NuWho 10th Anniversary: What Is Your Most Underrated Series 1 Story?
This year, Doctor Who has been back on our screen ten whole years. It feels like yesterday that the TARDIS materialised once more; suitably, it also feels like forever.
So join us as we celebrate a decade with the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctors. Let’s find out which serials are our favourites, and shine a light on the underrated ones too. Watch us run.
And then vote on your favourites. At the end of the year, we’ll find out which serials showcase our beloved show at the height of its game.
We land in 2005. The Ninth Doctor is at the helm of the TARDIS: a battle-scarred Time Lord and his human companion. We’ve taken a look at the firm favourites, but what’s the most underrated serial of Series 1?
Jonathan Appleton: The End of the World
It’s no classic and won’t make many people’s lists of all time favourites but I love this episode for giving us so many RTD elements all in one place. A bold, larky tone that doesn’t take itself too seriously but manages to stay the right side of high camp. Some serious social commentary in the form of a vivid comic character (Cassandra). Weird and wonderful aliens, with Douglas Adams’s influence very much in evidence. A rather daft problem to overcome in the form of a switch that can only be accessed by getting past some giant fans.
And some great character stuff between the Doctor and Rose as she realises that this remarkable guy she’s paired up with really doesn’t think and act like humans do.
Andrew Reynolds: The Long Game
I suppose both my choices for the best and most unappreciated episodes feel like they owe a small debt to the ancillary media; The Unquiet Dead has the feel of a particularly well written Big Finish episode, while The Long Game is partially successful in capturing the daffy tone of the Doctor Who comics.
I say partially because amongst all the episodes this season, this is the only one that lacks an identity of its own: Rose introduced us to the show, The End of the World and The Unquiet Dead showed us the future and the past and subsequent episodes all seemingly had their part to play in establishing what this new show was, for better or for worse (I’m looking at you, Aliens of London).
Here however, it never really gels. The main problem is that the villains, the Jagrafess and the Editor, don’t really have as compelling motivations as say, the Gelth or even the indefensible Slitheen; what makes it work is Simon Pegg.
Saddled with having to paper over the cracks in the script, he almost manages to unite this divergent list of… things (it’s that kind of episode; just substitute Pegg for Matt Smith and you have basically the same problem/solution as The Rings of Akhaten).
Other elements introduced here that later take on greater significance is the character of Adam and the explicit, and not very subtle message, that not everyone is companion material. Here it adds greater significance to moments later in the series where the Doctor forgives Rose.
The idea isn’t without millage but again the little details cloud the whole. If Adam hadn’t been such a rubbish companion before he became an amoral one, then maybe his decision and Adam’s fall from grace would have been more compelling.
It begs the question: Did this Doctor forget about Turlough?
Drew Boynton: Boom Town
Boom Town’s first 20 minutes (or so) are hugely entertaining, in a funny, cheesy, and very cool way. Mickey Smith comes to visit Rose, and to his horror, finds that she, the Doctor, and Captain Jack have turned into some kind of super-duper high-fiving Time Team. The four of them all try (and succeed) to catch Margaret Slitheen before she can destroy the world.
… Then the episode devolves into a strange combination of moral dilemma and Cardiff tourism advert. I will honestly play this episode purely for the beginning, and then turn it off before the end. For fast-paced excitement and laughs, though, it’s hard to beat Boom Town’s opening act, which, to me, is some of the absolute most fun that the show has had since its return.
Joe Siegler: The Long Game
This was really hard for me to write. I couldn’t find by my definition of “underrated” a story I wanted to go with. First I thought about Dalek, then I thought about Boom Town, but in the end I went with The Long Game. This one tends to get a bad rap from people, but I never really understood why. This had a mix of a few different things in the story that I thought worked.
A “new” companion (Adam) and the Doctor lecturing him on “just do it, stop nagging me”, hidden commentary on our own culture (entertainment and info overload), the mind port (which struck me as slightly Matrix-y), the “frozen vomit” (I wish I could use that idea on my son), the Doctor angry and leaving a companion behind (which Eccleston did REALLY REALLY well), and humour (Adam’s trying to deal with the mind port).
The main monster wasn’t the biggest threat (except to people who try to pronounce its name), but I liked having Simon Pegg in there. The overall story may not be the best remembered, but there are a lot of little bits I liked in this one.
