Doctor Who: Every Doctor’s Most Underrated Story | Screen Rant
Each Doctor has at least one story that's desperately underrated - here are Doctor Who's hidden gems. As one of the longest running TV shows in history, Doctor Who is packed with episodes that almost every fan holds dear to their heart across both the classic and modern incarnations of the show. From "Genesis of the Daleks" and "Tomb of the Cybermen" to "Blink" and "The Girl in the Fireplace," certain Doctor Who moments have served to establish the show as a leading light in science fiction and live long in the cultural memory.
But just as some Doctor Who stories have developed decade-spanning reputations, others have been mostly forgotten by history or not given their due as part of the show's development. In the case of older episodes, this can be because the story wasn't appreciated at the time, but has since aged like a fine wine. With newer offerings, there are some episodes that get overshadowed by bigger storylines, unable to be fully appreciated on first viewing. Sometimes it's just impossible to pin down why a Doctor Who episode doesn't get the acclaim it deserves, and remains a cult classic when it could've been a fan favorite.
All regenerations of the Doctor - apart from those who never appeared long-term on TV such as Paul McGann, John Hurt and Jo Martin - have episodes in their back catalogs that should be shouted about more often. Here is each Doctor's most underrated episode.
Back in the early-mid 1960s, Doctor Who was absolutely still finding its feet, but the debut of The Daleks and "The Tenth Planet" are rightly considered classics even half a century later. One William Hartnell adventure that perhaps deserves more attention is "The Sensorites" from season 1. Until this episode, Doctor Who had faced outright evil enemies ("The Daleks"), historical tales ("Marco Polo") or pure science fiction adventure ("The Keys of Marinus"). But by introducing the Sensorites, Doctor Who introduced a trope that would rapidly become a key part of the show's fabric - humans being the real villains. Aside from the intriguing moral ambiguity, "The Sensorites" features a strong mystery and a more interesting role for Susan than the usual screaming and running. Overlooked, but ahead of its time.
Patrick Troughton's Doctor Who tenure is stuffed with classics, and also debuts famous enemies such as the Ice Warriors and the Great Intelligence. "Enemy of the World" is often left out of the conversation, largely because the episode was one of many Second Doctor adventures lost for 40 years. Resurfacing in 2013, it turns out "Enemy of the World" was an innovative and mature story set on a fictional 2018 Earth. Troughton doubles as a tyrant known as Salamander and the balance between the actor's dual performances provides the highlight of the episode. As close as Doctor Who ever comes to capturing the spirit of James Bond, "Enemy of the World" might be considered a classic if it hadn't been scrubbed from the BBC archives for so long.
Doctor Who season 11's "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" is somewhat infamous for its terrible special effects, even by classic Who's already notorious standards. Many write the episode off purely on the basis of its laughable dinosaurs, but the actual plot is worthy of far more credit. Centered on a conspiracy to rewind Earth's timeline and start mankind afresh with an elite chosen few, the titular dinosaurs are actually only a small part of the plot and merely used as a distraction to empty the streets of London. The rest of the story charts The Doctor and Sarah Jane's efforts to shut down the evil scientists who are shockingly aided by one of the Third Doctor's own allies. It's a story that would work just as effectively in the modern era, but is oft forgotten.
Tom Baker's Doctor Who is often considered the show's golden age and it's easy to see why. Aside from the aforementioned Dalek origin story, there's "The Brain of Morbius," "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" and "The Deadly Assassin" to name only a few fondly remembered tales. Unfortunately, the Fourth Doctor's era does weaken as Baker lingers on in the role, and "State of Decay" is arguably one of his last great adventures. Featuring vampires who are also ancient enemies of the Time Lords, this season 18 effort is classic Doctor Who with a goth-tinged edge and hints at a fascinating, unexplored area of Time Lord history. The horror movie elements aren't subtle, but it's a refreshing change of pace from the legendary mind of Terrance Dicks.
With a welcome return from the Brigadier, "Mawdryn Undead" is a high point in an era that perhaps didn't leave the same legacy as past regenerations. The episode begins the Black Guardian's crusade against The Doctor and the addition of a new companion in Turlough. Although Mark Strickson's character isn't exactly a fan favorite, his initial appearance as a covert threat to The Doctor is a fascinating new direction that Doctor Who hadn't previously tapped into. Mawdryn himself is a creepy, intelligent villain and the story's conflicting timelines create for a fascinating, paradoxical dynamic. "Mawdryn Undead" plays with the idea that The Doctor could give up his regenerations to save others and while the audience never seriously expects this to happen, it makes for a thought-provoking dilemma at least.
