With over 50 years of history behind it, BBC’s Doctor Who continues to be one of televisions more enduring characters.
Given that we’re days away from the arrival of the first female Doctor Who, I figured now would be a good time to take a look back at the show since its relaunch in 2005. A look across every episode and ranking them from best to worst (in my opinion).
To keep things fairly orderly, the decision was made to bundle two/three-parters together (Except in one case). The reason for this is because Doctor Who tends to tell its stories with both episodes in mind and, while they can be judged as single parts, I feel it’s better to judge them as a whole.
What are your best episodes? What was your worst episode?
Updated: End of Season 10
117. Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks (Season 3, Episode 4/5) – The moment Doctor Who almost irreparably damaged its Dalek villains. The plot is flimsy at best, throwing in half-baked ideas to create a mess of threads that never come together satisfyingly. It’s hard to decide which of this episodes moments ranks as the worst. The sight of Hoover-citizens fighting off a Dalek attack, the pig-people dredging through New York’s sewers or the introduction of the human-Dalek – an idea so terrifyingly poor that we’re convinced to this day someone in the back office was having a laugh with the production team. Honestly there’s very little in these two episodes that redeem proceedings and represent some of the worst elements in modern Doctor Who’s writing.
116. Fear Her (Season 2, Episode 11) – Many Who fans consider this the single worst episode of the New Who run; I’d be hard pressed to disagree. It only avoids dropping to the bottom by virtue of the fact it didn’t stretch its concept to 2-episodes. But Fear Her is a laughably poor episode that falls apart pretty much from the off. Watch as a little girls creepy drawings come to life and shifty editing hides the awful execution of the idea. If that doesn’t kill your interest, watching The Doctor save the Olympic opening ceremony in one of the series most ham-fisted moments will surely send you over the edge. There’s very little to redeem this episode.
115. Sleep No More (Season 9, Episode 9) – Oh lordy. This was Doctor Who’s attempt at found footage in an episode. A novel concept for sure but one that’s instantly devalued by the poor story thrown in the anchor it down. It’s something about eye dust and monsters taking over or something? It’s an incredibly dumb concept and when the big baddie reveals himself towards the episodes end, it’s more eye rolling than eye candy for the audience. But perhaps the biggest sin this episode throws up, more than any other episode in New Doctor Who, is that it’s ending is such a complete car crash. The closing shot of this episode see’s the villain winning – The Doctor and company retreating and apparently no way of stopping it. Cut to end credits, next weeks episode is another story entirely. Worst. Ending. Ever.
114. Forest of the Night (Season 8, Episode 10) – Awful, awful, awful, awful, awful. Did I mention this episode is awful? It’s a maelstrom of bad ideas that come together to create one of the dullest 45 minutes of TV you can enjoy in any Doctor Who episode. The premise is dumb. The child actors annoying. The plot non-existent. The characters do naff all. Perhaps most embarrassingly of all, the ending serves as a big environmental message which comes across with all the grace and subtlety of being slapped in the face with a sledgehammer. Skip entirely.
113. Love & Monsters (Season 2 Episode 10) – A lot of people despise this episode purely for Peter Kay’s performance – which makes a serious play for being the worst villain in NewWho. But I give the episode props for expanding and fleshing out the world away from The Doctor – even if it’s done in a cliché way. The story is warm and endearing, if slightly absurd. The episode’s first half is easily its finest moment with lots of character building. It’s in the second half where things barrel down the cliff uncontrollably. Here we get campy jokes, crude humour and an ending so nauseatingly poor you’ll wonder if the writers were actively taking the piss.
112. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe (Christmas 2011 Special) – The episode wants you to take it seriously, framing itself as a war story. Then it ejects this entirely as it introduces a horribly realised tree story arc that’s…. dumb. Seriously it’s incredibly silly and pretty much squashes everything around it with the kind of faffing around that even Doctor Who fans will tire of quickly. A good shout for the worst Christmas episode, and one of Matt Smith’s least endearing entries.
111. The Curse of the Black Spot (Season 6, Episode 3) – It’s clear from the behind-the-scenes videos that this episode was intended to be a right hoot – sadly this doesn’t translate to the screen. The tone is all over the place, shifting from tense horror to slapstick comedy in the space of seconds as the episode struggles to grapple with the wafer thin plot. In the end it’s something about medical software doing its job or something. Rory dies, then doesn’t die and there’s some slapstick sword fighting in between. What a mess.
110. The Beast Below (Season 5, Episode 2) – The wheels threaten to come off Matt Smith’s Doctor run in its second episode, with an awful episode that serves as a reminder that Moffat didn’t always write gold. The episode was ludicrously silly – trying to tie deeper themes into a darker show; something that didn’t work at all. Add in a heap of plot holes, some faux terror aspects that felt out-of-place and just a general lack of fun; and you have what I consider to be the worst of Season 5.
109. The Rings of Akhaten (Season 7, Episode 7) – Bar that ending speech, this episode never really comes together. The idea of items holding sentimental currency is intriguing, but the episode doesn’t really play with it enough for us to be truly invested in the concept. The side-characters are hugely forgettable while the plot kind of sits on its hands until it needs The Doctor to confront the big baddie. Thanks to the power of prayer and songs, we get a feel-good ending that comes off with all the warmth of a neutron star. Cringe-worthy doesn’t cover it.
108. Hide (Season 7, Episode 9) – No lie, when compiling this list I genuinely forgot about this episode. After going back to rewatch it, I can safely say you miss absolutely nothing by not watching this episode. It’s got a lot of spooky undertones but it also arguably delivers the worst of Clara in Season 7 – with her and Smith coming off awkwardly as a pairing.
107. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (Season 7, Episode 2) – The title of this episode should give away how silly the execution is. The introduction of Rory’s dad was arguably the best part of this episode, in which a spaceship packed with dinosaurs is hurtling towards Earth. Cue the slapstick as our time-travelers run, squeal and basically do anything but forward the plot for 90% of the episode. By the time we reach the episodes conclusion, the audience is beyond caring as the Doctor murder the villain – very bad episode.
106. Let’s Kill Hitler (Season 6, Episode 8) – It wants to be fun, it wants to be silly. Sadly in the rush to have his cake and eat it; Moffat overplays the number of twists and plot threads he piles into this episode; creating the mother of all messes in the process. Hitler does make a brief appearance but seeing River as a villain should be a high moment for the series. Sadly it only serves to frustrate at the plot twists and meanders round expectations, trying desperately to justify everything it’s doing in the process. Luckily River saves The Doctor with a kiss, but it doesn’t save this episode from being a mess.
105. Rise of the Cybermen/ The Age of Steel (Season 2, Episode 5/6) – Commits audacious levels of retconning by re-inventing the classic Cybermen as a the brainchild of an evil Rupert Murdoch clone. It doesn’t work as the plot tries to desperately convince us that evil bluetooth headsets are worth fearing. The alternative Earth idea is a cheap cop-out – giving the writers chance to murder millions en masse then wipe the slate clean (Something Davies would come back to down the line). Mickey’s sub-plot is arguably the most interesting thing to happen in this whole two-parter, which speaks volumes about how meandering the main story is. Elsewhere the main plot gets re-tangled in Rose’s daddy issues, leading to a bunch of silly ideas and awkward character breaks from Rose. Tennant should have just left her behind….