Becky Crockett: Dalek
Nothing could ever top their initial introduction back in 1963 but this episode made for a fine reintroduction of the Doctor’s biggest foes. In one episode you learn just about everything you need to know about the Daleks. How evil they are, why the Doctor hates them so much. (It takes a lot for the Doctor to absolutely hate something, and they push all the right buttons.) Yet you almost feel sorry for the lone Dalek at the end of the episode and get the sense why the Doctor doesn’t give up on anyone, even Daleks.
Barry Rice: The Long Game
Yes, the CGI work on the Jagrafess is pretty bad, maybe the worst of the entire first series. And, yes, the great Simon Pegg is mostly wasted in a forgettable role.
Look past those faults, though, and there are a lot of great ideas at play in The Long Game. I love the Orwellian concept of a human culture that is completely controlled by the media. It’s the sort of real world parallel that makes for the best science-fiction, in my opinion.
I also love the idea of Adam as a failed companion. In reality, humans are not infallible; some would even say we are inherently wicked. With the wonders the Doctor subjects his companions to, it’s not surprising that one of them would attempt to steal some future technology for personal gain here in the present.
Five episodes later we would return to Satellite 5 for the two-part finale and discover the consequences of the Doctor’s actions. That’s another reason I enjoy this episode: it foreshadows events to come and sets up a thrilling finale in a way we’d never seen before on Doctor Who.
Philip Bates: Aliens of London/ World War III
The thing about Series 1 is, it’s really, really good. Even the ‘bad’ ones are pretty darn good. Picking the most underrated good serial is a tough task. Asked this question in 2005 and I would’ve definitely gone for The Long Game. I basically love all aspects of that episode. I’m still proud that I know the Jagrefess’ name in full off by heart. I love that it’s essentially a Seventh Doctor story, reimagined for the 21st Century. But now, I think everyone knows it’s secretly really good. So I’m going to shine a light on a real underappreciated gem.
Aliens of London/ World War III is a story I shouldn’t like. Given repeat viewings, however, it’s launched itself from mediocrity into something I look forward to revisiting.
This is partly because the characters all work beautifully. The Doctor, Rose Tyler, and Harriet Jones (MP for Flydale North – yes, I know you know who she is) are locked away, seemingly helpless. But Eccleston takes charge. He dares Mickey to save the world from his bedroom (a bit like the Eleventh Doctor does in The Eleventh Hour), and Mickey subsequently dares Jackie to stop him. It’s very intense, even though you know what’s going to happen. Great acting; great direction; great writing.
A missile blowing up Downing Street is simultaneously brilliant and a bit disappointing. The Slitheen, I suppose, are too. They have such potential. Unfortunately, they can’t run – unless it’s in a bit of CGI. And in those graphics, the Slitheen are awesome. I love them, and I’d bring them back in a heartbeat. Yes, I wish they’d quit the gas exchange ‘jokes’, but there’s something very sinister about the family. And there’s something sinister in that final scene, with Mickey and Jackie seeing the TARDIS off and realising that Rose really has changed, and the old her isn’t coming back.
In the end, Aliens of London/ World War III is so good (to me at least) because of two things: the characters and the monsters. That Doctor Who all over.
Pretty soon, the Doctor changes time with just six words. The Ninth Doctor says Harriet is Prime Minister for three terms, ushering in Britain’s Golden Age. In The Christmas Invasion, he shows he’s learnt little from his actions on Satellite 5/Game Station. It’s amazing that the consequences of Aliens of London/ World War III echo into Series 3. The Doctor lives in a believable world. Our world. And that’s why the Ninth Doctor is so important.
Meredith Burdett: The Long Game
Imagine that you’re a television show. A solid, reliable, not phenomenal, but certainly enjoyable television show. Let’s call ourselves The Big Bang Theory.
Now imagine that your slotted in-between two really amazing television shows, Breaking Bad beforehand and The Newsroom afterwards. Let’s face it, you would never stand a chance against these heavyweights but you’re damn confident that you will entertain the audience that has tuned in to watch you.
