I’ve already covered my fandom of Doctor Who, ranking my favourite Doctors in with the bargain, however there are over 275 and 830 episodes that make up the time lord’s adventures in space and time, so join me as I return to the TARDIS to look at my favourite adventures. As in my Doctor ranking column, only TV stories are counted, I will cover Big Finish in the future.
10. Army of Ghosts/Doomsday (David Tennant, 2006)
This one is significant for me, as it was the first Doctor Who story I actually watched, and thus sent me never ending rabbit hole for the next 11 years (Jeez, I feel old).
So, this story, the finale to David Tennant’s first series and a goodbye to the now beloved Rose, it starts off as a rather innocuous ghost story but soon becomes much bigger in scale as the Daleks and Cybermen face up in an epic battle, the effects of which would cause ripples in the WhoNiverse for years to come.
This ranks low on the top ten as on repeat viewings especially now it isn’t as awe inspiring as it seemed as the time, however it still holds a special place in my heart for turning me into a Whovian (for better or worse).
9. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (Christopher Ecclestone, 2005)
One of the greatest tragedies in Who history is that Christopher Ecclestone only stayed for one series, as without him the series’ comeback wouldn’t have been nearly as successful and I love his scaled-back portrayal, he truly comes across as a Doctor for a new age.
So, The Doctor and Rose land in London at the heart of the blitz, to find the people haunted by a gas masked boy asking for his mummy. The set up for this story is so simple yet effective, and the little boy is genuinely chilling also, the ending manages to be happy without being too sacerine, instead being uplifting. This story also introduced us to Intergalactic con-man Captain Jack Harkness, so I salute it for that, this is a story I point at when the Moffat detractors are out in force, who seem to forget that he wrote some of the best Who stories in history.
8. The Genesis of the Daleks (Tom Baker, 1975)
The first classic story I ever watched, after reading about it in Doctor Who Adventures, so it was a great introduction to the older generations of Doctor’s that I can still enjoy now, in fact I recently watched the seminal Ark in Space, another fine piece of classic Who from the same series as this one.
Charged by the Time-Lords to go back in time and stop the Daleks from ever existing, The Doctor meets the crazed creator of the death machines and ponders whether he has the right to ‘exterminate’ an entire race.
The Doctor’s hesitation here is for me what makes him so compelling, if he wiped out the Daleks, would he be any better than the Daleks themselves? Also, we are introduced to Davros who became another iconic recurring villain in the series, appearing right up to 2015’s The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar verbally jousting with The Twelfth Doctor.
7. The Eleventh Hour (Matt Smith, 2010)
The debut of my favourite Doctor, from the moment he scoffed down fish fingers and custard he won his place in my heart (incidentally, they go quite nicely, in case you were wondering).
Serving not only to introduce us to Doctor number Eleven but to new companion Amy Pond AND the series arc of the crack in time, it also managed to fit in the story of Prisoner Zero and the Atraxi, not bad for one episode eh?
Matt Smith’s debut gave us a taste of what was to come, a quirkier incarnation than his predecessor yet no less likeable, also it’s dialogue is incredibly well written, my favourite line being “20 minutes to save the world and I’ve got a post office, and it’s shut” which is a near perfect representation of British life.
6. The Invasion of Time (Tom Baker, 1978)
Back to Tom Baker and an often forgotten gem featuring one of my favourite Doctor Who villains, The Sontarans, who I’m surprised aren’t used more often (get on it Chibnell).
The Doctor returns to Gallifrey acting rather strangely, nonetheless he takes over as President of the High Council, whereupon Gallifrey is invaded by Sontarans and The Doctor must find out how they got to Gallifrey and how to defeat them.
I always felt like we never knew enough about Time Lords in the series so in that sense it’s nice to get a series based entirely on Gallifrey, we end up seeing more of the workings of life as well as an interesting premise of Sontarans managing to penetrate into Gallifrey’s domed capital, it’s often intense but can offer a few laughs, such as The Doctor attempting to escape through a swimming pool.
5. Listen (Peter Capaldi, 2014)
Since his announcement the year previous I was all sorts of psyched for Peter Capaldi to take on the role, I remember seeing him in other things such as the brilliant The Thick of It and his past performances in both Doctor Who and Torchwood to be convinced that he’d make a great Doctor, and he does. When working with the right material, Peter Capaldi could be one of the best to grace the TARDIS, but I digress.