104. The Lazarus Experiment (Season 3, Episode 6) – An episode that promises much delivers very little. Season 3’s obsession with Martha’s family comes to its first head, with lots Jones-family squabbling. Elsewhere we’re treated to Mark Gatiss meandering through proceedings as an eccentric billionaire – a waste of his abilities. Things fall apart right around the time he emerges from the Lazarus Chamber as a giant scorpion. From here the action takes over and, oh boy, does that awful CGI smack you in the face hard. I know TV budgets are small, but this episode doesn’t half scream that in your face. Not the shows finest hour.
103. Kill The Moon (Season 8, Episode 7) – The reality is that Doctor Who is a series that requires some leaps of faith. Sadly in this episode, we’re asked to leap to the moon using just a trampoline. Ultimately this episode just feels flat, the moon segments don’t feel that interesting to watch. Then we get the episodes finale which, even by Doctor Who’s lofty standards, is incredibly dumb. The moon being an egg containing a bird that flies away will surely qualify as one of the silliest flights of fancy the show ever puts forward. It never gets mentioned again in the series, and The Doctor’s bizarre moral ramblings over why humans are wrong is frankly wrong given that he’s amassed quite the body count over the years. Terribly thought out episode.
102. The Next Doctor (Christmas 2008 Special) – The stars never aligned for this one, with the much teased fake out of the Doctor character proving to be a bit disappointing. In fact this whole episode feels like one giant disappointment – everything from David Morrissey’s bemused Not-Doctor through to the 100-foot Cyberman which comes off as an excuse to have the classic villains feature. How on earth do you make a 50-story-tall Cyberman dull.
101. The Unicorn and the Wasp (Season 4, Episode 7) – Complete filler episode that takes Agatha Christie and wrings dry the well of tropes around her novels. It’s harrowingly dull and largely forgettable – with an incredibly laughable CGI wasp proving to be the big baddie of the entire thing. Thanks guys.
100. Empress of Mars (Season 10, Episode 9) – The Doctor returns to Mars, but ultimately forgets to bring along a decent plot with him. The Ice Warriors make another appearance, but they do little of interest. Instead it’s the Victorian age explorers that raise the biggest eyebrows – written so horribly – you’ll actually wonder if this was a bad joke on the writers part. Somehow they manage to make an episode about Victorian age explorers on Mars boring. Congratulations.
99. The Wedding of River Song (Season 6, Episode 13) – By this point it was getting very clear that Moffat was a master of setting up stories, but utterly naff at paying them off. The Wedding of River Song is the amalgamation of a seasons worth of build up to a story that didn’t need such outlandish things to happen. Dinosaurs in London? Trains driving into the Pyramids? It’s all so silly and while we get the wedding of River Song and the Doctor – the fact that the show casually discards the season villain of Kovarian in a throwaway event is disgustingly poor. By the end we get what we wanted – The Doctor is alive and River is married. But oh lord did we have to suffer through this mess to get there?
98. Aliens of London/ World War Three (Season 1, Episode 4/5) – Things start out well, as we discover Rose has been MIA for over a year. The introduction of the aliens crashing into the Thames is well executed and the tension rises. Then about 2/3 of the way through the first part of this story we meet the Slitheen – a farting, glompy race of green snot that utterly crushes the momentum this story had. The remainder of the story is filled with slapstick, awkward comedy that throws out any sense of tension in the name of bland action. If only….
97. The Bells of Saint John (Season 7, Episode 6) – Makes a strong play for being the worst season opener in Doctor Who (Because of the new companion and the Season 7 split, let’s consider it as such). The episode tries to make clever use of WiFi as a plot device. Stealing peoples essence is a clever idea but the episode goes about delivering it in an underwhelming way. Clara comes off as too quirky while Matt Smith is all over the place in his portrayal as the Doctor. Nowhere is this more evident than the episode beginning with The Doctor being a hideaway monk to him riding up The Shard in a motorcycle. Not a terribly fun outing.
96. A Christmas Carol (Christmas 2011 Special) – As you can probably guess by now, I’m not a huge lover of Moffat’s Christmas episodes. All of them feel incredibly hack-handed compared to his usually subtle writing nuances and this one doesn’t change that. Here we get a re-telling of Scrooge with some very forced emotional veiling throughout. This is wrapped around a romance that takes place across a great number of time periods – interesting in moments but ultimately fluff. Also don’t even ask what the hell Amy and Rory’s purpose in this episode was.
95. New Earth (Season 2, Episode 1) – Tasked with taking the new Tennant/Piper dynamic out for a spin, this episode lodges itself firmly into the safe zone of Doctor Who. We get an episode set in the far distant future, with cat women as nurses and a horde of dangerously infectious test subjects. The episode prods at some fairly deep ethical issues, mainly those of testing on the few for the betterment of the rest, but then ejects this so the episode can have its happy ending. It’s a huge letdown and marks the beginning of Davies’s obsession with undoing the great damage his plots did to the world they took place in. So-so outing.
94. “42” – (Season 3, Episode 7) – The use of real-time story devices adds to the tension of the plot – but it’s delivered in such a way that things grow increasingly silly. Being forced to answer questions to unlock doors is one thing, but having to accept a sentient star demanding its fuel back is another thing entirely. In the end it all comes off as a slightly cheesy nod to old sci-fi movies which doesn’t mesh well with the typical Doctor Who fare.
93. The Return of Doctor Mysterio (2015 Christmas Special) – Christmas Specials in Doctor Who tend to be awful (Bar the occasional gem). A bizarre mix of sentiment and heavy handed emotions don’t make for enjoyable outings – and this one really embodies that. An attempt to subvert the Superhero genre, this ends up feeling like a fanfic episode. With some laughable stabs at tension and cop outs all the way, this wasn’t the episode fans were hoping to see.
92. Robot of Sherwood (Season 8, Episode 3) – Historical romps in Doctor are fine however when they come off as ham-fisted as this; the writers shouldn’t have bothered. There’s a big writing glut around Capaldi’s Doctor in Season 8 which really makes him come off as insensitive and unlikable – with this episode proving to be a big bearer of that problem. He argues, bemoans and generally sucks the fun out of what should be a fun episode. Outside of this the dialogue comes off too quirky, the nature of the story silly while it just feels like an excuse to have a period episode. Not recommended.
91. The Idiot’s Lantern (Season 2, Episode 7) – Somewhere in here was a great idea and at times the episode plays up to the potential. The creepy use of old-fashioned TV’s juxtaposed against the iconic retro-esq imagery of 1950’s television tropes makes for a unique setting. However it all begins to turn into a huge corn-fest as the threads never satisfyingly come together and the plot starts kicking its feet about 2/3 of the way into proceedings. But good on Doctor Who for addressing the thorny issue of domestic abuse. The tale of Tommy and his bullying father was incredibly dark and the show didn’t shy away from addressing it.
90. Victory of the Daleks (Season 5, Episode 3) – A great idea, blending the iconic Dalek imagery against the World War 2 British imagery, gets somehow mishandled in a plot that increasingly takes liberties. The introduction of the multi-colored Daleks was a terrible moment for the series – as was the space ending which see’s a Spitfire take to space in order to fight the Daleks head on. The cop-out ending was also a huge letdown, underlining just how poor the second half of this episode really is.
89. The Caretaker (Season 8, Episode 6) – Returning the focus to Coal Hill School, the series kind of stops dead for an episode so we can indulge in hi-jinks and somewhat pointless plot fluff. The main point of this episode was to get Danny and The Doctor to meet; but outside of this there’s really very little to enjoy except a few nostalgic call backs.
