Doctor Who’s 57-year history is littered with scintillating moments and scenes that have crossed outside of fandom and into the consciousness of the British public. Such is the place of the show in British television history. While the show could be argued to have hit its creative peak in the 1970s, it was in the early days of William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton that so many of the show’s conventions and lore was established.
But what are the standout moments? Those that speak to us both as fans of Doctor Who and on a broader level. From the personally touching to the iconic artistry of a well-directed scene, the reasons a moment can achieve the status of iconic are many.
In fact, too many.
Close contenders that didn’t quite make the cut include “not one line”, the Doctor’s outrage at changing history in The Aztecs, the cunning and devious Daleks in Power of the Daleks and Patrick Troughton’s immortal “They must be fought” scene. But after much thought, here are the top ten most outstanding Doctor Who moments of the 1960s.
10: Daleks… On Earth! (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, 1964)
The Daleks had been a massive success for Doctor Who and Britain’s children demanded more. And more writer Terry Nation gave them. Bringing the metal monsters down to earth in the future, The Dalek Invasion of Earth again echoes the Cold War fears of the 1960s, the recent memories of the Blitz and the post-apocalyptic horror that defined so much of Nation’s work. Even though we knew they’d be appearing at some point, the moment that Dalek rises from the Thames is still a shock. There is a moment of confusion, and then a dawning of reality as plunger gives way to dome gives way to Dalek…. Though we do wonder what it was doing down there in the first place!
9: The Cybermen Cometh (The Tenth Planet, 1966)
As time runs out for the Doctor, a new era seems to be dawning. In a story, all about life, death and how we deal with it, a frightening realisation of the potential future walks across the ice. Their appearance in the snow is a scene of haunting majesty. From their sing-song voices to their recognisably human features, the Cybermen here are arguably the most frightening they ever were. Their return during the Peter Capaldi era was a masterstroke by Steven Moffat, and it is unlikely that the powerful scenes involving Bill would have had the same impact with the robot stand-ins that the Cybermen often became after this initial debut.
8: “One Day I shall come back” (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, 1964)
The original TARDIS team of the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara was as perfect as could be, and many may argue it was never bettered. But it couldn’t last forever. After The Dalek Invasion of Earth Susan is unceremoniously locked out of the TARDIS, the Doctor seemingly believing that the bird was ready to fly the coup. Hartnell’s performance is magnificent as it had been throughout the serial and the speech has been quoted ad infinitum by fans and within the show ever since. Not without reason. However, with our beloved first TARDIS team gone there were indeed both tears and regrets and as great as the rest of the First Doctor’s era was, it never quite matched the moments shared between the ships first four occupants.
7: Time Lords Victorious (The War Games, 1969)
Ever since that first moment in the junkyard in Totters Lane, the Doctor had been a mystery. We’d found out snippets about him, maybe even thought we’d got to know him until he changed his face. We knew him all over again as the “cosmic hobo”, shared adventures with Yeti and Ice Warriors, found ourselves on Telos and space stations and the Doctor always won, didn’t he? Not this time. This time the Doctor had no choice but to call his own people, to reveal himself to the Time Lords. The final episode of The War Games is the very definition of “game-changing”, there is no escape for the Doctor from his own people whose power is unmatched by anything we’ve ever seen. With ease, they erase the War Chief from time, wipe the minds of Jamie and Zoe and place our hero on trial. These are not the tinpot politicians we’d see in the future, these Time Lord’s are omnipotent and are to be feared. As the Doctor is forced to regenerate, we know an era has come to an end.
6: The Cybermen Take London (The Invasion, 1968)
Doctor Who has always had it’s big action set-pieces, from battles with Yeti in The Web of Fear to this, the Cybermen invasion of London. Shamelessly ripped off by Russell T. Davies, it’s not hard to understand why — it’s iconic. The aliens are not above us in space, they’re below us, they’re in the streets, marching down the steps of St. Paul’s, no-one is safe. It was Jon Pertwee’s old adage of the “Yeti on the loo in Tooting Bec”. The Invasion is seen as the prototype for the UNIT era to come, but the legacy survives well into the modern era.
5: From the Tombs (Tomb of the Cybermen, 1967)
Before the recovery of Tomb of the Cybermen, it was heralded as the lost great classic of the series. While time may have brought a re-evaluation to the serial, there can be little doubt that the moment the Cybermen wake from their tombs on Telos is still one of the magical and repeated moments in the history of the show. Inspired by the great Mummy classics of the 1930s, the Cybermen’s reawakening is somewhere between the resurrection of the dead and babies emerging from the womb. The sense of power and danger as they climb down those ladders, wonderfully set against their 1960’s theme, sets them up as the definitive villains of the Troughton era.
4: The Final End (Evil of The Daleks, 1967)
Possibly the most incredible Doctor Who story to not exist in the archive, save for Episode 2, The Evil of the Daleks for many years really appeared as if it would be the final outing for the iconic pepperpots. After three and a half years, two movies and the height of Dalekmania the time was right for the Daleks to take an extended break from the series. And in what style! The stakes couldn’t be higher. With the Daleks looking to finally defeat mankind once and for all and the introduction of the Dalek Emperor, here we get a devious Doctor, tricking Jamie into doing his bidding. Following years of exterminations, the deaths of companions and genocide across the galaxy, who can’t help but stand with our hero as the Dalek city burns. A right end of season finale feeling and with the introduction of Victoria, it could be said to be here that the golden age of Patrick Troughton begins.
3: “This old body of mine is wearing a bit thin” (The Tenth Planet, 1966)
These days a regeneration is announced months in advance with extensive press coverage and speculation, even live specials to report the next Doctor. But not so in 1966. Despite some minor press pieces, the majority of viewers would likely have sat stunned as our hero collapsed to the floor of the TARDIS and regenerated into the figure of Patrick Troughton. The confusion and distrust of Ben and Polly surely aped the feelings of those at home. Was it an imposter? Was this really still the Doctor? The magic of regeneration was born, and through it, Doctor Who’s longevity was assured. An idea as important as any other in the history of the show.
2: Exterminate! (The Daleks, 1963)
The Daleks are synonymous with Doctor Who, none less so than during the shows formative years in the 1960s. From the stark 100,000 BC, we are suddenly hurled to a far off planet in the future, a mysterious city and petrified forest holding both wonders and horrors for our heroes. The roller-coaster of the unknown is shared by the viewer and companions alike as Barbara turns in fright at the creature we cannot yet see. What can possibly have scared Miss Wright so? What abomination awaits behind the camera? A nation of school children sits in wonder and awe and of course tune in next week to find out. One of the all-time great cliffhangers and the moment that Doctor Who’s place in television history was assured.
1: All of Time and Space (An Unearthly Child, 1963)
The opening episode of An Unearthly Child is one of the greatest television debuts in the history of the medium. It establishes the mysterious and unpredictable Doctor, a man we don’t know whether we can trust yet. Yet, before he enters, we are first introduced to the characters through who we, the audience, connect. The titular Susan, an uncommon and untypical 1960s teenage girl and the duo we live this first story through, Ian and Barbara. Who can blame them for having the same curiosity that we at home do as to the nature of the girl and her grandfather? Indeed, every child watching would have to question the Doctor’s claims about his mysterious craft… Until that magical moment at the end of the episode as the TARDIS is gone from I.M. Foreman’s scrapyard and now stands in a desolate wilderness, a menacing shadow falling over its visage. Effective in its simplicity, the scene is a shock to the senses and the system, contrasting one reality with another and the realisation that the old man really is the wizard he says he is. The door to Narnia is open, and the 57-year adventure in space and time has begun.
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