Doctor Who is back on our Screens for the finally season of Peter Capaldi, and Steven Moffat’s final as Showrunner. So I decided that I would tackle the daunting task of picking my favourite episodes from the Series since its return in 2005. I am a huge fan of the show, and have been ever since I saw Rose 12 years ago so narrowing it down to just 10 episodes proved far too much for me, so I’ve ended up with a Top 15. Even then there were some episodes that I really wanted to include, but just couldn’t quite manage it such as Dalek, School Reunion, The Waters of Mars, and The Witch’s Familiar. As always this is about my personal favourite episodes, and I would love to hear about your favourite episodes from the series.
15) The Husbands of River Song – The Husbands of River Song is definitely a pick that will surprise people, but I’m a huge River Song fan, and this was one of her strongest appearances. This was the Christmas special from 2015, and actually didn’t start off great. It is the first time that Matt Lucas as Nardole appeared, who has gone on to become a companion, and starred Greg Davies as the villain. What makes this episode so strong though is the ending, which ties right back to River’s first ever appearance on the show in Season 4. As soon as I realised where the episode was going, and how it would make this Alex Kingston’s last appearance as River, it lead to a very emotional ending. It also showed that Capaldi was able to play off Kingston just as well as his two predecessors, and was a fitting way to end one of my favourite relationships in the show’s history.
14) A Good Man Goes To War – A Good Man Goes to War was the mid season finale for Season 6. It featured The Doctor and Rory’s attempts to save Amy, and her newborn child from Madame Kovarian. What I like about this episode is that it shows us why every species in the Universe fears The Doctor. I’ve always been a fan of showing just how destructive The Doctor can be to his enemies as he takes the base of Demon’s Run increasingly quickly. This always suggests that he’s holding back in some way, and striving to be the ‘Good Man’ in the episode’s title. It also gave Matt Smith a good chance for some epic moments, particularly his line about good men not needing rules, and not finding out why he has so many. And then right at the end we get some of the mystery of River Song unraveled more than it ever had been before.
13) Tooth and Claw – I love the historical episodes of Doctor Who, I’m also a bit of a sucker for classic movie monsters. So The Doctor encountering Queen Victoria and a Werewolf, in Scotland, it’s fantastic. This is one of the most fun, one and done, adventures in a way that only Russell T Davies could do. From the epic martial art monk opening, to the fantastic Werewolf effects, David Tennant getting to use his real accent, to Rose’s attempts to get Queen Vic to say she isn’t amused, this has everything you want in a single episode adventure. I’ve always loved The Doctor’s reaction to seeing the Werewolf, where he’s in awe of the beauty of the creature, whilst everyone else around him is terrified. That was what Tennant’s Doctor was all about for me, loving the mysteries of the Universe. Oh and the episode referenced the great Second Doctor companion Jamie McCrimmon, one of my favourite classic Who characters.
12) Army of Ghosts/Doomsday – We at last come to our first two parter on this countdown, and its way down at 12 because the first half just doesn’t live up to the second part. It has a great Ghostbusters reference, and some hilarity with Camille Coduri’s Jackie Tyler, but Doomsday is a different level of quality. First of all we get a battle between the Daleks and The Cybermen, these are two of the staple Doctor Who monster and we finally got to see them go head to head in what was one of the funniest and brilliantly written scenes in the show’s history. The Doctor’s meeting with The Cult of Skaro gave Tennant the opportunity to monologue in the way that only Tennant could. But then we get to the ending. There have been heartbreaking Doctor Who moments before and since, but when he has to say goodbye to Rose as she is trapped in a parallel dimension, that’s about as emotional as the show has ever gotten.
11) The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit – The 8th and 9th Episodes of the 2nd Season were something so different, and quite possibly the first time we’d seen The Doctor faced with something completely beyond his knowledge. In fact it may have even been the creature that is known as The Devil, although the nature of The Beast is never really explained in the two parter. But that wasn’t really the point of the episodes, as it says The Devil is just an idea. This two parter really calls to mind Science Fiction based horror films like Alien or Event Horizon, but with that Doctor Who charm thanks to Tennant and Piper, who are still in my mind the best Doctor/Companion combo the show has produced since the relaunch. I really liked The Doctor’s confrontation with the Beast, as he slowly works out what is going on, and gives us the chance for another great Tennant monologue. This two parter also features some of my favourite music that Murray Gold ever produced in his run on the show.
