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What’s the best Doctor Who story ever?

September 6, 2015 by Mike

li_hsen_chang2-5719449Every year for as long as I can remember, Doctor Who fans engage in the annual ritual of voting for the best story.  Of course, just as there is no single answer to this question, so too is there no single forum for determining it.  There are the polls conducted in official publications such as Doctor Who magazine, for instance, or those regularly undertaken by fan bodies such as the Doctor Who Appreciation Society.

Then there’s the distinction between the Season Poll, aimed at identifying the best story this year, and the perennial Lifetime Poll, focused more on the series as a whole since 1963.  The latter type of poll mushroomed during the recent fiftieth anniversary year.  But how do fans/viewers actually decide these things anyway?

In a fascinating article in Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media, Alan McKee of Queensland University of Technology sets out to answer precisely this question, exploring how and why Whovians choose the stories they do.  The results are both as interesting and as varied as the show itself. Some stories come up trumps as a result of mere numbers of votes, for instance, whilst others are a result of a consensus among “serious” fans or the product of inevitable reevaluation long after the event. Personally, I have some sympathy with the latter hypothesis – stories I remember fondly from childhood frequently end up something of a disappointment when released on DVD some forty years on (e.g. The Time Monster), while those I dismissed as rubbish suddenly seem amazing and insightful viewed from the standpoint of adulthood (e.g. The Sun Makers).

McKee’s paper is really well thought through, drawing as it does on multiple perspectives in cultural studies.  As for the core question itself – the best story ever – that of course stays well beyond the reach of the research.  Fair enough.  But just for the record, the best story of all time is pretty obvious to me anyway – The Talons of Weng-Chiang, surely?