88. The Long Game (Season 1, Episode 7) – Simon Pegg makes an appearance as an assistant to a very poorly realized CGI.. worm? It’s a horribly woeful way of utilizing his acting talent and sees him disappear beneath a wave of tedious writing. The episodes about as subtle as a stick in the eye with its satire of big media monopolies; leaving clunky dialogue and some really backwards logic in its wake. Wins extra points for cruelly ejecting Adam in one of the more sadistic fashions the shows ever done to a companion.
87. The Vampires of Venice (Season 5, Episode 6) – It’s hard to not watch this episode and feel that it hasn’t been done to death already. From the aliens being the “last of their kind” through to the show exploring ancient myths through science – the episode feels very much like a retread of much better historically focused episodes. Not bad by any stretch but certainly not memorable.
86. The Eaters of Light (Season 10, Episode 10) – Great looking episode that takes Bill and The Doctor to the misty moors of Scotland. Sadly the story is a bit naff, coming across with all the excitement of a wet Sunday afternoon. It’s a more grounded affair next to the bombastic outings of Season 10 – but it suffers greatly from being the episode that feels most like filler.
85. Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (Season 7, Episode 10) – What a waste. This episode promised so much entering the door but by the end we get a cop-out tale that gleefully pushes the button on the Doctor revealing Clara’s multi-life fate – then instantly retcon it by hitting the reset button. The monsters are hideously underwhelming and while the visuals are striking throughout, it doesn’t make up for the fact that the plot is wafer thin and supported by a completely forgettable band of C-List characters who all end up being killed off anyway.
84. Twice Upon a Time (2017 Christmas Special) – Perhaps its fitting that Twice Upon a Time is the final Moffat outing. It’s an episode laced with nostalgia and goodies for long-time fans – but it’s also a story that never gets into third gear. There are so many throwbacks and character returns that Capaldi’s farewell ends up feeling a little crowded. In the end its Capaldi that makes this episode bearable – with an insanely strong performance that delivers a fitting end to his tenure as The Doctor. He deserved better in honesty.
83. The Rebel Flesh/ The Almost People (Season 5, Episode 5/6) – To the shows credit, this was a nice idea and one that played very much into the mid-season finale. The tension created in the first half is strong and the episode does a good job of ramping up the scary nature of the flesh creatures by introducing a Doctor version. Sadly it gets a bit too bogged down with its big-baddie; undercutting the themes and robbing the episode of a chance to have a proper conclusion. The most notable thing from this episode is the shock twist at the end which nicely sets up the next episode….
82. Planet of the Dead (2009 Specials – Episode 1) – The Good: this episode manages to cram an interesting cast of characters together. Michelle Ryan also makes a strong outing, stealing the show with her intriguing cat burglar. The Bad: Pretty much everything else. Nothing really happens except our characters sit in the desert for 40 minutes. The threat from the CGI monsters never feels complete and while the use of the London Bus provided a unique backdrop – the episode doesn’t do anything with it. Wasted potential.
81. Into The Dalek (Season 8, Episode 2) – An interesting concept for sure, but one that ultimately feels let down by the limitations placed on it by the scope of the story. Lots of new ideas are thrown at the Doctor – some work and some really don’t. It’s a shame that the ending of the episode is such a missed opportunity, with the Dalek inevitably turning on the humans.
80. A Town Called Mercy (Season 7, Episode 3) – The Doctor’s incursion into the Wild West feels more like an excuse for the writers to get over that Western box set they binged on the night before writing. Everything feels bizarrely out-of-place, from the way the Doctor behaves to the way Amy and Rory end up playing such little into the central plot. Perhaps most frustratingly, beyond the occasional western trope; the setting is woefully underutilised and ultimately feels like window dressing. The central moral dilemma is nice but it’s not nearly as invest-able as the writers think it is.
79. The Power of Three (Season 7, Episode 4) – Another episode of Doctor Who where a strong premise is let down by a hack job ending. The mystery surrounding the cubes is well implemented, the clever use of time to showcase how forgetful humans are underlining the sense of rising tension in the episode. UNIT play a big role in this episode too, which adds to the episodes scope. There’s also a sense throughout this episode that The Doctor is fearful of missing out on his time with Amy and Rory, a well implemented nod to the upcoming mid-Season 7 finale. Sadly the ending a rush job, half-baked attempt that allows the writers to have their cake and eat it. The Doctor saves the day by pushing buttons and the threat disappears. So much, so Doctor Who.
78. Thin Ice (Season 7, Episode 3) – The episode sees Bill and The Doctor take to Victorian London to attend the Thames Fair. Creepy, intriguing and very well executed, the performances from all involved really help to elevate this outing. That being said, the finale to the episode struggles to match the rest, faltering slightly against the insanely silly premise that it sets up. Ultimately a solid, if unremarkable outing.
77. The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky (Season 4, Episode 4/5) – A solid outing, let down by some underwhelming B-story fluff that ultimately gets in the way of the tension. The Sontarans are cleverly used and their plan genuinely intriguing, while making Donna a more central figure in the second half grants the episode some room for character development. It all feels a little let down by the ATMOS kids though. The cult of Luke Rattigan feels slightly too cartoonish and the idea someone who’s that smart could be fooled so easily eats away at the credibility of the plot. But it’s certainly a solid outing for Doctor Who.
76. Time Heist (Season 8, Episode 5) – Moffat pulls out another time loop story in what was becoming something of a frustration for fans. The central amnesia story was fine but given that the far superior “Listen” aired one week before this, it was always a tough ask to ask people to revisit the same concept twice. The heist itself is forgettable but some of the characters involved do what they can to keep things engaging. A so-so episode.
75. The End of the World (Season 1, Episode 2) – The show keeps things light in its first outing into outer space – throwing us some comic relief (“I’m good with teleporters”) alongside the impending threat of the sun exploding. While the plot doesn’t do much, it’s the development of Rose’s and Eccleston’s Doctor that helps keep things feeling fresh – Eccleston really getting his teeth into the role. The reveal at the end about the fate of the Timelord’s also would greatly shape the show moving forward. Not a bad early offering for a show that was still very much finding its feet.
74. Nightmare in Silver (Season 7, Episode 12) – The worst kind of Doctor Who stories are the one where the Doctor could save everyone in the opening minutes, but instead opts to play mental chess with a foe. The resulting deaths and situations feel entirely pointless and while Matt Smith does a good job playing two roles in this episode; it’s hard to get invested when the Cyberman plot feels so half-baked. Add in the inclusion of some substantially annoying child actors, and this episode really should have been worth more by the end.
73. The Pyramid at the End of the World / The Lie of the Land (Season 10, Episode 7 & 8) – Two average episodes that really feel like they should have been one great episode. Earth is invaded when a giant pyramid lands and it’s up to The Doctor to save mankind. It’s all a bit silly and follows the tropes of Doctor Who to such a degree that you’ll wish the episodes had taken more risks. It’s a solid premise, but falls well short by the halfway mark – and never really picks up from there. As said, these two episodes should have been one great episode.
72. Closing Time (Season 6, Episode 12) – James Corden returns to reform his impressive double act with Matt Smith. The best parts of this episode are when Corden and Smith are allowed to hang out; the natural charisma between the two obvious through the screen – something the writers clearly enjoyed writing. Underpinning this however is a fairly poor Cyberman story which comes undone by yet another cop-out ending where Corden’s love for his child saves the day. Shame.