Colin Baker's Doctor wouldn't come into his own until the "Trial of a Time Lord" arc, spending most of his debut season in a perennial sulk. But "The Mark of the Rani" was an undoubted and underappreciated highlight of this era, largely thanks to the villainous Time Lord pairing of Kate O'Mara's Rani and Anthony Ainley's Master. The historical plot is the best season 22 has to offer, and the Rani's TARDIS gives a glimpse at what 1980s Doctor Who visuals could be capable of. In a way, it's a wonder more villains didn't try and harness Earth's brightest brains to do their dirty work for them, and this novel concept allows "The Mark of the Rani" to leave a lasting impression in a season that let Colin Baker down hugely.
By the time Sylvester McCoy was handed the keys to the TARDIS, Doctor Who was already troubled by falling viewership and a BBC commissioner just waiting to swing the ax. Consequently, there are few stone cold classics to be found in this particular era, with McCoy's tenure remembered most fondly for the introduction of Ace and the excellent "Remembrance of the Daleks" episode. Also worthy of note, however, is "Battlefield" in classic Doctor Who's final season. Although often maligned for being a low point in terms of ratings (a dubious honor it still holds), "Battlefield"'s mix of the historic and futuristic works brilliantly, and a welcome appearance from the Brigadier adds the finishing touch.
Modern Doctor Who might've dropped the multi-part episode format, but that didn't stop some great stories being overlooked. In Christopher Eccleston's one and only season as The Doctor, many fans regard "Dalek," "The Empty Child" and "The Parting of the Ways" as the foundations of Doctor Who's revival. But spare a thought for the Charles Dickens themed "The Unquiet Dead." Recent Doctors visit real world figures far more regularly compared to past regenerations, and episodes devoted to Shakespeare, Christie, Van Gogh, etc. can get lost in the shuffle. However, it was "The Unquiet Dead" that first proved Doctor Who could still be dark and scary in the new millennium, while the appearance of the Gelth directly led to the Torchwood spin-off.
The David Tennant era "Doctor-lite" episodes were a distinctly mixed bag, with "Blink" and "Love & Monsters" sitting on extreme opposite ends of the critical spectrum. "Turn Left" focused on Catherine Tate's Donna Noble, exploring what her life would be like if she never met The Doctor. Genuinely creepy, properly moving and the highlight of Noble's stint as a companion, "Turn Left" explores a world without The Doctor with a well-written prelude to season 4's grand finale. It says something about the strength of the episode that the long-awaited return of Billie Piper is somewhat overshadowed, and "Turn Left" wisely offers a refreshing, considered, slower-paced story to digest before launching into the bombast and action of "The Stolen Earth."
Well it wasn't going to be "The Beast Below." The Matt Smith era of Doctor Who was defined by complex long-term story arcs, a more cinematic approach to storytelling and bow ties. As such, "Cold War" was a welcome self-contained episode that perfectly harked back to the classic Troughton era. Although nowhere near as iconic, "Cold War" does to the Ice Warriors what "Dalek" did for The Daleks, isolating a single member of the enemy race and exploring their psyche in a previously unseen way. Skaldak is menacing but unnervingly human in his nature, and the reveal of the Ice Warrior's true face feels appropriately landmark. Mark Gatiss' script is simple but effective, and arguably the writer's best Doctor Who episode.
Some would argue that Peter Capaldi's run as The Doctor is underrated as a whole, but the Monks Trilogy ("Extremis," "The Pyramid at the End of the World" and "The Lie of the Land") was an ambitious undertaking that failed to get the lasting recognition it deserved. It's hard not to feel that this trilogy might've left a bigger impression in the Tennant or Smith eras. The Twelfth Doctor is left blinded and forced to repel an alien invasion from a new race known as The Monks. Incorporating a Matrix-like simulation, a biological virus and a rewriting of Earth's history when the villains actually succeed for once, there's a lot going on in this three-part story. The resolution doesn't quite live up to the build, but the scale and innovation of the story is criminally underappreciated. This run of episodes also manages to cement Pearl Mackie's Bill as a worthy companion to Capaldi's Doctor.
With only 2 seasons to her name and not much time passed since, Jodie Whittaker's Doctor Who doesn't yet have many underrated stories. The Chris Chibnall era has also proved divisive generally, meaning seasons 11 and 12 are short on universally-loved offerings. Regardless, season 11's "Kerblam!" got a harder time than it deserved. The social commentary might not be particularly subtle, but the villain twist and use of bubble wrap as a threat is pure Who, and Lee Mack gives a strong guest turn as a relatable Kerblam! worker. With 3 companions in the TARDIS, current Doctor Who often struggles to juggle so many characters, but "Kerblam!" finds something meaningful for everyone to do when the gang investigate a distress signal at the company.
Doctor Who returns with "Revolution of the Daleks" this Christmas on BBC.