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Doctor Who: 60 essential stories to celebrate the 60th anniversary

Doctor Who: 60 essential stories to celebrate the 60th anniversary

We count down the 60 most essential episodes of Doctor Who to celebrate the show's 60th anniversary

Words: Ewan Moore and Sam Cawley

Doctor Who is the greatest show in the explored universe. This is a fact. Since the show is turning 60 this month and my shameless love of the series knows absolutely no bounds, I decided it was time to take a look at 60 essential stories every Doctor Who fan - new and old - should absolutely check out. Allons-y!

An Unearthly Child (Season 1)

Quite possibly the most perfect first episode of any TV show ever. Mysterious, creepy, and oozing with atmosphere. Shame the rest of the story after leaving the junkyard in the TARDIS is a bit rubbish, but that first 20 minutes? Flawless.- EM

The Dalek Invasion Of Earth (Season 2)

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William Hartnell’s Doctor starts to become the hero we all know and love as he actively chooses to stand and fight against the Daleks in an iconic story. Oh, and that shot of the Daleks trundling over Westminster Bridge is perfect. - EM

The Daleks’ Master Plan (Season 3)

A 12-part epic filled with death, action, and genuinely shocking moments. Alas, huge chunks of this serial are lost to time. Should I have included it in a list of essential stories then? Too late to think about that now. - EM

The Power Of The Daleks (Season 4)

Patrick Troughton makes his debut as the Doctor in the first ever post-regeneration story. The Second Doctor immediately sets himself apart from his predecessor in a tense tale packed with pernicious pepperpots. - EM

The Tomb Of The Cybermen (Season 5)

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Quite simply one of the finest ever episodes of Doctor Who. If you only watch one black-and-white story? Well, that’s a dumb choice, but at least let it be this thrilling horror adventure. - EM

The Enemy Of The World (Season 5)

Patrick Troughton faces off against Patrick Troughton in this bonkers spy-thriller. By the standard of most 60s-era stories, this one flies along. - EM

The War Games (Season 6)

Troughton’s final adventure is perhaps a little longer than it needs to be, but is still an excellent sendoff for a fan-favourite Doctor. Plus we meet the Time Lords for the first time, minus the silly headgear, which came later. - EM

Spearhead From Space (Season 7)

Doctor Who explodes into colour, and with a stylish new Doctor to boot. Jon Pertwee immediately embodies the suave, cantankerous alien in a story that contains one of the single most disturbing setpieces in Who history: shop window dummies coming to life and gunning down pedestrians. - EM

Inferno (Season 7)

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It’s rare that Doctor Who shows our hero as genuinely helpless, which is why it’s all the more interesting when a story like Inferno throws everything at The Doctor. No TARDIS, no allies, and a planet that’s about to go up in flames. An absolute scorcher, no pun intended. - EM

The Curse Of Peladon (Season 9)

Jon Pertwee singing a lullaby to calm down a rampaging cave monster is hands-down one of the most Doctorish Doctor moments any Doctor has had, and a reminder that the Third Doctor was about more than sweet martial arts moves. - EM

The Three Doctors (Season 10)

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Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee are an irresistible double act while a clearly unwell William Hartnell makes one last appearance as The Doctor in a 10th anniversary special that’s a ton of fun. - EM

The Time Warrior (Season 11)

Not a brilliant story perhaps, but the first appearance of the beloved and much missed Elizabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith makes this one worth a watch. - EM

Genesis Of The Daleks (Season 12)

Tom Baker’s first season as The Doctor is full of gems, but Genesis takes the crown. We meet Davros for the first time, and Baker reminds us all what an immense talent he is in a standout scene in which The Doctor wrestles with whether he has the right to erase an entire species - even one as evil as the Daleks. But, you know, Doctor Who never used to be political. - EM

Pyramids Of Mars (Season 13)

Aside from a slightly odd scene in which two robots crush a man betwixt their fulsome robot breasts, this is a corker of a story. Baker and Sladen on top form, with a brilliant villain I’m genuinely amazed has yet to make a return. - EM

The Robots Of Death (Season 14)

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Less racist than Talons Of Weng Chiang, and generally just a better story. Can you really beat killer robots rising up against their bourgeois masters? - EM

Horror Of Fang Rock (Season 15)

