Ah, the modern Doctor Who episodes. So many handsome Doctors, so many companions, so many catchphrases! Oh, how can one glorious human attempt to rank each and every (modern) episode of the arguably greatest show in television history? Basically with a lot of coffee, maybe some wine, and an incredibly patient spouse.
Be forewarned that while I do not exact judgement against specific writers or directors (ahem, Moff), I do have a lot of affection for light-hearted romps and historical / literary episodes.
Oh, and I play favorites with certain companions. It’s no secret that I simply adore Rose and Doctor Donna with every beat of my single human heart. And while I have a gentle fondness for Mickey, Rory, Craig, Clara, Nardole, and Bill, and a meager tolerance for Amy and her narcissism, there is no quibbling about how much I loathe Martha.
Yes, I said it. Love her as you will, Marthites! But the woman couldn’t keep her mouth closed most of the time and spent most of her episodes bumbling in confusion and requiring rescue. Her puppy dog crush was just pathetic to watch, and Freema Agyeman’s acting skills were cringe-worthy (please, learn to look terrified with your mouth closed, woman!). In fact, the only time I even begin to understand the Marthites’ affection for the character is when the writers get her away from the Doctor! All of a sudden, she becomes sharp, commanding, autonomous, and a little kick-ass. The Doctor is her stupid-juice.
Anyway, where was I? Is it hot in here? Yes, I’m sweating. Stupid Martha.
Well, what I have achieved is, quite humbly, magnificent perfection and probably the final word on the subject. Right? I’m sure no one can disagree with me. And should you feel tempted to allow outrage to course through your veins, remember that your cup of tea may not be mine. Maybe you’re a Marthite, or a confused Donna Hater. And if you haven’t invested the hours in organizing your thoughts on the matter into a very thoughtful list that was endlessly tinkered with, then your opinion should be shushed! This project was a lot harder than it looked at the outset.
113. “Daleks in Manhatten” / “Evolution of the Daleks” (season 3, episode 4/5)
Pig-men. Vapid caricatures of 1930s New Yorkers. One ridiculous Dalek in a pin-stripe suit. More pig-men. Love story. Martha. More pig-men. I’ll confess to you right now that I really love nearly every Dalek episode, mostly because I find their angry tin voices and quizzical eye stalks just adorable. But also because, respect. But these two episodes sullied the name of Dalek with this insultingly ridiculous beauty-and-the-beast style plot cloaked in a forced thematic setting. There was so much ripe fruit in the 1930s era for the writers to pick from–serious topics that would do justice to all of the economic turmoil, innovation, bravery, and terrifying warfare. And this is what they gave us. And worst of all, they made us sit through it in two agonizing long parts. With Martha Jones. Almost unwatchable.
112. “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” (2016 Christmas Special)
Superheroes. Ugh. One of the many beauties of Doctor Who is that we didn’t need a human with oddly specific superpowers prancing around in masks, disguising his voice, and saving energetic, but naive damsels. We just needed an alien being to show us that humans are, sometimes, powerful in their own right, without radioactive spiders, nuclear accidents, etc. So, holy balls, was I disappointed that Moff decided to cash in on the superhero movie craze. It seemed lazy and jarringly out of place. It could have been a cute idea that the Doctor accidentally gave a human superpowers, but the idea that Grant turned it into an alter ego in a costume took it out of our Whoverse and into an awful summer blockbuster. And all for a Christmas episode! This wasn’t holly or jolly, and it was an insulting gimmick episode that really pissed me off. Worst. Christmas. Episode. Ever. Points Lost For: American episode. Not really sure why superheroes have to be from New York. And continues the trend that American episodes are the worst.
