stories that I have not viewed. You see, back in the 1970’s the BBC wiped a great many of their master recordings. This included shows such as The Avengers, Z-Cars and Dad’s Army, as well as, sadly, Doctor Who. Over the years a great many of them have been recovered, but there’s still lots missing. Most of what’s missing are Second Doctor episodes, but there’s quite a few First Doctor ones that are gone as well. The curious can see some of the episodes from incomplete stories on the “Lost in Time” collection. It’s a bit esoteric, but worth seeing.

For purposes of this list, I am including only complete stories that have been released on DVD and that I have watched and find to be essential.

The First Doctor – 1963 – 1966

The First Doctor, played by character actor William Hartnell (view him younger and in color in The Mouse That Roared), was a mysterious time traveler, origins unknown, who moved through space and time in his police box-shaped TARDIS, known for being bigger on the inside than the outside. While at first he was something of an anti-hero and disinclined to involve himself in whatever was happening, he began to slowly evolve and soon started putting himself in the way of evil at every chance.

This version of the Doctor was something of an old man. He was often cranky and cantankerous, frequently prone to doing things he wanted to do even if it put his companions in danger, and, on rare occasions, a kind, gentle man who showed genuine affection for those around him. The way his character changed throughout the four seasons he was on the air is part of his real charm.

“An Unearthly Child/The Daleks” – This DVD set includes the first-ever adventures of the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan. Thus it is by definition essential viewing. But even better than that, you also get “The Daleks”, which contains the first appearance of, you guessed it, the Daleks. It’s a great set of stories and a great DVD set!

NEW – “The Keys of Marinus” – This is an odd little story, or rather, set of stories. It’s six broadly connected episodes focusing on the Doctor and friends trying to find the missing segments of the Key to Time the Keys of Marinus. It plays kind of like a video game where they get each one and then walk to a man with an ! over his head for the next step on the quest. But this enables them to tell some really interesting different types of stories including, of all things, a police/courtroom drama.

“The Dalek Invasion of Earth” – The return of the Daleks, plus a fairly dark and epic storyline and the end of one companion’s journeys with the TARDIS. All around great!

“The Rescue / The Romans” – “The Rescue” is no great shakes, but it’s not bad. The real quality piece on here is “The Romans”, which is one of the earliest existing “historical” episodes, as well as being essentially a comedy. It’s a really fun episode and a nice break from what’s gone before.

Entirely too pleased with himself.

NEW – “The Space Museum/The Chase” – As with the previous discs, the first one on here, “The Space Museum”, is no great shakes, though it’s wonderful seeing the First Doctor hide inside a dalek. But the real win on this set is “The Chase”. It’s not a great story, though it’s not bad and features daleks and Dracula, so there’s that, but it’s an important one for it marks the departure of the last original companions. Yes, Ian and Barbara leave at the end of the story, leaving Vicki alone with the Doctor. It’s a sad moment, but it’s only the first of many departures we’ll see over the decades.

“The Time Meddler” – What’s up with the mysterious Monk and his vaguely odd abbey? The first of the psuedo-historical adventures.

“The War Machines” – The Doctor returns to “contemporary” Earth, loses one companion and gains two others. The last fully-intact First Doctor story.

The Second Doctor – 1966 – 1969

William Hartnell was getting fairly old and in frail health. The show was doing well and the powers that be wanted to keep it going. What to do, they wondered. What to do? Eventually some brilliant sod hit upon the notion of regeneration, and thus a new Doctor was born!

This new Doctor was very different from the original. Patrick Troughton, largely known to non-Who fans from his brief role in The Omen, played the character as rather comedic and disarming, presenting him as something often referred to as “a cosmic hobo”. But despite his charm, very real strength and ability lay within.

As mentioned there’s very few of this Doctor’s adventures that exist in full. Not all of those have been released on DVD. Nevertheless here’s the best of those that have been, including one special one.

“The Tomb of the Cybermen” – First fully-existing story featuring the Second Doctor. It also has Jamie and Victoria (in her only fully-existing story), and features the return of the last villains faced by the First Doctor, the Cybermen!

