I’m quite fascinated by Doctor Who titles. They’re the things we see when searching our shelves for which DVD to play next. They’re nostalgic yet exciting.
I’ve been focusing quite heavily on titles because I’ve written a lengthy chapter on them for my book, 100 Objects of Doctor Who, out now from Candy Jar Books. I’ve been looking at how many Doctor Who adventures have solely one word in the title. What’s the longest ever Doctor Who serial name? And what about the shortest? I’ve looked at nonsense words, like ‘Frontios’ and ‘Traken,’ and messy names like ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’ and ‘Invasion’ (… ‘of the Dinosaurs’ – although you’d be surprised at how many Doctor Who adventures have ‘Invasion’ in their names.)
So what makes us choose one story over another? Are the titles the initial draw? Probably not. Then again, it’s undoubtedly true that, based on names alone, ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ is more thrilling than ‘The Tsuranga Conundrum.’ Some titles are a cavalcade of gibberish, whereas others make you a little giddy and you need to sit down because ‘The Caves of Androzani’ has you all a-quiver. Fans have different attachments to names than casual viewers do; the latter would have ‘The Green Death’ retitled ‘The One with the Giant Maggots’ in classic Friends fashion.
I’ve even done this myself in 100 Objects, in which I argue that ‘Turn Left’ should, in fact, be called ‘Turn Right’: after all, the entire episode details what happens when Donna Noble turns right.
With this in mind, I wondered if we could find some fun, alternative titles for the Doctor Who back catalogue? Some titles you don’t dare argue with: ‘An Unearthly Child’ is a masterpiece, and ‘The Lie of the Land’ is sheer genius.
But what Doctor Who adventures would we change, and how?
- ‘The Keys of Marinus’: ‘The Gauntlet’ implies an ongoing trial, recalling the act of running the gauntlet, a type of punishment in which the guilty has to run between rows of attacking soldiers. It’s a bit like that scene in The Simpsons where Homer has to forgo The Paddling of the Swollen Ass (with Paddles.)
- ‘The Highlanders’: ‘Och Aye The Noo’ is sure to make every Scottish person laugh with glee because no one could possibly find such a stereotype offensive, no sir. Or maybe ‘The Battle of Culloden,’ which is both accurate and intriguing.
- ‘The Seeds of Death’: Stop people getting this one confused with ‘The Seeds of Doom’ by renaming it ‘The Moon-base.’ Job done. ‘Return of the Ice Warriors’ would also work.
- ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’: ‘The Silurians’ is just fine, thank you very much. Although some would have it ‘The Eocenes.’ And others ‘Homo Reptilia.’ Oh dear. Hmm, how about ‘The Lizards Who Were Here First’? No? ‘They (Didn’t) Come from Beyond Space’? WAIT! Target got it right from the off: ‘The Cave-Monsters.’
- ‘Colony in Space’: Once more, Target knocked it out of the park with ‘Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon.’
- ‘The Mutants’: The problem with this 1972 serial name is that it’s easy to confuse it with one of the other Doctor Who adventures – ‘The Daleks’ – which some call ‘The Mutants.’ It means Doctor Who Magazine and the like establish a consensus but then often have to clarify which serial they mean anyway. Generally, planet names are a bit of flim-flam that shouldn’t give their names to serials because casual viewers aren’t going to connect with ‘Logopolis’; they’ll simply know it as the one with the Fourth Doctor‘s regeneration. However, here, ‘Solos’ works really well, implying a ‘solo’ planet, and would make Star Wars fans tune in thinking there’s a tenuous connection with Han Solo.
- ‘The Seeds of Doom’: Avoid unnecessary confusion with ‘The Seeds of Death’ (now renamed ‘The Moon-base’) by renaming ‘The Seeds of Doom’ as ‘The Seeds of Death’. Simple.
- ‘The Hand of Fear’: ‘Farewell Sarah Jane Smith’ is the title of an adventure in The Sarah Jane Adventures, but it fits much better here, don’t you think? Or ‘A Tear, Sarah Jane?’
- ‘The Power of Kroll’: Not very memorable. We much prefer ‘The Power of Kroll, Kroll, Kroll, Kroll, Kroll, Kroll, Kroll, Kroll, et al.’, and we’re sure you do too.
- ‘Meglos’: How about ‘Prickly Pear’ instead? Plus, it implies the behind-the-scenes tensions between certain cast members. (We love them really, but it’s an easy joke. Low-hanging fruit and all that…)
- ‘Kinda’: ‘Is the Giant Snake Scary? Meh, Kinda’ is, uhm, kinda long, but less ambiguous and doesn’t trip up any Not-We who try to pronounce it correctly.
- ‘Terminus’: ‘Shaggy Dog Story’ works on many levels. (Kidding! We love ‘Terminus,’ so shut up.)