111. “Planet of the Dead” (2009, special 1)
Wait, was this some kind of pilot for a Lara Croft knock-off? This uneven pile of dung wallowed in the companion void that had been left by Donna Noble’s departure. Well, if Lady Christina de Souza was auditioning for the role of future companion, she failed miserably. Even the lonely Doctor looked at her and said, “Yeahh, but…I have to wash my hair tonight. And feed my cat. No companions. I’m allergic to humans. And wigs. Bye now.” Her and her wig got the heave-ho by Ten, by the writers, and most definitely by us. And the rest of the story? Choppy and forgettable. This is an episode to snooze through. Nod of exception given to two moments: One when The Doctor licks the sand (making one of the greatest GIFs ever), and the other when he pronounces that he will arrest himself.
110. “A Town Called Mercy” (season 7, episode 3)
Phew! Do you smell that? It’s the stink of early season 7, and the death knell for the Ponds who had pretty much worn out their welcome by this point. To wit, here we are in America. Again. Ugh. I live in the damn country, and still find it just awful every time the Doctor comes to visit. The tropes here are really dusty, and the Doctor is uncharacteristically angry, naive, and vengeful. I appreciate the attempt for Eleven to explore his past and guilt–something the writers have tap-danced away from since Eleven arrived. But the execution was all wrong. And really, really boring. Really, really, really boring.
Points lost for: Bad makeup effects.
Points lost for: Doctor wielding a gun.
109. “The Rings of Akhaten” (season 7, episode 7)
The moment that admittedly adorable little girl, The Queen of Years, mentioned singing, I was all “HELL NAW! HELLLLL NAWWW!” Clenched and furrowed, I braced myself for the shallow saga of a Shirley Temple-esque innocent singing to save her people. And I wasn’t wrong. All the gods help me, I wasn’t wrong.
Oh, the horror!
The musical score!
More triumphant musical score!
Still more sing-alongs!
And none of it made much sense. Clara’s run is off to a really, really rough start here, as I wretch over this overly sentimental muck.
Points Lost For: Overuse of makeup looks where they stick clay/silicone bits on actors’ cheeks–prevalent in season 7.
108. “Sleep No More” (season 9, episode 9)
I am mostly speechless after watching this episode. I mean, eye crusty monsters? EYE CRUSTY monsters? No. That makes no sense. And The Doctor agrees with me, because he said as much. But, since canonically speaking, nothing in this episode happened, it’s okay that it didn’t make sense?…? See? It’s even confusing to hate and review this episode. We must have been very bad fans this year and the writers wanted to punish us by asking us to sit through 40+ minutes of this boring trapped-on-a-ship-with-a-missing-crew-and-the-rescue-party’s-in-mortal-danger non-episode / eye crusty warning.
107. “The Wedding of River Song” (season 6, episode 13)
If I must pick but one reason to despise Moff, it’s River’s background. (Please, Dear Reader, understand that I adore River. But her story went too far at times. Waaaaay too far.) To wit, this wreck of an episode. Right, Moff, as if I’m going to believe River was just play acting at Lake Silencio. No, no she was not. Are you making this up as you go along? Plus, what sparks my ire the most is how Moff treats the love between River and The Doctor. We never actually see them fall for each other, and I fear it cheapens the Rose-Doctor relationship where the writers bothered to really cultivate a relationship. The eye patches, Winston Churchill, Dorium. Oh, it just felt like a cheap daytime soap, right down to the “it was all a nightmare” ploy. I mean it, guys, take off those stupid eye patches. I love River too much to have her story treated this way. And I love me too much to have to watch this trashy treatment of beloved characters.
PS – Get a haircut, Doctor. Not a good look.
106. “The Lazarus Experiment” (season 3, episode 6)
Ugh, a super Martha-centric episode. I’ll get to the terrible scorpion monster and formulaic bite-sized plot in a moment. But first, it’s Martha…and her family. To anyone who ever criticized Jackie Tyler for being shrill or obnoxious, I’ll say at least she didn’t directly and purposely endanger the Doctor. In fact, Jackie went to great pains multiple times to save him. But now we meet Martha’s mom who is nothing short of Super Asshole. And it turns out Tish, much like sis Martha, is really good as baddy bait (see also: “The Sound of the Drums”). Ugh. The writers must really, really hate Martha to draw her family so terribly. But oh, yes there was a plot here, too, right? Ehh. This plot. Even Lazarus, in his mind, had to be like, “Man, this is a really terrible idea, this miracle of mine. I mean horrible. So many awful things are going to happen to me and people around me. But I’m bored. And I could endanger multiple members of the Jones family, so, eh, why not? Call the caterer.” Not only is this episode lazy, but it fuels my Martha rage.
