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 the iconic Tom Baker, the show entered a period of producing classic story after classic story as it hit a high of 16.1m viewers in 1979.
But what were the highlights of those years?
Can we ever be forgiven for ignoring Tom and Liz Sladen’s wonderful TARDIS scenes in Pyramids of Mars? Or having nothing from Inferno, The Seeds of Doom, The Talons of Weng-Chiang or even that 16.1m achieving story City of Death on this list?
The choice was hard, but here are our ten most memorable and greatest Doctor Who moments of the 1970s…
10: The Sea Devils Rise (The Sea Devils, 1972)
One of those magnificent set pieces the show does so well. Wonderfully designed (comments about Warriors of the Deep will be annihilated!) 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, a wonderful 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” himself. The only Doctor Who villain ever to be given his own cliffhanger when under threat, the Roger Delgado Master rivalled any of the show’s 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)
Producer Phillip Hinchcliffe has gone on record to state that this scene was included in order 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. Forget the continuity surrounding John Hurt and whole new lives after Matt Smith, there were apparently eight more Doctors before William Hartnell if this is to be taken literally! Few other scenes have kept fans talking for years to come and 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 being undoubtably 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 a 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 greatest opening story of any Doctor. This is not even a debate. Shut up Power of the Daleks fans! A scintillating debut from Jon Pertwee and from the pen of that man who flavours this entire list, Robert Holmes. It echoes Quatermass with shades of The Invasion, but still its own beast as the threat is again brought down to Earth but in an 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 horrific. The scene where shop dummies burst to life and rampage through the streets of London is iconic. Absurd in its suggestion, it is horrific 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 is 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 was once the suave and sophisticated Master, the choice is difficult, yet it has to be the opening that lingers in the mind. The opening monologue sets us up for the momentous “game changing” events to come. Truly 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. There’s the Season 7 Doctor Who and everything else. Pertwee was excellent alongside his equal Liz Shaw but they always seemed more colleagues than anything else, Liz’s detached persona as far removed from what was to follow as is possible. In introducing Jo Grant the production team didn’t simply 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 our 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 Pertwees 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 very real 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 too would do it and that’s the most frightening thing of all. The 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 shows morality, for the first time looking at the deeper consequences of the Doctors actions and it is left perfectly ambiguous as to whether the Doctor really would have committed genocide or not. The fact he pauses to question, however, 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. The Doctor acts 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.
Never cruel, never cowardly.
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