Which is the best Seventh Doctor story? That’s a tough question to answer, although helpfully his era is rather short – at least compared to the Fourth Doctor’s epic seven year stint! Sylvester McCoy was the Doctor from 1987 to 1989 and appeared in three full seasons of Doctor Who, totalling 12 stories, all of which comprised three or four episodes, and most of which were excellent.
Now whilst I’m never going to be a huge fan of Paradise Towers (or indeed, any kind of fan!) I genuinely adore the Seventh Doctor’s era, and I find it hard to settle on a top three. Sylvester McCoy was playing the part at such an interesting time in the show’s history, with script editor Andrew Cartmel determined to ‘tease out’ some of the Time Lord’s backstory whilst firmly re-establishing his enigma. As such, the Seventh Doctor‘s stories are – for me – some of the most intriguing and inventive in the show’s history, and in hindsight it’s very easy to see how they paved the way for Doctor Who‘s return in 2005. There are some real gems to choose from.
But without any further ado, here are the top three Seventh Doctor stories as decided by me. “Judge not by appearances, Mel…!”
3) The Happiness Patrol
This might be a divisive choice. For some, The Happiness Patrol typifies the pantomimic nature of Doctor Who that many were keen to steer away from (myself included.) But I think the slightly hammy performances make sense in this case. The adventure takes place on the oppressed planet of Terra Alpha where it’s a crime to be unhappy, and it’s these tyrannical laws that actually force people to behave in overtly pantomimic ways in order to survive. Beneath the surface, however, the tale is a disturbing, dark and satirical one that – unashamedly – parodies the political climate of the UK in 1988, with Sheila Hancock giving an excellent performance as a Margaret Thatcher caricature.
Moreover, the story features the sole appearance of one of my favourite Seventh Doctor villains – the Kandy Man. Yes, he looks just like Bertie Bassett (actionably so) but when you think about it, he really is the stuff of nightmares. His purpose in life is to create sweets that taste so good they kill people. He’s the planet’s executioner. His voice is shrill and menacing. Look me in the eye and tell me that you don’t quake at the sight of the Kandy Man.
If you’ve never watched The Happiness Patrol, you should watch it immediately, and watch it with the lights out. Happiness will prevail.
In second place we have the excellent Survival by Rona Munroe. Alas, this story will forever be known as “the one that ended Doctor Who,” being the last adventure to be transmitted before the BBC quietly and unceremoniously pulled it from the schedules. But what a high to go out on. Survival is modern, urban, gritty, topical… It tackles racism, identity, and yes, that staple of all good SF – what it means to be human. Split between the streets of Perivale and the desert wastes of the Cheetah planet, Survival also brings Anthony Ainley’s Master back to the fold for one last hurrah, and even though his epic final confrontation with the Doctor takes place on a suburban driveway, the script (and the acting) more than compensates for the surroundings.
Now, Survival often gets a bad rap for its somewhat cute and cuddly monsters – the Cheetah People – but to be honest I’ve never had an issue with them. So what if they look like teddy bears? Part of the horror, for me, is in their appearance; vicious creatures don’t necessarily have to ‘look’ vicious. The truth about the Cheetahs is that they’ll tear you limb from limb and make no bones about it, simply because it’s in their nature. So you’d better start running, and run forever.
Survival is also a great character piece for the Seventh Doctor‘s companion Ace, and the actor Sophie Aldred does a fantastic job at driving the action across the three episodes. This is one of the things that makes Survival a stand-out story. Not many companions in 80s Who (or indeed, any classic Who) were afforded much depth or character development, so it’s a joy to see Ace’s personality slowly unfold as she finally returns to her hometown of Perivale.
1) Remembrance of the Daleks
However, it’s Ben Aaronovitch’s Remembrance of the Daleks that wins my vote as the very best Seventh Doctor story. And I’m sure I’m not alone in that assessment. There’s more to say about this story than is possible to condense into a few short paragraphs, but I will say this: Remembrance is one of those rare stories that achieves a near-perfect balance of drama, comedy, characterisation, performance, and explosions. Lots of explosions.
And then there’s the Doctor Who canon. Remember that? In this adventure, the Seventh Doctor returns to the scrap yard on 76 Totter’s Lane, which is where the TARDIS first departed from in 1963’s An Unearthly Child. Moreover, Aaronovitch also peppers the story with a few extra nuggets of Who lore, exploring what the Doctor was up to in London before he set off to explore the universe. And I love all that stuff – enough details to keep me intrigued, but not enough to destroy any sense of enigma about the Doctor’s character.
Then of course there are the Daleks (spoilers – they appear.) Frustratingly, they don’t look too great on location; they wobble around the streets of Shoreditch like they’ve overdosed on Vraxoin (something to do with the un-Daleky rubber balls that were fitted to the base by the production team!) So that’s a shame, but it’s easy enough to look past these flaws, particularly when you have the awesome Special Weapons Dalek tearing across the cobbles…
How, then, to sum up Remembrance of the Daleks? It’s Who lore, it’s action, it’s adventure, it’s comedy, it’s character, it’s fast-paced, it’s history, it’s rock-solid SF, it’s superbly written and superbly acted, and it’s generally a no-holds-barred thrill-ride from start to finish. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s quintessential Who. If you’ve never watched this Seventh Doctor adventure before, I can guarantee that you’re going to enjoy it.
So there we are – these are my top 3 Seventh Doctor stories. What do you think about my choices? Do you agree, or are you disappointed that Ghost Light didn’t make the cut? And where’s the love for Dragonfire?! (I do love Dragonfire!) Let me know in the comments below…
Seventh Doctor jumper – Doctor Who 7th Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) question mark tank top sweater – order now from the Lovarzi shop!