Doctor Who seasons, ranked

I’ve always found it difficult to choose a favorite season of Doctor Who. It seems natural to favor the ones that feature your favorite Doctors and/or companions, but even so every season is a mixed bag. If you pick a season with your favorite story in it, odds are you’re taking a few duds in with the package deal.

Of course it’s a silly question in the first place, since once a season is broadcast you can watch it in any order you choose. But if it weren’t for silly Doctor Who questions we’d have no Doctor Who questions, so I ranked all 36 seasons. I used math! And spreadsheets! I may not have used them “correctly,” but I’ll spare you the details of my methodology and include them as a footnote after the ranking, so those of you with lives can skip them. I will, however, summarize with caveats:

  1. The system I used assigned each story points based on a four-value scale, ranging from “I don’t like this story and don’t care if I ever watch it again” to “This is one of my favorites.”
  2. Stories I’ve never seen, never listened to audio for, and don’t recall the novelisation of — that is, stories I effectively “don’t know” — were given the same value as the ones I didn’t like. This means a lot of 60s stories were rated perhaps unfairly low. I’d worry about this more if not for the fact that — don’t tell anyone — I generally don’t enjoy the 60s stories very much, as a rule. That rule has many exceptions, but by and large, I am a philistine who is indifferent to pure historicals, bored by black and white, and hostile to Hartnell. He is my least favorite Doctor by a considerable margin. So even if I had seen reconstructions of the missing stories, there’s a good chance the seasons would stay where they were anyway.
  3. My ratings were generally subjective — I wasn’t trying to rate the absolute quality of the story, or whether I would recommend it to anyone, but whether I personally enjoy the story and would watch it again eagerly. I might have given your favorite story a zero, and I might consider a story you loathe to be reasonably pleasant entertainment. So if you’re thinking of using this as a guide of some kind, which would of course be the highest praise, keep in mind that my tastes, though not especially idiosyncratic (I love the 70s), are mine and you might not share them.

Shall we begin?

36. Season 3 (Hartnell)
It’s probable I’m shortchanging this season, since the fact is I’ve only ever seen one story in it, and that’s The Ark. I own two more of them on DVD (The Gunfighters and The War Machines) but haven’t dared to sit through them yet. I’ve listened to all of The Daleks’ Masterplan. You get the idea. Maybe someday in the future they’ll discover enough of the missing episodes that I’ll fall in love with Galaxy 4 and The Savages, or finally get what everyone loves about the crazy epic Masterplan. In the meantime, technically, this is the bottom. Something has to be.

35. Season 23 (C. Baker)
The Trial of a Time Lord has a pivotal place in Doctor Who history. I know it has a special place in some people’s hearts. I’ve watched it many times, over and over. It has its moments. Just not very many.

34. Season 2 (Hartnell)
A crucial season in the show’s history, with plenty of fascinating stories we’d be much poorer without: The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Rescue, The Web Planet, The Time Meddler. This season would rate much higher if I enjoyed these stories as much as I admire them.

33. Season 21 (Davison)
The precise moment when my feelings about the show change from a sense of unlimited, glorious possibility to a sense of crushing, leaden, Sawardian gloom. Even McCoy and Cartmel couldn’t quite lift the mood after this.

32. Series 8 (Capaldi)
I’m surprised this one ranked as low as it did, but yep, in hindsight it turns out I just didn’t much like most of these stories. Fantastic finale, but most of what led up to it was just okay.

31. Season 4 (Hartnell / Troughton)
You’ll notice a pattern here, which is that even the Dalek stories people love don’t get my pulse racing above a slow trot. Even so, I suspect some of the other stories would lift this season higher if I could only watch them in their entirety.

30. Season 10 (Pertwee)
Even a bad Pertwee season is pretty enjoyable, but this one is weighed down by (yep) 12 episodes of Daleks or the lead-up thereto. The highlight for me is of course The Green Death.

29. Season 1 (Hartnell)
It seems unfair to judge the show’s very first season by the same criteria as everything that built on it, but the unvarnished truth is that the spots of brilliance are buffered by stretches of tedium. The fantastic first episode is followed by three grueling segments about cavemen. The startling weirdness of the Daleks is stretched out over seven uneven parts. The genuinely impressive variety of stories in this first season is offset by the fact that there’s only one I unreservedly like, and it’s the two-episode bottle story that doesn’t outstay its welcome. At least I’ve seen all but one of these stories, so that helps. Sometimes you get points just for showing up.