That’s really the case for The Long Game, a criminally overlooked Doctor Who story that, placed between two HUGE Doctor Who stories (Dalek and Father’s Day), could only ever function as a piece of per functionary entertainment in order to give Doctor Who fans a break in-between the tears and losses and tragedies of the two episodes that surround it.
But The Long Game goes beyond the simple slice of adventuring and fun that writer Russell T Davies originally intended. Not only do we have a setup placed here that will serve as a feeder for the Series 1 finale, we also have Simon Pegg as the very camp and very fun pantomime baddie the Editor. Evil intentions have never been so good.
Most importantly, we have a conclusion to Adam’s story. The boy who went travelling in the TARDIS at the end of Dalek only for the Doctor to find out that not everyone in the Universe is suited to it. Adam’s selfishness and unwillingness to participate in helping the Doctor show something that we’re not used to in the Doctor’s world (in 2005 that is, since then we’ve had loads of companions that couldn’t or wouldn’t), that not everyone will instantly love our Time Lord and follow him around unquestionably. Towards the end of the episode, you’re so thrown by Adam’s actions that you actually believe that the Doctor, as he lumbers towards him, not breaking eye contact for one millisecond, is actually going to thump him. Well, if I’m honest, I didn’t know what was going to happen but my mum (a massive Ninth Doctor fan) was convinced that there was going to be a tussle outside the TARDIS. She even put aside her knitting to really concentrate on the last five minutes of the story, that’s how much of an impact it had in my house.
This is not the most important story in the history of Doctor Who, it never tries to be. It just wants to entertain and perhaps offer some light relief as a reward to a loyal viewer and lets them dry their eyes from the emotional fallout they’ve already been put through.
Perhaps you should go back and try it again; don’t demand that it has to be utterly, ground-breaking, amazing drama. Just let yourself be entertained for 43 minutes by the Ninth Doctor and Rose. You may well be surprised what you come away with.
Nick Kitchen: Father’s Day
I think the most overlooked and underrated story in Series 1 has to be Father’s Day. Doctor Who is great at threatening us with why changing the past can be dangerous, but very rarely takes us on a journey that actually shows the consequences. This episode delivered on the consequences and fallout in the relationship of Rose and the Doctor. Speaking of which, Eccleston and Piper give their best overall performance of the season in this story. The selfish desire that pushes Rose to do something stupid; the rage and frustration of the Doctor with more “ignorant” beings. Piper’s Rose is at her most believable in the closing moments of the story as she comforts Pete as he dies.
I dare say this is a masterpiece of modern Doctor Who.
James Whittington: The End of the World
If there was ever an episode of new Doctor Who that threw all of its money at the screen then it was The End of the World. Packed with state-of-the-art effects, the episode harked back to the Agatha Christie vibe of Robots Of Death, except that this story isn’t half as smart as that one. In truth the story is incredibly light and here only to show off what the effects team can achieve with an added element of human emotion; the moment Rose realises that wherever she is at that point in time everyone that she knows will be dead, so to speak.
Now, Cassandra was a great idea, even though a rather shoddy piece of CGI. More camp than scary, she set the template for how a lot of baddies would be in this new series format; one only has to look at the over-written Master/Mistress the re-vamped series has produced.
A guilty pleasure it maybe but all of what was to come can be seen in this adventure – some good, some not so good – but it’s easy on the eye and taxes the brain very little.
Alasdair Shaw: The Long Game
It’s easy to forget about The Long Game. Its subdued colours and understated soundtrack keep it off most people’s radar. And I completely underestimated it the first time I watched it; it’s not until you go back after watching the series finale do you realise how deftly it sets events in motion.
Not only does it provide a pre-existing back drop for the next Dalek invasion, it also sets up the idea that the Doctor doesn’t always leave things as resolved as we’re lead to believe.
But for me what this episode does really well is showcase what it takes to be a companion. Adam crosses several lines and is thrown unceremoniously out of the TARDIS back into his 21st Century hallway. I’ve always wondered what it would take to get expelled – after all, Turlough tried to murder the Doctor a few times and was still allowed to stay. Hell, even the Master got offered a space at one point.
If you haven’t watched The Long Game since its first broadcast then maybe it’s time for another watch.
That’s what we think. Now it’s your turn! Vote below for the most underrated serial of Series 1, and we’ll find out the overall winner later this year…