105. “The Impossible Astronaut” / “Day of the Moon” (season 6, episode 1 / 2)
Every time the Whoverse travels to the U.S., it just doesn’t work. For starters, every single American stereotype or impression is cheesy and makes me cringe in embarrassment (playing “Hail to the Chief” each time Nixon enters the room just completely, inadvertently kills all gravity and tension), and the plots are usually trying to be way too epic, because America (?). (See also, “Daleks in Manhattan”.) There’s no epic story here, though. The Silence–built up over multiple seasons to be amazing, super scary boogeymen–end up being fairly lame. And worst of all, the writers still didn’t see how lame they were. I get the feeling that when they wrote this episode, they thought they were creating a classic, high-fiving each other and lighting up foul cigars to celebrate. Instead, the Silence are ironically forgettable, and certainly boring. And knowing how River’s life has been meta-overengineered by the writers, I find the astronaut arc totally contrived and unnecessary except for cheap fan suspense. Pass.
104. “The Zygon Invasion” / “The Zygon Inversion” (season 9, episodes 7 / 8)
Man alive! Season 9 continues to be a slog through darkness and pain. Sure, there have been moments of levity (including Odin’s yo-yo and whatnot), but overall, the themes have been dark and The Doctor has been a somber bastard. All of that out of the way, I have to acknowledge the timely nod toward Muslims–I mean, Zygons, and the threat of terrorism–I mean, open revolt. The Whoverse is trying to be thoughtfully political and it mostly works (although, Damnit, man! How can you not ask a question to know it is/isn’t your mom? You deserve to be slaughtered! This is how UNIT trains them nowadays?). The return of Zygons, Osgood, Kate, and UNIT are all very welcome and the whole thing feels very old-school in a great way. Plus, huge bonus points to Jenna Coleman for amazing acting as Bonnie (which stands out immediately after suffering through Maisie Williams). But am I happy to re-watch this one? Nope. Not until The Doctor learns how to have fun again. Preachy and dark–not a great combo.
103. “The Next Doctor” (2008 Christmas special)
So here we are in a yuletide mope because The Doctor is without a companion, having just lost Donna Noble. In trade, the writers decided to tease the audience whilst bringing in Col. Brandon…I mean, David Morrissey…as a temporary companion. But his brain damage is barely endearing, and the whole episode comes off as a not-so-clever audience prank that just won’t end. Even the Fake Doctor’s Companion, Rosita, was just a little bit insulting. She has the crassness of Donna, the incompetence of Martha, and nothing but the name of Rose. And don’t forget that hiddeous wig. (What is it with wigs on the guest stars during Ten’s companionless swan song?) Plus, Cybermen. Yawn. Even the chief villain, Ms. Hartigan, is lazily named. Yes we get it: In her final moments she briefly had a heart again. Yawn. And more yawn. Overall, this was one of the lousiest Christmas specials for lacking substantial emotion, a viable plot, or anything like holiday spirit. The only redeeming bit: The Doctor speaking of his companions. “They break my heart.” So much sadness and misery. But why must the writers spread it to us?
102. “42” (season 3, episode 7)
Wouldn’t it have been better if I could’ve ranked this episode 42nd? Huh? Eh? Yeah, no. That’s not gonna happen, because this was a really bland trapped-on-a-ship episode. In fact it’s so forgettable, I keep thinking, “Wow, remember that other trapped-on-a-ship episode that was so much better? I wish I was ranking that one right now.” Plus, Martha. To the credit of the Marthites, I will say that she was somewhat less obnoxious here than in other outings. Wait, never mind, the whole thing ends with her mom, Francine, being a giant douchey snitch. Marthites, you get no credit here.
