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The Top Ten New Doctor Who Episodes

The revived incarnation of Doctor Who a.k.a. the series as most people are aware of it, is ten years old! Celebrations may not be as high as the Fiftieth Anniversary two years ago, but it’s certainly an important milestone. In the decade since Russell T. Davies made it possible for a whole new generation to enjoy the greatest time traveller on television, there have been a slew of great episodes, and today I’m presenting the greatest of the greats: the Top Ten New Doctor Who Episodes. These are of course subjective as I’ve probably left off a few that are fan favourites but these are the stories that I think capture the show at its best and could stand on their own alongside the greats of the classic series. And while I use the term “episodes” I’m actually referring to stories so there will be a few two-parters on the list.

10. Amy’s Choice –By this episode we’d seen the conflicting relationships of the Doctor/companion and companion/boyfriend. And it’s an idea that needs to be addressed in a modern interpretation of the show. Generally I think the theme of balancing travels through time and space with a personal life was best handled during the days of Rose, Mickey, and Jackie, but “Amy’s Choice” really examines that idea as well, and in a wonderfully ludicrous Doctor Who way. Amy finds herself waking up in two realities: one where she, the Doctor, and Rory are in one of the TARDIS’s usual disasters; the other where she is living in a quaint village married to Rory, though the townspeople aren’t quite as they seem. The episode presents Amy with two options both of which are not as ideal as they appear to be and it forces her to question what is the best kind of life? Both have upsides and downs. Should she risk her life for the sake of wonder or adventure? Or should she have a happy married life but one of mediocrity that may present hidden dangers? It’s a great character exploration and one of the best Amy’s had. We also are introduced to a new side of the Doctor that pays off and raises questions about his character. Toby Jones is astounding in his guest role and I’m still waiting for him to reappear!

9. Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords –I’m a fan of Torchwood, so part of the reason I like these episodes is that they tie in the two series, offering an explanation for how Captain Jack survived “The Parting of the Ways” among other things. They also form a terrific arc dealing with the rebirth of the Master. And both Derek Jacobi and John Simm play him well. These episodes have their fair share in corny moments and a major ret-con towards the end comes off as a bit of deus ex machina, but they pull off some interesting drama nonetheless. It’s really interesting to see the Doctor have to deal with his old foe and their status as the last Time Lords gives their dynamic an edge and more stakes. The Doctor needs to defeat the Master but there’s a kinship that makes it hard for them to be opponents. Neither can kill the other. It also provides some great acting moments for David Tennant to prove himself. And the setting and style of “Utopia” in particular is just fascinating.

8. Father’s Day –In some ways this episode is the new series version of “The Aztecs” particularly its emphasis on not changing the timeline, but it also has a very personal touch. The Doctor and Rose visit the day her father died, but Rose pushes him out of the way of an oncoming car changing history and creating a paradox. The Doctor is forced to save the Tyler family and numerous guests at a wedding from monsters called Reapers there to correct the timeline. In these early days of the revival we needed to connect with the companion as much as possible and here we got to visit Rose’s background and see her character develop. More than that we see the origin of the Tyler family relationship. We get a better idea of where Rose comes from, her pre-Doctor life, and why she would travel with him in the first place. This show also makes good use of Billie Piper’s acting, who excellently conveys her character’s emotional state and strengthening our connection to her and what she’s been through. Pete Tyler’s a good guy and we can understand why Rose would want a life with her father alive. Luckily this wasn’t the last we saw of him.

7. The Eleventh Hour –A Doctor’s introductory episode can go a few ways. Some are awesome like “Spearhead from Space” while some are embarrassing like “Time and the Rani” (I’m also not the biggest fan of “The Christmas Invasion”). But whether you like the Eleventh Doctor or not his debut “The Eleventh Hour” was pretty damn good. Like “Spearhead from Space”, this episode was something of a series overhaul with a completely new cast and crew and seemingly little carried over from the last episode. The newly regenerated Doctor lands in Leadworth where he briefly befriends a young girl but hastily leaves promising he’ll be back in a few minutes. He winds up misjudging and returns over a decade later where the now grown up Amy Pond does not trust him. Also there’s an alien convict hiding on Earth that he needs to return to authorities. Steven Moffat borrowed much of the plot from his own “The Girl in the Fireplace” but that premise works so much better as an introductory piece to a companion. And it’s interesting enough that it works. We also get a very clear idea of who this new Doctor and new companion are, their rapport is really smart and fun. It also gets points for playing well off the Doctor’s eccentricities, paying homage to the show’s history, and giving Olivia Colman a delightfully campy role.

