Having binged on the ‘David Tennant years’ for Doctor Who in 2019, I felt the need to re-visit some more Doctor Who. The next natural ‘Doctor destination’ after Tennant is then Tom Baker. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my “Skip or Watch?” list for working through the Tom Baker years in the UK’s long-running Doctor Who series. For a bit of fun during a dull January. I’m currently at the end of Season 13 in my viewing.

It’s fine to skip, as Doctor Who is always notoriously choppy within a season. The Baker era is said to be no different, but perhaps different in another way since it drew even more strongly on horror than on science. Indeed, for most of Baker’s run the science takes rather a back seat. But the horror angle may interest some Tentaclii readers who can tolerate the low production values (by today’s standards, and sometimes even by the standards of 1970s British TV). You’d also need to be able to tolerate some of the British wackiness, irony and eccentricity, from the lead Baker but also from showrunner Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide). Some of the plots and ideas are said to need a sharp ear and sharp mind to fully grasp, in the more downbeat and ‘science re-introducing’ final season of the Baker run.

The general format for each season was that each story had four episodes, and then the finale story had six. Only occasionally was this varied from. This means that you can expect each of these stories to run two hours, expect the finale for the season which should run for three hours. The audio-story inserts in this list vary, from one to nearly three hours. In total: around 70 hours for the following list.

Doctor Who Season 11 - good old Jon Pertwee is the Doctor.

* “Planet of the Spiders” - not a great finale, but it ends with the famous regeneration scene. Some may want to view this final episode, after reading up on the plot.

Doctor Who season 12 - Tom Baker is now the Doctor.

* “Robot” - weak, yet it does ease Baker out of the Pertwee-era UNIT and off Earth.

* “The Ark in Space” - the Tom Baker era properly begins, with a TV sci-fi classic.

* “The Sontaran Experiment” - continuing from “Ark”, an uncharacteristically short two-parter in the middle of the season.

* “Genesis of the Daleks” - good, if a little ‘all around the houses to get back to where we started from’ at times.

“Revenge of the Cybermen” - SKIP, but read up on the plot.

Doctor Who season 13

* “Terror of the Zygons” - not great, but concludes the very loose story-arc begun back in “Ark”. There’s one point where it helps to have seen the ending episode of Season 11, to understand what’s going on. It also helps the viewer new to Doctor Who to have encountered UNIT back in the previous season, in “Robot”.

? Planet of Evil - it could be skipped, but then you would miss an excellent planetary-surface setting in the first half. Some tiresomely histrionic over-acting in the second-half.

* “Pyramids of Mars” - not quite as scintillating as I’d been led to believe, but definitely a ‘watch’.

“The Android Invasion” - SKIP.

* “The Brain of Morbius” - often hilariously ‘over the top’, but a lot of fun.

? “The Seeds of Doom” - this season finale didn’t grab me. Well-made and imaginative, and it starts well and the plot flows along but… it’s a drag. The unusually angry and very shouty Doctor, a surprise-free plot in a long three-hour slog, and a lack of funny jokes (most fall flat) all served to make it fall short of the classic it’s said to be. Feels like someone’s rather distasteful horror-thriller re-purposed as a Doctor Who story. Leaves a ‘bad taste’, all round.

Doctor Who season 14

* “The Masque of Mandragora”.

* “The Hand of Fear” - Assistant Sarah Jane bows out, the middle episodes slump badly.

* “The Deadly Assassin”.

* “The Face of Evil” - not great, but new assistant Leela is introduced.

? “The Robots of Death” - COULD BE SKIPPED, some love it, but has flaws.

* Talons of Weng-Chiang.

> * “The Foe from the Future” (audio, in Fourth Doctor ‘Lost Stories’). This was a series 14 finale that was never made (the writer was sent off to save an ailing soap-opera). “Foe” could be enjoyed here, and Tom Baker’s 2012 voice is apparently spot-on for the 1970s.

> * “Requiem for the Rocket Men” (audio, in Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 3) + “Last of the Colophon”/”Death Match” (audio, in Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 4). “Requiem” apparently helps set up the later “Death Match”. All three are stand-out stories and fit here in the timeline.

Doctor Who season 15

* “Horror of Fang Rock”.

* “The Invisible Enemy” - robot-dog K9 1 introduced.

? “Image of the Fendahl” - COULD BE SKIPPED, but has an ambitious weird-horror atmosphere.

“Sun Makers” - SKIP.

“Underworld” - SKIP, widely said to be the worst episodes ever.

Invasion of Time - SKIP - Assistant Leela and K9 1 depart. Apparently dreadful, but you may want to just see the ‘Leela departure’ bit at the end.

Doctor Who season 16

* “The Ribos Operation” - sets up the Key to Time arc. Assistant Romana 1 and K9 2 appear.

“The Pirate Planet” - SKIP

* “The Stones of Blood”.

* “The Androids of Tara” - progresses the Key to Time arc.

“The Power of Kroll” - SKIP

* “Armageddon Factor” - finishes the Key to Time arc. Six episodes, apparently drags a bit.

Doctor Who season 17

“Destiny of the Daleks” - SKIP, apparently abysmal. Just assume that Romana 1 regenerates to Romana 2.

* “City of Death” - an all-time classic gem amid a rough season.

“The Creature from the Pit” - SKIP

“Nightmare of Eden” - SKIP

“The Horns of Nimon” - SKIP

* “Shada” - incomplete TV episodes for the six-episode season finale, cancelled and the ending was never broadcast due to leftist strike action at the BBC. Complete version eventually released in 2017, with missing fill-in dialogue from the original cast. Then a further enhanced Blu-ray version with animation. Also available as an unabridged 12-hour audiobook novel from 2012. Note that there is also a “Big Finish cast audio version of Shada”, but this “features the Eighth Doctor [Paul McGann] instead of the Fourth”.

> * “The Trouble with Drax” (audio, in Fourth Doctor Adventures: Series 5). Said to be excellent, sound fun and fits here.

Doctor Who season 18 - Douglas Adams has now left as showrunner, his humour-filled scripts are thrown out. It’s the early Thatcher years at the BBC, and dour and sombre is ‘in’.

“The Leisure Hive” - SKIP

“Meglos” - SKIP

* “Full Circle” - begins the e-Space trilogy. Boy assistant Adric appears.

* “State of Decay” - develops e-Space trilogy.

> * “Chase the Night” (audio, in the Fourth Doctor Adventures: Ninth Series). Fits here, adds background for “Warrior’s Gate”.

* “Warrior’s Gate” - concludes the e-Space trilogy. Romana II and K9 2 depart.

? “The Keeper of Traken” - COULD BE SKIPPED, but apparently sets up the finale.

* “Logopolis” - Tom Baker departs as the Doctor, in what is said to be an intellectual and moody and rather loose story.

Doctor Who season 19 - Peter Davidson is now the new and rather different Doctor. He’s well-liked but has a short run, 1981-84.

So, overall: skip perhaps 12 stories and watch 29, saving yourself several days and nights of tedium and cringe. Possibly also add six of the Big Finish stories, at the points indicated above. Be warned that Big Finish’s audio marketing blurbs ‘spread the spoilers on’ rather thickly.