In June, the BBC are releasing the first Bluray season box set for classic Doctor Who. They're starting with Season Twelve, Tom Baker's first season, and I can't fault them. It might not be his best season (fan consensus would peg that a year further on) but it does have a lot of big monster stories including Genesis of the Daleks, a big UNIT romp as the opener and the era-defining Ark In Space all wrapped up in an ongoing narrative that actually moves from one story to another pretty smoothly.
Good choice... but... you know what other seasons might make good box sets? (Hint hint...)
#5: Season Twenty-Five (Sylvester McCoy Year 2)
I'm sure the consensus pick for McCoy would be Season Twenty-Six which has all the real “Dark Doctor” stuff but, for me, the Twenty-Five is the better season. You have a super strong opener in Remembrance of the Daleks which is always seems to be the story fans pick as the archetypal McCoy story. The Greatest Show In The Galaxy and The Happiness Patrol are both brilliantly odd stories that show how good the McCoy era could be outside the world of old monsters and continuity and I really feel that's something that should be showcased more for the Seventh Doctor era.
Okay, Silver Nemesis is weak as a story and one of the low points of the era but each of McCoy seasons has a dud and Silver Nemesis, in my humble, is still better than Battlefield, the dud of the supposedly stronger Season Twenty-Six.
#4: Season Twenty (Peter Davison Year 2)
I have to admit an odd thing: I adore Peter Davison as the Doctor but I genuinely have trouble recommending individual stories to people wanting to try him out. Okay, Caves of Androzani is fantastic but it gives off a very off-putting vibe when the best story for a character you can recommend is the one where he dies.
Also, Twenty isn't even my favourite season of Davison's. I genuinely think Nineteen is better even if the final story is a fluffy bit of nothing that squandered what little drama could have been wrung from Adric's death. Twenty, however, has a lot to recommend it from the season showcase point of view, especially if you include The Five Doctors at the end (which you should). Mawdryn Undead and Enlightenment are very strong stories even if the middle part of the trilogy doesn't work in any fashion. Arc of Infinity is a flash Gallifrey story that at least sets up a few things about The Five Doctors even if, again, a lot about it doesn't quite work. Snakedance is, of course, amazing and I have a personal soft spot for The King's Demons which at least has some great costumes and some gloriously bizarre line readings from Mark Strickson.
In short: lots of monsters, lots of at least recognisable continuity for the modern series fan and no less than two stories of glorious scenery chewing from Anthony Ainley.
#3: Season Two (William Hartnell Year 2)
Its long. The sixties seasons were long and at thirty-nine episodes this actually weighs in as one of the shortest plus only two of them are actually missing which makes it the most complete season of the black and white years. That is actually part of the appeal in picking this one: only two episodes to do reconstruction on and you can get away with just doing them as a slide show or even just using the William Russell in-character narration from the VHS release since no one is really going to mine if you just... skip doing full reconstructions on the story with blackface in it.
Aside from the practical aspects there is the sheer breadth of stories in this season: there are two very different Daleks stories; a story about the TARDIS crew being shrunk that uses all this fantastic Victorian stage craft to achieve its effects; some straight science fiction stories in The Rescue and The Space Museum; two fantastic pure historical adventure serial-style romps in The Romans and The Crusade; the first pseudo-historical The Time Meddler featuring Peter Butterworth as the Meddling Monk, a character William Hartnell has the time of his life bouncing off; and the ultimate Marmite story in all of Doctor Who, The Web Planet, which I adore and is worth watching just for how strange everything is.
#2: Season Fourteen (Tom Baker Year 3)
The height of the show's imperial phase after which it was struck low by Mary Whitehouse but a really strong season regardless. You've got two of the best companions the series ever had appearing in this season: Lis Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith and Louise Jameson as Leela, both putting in some of the best performances of their tenures. You've got some of the real writing highlights of the series, too, with The Masque of Mandragora, The Deadly Assassin and The Robots of Death. Actually, Robots is something of a go to for me when people ask me for a classic serial to try out the old stuff. Its an Agatha Christie/Isaac Asimov mystery mash-up with the most gorgeous (and, as the producer had just been fired) budget destroying set and costume design in the classic series.
Okay, The Hand of Fear is weak and The Talons of Weng-Chiang... ugh. Even now I want to give it a pass on the strength of Jago and Litefoot alone but damn is that a racist story and the box set will probably need one of those “it was the times” labels they put on Tintin books now (which is a good thing, by the way, I am not complaining).
#1: Season Ten (Jon Pertwee Year 4)
Plain and simple bias: I think this is the best season of classic Doctor Who as a season. It starts off with The Three Doctors which is this fantastic birthday party of a story. It establishes a lot of Gallifrey lore, of course, and has the UNIT crew on hand as well as the two previous Doctors so there's a large ensemble cast of fun characters going up against a threat from the dawn of Time Lord civilisation. After that there's Carnival of Monsters, another perennial favourite recommendation of mine, which is a rather low key story but with such an interesting format and central concept along with some interesting design work on the alien parts of the story. It also has alien carnival folk Vorg and Shirna, one of the all-time best Robert Holmes lovable rogue double acts (and so married).
That's followed by the twelve episode Dalek epic Frontier in Space/Planet of the Daleks which has a somewhat odd but probably smart format. Frontier is this politically-charged conspiracy thriller featuring the Master in all his urbane glory whilst Planet is this very traditional Flash Gordon-style adventure serial by the Daleks' original creator Terry Nation. In honesty, in many ways Planet is a remake of the original Dalek series from 1963 but its an entertaining remake for all that.
Then, finally, there's The Green Death which has some horribly mangled politics (if we're being generous) but its the last hurrah of the main UNIT-era cast; Pertwee gets some of his best comedy moments in this story; and the maggots are one of the iconic visuals of the entire series.
So that's my list and, as to the already announced Season Twelve box set, I look forward to finally seeing what the giant clam looks like in HD.