- ‘Frontios’: ‘Gravity.’ It draws you in. Ahem.
- ‘The Twin Dilemma’: Ironically, we suggest taking a leaf out of Friends and calling it ‘The One where the Doctor Strangles Peri’ because that’s how it’s best remembered, isn’t it?
- ‘The Mysterious Planet’: Not to drop a spoiler on you or anything, but whenever we hear ‘The Mysterious Planet,’ we can’t help but hum a related musical number. It was originally performed by the much-respected artist, Troy McClure (of Gladys the Groovy Mule fame), and so we hereby declare the opening segment of ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’ be renamed ‘Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off!’
- ‘Delta and the Bannermen‘: ‘Ew, That’s One Weird-Looking Baby’ is harsh but fair.
- ‘Doctor Who’ (1996): Just give it a name. Please. We don’t care what. ‘The Enemy Inside’ was mooted, but never settled on. Now it’s just ‘Doctor Who’, meaning you have to add “I mean the TV Movie” whenever you’re telling family, friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers about how darned good Paul McGann is.
- ‘The Runaway Bride’: Every time we google this episode, we instead see results relating to a Richard Gere film. So let’s avoid that by going for, oh I don’t know, ‘Pretty Woman’ instead.
- ‘Turn Left’: ‘Turn Right’. Look, we’ve discussed this, haven’t we?
- ‘Vincent and the Doctor’: This was Steven Moffat’s suggestion for a title and it’s fine. It sums up that, you know, it features Vincent and the Doctor. Except Richard Curtis’ original suggestion was ‘Eyes that See the Darkness’, which is beautiful and no, we’re not crying, you’re crying.
- ‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’: This would be a perfectly fine title and, interestingly, is the only one in the history of Doctor Who adventures to have a comma in. Except it only has one, and that’s the issue here. As we all know, it should also have an Oxford comma, making it ‘The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe.’
- ‘Robot of Sherwood’: Yes, we get it. It’s a take on ‘Robin of Sherwood’. But there are lots of robots in this story, so make it ‘Robots of Sherwood’ because otherwise it makes it look like Doctor Who fans can’t count… which, to be fair, we can’t. We think ‘War‘ comes between ‘8’ and ‘9.’
- ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ / ‘The Witch’s Familiar’: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. We get what Steven Moffat was going for, but surely these Doctor Who adventures should have brassier names that incorporate something to do with the Daleks. ‘Return to Skaro’ would be neat, seeing as Skaro hasn’t actually appeared in any serial title before. ‘Revolution of the Daleks’ would’ve worked nicely before, uhm, ‘Revolution of the Daleks’ came around. How about the ‘Skaro’ two-parter? ‘Return to Skaro’ and ‘Death to Skaro’ go hand-in-hand and recall ‘Death to the Daleks.’
- ‘The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos’: ‘Doctor in Distress.’ Done. But will you answer her SOS?
- ‘Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror’: ‘TESLA V. EDISON: THIS TIME, IT’S PERSONAL!’ No? Suit yourself. ‘Wardenclyffe,’ named after the experimental wireless transmission station built by Tesla, is ominous, intriguing, and keeps you on your toes as you’re forced to remember it’s ‘Wardenclyffe’ with a ‘y’ and two ‘f’s.
If you’re looking for more interesting tidbits about Doctor Who adventures, the whole subject is blown wide open in 100 Objects of Doctor Who. For instance, you can find out that…
“The word “the” appears in every Doctor Who serial title of the Second Doctor era. In fact, ‘Fury from the Deep‘ is the only Second Doctor tale not to begin with “The.” Every story from ‘Mission to the Unknown’ to ‘The War Games’ has “the” somewhere in the title, and from the First Doctor era only ‘An Unearthly Child,’ ‘Marco Polo,’ ‘Planet of Giants,’ and ‘Galaxy 4’ do not – at least in the widely accepted serial names of this era. “The” is the most-used word in all titles, appearing, up to and including ‘Revolution of the Daleks,’ an astonishing two hundred and thirty-four times – or two hundred and thirty-seven times if we add in ‘The Mysterious Planet,’ ‘Terror of the Vervoids,’ and ‘The Ultimate Foe.’ The prolificacy of “the” means “e” appears six hundred and fifty-eight times in serial titles – unsurprising, given “e” is the most common letter, appearing in around 11% of all English words. “U” is the rarest vowel found in Doctor Who titles, with just seventy-two instances.”
Oh. Well, now you know that anyway. Still, there’s plenty more where that came from.
And as for renaming Doctor Who adventures, we’re sure you have plenty more ideas up your sleeves, so let us know in the comments section or on Twitter and Facebook.
Order your copy of 100 Objects of Doctor Who here.
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