28. Series 7 (Smith)
I remember really liking this series, but when I look back and rate it, the numbers speak for themselves. There’s Hide and The Crimson Horror, but there’s also A Town Called Mercy and The Rings of Akhaten. There’s The Name of the Doctor, but also Journey to the Center of the TARDIS. What with 7A and 7B, and the inclusion of two Christmas specials, there are more distinct stories here than in any other season/series of the show, plenty of room for lots of ups and downs. Though I didn’t count them in the ratings, at least this year ended with Day of the Doctor, which was wonderful, and Time of the Doctor, which…er…at least it ended with Day of the Doctor.

27. Season 24 (McCoy)
This season is a lot of fun. It may be the most fun Doctor Who has ever been. And generally my philosophy is that fun Who is the best Who. But with only four stories per season in the McCoy era, a lot is riding on each one, so here’s where the math put it. Truth is, there’s equal fun to be had in stories with more to offer, though I’m looking forward to revisiting Paradise Towers and Delta and the Bannermen sometime soon.

26. Season 26 (McCoy)
It’s not Doctor Who’s fault I thought I was outgrowing the show at this point (only to later reverse this process, obviously), but it might explain why Curse of Fenric didn’t do much for me. The sound and lighting problems the show was plagued with at this point didn’t help, making fairly decent stories look and sound like bad community theater. Then again, maybe some of the blame for that goes to the direction; more dynamic choices surely could have helped Ghost Light appeal to my teenaged self.

25. Series 10 (Capaldi)
Here’s another year I thought I really enjoyed, and yet here we are. Bill is one of my favorite companions of all time, and of all the Moffat seasons, this is the one I felt most at ease with, like it finally had nothing to prove and no agenda beyond a good story. What drags it down is that the Monk trilogy is almost entirely dreadful; most of the episodes are good but not great; and the Wikipedia article I’m using to divide the seasons throws Mysterio in here like the one red sock staining the whole wash.

24. Series 6 (Smith)
It’s a year of extremes here. On the one hand there’s The Doctor’s Wife, The Girl Who Waited, The God Complex, and Closing Time. On the other, there’s a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

23. Series 5 (Smith)
One of my very favorite Doctors, saddled with some of my very least favorite stories. If you could round up all of my favorite Matt Smith stories into one year, you’d have an absolute powerhouse, but instead you’re left marveling at how talented he was at making even the total dogs enjoyable. Most of them.

22. Season 6 (Troughton)
Not a bad placement, especially considering my reprehensible lack of enthusiasm for Sixties Who. The ranking might even go up when I finally get around to watching The Dominators. Then again, given its reputation, maybe not.

21. Season 20 (Davison)
Stories rise and fall in my list of favorites all the time, but I feel pretty confident in assuming that this is the only season of Doctor Who that will ever contain TWO of my all-time top 5 stories. If it were all as good as Snakedance and Enlightenment, this would be the season to beat.

19. Series 4 (Tennant)
This is one of a very few ties in my ranking. It’s an impossible choice. I’m going to let it stand. This year is slightly less consistent, with more moments of true genius (Midnight, Turn Left, and if I’m being generous, Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead) and more moments of embarrassing nonsense (the Sontaran two-parter, The Doctor’s Daughter, and that awful finale)…

19. Series 2 (Tennant)
…whereas this year is a little more bittersweet what with the love story, and a little flatter what with the lower highlights and the run of just-okay stories. But then there’s Rose and Mickey, and Sarah Jane and K9, and that lovely innocence the show still had back then. I can’t decide. I am so, so sorry.

18. Season 15 (T. Baker)
This is a pretty low ranking for a season featuring Image of the Fendahl, one of my very favorite stories of all time, and a batch of other stories that all things considered are pretty decent, if not impressively ambitious. It’s just hard to get as excited about them as I’d like; as the money ran out, the stories got beiger and beiger.

17. Series 1 (Eccleston)
I’ll have more to say about Eccleston’s Doctor if I ever get around to that Doctor ranking I keep writing in my head, but this is about the stories. It was a pretty solid first year, even if it took me a while to warm to it. Kicking things off with Rose and The End of the World was part of why I stuck around long enough to put up with an actor who seemed determined to play the role as the Doctor’s younger, butcher brother.