101. “Asylum of the Daleks” (season 7, episode 1)
This was a thoroughly depressing, dull way to start off the new series: Bitchy Amy is divorcing Rory–and being really snarky about it, but all for his own good. Right? Now, in case that almost made sense, we had to get the Oswin plot thrown on top. Yeah, this episode was a real throw-away, and I have to pretend that it didn’t happen so I can still moon over how cute Rory and Amy were before Moff clearly went through some kind of real-life romantic trauma. Did he have to take it out on us, though?
100. “In the Forest of the Night” (season 8, episode 10)
In defense of a very hated episode: The protective forest growing in the middle of London is a cool idea, and the special effects were very beautiful. I was also glad to get to know Clara’s students a little better, and for once I actually liked some kids on this show. There. I said something nice. So now I can get to the truth. This episode was a disaster of silly writing. Where were all the people of London? Why the hell was Annabelle hiding in a shrub? Clara really wouldn’t save her students just so they can go die in their parents’ arms, right? And she couldn’t use her damn spaceship/time machine to go get the parents? And shut the fuck up, Danny Pink. Man. Soldier Dan can seriously go fuck himself with his jealousy and douchiness.
99. “Kill the Moon” (season 8, episode 7)
Feel bad, you miserable humans, because most of you would have definitely killed the butterfly-esque creature just to save your own selfish necks. Jerks. All of you. As self-righteous as this episode is in the face of self-preservation instincts, there three even bigger problems with this episode: The three primary women in it. Shrill, panicky, rude. All three of them. I can dismiss Courtney as obnoxious and temporary. And I’ve already forgotten whats-her-name lady. But Clara. Clara, you’ve never been so helpless, unsure, and whiny. Her character is incredibly uneven. Ach, I’m just over it. Next!
Points lost for: Really bad science. Just wrong.
98. “Dinosaurs On a Spaceship” (season 7, episode 2)
Theory: Writers were so busy planning for the big 50th anniversary special that they paid their children with ice cream bars to write this episode. And that’s all I have to say about that.
97. “The Doctor’s Daughter” (season 4, episode 6)
So many people love the idea of the Doctor’s Daughter–so charming, so clever, so fresh, so freakin’ peppy! But all I saw was a disposable tissue. This episode blew snot all over her and then tossed her in the rubbish bin where she belongs, along with this recycled plot that’s been done a thousand times in other sci-fi arenas. Fortunately for us, the concept of clones in this series has since greatly evolved. And to the episode’s credit, we really got to see Donna evolve as a companion, figuring coded numbers and cracking the case before the Doctor was able. Martha, on the other hand….[sigh]…was kidnapped. Again. And though she wriggles free, her “shortcut” back to the surface ends up with her falling into quicksand and her poor helper companion dying to save her. So useless. On the other hand, I rather adored the Hath, and hope their cute little fish heads will return for future adventures.
96. “Nightmare in Silver” (season 7, episode 12)
Working for this episode: Matt Smith does some pretty excellent acting, and Clara becomes an effective and creative general. Working against this episode: First, that season 7 makeup I hate. The makeup artists need to stop gluing strips of rubber shit to the actors’ faces (see also: “A Town Called Mercy”, “The Rings of Akhaten”, etc.). David Tennant wouldn’t have put up with that crap. Second, the bratty kids. They’re irritating and did their best work when their brains were powered down. There is no freakin’ way that they were clever enough to randomly find pictures of Clara on the Internet from across the ages. Nope. Didn’t happen. Oh well. It’s season seven. Could be worse. No Martha.
95. “The Long Game” (season 1, episode 7)
Oh, dear. The human race is being completely manipulated by a news/media empire, Satellite Five. Well, thank goodness that is no reflection at all on our society, and I firmly believe there is no message to take away from this episode at all. Except that Simon Pegg’s talents are pretty wasted here. Preachy, dull, and featuring a really obnoxious nearly-companion. This episode just doesn’t work.
