With a new Doctor on the way there are always little things that get me amped up for a new era. Sure there’s the obvious things like “What will his personality be like?” “How will he mesh with his companion?” and “What will the show be like with this new Doctor?” However, what I look forward to the most is the first episode. I love seeing how The Doctor behaves right out of the gate. When The Doctor has to deal with acclimatizing to his new form, and to boot how erratic his behavior tends to be. Then the episode happily concludes with this wonderful sense of new possibilities, and new places to see. So presented here and now is my ascending scale from worst to best of all The Doctor’s Post-Regeneration stories.
10) Time and the Rani
Hands down the weakest on this list is The Seventh Doctor’s debut. Bad enough that Colin Baker didn’t show up to film the regeneration, or for that matter the fact that they simply brush off this highly pivotal moment in the series mainly due to the necessity of introducing the new Doctor. As jarring as his anticlimactic regeneration is, it’s not even half as jarring as the fact that we’re thrown headfirst into a wholly confusing story that is buried in the sheer ridiculousness of the Rani imitating Melanie for way too long. It’s kind of an insult to saddle such a charismatic villain with such as slapdash tactic. With any Post Regeneration story it is important to put The New Doctor front and center, and this story overshadows him with cluttered plotting, limp pacing, and poor characterization. Which is really a shame because McCoy gradually evolves to become a magnificent Doctor in later stories.
9) The Twin Dilemma
As I’ve always stated if there could be one central problem that plagued The Sixth Doctor’s era it could be summed up in one statement. “Good ideas, bad execution.” There are so many good ideas presented in the conception of The Sixth Doctor. I do agree that a Doctor should never resemble his predecessors, and to that end it’s definitely mission accomplished. The problem with John Nathan-Turner’s approach was that he had a tendency to only work in extremes because he thought it was important to always push things over the cliff. The idea that The Doctor is traumatized by his regeneration to the point of near madness is a brilliant concept and the scene where he attempts to strangle Peri, is a welcome shock to the senses but before that moment we are practically mind-raped by his coat of many colors, and his boastful, conceited demeanor. Which, let’s face it, does not a good first impression make. Throughout the next three episodes we are forced to watch The Doctor verbally abuse Peri, and insult everyone around him. Literally not until we see him cradling his dying friend in his arms do we see even an inkling of The Doctor we knew.
Briefly spoken, “Rose” is low on this list because we never get to see the regeneration PERIOD (fingers crossed for the 50th). This episode is more about bringing the show back into the minds of the people, and understandably it couldn’t be saddled with such things that might push new audiences away. This episode was meant to be a clean slate in a sort of fashion, so naturally it’s best to keep these things simple.
7) Power of the Daleks
Oh, how the world would have exploded if the Internet existed back then. Up to this point we thought we knew The Doctor. We thought that he couldn’t possibly surprise us anymore, and then this happens. Unfortunately such a momentous episode is so low on this list not by any fault of it’s own but by the cruel shortsightedness of the BBC to destroy this episode without checking to see if it existed anywhere else. While valiant efforts have been made to fill in the gap, it still doesn’t feel complete.
6) The TV Movie
It’s a strange double-edged sword. On one side we get to see Doctor Who produced on a grand epic scale, with a bigger budget, bigger sets and improved visuals. We also get to see the torch carried from one Doctor to another. A courtesy tragically denied to McCoy with his debut. Then we get the absolutely brilliant performance of Paul McGann as he graces the screen with a seemingly effortless sense of whimsy, and a sort of innocent demeanor, which makes his Doctor alien nature more endearing. The TV Movie also benefits from solid pacing and a game supporting cast, particularly Daphne Ashbrook as Grace Holloway, and it does make one sad to wonder whether or not she would go on to travel with The Doctor again. All that being said (and trust me, I could say more) You can have too much of a good thing. As noble as Philip Segal’s intentions were to sustain the continuity of the series he didn’t take into account that assaulting new audiences with all these facts about the Doctor might potentially alienate them and turn them off completely. Even Sylvester McCoy worries that hitting audiences with regeneration right off the bat, might turn newbies away. Yeah… But I guess I didn’t get that memo. Cause I loved it.
The particularly clever element of Castrovalva is the fact that the story actually makes The Doctor’s post-regenerative state the central focus of the tension. It’s not about saving a planet it’s about saving The Doctor’s sanity. It’s consistently gripping because Davison’s wonderfully varied performance (notoriously not his first, that’d be “Four to Doomsday”). Davison plays with The Doctor’s levels of stability and effectively conveys The Doctor’s turbulent recovery. While Davison’s era was plagued by an over-crowded TARDIS, Writer Christopher Bidmead does a spectacular job keeping all the characters busy which very effectual contributions to the plot. All of which leads to a spectacular exercise in reality bending that could only have been inspired by the works of Escher.
4) The Christmas Invasion
RTD’s gift for knowing exactly what his audience wants to see is running on full throttle in this eagerly awaited Christmas Special. What the audiences wanted to see was the new Doctor. But bless him, Davies keeps him bedridden for eighty per cent of the episode. Giving us only a tiny peek midway through. Davies knew how to effectively build the tension to such a point that when we come to the realization that he is coming back to life we explode into immediate delight when The Tenth Doctor opens the doors, and smugly asks, “Did you miss me?” Suddenly it’s just non stop delights the rest of the way! Joyous reunions, “Lion King” references, swordfights, pseudo-dismemberments, and a little hint of darkness as The Doctor warns, “No Second Chances, I’m that sort of a man.”
3) Spearhead From Space
The most important purpose for any post regeneration story is to punctuate the beginning of a new era. In the classic series no other story punctuated a major transition than Spearhead. Not only are we greeted with a daring new Doctor, played with singular gusto by Jon Pertwee, but we get a new format to the series with the continued inclusion of UNIT and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart as a continuing element. We also get a new companion and a new menace courtesy of Robert Holmes. However that wasn’t the only thing that was new. This episode also marked the debut of the series in color, and the beginning of Barry Letts reign as Producer. Whose reign as producer became one of the most celebrated eras in the series’ history.
2) The Eleventh Hour
Like Letts before him, “The Eleventh Hour” represented the beginning of a new regime. Boasting a new head writer, a new direction, and the most daring choice of a Doctor since Tom Baker. The stakes were extremely high because now the entire world really was watching. Matt Smith’s debut as The Doctor was the most widely publicized event in the shows history (at the time, Capaldi FTW). The episode itself defies the conventions of a post regeneration story. The Eleventh Hour hits the ground running as we firmly establish The Eleventh Doctor as a man who wears his eccentricity on his sleeve. Not because he chooses to but simply because his alien nature takes center stage. The episode immediately establishes that The 11th Doctor has a penchant for surveying his situations and improvising his way out of it based on the resources he has at his disposal. Then by the conclusion we see that he is also a man who keeps his secrets and his agendas close to his chest.
Who on Earth Is Tom Baker? Well we were about to find out. At this point in the evolution of the series The Doctor has been known to be intellectual, mischievous, mysterious, and first and foremost, dignified. Until now we never dwelled the idea that The Doctor is in fact an alien and that his alien personality quirks had (up to this point) not been sufficiently explored. Then came Tom Baker’s Doctor. Baker immediately attacked the screen with a heretofore-unforeseen alien eccentricity, and Robot perfectly surrounds this new unusual Doctor with familiar elements to allow the audience a chance to acclimatize. By simply doing one more UNIT story helped to establish why Baker’s Doctor was going to truly be a drastic departure from what we were used to. The device works and we are transfixed by the completely bonkers Doctor all the way to when he decides to impulsively flee Earth and get back to doing what he does best aimless wandering.