71. Boom Town (Season 1, Episode 11) – Another episode which tries to throw up deeper questions but doesn’t bother to answer them. Here we see the return of the Slitheen from their previous episode; with her asking questions about The Doctor’s actions. The episode largely plays it for laughs but there are moments where it makes you wonder. Then the episode needs a big finale, so throws that pondering out the window in place of action and evil goings on. Outside of this the episode was largely forgettable. Mickey throwing a strop then forgetting about this two episodes later was hilarious.
70. The Name of the Doctor (Season 7 – Episode 13) – While integrating Clara into grainy Doctor Who footage was satisfying – it didn’t really help with the conclusion of Clara’s season-long story-arc. In the end the “born to save the Doctor” line falls flat because the show doesn’t really explain how she does it, or why it is that the original Clara can somehow survive. The Doctor also turns into something of a moaner throughout this episode – telling Clara not to do something he knows she’s already done. It’s a shame because there are good moments peppered throughout; namely the amazing TARDIS tomb. It’s a fine setup for the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who; but in terms of capping Clara’s big storyline – feels very much like a rushed job.
69. Smith and Jones (Season 3, Episode 1) – I’m not a huge Martha Jones fan, but her portrayal in this episode was my favourite of her characters throughout the series. Freema Agyeman gives herself a strong introduction as The Doctor’s companion, with Tennant and her hitting it off instantly. The plot itself is slightly forgettable; the show not really making enough use of the hospital on the moon trope to really make it iconic. The silly rhino police cops didn’t help either – reducing proceedings to a laughable fare.
68. Voyage of the Damned (Christmas 2007 Special) – Not the worst outing for the show, which manages to blend some heartfelt Christmas cheer with some genuinely terrifying angels. It all gets a bit silly towards the end, but Kylie Minogue surprises with a passable outing as the assistant of the day. Russell Tovoy also manages to put in a great show, adding to the early intrigue. It’s just a shame that the villain is a monumental letdown.
67. Smile (Season 10, Episode 2) – As tends to happen when Doctor Who mixes pop culture and time travel, the results of Smile vary wildly. There’s a strong core to the episode – teasing dark story threads and some even creepier vibes. Sadly it all gets thrown out around 2/3’s of the way through the episode, as the show feels the need to make the Humans the villains – all because they’re annoyed their loved ones got murdered brutally. It’s this kind of sharp disconnect that harms the show, and derails the potential of episodes like this.
66. Night Terrors (Season 6, Episode 9) – Taking the premise from ‘Fear Her’ – Night Terrors is a much better attempt by the show to showcase the effects of childhood fears coming to life. With some genuinely creepy moments and some scary situations; it’s such a shame that the writers opted into such a “everyone wins” ending. A letdown upon reflection.
65. The Girl Who Died / The Women Who Lived (Season 9, Episode 5/6) – The introduction of Masie Williams into the Doctor Who lore couldn’t have been done in a more awkward fashion. Bringing her in as the daughter of a Viking is an interesting twist, but the episode by and large falls down under the weight of its own inability to be interesting. The Doctor does something very silly though, deciding to revive her from death and turn her immortal. It’s a concept that’s explored in the next episode; where we get a fairly daft Highwayman story. It’s not that entertaining and while the musings over the negatives of living a long life are fascinating; it’s hard to take much of it seriously. Important episodes for sure, but not that memorable.
64. The Time of the Doctor (Christmas 2013 Special) – Matt Smith’s bow out as The Doctor was something of a pileup in the plot department, and for the most part I’ve never really enjoyed watching it. The pacing seems all over the place and plot threads seem to be yanked out of the air to suit the needs of the story. The battle sequences are something while the threat from all the enemies trying to attack Trenzalore seems understated for an event that keeps the Doctor present for over 300 years. By the end we get what we wanted, a regeneration. The closing moments are deeply touching and while Clara doesn’t really get her closure, a surprise appearance from Amy guarantees fans had the feels throughout.
63. Hell Bent (Season 9, Episode 12) – The show drops the ball in delivering the goods on its Season 9 promises. What we end up with is an episode that rushes through everything. From re-introducing The TimeLords, to saving Clara. To escaping with Clara, to running to the end of time itself. This episode throws so much at the audience in such a wasteful fashion that its hard not to feel frustrated. In particular when the writers managed to not only give Clara her own TARDIS, but found a convenient way for The Doctor to get over her (Something he couldn’t do literally an hour before) Whatever the reason, this finale felt overstuffed and packed with too much for one episode.
62. Partners in Crime (Season 4, Episode 1) – Donna gets re-introduced and the episode has some fun in making the audience wait for the two to cross paths. It’s a fun episode that manages to make great visual use of comedy between Tate and Tennant who instantly scream chemistry. There’s also something about balls of baby fat, diet pills and alien daycares – entirely forgettable.
61. Cold War (Season 7, Episode 8) – Cold War creates such a unique aesthetic, one that leans heavily on horror films like Alien. It’s a smart move and creates an episode that feels dark, gloomy and claustrophobic – helping to slam home the horrors of the story. In truth, it’s only let down by an ending that feels like a cop-out – betraying the nature of the story up to it.
60. Deep Breath (Season 8, Episode 1) – An episode that focuses on Clara and The Doctor’s new dynamic stays by and large by the numbers. With Capaldi still very much feeling out the role, the main focus falls to Clara who finds herself questioning if she can continue to stick around with this new Doctor. Mercifully after some action sequences and a bit of emotional TLC, the answer is very much yes, The clockwork enemies are big letdown sadly and outside of the Clara/Doctor story, it all feels slightly like padding. It helps then that they stuck in that end of episode sequence with Matt Smith’s Doctor. To help grieving fans get over his departure.
59. Knock Knock (Season 10, Episode 4) – A tight episode that focuses heavily on Bill. While the entire thing is ultimately silly – it relishes in the stakes it establishes; creating a sense of foreboding tension and fear that a lot of the more modern episodes don’t enjoy. Just don’t ask me to care too much about the rest of Bill’s friends – who are the dictionary definition of filler characters.
58. Asylum of the Daleks (Season 7, Episode 1) – A strong first episode for Season 7. The idea of the Dalek’s creating a prison planets for their crazier members is a terrifyingly good one and while the episode doesn’t take this as far as it can (Frankly it could have serviced a double episode) enough is done with the premise that you buy into it. Perhaps the most important thing though is the dynamic created between Smith’s Doctor and Oswald. His reaction to being a Dalek and her breakdown underline the harrowing nature of the story. It sets up Clara’s arc nicely while giving this story enough impetuous to press on. The less said about the silly Amy/Rory breakup side-plot the better.
57. The Doctor’s Daughter (Season 4 Episode 6) – Your mileage may vary as the show goes all campy in its attempts to shock. Martha does sweet-FA except get lost in this episode; quite why she was dragged along I’ll never know. The introduction of the Doctor’s daughter however was an interesting concept and one that provided Tennant with a chance to explore new aspects of his Doctor’s mindset. Sadly the ending robbed us of a prolonged stay with her and by the end; it all feels slightly pointless. Still a fun laugh.