94. “Into the Dalek” (season 8, episode 2)
Does anyone else hear Van Morrison singing when they read this episode title? Anyway, here we have Innerspace, but with a Dalek instead of Martin Short (look it up). Ehhh. This was a drawn out whiny crisis for the Doctor as he tries to still decide whether he’s good or not. And what does “good” mean anyway? Apparently it means boring. Missed opportunity for a lot of fun and wonder being inside a Dalek. Too heavy and too long. I am already missing Eleven.
93. “The Bells of St. John” (season 7, episode 6 [mid-season premiere])
So, let me get this straight: Clara has trouble connecting to the Internet, so instead of calling her ISP, she talks to a rando woman from some shop, then calls a random dude on the phone, allowing it to ring, and ring, and ring…and ring and ring, and then orders up some help as if this mystery phone-callee owes her something. Just the set-up is clumsy and strange. And it doesn’t improve much.
92. “The Time of the Angels” / “Flesh and Stone” (season 5, episode 4 / 5)
First, I’ll just say that I have a fundamental problem with the Weeping Angels: Yes, they were very creepy and effective in “Blink”, but in a setting like this (and W.A. episodes that follow), it shouldn’t be hard to take out statue creatures. They’re stone. Put down your gun, grab a sledge hammer. Or some dynamite. Stone is not unbreakable. I know, there are probably fantasy-style excuses about why that wouldn’t technically work, but for me it ruins the menace of the W.A. a fair amount. And then you go and put them in a very dry, dull setting. Ooooh, poorly lit caaaves! And you send Amy off into the forest to sit and count with her eyes closed. The whole thing is as boring as watching tea steep, and I only rewatch just to see River and hear Iain Glen’s voice. Man, that voice. Like buttah. But still, this episode might have been ranked higher, had Amy not sexually attacked the Doctor in the final minutes. Get ahold of yourself, woman! Rory sooo deserves better!
91. “The Vampires of Venice” (season 5, episode 6)
The premise has a lot of promise: I mean, vampires in Venice. Awesome. But you know it’s not good when an episode can’t live up to the hype of its title. And that’s what happened here. Sigh. They weren’t vampires. And even though most people are grateful for dodging that cliche, I actually really wanted to see how a mythical creature would fit in with the Whoverse (sure, I understand they are technically addressing it by suggesting that most persistent myths are likely generated by “alien” activity, but still…the title was a total tease). Anyway, the Saturnyns aren’t very interesting villains, Amy needs to be rescued after hatching an absurd ploy to infiltrate the baddies’ lair with zero exit strategy, and Rory hadn’t hit his stride yet. Props for his awesome shirt, though.
90. “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS” (season 7, episode 10)
I swear, I want the TARDIS to have an excellent backstory, and I regret that both TARDIS-centric episodes of the modern era are clumped together in the middle of my list. It is both unintentional and unfortunate. Sexy is a victim here, as much as we are, of not just the insultingly stupid Van Baalen brothers, but also a worthless reset-button-style resolution. Worst of all, Clara is reduced to a bumbling damsel in distress. Where is our Warrior Clara? Where is our Warrior Sexy? A glimpse of the library and pool may be worth the price of admission, but the ladies of contemporary Whodom deserved better tributes and a chance to really show what they can do.