This episode also gives us a look at the character of Danny Pink, although I wasn’t completely struck with the character, I thought he had some good moments and I’m glad his arc had some closure and he wasn’t needlessly resurrected (*cough* Clara *cough*) and this is the right way to present a companions personal life, the series of late got a bit tied up in showing us more of the companions life outside the TARDIS than we maybe needed to see, take Clara and Danny and some of Amy and Rory’s moments as proof of that.
It introduced the concept of things we can’t see being scarier and is so bloody clever at doing so, we never see a ‘monster’ in the entire episode but the tension and atmosphere is so thick it can be cut with a knife. This is peak Capaldi, and while I don’t think it’s his best (we’ll get to that) I certainly think it’s up there.
4. The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End (David Tennant, 2008)
Poor Donna Noble. How she grew to be that good of a companion I’ll never know, to get there she outgrew the fishwife persona seen in her first outing in The Runaway Bride, which would probably be one of my least favourite Who episodes, but enough about that.
This is the very definition of an epic finale, stolen planets, more companions than you can shake a stick at, genuinely threatening Daleks and Davros! In 2008! Having a master plan and all that, even if when you think about it it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, once you’ve destroyed the entire universe what is left to rule, but I digress, again.
I direct criticism at this period of Doctor Who at times for being too light in tone for the story it was telling but at times God could it pack a punch, The Doctor cradling Donna in his arms in the rain jumps out as one such moment, it’s an epic story with an ending that brings to a close Donna’s arc, heartbreakingly, yes but what a way to go out.
3. The Day of The Doctor (Matt Smith with David Tennant and John Hurt, 2013)
Moffat is often criticised by Who fans. While they make very valid points, yes he probably should have stepped down a few years ago and can write very convoluted storylines, but when the time comes to deliver, he very often does.
Bear in mind that at times during his reign he’s not only been showrunner for Who but co-showrunner on Sherlock AND wrote a Hollywood film (Hugo) yet he found the time to write this, practically a love letter to the past 50 years while respectfully keeping one eye on the future too, giving us new insight as to what happened during the Time War as well as giving us a conclusion for Gallifrey finally bringing it back (sort of) after it been written out since the series return.
As well as doing this, it brought back fan favourite David Tennant to team with incumbent Time Lord Matt Smith and introducing a previously unseen incarnation of The Doctor played by the legendary Sir John Hurt. How Moffat managed to put even a coherent story together baffles me, but to make one of such quality makes my head spin, this is why I will always respect Steven Moffat.
2. World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls (Peter Capaldi, 2017)
I said all that could be said about this in my review of Series 10 a few weeks back and I’m pleased to report that after several re-watches it is still totally one of the best Who stories (in my opinion) and a great end to a great series.
It’s also worth noting the performances in both episodes are stellar, Capaldi shows us why he was born to play The Doctor and Pearl Mackie shows us just how great Bill is as a character even when faced with her own death. In the past few days we’ve learned that she’ll return for Christmas but I hope this doesn’t compromise the lovely ending to her story, even if she doesn’t return after Christmas, her story is so well rounded a whole series is all she needs.
Also, it was a good choice to kill off Missy in the way they did, of course this being the Master my money is on him/her finding some way of returning and the way it happened was very poetic indeed, shot by her past self, that’s a very Master move if I ever saw one and what with the rest of the gang leaving the time was right to put a line under Missy.
Honourable Mentions: The Five Doctors (1983), Remembrance of the Daleks (1988), Heaven Sent (2015), Dalek (2005), Utopia/Sound of the Drums/Last of the Time Lords (2007), The End of Time (2009/10), The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang (2010), The Parting of the Ways (2005), Blink (2007), Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead (2008).
1. Vincent and The Doctor (Matt Smith, 2010)
Never before has an episode of Doctor Who affected me quite like this. The final scenes to me are some of the best TV writing around, Vincent in the gallery hearing people talk positively about him, yet still being in such despair to end his own life regardless is heart-breaking.
This is peak Eleven and Amy Pond, he can be a bit silly at times yet his hearts are as big as any of his predessesors, him meeting Vincent Van Gogh (played excellently by Tony Curran) was something that wouldn’t have had the same effect in any other Doctor’s hands, it’s also a high point for Amy, hoping to do some good in history, yet being heartbroken that she didn’t succeed, it’s all incredibly emotional stuff, and so incredibly well executed, if Richard Curtis never writes for Doctor Who again he can rest easy knowing he wrote an all-time great episode, he never really needs to come back.