56. Gridlock (Season 3, Episode 3) – The show manages to make a traffic jam scary – with some great storytelling and clever use of the supporting cast. Splitting The Doctor and Martha up so early grants the writers license to have Tennant go full on his role, stealing the show with a great performance that requires a nice blend of action and talking. Highlight of the episode though was the Abide With Me being sung – deeply harrowing and beautifully integrated.
55. The Fires of Pompeii (Season 4, Episode 2) – Donna’s first outing as a companion gets off to a strong start. The acting throughout is strong and while the rock monsters themselves maybe undercooked, it’s the procession of human characters that truly anchor this. The overwhelming sense of imminent danger and the moral conundrum that arises from time travelling are well handled, the tension rising as the clock counts down. It goes a long way in paving Donna’s character arc for Season 4 and thanks to a strong supporting cast (Notably featuring Peter Capaldi) there’s a good emotional grounding. Overall one of Season 4’s stronger outings.
54. The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion (Season 9, Episode 7/8) – The show gets back to having fun with absurd concepts – throwing in the classic Zygon enemies as the foe of the week. The results are two episodes that tell an escalating tale of intrigue and fun, although some of the shows logic gets thrown out of the window in the process. The return of Osgood is appreciated, as is the very strong closing to Zygon Inversion which see’s Capaldi deliver his most damning of speeches to both sides in the discussion.
53. The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood (Season 5, Episode 7/8) – The Silurian threat throughout this episode is well handled, their anger at the situation they’ve woken up into one that really feels morally ambiguous. The fact that The Doctor doesn’t rush in to defend the humans during negotiations serves as an interesting plot point. The big shame however is that the show devolves this intelligent exploration in order to make the Silurian big-baddie feel that much more imposing. The result is that the ending to Cold Blood is yet another cop-out by the show; forgoing a proper resolution for the future. The biggest noteworthy event coming out of all this is Rory being erased from time.
52. Rose (Season 1, Episode 1) – The plot is kept simple, something that’s for the better. The show manages to make The Doctor seem fun, dangerous and above all – mysterious. On top of this we get to meet Rose – a character who has her own well-formed personality and one that finds itself at odds with The Doctor’s antics throughout the episode. It’s a fun, thrilling if slightly simple return for the show and while it hasn’t aged as well as some of the first season’s later episodes; you have to remember that this was the launching pad for all that followed.
51. The Christmas Invasion (2005 Christmas Special) – Makes a strong play for being the best single-Christmas episode of Doctor Who (Although there isn’t much competition!). The decision was made to keep Tennant off-screen for most of proceedings, building up the sense of terror and growing threat without him present. The rest of the cast are forced to fend for themselves, a story which results in interesting dynamic. Everything builds up to the reveal of Tennant, who emerges to save Earth and assert that this Doctor was very different. Plus let’s be fair, it was just good fun.
50. The Pilot (Season 10, Episode 1) – A strong opening episode for Bill and Season 10, The Pilot re-focuses the show on its new core cast of characters. It’s not a hugely memorable outing for the show, but delivers its purpose of setting the tone for a more grounded season. Capaldi and Bill’s on-screen chemistry helps out a lot – and we learn about the mysterious vault.
49. Utopia/The Sound of Drums /Last of the Time Lords (Season 3, Episode 11/12/13) – The first two parts of this three-parter are excellent. So much is brilliantly done to layer in the reveal of The Master, John Simm stealing the show with his amazing performance as the iconic villain. The sense of danger that follows our band of renegades as The Master outmanoeuvres The Doctor through every turn in the Sound of Drums is magnificent, and the way the tension is raised feels so blindly good that you actually end up rooting slightly for The Master. And then Last of the Time Lords happens. Christ this episode was a clusterfuck of awful – just everything falls apart. The plot melts into a deus ex-machina of threads that shouldn’t come together, illogical leaps of faith and just oh so much frustration. Relegating Tennant to a chair for 90% of the episode was a crime – but to then to have him rise like a god-damn Jesus Christ figure through the power of prayer at the end is arguably the closest this new run of Doctor Who has come to jumping the shark. Oh and then it all gets reset anyway. Honestly if this was just the first two parts – it would be a top 10 without question But that final episode weighs down the three-part story so hard that it can’t be excused.
48. The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang (Season 5, Episode 12/13) – Depending on how much you enjoy Moffat’s brand of writing, you’ll either love this episode or hate it. This is a two-parter that really homes in on the relationship of the central characters, watching as the universe blinks out of existence and paying off several arcs – including the return of Rory. Sadly while all this is fine, it’s hard to not feel that some of the explanations offered up in this episode are somewhat lacking; creating a sense that the strings are being pulled for future enjoyment. I wasn’t so much a fan of this on first viewing back in the day, but now I find myself more mellow to it. It’s certainly a good two-parter, but I wouldn’t consider it classic.
47. Planet of the Ood (Season 4, Episode 3) – For the most part this episode really sticks the landing. Donna and Tennant’s dynamic is in full swing as the pair balance jokes and serious time nicely. The plot is a deep one and depending on how much philosophical pondering you like in your episode, will determine how high you rate it. Personally I enjoyed the use of the Ood and I enjoyed the ending twist that they’d been slowly working to free themselves. It’s a weird episode, but a fun one for the most part.
46. The Runaway Bride (Christmas 2006 Special) – Catherine Tate steps into the Tardis for a surprisingly good first outing. While the episode is cheesy as heck, it does help The Doctor to vent a lot of his Season 2 frustrations in a constructive manner. It also has fun with the Christmas concept, allowing for some of the more iconic imagery from the shows new run – such as the Tardis chase down the M25. It’s not amazing by any stretch but if you want a solid episode, you could do a lot worse
45. The God Complex (Season 6, Episode 11) – The show addresses the old “people confront their fears” trope and manages to come out of it for the better. The surreal hotel setting creates a very horror appropriate setting – with the threat feeling real and ever-present. Perhaps most importantly also, it spurs The Doctor into some crucial character development which makes the entire thing feel important.
44. The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar (Season 9, Episode 1/2) – I was very much in two minds where to put this one. Largely because I think The Witch’s Familiar is a great episode; an interesting use of Davros and a fun dynamic in Clara and Missy. On the other hand, The Magicians Apprentice is just to silly for me. The Doctor taking a tank back to medieval Britain felt wholly unnecessary while Missy’s opening scheme felt like another cast-away idea. At the end of the day, as a pair they’re fine but really; it’s the deep pondering of TWF that edges it into favourable territory.
43. A Good Man Goes to War (Season 6, Episode 7) – A better example of Moffat’s car-crash type writing. Here Moffat piles in as many characters he can as an excuse to have one all mighty showdown. It’s a great spectacle but lacks the deeper exploration to be considered a true classic. Instead we get some fun tension that’s ultimately paid off when we learn about the fate of Amy’s baby – namely that she is River Song. It’s a great payoff and while the episode struggles in parts to keep things coherent – does just enough to validate all the moving parts within.
42. Last Christmas – (Christmas 2014 Special) – On the one hand, Last Christmas was an interesting exploration of dreams and how people don’t realize they’re in one until it’s pointed out to them. On the other, it’s very slow to get to the point and even risks a bait-and-switch which undermines the entire show – as we reach Inception levels of dream state. So where none of the other people real? Who knows, all this episode needed to do was get Clara back in the TARDIS.
