NuWho 10th Anniversary: What Is Your Most Underrated Series 3 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.
Martha Jones’ life on the TARDIS started on the moon. She met Daleks, a living sun, the Family of Blood, and the Master. We’ve looked at our favourite stories, but what’s the most underrated serial of Series 3?
James Whittington: Utopia
Forget John Simm and Michelle Gomez and their way over-the-top portrayals of the Master: the only one who has grabbed the real essence of the character was given a few short minutes to shine. Sir Derek Jacobi.
Utopia is your bog-standard new Series 3 episode with the Tenth Doctor being all moody and shouty and Martha doing her best to grab his attention. Even good old Captain Jack seems tired of it all, but up steps Professor Yana and it all becomes so much fun. Jacobi takes the script and teases the audience with a fully fleshed out character who seems to be missing a few brain cells but is looked upon with respect. When he opens up his fob watch (it’s a long story), the realisation of who he truly is is quite superb. Add to this that one of his first tasks is to kill his faithful assistant, Chantho (Chipo Chung) we all know the Master is back to his purely evil best. This scene sums up the character instantly; he cares not for a soul but himself and it’s such a shame he had to regenerate and that the rest of this story became a bit of a damp squib.
Alex Skerratt: Gridlock
Nobody ever seems to talk about Gridlock – and yet, having just Googled it, I see that it appears high up in many people’s episode polls. Although maybe not as high up as Blink, which seems to eclipse everything! And maybe that’s the issue…? With Series 3, there is a tendency to either praise the Weeping Angels, or throw tomatoes at the Daleks, and solid episodes like Gridlock are overlooked. It’s a shame, because the concept is intelligent and fun, and there’s a healthy balance of humour and terror, and some suitably ‘crabby’ villains lurking in the exhaust fumes. And let’s face it, seeing those classic creatures return after a 40 year absence was truly awesome. So if you’re one of those people who feels that Gridlock never gets the attention it deserves, trust me – You Are Not Alone!
Becky Crockett: 42
Because it precedes three amazing episodes, and then what is essentially a three-part series finale, it tends to be forgotten and seen almost as filler before getting to the good stuff at the end of the series. It does, however, give Martha a chance to do something, which is nice, and even manages to advance the series-long Saxon/Master/Martha’s family plotline, and it will be the last time that plot is even mentioned in the series till we get to The Sound Of Drums. Add to that the use of real time in the episode makes the danger they face more compelling.
Plus it’s titled 42, a nod to the Answer to The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything…
Joe Siegler: Smith and Jones
Underrated Series 3 serial? Smith and Jones. Coming off of Series 2, I was quite glad to see Rose’s backside (no piggish remark intended). I never liked Rose once she got to Doctor 10, so a new companion was needed. I loved Martha, as while they did play off the “Doctor getting over Rose” most of the season, she as a character wasn’t defined by her relationship with the Doctor. She travelled with the Doctor, yes, but to me didn’t seem defined by what she wanted. Having said that, they did in the end cheapen Martha a bit by having her long for the Doctor, but that’s a different story.
I thought Smith and Jones was a great introduction to a companion. The first time you saw the Doctor, it was a time jump trick. The kind of thing you don’t see very often in Doctor Who, and something I wish they did more. We saw the Doctor from a point where he came back from the end of the story to prove a point. I loved that. The comedy of him being in a hospital bed worked for me, as did his and Martha’s interactions when she examined his hearts. Seemed really light and fresh after the dirge that was the Rose “relationship”. Good stuff. As was the Doctor’s “Judoon platoon upon the Moon” line later on.
The Judoon were an interesting character visually. I always had a thing for characters that we as the viewer can’t understand, but everyone else can (cue R2D2). Martha and the Doctor sneaking around once the hospital was taken to the moon was cool. Speaking of that, the concept of picking up a building to move it to the Judoon’s “legal jurisdiction” was a pretty hilarious concept. The visual of the Judoon marching across the moon’s surface gave me some flashbacks to the Cybermen in Troughton’s The Moonbase. We also got an example of the Doctor’s like for gift shops, an odd character quirk that I thought should have been followed up on more. Lots of comedy in that.
The villain of the episode was a bit cartoonish with sucking people’s blood out with a straw, but I didn’t have a problem with that. There was plenty of cool stuff to counterbalance it. I guess I’ll be repeating myself that Martha was such a breath of fresh air after Rose, but I was bummed she left after just a single series.
To finish off, I should mention there is an oft forgotten line from this episode where the Doctor briefly mentions he used to have a brother…
Drew Boynton: Gridlock
It seems like Gridlock isn’t super-underrated, as it seems to have its fans, but I’m going to make a tough choice and pick it as my Most Underrated of Series 3. Simply put, this is an episode that should not be as good as it is.