89. “Hell Bent” (season 9, episode 12)
Season finale! The Doctor’s free of his prison, Clara’s dead, and what is a Time Lord to do? How about hold court on Gallifrey?? As a cathartic farewell to a draining season, this had some very satisfying moments while on Gallifrey. And thennnn, the Doctor hatches a zany plot to save Clara, and it all feels like a big cop-out. No, we were done with Clara. Done. We said goodbye. He said goodbye. He cannot save her and we know this. So we get one more episode of Jenna Coleman, and I kind of want to hand her her coat, place my hand on her shoulder, nudge her toward the door, and tell her “it’s time to go, sweetie”. Writers, you killed Clara. You have to accept that and move on. This felt like a rather pathetic conclusion after the fierceness of “Heaven Sent”, and it cheapened “Face the Raven”. Points awarded, however, for that wrenching moment where the Doctor ironically posits that he would definitely recognize Clara if he met her. Sniffle. Points lost for that horrible Nevada diner showing up again, and more of Capaldi playing his guitar. I’m gonna need to go full Bluto on his axe pretty soon.
Side Note: Look at that screen cap above–am I the only one who thinks they really shouldn’t have their backs turned on that Statue of Liberty??
88. “Smile” (season 10, episode 2)
Eomjis as villains! Yabba, this is going to seem dated about 30 seconds from now. What a corny idea. I mean, some writer was sitting in a room laughing that The Emoji Movie ever got greenlit, and then thought, “Wait! We can get in on this!”. I mean, this is the second time in three episodes that Who writers seem to pluck plot ideas from Hollywood blockbuster summer movies. Maybe worst of all isn’t the silly gimmick, but rather the vague sense that we’ve seen this plot before. Recall that in “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances”, nanogenes, which were also swarming microbots, meant to help repair the little boy and accidentally fused a gas mask to his face. Same thing here. The Vardy just wanted everyone to be happy, or else. Been there, done that. But Nine did it much, much better.
87. “Mummy on the Orient Express” (season 8, episode 8)
I should love this episode much more, given that it is a period episode with rich costuming and a spooky premise: Murdering mummy boards a space train and starts killing people off! Eek! Except that as scary as the premise is, the ending is slapdash and makes zero sense. At least they waste no time trying to pretend to explain. Seasons 7 and 8 suffered from this a lot: Big ideas with poor follow-through. What really tanks this episode is Clara. Just as in “Kill the Moon”, Clara is unnecessarily angry and helpless. It has been since Martha since I wished a companion away so much. Come back to us, Clara.
86. “The Doctor’s Wife” (season 6, episode 4)
I can hear your cracking knuckles and I can smell your rage, Whovians, that this is so low on my list. This is one of a handful of episodes that I just don’t find as appealing as so many of you. I wanted to like it. Nay, I wanted to love it. I can’t say I wasn’t excited to see the TARDIS personified, and to find out she’s called “Sexy”, but the episode didn’t seem refined. Sorry, Neil Gaiman. The post-apocalyptic feel and ratty scavengers made me wonder if Kevin Costner and “The Smokers” were going to come splashing into the room at any moment (Waterworld reference!). Had Gaiman fleshed out the setting and background characters a little more, there could have been true brilliance. And why not go for some early-days flashbacks? Instead, this is just a shallow missed opportunity that left me disappointed. Still, because Sexy made me smile over her comments about the “orangey girl” and the “pretty one”, I can’t dislike this episode too much.
85. “Utopia” / “The Sound of the Drums” / “Last of the Time Lords” (season 3, episode 11 / 12 / 13)
While “Utopia” would’ve been a decent story on its own, the sound of everything ending in “-tho” is enough to set my teeth on edge-tho. I mean, to the point where I mute most of the episode-tho. And then by the time we get down to the real business of The Master and his reign as Saxon, I find that I actually sort of liked Martha. Yeah, I said it. She actually kicked ass in this run, and that is really, REALLY rare for her. She only was kidnapped once! (…although her family continued to prove their worthlessness.) The Master was a pretty darn interesting arc, and I adored his portrayal. BUT the conclusion depicting the Doctor as a Christ-figure was waaaaay over the top. But then, Captain Jack! Face of Boe! Goodbye, Martha! But then, ewww, what is with the fetal Doctor makeup? Creepy. And, COM’ON WRITERS–this was yet another case of “we’ll sing you out of danger!”. Instead of singing, of course, it was thinking of the Doctor and how he died for our sins, or something like that. I don’t know. My ears were bleeding at this point-tho. Boy, this episode trio is really a mixed bag for me. Worth watching, with some beautiful nods to recurring story arcs and characters, but a few too many cringe-worthy moments and some heavy-handed religious symbolism that was pretty gross.