16. Season 5 (Troughton)
Even I must admit this was the most formulaic season in the show up to that point, and it probably would have ranked much lower if not for the rediscovery of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear, two splendid and very strange stories I’d never paid any attention to before but promptly fell in love with.

15. Series 9 (Capaldi)
I find a lot of New Who to consist of only mildly engaging stories made watchable by great performances and a string of terrific moments. This year was the opposite: startling premises that by and large demanded attention, almost but not quite hobbled by some questionable performances and deeply embarrassing moments. All the bits where the Doctor is playing guitar on a tank, for example. Nevertheless, with the exception of Sleep No More, there’s something enjoyable about each story here, and it ends with the best Christmas special and the best River Song episode since the first one.

14. Season 22 (C. Baker)
As a whole, this is one of my least favorite times of the show: an abrasive Doctor with a borderline abusive relationship to a whiny companion, striding through grim bloodthirsty Sawardian slaughterhouse plots. It’s everything Doctor Who shouldn’t be. And yet there’s something bold, brash, outspoken, and capable about the Sixth Doctor that makes him considerably more appealing in hindsight (and in isolation), and though most of these stories range from bafflingly bonkers to horrifically bleak (the sublime Two Doctors colliding the two to great effect), only Timelash seems to have nothing interesting going on (and even that has Paul Darrow). Every other story was doing something almost unprecedented and undeniably memorable.

13. Season 16 (T. Baker)
My favorite segment of the Key to Time is the third. The Stones of Blood is almost certainly a top ten story for me, helped considerably by the time a young encyclopist watched it in the dark at his grandmother’s house after everyone else had gone to bed. It would have been a hide-behind-the-sofa moment for me if I hadn’t been sleeping on its pulled-out bed: I was convinced that at any second the Ogri were going to come smashing through the porch windows and crush me or drain my blood. To be honest, nothing else this year has anything like the same hold on me, even the critical favorite The Ribos Operation, but it’s all done with such brio and nothing is less than all right.

12. Series 3 (Tennant)
This is the year I finally got on board with New Who, and perhaps not coincidentally it was the Seventh Doctor New Adventure Human Nature, adapted for the Tenth Doctor, that did the trick. Though this year includes a few mid-series stinkers, particularly that insane Dalek two-parter, Martha is a breath of fresh air and the reveal of the Master is still one of the new show’s biggest triumphs. No New Who series before or since has felt quite so exciting or laden with potential, or come closer to fulfilling it.

11. Season 12 (T. Baker)
The first Tom Baker season must have felt pretty exciting and laden with potential as well. It’s easy to forget that aside from Ark in Space (which has far worse creature effects than most of its fans are willing to admit), this season consists of a somewhat corny robot King Kong story, an inexplicable and largely pointless diversion about a Sontaran doing unethical experiments, a desultory Cyberman installment, and a story about space Hitler that saddled every future Dalek story for the next decade and change with his pruny ranting gob. On paper this shouldn’t have been much to write home about, but each of these stories is full of moments that transcend the initial concept. Robot immediately if unintentionally defines the new Doctor’s character by throwing the essence of the last five years at him and barely denting his hat; Revenge of the Cybermen features those frightening Cybermat poisonings, and even The Sontaran Experiment raised the stakes on Sontaran malevolence from merely kidnapping scientists. And as for Genesis, well: it’s a Dalek story, and there’s quite a bit of dreary running around, but it’s legendary for a reason.

10. Season 18 (T. Baker)
It’s easy to poke fun at Christopher Bidmead’s season of Doctor Who as a supposed “return to science” that’s full of magic, or at new producer John Nathan-Turner’s mandate to rein in the jokes while putting question marks all over the Doctor’s clothing. But with the single exception of Meglos, there isn’t a just-OK story in the bunch, and the show has only very rarely made the universe seem as strange and wondrous as it does in Warriors’ Gate and Logopolis. Other seasons are more fun, but few have ever been as opulent, mystical, and ominous as Tom Baker’s last.

9. Season 25 (McCoy)
I have a sneaking suspicion this is a trick of the math. Until I did this exercise, I would never have expected this season to break the top ten, much less to beat out multiple seasons of both Tom Baker and Matt Smith. Thing is, stuff like The Happiness Patrol is the reason I’m glad McCoy’s Doctor exists, and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is cut from similar cloth. I’m less enthused about Remembrance of the Daleks, an above-average story about the most overrated Doctor Who monster, and Silver Nemesis is unendurable. But on a four-question test, every answer counts for a lot — it’s easier to bomb it, but it’s also easier to ace it.