NEW – “The Dominators” – This is an interesting one. When I first saw it back in the 1980’s, I clearly didn’t like it, since I had no fond memories. This is doubtless due to the Quarks, which were intended as a replacement villain for the daleks. After you watch this story, you’ll realize just how insane that idea is. But anyhow, I watched the story again on DVD and I must say, my memories were faulty. This is a much better story than I’d remembered it being. The story is solid, and the guest actors, particularly the lead Dominator, do a very good job. Even the Quarks come off better than I remember. This isn’t a perfect episode, but it is a solid one and worth seeing.

“The Invasion” – Another Cybermen story, but this one is quite unique. See, two of the eight episodes are missing, and when animated copies were offered to the DVD company at cut-rate prices, they jumped on it. As a result, those episodes are recreated in animated form. They look a bit naff at a times since they’re done with Flash, but they still work surprisingly well! To make matters even better, this is a first-rate story, and features not only Zoe, but UNIT, Sargent Benton and the Brigadier!

NEW – “The Seeds of Death” – Say hello to the Ice Warriors. They’re the original inhabitants of Mars, something I’m sure John Carter would be surprised to hear. They’ve been mentioned in the new series but haven’t turned up yet. This is probably the best use of their characters and also an interesting glimpse of what the producers thought a functioning future version of Earth might be like. Plus you get to see Troughton being his usual insane self. Always a plus.

“The War Games” – A ten-episode spectacular to mark the end of the Second Doctor’s time in the TARDIS, and also the last episode in glorious monochrome! Thrills, spills, chills and lots of scenes of the Doctor and his companions being captured. Repeatedly. Still, a marvelous story, and a great setup for the next Doctor!

The Third Doctor – 1970 – 1974

The Time Lords have forced the Doctor to regenerate and exiled him to Earth. Punishment for all the times he defied their laws and interfered with other words. He arrives in the 1970’s (possibly), and teams up with UNIT. With them, and sometimes despite them, he fights against alien invasions, strange, possibly magical forces, and runs into his best enemy, the Master.

Jon Pertwee’s Doctor was another great departure from what had gone before. He was much more of a dandy, and an action and science oriented sort of man. He drove a bright yellow roadster, frequently took the side of aliens over humanity when he thought humanity was in the wrong and became the first Doctor to have an adventure with his other selves. All of his stories, thankfully, exist in full, so let’s have a look at the best!

“Spearhead from Space” – A new Doctor, a new companion, and new enemies in the Autons. The only original series story shot entirely on film, it looks and feels quite a bit different from anything that had gone before. It truly does an exceptional job of setting the stage for the rest of the Third Doctor’s tenure in (though usually out of), the TARDIS.

“Doctor Who and the Silurians”/”The Sea Devils” – The DVD I link to here actually contains two Third Doctor stories and one Fifth Doctor story. I’m listing it here because the complete set is a great deal and the stories are all excellent! You get to see some of the moral complexity that was introduced during the Third Doctor’s tenure, you get to meet the Silurians and the Sea Devils and you also get to see the first, and best, version of the Master (though not in his first appearance which is not yet available on DVD). Really it’s a set you can’t go wrong with, especially if you’re someone new to the series.

NEW – Inferno – See the Doctor face an evil mirror version of the Brigadier! No, he doesn’t have a goatee, but he has an eye patch and no mustache. Truly a force to be reckoned with. This is one of the few episodes to deal directly with the notion of alternate universes and is just a generally fascinating story.

NEW – “Terror of the Autons” – Well, here we are. The first appearance of the Master. The man who is Moriarty to the Doctor’s Holmes. In this story the Master turns up being suave, polite, sophisticated and utterly ruthless. He is in almost every way the Doctor’s exact opposite. Roger Delgado really tears up the screen with his performance and makes this a truly must-see story.

“The Three Doctors” – Not the best story the show has ever had, but far from the worst, and certainly the best multi-Doctor story. Yes, you get the Second and Third Doctors running around trying to stop a bad guy while the First Doctor advises them from a TV screen. It actually works out reasonably well and the interplay between Troughton and Pertwee alone makes for a must-see story.

Hello, Sarah Jane.