41. The Time of Angels/ Flesh and Stone (Season 5, Episode 4/5) – To Doctor Who’s credit, it was always going to be hard to follow-up an episode of Blink’s brilliance. This episode makes a great stab at it and while it doesn’t come close to that episode’s level of tension; it does manage to deliver a more rounded action experience. It was a wise decision to bring River Song back for this episode, her presence gives things a more playful aspect and pushes proceedings along at times when the plot threatens to stall. The episodes do however suffer from inability to raise the stakes. There’s a determination to make use of every Moffat trope, adding in mythology to the Angels that didn’t really need to be there. Having the Angels snap peoples necks very much goes against what we learned about them previously. Plus the ending to the second episode is a bit of a copout.
40. The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End (Season 4 Episode 12/13) – You have to give it Davies – when he wants to go big he throws everything into the pot. Combining everything from Torchwood to past companions to side-characters you probably didn’t want to see again – The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End really dialled up the shows fear factor to 11 and had a huge blast doing so. Some of the plot points are bad (Ostahagen key anyone?) but when so much has brought together to make it work, and Davros works so well as the imposing villain of the piece, it’s hard to disagree with the end results. Plus for once the show actually delivers a meaningful ending. Everyone gets what they want – except for Donna; who cruelly has her memories erased. As for the Doctor, that last scene of his where he stands alone in the TARDIS still remains one of the series most powerful to me. A man who has so many friends yet was so alone by the end.
39. The Crimson Horror (Season 7, Episode 11) – One of the few bright spots from Season 7, The Crimson Horror offers a well told story that manages to make minimal use of The Doctor. It’s got a lot of fun jokes and callbacks to earlier Doctor Who series and manages to raise the stakes just enough to warrant a watch.
38. Mummy on the Orient Express (Season 8, Episode 8) – One of the more visually striking episodes of Doctor Who, this plays with the idea of death being inflicted by an unseen foe. It works for the most part, thanks to some solid writing and clever camerawork which immerses the audiences and highlights the fear factor.
37. The End of Time Part I/Part II (Christmas 2009/New Years 2010 Special) – Saying goodbye was hard, in particular for Tennant who got one hell of a major sendoff from his iconic Doctor Who role. The story itself was fairly grand if slightly underwhelming; a returning Master seeking to transform every human into him. The pacing of it all leaves something to be decided, with long periods of downtime between action set-pieces. But teasing the return of the TimeLords was spectacular and while it was a slight cop-out to have them disappear so easily – created a sense of grandness that the story needed. The final 15 or so minutes were entirely self-indulgent but pure delight for fans of Doctor Who, who got to check in with many of Davies creations one more time. It was beautifully worked and those final iconic words still remain some of the most quotable in TV history “I don’t want to go”….
36. Face The Raven (Season 9, Episode 10) – You have to give it to Doctor Who’s writers – they certainly didn’t back out of the hole they put themselves in. Faced with a countdown to death, Clara enlists The Doctor’s help in trying to help her friend. It leads to the reemergence of Maisie Williams character, and ultimately leads to Clara insanely opting to take the bullet instead; mistakenly believing that The Doctor had a plan. He didn’t and in a heart wrenching scene; we see The Doctor realise he’d led Clara to her doom. Oh and The Doctor was to be whisked off to an unknown location to be someone’s prisoner. Talk about downbeat.
35. The Husbands of River Song (2015 Christmas special) – The show wisely opts to ignore the disaster zone it had created at the end of Season 9, instead focusing on River Song and The Doctor’s relationship. The first half of the episode feels slightly slower than it should, but once we get on board the spaceship things pick up quickly. River and The Doctor sizzle on-screen like never before, their chemistry finally observable. Taking her to the Singing Towers was a bittersweet moment, a touching end to a character that arguably has divided opinion like none before her. Thanks to some great acting from both parties, it never feels overstretched.
34. School Reunion (Season 2, Episode 3) – This episodes really just a big excuse to have a laugh. Bringing back the iconic Sarah Jane Smith was a must – and she clearly has fun playing with the current cast. It never feels forced and feels like a natural evolution – her initial anger at being left behind to the sadness of being forced to say goodbye again creating some emotional weight. Add in Anthony Head; who’s clearly having a riot playing the head of the primary school and part-time bat and you can easily forgive the B-movie plot about intelligent kids.
33. The Lodger (Season 5, Episode 11) – The plot itself takes a huge backseat to the appearance of James Corden, a man who steals the show in this episode. In the end it works for the better as we get to The Doctor play out a different kind of dynamic and form the kind of fun back-and-forth we weren’t really used to seeing in Moffat’s time in charge of the show. The pair work well and despite some odd comedic choices, ultimately this proves to be one of the more fun Doctor Who episodes under Moffat’s tenure.
32. The Unquiet Dead (Season 1, Episode 3) – The shows first return to a classical setting also remains one of its best. Charles Dickens is brought to life with charm and grace, while Eccleston and Piper continue to develop their bond. The plot is weighty and handled well, with an impressive twist that helps to give motivation to all involved. The sense of peril is palatable and the bitter-sweet ending was one of Gatiss’s finer additions to the show.
31. Flatline (Season 8, Episode 9) – Perhaps the most memorable thing about this episode is watching Capaldi fight with a tiny TARDIS. For the most part this episode relies on Clara to push forward the plot – which surprisingly works. The premise is creepy enough to keep audiences engaged while the sense of danger rises thanks to the graffiti drawings. That being said, this episode has some hilariously bad CGI which adds to its charm. This episode is also responsible for introducing side-characters that become very important later on.
30. Father’s Day (Season 1, Episode 8) – Father’s Day gets a lot of hate from some but really it’s a very touching story. One of a daughter who uses time-travel to try and change time and save someone she loves. It all goes hideously wrong obviously, Rose condemning the universe to certain destruction while The Doctor sits back and misreads every situation possible. This was a Rose episode and one where her character finally emerged as a fully formed character – the skillful writing homing in on the naive aspects of her character we’d forgotten about. There’s some really silly stuff involving dragony things that the series ejects as quickly as possible – but that’s somewhat forgivable.
29. Under The Lake/Before The Flood (Season 9, Episode 3/4) – The show goes a bit crazy with its time travelling and the idea of the bootstrap paradox. It’s a concept the show has fun with and manages to work in several exciting twists to emphasise them. The Doctor appearing as a ghost was the biggest, although we knew it couldn’t be real. At the end of the day, bar the bizarre villain reveal (He went through all that for such little gain?) there’s a solid episode here that revels in being allowed to have fun.
28. The Snowmen (Christmas 2012 Special) – Arguably the best Christmas episode of Moffat’s run as showrunner – this episode manages to blend a darker more brooding Doctor against the endlessly optimistic second incarnation of Clara. She slowly warms his cold heart, only for the evil snowmen to rip her from his clutches (Quite literally). This sets in motion the remainder of the episode, forcing The Doctor back to his old ways and chasing down The Great Intelligence. It’s a fun episode overall and the ending finally pushes into focus the significance of Clara’s character – setting in motion her character arc for the entire backend of Season 7.
27. Amy’s Choice (Season 5, Episode 7) – The surreal nature of this episode combined with the excellent performance by Toby James slide this episode towards the top of this list. The exploration of the relationship between The Doctor, Amy and Rory in the different dreams is important; with a threat that hangs over proceedings throughout. By the end you feel enthralled by proceedings and want to see more of Toby James – a well crafted outing for the series.