8. Season 11 (Pertwee)
If Ark in Space’s bubble-wrap and styrofoam monsters make watching it an exercise in leaping imaginative gaps, Invasion of the Dinosaurs is the boot camp obstacle course. In order to enjoy Malcolm Hulke’s still-chilling story of an evacuated city hiding a gullible “back-to-Eden” cult brainwashed by government and military officials, you have to make a heroic effort to overlook the unbelievably awful dinosaur effects. Or you have to read the novelisation, as I did countless times as a kid. It’s easier to appreciate The Time Warrior’s marooned Sontaran, or Planet of the Spiders’ pouncing arachnids. It’s not peak Pertwee, but even if you write off Exxilon and Peladon, you’ve still got three veritable classics…and Sarah Jane Smith to boot.

7. Season 19 (Davison)
I don’t mind admitting this is almost entirely a matter of nostalgia, even more so than the unashamedly subjective ratings I’ve used for other seasons. I’ll defend Kinda to the death, and feel very sure about the wondrous strangeness of Castrovalva, but I’m under no illusion that my love of Four to Doomsday and unaccountable affection for The Visitation and Black Orchid are in any way based in objective quality. Earthshock is overrated, Time-Flight impossible to underrate, but otherwise this season came to my local PBS station at just the right time for me to fall in love. Adric included.

6. Season 9 (Pertwee)
Ultimately, though, 70s Who is still my favorite Who. I don’t win any points for original opinions here, but I do win points for being right. Even the 70s trad loyalists might question my love of The Mutants, but I really can’t understand why. Then there’s the time travel enigma of Day of the Daleks, the charm of The Curse of Peladon, and the terrific imprisoned-Master scenes of The Sea Devils. Even the goofy Time Monster is at the very least unforgettable. It’s a time of excellent quality control for the show, and if that sounds like a boring virtue, watch this season again and imagine a 21st century year this consistently entertaining.

5. Season 8 (Pertwee)
The Master has returned more often than he (or she) really should have over the years, to the point of becoming something of a joke half the time, but in the beginning he was marvelous. Colony in Space might be a slog, but the other four stories here range from quite good to fabulous.

4. Season 17 (T. Baker)
Among classic Who fans there might not be a more divisive season. It’s when Douglas Adams took over as script editor, for better or for worse, and though City of Death is the undisputed highlight (and my boringly uncontroversial favorite story ever), a lot of the other stories are looked down on by many fans on one side of the divide as silly, cheap-looking, and full of self-indulgent Tom Baker horseplay. However, I’m on the other side of the divide, and I have to tell you that everyone else over here is way more fun. Even the Dalek story has its moments, and everything else including the no-longer-really-lost story Shada is music to my eyes and ears. It’s as 70s as season 18 is 80s, it’s as fun as season 18 is serious, and it features my favorite TARDIS team to date in the Fourth Doctor and Romana. The show probably could never have continued like this for long, but this brief moment was enough.

3. Season 13 (T. Baker)
Features three ironclad classics: Pyramids of Mars, The Brain of Morbius, and The Seeds of Doom. Includes two more solid adventures: Terror of the Zygons and Planet of Evil. Throws in one dodgy underdog, which was my very first Doctor Who story in novelisation form and thus — you guessed it — skates in on nostalgia alone: The Android Invasion. The truth is it probably doesn’t get better than this; exactly halfway through the original run of the show, here’s the actual peak. My personal math puts two other seasons just a little higher — one for its achieved ambition, the other for its consistent intelligence — but honestly? If you’re a New Who fan and you’re going to watch just one season of the classic series, this is the one you should watch.

2. Season 14 (T. Baker)
A season that says goodbye to one of the Doctor’s most beloved companions, introduces one that’s even more interesting, and finds time in between to finally, properly introduce the Doctor’s home planet. Masque of Mandragora and Face of Evil are good, Hand of Fear and Deadly Assassin are great, and Robots of Death and the controversial Talons of Weng-Chiang are among the best the show has to offer. What could this team have done for an encore?

