I’m perhaps a little more obsessed than I should be with extracting meaning from the Internet Movie Database. Thinking about the question of what to show (and what not to show) a friend who doesn’t know much about Doctor Who, I wondered if the user rankings for individual episodes might shed any light? Well, maybe they do and maybe they don’t.
This is in no way meant to be competition for the ruthless ongoing vote run by @Heraldofcreatio on Twitter, in which The People vote on paired Doctor Who stories to decide which is better and which worse. But I encourage those of you on Twitter to participate.
So, which are the worst-rated episodes for each Doctor and Whoniverse spinoff series, as voted by IMDB users? I have compiled the numbers.
The Doctor with the highest rated worst episode, if you see what I mean, is Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor, who graced our screens in 2005. Aliens of London, the one with the spaceship crashing into Big Ben and farting monsters, scores 6.9 from IMDB users. It actually includes the first scene ever filmed for New Who, where Eccleston’s Doctor, and Naoko Mori as Dr Sato (later to return in Torchwood), inspect the alien pig.
You may have missed Class, the 2016 spinoff about some kids at Coal Hill School who are charged by the Doctor with defending the Earth. (One of the kids is in fact an alien prince, and one of the teachers is his secret and reluctant bodyguard.) The worst-ranked episode, Brave-ish Heart, also at 6.9, is the second of a two-part story which sees two of the kids sucked into another dimension while the others fight off an invasion of carnivorous petals and an alien who has taken over the school’s board of governors. There’s nothing terribly wrong with it, but the unearthly dimension is a bit naff.
The worst-ranked episode of the Sarah Jane Adventures, at 6.7, is the second of the sadly truncated 2011 final season, the closing half of a two-parter named Sky, after the new regular character who it introduces. Sinead Michael, playing the new girl, was only twelve years old when the episode was filmed, making her the youngest actor ever to play a regular character in the Whoniverse. The story sees her transformed from a living planet-busting bomb to a human girl, and Sarah adopts her at the end. Again, nothing terribly wrong with it, but a slightly awkward introduction of a new character. (I should note also that I’m not counting the 2009 Comic Relief Special with Ronnie Corbett and more fart jokes, which scores only 6.1.)
I remember watching the worst-rated Eleventh Doctor story, The Curse of the Black Spot, after a full day at the BBC studios in Belfast where I had been covering the 2011 Northern Ireland Assembly election. IMDB users give it a rating of 6.7, but I rather enjoyed it, a tale of swashbuckling nonsense aboard a pirate ship that isn’t what it seems. I may have been tired and my critical faculties dulled. But I think there were a couple of worse Eleventh Doctor episodes. (IMDB also rates a factual minisode about the making of a different Eleventh Doctor story a hair below The Curse of the Black Spot, but I’m not including it here.)
On the other hand, I think that IMDB voters have it about right in their disdain for the third episode of the 1972 Third Doctor story, The Time Monster, rated at an average of 6.4. The story in general is a pretty silly tale of the Master attempting to Conquer The World by linking up with the mystic powers of ancient Atlantis, and this is the silliest episode of the six, culminating in Pertwee’s Doctor constructing an anti-timewarping device from a corkscrew, while he and the rest of the cast struggle to keep their faces straight.
There are only two televised Eighth Doctor stories, made 17 years apart, and they are very different kettles of fish. The lower-rated of the two, at 6.3, is The (1996) Movie, which saw Sylvester McCoy regenerate into Paul McGann and get involved with a plot to thwart another attempt by the Master to Conquer The World and incidentally steal the Doctor’s remaining lives and the TARDIS. I think it is enjoying a bit of a renaissance among fannish opinion at the moment, but its overall rating remains perhaps unfairly low.
The worst-rated episode of Torchwood is Cyberwoman, from the 2006 first series, at 6.2, in which it turns out that Torchwood crew member Ianto has been keeping his semi-cyberised girlfriend in the cellar without anyone noticing. She wakes up and goes on the rampage, and comes to a nasty end, clearing the way for Ianto’s subsequent romance with Jack. The episode is mainly memorable for Caroline Chikezie’s costume as the Cyberwoman. I must say that I personally enjoyed it, but many others didn’t.
(K-9 and Company: A Girl’s Best Friend, fits here at 6.1, but I’ll cover it tomorrow.)
The Tenth Doctor may be the favourite of the masses, but that doesn’t go for all of his stories. Fear Her is set around the opening of the 2012 Olympics, six years in the future when the story was shown in 2006, and rates 5.9 on IMDB; it features the Doctor being transformed into a child’s squiggly drawing, and just generally looks a bit low budget. However I feel it’s underrated here, and Nina Sosanya is especially good as the kid’s mother.
However, the worst-rated Fifth Doctor episode is one that I remember watching with crashing disappointment when it was first broadcast in 1982. Season 19 of Old Who, Peter Davison’s first, ended with a story called Time-Flight in which the Doctor’s old adversary, the Master, attempts to entrap him with a time-travelling Concorde aircraft. The plot made little sense and the director made little effort. At the end of the story, loyal and long-suffering companion Tegan is casually left behind (though retrieved in the first story of the next season). The fourth and final episode is rated 5.9.