Trapped in a lighthouse with evil jellyfish and not a single person has to wee on a friend’s leg. Lucky. - EM

The Pirate Planet (Season 16)

Not a lot of people seem to enjoy this one, but to me it’s exactly what you should expect from Douglas Adams doing Doctor Who. Brilliantly silly and lots of fun. - EM

City Of Death (Season 17)

“What a wonderful butler, he’s so violent!” 10/10, no notes. - EM

Logopolis (Season 18)

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A high concept slice of sci-fi that isn’t exactly a classic, but the air of sombre inevitability that permeates Tom Baker’s final story makes it a fascinating watch. Gorgeous score, too. - EM

Earthshock (Season 19)

The Cybermen return and a companion meets a grisly end in what is arguably classic Who’s most dramatic, high-stakes season finale. Shame it’s immediately followed by Time-Flight. - EM

The Five Doctors (Season 20)

Gloriously dumb fan service in which Cybermen are massacred by a vindictive writer, Sarah Jane is terrified of a slight incline, and the mind probe ingrains itself into the collective consciousness of all Whovians. - EM

The Caves Of Androzani (Season 21)

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Widely regarded as the best-ever episode of Doctor Who, The Caves Of Androzani has aged like fine wine. Heartbreaking that it was Peter Davision’s last story as The Doctor, and hilarious for the fact the story immediately after this one is widely regarded as a big old pile of horse turd. - EM

The Two Doctors (Season 22)

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Another fun Sixth Doctor story that brings back Troughton’s Second Doctor alongside Frazer Hines’ Jamie. Watching the two Time Lords dick around the Spanish countryside for a few hours is a pleasant enough way to spend an afternoon. - EM

Revelation Of The Daleks (Season 22)

Look, I had to include at least a couple of Colin Baker stories. Revelation is… actually a lot of fun. And the Daleks are pretty damn creepy in what is essentially a camp body horror. If you want a taste of the Sixth Doctor era, this is one to watch. - EM

Time And The Rani (Season 24)

Before anyone comes at me on Twitter, I want to stress that I said this was 60 essential stories. Essential does not necessarily mean good. Time And The Rani is absolutely unhinged, and essential viewing for anyone interested in why Doctor Who ultimately fell apart in the 80s. I mean, you have Sylvestor McCoy playing the spoons on Kate O’Mara’s breasts while Bonnie Langford breaks the world record for most screams from one woman in a quarry. - EM

Remembrance Of The Daleks (Season 25)

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As rickety as the last few seasons of classic Who were, there were flashes of genuine brilliance. Remembrance Of The Daleks is a fantastic story, notable for Sophie Aldred beating the shit out of a Dalek with a baseball bat and a cliffhanger that finally ended the tired jokes about Daleks not being able to climb stairs. - EM

Ghost Light (Season 26)

Doctor Who’s last couple of seasons were notable for being something of a return to form, and Ghost Light is a delightfully creepy tale. Perfect for a cold November evening. - EM

The Movie

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The 1996 movie may have been a bit naff, but Paul McGann as The Doctor is one of the best things that ever happened to the show. As we’ll discover together as we step into our extra special Big Finish section. - EM

As I’m sure you’re aware, the TV gods made the monumentally stupid decision to keep Doctor Who off air between 1989 and 2005, with the exception of the TV movie. This brings us to our extra special Big Finish section, because to suggest any list of Doctor Who stories is essential without including Big Finish would be wrong.

Storm Warning

If you’ve only ever watched the TV series and agree we didn’t get enough of Paul McGann, I’ve got news for you. The Eighth Doctor lived on in a full series of audio stories, and it all starts with Storm Warning. Get it in and around your ears. - EM

Chimes Of Midnight

The best Doctor Who Christmas special. It just is. I don’t make the rules. - EM


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A deliciously grim audio adventure starring The Seventh Doctor that dives into the complex history between our hero and The Master. This one is a proper full-on horror, so maybe don’t listen to it alone at night if you plan on sleeping. - EM

Spare Parts

The Fifth Doctor stumbles upon the origins of the Cybermen in a story that will leave you with a knot of dread in your stomach. But, in a good way. - EM

The Holy Terror

For a time The Sixth Doctor travelled with a talking penguin. If that’s not enough to get you to check out Big Finish then you’re well and truly a lost cause. - EM

