4 of the most underrated episodes of ‘Doctor Who’

Not every episode of Doctor Who can be a universally-adored ‘Blink’ or ‘The Doctor’s Wife’.

We’ve picked out four episodes that don’t get the recognition they perhaps deserve…

 

4. ‘The Beast Below’

Doctor Who The Beast Below

A story of images and ideas, Matt Smith’s second story doesn’t quite coalesce as an adventure. It’s hard to grasp quite how this society works, when too many extras wander across the back of shot, looking like they’re in period fancy dress. There in the bowler hat is Mr Benn. There in the donkey jacket is Del Boy. And there in the hat is the flower seller from Trumpton.

But if you stop trying to work out the geography, and the social gradations, of Starship UK, there is a lot to enjoy. The central market set channels a great ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ vibe, while the CGI work is genuinely beautiful: from the opening shot of Amy floating in space to the final reveal of the star whale underneath the ship.

When first screened, this story was another indication that the camerawork and design of Moffat’s Who had cinematic aspirations.

 

3. ‘The Long Game’

Doctor Who The Long Game

Poor unloved ‘The Long Game’; the poor relation in Series 1. And yet, watching it again now, it’s a reminder of the gorgeous thrill that revamped first year was: when the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire was realised as a slice of 2000 AD-style fantasy.

Like the Jagrafess, this story has bite. Its targets aren’t small or subtle, but in these days of discredited media moguls, economic collapse and the Leveson Enquiry, they seem especially pertinent.

Simon Pegg’s venal Editor is representative for a consortium of banks, while Davies didn’t need to throw a foam pie to humiliate Rupert Murdoch: he incarnates him as a giant inflated pink condom with teeth.

The politics of the workplace is everywhere in this story. The Editor remarks, in one of its best lines, ‘We all know what happens to nonentities. They get promoted’, and when Cathaca kicks back against the system, she’s as much motivated by having been looked over for promotion as she is by anti-capitalist outrage.

Certainly, the story isn’t perfect: there are the first signs here of how mutually exclusive and self-satisfied the Doctor and Rose would become on their worst days. But it is artfully directed and has such an eye for colour and light, making clever use of its redressed sets, you wonder why director Brian Grant never returned to the show.

 

2. ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’

Doctor Who Idiots Lantern

An accomplished slice of television, made by people who absolutely know what they’re doing, we’d offer the controversial suggestion that, slightly sloppy ending aside, ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’ is some of writer Mark Gatiss’s best work for the series yet.

Gatiss’s love of the early years of television is all over the story: Florizel Street is name-checked in a story which is itself about a Street on Coronation Day. Muffin the Mule gets his second cameo appearance in Doctor Who after his trot-on part in 1999 sketch, The Pitch of Fear. (‘Yes, Muffin. I’m sorry too.’)

Meanwhile the catchphrases of Fifties television are deployed to break fourth walls and mark the structural beats of the narrative. ‘Are you sitting comfortably?’, asks The Wire at the beginning, while, bang on the halfway mark, Rose’s face gets sucked off to the cry of ‘Goodnight children, everywhere’.

Knowing nods and winks are everywhere, but it doesn’t feel clever-clever: it just feels like layered writing. When Eddie Connolly mocks his wife for getting her hair done to watch the ceremony, because ‘The Queen won’t be able to see you’, it’s a historically-authentic detail and character touch; but the joke’s on Eddie, because in this story: the television can see you. The television talks back.

All this, and there are great, great gags. The Doctor knows his police interrogator’s name because ‘It’s written inside your collar. Bless your mum’, and a whole history of wrongness is implied when Rose reveals, ‘Mum went out with a sailor.’ All in all, it’s enough to leave you ‘Huuuuungrrrryy!’ for more.

 

1. ‘Love & Monsters’

Doctor Who Love and Monsters

‘Love & Monsters’ is a beautiful episode. Really. Those who hate it do so because it’s a mash-up of risqué dialogue, soap opera situations, B-movie space frolics and Bella Emberg.

Those who love it, however, do so because of what it says about loneliness, companionship and the abilities of people – even especially lonely or socially awkward people – to form their own urban families, and, through that, a connection with something bigger: something ‘so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.’

As for that joke: yes, it’s tonally misjudged. But it sits in the context of an episode which is deliberately playing with tone. The sight of Ursula’s head on a paving slab is an image which channels the darkly subversive spirit of a Roald Dahl, or, more pertinently, given that the face belongs to cinema’s Moaning Myrtle, the playful irreverence of a J.K.Rowling. It’s grotesque; but the punchline is not ironic, and the soliloquy which follows is one of the most tender in all of Doctor Who.

Years before Moffat adopted the phrase, ‘dark fairy tale’, Russell T Davies was proving that the show could explore such territory. And like all fairy tales, this one stares down the grotesque with a simple humanity.

 

What’s your favourite underrated episode of Doctor Who? Let us know below…

  • hitherto

    I agree with all these, except “Love & Monster’s”. It means well, but is still just an utter shambles of an episode.