26. The Impossible Astronaut/ Day of the Moon (Season 6, Episode 1/2) – The introduction of The Silence was a masterstroke for the series, one of the most imposing enemies every crafted. In these episodes their increasing presence makes them feel like a deeply troubling entity and one that even The Doctor struggles to compete with. Perhaps most daring of all, this series opens with the biggest statement of intent ever by the series – with The Doctor’s death. It was a moment for fans and while the pay-off may not have been that great – for these two episodes it set in motion a sequence of events that defined what was to follow.
25. The Impossible Planet/ The Satan Pit (Season 2, Episode 8/9) – Deeply atmospheric and highly claustrophobic. What makes these episodes work is the sense of impending doom – the removal of The Doctor’s TARDIS granting the story some real room to explore proceedings. The space base is well constructed while the Satan planet is beautifully realized. The use of the Ood as an ever-present threat. For some, The Doctor meeting Satan may be a step too far – but I personally feel that the show manages to stick the landing and keep it workable within the existing mythos. All in all, a strong two-parter that highlights how strong the show can be when it wants to create a different tone.
24. Oxygen (Season 10, Episode 5) – Excellent episode that not only throws a heap of ideas on the table, it also sticks to its guns when it puts the characters in danger. Bill, The Doctor and Nardole arrive on a space station where oxygen is a finite resource. It creates a heap of tension as the characters encounter danger around every corner – and are separated from the Tardis in the process. The external scene that sees Bill fighting to hold her breath is the real show stealer here – with The Doctor going blind in the process.
23. Tooth and Claw (Season 2, Episode 3) – One of the series more underrated gems, this was a strong episode for early Season 2 that managed to bring some real terror into the series. The Queen Victoria storyline would be hugely important going forward, but it’s the acting all around here which really comes to light. Everyone plays their part to create a strong, well paced episode that mixes fair amounts of talking with some action and good CGI (Seriously, that wolf was amazing). If the episode has weak points, it’s that it went a bit too crazy with all those weird monks that didn’t do much in the end. Overall, can’t complain too harshly.
22. Extremis (Season 10, Episode 6) – A real highlight of Season 10, playing with the audience throughout. The characters slowly uncover a horrible truth, that they’re all existing within a simulation. As this dawns on the characters, their reactions lead to some of the most shocking scenes in the show. The only thing that lets it down is a somewhat cop-out ending that robs from the grander moments. Despite this, it’s a very strong episode that more than delivers on its premise, setting up the two-parter to follow well.
21.The Angels Take Manhattan (Season 7, Episode 5) – Arguably the cruelest of all the Doctor Who episodes. Amy and Rory bid their final farewell in a story that’s so tight but well executed that you can’t help but feel sad as the chapters tick down. The ending was exactly how it should have been, with Rory and Amy refusing to leave each others sides and The Doctor unable to assist. River plays her part well, giving the entire thing a sense of 1930’s noir to proceedings. A fine episode – although how The Statue of Liberty can be a weeping angel and that not be addressed ever again is mind-boggling.
20. Midnight (Season 4, Episode 10) – A lot like the much later Heaven Sent, Midnight’s successes lie in its decision to abandon the traditional Doctor Who tropes. Here there’s no TARDIS, no companion, few special effects and very little in the way of timey-wimey. Instead we have a strong script that places emphasis on dialogue, characters and the exploration of all that comes from that. In the end it comes together to create a chilling atmospheric deep-dive into the mindset of humans; our inability to see reason when confronted with terror. Excellently played Davies!
19. The Eleventh Hour (Season 5, Episode 1) – Following up the insanely popular Tennant was never going to be an easy ask for Smith. Luckily in this outing he sticks the landing and then some. The tone shifts to a more surreal outlook, the writing focusing on the relationship between Amy and The Doctor over everything else. The dialogue is impactful, deep and most of all funny and while the threat of the week feels slightly weak – it sets up the season long story arc that would come to define Season 5. Perhaps the weakest aspect of the episode is the treatment of Rory, who gets stuck in the Mickey role of this season. A very solid outing for Smith and Moffat.
18. The Girl Who Waited (Season 6, Episode 10) – At a time when Amy was becoming slightly boring, the writers found a way to reinvigorate her character while staying true to her development. Karen Gillan nails her performances as both the young and old versions of Amy while The Doctor and Rory try to make the best of the situation they’re in. The story is laced with sadness throughout, tight and comes with a conclusion that blows away most of the shows emotional moments. A true triumph of excellent, compact storytelling.
17. World Enough and Time/ The Doctor Falls (Season 10, Episode 11/12) – This was easy Top 5 material, right up until Moffat wheeled out his retcon pen. World Enough and Time is a wonderful episode of Doctor Who, arguably one of the best in New Who. It puts Bill in mortal danger, raises the stakes and delivers a heart breaking conclusion that shocked me more than any other episode of New Who. The Doctor Falls is a satisfying follow up – mostly building to the Cybermen arriving. Capaldi is magnificent. Michelle Gomez is amazing. Their on-screen chemistry is sizzling. The returning John Simm is excellent where needed – if slightly underused. It’s all brilliant, right up until Bill’s “irreversible” transformation is undone by a single tear. Oh and The Doctor is “saved” by another tear. It’s just so gut wrenching to see Moffat rob the audience of lasting emotion – muddying the final moments with some of the worst direction I’ve seen. These two episodes show Moffat’s work at it’s best and absolute worst.
16. Turn Left (Season 4, Episode 11) – For an episode that’s almost 95% of The Doctor, you have to hand credit to Davies for crafting such a bleak yet intriguing Doctor Who tale. Here Donna Noble relives the events of the past 4 years except she never meet The Doctor. From this, the Earth undergoes some horrific changes in direction; with many of the disasters we’ve previously seen averted playing out in full. This new perspective makes Turn Left a real gem for fans of the Doctor Who lore – seeing a world where he isn’t around to protect it. Very recommended.
15. Army of Ghosts/ Doomsday (Season 2, Episodes 12/13) – For all the glitz and glamour around the Daleks and Cybermen fighting off, it’s the core emotional story that really ties together everything here. Torchwood turns out to be a scientific cult and have their hands on a heap of alien tech. This inadvertently triggers the arrival of both Cybermen and Daleks – who don’t take kindly to each other. That headline fight actually turns out to be a bit of a damp squib – descending into a bit of a mess. Luckily as this is going on the emotional stakes are being raised by Tennant and Piper, who act their socks off to deliver an emotional tour-de-force that tugs at the hearts. When Rose is saved at the very last-minute from the abyss – it’s hard not to feel sorry for The Doctor when he realizes he’s alone again. That closing scene on the beach was all levels of emotionally perfect.
14. Dalek (Season 1, Episode 6) – Dalek was unique venture for new Doctor Who. It reintroduced the Time Lord’s most famous villain but added so many layers to the complex relationship between the two. The episode frames both as sole survivors of the Time War and manages to turn out some sympathy for the foes. By the end, The Doctor is convinced to let the Dalek escape. The impact of this episode is huge – it’s just a shame that the show wouldn’t return to this kind of intimate tale for one of its more iconic villains.
13. Human Nature/ The Family of Blood (Season 3, Episode 8/9) – Or as many fans call it, the one where The Doctor becomes human. The exploration of his limitations as a human and the way that he falls in love feel truly spectacular. Tennant pulls off the unknowing nature of his human counterpart well, exploring the facets of love and struggle with that. The villains are arguably the weakest aspect of the episode but they don’t detract from proceedings; instead lending some gravitas to the threat. In the end it’s the rejection of The Doctor by Joan, she seeing him for the man he really is enough to put her off him for good, that really anchors this episode as an emotional tour-de-force.
