5 Doctor Who Serials to Get You Addicted to the Classic Era

Written by Louise MacGregor

So, we’re hurtling quickly towards a new season of Doctor Who, with Peter Capaldi’s second outing in the Tardis due out in less than two weeks. Season nine will, confusingly, mark ten years since the show was revived all those years/Dalek stories ago (can we agree they’re overdone now?).

And that’s all well and good (maybe not so good if you have the same opinion of Capaldi’s wobbly first season as me), but amongst all this chatter about new Who, it’s easy to forget the brilliant series that came before it's triumphant return in 2005.

So, whether you’re an old fan looking to relieve the glory days or a fan of the new series looking for a way into the original run, let’s take a look at the best serials old-school Who had to offer.

1. The War Games

Like all the best episodes of Doctor Who, The War Games was about a lot more than a space cowboy with a flying box.

It follows the second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) as he’s faced with the choice to return innocents back to their own time after they were displaced in a deadly series of trials and alert the Time Lords to his location, risking punishment for his crimes (including the theft of the Tardis).

Packed with sublimely well-realized character moments and tight, whip-smart plotting all the way through, this is more than just a great Doctor Who serial, it’s one of the best standalone stories the BBC has ever come up with, period.

2. City of Death

Look, I’m sorry if you’re a die-hard Tom Baker fan and wanted a different one of his adventures on this list, but there’s no way I can, in good conscience, pass up a serial co-written by my hero Douglas Adams.

It’s a fiendishly fun outing, as Baker’s Doctor tries to figure out why there are six perfect replicas of the Mona Lisa lurking around Paris, all of them apparently created by Da Vinci himself. Lots of time-travelling abounds as we jump around through history, with some interesting commentary on the actual value of art buried amongst all that rampant romping.

Oh, and keep your eyes peeled for John Cleese, who makes a cameo towards the end of this adventure.

3.  Planet of the Spiders

Yes, arachnaphobes beware as Jon Pertwee’s Doctor finds himself faced with psychics, mysterious rocks, and, yup, big scary spiders in the final outing of his incarnation.

It’s a good way in for fans of the new seasons thanks to an appearance by Sarah-Jane Smith (who, of course, appeared both in David Tennant’s first season and was soon given a spin-off of her own).

But beyond just her, there’s loads going on in an episode that’s packed full of sci-fi ideas and locations, enough to put much of the new series to shame, as the Doctor battles to fix a chain of dangerous events that he himself kicked off in the first place.

I suppose this is one for the Tom Baker fans too, as it marks his first appearance in this series (even if he is uncredited) after Pertwee’s regeneration.

4. The Edge of Destruction

Only the third serial the show ever produced, The Edge of Destruction is a rare and astoundingly confident take on the bottle episode, starring Hartnell’s still-brilliant first incarnation.

As the Tardis is taken over by apparently hostile forces, everyone travelling inside finds themselves turning against each other. It’s a tense episode with a simple premise, and one that relies on strong performances and tight writing to keep it all holding together.

Thankfully, they pull it off, with the claustrophobic setting lending itself well to the constantly-ratcheting tension. Plus, we get a little look into the Tardis as something more than just the Doctor’s vehicle, and as something closer to an entity in and of itself.

5. The Sea Devils

Yeah, yeah, maybe I just love this serial so much because it was the first one I ever saw, one my parents foisted on me due to their own memories of sleepless nights over the watery demons.

I’d be lying to myself and to you if I didn’t put this one on the list, so here we are: this Jon Pertwee adventure follows the Doctor as he heads out to check that the Master (played by the never-bettered Roger Delgado) hasn’t broken free of the prison they’ve managed to hide him away in.

But on the way, they encounter a ship full of sailors who’ve been shaken up by visitations from The Sea Devils, one of the coolest (and, to my mind, scariest) villains of the original series’ run. Pertwee is at his most charmingly eccentric here, and the show really isn’t averse to killing off some of those sympathetic tertiary characters that it introduced earlier in the episode to great effect.

The real question is, when are they bringing these brilliant monsters back (and no, the friendly Silurians do not count)?

Honourable Mentions: The Dalek Invasion of Earth and Tomb of the Cybermen  (if you want a closer look at why the show’s most iconic villains became so iconic), The Caves of Androzani (because Peter Davidson is bloody brilliant, and I wasn’t going to let this list slip by without him on it) and The Aztecs (just to spend some times with everyone’s favourite companion, Babs).

So, those are my favourite serials - what are yours? Who was your favourite Doctor from the old series, and what about your favourite companion? Which episodes would you use to introduce someone who’s never watched the original Doctor Who to the old series? And are you looking forward to season nine of New Who?

Let me know in the comments!

More of Louise's outrageous views can be found at The Cutprice Guignol



  1. I have to agree with City of Death and Caves, probably my two favourite Who serials ever. I'd also have Ghostlight up there.

    Totally agree that the Daleks are now way overdone and I really enjoyed Capaldi's first season apart from Kill The Moon and the closing two-parter which just managed to both bore and offend me with its tosspottery. A real shame, because Capaldi's debut season could have been as great as Smith's debut one - which for my money is still the best season since the reboot.

    1. I'll always love Eccleston's the best, but yes, that Capaldi season could have been waaaay better.

  2. I kinda love Ghostlight due to it's creepy spirit and grandiose quest for epicness, but 26 years on I still get my brain all tied up in knots trying to get to the bottom of the blighter!

  3. Genesis of the Daleks might be a predictable suggestion, but as far as I'm concerned you can't ignore it when you're talking about a Who "best of". Also agree with Caves and Ghostlight. Seeds of Evil is another favourite of mine.

  4. For the last bloody time, 2005 was NOT a reboot! The show is a DIRECT CONTINUATION. a A reboot is when a series or series of movies goes all the way back to the beginning using different actors playing characters that have already been see. I really can't take an article seriously when it fails to get the basic terminology correct.

    1. Fine point, my friend, so I will amend the offending term pronto!