Friday, March 20, 2020


Doctor Who Playlists – How Doctor Who and Self-Isolation Can Inspire Completely Sensible Plans (ish)

Do you want to watch some Doctor Who? Aliens from the past; wonders from the future; all of time and space. It’s the trip of a lifetime…

But where to start? Which Doctors? What style? Monsters, villains, scary horror? Wit, weirdness, wild ideas? Adventures in history, alien worlds, a bit of politics? Or sheer fun?

On the off-chance that to start at the beginning and watch all 296 stories in order is a little daunting, I’ve made a self-isolation playlist for you to dip in and out of different Doctors and experience the show’s variety much more quickly. Intrigued? Read on.

I’m not going to explain who or what Doctor Who is this time – I’ve done that before (here’s my So Who is The Doctor Anyway? All You Need To Know About Doctor Who if you want that) and, besides, it’s all becoming more complicated. For now, the Doctor is a traveller in time and space who goes anywhere, from Earth’s past, present and future to alien worlds and stranger places still. The Doctor respects life rather than authority, obeys no-one else’s rules but has a clear moral sense, preferring to use intelligence rather than violence, and takes joy in taking friends to explore the wonders of the Universe.

If you’re stuck at home and want to watch some Doctor Who for a week or three, with more than half a century’s-worth – what you need is a playlist, a ‘box set’. Here’s one (and more) I prepared earlier to make it easy. Almost as importantly, one of the things that’s made Doctor Who last so long is variety – if you don’t like one story, something completely different will probably be along in a couple of weeks; if you don’t like one Doctor or creative team, something completely different will probably be along in a couple of years. I just speed that up a bit by suggesting a list that leaps all over the place. A binge-watching buffet! Here goes…

53 Doctor Who Stories For a Week or Three

I’ve identified each story by the actor playing the Doctor because names are easier to read than a blizzard of numbers (even for media where the actor wasn’t directly involved). And because numbers get increasingly complicated…

Why 53 Stories?

Well, it’s a lot more manageable than nearly 300 so far, isn’t it? If you have to self-isolate for a month, you can probably manage a couple a day.

The original idea was inspired by Doctor Who’s 52nd anniversary (November 23rd, 2015). It’s an important and popular fact that there are 52 weeks in a year, which seemingly leads to 52 stories. I picked one Doctor Who story for every week – then, if you start with a story at the beginning of your first week and finish with one at the end of your last week, you’ll watch 53 stories in a year. There’s another reason, too, which will make you groan. So keep reading!

Why This Sequence?

Variety. And the odd pattern. The main thing you’ll notice as you watch is that I’ve grouped stories thematically – so the first three, for example, are introductions to the series, then three for Christmas (ish. Enjoy the Nativity). I’ll leave the rest for you to work out, and to see if you can guess how each story links in turn to the next, because some of them even I can’t quite remember.

Many other fans have picked their own essential to-watch choices. Most such Doctor Who playlists I’ve seen select stories in chronological order; others in order of preference. I wanted a list that offered a lot more of a mix than that. So I jump around as many Doctors as possible (with a few for each) and choose different types of adventure to keep you interested. I’m not writing a history of Doctor Who, but trying to tempt and divert you with a constantly changing assortment. They’re not my own ‘top 53’, either – almost all the list are stories I like, but to stick to only my own preferences might have been too narrow. Besides, you wouldn’t believe how agonisingly long it took me to cut it down from well over a hundred. I love a lot of Doctor Who.

You can watch anything at any time, but just to give you an idea, my original ‘year’ of weekly Doctor Who didn’t begin in January. If you were to start watching as I’d initially planned on Doctor Who’s birthday of November 23rd and, at one a week, finish on November 20th, that would be the anniversary of the final episode of The Deadly Assassin. But that’s not the real reason it closes the box set – it’s because it’s my favourite story, so I made it the climax. And also because, if I’d kept to my original plan and blogged one story a week, readers would’ve expected it to stop at 52 and then been surprised. The Deadly Assassin has the line “A mere 53 storeys high”.

I told you you’d groan.

Why No Jodie Whittaker?

