Some Doctor Who stories are more famous than others. Here’s a list of some of the most overlooked adventures in the Whoniverse (in chronological order.)
1) The Sensorites
Documentary maker Toby Hadoke lamented the overlooked status of ‘The Sensorites’ when it was released on DVD, noting that it didn’t even have the decency to get wiped so that we could all fantasise about how good it must have been! This obscure six-parter from 1964 sees the First Doctor and his companions encounter a spaceship en route for the mysterious Sense Sphere – a planet which is home to telepathic creatures known as Sensorites who have perfected the art of mind control.
And whilst there is nothing overly spectacular about ‘The Sensorites,’ it is a shame that it is so often forgotten about – perhaps because it’s book-ended with the higher-octane historicals in the form of ‘The Aztecs’ and ‘The Reign of Terror,’ which are altogether bloodier affairs (the former even deals with human sacrifice.) Despite this, ‘The Sensorites’ did go on to inspire some of the Doctor Who stories of the modern era; Russell T Davies introduced the Ood race who originated from the Ood Sphere, which is located in the same star system.
2) The Space Pirates
Of all the Doctor Who stories on this list, ‘The Space Pirates’ may well be the most overlooked of all time. Like many Doctor Who stories from the 1960s, this one is partially missing; only episode two resides in the BBC archive, and it’s a bit of an obscurity. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe only feature in a small number of short scenes, and even then they’re confined to a small capsule which has been cast adrift in space.
The rest of the action revolves around the eponymous space pirates and the members of the Earth Space Corps. The overall feel is one of a space opera, and much of the story is centred on the relationships between the large cast of characters. At least, this is the vibe of the surviving second episode; not many Doctor Who fans have sat down to listen to the soundtrack of the complete story.
If this story is ever rediscovered, perhaps it will find a new lease of life in much the same way as ‘The Enemy of the World’ when it was unearthed in 2013.
3) The Mutants
Not to be confused with the similarly-named First Doctor adventure (later renamed ‘The Daleks’) ‘The Mutants’ is another six part obscurity, this time from 1972. Written by the team of Bob Baker and Dave Martin, this overlooked story was not lacking punch, tackling such issues as xenophobia, capitalism and slavery; the story’s antagonists are even known as The Overlords. Thus, like many Doctor Who stories from the Barry Letts era, it was not afraid to make statements about contemporary topics.
Arguably, it is less famous than some of Baker and Martin’s other Doctor Who stories like ‘The Claws of Axos‘ and ‘The Three Doctors,’ but it is not without its fans. And the adventure is about to get the high definition treatment when it is released as part of the Season Nine Blu-ray collection in March 2023.
The next of the Doctor Who stories on this list is another tale from Bob Baker and Dave Martin. The pair were frequently inspired by the myths of Ancient Greece, and ‘Underworld’ was (albeit loosely) based on the legend of Jason and the Argonauts. In this particular adventure, a band of Minyans are on a quest to recover a missing spaceship called the P7E. “The Quest is the Quest,” as they say.
And if you know your Greek mythology, you’ll remember the character of Persephone – the daughter of Zeus, and goddess of the underworld, after whom the spaceship is named. Then there are the Minyans, based on the Minoans, and Jackson, who represents Jason. Similarly, we have Herrick in place of Heracles, and Orfe in place of Orpheus.
Sadly, one of the things that this Doctor Who adventure is best remembered for is its modest production values. Like many Doctor Who stories of its time, ‘Underworld’ made heavy use of CSO, or Colour Separation Overlay, which negated the use of sets and meant that the actors could be superimposed onto scale models. Of course, this is common practice in the TV and movie production of today, but it was still in its germinative stages in the late 70s and, at times, it shows.
But Doctor Who stories can still be enjoyed regardless of their production values. How do you rate this overlooked Fourth Doctor adventure?
‘Terminus’ is another of those Doctor Who stories which is not widely talked about. This is surprising in many ways; it comes midway through 1983’s Black Guardian trilogy, and sees the departure of the Doctor’s long-serving companion Nyssa. It is also notable for re-using some of the sets from the movie Alien and, as such, it is not lacking atmosphere.
Indeed, much of the adventure revolves around the Doctor’s supposed friend Turlough trying to murder him, spurred on by the evil Black Guardian who has the boy under his thumb. Interestingly, the rest of the story riffs on similar themes as ‘The Mutants,’ such as capitalism, mega corporations and slavery.
But in the case of ‘Terminus,’ the adventure also centres on the sufferers of a leprosy-like disease who have been promised a cure by the eponymous Terminus Inc. And naturally, no one has ever returned from the mysterious space station which promises to heal them.
And whilst ‘Terminus’ is rarely cited as one of the greatest Doctor Who stories of all time, it’s a shame that it is often overshadowed by some of the other tales from Season 20. But then, it did have Omega, the Mara, the Brigadier and the Master to compete with.
How many of the overlooked Doctor Who stories on this list have you seen? And which one is your favourite? Let me know in the comments below.