The Last Adventure

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One of the best things about Big Finish is that Colin Baker is finally getting stories worthy of his talents, and The Last Adventure is the regeneration story he never got. A long-time coming, and a worthy sendoff for a misunderstood incarnation. - EM

Night Thoughts

I don’t know who decided the majority of Seventh Doctor audio stories needed to be really f**ing creepy, but Night Thoughts is the kind of adventure that will leave you sleeping with all the lights in the house on. - EM


The Fifth Doctor faces down werewolves in an instant classic that reminds us once again just how damn good Davison is as The Doctor when the stories are up to snuff. - EM


A Davros story without any Daleks sounds like a risky idea on paper, but it ends up being one of the best Big Finish outings. An essential listen for anyone who wants to learn more about the creator of the Daleks, or simply enjoy yet another terrific Sixth Doctor story. - EM

Out Of Time

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Big Finish

David Tennant and Tom Baker are the two most iconic incarnations of The Doctor, so who could resist a story that brings them together for the first time? Wibbley wobbly timey wimey fun with added Daleks. - EM

Sympathy For The Devil

David Warner as The Doctor. I don’t need to add anything more. - EM

Rose (Season 1)

After several years, Doctor Who finally returned to our screens, with a bigger budget, new sets/effects, and a new Doctor, Christopher Eccleston. It quickly set the tone for the show’s revival, featuring the same perfect mix of comedy and sci-fi horror, and was a great start/return point for new and old fans alike, and it was absolutely fantastic. - SC

Dalek (Season 1)

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While the first few episodes of ‘New Who’ introduced new villains and monsters, Dalek brought back the most iconic of them all but with a perfect twist and question that’d be explored in future series, can there be a good Dalek? - SC

Bad Wolf/The Parting Of The Ways (Season 1)

The end of ‘New Who’s’ first series, and it went out with a bang. Previous episodes had teased something big was coming, and it finally arrived when The Ninth Doctor went to battle with his most dangerous enemy, it’s just a shame Christopher Eccelston couldn’t stay a little bit longer. - SC

Tooth And Claw (Season 2)

As fun as it was watching David Tennant spend most of his first season’s first episode as The Doctor pretending to be Zoë Wanamaker, Tooth And Claw is infinitely better. Queen Victoria vs an alien werewolf? Outstanding! Properly grisly in that family-friendly way only Doctor Who can manage. - EM

Girl In The Fireplace (Season 2)

The Doctor and friends discover a spaceship that houses windows through time to the life of the French historical figure Madame de Pompadour. Throughout the course of the adventure Pompadour falls for The Doctor, and he seemingly falls for her. Unfortunately, the episode perfectly encapsulates The Doctor’s curse of outliving all the ones he holds close to him, foreshadowing the season finale. - SC

Army Of Ghosts/Doomsday (Season 2)

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It feels incredible, looking back, that it took until 2006 to get an episode of Doctor Who in which the Daleks and Cybermen went to war. But that only made the season two finale feel that much more special - and this epic spectacle was grounded by Billie Piper breaking the heart of a nation on a beach in Glamorgan. - EM

Blink (Season 3)

In the span of 45 minutes The Weeping Angels established themselves as a Doctor Who monster worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Daleks, Cybermen, and that one thing in Monsters Of The Deep that looks like a pantomime horse. A wonderfully creepy piece of TV that barely even features The Doctor. - EM

Midnight (Season 4)

A terrifying episode where The Doctor and a transport full of strangers encounter an invisible force of nature whose intentions are unknown. It sets such a sinister tone and is one of the few times we see the seemingly invincible Time-Lord genuinely terrified. It also subverts one of the main Doctor Who tropes of him being able to instantly gain people's trust and talk his way out of situations, as eventually, the other passengers turn on him due to being manipulated by the entity. - SC

Waters Of Mars (Season 4)

Another genuinely horrifying episode, where just a single drop of Martian water turns a crew of explorers into disturbing water zombies. It also ends with The Doctor having the realisation that he’s got too much power in the universe and is dreadfully close to becoming one of the monsters he fights to defeat. - SC

The Eleventh Hour (Season 5)

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Matt Smith’s explosive debut as The Eleventh Doctor sees him crash land into the back garden of a mysterious little girl called Amelia Pond. Any doubts that Smith couldn’t live up to the performance David Tennant left behind were immediately dismissed, as Doctor Number 11 instantly stole the show, becoming many people’s favourite incarnation of the madman in the box. - SC