For my money the worst Twelfth Doctor story is the ridiculous Kill the Moon in which it turns out that the large ball of rock orbiting the Earth is actually an alien dragon’s egg. IMDB users disagree. The worst rated Twelfth Doctor episode, at 5.8, is the 2015 story Sleep No More, which I couldn’t remember much about and rewatched for this post. The Doctor and Clara get involved with investigating the apparently abandoned Le Verrier space station; the story is told in documentary form, narrated by the guy who set the station up. It’s a different format but I found it effective enough, not especially memorable but not awful either.
The worst-rated Fourth Doctor episode is another that I watched on first broadcast with feelings of disappointment and almost of betrayal. After the glory years of Robert Holmes as script editor, the arrival of his successor coincided with a funding crunch, and the 1978 story Underworld, though ambitiously riffing off both Greek mythology and Time Lord lore, ends up being remarkable for its cheap-looking special effects, and I agree with IMDB voters that the third episode, also rated 5.8, is probably the least impressive of an unimpressive quartet.
The worst rated surviving episode from the Second Doctor era, at 5.7, is rated ahead of several lost episodes from the black and white era, but I am listing it anyway. It’s from 1969, the second episode of The Space Pirates, an ambitious attempt at space opera written by Robert Holmes, the greatest of Old Who script writers. I tend to think that this (and the whole story) would be in better regard if more of it had survived, though I’ll admit that it probably didn’t quite hit the mark even in 1969. Again there’s a notable female costume, this time Lisa Daniely’s hairdo as mining magnate Madeleine.
The lowest-rated surviving episode of the black-and-white era is from 1964, when individual stories did not have specific names, but each episode had its own individual title; it’s The Centre, the sixth and final part of the First Doctor story that we now call The Web Planet. As with The Space Pirates, it’s an ambitious story which doesn’t quite meet the mark of today’s production values, this time with insectoid alien races and a disembodied intelligence duelling for control of the planet Vortis. I don’t think it is so very terrible myself, and would give it more than 5.6.
The lowest-rated Sixth Doctor episode will come as little surprise. Colin Baker’s 1984 debut story, The Twin Dilemma, features bizarre characterisation for the show’s central character, very poor acting from a couple of the guest performers, and unambitious (to put it politely) direction. A friend of mine who lives in Spain told me that her new English neighbour proudly informed her that his dad had written the worst Doctor Who story ever; it was this one. Fans can debate which of the four episodes is worst; myself I’d have said the first, but IMDB users say the last, with a rating of 5.3.
To my surprise, that’s not the lowest-rated surviving episode of Old Who; it is pipped by another closing episode from a debuting Doctor’s first story, the fourth episode of Time and the Rani starting Sylvester McCoy in 1987. This story was adapted by authors Pip and Jane Baker from a Choose Your Own Adventure book, and involves a crazy conspiracy by rebel Time Lord the Rani to harvest the brains of geniuses from Earth’s history. After some initial confusion the actor and Ace defeat her and herd the curiously docile geniuses into the TARDIS to go home.
The lowest-rated episode of Old Who is a lost episode, the sixth and final instalment of 1969’s The Space Pirates, as referred to above. I think this must reflect general lack of knowledge of the story more than anything. There is quite a good reconstruction available on Dailymotion, and it seems to me that The Dominators, from earlier in that season, is a far weaker story in every regard. (And The Twin Dilemma is weaker still.)
The worst-rated episode of Doctor Who proper is the 2020 Thirteenth Doctor story Orphan 55, at a dismal 4.2. I confess that as with Sleep No More, although I watched it on first broadcast, I had completely forgotten what it was about and rewatched it for this post. The Doctor and fam end up at a resort which turns out to be constructed on the ruins of Earth and also under alien attack. There are a couple of doomed romances and lots of bangs. Whitaker, as always, does her best to inject energy into it; the Doctor preaches a sermon about climate change at the end. It does a lot of the things that other episodes do, but doesn’t do them any better than any of the others. I agree that it’s not all that good, but myself I’d still rank it above The Twin Dilemma, and indeed Kill the Moon.
The worst rated episode from the televised Whoniverse is one you have probably forgotten even if you ever saw it. Mind Snap, the twenty-second episode of the twenty-six in the Australian spinoff series about the Doctor’s robot dog, K9, is a cheap and lazy filler 2010 episode in which K9 loses his memory and needs to be reminded of his true self by re-experiencing clips from the previous twenty-one episodes. The IMDB rating of 4.1 is harsh, but I agree with the voters’ verdict in giving this one the wooden spoon. Bob Baker, who co-authored both this and Underworld, is the only writer with two different stories on this list. (Robert Holmes has two episodes from the same story, so it doesn’t really count.)
More cheerfully, I’ll be celebrating the best-rated episodes of each Doctor and spinoff show tomorrow. (Including K9 and Company, in case you were wondering.)