84. “Love & Monsters” (season 2, episode 10)
Call it a love-letter all you want: It was a completely corny, uneven crap pile that made absolutely no sense, and had insultingly bad villain makeup to boot. Really. The character makeup is what really sinks this bomb to the bottom of my list ocean. Elton should have been slightly more aware of the fake old dude villain. Plus, almost no Doctor or Rose. Counterpoint: It was, at least light-hearted and whimsical, and I did appreciate the ELO soundtrack and the rather bawdy blowjob joke. Well played, Elton. Now go away and never, ever come back.
83. “Fear Her” (season 2, episode 11)
[This review is said entirely in an angry child’s throaty whisper]
Okay, I swear that I really do love Ten and Rose, but they did have to wade through a river of shit in season 2. And this is no exception. While the Isolus are a little sweet in their motives to reunite with their billions of siblings, the poor actress playing Chloe is reduced to angry whispers through the whole episode, and must drag us through the entire plot thusly. The abusive family dynamic feels tacked on–as if someone got really stoned, went into a writer’s meeting and said, “Hey, guys, what if a little girl’s drawings just…COME. TO. LIFE. Right? Scribbles and everything. BOOM. Episode.” and everyone else said, “Okayyy, scribble monsters, but what about the little girl, what is her end of things?”, and the dude was like, “Ohhhh, wellll, she was, uh, totally abused by her…father, yeah, and she has to overcome his memory. I guess. Where are the Dorritos?”. Because that’s the way child abuse should be addressed in a children’s show, as a throw-away plot device. And do I need to mention that the grand solution to the abusive father problem is that they sing him away? It’s A Very Brady Christmas solution. Gag. HEAR ME NOW WRITERS: “Singing it out” is NOT a solution to an evil menace! Plus the cheesy, tacked-on capper is when The Doctor “must” pick up the Olympic Torch and see it home. The only fathomable way this wouldn’t have been devastatingly cheesy is if England had actually gotten David Tennant to reenact this scene for the lighting of the real torch, thus making it real history. But no. They dropped the figurative torch. And we’re left with a few half-baked ideas crammed into a terrible episode.
82. “Gridlock” (season 3, episode 3)
Here we are again with badly wedged social commentary as a plot device–it was even a two-for-one commentary on how shitty we all are. Round and round the vehicles go, unaware they’ll never make their destination. Why? Because we like our mood altering drugs a bit too much, of course. Such sheep we are. Okay, seriously, some fantastic guest stars and one hella-stirring rendition of “Abide With Me” almost pull us away from the clutches of the evil Macra that live in our souls. And it mandatorily has to be ranked higher than it would otherwise because, The Face of Boe. Ah, it’s his final meeting that he promised the Doctor, and our unknowing goodbye to Capt. Jack. But just as I start to jack this episode up the list, because “Don’t go, Boe!”, then Martha stumbles in, immediately figures that a bad prop skeleton on the floor is the Doctor (yeah, pop your eyes out there, sweetie), and then stumbles onward in phony relief toward the Doctor’s voice, where she finds the FOB. And isn’t that just the piss in my Cheerios? After all his travels and accomplishments, after all his years and sacrifice, you know who the FOB sees among his last? Fucking Martha Jones and her flippant “Who’s he?” Sure, you’re at someone’s deathbed, just keep facially overacting and don’t be polite and address him directly or anything. What a waste of a tender goodbye at the end of a very long journey. And did I mention that most of the episode’s plot was centered around Martha getting kidnapped and needing rescue? Ugh. Won’t someone please get her back to her hospital already? Rest in peace at long last, Face of Boe.
