Last Saturday, Doctor Who touched on a theme it hadn’t visited in a while – comedy. As in, full-blown comedy. Yes, there are humorous quips peppered throughout even the most sombre of episodes (heck, even Into the Dalek had some laugh-out-loud moments, and that was darker than a coal mine, at night, with the lights out). But on the whole, Doctor Who is a more serious adventure series that rarely ventures into the regions of farce, physical comedy or sitcom. There are, however, a few standout episodes that have been quite rightly labelled with a ‘gag tag’; The Runaway Bride, The Pirate Planet and The Eleventh Hour have all been suggested. But which is the all-time funniest episode of Doctor Who?
A hard question to answer, given the highly subjective nature of comedy! But here’s a list of what I consider to be strong contenders for the crown…
5. Invasion of the Dinosaurs (Part Two)
No, I’m not referring to the slightly questionable dinosaur puppets. On the whole this is quite a serious story with strong moral and political undercurrents, if you can see past the imperfect visuals. But I love the scene in Part Two where the poor Doctor is trying to get some peace and quiet in his laboratory. As Sarah Jane leaves, he frantically races to the door, shuts it and locks it, breathing a huge sigh of relief. That is, until the Brigadier bursts through the other door: “Ah, there you are Doctor! Now what are you up to?” Cue Jon Pertwee, clutching his head in despair!
This moment always tickles me – perhaps more than is appropriate or normal – hence why I’m putting this episode at number five!
4. The Lodger
“Can you hold? I have to eat a biscuit.”
A bit of a Marmite episode from Series Five, The Lodger is essentially a sitcom (or a romcom) with a science fiction foundation. Most of the people I speak to seem to detest this episode for the mere reason it has James Corden in it. Now, I had no experience of James Corden before watching this episode, so I had no inherent bias, and I thought he did a mighty fine job playing the loved-up, somewhat bemused tenant who found himself living with a man from another planet. Watch this episode for the scene in the call centre (I think every office needs a Doctor!).
3. Partners in Crime
I must admit, I used to detest this episode. As the opener to Series Four, I felt so disappointed; it was unbelievably lightweight, and felt like some trial I had to endure as a Doctor Who fan before I was allowed to watch the proper episodes. But, having watched it again recently, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think one has to approach it with the right mind-set, and take it on its own merits. And there are many!
Watch out for the Doctor and Donna’s mimed exchanges through the window, and the comedy death of Miss Foster, so wonderfully realised by actress Sarah Lancashire. A nice one to pop on at the end of a hard day!
2. The Chase
Can you have comedy Daleks? Hmmm… It’s a risky move.
As with Partners in Crime, you need to be in the right frame of mind when you watch this one, otherwise you risk bitter disappointment – The Daleks’ Masterplan it ain’t! You have the Daleks trying to question the inhabitants of a strange haunted house / theme park attraction, as well as an American Peter Purves who acts like he’s on drugs. Then there’s Ian dancing round the TARDIS to The Beatles, and the Doctor singing to himself while sunbathing (“What’s that awful noise?” asks Barbara!). Yes, it smacks of an overconfident series that has already started to parody itself, but I can’t help liking it. After all, if every Dalek story featured Eric Saward-style massacres, we’d all be in need of therapy.
1. City of Death
So here we are – the story that I consider to be the funniest in Doctor Who‘s 50 year history. I also think it’s one of the best, and the humour goes hand-in-hand with the drama to create an overall very satisfying experience.
Generally, it’s the slick interplay between the characters that keeps the story racing forward, but there are many other humorous moments; Tom Chadbon’s Duggan ‘throws light’ on the situation by attacking the villain with an oil lamp, for example. Then there’s the classic ‘interrogation’ scene between the Doctor and Count Scarlioni in Part Two (“What a wonderful butler, he’s so violent!” the Doctor remarks). All in all, I can’t fault this story, and I’ve watched it more times than is healthy. And I plan to watch it many more times before the year is out!