Doctor Who Classics -The Sixties

It’s that time when we bloggers make lists, best of the best compilations and recommendations on various subjects. I’m not much for lists personally. I can be found describing many Doctor Who stories as my ‘favorite,’ which always makes me self conscious because surely one is meant to have only one favorite rather than several. In any case, I have lots of favorites.

In the case of Doctor Who, a program over 40 years old and featuring over 11 actors on the part (if you count spin-offs and the Peter Cushing films), I can’t bring myself to compose a single list of what I consider classics. Instead, I’m going to break it down into four categories; the 1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s and the BBC Wales program (I’m leaving the interesting stuff for last). I’ll try to restrict myself to just a few main choices and will note a few ‘runners up’ as well.

The 60’s is a tough era because so much of it is not available as it appeared back when it first aired. I have braved a few reconstructions but it’s not the same and leaves this period of Doctor Who sadly lacking in material for rating.

1960’s Part One: William Hartnell

William Hartnell played the first Doctor with such gusto and sincerity that the delivery of his defiant dialog to various alien threats was bombastic and bold, challenging the weird and terrifying monsters who had sent children hiding behind the sofa. This was the version of the Doctor who fought against the creatures that went bump in the night with strength of purpose. This is a quality written into every incarnation, but it was so strong with Hartnell who genuinely believed in the part and was playing the role of hero to children at home, even his own granddaughter. As an actor, Hartnell had devoted his life to the craft and he likely knew that this was to be his final role. As such, it’s probably no surprise that he embraced the role and infused it with so much energy and enthusiasm that the character is still with us today.

There was no room for flowery prose of an insistence from the supporting cast that the Doctor would win in the end. In many cases the companions doubted the Doctor’s motives, but he always came through in the end.

Dalek Invasion of Earth (click to read my full review)

The first Dalek story is a high water mark, a magnificent mixture of high adventure, science fiction and prophetic horror. With the demand for more Daleks on screen, the sequel had a lot to accomplish and did so with flying colors. Dalek Invasion of Earth starts with a robotized zombie committing suicide by drowning himself in the Thames as the TARDIS materializes into a bombed out London of the near future.

When the Doctor discovers that the Daleks have escapes their fate on Skaro, he takes the mission of stopping their progress on Earth personally. As this is the second Dalek story, it is the only time that such a declaration held any dramatic cache. Ever since it has been without question that the Doctor will stop the Daleks, but in this case he roars at them like a champion.

The direction is stunning with eye catching sequences of the Daleks roaming all over London, declaring their supremacy in Trafalgar Square in chilling visuals as a maddening drum beat dominates the soundtrack. The Daleks travel by flying saucer, have adapted massive skirts and radar dishes to travel almost anywhere and have even enlisted the human race against itself with their robo-men (strangely played for laughs in the Peter Cushing version). It’s an obvious choice perhaps, but Dalek Invasion of Earth remains one of my all time favorite Hartrnell stories.

The War Machines

A less obvious choice for a 1960’s classic is the War Machines. A predecessor to many Troughton adventures and in some ways the message of the Cybermen, the War Machines is essentially a pulp science fiction thriller in which technology has progressed so far that machines can do all of the thinking for mankind, then the unthinkable happens and the machines revolt. The plot is nothing new, but the storytelling style is very different for Doctor Who as two new characters are introduced (the under-rated Ben and Polly) and the superfluous Dodo is cast aside.

The real reason that I love this one is because of the echoes of what is to come along with the Doctor’s stalwart courage against insurmountable odds. It’s something else to see the Doctor, a frail old man in a cloak, stare down a war machine as it lumbers toward him, the military cowering in the background. For me, it is one of those defining moments of the character as the Doctor has no real plan or scheme just yet, he is simply so sure of his success and reviles the robotic threat posed against a helpless population. Great stuff.

Honorable mentions: The Aztecs, The Romans, The Time Meddler.

All three of these stories are wonderfully written and very clever as well. The Aztecs is also remarkable in that it allowed a supporting cast member to take the limelight! The Romans by Dennis Spooner is a wonderful mix of comedy and adventure the likes of which Doctor Who has rarely seen since. The same can be said about the Time Meddler which introduced the idea that the Doctor is not the only member of his race by showing the Meddling Monk played by the incredible Peter Butterworth.

Because of the lack of material on screen, several stories are missed such as Marco Polo, the Dalek’s Master Plan, The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve and The Savages.

(Peruse my reviews of Hartnell stories here)

1960’s Part Two: Patrick Troughton

With the loss of the leading man, a replacement was not an easy task. Veteran character actor Patrick Troughton stepped into the role with such energy that can only be imitated by his successors. Troughton’s era is mainly the same story over and over, monsters attack, the Doctor defeats them. Whereas the previous era had some variation of historic and science fiction stories, the second life of the series was all about the monsters. The Cybermen, Ice Warriors, Yeti, Quarks, Krotons and more were battled during the short three year stint that defined the program all over again.