NEW – “The Time Warrior” – The introduction of the Sontarans, aka: Potato Heads in Space! Oh, and Sarah Jane Smith gets her first appearance here, too. She’s no one important. This is a good pseudo-historical episode featuring knights, castles, aliens and all sorts of fun! It’s well worth seeing.

NEW – “Planet of the Spiders” – The last adventure for the Third Doctor, and the last “true” UNIT adventure. With this story you have Mike Yates, Sergeant Benton, the Brig, Sarah Jane Smith and the Doctor together for one last adventure. The story is a bit confusing and lately when I see it I want to whisper “There’s something on your back!”, but mostly it holds up well and the regeneration scene at the end is very satisfying and moving. It’s also quite bittersweet to watch this now in the wake of the recent deaths of Nicholas Courtney and Elisabeth Sladen.

The Fourth Doctor – 1974 – 1981

If you’ve only ever seen one episode of Doctor Who, it likely was one with the Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker. With his powerful voice, distinctive look and exuberant personality, he quickly became one of the most, if not the very most, popular Doctors ever. For seven years he adventured around in time and space with no less than nine different companions. He fought the Sontarans, the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Master and even ran afoul of the Black Guardian.

Tom Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor really is something to see. He brings a level of energy that was missing with the previous Doctors and which, arguably, the new series has continually tried to recapture, with David Tennat coming the closest. He really is amazing in the role and has had some of the best stories of the entire series. Here’s the essential ones currently out on DVD.

“Genesis of the Daleks” – The Time Lords come up with an idea to rid the universe of the Daleks. They decide to send the Fourth Doctor, only on his fourth adventure, to Skaro to prevent the creation of the Daleks. There he meets up with their creator, Davros, one of the most enduring villains of the series. The story is excellent and really well-acted. It’s heavy on the Nazi imagery (sometimes a bit too much so), and is frequently at the top of the list of best stories ever. I’d say that if you only see one Doctor Who story, this is the one to watch.

“Pyramids of Mars” – Egyptology was a major thing back in the 1970’s, and leave it to Doctor Who to get into the act. This story is a wonderful pseudo-historical and ties in nicely with Egyptian mythology. The only real weak point are evil mummies that kill you with… er… group hugs. Ahem. Otherwise, a great story!

“The Deadly Assassin” – An excellent story, and the only one of the original series to feature the Doctor traveling solo! Something nasty is afoot on Gallifrey. Someone is offing Time Lords left and right. The Doctor shows up just in time to be a suspect and then to help solve the case. With great shades of The Manchurian Candidate, more Time Lord lore than you can shake a stick at and a really good plot, this one is a definite must-see!

“The Talons of Weng-Chiang” – Production values on the original series were never higher than in this story! The Doctor and his companion, Leela, a warrior woman from a fairly primitive planet, arrive in old London Town in the 1880’s. They’re looking to have a good time at the theater and then stumble onto murther! Murther most foul! The Doctor, very much channeling Sherlock Holmes, begins to investigate! Heavy on the atmosphere, with a great story, exceptional acting and, as mentioned, very high production values, this is also a story that ranks at or near the top of every list of best stories compiled for the series. It’s certainly the best pseudo-historical ever made, and if you only ever see one of those, make it this one.

“The Key to Time” – The Doctor gains a new companion in the form of Time Lady Romana. Together with her he travels around the universe in a season-long story arc centering around their efforts to get the Key to Time and stop the ruthless Black Guardian. This set of stories is not everyone’s cup of tea, and one of the stories within is arguably one of the worst ever made for the original series. But that said, you can’t fault them for a lack of ambition and most of what’s in here is really good!

NEW – “City of Death” – An all around great story with Baker at his manic best! The screenplay was massively rewritten by Douglas Adams and you get a brief cameo by John Cleese. Add in location filming in Paris and Julian Glover as the villain and you have a really incredibly good story!

“The E-Space Trilogy” – These stories see the departure of two companions and the addition of one (the constant focus of my lusts when I was a teenager, Adric). These are terribly good stories and are all worth seeing. They also do an excellent job of clearing the decks for what’s to come.

