Sorry kids: I know you love your 3D glasses and your fezzes and your timey-wimeys and whatnot, but 70s Who is where it’s at.
Of course, I might be slightly biased by being old af. 70s Who was of course the heyday of the wobbly set, the bad greenscreen, the godawful rubber monster. It was an era of modest budgets and setting lots of stories on Earth to save money. It was a time before anyone had ever thought, “hey, what if the Doctor were young and cute?”
And yet: it was a time of strong female companions, with only one exception capable and strong and sometimes smarter than the Doctor himself (and even that exception had her moments). It was a time of a lovable ensemble cast, of a suave Master and brave soldiers standing against him. It was a time for new villains: the Autons, the Silurians, the Sontarans, Davros, and the Zygons were all 70s kids like me. An anniversary story with three Doctors fighting side by side. A tin dog. Some seriously sketchy Time Lords. Story arcs that lasted all season long.
In short, while classic Who was born in the 60s, new Who was really born in the 70s.
Every single story in the 70s is worth watching. Yes, even THAT one. Unlike the 60s, all of them still exist, and most are still available on DVD (with certain mystifying exceptions). There’s one called “Shada” that might give you some trouble; it’s one penned by Douglas Adams (yes, that Douglas Adams) that was never finished. Parts of it exist and there’s a DVD and it was going to be pretty great. You don’t have to watch it — most people couldn’t — but even half of it is worth seeing. So the best way to enjoy 70s Who is to watch straight through. But if you insist on skipping around, here’s what you can’t miss.
Key to the icons:
Continuity You’ll definitely be confused about what’s going on in the larger story if you skip these.
Fan Favorites There’s a general consensus among fans that these are among the best the series has to offer.
My Favorites Stories I personally love the most. Sometimes I agree with the fans, and sometimes I go my own way.
If a story has two or three of these icons, you should definitely watch it.
only: also definitely watch it. It might not be the greatest story ever but you’ll be lost without it.
only: probably worth your time. You COULD skip it and maybe come back to it, but it’ll be better if you watch it in order.
only: there’s a good chance you’ll think I’m nuts for liking this. But if you really get into the show, it might appeal to you the way it appealed to me. Watch if you have time, skip if you don’t.
Spearhead from Space
This story practically reboots the series. The Doctor shows up in his TARDIS with no companion, a spaceman falling to Earth six years before Bowie did it, and collapses like Tennant in “The Christmas Invasion.” Apart from one Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, he doesn’t know a single soul around him and, robbed of his knowledge of time travel, he putters around as UNIT’s Scientific Adviser until he can get the TARDIS working again. It’s as solid an introduction as “An Unearthly Child” (if somewhat less strange and ambiguous) and a fine place for a new viewer to start. It also happens to be a damn good story. This sort of clean reboot has only happened twice more since that time: “Rose,” which of course started up the new series entirely, and “The Eleventh Hour,” which started up the Moffat era.
Doctor Who and the Silurians
The Ambassadors of Death
That’s right. All of season 7. Every one a winner.
Terror of the Autons
Introducing the Master.
The Mind of Evil
The Claws of Axos
If I could bring one more monster back from classic Who, it would be these guys.
Day of the Daleks
We got your timey-wimey right here, pal.
The Curse of Peladon
Rubber monster heaven.
The Sea Devils
A seriously underrated story, and I’ve never quite understood why. Yes, there are one or two weak performances, but the story itself is fascinating.
The Three Doctors
Carnival of Monsters
The Green Death
If you ever hear a classic Who fan talking about “giant maggots,” this is the story they mean. Don’t let that put you off.
The Time Warrior
Planet of the Spiders
Another weak performance by a secondary character here, and some extended chase scenes that are there mainly for the fun of extended chase scenes, but made up for by several excellent, complex villains and a suitably dramatic climax. A top ten episode for me.
The Ark In Space
Not quite as perfect as its reputation (especially among contemporary showrunners), but very very good indeed.
Genesis of the Daleks
First Davros, best Davros.
Terror of the Zygons
Pyramids of Mars
The Brain of Morbius
If you’d like to know more about the Sisterhood of Karn, watch this. If implied contradictions about things like the number of times a Time Lord can regenerate really bother you, maybe don’t watch this.
The Seeds of Doom
The Hand of Fear
The Deadly Assassin
The only story in classic Who in which the Doctor didn’t have a companion.
The Face of Evil
The Robots of Death
Another top ten. Fantastic stuff.
The Talons of Weng-Chiang
This is not the only classic Who story that casts an Anglo actor as an Asian character, but it might be the worst offender in that area. It’s a shame, because underneath some very dubious optics beats the heart of one of the very best stories of the classic era.
Horror of Fang Rock
The Invisible Enemy
Of the stories I must recommend solely for continuity reasons, this is probably the worst. It’s still pretty fun the first time through.
Image of the Fendahl
I have no idea why people are so negative about this story. I adore it. If it’s not a top ten for me, it’s very close.
The Sun Makers
An acquired taste. If you enjoy social satire and revolutionary themes, by all means stick this on and ignore how cheap it looks (arguably the cheapness adds to the atmosphere). If that sounds kind of tedious, skip this and come back to it when you’re a Who addict.
The Invasion of Time
Budget? What budget?
The Ribos Operation
The Pirate Planet
I find this unbearably tedious and heavy-handed, which is ironic given that Douglas Adams wrote it. Could be just the direction and the acting. But lots of people love it, so here you go.
The Stones of Blood
Another top tenner for me.
The Armageddon Factor
Destiny of the Daleks
City of Death
There are two types of Doctor Who fans. One of them, the best type, rates this story as their very favorite. THIS is what a Douglas Adams episode of Doctor Who should be like.