Lately, I saw a Facebook post which talked about how only Doctor Who fans are aware of the titles of all of the episodes of their favored show.
(Daily Doctor Who #350)
I’m not sure that that’s completely true. I am familiar with the names of ever episode of the original Star Trek series, and most of Next Generation as well, and could probably write a good portion of them down from memory. Maybe for The Prisoner as well, but there are only 17 of those.
But it’s true that Doctor Who is the show that I’m most aware of the episode titles, which is potentially impressive given that there are hundreds and hundreds of them.
Some of them are great, some of them have got clever double-meanings,some of them are time-bound references to other things in pop culture, and some of them are just bad.
What makes a good title? Obviously it’s highly subjective but I’d say it should have a couple of different types of appeal:
Aesthetic Appeal – The Words should just flow together well, just purely in reading or listening to it.
Emotional Appeal – It stirs a bit of intrigue, making us excited to see the episode, or making us wonder what it’s going to be about. Also, it’s not too generic or broad to feel clichéd or meaningless.
Intellectual Appeal – It makes sense and has got some appropriate relevance to the story that it represents.
On the basis of these ideas, here are my picks for the best and worst episode titles of Doctor Who, for each Doctor. At least, for the first six Doctors. And then we’ll do the rest of the Doctors the next time.
Now, with William Hartnell’s First Doctor, we get the most confusion that we’re going to get with episode titles. For the first twenty serials, there were no on-screen titles for overall stories, just for individual episodes. In general, though, most fans (including myself) tend to think of the overall titles, and many of us have slightly different variations in what we consider to be the story’s “official titles”. I will attempt to address that here, while still making my choices:
An Unearthly Child
The very first Doctor Who episodes has got one of the best titles. It’s also the name most of us know the first overall story by, so that’s all good. It’s intriguing and cool sounding, and perfect for the episode.
The Worst, part 1:
The Sensorites is an early example of one of the biggest problems that we get with Doctor Who titles–the use of made up words. Sometimes these can work just fine, but often they come across as hokey and dated–a problem that is certainly true for The Sensorites. It just screams 1960’s science fiction.
But, The Sensorites is not the on-screen title of anything, as the story came out before whole serials had a titles. So I also went through the individual episode names (which I don’t have memorized), I find…
The Worst, part 2:
Aka, The Daleks episode 6. “The Ordeal”? What is that about? Who knows? What we do know is that it’s a terribly generic name to give an episode, an indeed could be the name of almost any episode of Doctor Who. It’s like “The Happening” of Doctor Who titles.
Fury from the Deep
A story about terrifying killer weeds attacking an gas refinery. Even though it’s a tad generic, it’s a great title because it has such a strong emotive appeal.
The Underwater Menace
And here is a title with almost the same meaning as the “best” one above, but completely lacking in the aesthetic appeal. Rather it’s just clunky and dull.
A title that is so cool sounding that Doctor Who used it twice–it was also the name of an individual episode from the First Doctor story The Romans. Here, it’s a cool sounding title whose relevance becomes increasingly clear as this epic story goes along. This is a story in which the whole earth gets destroyed by an actual “inferno.”
Colony in Space
What a generic title! How many episodes are there that could have been called Colony in Space? Power of the Daleks, The Macra Terror…
Genesis of the Daleks
“Daleks” is a made up word for Doctor Who, but it’s obviously well-known and well-established for the show. There had been lots of “…of the Daleks” titles so far, but there is something so intriguing and perfect about the “Genesis of…” prefix that that it’s a clear winner here.
The Deadly Assassin
Sometimes this is described as being repetitive–that if you are an assassin, you are already deadly. This of course is not necessarily true–you can certainly be a non-deadly assassin. But it’s still a silly sounding title, even though it’s a pretty interesting episode.
A title that wins the award just by being cool-sounding and mysterious, though it also fits the story, about a dude needing the Fifth Doctor’s regeneration energy to finally die.
Four to Doomsday
Four to what? What does that mean? It’s and intriguing, but kind of nonsensical.
There aren’t a lot of choices for Colin Baker story titles. This is a pretty bad story, but the title works quite well–it’s cool sounding and fits the story.
The Twin Dilemma
Also a bad story, with an attempt to provide an intriguing title which fails simply because the twins themselves are ultimately so irrelevant to the story. So this is an example of a situation where a better episode might have retro-actively made the title better.
However, if I was counting the well known “section” titles for Trial of a Time-Lord, I might seriously consider The Mysterious Planet or The Ultimate Foe.