Only time. I constructed this list in 2015. The antepenultimate story in the sequence is Survival, which was the last story broadcast in Doctor Who’s original 26-year run, then the penultimate story was chosen to be from the latest Doctor Who: it fitted at the time that The Girl Who Died was both part of the most recent season and that, like Survival, it pointedly says, ‘So, is this the end…? No! The story continues.’

First time round, it took me weeks of putting stories in and taking them out to settle on the original list. When I opened the file again this week, I found that even between starting publishing weekly choices and tailing off I’d definitely, probably, decided that I had to include The Curse of Peladon (1972) and The Robots of Death (1977) too. But I’d been completely unable to decide which two stories to cut out (try watching Peladon as about 7b and Robots about 28b if you feel like it). So the thought of weeks of indecision as I tried to rejig the whole thing and cut out half a dozen stories so as to include the current Doctor filled me with horror. It would never get done.

Yet she is the Doctor, she’s brilliant and I don’t want to leave her out, so here, for a start, are half a dozen particularly interesting stories you might watch for the current and Thirteenth* (*you wonder why I didn’t number them) Doctor:

Then I spent a couple of days making a different list to do Jodie justice after all, which you’ll find if you scroll down.

I also recommend Gatecrashers, Joy Wilkinson’s Thirteenth Doctor short story which opens last year’s anthology Doctor Who – The Target Storybook (and which is probably my favourite in there). I love Doctor Who in other media, too…

Half A Dozen Stories I Actually Published Reasons To Watch (plus another five. WTF?)

Ten Reasons to Watch Robot

Five Reasons to Read Doctor Who and the Cybermen

Ten Reasons to Watch An Unearthly Child

Five Reasons to Read Doctor Who In An Exciting Adventure With the Daleks

Five Reasons to Watch The Trip of a Lifetime Trailer

Ten Reasons to Watch Rose

Five Reasons to Read Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion

Ten Reasons to Watch Ghost Light

Five Reasons to Listen To Home Truths

Ten Reasons to Watch Last Christmas

Ten Reasons to Watch The Rescue

If you just read one, try the Ten Reasons… for Rose. That’s one of my better (and more heartfelt) pieces of writing.

Anyway… My original idea was to write about one Doctor Who story every week, giving ten reasons to watch each in turn. What could possibly go wrong? Several mental and physical health catastrophes played a fairly major part in bringing my writing to a grinding halt, but I also have an unerring ability to overcomplicate things.

I’d deliberately chosen 53 stories that were broadcast on TV and which still exist – the most accessible form of Doctor Who. But why not, I thought, make it up to a full hundred by also fitting in and around them many other forms of Doctor Who that I love just as much? Novelisations, novels, audio dramas, comic strips, even a trailer (by far the shortest choice in here). And a few are even brilliant Doctor Who stories the BBC transmitted in the 1960s and then burnt (yes, I know), all of which survive as soundtracks recorded at home, some of which have some surviving episodes, and others which have since been animated to give them a new lease of life.

Obviously adding this extra layer of work was a brilliant ploy to make absolutely sure my schedule would come crashing down.

But if Doctor Who on television alone isn’t enough for you, either – and why should it be? – then here is the expanded list on the same themes.

53 Doctor Who TV Stories plus 47 More Complicated Choices To Experience

I hope that whets your appetite. Or makes you binge. One thing that especially delights me is that, since I made this list four and a half years ago, The Macra Terror has changed from being just a soundtrack with a few surviving pictures and film clips to a full animation, making one of my favourite stories very much easier to watch (and, on the Steelbook, you get the almost as marvellous Gridlock as a bonus). You might also realise that there are four there in dual formats, but they’re probably the best Target books and great television too (can you guess which one I think is even better on TV than on the page?).

This monster of strange diversity is my favourite list. Of course it is. It’s just a little bit too much, but I love Doctor Who more than a little too much. But if you want something less absurd, I have one more list of 53 to go. And it’s free!

This is the easiest to watch (at least, if you’re in the UK). I took the 21st Century TV stories I’d already chosen above and took the last two days adding more to make them up to a full 53 (well, mostly adding too many then cutting them back) and trying to make the order interesting – starting, again, with adventures that make the best introductions, and finishing, again, with the very latest and then my favourite. But what makes this the simplest to watch is that every single story is on BBC iPlayer, officially, for free, so all you need do is sit on your sofa and click.