    Other massively underrated episodes, at least I feel:
    “Let’s Kill Hitler”
    “The Rings of Akhaten” (although it has a distinct fanbase now)
    “Boom Town”
    “A Town Called Mercy”

    • D

      A Town Called Mercy, definitely.

  • starhunter79

    I agree but “Love and Monsters” is my least favourite, I might even go as far as saying I dislike it (can’t bring myself to say hate and Dr. Who)

  • Polo

    I feel like the episode “Midnight” doesn’t get any attention, yet that ep. was phenomenal in the way explored humans and the way they act and think in fear. Mob mentality. It was a powerful episode.

    • Josh Desmond

      that is one of my faves. It was really trippy.

  • Kay

    “A Town Called Mercy”, “Let’s Kill Hitler”, “The Girl in the Fireplace”, and “Blink” (although it does have a definite fanbase, it is so unique and I love it). I also love “the God Complex” but so do many others.

  • Maria M

    My all time favourite is Tooth and Claw from Series 2.and if I had to choose another one it would be The Snowmen because of Clara

  • RVT

    What’s “underrated”. I’m guessing stand alone episodes with one off characters.

    I second Starship UK and would like to add “Midnight” – that was some well written claustrophobic paranoia.

    • RVT

      Oops. Someone already said “Midnight”. So I guess I’ll add “Amy’s Choice”.

      • Nemo Clownfish

        *facepalm* underrated means stories that don’t get as much praise as they deserve to.

  • Nicholas Olivieri

    I can’t grasp why so many people hate Love and Monsters so much. Can anyone explain this to me?

    • Hayden Thomas

      I really don’t understand either. I thought Elton’s story was beautiful. The ending made me tear up.

      • Nicholas Olivieri

        Really gave Jackie a chance to shine, too. Made her finally look like a real character and not just comic relief.
        And in the greater context of that series – sandwiched between two very heavy storylines – the relative levity of this one story works so well.
        Again, I just don’t understand what folks don’t like about it.

        • FYMK

          The fact that Elton’s girlfriend is quite literally reduced to nothing but a sex aide?

          Because there’s absolutely nothing demeaning or disquieting about that…

          • Nicholas Olivieri

            First of all, I disagree with that assessment. The joke is that they still have a love life. The point is that they still have a relationship. If you had to choose between the love of your life dying and the love of your life becoming a quadrapelegic, (assuming those were the only options) wouldn’t you choose the latter?
            Secondly, you just judged the entire episode based on quite literally the last sixty seconds. That’s not really fair.

    • Ponydaemmerung

      Agreed. I like it for this exchange alone:
      Elton:Great, big, absorbing creature from outer space and you’re having a go at me?
      Rose: Nobody upsets my mum!

    • 211197gb

      For me I thought Peter Kay and the costume design didn’t work. Also the mundaneness of the story didn’t really fit in with dr who

  • Thesilence_94

    ‘Amy’s Choice’ ‘Rings of Akhaten’ and ‘A Good Man Goes To War’

    • MurrayFutterman

      I think Amy’s Choice and A Good Man… are generally well thought of. The tide seems to be turning with Akhaten, as I’ve seen more and more people give praise to it.

  • Victoria Mattas French

    The Shakespeare Code and The Next Doctor

  • Rusty Fender

    Love and Monsters was the absolute WORST episode ever filmed. Doomsday is only slightly better, but both are horrible. I refuse to watch either of them because I find them both REVOLTING!

  • Swedish Girl

    Vincent, you gotta Love Vincent and the Doctor! Oh, ginger kids <3

  • Steve Watson

    FEED MEEEEE

  • Eter Puralis

    Love & Monsters is bad because it had an alien who for some inexplicable reason decides to set up shop inside a small support group, slowly absorbing its members one by one into his giant flabby green body only to have their heads still sticking out of various body parts, placed in ways that could only be considered absurdly comedic, WHILE STILL BEING FULLY CONSCIOUS! WHO THOUGHT THAT WAS A GOOD IDEA!?!?!? It tries to be funny, and it falls flat on its face onto the paving stone of blergh.

    • Eter Puralis

      Not entirely sure about the whole “still conscious” thing though, I’ve been avoiding the episode like the plague. I’d like to go back to forgetting it exists now, please

  • Brian

    That The Episode That Shall Not Be Named is on this list, and at #1 none the less, discredits the list completely. That episode gets the loathing it deserves. Even ignoring the squick at the end, it’s just a bad episode.

  • kabphillie

    I don’t hate Love and Monsters, but it’s not underrated. It’s towards the bottom of New Who in the quality of it’s writing. The acting brings it above complete dreck. Night Terrors is underrated.

  • Nomes

    I think some people forget that the Absorbaloff in ‘Love and Monsters’ was designed by an eight-year old boy for a Doctor Who themed competition which I think was on Totally Doctor Who, though I might be wrong on that. His dream came true when they picked his character, and I don’t think many people know this. Fair enough it wasn’t the greatest episodes, but the intention behind it was good, in my opinion.