6. Kill the Moon –This is the most recent episode on the list and generally Peter Capaldi’s first series as the Twelfth Doctor has been decent barring a few weaker plots. But this is by far the best of them. The Doctor, Clara, and one of her students join a team of astronauts on a mission to evacuate and then destroy the moon which has been causing problems including many deaths on Earth. It soon becomes apparent though that the moon is in fact an egg ready to hatch. The Doctor then leaves Clara, her student, and Lundvik the leader of the astronauts played by Hermione Norris to decide on behalf of humanity whether or not to destroy the moon. The episode is admittedly a bit heavy-handed with its pro-life message and does suffer by using the tired Moffat-ism of the companion leaving the Doctor “for good’ only to return the next episode. Nevertheless this is a hugely important episode in getting to know both the Doctor and Clara. It confirms this Doctor’s outsider status and that he can be distant from our world if he feels he needs to be. And seeing Clara under pressure forced to make a decision of this magnitude is brilliant. More than any other episode I felt the weight of the situation on her and Jenna Coleman showed she can do more than just make snarky comments and look cute. We see a side of both characters that straddles the line of comfort and for the show to take that kind of risk is impressive. Their confrontation scene late in the episode is tremendous, both valid in their actions and feelings. And on top of all that, the fact it enacts an integral point in Doctor Who continuity is pretty awesome. I look forward to seeing more shows of this caliber in the coming series.

5. School Reunion –Any fan of Classic Who is going to love this episode. Not only did it bring arguably the best companion back, addressed the show’s history for the first time acknowledging the classic series, but we also got to see K-9 again! The Doctor and Rose having taken a break from space travel to play paranormal investigators are disguised as staff at a primary school that is implementing some bizarre changes to increase student performance. The Doctor’s former companion journalist Sarah Jane Smith is investigating too and reunites with the Doctor, joining forces to get to the bottom of the sinister machinations of the people running the school. The episode is mostly fan service but also has some really good components to it. The reunion of Doctor and companion is touching but it’s nice too to see the Doctor have to account for leaving her behind. He affects lots of people and doesn’t return to them much (I’m still waiting for him to make good on his promise to come back for Susan), so it’s good that this episode addressed that. Rose also goes through some growth realizing for the first time she’s not the only person the Doctor’s travelled with and has to reevaluate their relationship and the inevitability that she’ll have to leave him. But seeing her and Sarah Jane get along is wonderful too. Sarah Jane gets closure (leading to a great spin-off) and Mickey even gets a chance to shine. He has some funny lines, but we also see him step up for the first time as a companion on his own terms beginning his transition from one of the most annoying characters on the show to one of the most interesting and badass. All this in an episode set at a school run by a hammy Anthony Head. And of course…K-9!

4. Turn Left –What would a world without the Doctor be like? Our own, but that’s too boring. Parallel universes are a common trope in sci-fi (Doctor Who even did it and pretty well in “Inferno”), but “Turn Left” takes that idea in a new direction (no pun intended). Through some alien fortune teller, Donna Noble experiences what the world would be like if at a crossroads years ago, she turned right as her mother advised and taken a menial secretary job rather than left and a temp position at a security firm (her job in the series). In this world she never met the Doctor leading to his death during the events of “The Runaway Bride” meaning he wasn’t around to save the world from all the alien threats since then. She then must be guided by Rose Tyler to correct the timeline. One of the coolest aspects of this episode is seeing this changed world and what it’s done to the characters across the various spin-offs as well as the parent show. And there’s a gritty realism that plays throughout as if in a world where these alien encounters actually happened and there was no Doctor, it’s very plausible this is how we would react. And it’s disturbing given the government control and allusions to World War II-esque concentration camps, taking a very dark turn for what’s generally supposed to be a kids’ show. More than anything else it really emphasizes the impact even small choices can have. What would be at the end of the road had you turned right? In a show that’s all about fixed points in time and the importance of our choices, showing the road not taken gets the idea across best. And even without the Doctor we got some great performances from Catherine Tate and Bernard Cribbins, and an incredible cliffhanger.