1. Season 7 (Pertwee)
A radical departure at the time, but now so classic it’s often considered reactionary. It’s hardly the most varied or colorful year in Doctor Who, none of the stories make my top ten (as much as I like them), and many of the elements that make the show what it is are missing (until Inferno). It’s where the show basically becomes Quatermass for a while. It doesn’t quite seem right to put it at the top. And yet these four stories are top-notch in terms of quality and as exciting as they come, setting a tone which is allowed to relax in later Pertwee years and a template that drives the show energetically forward. Miffed by the unerring quality, I tried docking Ambassadors of Death a notch for being slightly less eventful than the other three, but it narrowed only the size of the lead, not its certainty.

The math, if you’re interested
I listed every Doctor Who story, divided into seasons according to the Wikipedia article. This led to some slightly counterintuitive groupings of Christmas specials in seasons I didn’t think of them as being part of. I grouped Hartnell episodes into single stories as we (and the DVD range) typically think of them today, and lumped Mission to the Unknown in with The Dalek’s Masterplan. I treated most New Who two-parters as single stories, but I did split Utopia from The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords. In Series 9 I treated Girl Who Died / Woman Who Lived as a single story, but I treated Face the Raven, Heaven Sent, and Hell Bent as three separate stories. What can I say — it made sense at the time.

I treated the Tennant specials (The Next Doctor through The End of Time) and the Smith specials (Day and Time of the Doctor) as separate seasons, and did not count them as part of the overall ranking. If you’re curious: the Tennant specials would have turned the Season 16 / Season 22 / Series 9 tie into a four-way, and the Smith specials would have fit in right between Season 11 and Season 19.

I tried a few different point systems in an attempt to find interesting ways to distribute the weights and see whether a season with a few favorites and a lot of lousy stories would beat out one flush with worthy but not unusually appealing stories. I’m not sure I ever found the answer or indeed understood math well enough to accomplish that goal, but in the end it felt satisfying to take a chunk out of the Fibonacci sequence and weight the ratings that way. Thus:

  • 0 points went to each story I thoroughly dislike or have never seen
  • 3 points went to each story that has something I like in it
  • 5 points went to each story that I generally like and would be pleased to watch again immediately
  • 8 points went to my absolute favorite stories of all, the ones I feel true affection for

For the record, 66 stories earned the “favorite” rating. They were as follows.

  • Troughton: The Enemy of the World, The Web of Fear, The Invasion
  • Pertwee: Spearhead from Space, The Silurians, Inferno, Terror of the Autons, The Claws of Axos, The Daemons, The Mutants, The Green Death, The Time Warrior, Invasion of the Dinosaurs, Planet of the Spiders
  • T. Baker: The Ark in Space, The Pyramids of Mars, The Brain of Morbius, The Seeds of Doom, The Hand of Fear, The Deadly Assassin, The Robots of Death, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Image of the Fendahl, The Stones of Blood, City of Death, Nightmare of Eden, The Horns of Nimon, Full Circle, Logopolis
  • Davison: Castrovalva, Four to Doomsday, Kinda, Snakedance, Enlightenment, The Caves of Androzani
  • C. Baker: The Two Doctors
  • McCoy: The Happiness Patrol, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
  • Eccleston: Rose, The End of the World, Dalek
  • Tennant: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit, Army of Ghosts / Doomsday, Gridlock, Human Nature / The Family of Blood, Blink, Utopia, Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead, Midnight, Turn Left, The Waters of Mars
  • Smith: The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone, The Lodger, The Doctor’s Wife, The Girl Who Waited, The God Complex, Closing Time, Hide, The Crimson Horror, Day of the Doctor
  • Capaldi: Dark Water / Death in Heaven, The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion, The Husbands of River Song, Thin Ice, The Eaters of Light, World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls

Morrissey, “Ranked”

There are some bad people on the right. There are some bad people on the rise. They’re saving their own skins by ruining people’s lives. While Rome burns, let’s rank Morrissey.

This is of course the definitive, uptown Moz ranking. It includes only the albums you need and none of the ones you don’t. Of course, there will be stray rarities you need to acquire at all costs, e.g. the essential “Pregnant For the Last Time” and majestic B-side “I Can Have Both,” but does an extra track and a tacky badge rate a repackage a place on the ladder? It does not. A better case might be made for including the live albums, but since one of them is “Beethoven Was Deaf”, it’s kinder to note for the record that Live at Earls Court is wonderful and indispensable and concentrate on the densest collections of new-to-us songs. So we have ten albums and three collections to consider. Let’s go worst to best, like any good countdown should.