10) Vincent and the Doctor – Another of the classic meeting a legendary historical figures episodes, this time featuring Vincent van Gogh. Written by the brilliant Richard Curtis, who is well known for his work on Blackadder and films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, it features The Doctor and Amy meeting Van Gogh during his extremely troubled life. Tony Curran’s performance as Van Gogh is one of the strongest guest star performances from the show. The monster in the episode, a Krafayis, isn’t great, but this is an extremely heartfelt, and very human story. The ending where Van Gogh gets to hear a museum curator (played by Bill Nighy) talk about the genius of Van Gogh is such a lovely and powerful moment, as is Amy’s realisation that this didn’t change his suicide, but that they were able to positively affect it for a short while.
9) Midnight – Midnight can sometimes get a little forgotten, but it is one of the best psychological thrillers that the show has ever produced. Featuring a monster that possesses a passenger on a shuttle flight and begins to mimic everything that The Doctor says. This is one of the most intense, and creepy episodes that Doctor Who has ever produced. The single, small location, the way that it really gets into your head, the fact that it didn’t feel the need for big special effects. What is really great about Midnight is the way that it examines human behaviour, even from the start where The Doctor has to break the entertainment systems to get people to interact with one another. It’s one of the most under-appreciated episodes, and definitely one worth revisiting if you can’t really remember it.
8) The Day of the Doctor – Oh boy the pressure on The Day of the Doctor, or the 50th Anniversary special as it is probably slightly better known, was so huge. With the return of Tennant alongside Matt Smith, and the introduction John Hurt as The War Doctor, not to mention the first appearance of the Zygons in the New-Who era there was so much to live up to. Thankfully it managed that. It’s obviously not a perfect episode, but to manage to deliver, under all that weight of expectation, it deserves a reasonably high place on this list. The dynamic and interplay between Smith, Tennant, and Hurt is really what made this such an incredible success, but we also got the return of Billie Piper, and a great cameo from Tom Baker as a mysterious curator. As if that wasn’t enough we got appearances from all the first nine Doctors in archive footage, and our first glimpse of Peter Capaldi as well. This was an event episode, and it delivered a great piece of must see Television.
7) The Doctor’s Wife – I’m a big fan of the author Neil Gaiman, he wrote American Gods and Stardust, and The Doctor’s Wife was his first episode as a writer on Doctor Who. And it was fantastic. The idea of taking the Matrix of the TARDIS and placing it inside the body of a woman, is one of the most original ideas the show has ever come up with, and there’s been some pretty out there stuff. The dynamic between Smith’s Doctor and Suranne Jones as Idris/The TARDIS is so brilliant, funny, and charming, that it almost makes you sad that they can’t interact all the time. It gave the TARDIS, which has always had a personality in its own way, a chance to truly express it. It can really be summed up with one line, “I always got you where you needed to go”. In my mind this is the best Matt Smith episode, and is extremely deserving of a high place on this list.
6) Blink – There won’t be many bigger surprises than me only having Blink at number 6 on the list. This is the episode that a lot of people would have as the number one episode since the return of Doctor Who. But it has one big flaw for me. There just isn’t enough Doctor in the episode. That said this is a work of absolute genius from Steven Moffat, and remains to this day the high bar so scary episodes of Doctor Who. After the disaster of Love and Monsters as the Doctor-lite episode in Season 2, Blink could easily have been another disaster, but thanks to one of the smartest, scariest, and original scripts in the show’s history, and Carey Mulligan’s performance as Sally Sparrow Blink has gone down in history as one of the show’s best. The Weeping Angels have been far too overdone since, but this was a hell of an introduction for them.