3. Blink –Yeah everyone knew this was coming. It’s always pointed to as the justification for Steven Moffat becoming showrunner and I can see why. Incidentally like the last episode this one features very little of the Doctor. The Doctor and Martha are stranded in time and communicate with Sally Sparrow (played by the wonderful Carey Mulligan) via old video tapes instructing her to find and protect the TARDIS from the Weeping Angels a terrifying quantum locked alien race. Possibly the best aspect of the episode is its usage of time with the main plot having already taken place from the Doctor’s point of view. It allows for some cool plot points such as the Doctor recording half a conversation on a video tape that is really the answers to questions he knows Sally is going to ask. That’s a lot of fun. Moffat loves to play around with linear time to varying degrees of success. But it probably works best here. He also succeeded in creating probably the new series only lasting villains. And admittedly the Angels are the series’ best villains since the Autons. They are properly frightening and never more so than in their debut. Which is another reason I love this episode as it has the gothic atmosphere of a horror movie hearkening back to a few Fourth Doctor stories that really did that style justice. Plus the story is just so imaginative. Moffat’s penchant of trying to make ordinary things scary may have become a repetitive gimmick of late, but he certainly had the right idea with the Angels. That they’re part of a very original story with smart concepts and a great tone makes it all the more brilliant.

2. Human Nature/Family of Blood –I think my favourite device introduced in New Who is the fob watch. The main thrust of this episode wherein the Doctor becomes human is one I’m amazed was never done before but am glad it wasn’t done until David Tennant came along as I don’t think any other Doctor could have done it that well. On the run from a family of malevolent aliens, the Doctor disguises himself as a human teacher in the early twentieth century hiding his essence and memories in a fob watch with Martha to watch over him. Unbeknownst to him the aliens have landed on earth too and in disguise are out to find him. Also he finds himself falling in love with the school nurse played by Jessica Hynes making it even harder for him to return to his identity and fight off these enemies. David Tennant completely owns this episode playing a slightly different character but maintaining the heart(s) and core of the Doctor. It’s wonderful seeing him play John Smith an ordinary man who doesn’t want to be the Doctor, someone who’s found a happiness and contentedness in another life. It’s such an interesting place to take the Doctor and despite things turning out alright as usual by the end there is a sense of sadness for the loss of that other man. And the romance between John Smith and Joan feels real. One of the saddest scenes in the series takes place when Joan finally meets the Doctor, especially after our glimpse of what their lives could have been. It’s extraordinarily well written and well performed set in a time period the Doctor hasn’t visited that much, and features a trio of engagingly psychotic villains who get a kind of disturbing comeuppance. It’s one of the best stories the show has ever produced and you can be sure there’s no other episode on any series like it.

1. Dalek –Isn’t this a controversial choice, but six episodes into the first year of the revived Doctor Who this series hit its best. The Doctor and Rose land in 2012 in America where a rich tycoon has collected various alien artifacts, but they find among the collection is a living Dalek which the Doctor believed had all been wiped out during the Time War. So despite its innocent demeanor he must desperately convince everyone of its danger and stop it from escaping and threatening the world. This episode may not seem very special or epic but this is the point where we realized this was not Classic Doctor Who. Things were not going to be the same here on out. We knew vaguely about the changed premise, the genocide of the Time Lords during the Time War and while it made an impact we never saw the effects of that tragedy on the Doctor. One of the best scenes in all of Doctor Who is when the Ninth Doctor comes face to face with a Dalek for the first time since the war. It’s intense and compelling, and makes it impossible to turn away. The classic series Doctors would have outwitted the Daleks defeating them by brain rather than brute force. But this is a changed Doctor who has seen the horrors of war; he beats on the defenseless Dalek with a sledgehammer and it’s shocking. He taunts and torments it clearly seething with a hatred never before seen. And Christopher Eccleston is fantastic. With only one series under his belt, I feel he’s a bit underrated, but scenes like this solidify him as one of the best and certainly most intriguing Doctors. This was also the episode that reintroduced the Daleks and does it in a very different way than in 1963, but still achieving the same effect. Rather than be merely ravaged calculating Nazis in bins, our Dalek of the episode is a scarred traumatized lone soldier who could be sympathetic. The Doctor knows better, but we’ve never seen a Dalek portrayed in this way and it’s honestly convincing that this Dalek may in fact not be evil. Many of us could identify with Rose reaching out to the captive victim rather than the world-conquering monster. And it creates tremendous drama and tension but still maintains a few scenes that of levity don’t take themselves too seriously, a pairing that Doctor Who has always excelled at. While it has traits of a quintessential Doctor Who episode, it’s completely different opening the doors to so many other great episodes to come and is more than I think any other, the show’s absolute game-changer.

(Runner-ups are “Rose”, “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, “Midnight”, “The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End”, “The Next Doctor”, “The Waters of Mars”, “The End of Time”, “The Doctor’s Wife”, and “Deep Breath”)

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