After the wonderful reaction to my Top 11 Doctor Who Stories, I feel it’s time to approach the programme from the other end of the spectrum. While Doctor Who is still definitely The Greatest Television Series Ever Produced, it’s understandable that over its 50 years there have been one or two missteps.
These are the worst.
The Celestial Toymaker
On the face of it, a story about a game-playing god from outside the Universe seems like it could be a great idea.
And then the story starts, and you realise the games he’s obsessed with are… Musical Chairs and Hide & Seek, and you have to sit through four episodes of the Doctor’s disembodied hand playing Towers of Hanoi. There’s nothing good to say about this story: it features Michael Gough in an appallingly racist costume (with “Chinee” clipped tones to match) and was originally attempted as a means to write William Hartnell out of his own series without his permission.
For other examples of racist Orientalism in Doctor Who, see John Bennett’s yellowface portrayal of Li H’sen Chang in the otherwise excellent The Talons of Weng-Chiang and the following exchange from Four to Doomsday, which makes Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Turino look like a beacon of racial tolerance:
LIN FUTU: Greetings.
LIN FUTU: I am Lin Futu.
DOCTOR: Well, I’d never have guessed it. You look in the best of health to me.
Stodgy old writers Mervyn Haisman & Henry Lincoln spend five episodes telling those hippy kids to get off their lawn. This story is a badly-plotted, abhorrently conceived attack on pacifism that should never have got past the proposal stage, and it’s in stark contrast to literally every other episode of Doctor Who.
And the Quarks are rubbish.
The Time Monster
Just a mess.The monster is a man dressed up in a chicken suit with a knight’s helmet, and even that’s not enough to save it.
The King’s Demons
Featuring Anthony Ainley’s Master as the French taunter from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and a robot with nipples.
The Twin Dilemma
For the first time in the series’ history, the decision was made to introduce the new Doctor in the penultimate story of the season. This meant that Colin Baker would be given a whole story to win over the audiences before his run on the show began properly. Unfortunately, the story he was given was this one, where he spends half the story shouting insanely and literally physically assaulting his companion Peri, and then spends the remainder facing off against a giant slug wearing deely-boppers. The giant slug’s plan is to spread his eggs across the universe by crashing a planet into the sun, because fuck you science, that’s why.
Time and the Rani
To explain exactly what is wrong with the 1996 Doctor Who TV Movie requires more space than I’ve got here, so just imagine Paul McGann trying to deliver the following infodump in a naturalistic manner, while standing in a park with his hand over his eyes:
The TARDIS is my spaceship! It carries me through time and space! T-A-R-D-I-S, it stands for Time and Relative Dimensions In Space! The Master is a rival Time Lord… Pure evil! I was bringing home his remains from Skaro, where his last incarnation had been exterminated by the Daleks! Or, so we thought! But he’s not dead! It’s… it’s a trap, don’t you see? He wants me to look into the Eye! If I look into the Eye, my soul will be destroyed and he will take my body!
No wonder the series wasn’t picked up. Eric Roberts’ Master (yes, that Eric Roberts) is the story’s only redeeming feature.
The Unquiet Dead
AKA “I Hate You, Chloe Webber”
This is an episode that really shouldn’t have been as bad as it turned out, if only a little bit more thought had been put into how it all fit together. For a story that should be about the fears of child abduction and domestic violence, Murray Gold’s plinkety-plonk music is woefully inappropriate, and the Olympics, “love conquers all” ending is the first step on the slippery slope that will lead to…
…this. A lazy script by Mark Gatiss, uninspired direction and the worst child actor to hit the programme’s screens until Artie and Angie show up in Nightmare in Silver. The cloying ending (where the dad realises that – surprise! – he actually loves his son after all) makes no sense if you’ve had to sit through the preceding forty-two minutes of the child’s non-stop, industrial-strength whining.