“What’s in a name?” someone once asked. And can you really judge by appearances, Mel? There have been hundreds of Doctor Who episode titles over the years, all of which have been designed to tempt people into tuning into the Time Lord’s latest adventures. This is a selection of some of the most memorable…
Escape to Danger (1965)
The third episode of ‘The Web Planet’ might not have the most poetic name in Doctor Who history, but one has to admire its simplicity. And when you think about it, this Doctor Who episode title actually has a lot going on; viewers know to expect an escape of some kind (implying adrenaline, fast movement, dynamism) but one that will lead to a high stakes situation – a dramatic twist of some kind, perhaps with one of the characters falling down a hole, or some situation which will put the main players in jeopardy.
Of all the Doctor Who episode titles, ‘Escape to Danger’ must be the ultimate example of ‘doing what it says on the tin,’ even if it comes from a story which divides fan opinion.
The Death of Doctor Who (1965)
How can anyone fail to be intrigued by a Doctor Who episode title which promises to kill off the titular character? ‘The Death of Doctor Who’ was the fifth instalment of the 1965 story ‘The Chase,’ and saw the First Doctor and his companions pitted against the dreaded Daleks, who just so happened to be the Time Lord’s deadliest enemy.
As such, this ominous Doctor Who episode title raised some serious questions. Would the eponymous hero finally meet his end at the hands / appendages of the metal mutants from Skaro? And if so, what would happen to the show? (Remember, this was in the days before anyone knew about regeneration.) And if he wasn’t to die, then how on earth would he get out of it? And what did the title mean?
Of course, anyone who’s seen ‘The Chase’ knows exactly what the title means and how it’s justified. And it’s really very clever…
Horror of Fang Rock (1978)
Doctor Who episode titles have often channelled some serious ‘Hammer Horror’ energy (like ‘Fury from the Deep‘ and ‘The Seeds of Doom’) and ‘Horror of Fang Rock’ is no exception. There is a comic book, B-movie feel to the name, but this is in-keeping with the kind of show Doctor Who held itself up to be. This was behind-the-sofa, family entertainment, never intending to induce blood-curdling, 18-rated terror along the lines of The Exorcist or The Shining.
That being said, there is nothing cheap or comic book about ‘Horror of Fang Rock.’ Yes, the Rutans might not be the most impressive Doctor Who monster in history, but otherwise this classic serial takes itself incredibly seriously, and oozes atmosphere, high drama and suspense. After all, it’s set entirely in an isolated lighthouse, in the dead of night, in the fog. There is nothing cosy about ‘Horror of Fang Rock,’ and its title serves it well.
Delta and the Bannermen (1987)
Never has a Doctor Who story evoked so much 50s charm. ‘Delta and the Bannermen‘ might not have come during the series’ most popular period, but the production team’s love for the show shines through every moment.
And whilst this may be one of the stranger Doctor Who episode titles on our list, it is actually quite clever in that it serves two purposes. First, it tells the viewer exactly what the story is about (Delta and the Bannermen feature prominently throughout, after all) and it is also a pun, referencing the British rock band Echo and the Bunnymen. And there is no denying that British rock n’ roll is a key element in this classic Seventh Doctor adventure.
The Doctor Dances (2005)
Prior to the transmission of this Doctor Who episode, many fans were intrigued as to what the strange title actually meant. It’s the second part of a longer story which began with ‘The Empty Child,’ and some people took it to mean that the eponymous Time Lord would be getting electrocuted or have something equally grizzly done to him before the adventure’s conclusion.
As it turned out, this Doctor Who episode title from Steven Moffat was entirely literal; at the end of the story, the Doctor ends up dancing around the console room with his companion Rose, determined to prove to her that “he has the moves.” Even if one of them is a half nelson.
Of course, nothing is ever that straightforward with Steven Moffat, and this Doctor Who episode title also references the Time Lord’s victory against the pernicious nanogenes – a good enough reason for anyone to ‘dance,’ I’m sure you’ll agree.
The Shakespeare Code (2007)
Who can resist a good spoof? This Doctor Who episode title is a clear reference to the popular book The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a comedy adventure. Yes it has many amusing moments (it’s written by Gareth Roberts, after all) but it’s still a high stakes story. Moreover, the title isn’t simply there for comic effect; there is a literal Shakespeare code in the adventure, and one that proves critical to the evil Carrionites’ plan for world domination.
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (2012)
Speaking of spoofs, this Doctor Who episode title references the similarly-named Snakes on a Plane movie from 2006. Like ‘The Shakespeare Code,’ it’s playful and somewhat tongue-in-cheek but, again, the humour isn’t gratuitous. After all, isn’t a good Doctor Who episode title supposed to give the viewer some indication as to what expect? Like the aforementioned ‘Escape to Danger,’ ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ does exactly what it says on the tin and delivers on its promises. This is a Doctor Who episode where the eponymous hero encounters a herd of prehistoric beasts on a space vessel, and he must work out what he’s going to do with them. Simple.
Interestingly, this Doctor Who episode title came from the mind of future showrunner Chris Chibnall, whose other episode titles range from the beautifully simplistic ’42’ to the tongue-tyingly complicated ‘The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos.’ There’s no one way to write a Doctor Who episode title.
Speaking of which, what other Doctor Who stories would you add to this list? And what do you think are the key ingredients to a good Doctor Who episode title? Let me know in the comments below.
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