Doctor Who – The iPlayer Menu

Doctor Who – The Classic Buffet

Having spent two days working out a ‘new Who’ list I thought, well, why not do the same for ‘classic Who’? So I made a shortlist of the stories that weren’t on the original list but were absolutely necessary, counted them up, realised that 57 extra stories would be just a few too many to fit into the slots left by taking 17 from 53, hummed and hawed, tried making a shorter short list, and decided that the only way to cut the list short was to stop immediately or I would never, ever, finish and publish.


Oh, Go On, Then: The Extras

Half a dozen brilliant Doctor Who box sets on Blu-ray if you want to watch sequentially after all

I’ll make a confession. Had I written my Ten Reasons To Watch Logopolis as planned, then six of the reasons (well, five, at least) would have been the other stories in Season Eighteen, because it’s not just a superb collection of stories but Doctor Who’s most thematically consistent season, and I’d encourage you to watch them as well. Logopolis is at its best as the summation and explosion of those, the finale to the concept album. So now you can add some more stories to the lists above after all.

Even More Doctor Who from Big Finish

While the unfolding story of Doctor Who continues to expand on TV every year or two, Doctor Who on audio is growing at a far faster rate. Another confession: there’s so much of it, and I’m so often not up to enjoying things, that I’m way, way behind with Big Finish’s Doctor Who productions, but in the last couple of years I’ve made an effort to catch up with at least some of them. So I’ve listened to quite a lot of their Sylvester McCoy adventures, Lost Stories, other Doctors (and Masters) in the Time War, and a few of their series starring other characters such as Jago & Litefoot, the Counter-Measures team and River Song, many of all of which are terrific. If you get a taste for them, here are an extra half a dozen:

I love particularly two of their ongoing teams alongside Sylvester McCoy:
With Ace and Hex, starting with The Harvest (set in 2021, so almost now) and reaching a peak with A Death in the Family;
With a very different companion in Klein, for whom I’d recommend the trilogy of four A Thousand Tiny Wings, Klein’s Story, Survival of the Fittest and The Architects of History, as well as UNIT: Dominion, where Klein’s not the only character not to be who you expect.

It’s hard to choose just one of their Master stories, because so many of them are so good (well, not good, exactly, but…). I’d rush to listen to any Derek Jacobi, because he gets to do so much more on audio and is not just amazing in the part but delightful (and disturbing) in the added interviews. Or Michelle Gomez, for much the same reasons.
Perhaps the best choice is The Diary of River Song Volume Five – the stories are excellent, and you get four superb Masters to play with (despite no Alex Macqueen). Next year they unleash Masterful, or The Eight Masters (without Sacha Dhawan as yet, though as he’s done other roles for them and clearly adores being utterly fantastic in the part, surely he will before long).
The Diary of River Song Volume One – Signs is another favourite for Sam West (which reminds me: he’s fabulous as an entire family in Serpent in the Silver Mask).

Also on audio – and on the page, which is marvellous, but read by Tom Baker with charisma and ad-libs is more marvellous still:

Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who’s most prolific novelist died last year. I noticed with a bit of a pang that, though I started my list with the TV story he wrote that got me into Doctor Who in the first place, in my determination for variety I’d only chosen two of his books for the expanded version. So here, as is now traditional, are an extra half a dozen. All are good reads, and the first has the greatest opening line in Doctor Who:

I Hope You Enjoyed All That

Well, some of it, at least.

Did you find a list that was to your taste? If they were all too intimidating, just pick any story, from any list, and give it a go.

Very little me watched Robot quite by accident, forty-five years ago, and I had no idea what I was getting into. Thanks to that experience, I’m still into it.

Irritatingly, Blogger won’t upload any new photos from my PC right now. After ages of fiddling last night, I managed to upload some from my phone. This morning, it’s as if Blogger spotted the functionality and won’t let me do even that now. It’s really not helping me get back into blogging after so long away, however determined.

I also couldn’t find a way to space out the credits from the titles above, so they look rather cramped and a bit of a mess. But I took some screenshots from my draft and pasted them in from my phone at about 2am. That’s only one of the reasons I’m very knackered. As an experiment, the lists pasted as images below may be easier to read for some; if you’re partially sighted and are using some form of text reader, the lists above have identical content as the versions below.

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