Worst to Best
Doctor Who
The Patrick Troughton Era

With this month marking the much-hyped fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who , then it seemed only fitting that The Anorak Zone should run another article on the series, following its take on the Peter Davison era. But which part of Doctor Who was most appropriate? Thanks to last month's rediscovery of nine missing episodes from The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear, the answer became obvious.


Patrick Troughton starred as the Doctor from 1966-1969. Regarded at the time as featuring some of the scariest and most memorable stories, join me as I rank his run, from worst to best...

24 The Space
Pirates (1969)

Every Doctor had at least one story that wasn't up to scratch, and this was Patrick Troughton's. The last time the views of Doctor Who fans were widely surveyed was with Doctor Who Magazine's 2009 attempt to find out how every televised story was rated. With The Evil of the Daleks coming 18th (10th in old series stories) then Troughton certainly made his mark in the poll. However, The Space Pirates was rated as the sixth worst story ever made, which is a little harsh... but not by much.
     Crafted by Robert Holmes, the man was Who's most celebrated writer but he was never able to deliver a script for Patrick Troughton that really showed off the best of his talents. This was his second attempt for the programme, a space opera that sidelines the regulars and contains such notable lines of dialogue as "Clancy has a terrible temper - he's likely to explode like glycol trinitrate". Thankfully, Holmes got a lot better... just not with Troughton as the Doctor. The revelation that the title is an anagram of "Ee, Pat's crap shite" is too infantile to mention here.

23 The Three

While the 10th and 20th anniversary specials aren't dreadful – just about - where they fare badly is in their presentation of the second Doctor. The man Patrick Troughton plays in the two specials isn't the mature, reflective and psychologically cunning character that he played in his 60s heyday... rather it's a two-dimensional caricature bordering on pure send-up.
     In the broadcast period of pre-VHS and single screenings it wouldn't really have mattered... but when Troughton spent most of the last thirty years being only known for these stories and his more OTT season six performances, it helped to cement in people's minds that the character was something of a silly and clownish character, not the intelligent creation he was.
     Of course, it's perhaps taking it all too seriously to try and critique something as lightweight as The Three Doctors and its bubble monsters... but just look at the Brigadier's incredulity when faced with the TARDIS, and contrast with his open acceptance when the character first appeared in The Web of Fear four years earlier. It shows signs of series that had become stale and complacent after ten years on air, and in need of fresh change.

22 The Dominators

Patrick Troughton was arguably the greatest actor to take on the role, though with the BBC junking material well into the 70s, most of what was left of his era was his final season, where his performances were far less disciplined, and often a sign of what appeared to be growing boredom with the part. That situation has now been reversed, with the breakthrough of two (almost) complete stories being found from his middle period. The Dominators sees him far nearer to his Three Doctors persona, with a director who cares so little he even shoots a close-up of Troughton's stunt double. What compounds such misery is that The Dominators commits that rarest of Who sins... it's boring. Featuring useless robots and two men having the same argument in a room for five episodes running, when Jean-Paul Sartre talked about Hell being other people, he clearly hadn't watched this first.

21 The Five

In another Doctor's era this might rank far higher. Jon Pertwee, for example, gets a strong showing and much of the screen time. Peter Davison, the then-current Doctor, doesn't really get a strong part, and the first Doctor is played by another actor following Hartnell's death. Tom Baker refused to appear, and still manages some of the best scenes with clips from the uncompleted story Shada. In all this is Troughton, forming a double-act with the Brigadier and bagging what are the few laughs to be had in the serial. Sadly, it's again the "dotty uncle" routine, a manic and snivelling coward who hides behind Pertwee and lacks the intellect he had in the 60s. Of note is that the character is aware of events that happened to him after his last story, which was either intentional suggestion or a script-editing mistake... more of which later.

20 The Krotons

On a personal note, I first saw The Krotons when I was just nine years old, and found it thrilling. Who's to say that Doctor Who shouldn't exist just to entertain the nine year olds tuning in? Despite the new series' somewhat crass and misguided attempts to insert words like "prostitute" and oral sex gags into what is, after all, supposed to be a family show, should we just accept that Doctor Who's real appeal lies solely in the playground? That any attempts to, improbably, make it more "adult" are just a result of arrested development? If you're still in primary school, The Krotons may well be one of the best Doctor Who stories ever made. If you're an adult, then it's debatable whether you should still be watching.

19 The Two

Possibly not the best of the multi-Doctor stories, this one sees Colin Baker's controversial take on the role in a serial that manages to be both mean-spirited and tediously directed. However, the reason for its relatively high placing here is that Troughton gets to be almost the man he was two decades previously. There's some odd moments in the Robert Holmes script, such as his sudden distaste for Jamie's Scottish accent, or his xenophobic attitude to an alien race that tries to better itself, but the character is largely presented as a thoughtful one once more, however lacklustre the story. It's just a shame that Troughton didn't bother to dye his hair for the part.
     A review of The Two Doctors can't be complete without mentioning the fan theory of "season 6b". A theory that imagines unseen adventures took place after his final 60s story, due to this one mentioning the Doctor working with The Time Lords... who were unseen until his swan song. However, I prefer the idea of the Doctor altering his own past... we'd seen the Doctor on the run from 1963-1969, but The Three Doctors had them both taken out of time with no great difficulty. What we saw on screen once may not still be what really happened. Both concepts are borne out by him knowing post-War Games events in The Five Doctors, but such discussions are incredibly anal, so let's move on to keep some semblance of cool...

18 The Seeds of
Death (1969)

"You can't kill me, I'm a genius." Who gets its own "play it again, Sam" with a frequently-misquoted phrase that doesn't quite match what's on screen. ("Your leader will be angry if you kill me... I'm a genius.") Depending on your mood, the regulars here will either charm and delight you, or just plain irritate. The second Doctor and Jamie were a solid comic double-act... when they weren't trying to be. But when the comedy is egged so fiercely that Frazer Hines nearly has his tongue literally in his cheek, then it's clear the behind-the-scenes pranks and camaraderie has filtered too far in front of the camera.
     This extends to the pair deliberately adding innuendo into the dialogue, such as when discussing a model rocket: "Hey, look at the size of this one, Doc." "Yes, my word Jamie, that's... very large." It doesn't grate because of the crudity – which would go over the heads of the child audience – but just because it shows the actors behind the characters so clearly. Overall, the Seeds of Death is a story that is not without charm, but also annoys with its simple-minded vapidity. There are some decent directorial touches in this Ice Warrior sequel, but when you get to Padbury turning a wheel marked "hot" to defeat the enemies then it's probably time to call it a day.

17 The Highlanders

The second Patrick Troughton story, and the one to introduce Jamie McCrimmon, the Scotsman who would travel with him for the rest of his era. After a strong start, Troughton's first season sees wild experimentation as the production tries to come to terms with the new character. This one sees the normally physically timid second Doctor forcefully grapple one man, bang another's head on a desk and then threaten someone at gunpoint with the words "Don't cry out - I'm not very expert with these things, and it just might go off in your face." Add to this him talking of the French as "Froggies" and dressing up as a washerwoman, complete with shrill voice, and it's something of an oddity. As the last pure historical the series ever did, it betrays its lack of interest with the genre. It had once made up half of the series' remit, but here there's never really any great attempt to educate, only to entertain.