“The Keeper of Traken”/”Logopolis” – “It is the end,” Doctor says at last. “But the moment has been prepared for…” Yes, it certainly was. These two episode form a minor arc that leads into the last of the Tom Baker years and the start of the Peter Davidson years. While fans are somewhat divided on how the Fourth Doctor meets his end (really? That’s the best they could come up with?), and many really dislike the “strange white figure” concept, there’s no denying that these are strong stories, and not only see the farewell to Baker but also the addition of companions Nyssa and Teagan. Truly these stories cannot be missed!

The Fifth Doctor – 1982 – 1984

With the departure of Tom Baker, the series was set for some major changes. The TARDIS now carried a new Doctor played by noted, and notably younger, actor Peter Davison. The youngest actor to play the Doctor until Matt Smith, Davison brought a fresh new air to a series some thought was growing stale. With a crowd of three companions, something not seen since the Second Doctor, we got a whole series of wonderful stories, a hugely epic 20th anniversary special and the tragic death of a character.

The Fifth Doctor once again squared off against some of the same old adversaries (the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Sea Devils, the Silurians, Davros, the Master, the Black Guardian), but still managed to find time for some new enemies, and also got to embark on the last of the historical adventures; the sadly awful “Black Orchid”, about which I have written before. But there’s also a hell of a lot of good stories with him, too! Also, to this day he remains the only Doctor from the original series to appear in the new, albeit in a ten-minute short film. We fans will take what we can get!

“Castrovalva” – Hmmm… that link seems familiar. Anyhow, this is part three of a trilogy. It follows directly on the heels of “Logopolis”, and shows the Doctor’s regeneration starting to fail. Much of the story is kind of iffy, but Davidson’s performance is good enough to compensate and there’s some truly bizarre images that make for fascinating viewing.

NEW – Kinda – A really strange story with lots odd, atmospheric content. This also features a really meaty role for Janet Fielding who has a great time playing Tegan and the Mara. Good enough that it spawned a (nice but not required), sequel.

“Earthshock” – Notorious for featuring the first death of a real companion (Sarah Kingdom and Katarina just don’t count, dammit!), this story also features the return of the Cybermen as well as some great performances by Davidson and Matthew “Adric” Waterhouse. It’s a bit depressing at the end, depending on how one feels about the companion who dies, and it’s certainly a great story.

The Black Guardian Trilogy – An old companion leaves and a new, rather suspicious companion, joins. Turlough is the name of the latter and he’s a terribly iffy character throughout the series, always anxious to sell out at just about every opportunity, at least at first. He’s introduced in this three-part story arc that also features the welcome return of the Brigadier and the less welcome return of the Black Guardian.

“The Five Doctors” – Really, it’s more like “The Three-and-a-Half Doctors”, because Tom Baker didn’t want to be in it, and William Hartnell was dead. He’s replaced by Richard Hurndal who looks and sounds quite a bit like the First Doctor, if you’ve never seen nor heard the First Doctor. The story is mediocre in the extreme, but on the other hand you get to see the First (sort of), Doctor, the Second Doctor, the Third Doctor, the Fifth Doctor, Susan, Jamie, Zoe, Liz, Mike Yates, Sarah Jane, K-9, Tegan, Turlough, the Cybermen, the Daleks, a Yeti and a slew of Time Lords! Made for the 20th anniversary this is also the only 90 minute episode, and if you get this DVD version of it, make sure to listen to the commentary by David Tennant and some of the people from the new series. It’s something of an Easter Egg on Disc 2 and well-worth listening to.

“The Caves of Androzani” – We say goodbye to the Fifth Doctor in this story. It’s a very good story, with some wonderful acting, particularly by Davison, especially in his final moments. Something of a shadow hangs over the tale, since we know he dies at the end, but he goes out doing what he should have done and sets the sage for the most controversial Doctor of them all.

The Sixth Doctor – 1985 – 1986

Ask ten fans of the series what they think of the Sixth Doctor and you’ll get at least ten different opinions, if not more. From the very start the producer, John Nathan-Turner (another one to ask ten fans about), wanted to have a very different sort of Doctor. He wanted someone a bit more abrasive and hard to like, someone that would grow on the audience. His choice, relatively unknown actor Colin Baker, did very well at the first part of that formula, but perhaps somewhat less so at the second part.