13. World Peace Is None of Your Business (2014)
I confess I have only made it through this album once. It was that appalling. It’s the only studio album by Morrissey I do not own. I’m not certain what happened but my guess is this: Morrissey, like Madonna (have those words ever been typed? they must have, surely), depends heavily on the right collaborators. None of them could write a Morrissey song without him, but the rub is that he can’t write a good one without them. Maybe there’s a good one on here, and if so please write in and tell me. But one is not enough.

12. Swords (2009)
Or, Things Less Mighty Than Pens. It’s the weakest of the compilations, and it has some truly embarrassing stuff, but there are plenty of impressive B-sides and rarities here. My favorites are the sly “Don’t Make Fun of Daddy’s Voice” and of course “Friday Mourning,” one of the loveliest songs he’s written this century. “Good Looking Man About Town” is fun, “Shame Is the Name” has a real drive to it, and though “Teenage Dad on His Estate” is dubious as social commentary, it’s lovely as melody. All are Alain Whyte collaborations, if that tells you anything.

11. Ringleader of the Tormentors (2006)
There’s a lot of gratifying stuff here, chiefly the continued lyrical hints that Moz has had something of a sexual reawakening around this time; claims that “I entered nothing, and nothing entered me” are tough to swallow even with his self-styled reputation, but in any case it’s nice to hear them in the past tense. Certainly there are plenty of strong melodies here, and the lyrics are assertive and bold, but it suffers by comparison with its predecessor. Lots of Tobias collaborations here, though they’re not all bad: “You Have Killed Me” is fun and “In the Future When All’s Well” cranks along just fine.

10. Years of Refusal (2009)
More uneven than Ringleader, but this means it has true highlights, namely the fantastic “Something is Squeezing My Skull,” the gorgeous “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris,” and the sublime “When Last I Spoke to Carol.” The rest of the record will probably appeal to anyone in search of scathing breakup songs, but is otherwise safely skippable.

9. Maladjusted (1997)
Kind of a shock at the time. That awkward cover photo! The shapeless title track! The one about Mike Joyce suing him for royalties! It seemed even more apocalyptic with the long silence that followed. But when an album is the latest Morrissey for seven years, you spend a lot of time spinning it, and you discover that the rest of it is actually really excellent. Only those two tracks are subpar; every other song is a pleasure, if perhaps not among his most urgent statements. You might not find another Morrissey album more fun to sing in the car.

8. Viva Hate (1988)
I’ll lose some of you here, but see this album for what it is: Morrissey figuring out how to be a solo artist, and establishing some of his worst habits. In the former column, “Angel, Angel…” may have saved a few lives but may have endangered others, while “I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me” begs the obvious joke. In the latter, “Alsatian Cousin” is the first in an intermittent series of obnoxious album openers, while “Bengali in Platforms” kicks off a confusing ambivalence about the place of immigrants in British society, encapsulated in the wait-what? line “life is hard enough when you belong here.” There are no bad tracks, and plenty of wonderful ones, but since several of the best end up on later compilations, the harsh truth is that there’s less to come back for than nostalgia would suggest. It might be time for an update of that guillotine song, though.

7. Kill Uncle (1991)
So concise it’s almost a swindle, and not unfairly derided as a flimsy record compared to both earlier and later work. And yet there’s something almost absurdly confident about it. The tone is set poorly by “Our Frank” at the top of one side and “Found Found Found” on the other, but the remaining eight songs are as focused and vivid as anything he’s ever done. “Sing Your Life” and “There’s A Place in Hell For Me and My Friends” are, not to put too fine a point on it, not only perfect Morrissey songs but perfect songs, full stop.

6. Southpaw Grammar (1995)
I’ll never forget the Morrissey radio interview I heard when he was asked his favorite Smiths record and then his favorite solo record. His answers were “Rank” and this one. He might have been trolling, or self-promoting (this album had just come out), but actually he kind of has a point. “Rank” captures the energy of The Smiths in a way that the studio albums never could, and Southpaw might have come closest to doing the same for a backing band that — heresy time — might have, in whole though not in part, been their match. At the time I was enthused by the baroque opening track but a bit indifferent to the more conventional rock that followed it; now I feel the opposite. It’s easy to get lost in some of the highly unusual extended instrumental stretches, but it’s a fine place to be lost. Everyone is at the top of their game here. The scorching “Reader Meet Author,” “The Boy Racer,” “Dagenham Dave,” and “Best Friend on the Payroll” are top-notch, and I refer to “Do Your Best and Don’t Worry” at least every other week.

