12) Discombobulation, "The Leisure Hive" Part 1
"Leisure Hive" is no classic by any means and in fact signals the beginning of the end for Tom Baker's illustrious reign; its main distinction is that it features a physically old version of the Doctor, a concept I still find slightly confusing. The man's already been around for nearly a millennia; what's another century or two, more or less? (the next story, "Meglos" is most memorable for featuring Tom as an evil cactus, so you get the idea). Still, this cliffhanger is pretty goddamn terrifying, as our hero investigates an alien device only to be apparently dismembered. I think part of the reason this works so well is because Tom Baker's scream seems to extend into the stinger music and echo across the cosmos. Who cares if the image of him on the screen kind of looks like something from Weinerville?
11) The Dalek Takes the Stairs, "Remembrance of the Daleks" Part 1
Fans familiar only with New Who might incorrectly site the Eccleston episode "Dalek" as the first time the Doctor's most famous foes managed to "elevate". Not true. This essential Seventh Doctor episode featured a classic ending in which Sylvester McCoy discovers this unnerving Dalek feature while investigating the basement of Coal Hill School. It begins as a bit of a wink to fans, who had long pointed out that these supposedly formidable monsters could easily be evaded if you kept away from ramps: the Doctor's instinct to run for the stairs seems to come from years of experience. But even the change-averse Daleks can surprise you every once and awhile, as seen in the complete look of panic on McCoy's face. That's a little more credible, actually, than the completely ridiculous part where the schoolmaster punches Ace in the stomach and knocks her apparently unconscious. The effect is fortunately temporary, but it lasts just long enough to make this a solid nail-biter.
10) The Human Dalek, "Daleks in Manhattan"
Shocked? I know this two-parter usually isn't considered very good by the general fan populous. This first episode is downright embarrassing at times (starting with the title: I'm wondering how close they came to replacing "in" with "take"). The Doctor and Martha in a British person's idea of Depression-era New York, evil industrialists with bad accents, homeless people. Ho hum. It all turns a corner, however, once writer Helen Raynor introduces her central conceit: the Daleks are experimenting with evolution but incapable of accepting the necessary change to their philosophy that this would entail. In the following episode, the far superior "Evolution of the Daleks", Dalek (Manlek?) Sec would prove to be an enlightened forward thinker and ultimately a martyr, a figure capable of bringing compassion to a race that has no use for it. We didn't know all that when this happened, though, and you can't say you weren't at least a little excited to see that monstrous broccoli-headed creature step out of its shell. That and David Tennant saying "Skaro" almost made it worth sitting through all of the showtunes, pig-people and clunky Biblical symbolism. Almost.
9) Cybermen March on London, "The Invasion" Part 6
Say what you will about the budgets, pacing, and sporadic unintentional racism: the Troughton era did manage to produce some damn good cliffhangers. "The Invasion" may have a boring title and a bloated plot but it does boast one of the best and most famous scenes of the entire series, and quite possibly one of the best moments of television, period. At this point at the end of the sixth part, we've had loads and loads of build-up and seen plenty of horrific things, including an emotion-filled Cyberman screaming in the sewer tunnels. Things seem like they might be slightly better: the Second Doctor and his team are protected from the Cybermen's signals by polarizers and for a moment, there is nothing. Then that hand punches out of the sewers, and one creepy montage later downtown London is swarming with machine-men. It would all be merely silly and awkward if it wasn't for the eerie droning techno that plays as they march. Overlook the zippers and spray-painted sneakers and these Cybermen do seem pretty creepy.
8) A Dalek Advances, "The Daleks" Part 1
(The action starts at 20:30.) Oh yes: before "Remembrance of the Daleks", "Resurrection of the Daleks", "Death to the Daleks" and "Copyright-Infringing Lesbian Orgy of the Daleks", there was this, the second Doctor Who story of its first season, simply called "The Daleks". Imagine being a child in 1963, hooked on this new show and having absolutely no idea what terror was approaching hapless history teacher Barbara Wright, pinned up against the wall in a strange alien complex. The icky undertones of sexual menace aren't hard to pick up on, either. Fans may be surprised to know that the First Doctor's era occasionally featured dark and brutal themes, despite its initial pitch as a children's program (the otherwise comic story "The Time Meddler" even featured an implied rape). They may have become the objects of ridicule and irony later on, spawning skits, novelty Christmas songs, and dubious Britain's Got Talent acts, but here, in the very beginning, there was nothing all that funny about the Daleks.
7) The Dalek Fleet, "Bad Wolf"
Here's another one you have to use your imagination to fully appreciate. Cast your mind all the way back to 2005: the new series is in full swing but, aside from the sensational story "Dalek", the Doctor's most famous enemies are nowhere to be found. That changes at the climax of "Bad Wolf" in a way that's satisfying for fans both old and new. N00bs get the thrill of seeing waves and waves of a race thought to be extinct while seasoned vets can enjoy the references to previous Dalek appearances (including an homage to number eight on this very list). And everyone can appreciate Christopher Eccleston's grandstanding as he enters yet another stand-off with impossible odds. This episode is also a reminder of the short but sweet period when Rose, the Doctor and Captain Jack actually traveled together, before the regeneration, Canary Wharf, and all that Torchwood business. Would that it had lasted longer.
Tags: Doctor Who