We know that as fans we’re not supposed to say it, but Doctor Who can be boring.
Over 52 years and more than 250 stories, how can the odd snoozeathon not slip in?
There’s a whole sub-genre of exhausting plots, forgettable characters and tedious dialogue (no shouting ‘Hartnell historicals’ at the back).
Of course, boring is distinct from widely accepted nonsense like ‘The Horns of Nimon’, ‘Time Flight’ and ‘Timelash’. Camp and garish episodes are compelling because you don’t know what wild turn is coming to drop your jaw next. ‘Love & Monsters’ might divide fandom, but at least it’s never dull. Doctor Who’s boring stories, however, have no redeeming features.
Here in broadcast order, are five of ‘em. There are probably more boring stories out there (Pertwee six-parters, I’m looking at you) but until I make it through those, I can only go with what I’m familiar with. Suggest your own candidates below!
Wait! Stop! Put those rotten tomatoes down! ‘Inferno’ is much loved by fandom, but face it, this seven-part rocky uphill struggle from Pertwee’s ‘Quatermass season’ starts with three episodes of scientists shouting at each other before the parallel earth stuff even gets in, and for that alone it’s done my head in twice so far.
Fans like to cite JNT’s era as the classic series’ low point, but I beg to differ. Graham Williams couldn’t control his leading man, was banned from showing freeze frames of people drowning and couldn’t do anything about jumpy unions. But apart from ‘City of Death’, his stories were pretty limp.
I tried this one weekend morning during the halcyon days of the UK Gold omnibus, and fell asleep watching it even though I’d only been up for an hour.
‘The Ribos Operation’ (1978)
The ‘Key to Time’ season gets off to a good start. An eerie alien landscape, an encounter with the White Guardian that ends with the Alan Sugar-esque threat (“Nothing at all. Ever”). Romana’s introduction.
What follows is a series of stuffy meetings, big hats and a minor threat from a shuffling monster that looks like a rug with something nasty spilled on it. The prospect of Iain Cuthbertson trying to con a despot into buying a planet offered so much.
I loved ‘Warrior’s Gate’. The black and white worlds. The parable on slavery. Stephen Gallagher promised with ‘Terminus’ a similar treatise on the plight of refugees and mass disease, but we got Liza Goddard’s frightwig, Sarah Sutton’s negligee, shabby rock roadies in ill-fitting plastic armour and a big dog.
Oh and something about spilled diesel starting the universe. Tegan and Turlough have the right idea and crawl about ventilation ducts for 100 minutes.
‘The Rebel Flesh’ / ‘The Almost People’ (2011)
New Who? Boring? The need to tell a tale in 45 minutes should mean swift, snappy and fun. This two-parter proves otherwise, and is probably the one story from the last decade everyone forgets except Steven Moffat, who proceeded to abandon two-parters for the next three years.
Too much running around in darkened rooms and trying to stoke tension around doubles of characters we don’t care about – indeed, the only reason for the story to exist is for that twist ending leading in to ‘A Good Man Goes to War’.
What’s the most boring Doctor Who story you’ve watched? Let us know below…