5. Your Arsenal (1992)
The muscle Morrissey sorely needed after Kill Uncle, and just in time. “You’re Gonna Need Someone on Your Side” is fine, but forgettable; “We’ll Let You Know,” a little limp; but the rest of the album is stone classic. “Successful” and “Fatty” are treasures, “Tomorrow” a triumph, “Glamorous Glue” perennial (“everyone lies, nobody minds, everyone lies: where is the man you respect?”). “The National Front Disco” might be awkward to sing along with, continuing that “Platforms” ambiguity with the pre-chorus “England for the English” which is probably condemnation but sounds a bit like celebration, but it’s all part of the fascinating Morrissey puzzle, of which this is a key piece.

4. My Early Burglary Years (1998)
If you know anything about Morrissey you know he saves most of his best tracks for B-sides. And here’s a stunning lineup: “Sunny,” “At Amber” (“it’s not lowlife, it’s just people having a good time”), “Nobody Loves Us,” “A Swallow On My Neck,” “Pashernate Love,” “Jack the Ripper,” “I’ve Changed My Plea to Guilty,” “Boxers,” and the indispensable “Sister I’m a Poet” and “Girl Least Likely To.” I’d quickly have traded away “Michael’s Bones” and the unnecessary “Cosmic Dancer” cover for “My Love Life” and “I Can Have Both,” but one has to sell singles somehow.

3. Vauxhall and I (1994)
This album came out at a time when I had cooled toward a lot of the music I’d been into and became obsessed with female singer-songwriters and neo-medievalists. I borrowed this, listened, gave it back: it had flown under my radar entirely. When I revisited it years later I couldn’t believe I’d missed out on one of Morrissey’s most perfect albums. The bravado of Your Arse settled down, the point proven, and now just a matter of gorgeous music sustaining some of Morrissey’s best lyrics. It’s highlight after highlight. If I’m back to not listening to it much, it’s because I’ve just about worn it out with repeats. I have to put something aside for old age.

2. You Are the Quarry (2004)
The idea that Maladjusted might have been Morrissey’s retirement record seems crazy now, but in the early 21st century it seemed the most likely scenario. When we heard this was coming out on some obscure defunct reggae record label as a vanity release, we hoped for the best but feared the worst. What we got was the best. It’s not as consistent as Vauxhall, what with meanders like “Come Back to Camden” and near-novelties like “I Like You.” But the sudden direct and forthright and sure-footed power of songs like “America Is Not the World,” “Irish Blood, English Heart,” “I’m Not Sorry,” “The World Is Full of Crashing Bores,” and “You Know I Couldn’t Last” seemed both unprecedented and quintessentially Morrissey. And after so many years of coyness about not only his sexuality but that of others, to hear him use the word “gay” in a song, or sing gorgeously about “All the Lazy Dykes,” or declare “the woman of my dreams…there never was one” seemed revelatory. Other albums might be easier listening, but none made stronger statements, and regarding a man known for his lyrics, that counts for a lot.

1. Bona Drag (1990)
I might be biased for two reasons: one, this is the first solo Morrissey album I ever owned and listened to, so it set the baseline; and two, this is objectively the best Morrissey album of all time. Of course it’s a collection, not technically an album, but with Moz, what difference does it make? This is a set where “Hairdresser on Fire,” “Everyday is Like Sunday,” and “Suedehead” aren’t even in the running for best tracks. “Piccadilly Palare,” “Interesting Drug,” “The Last of the Famous International Playboys,” and “Ouija Board, Ouija Board,” are all extraordinary in their own right and are early prototypes and perhaps best examples of Moz tropes he’d revisit again and again. Depending on your taste, you might find “November Spawned a Monster” or even “He Knows I’d Love To See Him” among the highest of highlights. For my money, it’s the back-to-back pair “Yes, I Am Blind” and “Lucky Lisp” that really brings this one home. There’s an alternate universe where this is a Smiths album and fans debate its merits vs. The Queen Is Dead. As much as I’d love to hear Johnny Marr’s guitar underpinning some of these songs, I’m fine with them just as they are.