To be honest Baker never really had a chance as the Doctor. He was dressed in what is possibly the worst outfit ever on the show, and saddled with some rather odd plot lines. He did too well initially at being unlikable, and in the end failed to grab hold of the audience. For the first time in the show’s history, it was put onto an 18 month hiatus. It was then brought back for a shortened season which hadn’t been planned as Baker’s last, but nevertheless ended up being so, as he was fired at the end. He refused to come back for a regeneration scene (and who can blame him?), and so his unexpected last words were, “Carrot juice?!”

The character does have a following, however, and has redeemed himself in the eyes of many through a series of novels and audio adventures by Big Finish. Those will be addressed in a separate article on the spin-offs. Meantime, here’s the essentials for the Sixth Doctor!

“The Twin Dilemma” – The story here is frankly crap. It concerns some weird twins with the unfortunate names of Romulus and Remus (names made more unfortunate by the fact that neither of the rather adorable actors playing the twins can say “r” without it sounding like a “w”. Why they weren’t renamed Castor and Pollux I’ll never know), who get kidnapped by some guy who needs their math powers to do some thing against some aliens and take over the universe or something. I’ve never understood it nor cared for it. But the story is worth viewing to see the totally different take Baker has on the character right from the start. First he tries to strangle Peri and then he tries to sell her out. Damn! Now that’s some change we can believe in! Or not, since as I mentioned, he got fired.

“Vengeance on Varos” – In many ways a rather prescient story, this one tells us of a world where reality TV has gone horribly wrong. It also introduces us to the completely repulsive character of Sil, who turns up later on in the series and in at least one of the audios. He’s quite fascinating and a great example of the sort of creatures the series could make when they really tried.

“Mark of the Rani” – A very decent story that introduces us to the Rani, a renegade Time Lady, and brings back the Master. It’s also set in 18th century England was filmed in a preserved coal town. You get some fascinating glimpses of life back then as well as a pretty damn fine story!

“The Trial of a Time Lord” – Unintentionally this was the last set of episodes with the Sixth Doctor, but at least he gets to go out with a bang! Featuring the return of Sil, as well as an appearance by the Master, and special guest star BRIAN BLESSED, this set of stories also sees the departure of Peri and the… well, not arrival, exactly, but first series appearance of new companion, Mel. It’s a pity that this was the end of the line for the Sixth Doctor, but at least we went on to someone almost universally liked.

The Seventh Doctor – 1987 – 1989 (and 1996)

The Seventh Doctor was played by Scots actor Sylvester McCoy and he brought a very interesting take on the character. His Doctor was far darker than what had gone before and very ruthless and manipulative. This was partly due to the so-called “Cartmel Masterplan“, which was supposed to restore some of the mystery to the character. There’s several hints through out this Doctor’s episodes that he was something more and different than he claimed. Hints were dropped that he might’ve been directly involved with the experiments that started time travel for the Time Lords, and certainly his primary companion, Ace, was more than she appeared to be, or so the Doctor believed.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the Cartmel Masterplan come to fruition. Several of the first stories with the Seventh Doctor were truly awful, including such crap as “The Happiness Patrol”, “Paradise Towers”, and “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy”. By the time the show returned to form with some exceptional stories the audience had stopped caring. The show was put on hiatus in 1989 and wouldn’t return for almost seven years. The time between was filled with a series of “New Adventures” novels, including the famous Lungbarrow, which finally brings the Cartmel Masterplan to some sort of resolution.

But before the cancellation there were some great stories! Let’s see what they are (and notice that none involve Mel. She was created for the Sixth Doctor and would’ve worked well with him, but did not work at all with the Seventh).

NEW – “Time and the Rani” – This is a fundamentally broken story. It’s stupid, ill-conceived and makes little to no sense. It also turns the Rani from an interesting character to just another Time Lord bent on taking over the universe. It’s a real waste. So why is it here? Well, because it’s the first story to feature the Seventh Doctor. That’s it, really. There’s really nothing good to say about this story other than that.

“Remembrance of the Daleks” – What was the Doctor doing on Earth with Susan back in the day? Turns out he was there to hide a Time Lord artifact of great power. Now the Daleks have shown up to find this artifact, and opposing them is the Doctor, Ace and… some other Daleks? A hell of a great episode.

