The Time Meddler
William Hartnell’s First Doctor often had stories that were either full science-fiction plots or pure historicals, in which the Doctors and companions would land in a famous historical setting and try to survive. The Time Meddler is the first story to combine both of these genres, which proved vital in ensuring the show’s success since many episodes of the current show are set in the past while featuring aliens or other science-fiction elements. This is quite a slow-paced story, which is a common complaint of Classic Who, but the plot here is really engaging, with a fantastic villain in the Meddling Monk. Plus, the usually grumpy and irritable First Doctor is a bit warmer and friendlier in this, making him a much more likeable and comforting protagonist. If you’re a history buff (like me) and you want to see a mad villain try to change major events, then I couldn’t recommend The Time Meddler enough.
Spearhead From Space
If you’ve seen Rose Tyler’s first episode, then Spearhead From Space’s plot may be somewhat familiar to you. It features shop dummies and other plastic things coming to life and turning deadly. In fact, if you like the modern era of the show then I think you’ll really enjoy this one. The first story for Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, he spent most of his time on Earth assisting an organisation called UNIT to combat alien threats. The Earth-based setting and a heavier focus on action should instantly be a good sign for you. Pertwee is also much more suave and heroic than his comparatively bumbling predecessors and so his version of the Doctor should be a lot more appealing, reminding you of recent Doctors such as David Tennant and Peter Capaldi. So long as you can get past the very dodgy 1970s effects, this one is a hell of a good time.
Genesis Of The Daleks
It’s nigh-on impossible to choose just one essential story from the Tom Baker era since he’s the longest-running Doctor, but going for a basic answer is often the best. Commonly viewed as one of the show’s best ever stories, Genesis Of The Daleks gives us the origin story of the show’s most famous villains. While they may be a running joke sometimes, they are really menacing in this, especially when we meet their terrifying leader Davros. Once again, this is classic Who here so the effects are a bit ropey at times, but the plot at the core of this story is magnificent. Plus, for those of us who have immense nostalgia for The Sarah Jane Adventures, it’s a chance to see the late great Elisabeth Sladen in her original run as a companion on the show.
The Caves Of Androzani
Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor may not be a favourite of mine, but he goes out on top form with The Caves Of Androzani. A departure from more over-the-top and silly stories, this is a bleak and dark four episodes that see The Doctor and his companion Peri caught in the middle of a deadly drug war. That doesn’t mean it’s not exciting though - The Caves Of Androzani is seen by many as the show’s finest hour and it’s directed brilliantly by Graeme Harper, making for something that feels more like a gritty 80s action movie than an episode of Doctor Who. It’s visceral, emotional but oh so exciting and the final episode of this four-parter is unbelievably intense.
The final classic story I want to recommend is actually the last episode of the original run, 1989’s Survival. The reason why I’m recommending Survival, aside from being a really good story, is that it feels like a template for a lot of Doctor Who you’ve probably watched, particularly the David Tennant era. It’s set in the districts of London and features characters and plots that are connected to our main companion, in this case Sophie Aldred’s Ace. This should instantly ring a bell if you remember the large-scale David Tennant episodes set in present-day Britain, but it also features an appearance from the iconic villain The Master. He is really cunning and sly in this particular story, making him a really intimidating presence. Just so long as you can look past terrible cheetah make-up.
So, that’s a beginner’s guide to what classic Who you should start with. Enjoy the binge watch!