Tomb of the Cybermen

Tomb of the Cybermen is the earliest complete story from the Troughton era. Before it was recovered in 1991, it was regarded highly by fandom as a lost classic. Images of the Cybermen emerging from their honeycomb tombs and the terrifying Cybercontroller towering over his troops haunted fans of the program for ages. When it was finally released on VHS, it was apparently derided by fans and removed from, its point of reverence, which… if true…. is ludicrous.

Tomb of the Cybermen not only has some of the best dialog and character interactions (check out the amazing scene between Troughton and Deborah Watling as he discusses how strange and remarkable their lives are… something that not even the BBC Wales version has achieved) but it also makes the Cybermen damned creepy. These are the steel-encased boogey men that come in the night and whisk you away to be ripped apart. I am a huge fan of the 60’s Cybermen stories and have watched the reconstruction of Moonbase more times than I’d like to admit, but this is an excellent adventure. The Doctor is shown as manipulative, cunning, brave and rather neurotic as he places himself into deadly situations only to freak out when threatened. The second incarnation of the Doctor is a Chinese puzzle, appearing to be a cartoon character on the surface while beneath he is a brilliant mastermind. There are many moments that spotlight the greatness of the 2nd Doctor, I’m just listing this one and the next as personal favorites.

The War Games

Another case of an obvious choice, the War Games could be the second Troughton adventure I saw all the way through on public TV(after the Seeds of Death). War Games is a few episodes too long but it is poised on the most interesting and entertaining concept that Doctor Who has ever explored, so the length can be excused surely.

The Doctor and his companions think that they have landed on Earth during one of its many wars only to discover that there is something far more sinister at work. Alien beings using technology very similar to the Doctors are pitting armies against each other in a weird historic conflict over several war zones. The victors are trained and equipped as the deadliest army ever assembled. The problem proves so difficult that the Doctor concedes to call upon his own people to put everything back in place, and nothing is ever the same again.

The Troughton era was full of humor, action, stunning special effects such as stop motion animation and other visual trickery and a menagerie of monsters. The last adventure seemed to be a cacophonous crescendo of madness that closed one chapter only to start another.

Honorable mentions: The Macra Terror, The Faceless Ones, The Enemy of the World, The Abominable Snowmen, the Ice Warriors and the Invasion.

The Troughton era was hit the hardest by the BBC wiping of tapes, with what appear to be many excellent stories lost. I have watched reconstructions and can vouch for this three year period as being one of the best and perhaps the one I am fondest of. The Macra Terror is an oddity, full of paranoia and social statements aplenty and I mourn its loss daily. The Faceless Ones was an exercise in horror and the single remaining complete episode is a stunner. There is simply too much high quality material here and my attempting to summarize it is almost an insult.

(Peruse my reviews of Troughton stories here)

More to come as I venture into the 70’s where curls, stripes and sweets took over Doctor Who. Please feel free to chime in with your own choice selections below!


Doctor Who – Lost in Time Collection of Rare Episodes – The William Hartnell Years and the Patrick Troughton Years

Doctor Who: The Dalek Invasion of Earth

Doctor Who – The Aztecs

Doctor Who: The Tomb of the Cybermen

Doctor Who: The War Games

Doctor Who: The Seeds of Death

Doctor Who: The Invasion

19 thoughts on “Doctor Who Classics -The Sixties

  1. I liked Tomb of the Cybermen… I really need to watch the War Games. It is so long, though, that I keep putting it off because I want to watch it all at once… even though I know people originally had to wait a long time to see things play out one episode at a time!

    It is a shame so many of both of these Doctors’ stories are lost in time. Clearly you don’t have to watch every episode ever performed to enjoy the show… but I do feel like I will always be missing something.


  2. I find this statement really puzzling:

    “This was the version of the Doctor who fought against the creatures that went bump in the night with strength of purpose. This is a quality written into every incarnation, but it was so strong with Hartnell who genuinely believed in the part and was playing the role of hero to children at home, even his own granddaughter.”

    I would actually say the First Doctor was the Doctor of whom this was least true.

    It seems to me that the First Doctor was more of a wanderer who was loathe to do any fighting. He always tried to avoid getting involved, occasionally showing a bit of a selfish streak and lacked a lot of the moral responsibility of the other Doctors. Usually, the Hartnell Doctor would only get involved in opposing the enemy when he or his companions were put in danger.

    Although the First Doctor was the least heroic, apart from the Sixth who was something of a throwback, I find him quite interesting and it adds to why I like the First Doctor.

    I would argue that the First Doctor was a teenager in an old man’s body. He is the least mature and responsible Doctor and it was his later incarnations that would grow into being the champion of goodness.


    • I think that you just disagree on my take with the first Doctor, or maybe you haven’t seen enough of his stories. Seeing him as an irresponsible teenager in an old man’s body rings true for some of his behavior in a few stories such as Unearthly Child and Daleks, but as he grew the character became a defiant champion against monsters as evidenced in the examples I cited. Almost all of the Doctors are depicted as aimless wanderers with perhaps the exception of the seventh Doctor.