“Battlefield” – The last appearance by the Brig in Doctor Who, though he did show up later on The Sarah Jane Adventures. This was a very good story to send him out on. It’s steeped in Arthurian legend and seems to indicate that an alternate universe version of the Doctor is actually Merlin. It’s a bit off and a bit odd at times, but it’s a great storyline and really good example of what the show could do when it tried.

“The Curse of Fenric” – This story delves a bit into Ace’s past (as does a less worthy story, “Ghost Light”), and also contains World War II, vampires and Soviets. It’s a busy story, but it holds up quite well!

“Survival” – Click the link. See that picture on the cover? No, not Ace. The one with the Doctor holding a rock. Yeah, he’s about to bash that into the Master’s head. A dark story, you ask? Oh, yes. The Doctor and Ace return to her home town to find it overrun with odd cats and to discover that many of her friends have disappeared. Eventually the friends are found and have gone through some changes, as has the Master. This is, sadly, the last story in the original series. It goes down on a high-note, but it’s sad that it was the end for many, many years.

The Eighth Doctor – 1996 (or possibly 1996 – 2005)

Which Doctor has more stories than any other? If you include all the spin-off media (books, audios), then believe it or not that answer is the Eighth Doctor. Yes, despite having only one, really crappy, TV appearance the Eighth Doctor was instrumental in keeping the series alive from the time of his movie until the new series launched.

Played by Paul McGann in the movie and audios, the Eighth Doctor is something of an enigma to me personally. I’ve not read too many of his stories nor head many of his audios (a friend who has is going to come up with an essential list of those), but I will say that his appearance in the Doctor Who movie is the only thing, the one and only thing, that makes that movie worth seeing. Well, that plus Chang Lee. He’s terribly cute.

NEW LINK – Doctor Who – This film is bad. Very bad. I’ve written one of my little snarky recaps about it, that’s how bad it is.

And yet despite it’s awfulness, it is worth seeing. Why? First, it occupies an interesting middle ground almost directly between the old series and the new, and contains elements of both plus things unique to it. It also features the Seventh Doctor’s final appearance and the previously mentioned great performance by Paul McGann as the Doctor. He showed some real potential in the role and it’s a great pity a new series with him as the Doctor wasn’t commissioned (or possibly not such a pity). It’s also worth picking up the new DVD release (which I link to above), for the wonderful commentary by Paul McGann and Sylvester McCoy!

The Ninth Doctor – 2005

When the series returned in 2005, veteran producer Russell T Davies, best known for the groundbreaking Queer as Folk, hired actor Christopher Eccleston to play the Doctor. At first there was some question as to whether he was the Ninth Doctor, the Tenth, the First or something else. This was eventually settled and it was determined in cannon that he’s the Ninth Doctor.

The Ninth Doctor was a veteran of the Time War, a particularly nasty conflict that waged between the Time Lords and the Daleks, finally ending with the destruction of both. The Doctor apparently had a hand in this somehow, and was, as far as he knew, the only Time Lord to escape alive. He eventually regenerated and fled to Earth, where he began a whole new series of adventures!

Now as with the Tenth Doctor, all his stories are released not as individual stories, but rather in boxed sets. I am including a link to the set in the first episode discussed for the Ninth Doctor, and the rest will be linkless. Enjoy!

“Rose” – Not really a great story, but it does bring back the Doctor, the TARDIS and the Autons. It also introduces us to Rose Tyler, one of the most… well, interesting companions. She’s a brassy, sassy, nineteen-year-old Londoner and eventually gets all teary-eyed and weepy. But she starts out strong, and here you get to see her at what’s arguably her best, before she morphs into Davies’ Mary Sue.

“Dalek” – Guess who’s back? But only one Dalek. Still, even one is enough to put some serious pain into the world. There’s a lot of twee stupidity in this story, like some man who owns the Internet, but there’s some incredible action scenes and, well, a Dalek that flies!

“Father’s Day” – An attempt at a touching story that sometimes works. It features Rose saving the life of her father in the past and then weird time creatures that pop up and start killing people. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it is some of the best acting of the series by everyone in the cast and is worth seeing.