5) Heaven Sent – Capaldi’s high bar both as an episode overall, and in his performance as The Doctor. I’ve tried not to only include one half of a two parter, but I had to make an exception here, because Heaven Sent is so starkly different from Hell Bent. Essentially just featuring Peter Capaldi being pursued by a large veiled figure around a castle and trying to find a way out, it could have been something terrible, but instead it was one of the most incredible episodes of television. Moffat’s script is one of the smartest he has ever written, it unveils a mystery slowly over the course of the episode, but also gets deep into the heart of The Doctor. Capaldi’s performance, as really the only character on screen, would be justification enough for him playing the part of The Doctor. And the direction from Rachel Talalay keeps this episode tense and enthralling. If you’re someone who has dropped off Doctor Who recently, then episodes like Heaven Sent should be enough to get you back on.
4) Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead – I’ve already said early on that I’m a big fan of River Song, and she was introduced way back in Season 4, with this two parter. Once again Moffat was the writer, and once again he managed to make an episode that is scary and hugely emotional. The idea of Vashta Nerada, tiny carnivorous creatures that come together to form shadows, is fantastic, and the idea that they could be any shadow is terrifying. But what really makes this two parter is the way it ended. We’d only just met River Song, and we learn that she has a huge history with The Doctor, but this, their first ever meeting, is also the death of River Song. The fact that The Doctor had all this time to plan some way of saving her, is so beautiful, and they way it was tied back in with The Husbands of River Song was fantastic.
3) The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances – And yet more Moffat written episodes, and another great story that coupled scares with an incredibly moving ending. Oh and just like the aforementioned Library episodes these two also introduced one of my favourite characters, Captain Jack Harkness, played by John Barrowman. The Empty Child was to little 11 year old me, terrifying. In truth the first part of this story is actually the only time that I’ve genuinely been scared during a Doctor Who episode, as director James Hawes packs it full of great horror moments. The Doctor Dances is actually a far more fun episode (although there are still some good scary moments), and makes Jack immediately one of the best characters in the show’s long run. The ending when “just this once, everybody lives” was such a great uplifting ending to a very dark story.
2) Human Nature/The Family of Blood – The 3rd Season wasn’t always the strongest of the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who, and Freema Agyeman’s Martha didn’t get that much of a chance to shine, with the exception of the Human Nature and The Family of Blood two parter. In the episode The Doctor has changed his biology to make himself appear human, and hidden his Time Lord side, along with his memories in a pocket watch. This is to avoid the Family of Blood, incorporeal telepathic creatures that want to absorb the Time Lord so as to live forever. Again it is very original Doctor Who story, but one that managed to touch on some of my favourite themes in Doctor Who. The heartbreaking ending to John Smith (The Doctor’s human disguise) and Joan Redfern is so emotional, and the performances from Agyeman, and Jessica Hynes (as Redfern) are brilliant. But Tennant in these episodes gets to show his range like never before in the show. And then it goes to a very dark place with the way that The Doctor deals with the Family of Blood, and gives them very cruel ways of living forever, it once again taps into that idea of The Doctor holding himself back, and running from the Family because “he was being kind”.
1) The Girl in the Fireplace – As soon as I decided to do this list I knew that The Girl in the Fireplace was unquestionably my number 1 pick. It is absolutely my favourite episode of Doctor Who ever. I think that it is near perfection, and has everything you could want from a Doctor Who episode. Not only does it have that historical figure angle, with Reinette Poisson, aka Madame de Pompadour, but it’s also mixed in with a great Science Fiction adventure on the spaceship. The introduction of Mickey as a companion meant that Rose had someone to play off whilst The Doctor formed this relationship with Reinette throughout her life, rather than merely wasting her character. The episode is funny, heartbreaking, at times scary, and filled with great performances, particularly from Sophia Myles as Reinette. The episode is essentially a love story for The Doctor and came about whilst Russell T Davies was researching for the show Casanover, and Moffat managed to take it to new heights. I’m not sure that we will ever see such a well-rounded and brillaint episode of Doctor Who again, but I live in hope.