Just what is the best Doctor Who adventure for raising a smile? The series may be a gritty, high octane sci-fi affair, but it has never been short on hilarity – be it intentional or otherwise. This is an important thing to remember as we continue down the slow path in these sombre (and somewhat surreal) times. Could comedy gems be nestling in the middle of your DVD / Blu-Ray / BritBox collections?
Yes indeedy. So brave heart, Tegan – fire up the Time-Space Visualiser and settle down with a good cup of tea (but the strong stuff – leave the bag in.) And remember: happiness will prevail.
The Gunfighters (1966)
Full disclosure: not everybody likes ‘The Gunfighters.’ This low budget Western from 1966 feels more like a pastiche than a high stakes drama, and in my opinion it’s all the better for it. William Hartnell (who plays the First Doctor) is clearly in his element as he bumbles absent-mindedly through the Wild West town of Tombstone, Arizona, whilst his equally vacuous companions enjoy some out-of-character piano playing and crooning at the infamous Last Chance Saloon.
Obviously, ‘The Gunfighters’ is unlikely to top any ‘best Doctor Who story’ polls anytime soon, but it’s hard to deny that it oozes charm – mainly because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Perhaps the BBC was aware that it could never compete with the big budget Westerns of the day, and just decided not to bother!
As such, ‘The Gunfighters’ is a jolly, self-aware romp, and whilst few people will be adding the relentless ‘Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon’ to their Spotify playlists (a track that bookends just about every scene) remember, dear viewer: the Mute button is your friend.
City of Death (1979)
‘City of Death‘ could be one of the best Doctor Who stories ever made. It’s a very, very difficult adventure to dislike – and because it was (unofficially) written by the comedy legend that is Douglas Adams, there’s lots of pithy and often humorous dialogue to crack a smile. (“Who sent you?” says the villainess. “Who sent me what?!” says the Doctor.)
Moreover, ‘City of Death’ has the accolade of being the first Doctor Who story to be filmed abroad, set in the city of Paris in 1979. The Fourth Doctor and Romana are on holiday, but a series of mysterious time-slips brings them into contact with the suave Count Scarlioni, and his wicked plan to steal the Mona Lisa – using alien technology!
It’s a ridiculous tale that actually holds up to scrutiny, superbly written and wonderfully acted, truly making it one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time. Plus, there’s even a cameo by Monty Python star John Cleese.
Delta and the Bannermen (1987)
On paper, ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ may not sound like the best Doctor Who story to unwind to. An entire race has been wiped out by a band of villainous thugs, and its sole survivor escapes on a stolen ship, pursued by the evil miscreants who are baying for her blood.
Remember, though, that this is 80s Doctor Who, and that John Nathan-Turner is the producer. Naturally, the stolen ship takes the escapee (Delta) onto the set of Hi-De-Hi! and the wicked pursuers are, in fact, pantomime villains in ski goggles. Then throw Ken Dodd, Hugh Lloyd, Bonnie Langford and Sylvester McCoy (the Seventh Doctor) into the mix – with a fair spattering of 50s rock n’ roll, and the Dick Barton theme tune – and what you have is a thoroughly feel-good (and very enjoyable) three part adventure.
Honestly, for me ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ is one of the best Doctor Who stories for a ‘comfort watch.’ So, enjoy this romp with a healthy dose of honey (“only about 10,000 jars, Doctor!”)
Love & Monsters (2006)
‘Love & Monsters’ may not be one of the best Doctor Who stories ever made, but it’s certainly unique. This is an all-out comedy affair with the main baddie (the slimy Abzorbaloff) played by actor and stand-up comedian Peter Kay, and a banging soundtrack provided by the Electric Light Orchestra. There is even a Scooby Doo-style chase scene featuring the Tenth Doctor and Rose, but enjoy it while it lasts; these characters are conspicuously absent for the majority of ‘Love & Monsters.’
As I say, this tale is not heralded as the best Doctor Who story of all time, but it is noteworthy for being the first of the Doctor-lite offerings (made necessary by the series’ tight filming schedule.) And whilst it may not be a piece of stellar storytelling, it is very hard not to smile at an adventure which is (essentially) all about life as a Doctor Who fan. It’ll make sense when you watch it.
Partners in Crime (2008)
‘Partners in Crime’ is another one of those Doctor Who stories that ventures into sitcom territory. Written by Russell T Davies (the man who brought you ‘Love & Monsters’) this opening episode from Series Four reunites the Tenth Doctor with his old friend Donna Noble, played by Catherine Tate. They’re investigating a mysterious new weight loss programme headed by the icy Miss Foster (Sarah Lancashire) in which people’s fat literally comes to life and climbs out of their bodies. “The fat just walks away…”
And whilst this may sound like a terrifying premise, it’s hard to be afraid of the sentient saturates. Known as the Adipose, these white globules are cute and fun-loving – more Pokémon than Pyrovile. And there’s more Scooby Doo goodness to be had with Miss Foster’s ridiculous (and very funny) comedy fall, plus a surprise appearance at the very end of the episode by… well, you’ll have to wait and see. But if you’ve never seen ‘Partners in Crime’ before, I can guarantee you’ll be punching the air by the time the credits roll.
Plus, I defy you not to grin when the Doctor and Donna have their first ‘conversation’ through the office window!
What do you think is the best Doctor Who story for raising a smile? Are there any that you would add to this list? And do you have a go-to adventure that never fails to cheer you up when you’re feeling blue? Let me know in the comments below.
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