      The sixth can actually be seen as even younger than a teenager, his secret teddy bear, colorful costume and kitty cat pins are so childlike that it makes his violent tendencies all the more upsetting. The sixth incarnation is a very interesting version of the Doctor sadly cut down too soon.


      • I don’t think we see the Doctor deliberately get involved in anything in The Aztecs, quite the opposite. He tells Barbara she can’t change history. His actions in that story are focused on getting back to the TARDIS.

        In The Romans the Doctor does not set out to do anything particularly heroic.

        In The Time Meddler, the Doctor takes action to stop the Monk, but his concern is dealing with a misguided member of his own race rather than saving human lives.

        Your main example is The Dalek Invasion of Earth. The Doctor helps to save the planet from the Daleks, but right from the beginning of the story, the TARDIS crew were separated from the TARDIS and forced by circumstances to get involved.

        The War Machines is actually closer to the Troughton era in style. I don’t think it should be given too much weight in considering the overall character of the First Doctor.


      • They should have put the First Doctor on trial. It would have been so fun to see the Hartnell Doctor arguing with the Valeyard!

        “You think that I’m a meddler, do you? mmm Indeed! We shall see about that! Yes! mmmm”


      • I agree that the first Doctor would have been great on trial. I still don’t see that the first Doctor deliberately refrained from getting involved, but we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. In any case, you haven’t chimed in on your favorite 60’s stories. I’m really curious about what your favorites would be.


      • Interesting review. I just bought War Games on DvD and I am planning to watch it soon. Of course due to length I am a bit intimidated.

        As for Hartnell, I agree with you. One of the things that makes his era interesting is that it is not just the Doctor saving people from monsters. That become more of the formula from season 4 onwards. The fact that he mostly exploring the universe and not out on a mission makes his character more realistic and less superhuman.

        Early stories are getting back to the Tardis like Aztecs where it is stuck in the pyramid or Macro Polo where Polo steals it. Could you imagine a Tom Baker story where he struggled with something like that? Or a 7th doctor story?

        As Hartnell keep at the role he began to chose to get involved regardless if it concerned him. It was a gradual change. That is probably why Colin’s Doctor was a shock. People either had forget or where unaware of his early days were he was more selfish.


      • Okay. I am not including lost stories, because I don’t think it’s fair to compare complete with incomplete serials.

        1. An Unearthly Child

        (the whole lot, not just the first episode. A really flawless story)

        2. The Sensorites

        (it’s slow, but it is a great story for Susan and it has a gentleness that I really appreciate)

        3. The Daleks

        (I like the first Dalek story much more than Dalek Invasion of Earth)

        4. The Edge of Destruction

        (Jacqueline Hill’s performance in this is stunning)

        5. The Ark

        (because everybody in the far future wears flip flops)

        6. The Web Planet

        (It takes one to another world, as long as you can use your imagination)

        7. The Aztecs

        (another great Barbara story)

        8. The Seeds of Death

        (the best surviving Troughton story in my opinion)

        9. The Chase

        (it’s silly, but it’s awfully fun)

        10. The Dominators

        (I don’t get why people hate this)


  3. I, too, miss all those early stories that were wiped. I find it hard to argue with your choices for the cream of the 1960s, though, like the poster above, I prefer “The Daleks” and the intro to Skaro over the pepperpots coming to Earth. I loved the screwball “The Romans,” but allow me to suggest that “The Web Planet” has been unfairly maligned, mostly because of its regrettable effects. (Even I laugh every time that poor actor wearing the Zarbi costume slams into the camera!) But I don’t think you can argue with how atmospheric the story is. And at least the production teams was trying to do something different. Not the best, but something of a diamond in the rough.

    There is no debating “Tomb of the Cybermen,” however: It is a true gem. I wish more Troughton stories were available, as I am blown away by his work in the tales I have seen. The Second Doctor is truly missed. And I can see the echoes of his persona in Matt Smith’s portrayal of the 11th Doctor. So Troughton’s legacy lives on.


    • Not only do the Zarbi bump into the cameras, they come careening at them full speed! There’s also the moment magnificent when you hear laughter on the set after a cave-in. But the script is inspired and the Animus is one of the creepiest monsters ever. Matt Smith borrows heavily from Troughton which is very touching and pays homage to the program’s history.


  4. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on
    the video to make your point. You definitely know what youre talking about, why throw away your
    intelligence on just posting videos to your blog when you could be giving us
    something enlightening to read?


    • Thanks for visiting. If you want more words from me on Doctor Who, you can to the right place, my friend.

      I would direct you to my seven year’s worth of reviews and articles on Doctor Who that can be perused here: This particular series of articles (best of 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and the new series) was more of a compilation of my favorites.

      I have many more reviews about Doctor Who and I update the blog daily, so there is no shortage of material. Please continue to read and post responses to what you think as well as any requests if you have them.


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