The crazy mix of events and characters in this episode make it seem as though Russell T. Davies put a bunch of little slips of paper into a hat, drew one or two out as he needed them, and then completed the script that way. I mean, we have a traffic jam of floating cars that has been going on for decades (which I’m not sure makes sense, but anyway…), cat people (I love you, Brannigan!), a desolate future, Martha kidnapped by a good-looking couple, an unheralded return of the Macra, the heralded return of both Novice Hame and the Face of Boe (Hi, Jack!), and all topped off by an emotional showdown between the Doctor and Martha where he finally tells her of Gallifrey’s destruction.
Oh yeah, and also comments on drugs, pollution, modern society, and religion. Whew! Taken separately, almost any of the above could have been the basis of a whole episode on ITS OWN. Jumbled together and run through RTD’s magical word processor, it somehow all gels together to make the Most Underrated Episode of Series 3!
Philip Bates: The Lazarus Experiment
Oh, why do people overlook The Lazarus Experiment? Everything about it is great. Apart from the monster not actually looking like Mark Gatiss. Otherwise, it’s a good, solid design. As a failed evolutionary possibility, it works. As a memorable creature to genuinely threaten the Doctor and co., it works too.
The chase scenes are terrifically acted, nicely thought-out, and beautifully directed. And just look at the design work! Lazarus’ labs are silky smooth, corporate, blingy, stylised, and utterly creepy. That’s what I look for in a Bad Guy’s HQ. Except I’m not sure Lazarus is a baddie.
What I like most about The Lazarus Experiment is its humanity. From Richard, from Martha, from Tish, from everyone concerned. Even the Doctor shows glimmering traces of humanity. Because this story shines when it’s focused on the plight of the human race: our dreams, aspirations, fears, insecurities, nastiness, and our rage, rage, against the dying of the night. Doctor Who doesn’t examine death too much. The series is drenched in blood, of course, but this episode hints at a fear of death. More often than not, death can seem trivial, pointless, both in Doctor Who and in reality. Here, the weight of the terrible notion hangs over proceedings. The Doctor is positive about everything, he knows so much – but we’re not aware of what he knows of death. Does the veil momentarily slip over him during regeneration? Does he cheat it at every opportunity? Or is it all guess work? Either way, the man who is essentially immortal seems so idealistic. But what right does he have decrying someone else’s work to extend their years?
Retroactively, perhaps, the Doctor is concerned over his own death too. He must know he only has a couple of regenerations left (unaware as he is of the events in The Stolen Earth/ Journey’s End, and then of course, of The Time of the Doctor), so is he just putting on this jovial spirit?
Nonetheless, at the end, we find further questions about religion. I’m not sure Lazarus is particularly a Christian, but that doesn’t matter; he seeks solace in the church because he did when he was young. That parallel is truly affecting. I also love how at the end, he’s essentially just one guy struggling against the inevitable – alone. Meanwhile, Martha has her family there. She gives Tish a glimpse of what she’s experiencing – then she’s off again, once the Time Lord decides he wants to get over himself, that he doesn’t want to be on his own.
Those final scenes in the church are among my favourites from Series 3. The Lazarus Experiment deserves to have a life beyond its 40-odd minutes on screen.
Tony Jones: 42
If there is a problem with 42 it’s the fact it was immediately overshadowed by the following run of episodes (Human Nature / Family of Blood and Blink). This is a shame as there is a lot about 42 that stands out.
Re-watching the story makes it easier to compare with Chris Chibnall’s later Who titles and, in some way I have yet to think through, it has similarities with The Power of Three though in many ways is a far more satisfactory story.
As a Douglas Adams fan I choose to care more about the Hitchhiker’s Guide reference in the title than the fact this is the running time of the episode. It is, however, this tight running time that gives the episode much of its feel, and the simple fact of a looming deadline as the ship falls into a star. Both Martha and the Doctor get a set of challenges to complete and both come together before the ship can be saved and the Doctor has to be as heroic as any character as he saves Martha when her escape pod gets flung from the ship.
Every scene serves a purpose though the dialogue finds time for in-jokes, romance, secrets, sacrifice, and connections to the show’s recent past and the season conclusion. Martha gets a phone upgrade not only to confirm her status, but also to act as the solution to an Elvis/ Beatles puzzle and in turn link Martha to Saxon via her mother.
This story oozes polish, drama and quality. Michelle Collins gives a great performance as the ship’s captain, still fatally attracted to her possessed husband, and there is far more to this story than many episodes that simply pad out the season.
It may not be very best episode in the season, but it is very far from the worst. Very far.
That’s what we think. Now it’s your turn! Vote below for the most underrated serial of Series 3, and we’ll find out the overall winner later this year…