12. Listen (Season 8, Episode 4) – Arguably the episode where Capaldi really came into his own as The Doctor, we see him commanding huge presence on-screen in a story that’s both creepy and touching. The tale of Orson at the end of the universe one that parlays into an exploration of The Doctor’s biggest fears. In the end we see that Clara actually caused this by going back and spooking a very young Doctor back on Gallifrey – creating the loop that sets in motion the episode and The Doctor’s life. It’s a very strong episode, showcasing the finest aspect of all three characters involved.
11. The Waters of Mars (2009 Special – Episode 2) – 2009 was a rough year for Doctor Who. With no regular series, fans had to make do with these four special episodes, spaced out across the year. The Waters of Mars manages to make a strong play for the best of the lot as it delivers an incredibly dark look at how far the Doctor was willing to give up his own moral code to get the ending he wanted. Watching as The story is gripping, horrifying and moving in equal measures – with the supporting cast delivering some of the best performances to add to the gravitas of the situation. Arguably one of Tennant’s best outings and certainly one of the best episodes from the Davies era of the show.
10. Dark Water/Death in Heaven (Season 8, Episode 11/12) – For a finale double bill, this certainly wasn’t afraid to go wild with new ideas. Danny Pink gets offed in the opening minutes of Dark Water, sending Clara into a crazed state. After trying to blackmail The Doctor, he helps her to find where Heaven is; ultimately leading them into a trap laid by The Mistress (A returning Master). From here things devolve into a bit of a mess involving Cybermen and rain and graveyards. It’s all a bit silly but Michelle Gomez steals the show as Missy – captivating from the word go and doing her best to keep things interesting. For her part also, this is the most interesting Clara had been in well over a season; so that’s something else. The bittersweet ending where The Doctor and Clara lie to each other was a weird but intriguing dynamic to leave the season on.
9. The Day of The Doctor (50th Anniversary Special) – Quite how they landed this beast I’ll never know, the show taking a leap back to the Time War to explore the origins of The Doctor character we’ve been following for over a decade now. The result is a celebration of everything New Who is, a triumph of moving parts that pile together to form a coherent experience for fans and newbies. Tennant’s return is glorious, while John Hurt brings a huge sense of unknown in his role as the War Doctor. The only downside to all this is Clara gets shunted into the background, while Rose makes a quasi-return in the form of “The Moment”. Packed the brim with special moments and fan pleasing appearances (Including an unexpected appearance from Baker!) – it’s hard not to love this episode.
8. Vincent and the Doctor (Season 5, Episode 10) – Well this was a surprise. What should by all rights be a filler episode turns out to be one of the series more interesting looks into the human mind. Exploring Vincent’s mind and understanding his mindset and depression are key to the story here; with Amy ultimately proving to be his muse. The actual villain takes a huge backseat to proceedings as the episode homes in on the emotional core. Amy’s optimism is perfectly positioned against the reality that not everyone can be saved – and it shouldn’t have been any other way.
7. Bad Wolf/ The Parting of Ways (Season 1, Episode 12/13) – Sure it was an easy cop-out to have Rose turn into a literal demigod. Sure it was something of a letdown to have her bring back Jack Harkness and defeat the Daleks single-handedly. And yeah, maybe it was just a way for the writers to get The Doctor and Rose to finally kiss. But seriously, it doesn’t matter. These episodes hit all the right notes; from the satire of reality TV shows through to the realization from characters that their number is up. There’s not a wasted moment in here as the impending disaster really hits home. The Doctor’s decision to send Rose away was selfless, even though he could have jumped in with her. Her determination to get back to him was equally selfless; highlighting just how important the two had become to each other. And then that goodbye, when Eccleston transformed into Tennant. Sometimes episodes just work; for Bad Wolf and The Parting of Ways, this is very much the case.
6. The Girl in the Fireplace (Season 2, Episode 4) – Moffat strikes gold again as he crafts a love story so tangled yet so compelling that you’ll forgive the awkward comedy moments peppered throughout this episode. The Girl in the Fireplace highlights the more human side of The Doctor, his emotions unkempt and his instincts laid bare in a situation he can’t control. On top of this, the use of the clockwork robots was inspired, arguably some of Doctor Who’s most beautiful creations. The ending to all this is dark and gripping, the continued message that sometimes not everyone can be saved. And that final scene with The Doctor is still impressive to this day.
5. The Doctor’s Wife (Season 6, Episode 4) – A deep-dive into the one relationship the show had only ever briefly flirted with turns out to be one of the shows finest moments. The tale of a boy and TARDIS is beautifully told, brought to life thanks to a wonderful script that hits everything it needs to and then some. There’s a sense of careful exploration at hand throughout, Idris handles her role beautifully and makes it her own. A truly special episode and one that no self-respecting Doctor Who fan should ignore.
4. Silence in the Library/ Forest of the Dead (Season 3, Episodes 8/9) – Two episodes that came to define the best of Moffat’s storytelling prowess. Everything is perfectly layered, from the shadow monsters through to the sense of dread from the supporting cast. The introduction of River Song was beautifully handled, a time-traveller who knew The Doctor’s future but he didn’t know her… yet. It all comes together to create a swirling maelstrom of good ideas and great invention; creating a suspenseful and deep adventure that touches on a number of characters insecurities. From The Doctor’s fear over his future, through to Donna’s fear of losing family – nothing is left unexplored in this episode.
3. The Empty Child/ The Doctor Dances (Season 1, Episode 9/10) – Taking children, who by and large are some of the more annoying parts of Doctor Who episodes, and turning them into gas mask wearing horrors was one of the more inspired choices Doctor Who ever made. These episodes had fun with the setting, using the Second World War to create a sense of danger yet excitement; something that Captain Jack plays into. Add in a great selection of side-characters, some fun dialogue and an impressive range of action sequences that help to press home the impending threat; and it’s easy to see why these episodes are much-loved.
2. Blink (Season 3, Episode 10) – What can you say about Blink that hasn’t been written a thousand times before? Arguably the most impressive use of secondary characters ever in the show, Blink ejects The Doctor and Martha for the most-part, choosing to focus on Sally Sparrow instead. It’s an inspired gamble, creating a true sense that these characters could actually die at any moment. The Weeping Angels are harrowingly good as villains, really bringing a true threat to the screen that isn’t conveyed in future episodes featuring them. Wonderfully written, brilliantly acted and paced to perfection – there’s very little wrong with Blink.
1. Heaven Sent (Season 9, Episode 11) – What puts this ahead of Blink for me is simple, this is entirely the Doctor’s story. Whereas Blink was a wonderful exploration of secondary characters, it ultimately feels slightly inconsequential because we don’t see those characters again. In Heaven Sent everything feels perfectly tailored to giving Capaldi’s Doctor a grand stage for an excellent performance.
Everything from the sense of impending doom all the way to the revelation that all those skulls at the bottom of the ocean were the Doctors delivers wholesale. Few episodes of Doctor Who manage to dig as deep as this episode does into the mind of The Doctor.
This is his episode and Capaldi delivers a tour-de-force so brilliant that it’s hard to consider any other option. No single performance touches the depth of this one. Capaldi may not have had the best stories across his three seasons but he was given this absolute gem.