Some moments from classic Doctor Who have become more famous than the Time Lords themselves. Which are the most iconic scenes from the show’s 60 year history?
Simply put, which scenes from classic Doctor Who have become most synonymous with the show – as in, the images that come to mind when people generally think about Doctor Who? For example, many people remember Tom Baker’s 18 ft. scarf (and indeed we sell it!) and still more people recall his penchant for jelly babies, but few people could pin these memories to specific scenes.
The same is true of the Daleks. Many people – even those who have never seen classic Doctor Who – know a Dalek when they see one. But is there really a specific moment they can recall?
The Daleks’ first appearance at the end of ‘The Daleks’ part one is a possible contender. If you can call it an “appearance,” because the audience isn’t shown the whole creature in this episode – only its ‘sink plunger’ protuberance, which menaces the Doctor’s companion Barbara as she gets lost in a maze of corridors.
Certainly, this is one of the most impactful and memorable cliffhangers in classic Doctor Who, with Barbara throwing herself against a wall as the threatening appendage creeps towards her. She screams, and the screen fades to black. Viewers would have to wait until the following week before they would see the Dalek creature in all its ‘glory.’
Similarly, many viewers have early, indistinct memories of the Cybermen. But is there a particular scene from classic Doctor Who that comes to mind when they think of them? Well, it may not qualify as ‘iconic,’ but the moment from the 1967 story ‘The Moonbase’ is etched into the minds of many viewers, with the Cybermen marching silently across the Moon’s surface as they prepare to storm the titular base. Indeed, the haunting, war-like music that accompanied the scene will have become the soundtrack to many a childhood nightmare.
Despite this, arguably the most iconic Cybermen scene from classic Doctor Who must come from 1968’s ‘The Invasion’ when the metal giants marched down the steps outside St Paul’s Cathedral. In fact, this moment is a contender for being one of the most iconic scenes in the whole of Doctor Who history, although why this moment should have risen to such prominence is unclear. Perhaps it’s because the scene tapped into the ‘every day’; after all, it was Jon Pertwee who said that the most frightening thing was finding a Yeti sitting on your toilet in Tooting Bec.
In which case, it’s surprising that the Daleks’ London invasion in ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ hasn’t quite risen to the same level of fame. In this adventure, the metal mutants are shown taking over a whole host of famous London landmarks, including Westminster Bridge and Trafalgar Square and – even more strikingly – they are shown performing Nazi-like salutes with their sink plungers as they parade the deserted city. Not the kind of moment that can be easily forgotten.
That being said, it was still impactful. Indeed, the moment was recreated for the 2013 drama ‘An Adventure in Space and Time’ which documented the genesis of classic Doctor Who, and in 2008 Russell T Davies took the Nazi allegory to its ultimate extreme by having the Daleks cry “exterminieren!” in ‘Journey’s End’ – a clear reference to the montage from ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth.’
There is, however, a less famous monster from classic Doctor Who which warrants a place on this list. The moment comes from the end of ‘The Sea Devils‘ episode three, and features the eponymous monsters rising up out of the water and storming the beach. Again, like the Cybermen outside St Paul’s Cathedral and the Daleks in Trafalgar Square, this scene brought the monsters straight onto our doorsteps. How many children (or adults, for that matter) would now think twice before going for a dip in the sun-kissed ocean, lest they got set-upon by a demon in a net dress?
Interestingly, this scene from classic Doctor Who didn’t propel the Sea Devils to dizzying heights of fame – not in the same way as the Daleks, anyway. Rather, it was the moment itself that was best remembered, and indeed the writer Andrew Smith paid homage to it in the 1980 story ‘Full Circle’ when his Marshmen creations rose up out of a mist-covered lake.
And this is when the waters really begin to get a bit murky (pun slightly intended.) Because there is a difference between an iconic scene and a memorable one, and there is another scene from classic Doctor Who which could fall into either category, depending on who you ask. This is of course the moment from ‘The Sea Devils’ where the Master sits down to watch (and indeed enjoy) an episode of the children’s TV show The Clangers.
Again, it’s a scene which has been etched into the mind of many a TV viewer, and Russell T Davies made a reference to it in 2007’s ‘The Sound of Drums’ when the Master tuned into an episode of the Teletubbies. But it hasn’t quite become ‘iconic’ in the way other moments have – that is, it is rarely used to represent the show in the same way as the Cybermen outside St Paul’s Cathedral, or the Sea Devils rising up out of the water. But it’s certainly memorable enough that many viewers of ‘The Sound of Drums’ would have clocked the reference.
So have we exhausted the list of truly iconic scenes from classic Doctor Who? Certainly, there aren’t as many ‘iconic’ moments as we head into the 1980s, but it’s worth remembering that some of these scenes from classic Doctor Who became so famous because they were (often) the very first of their kind. Few people sitting in their living rooms in the 60s had seen an army of metal men invade a famous London landmark – or indeed witnessed a pack of roaring Yeti stalk the city’s underground stations (should we add ‘The Web of Fear‘ to this list?) Many of classic Doctor Who‘s later episodes were repurposing what had come before – thematically, at least.
But over to you, reader. Are there any other ‘iconic’ scenes that you would add to this list? And which scenes from the modern era would you get your vote? Let me know in the comments below.