Vincent And The Doctor (Season 5)

Doctor Who is no stranger to introducing famous historical faces for its episodes, but Tony Curran’s Van Gogh knocked it out of the park. The relationship he has with The Doctor and Amy is heartwarming, and the last part of the episode has to be some of the most emotional minutes on television. - SC

A Christmas Carol (Season 5)

Hands-down the best televised Christmas episode of Doctor Who (see Chimes Of Midnight). A Christmas Carol is… The Doctor, doing A Christmas Carol. That’s literally it, and it works absolutely beautifully thanks to the late, great Michael Gambon. - EM

The Doctor’s Wife (Season 6)

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What if the TARDIS could talk? A simple concept, expertly executed by writer Neil Gaiman (you may have heard of him) in my personal all-time favourite episode of Doctor Who. This is a gorgeous examination of the relationship between The Doctor and his oldest, dearest travelling companion. Because when all is said and done, it’ll always be The Doctor and the TARDIS travelling through time and space. EM

The Night Of The Doctor (Season 7)

A mini-episode that reveals The Eighth Doctor’s regeneration into The War Doctor, giving Paul McGann a chance of redemption following the disappointing TV movie. Here we see a Doctor who’s lost all hope of avoiding his destiny, and finally accepting he needs to take up arms, and join the war between his people and the Daleks. - SC

The Day Of The Doctor (Season 7)

Celebrating Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary by bringing together The Eleventh, Tenth and a new incarnation known as the War Doctor, played by the late John Hurt. Seeing the three Timelords bounce off each other was a sight to behold, and the story gloriously addresses and concludes one of the biggest events/mysteries of New Who, what The Doctor did to Gallifrey between his Eighth and Ninth incarnations. - SC

Mummy On The Orient Express (Season 8)

The switch from Matt Smith’s lighter Doctor to a much darker Peter Capaldi was a jarring one, but it made for a fascinating run of stories. My personal favourite is one that clearly started with the episode title and worked backwards from there. A mummy is killing off passengers seemingly at random, and The Doctor has to race against time to save as many people as he can. Thrilling stuff. - EM

Heaven Sent (Season 9)

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Arguably Peter Capaldi’s best performance as The Doctor, as he’s trapped in an endless time-loop with the one thing he fears more than anything, the truth. It’s one of the few episodes where The Doctor is the only character present, and a testimony to the lengths he’ll go to keep fighting, even when there’s an easy way out. - SC

World Enough And Time (Season 10)

The Twelfth Doctor and his friends Bill and Nardole arrive on a mysterious spaceship, which The Doctor aims to use as a testing ground for Missy’s commitment to being a good person, only for things to go horribly wrong. Not only did this episode reintroduce a variant of the Cybermen not seen since their original debut, but one of Missy’s old faces comes back to haunt her, in a twist no one would have seen coming. - SC

Demons Of The Punjab (Season 11)

Jodie Whittaker’s first season of Doctor Who tried a lot of new things, and not all of them were successful. The greater focus on historical stories was a strength, however, and Demons Of The Punjab is a beautifully told tale that isn’t afraid to roll up its sleeves and explain to its young audience the horrors of the Partition of India, and the families that were ripped apart as a result of the British Empire. - EM

Fugitive Of The Judoon (Season 12)

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Whether you love The Timeless Child storyline or hate it, Fugitive Of The Judoon perfectly set up the story by introducing an incarnation of The Doctor that couldn’t possibly exist, leaving us all confused and full of questions that’d eventually be answered during the season finale. - SC

Village Of The Angels (Season 13)

The return of beloved Doctor Who villains, perfectly fitting into their reestablished lore whilst also bringing a perspective as to the behaviour and hierarchy of the Angels, complete with plenty of spooks and scares for one of the show’s most terrifying monsters. - SC

The Power Of The Doctor (Season 13)

Jodie Whittaker’s final episode, and a swan song to her run as the Thirteenth Doctor. Featuring returning companions, villains, and even some of The Doctor’s old faces, Whittaker’s final adventure was an absolute blast, and in a shocking turn of events, revealed David Tennant as The Fourteenth Doctor. - SC

Featured Image Credit: BBC