Doctor Who Episode Titles: The Best and the Worst (part 2)

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 #351)

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 AppealThe 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 Doctors #7-13 (we already covered the earlier Doctors yesterday).

Seventh Doctor

The Best:

The Happiness Patrol

There aren’t that many Sylvester McCoy stories but a number of them are pretty well-titled. I’ve gone with this one because it’s the most intriguing sounding, and of course it’s perfect for the episode.

The Worst, part 1:

Time and the Rani

What and the what? It’s a bad story and a bad title. The serial doesn’t have much more to do with time than any other Doctor Who adventure does, and the Rani just doesn’t have enough weight to justify leaning into her for the title’s strength.

Eighth Doctor

Well, there are only two televised Eighth Doctor stories to choose from, and one of them is only called Doctor Who (the 1996 TV movie). So I’m going to say that almost by default the best title is Night of the Doctor, and the worst is Doctor Who.

If however we accept the sometimes-given unofficial title for the story, The Enemy Within, then that would definitely work for being the worst title–just so incredibly clichéd and barely relevant for the story.

Ninth Doctor

The Best:

The Empty Child

This is just perfect. It sounds good, it stirs interest and raises questions, and it makes sense for the story. You couldn’t do better.

The Worst:

Boom Town

I guess it’s supposed to be a clever double meaning? Margaret Slitheen is secretly the mayor and she’s planning on making her city a “boom town” in terms of its economy, but really she is planning on blowing it up?

Tenth Doctor

The Best:

Silence in the Library

This is another title that scores on all points. The words have a nice flow to them, the meaning of those words pique our sense of fear and wonder, and the relevance of those words to the episode itself is clear.

The Worst:

Daleks in Manhattan

I don’t know…does putting “Manhattan” in a title sound really cool to people who aren’t from New York? Because I’m from New York, and I do think Manhattan has a built-in coolness factor thanks to containing so many recognizable New York landmarks. But somehow Doctor Who titles like Daleks in Manhattan (and its thematic follow-up, The Angels Take Manhattan) just kind of sound a bit silly.

Eleventh Doctor

The Best:

The Eleventh Hour

I strongly considered A Good Man Goes to War and The Girl Who Waited for this slot, but in the end went with Matt Smith’s debut story. It’s a pretty cool title that fits the literal events of the episode, with the no-time-to-lose urgency of the episode’s threat, but also the meta-fictional aspects, with it being the first Eleventh Doctor story.

The Worst:

Closing Time

A very drab title which is really only connected to the episode in that it largely takes place in a department store. There’s just not very much to get excited about with this one.

Twelfth Doctor

The Best:

Face the Raven

A mysterious sounding title that grips the imagination and has the benefit of making perfect sense in the context of the episode.

The Worst:

The Pilot

I’m not sure if this title is supposed to be a reference to the idea of the show “re-piloting” with this episode–in that it establishes a new status quo and overall story direction. But whether it does or not, it’s a pretty bland sort of name that doesn’t provide much of an emotional hook.

Thirteenth Doctor

The Best:

The Woman Who Fell to Earth

Another debut story (the third one on this list if you count the post that covered the earlier days of the show), this is a pretty catchy name which reflects the coming of both a new Doctor and a new lead actor for the show, both female for the first time. Its a decent title which holds a lot of promise.

The Worst:

The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos

The Thirteenth Doctor’s era has had more than few of what I’d consider to be pretty weak or confused titles, but there’s no question which is the worst. The only difficulty is in actually remembering it. Basically, the rule is that if you are going to use made-up words in the title of a story, you’ve got to make them easy to say and remember, so that the title still has a gripping sort of feel. Good examples of this are The Keeper of Traken or The Curse of Fenric. Bad examples are The Rings of Akhaten, and of course this one–possibly the only title in the show’s history that I have to fully look up to remember. I guess the fact that the episode itself is sort of similarly unmemorable doesn’t help things either.

However, if I was counting the well known “section” titles for Trial of a Time-Lord, I might seriously consider The Mysterious Foe or The Ultimate Foe.

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