While Doctor Who was massively popular in the 1960s, it is arguably during the 1970s where the show solidified its legacy as a national institution. Refreshed and taken to new heights by Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, the show entered a period of classic after classic. Can we ever be forgiven for ignoring Tom and Liz Sladen’s incredible TARDIS scenes in Pyramids of Mars? Or having nothing from Inferno, The Seeds of Doom, The Talons of Weng-Chiang or even City of Death on this list? The choice was hard, but our ten most memorable and most significant moments of the 1970s are…
10: The Sea Devils Rise (The Sea Devils, 1972)
This scene is one of those magnificent set pieces the show does so well. Wonderfully designed and realised, the Sea Devils made a frightening visage. Seen either in shadow or in the singular till then, the threat suddenly becomes very real as a grinning Master watches on. Trapped on all sides, the Doctor and Jo have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. An incredible cliffhanger and moment.
9: Masterful (The Daemons, 1971)
There are many great moments with the Master throughout Season Eight but was he ever more evil and charming than as the Reverend Magister in The Daemons? Decked out either in a dog collar or satanic robes, the Master finally takes his plans to their logical conclusion and summons “The Devil”. The only Doctor Who villain ever to be given his own cliffhanger when under threat, the Delgado Master rivalled any of the shows heroes for popularity by this point. While maybe not a great moment per se, it is the moment that the Master’s popularity is recognised and his importance to the canon affirmed.
8: “HOW MANY LIVES?” (The Brain of Morbius, 1976)
Phillip Hinchcliffe has gone on record to state that this scene was included to give some mystery back to the Doctor, to show that we really knew very little about him. And that’s why it’s so good. Long before John Hurt and the controversy of The Timeless Child, it was revealed that there were apparently eight more Doctors before William Hartnell, guaranteeing angry debates over canon for decades to come! However, unlike many in the future, the production team realised the way to add mystery is to offer no answers at all, not to provide them.
7: “Kneel before the might of Sutekh” (Pyramids of Mars, 1975)
The Doctor is our hero, the man who saves the day from every and all tyrannies. We’ve laughed with him, been scared with him and joined him on his adventures as he flies in the face of authority.. and now here he is, in pain and on his knees, forced to bow before a creature undoubtedly more powerful than he. While never easy, you are rarely in any doubt that the Doctor can defeat his foes. Here, even if only for our moment, our faith is shaken. The Doctor is no God, he all too mortal.
6: “Don’t You Forget Me” (The Hand of Fear, 1976)
Our Sarah Jane… The Fourth Doctor and Sarah are arguably the most popular TARDIS team there ever was. Through the Hinchcliffe and Holmes era, they gave us memory after memory, classic moment after classic moment. This list is not long enough to list them all. We grew to love Sarah and then terribly in a single moment it was ripped away, left unceremoniously on the street in Aberdeen. It is a jarring scene, our confusion matching that of Sarah as the viewer almost implores the Doctor to change his mind. Yet there is no turning back. Till we meet again…
5: Auton Rampage! (Spearhead From Space, 1970)
Spearhead From Space is the best opening story of any Doctor and is a scintillating debut from Jon Pertwee, coming from the pen of a man who flavours this entire list, Robert Holmes. It echoes Quatermass and with shades of The Invasion, but still, it’s own beast. The threat is again brought down to Earth but in even more intimate style. It’s no longer alien Cybermen hiding in the sewers, now plastic itself is the threat. The mundanity of the mannequin and the factory is now macabre and the horrific. The scene where shop dummies burst to life and rampage through the streets of London is iconic. Absurd in its suggestion, it is genuine horror in its delivery.
4: Through the Millennia the Time Lords of Gallifrey… (The Deadly Assassin, 1976)
Doctor Who never opened this way, it just wasn’t done. The Deadly Assassin is a magnificent piece of television and unlike any other episode of the series in tone, either before or since. It almost feels as if we’re prying into secrets we shouldn’t be seeing, that without that relatable companion figure we’re spying on the family skeletons in the Doctor’s closet. Choosing a single scene from The Deadly Assassin is a difficult task. From the nightmarish dreamscape of the Matrix to the horror of what the once suave and sophisticated Master has become. Yet, it has to be the opening that lingers in mind. The monologue sets us up for the momentous “game-changing” events to come. Indeed nothing would ever be the same after these words again.
3: Farewell Jo Grant (The Green Death, 1973)
The Third Doctor’s era is, in essence, two different ones. There’s the Season 7 Doctor Who and everything else. While Pertwee was excellent alongside his equal Liz Shaw, they always seemed more colleagues than anything else, Liz’s detached persona Was far removed from what was to follow as is possible. In introducing Jo Grant, the production team didn’t merely find someone the Doctor could pass his test tubes to as some believe, they gave him a surrogate daughter. Jo undoubtedly has a fatherly affection for the Doctor, and it’s reciprocated. Like so many other eras of the show, when the regulars develop genuine chemistry, it passes over into the show, note William Hartnell’s original TARDIS team, Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines, Tom Baker and Lalla Ward. The UNIT family were just that, a family… And now the youngest has flown the coop. As he drives away in Bessie a single tear rolls down our hero’s cheek and you can’t help but wonder if it was as much Jon Pertwee’s as it was the Doctors. Despite some good moments in Season Eleven, the Third Doctors era really ended here on that ride away from The Nut Hutch.
2: “Yeees… I WOULD do it, that power would set me up above the gods” (Genesis of the Daleks, 1975)
Davros is the most frightening villain in the history of Doctor Who, and this scene is why. The power of Davros is that he is not a monster at all. Yes, the scars of his disfigurement give him a monstrous appearance, but his mentality is sadly all too human. He is a genuine world fear, every new Hitler, every monster born of war and hate. Coupled with Nyder, the obedient representative of the willing (even when ordered to kill his own people), it is a powerful statement on the dangers of fanaticism, unchecked power and war. You know that somewhere out there in the world there are men of power who would do it and that’s the most frightening thing of all. Genesis of the Daleks is the highest that Doctor Who has ever risen.
1: “Do I have the right?” (Genesis of the Daleks, 1975)
If there is one scene that every aspiring Doctor Who writer and producer should watch, this is it. It questions everything at the base of the morality of the show, for the first time looking at the more profound consequences of the Doctor’s actions. It’s left entirely ambiguous as to whether the Doctor really would have committed genocide or not — the fact he pauses to question answers enough about his character to act as the juxtaposition to Davros. The Doctor is not perfect, hard decisions have to be made, and they are often morally dubious. But he will always question what is right and what is just with due thought to those around him and the universe at large, never for his own ambitions or grievances. He is not judge, jury and executioner.
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