“The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances” – Say hello to the first story by current series producer, Steven Moffat! Moffat specializes in stories that are heavy on the high octane nightmare fuel, and this is the first one. It starts with some creepy British kid wandering around the bombed-out ruins of London during the Blitz and ends… well, just watch it and see how it ends. Also this story introduces future Torchwood leader Captain Jack!

“Bad Wolf”/”The Parting of the Ways” – Another rather crap episode story wise, but it does include more Daleks than you can shake a stick at, plus you get to see Captain Jack nekkid! Full of drama and unfortunately the real beginning of Rose’s transformation into a Mary Sue. Also sadly this is where we bid farewell to the Ninth Doctor. Goodbye, Doctor. We hardly knew ye.

The Tenth Doctor – 2006 – 2009

Well, what to say about the Tenth Doctor? He was manic, occasionally depressive, had variable morality, was rather unlikable at times and could be exceptionally annoying. But on the other hand, as played by David Tennant he was also very interesting, very charismatic and always entertaining to watch.

In a very real sense, Tennant’s time as the Doctor is why the series has taken off so much in the UK. True, Eccleston did a great start getting it off the ground, but it was Tennant who really ran with it. He did a great job of acting like someone who was incredibly knowledgeable and ancient, but who nevertheless had a fascination for humanity and was occasionally burdened down bey dark memories of horrible things he’d done. His Doctor wasn’t perfect, but he was always fun.

Since he had three series plus the specials, that’s how I’ll break down what stories are worth seeing.

Second Series

“School Reunion” – The story doesn’t make a lot of sense, but when you have Sarah Jane Smith and K9 at the party, who cares? Yes, our favorite companions are back for this fun little story set at a school where children are being killed and apparently eaten. Yes, a delightful romp for the whole family!

“The Girl in the Fireplace” – Moffat is back with this award-winning story! The TARIDIS lands on a derelict spacecraft where the Doctor finds a portal to pre-Revolutionary France. Therein he meets a little girl, and runs into her several times throughout her life as she grows up to be Madame de Pompadour. A sad, touching tale featuring one of the coolest looking sets of villains ever in the form of some clockwork robots.

“Army of Ghosts”/”Fear Her” – In a less-than-great episode, the Doctor, Rose, Mickey and Jackie went to an alternate universe where they met Rose’s Dad and had an adventure against the Cybermen. It wasn’t good. But it did lead into this story, which not only shows us something of Torchwood, but also features a battle between the Cybermen and the Daleks as well as the Doctor finally getting rid of Rose! Well, for now anyhow.

Third Series

“The Runaway Bride” – Here we meet Donna Noble, the Doctor’s companion through the fourth series. She just gets the one adventure with him to start with, and it isn’t really exceptionally great, but it does show us her character’s start, and that alone makes it worth watching. Well, that plus you have to love a car chase that features the TARDIS zipping along down a busy freeway.

“Human Nature”/”The Family of Blood” – Based on the New Adventures novel Human Nature, this story features a man named John Smith who teaches at a boy’s school in 1913 England. He’s completely human, so why does he keep having dreams of alien worlds, and a strange blue box? And what’s up with this woman, Martha, who keeps acting like she’s there to keep an eye on him? A fascinating story with some real heart to it.

“Blink” – Say hi to Sally Sparrow, a young woman who finds herself experiencing a whole lot of time oddities. First her friend disappears and then sends her a letter saying she’s in the past. Then she meets a nice young man who she starts to like, only to have him disappear into the past as well. What’s up with all these odd images of a man in glasses she keeps seeing on TV screens? And what’s with these strange statues of weeping angels, which seem to move when you aren’t watching them? A wonderful, exceptional story by Moffat. Full of atmosphere and creepiness and a definite must-see.

Fourth Series

“The Sontaran Stratagem”/”The Poison Sky” – Now with Donna Noble firmly by his side, the Doctor returns to Earth to investigate some strangeness. While he’s there we get return of the Sontarans and UNIT! Plus the return of former companion Martha, who left at the end of series three. A story that could’ve been better, but nonetheless works quite well, provided you don’t mind hearing Sontarans chanting.

“Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead” – The Doctor and Donna visit a mysterious library that takes up an entire planet. There they find that everyone is missing. All they encounter are predatory shadows and a group of visitors lead by a woman named River Song, who seems to know the Doctor quite well. Perhaps a little too well. Seriously creepy, but also very good, and a great setup for River Song’s return with the Eleventh Doctor.

“Midnight” – What’s this? A great episode that was written by Russell T Davies?! Well, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. This story focuses around the Doctor and a group of people trapped on a train together, and the Doctor discovers his greatest weapon is useless.

“The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End” – The return of… well, everyone. Yes, we get Rose, Martha, Captain Jack, Mickey, Jackie, Sarah Jane Smith, Luke Smith, K9, Harriet Jones, former Prime Minister, Ianto Jones, Gwen Cooper, Wilfred Mott, the Judoon, the Daleks and Davros! Just that list alone lets you know you’re in for a wild ride, and while part two cannot in any way live up to the potential of part one, it’s still a decent pair of episodes. Just try not to be pissed at what happens to Donna.

The 2009 Specials

“Waters of Mars” – A really sad, creepy story that shows just how close the Doctor is at times to turning into the Master. His victory speech at the end of the episode, and the two things that happen right after that, give us a clue as to what he could become if things went really, really bad.

“The End of Time: Part One”/”The End of Time: Part Two” – They’re back! Yes, the Time Lords have returned, as has the Master. The Doctor’s companion for these stories? Wilfred Mott, Donna’s grandfather! Guest starring just about everyone from the Davies era, this story works well as a final send off for the Doctor, Rose, Martha, Mickey and Donna. I defy any fan to not get at least a little choked-up.

The Eleventh Doctor – 2010 – ?

We’re now a series-and-a-half into the 11th Doctor’s stories. The current series is definitely one of the best ever, and certainly the best of the new series. The Eleventh Doctor has proven to be very interesting and entertaining and Matt Smith has done a great job in the role! Supporting characters like Amy, Rory and River Song have also all proven to be really good and have brought a new dimension to the series. They’ve also helped step up the series’ profile here in the States with BBC America getting their highest ratings ever and advertising the crap out of the show. Heck, Matt Smith was even on an episode of The Late, Late Show, which gives you an idea of how popular the show is becoming here!

That in mind, here’s the essential viewing (so far), for the Eleventh Doctor.

The Fifth Series was a bit uneven, with some really great stories and some… well, there were the Silurian episodes, and let’s just leave it at that, shall we? This is a happy place.

“The Eleventh Hour” – The Doctor, newly-regenerated, crashes the damaged TARDIS on Earth. There he meets a seven-year-old girl. She helps him adjust and then asks to come with him. He says sure, he’ll be back in five minutes. She packs her things and sits down to wait. She waits quite a long time before he comes back. Not a perfect episode, but a decent start to the new series and a good idea of the “flavor” of stories we can look forward to (hopefully not fishstick and custard flavored).

“The Time of Angels”/”Flesh and Stone” – The Weeping Angels are back, as is River Song. She hasn’t been to the library yet, but she knows the Doctor and he knows her. We aren’t yet at her first meeting with him. Got that? Anyhow, there’s lots of unpleasant nightmare fuel here, as well as some really effective scenes centering around Amy, plus the mystery of River Song deepens. The first really good story with the new Doctor! Here’s to hoping we get many, many more!

NEW – “Vincent and the Doctor” – A sad, sweet story about Vincent van Gogh. The Doctor and Amy meet the man and get to know him. They help him fight off an invisible monster and try to cheer him up. In a wonderful, heart-warming moment, They even bring him to 2010 so that he can see a museum exhibition of his works. A really excellent story with wonderful performances by all, particularly Tony Curran as van Gogh.

NEW – Series Six, Part One – Series six has been broken up into two parts. I’ve seen the first seven episodes which are being released on DVD in July. Here’s what’s essential from them.

Every episode.

There, that was easy. 😉 Oh, you could probably skip “The Curse of the Black Spot”, but really each episode builds off each other in such an amazing way that you won’t want to skip any. From the regenerating Time Kid, to Schrodinger’s Baby to the true identity of River Song each episode is required viewing in a way that no other series has managed to be so far. Really a superior set of stories and probably the best series thus far since the return of the show