81. “Listen” (season 8, episode 4)
You will fall in love with Danny Pink. You will. You have to, because (River: “Spoilers!”) he doesn’t have a lot of time, so you need to fall hard and fall fast. That’s essential to the rest of this season working. And to the writers’ credit, they make Danny oddly easy to love here–even with his extreme oversensitivity to his solider days. Bonus points for a bit of backstory about the Itty Bitty Doctor. But there’s one thing I still don’t understand: Knowing what’s coming, how can Orson Pink exist? Danny’s an only child from a orphanage. Is this a tease for later? Or bad writing? Who are you, Orson Pink??
80. “The Curse of the Black Spot” (season 6, episode 3)
This episode catches a lot of ire from fans, but as cornball and tired as the plot was, I appreciated the little bit of swashbuckling fun we had, particularly with Amy. The ending bits about Toby and Avery are mildly heart-warming, and overall I can stand to leave this on in the background while I’m, say, baking cookies or tending to other domestic chores. But don’t mistake that for affection, either.
79. “Oxygen” (season 10, episode 5)
Trapped on a ship. Once more, The Doctor arrives at a spaceship with a crew in distress: This time zombie spacesuits are out to get them. Sure. Okay. I mean, “trapped on a ship” is definitely my least favorite Who episode genre, because they tend to blend together after a while. This time, we find out that oxygen is being rationed for corporate profits, and the crew has to rebel against the corporation to save lives. So, look! A lesson! Very political of you, Moff. The only redeeming part of this episode is that Twelve sacrifices himself to save Bill, while insisting she must live through hell for a bit before she comes out fine on the other side. Appropriately, Bill questions his veracity and dark jokes (Rule #1: The Doctor lies.). So this was an elegant and deep advance for their relationship, but a very mediocre adventure.
78. “The Beast Below” (season 5, episode 2)
Speaking of preachiness, we give you the society that survives on the suffering of a star whale, and exists in a perpetual state of willful ignorance. After watching this, I think we all know what it feels like to be Amy Pond covered in space whale sick. Even episode writer, Moff, thought this righteous turd was a dud. Moff said that. Moff. However, because I am not completely unreasonable or heartless, I will concede a few things: Liz Ten is pretty wonderful, and–it is a star whale. A kid-loving, helpful giant star whale. So while Amy and Eleven got off to a pretty damn rocky start here, the child inside really, really hopes that somewhere waaay out there, there really is a star whale.
77. “The Rebel Flesh” / “The Almost People” (season 6, episodes 5 / 6)
Tough call on this one. It starts out so damn rough! Here we essentially have yet another trapped-in-a-base style arc with characters that are difficult to warm to, and an ethical conflict that goes on a bit too long. And then to add meta insult to meta injury, it becomes pretty clear by episode’s end that the real goal of the episodes was just to set up the far superior episodes to come. That’s what the gangers really gave their lives for. But I can’t trash this episode pair too badly, because, WOW–crazy cliffhanger alert! The last five minutes of “The Almost People” are worth the price of admission alone. (Oh, and I have just three words for you: Rose would’ve known.)
76. “The Idiot’s Lantern” (season 2, episode 7)
It’s so hard to knock a Rose-centric episode this severely, especially when she’s in a fabulous 1950s dress and jacket. The first minute of the episode is positively charming! And then the plot gets in the way. The Wire simultaneously steals people’s faces and breaks our brains by yelling “HUNNNNGRY!” No, no, no. The villain is corny, the commentary on male family roles in the 1950s is ham-handed, and the special effects are pretty insulting (look, the BBC just got a 1993 copy of Photoshop!). Still, this episode isn’t joyless, so even though it earns a five-star Cheez-Wiz rating, I still kind of like it a little.
75. “The Power of Three” (season 7, episode 4)
I’d like to think that there’s something analogous about the “slow invasion” being random black shiny cube things, and the fact that the writers could have plugged in any random baddie for this one. It reminds me of when you’re playing a new party-style board game, and you draw a card only to find it’s blank for you to fill in. Same thing with the slow invasion. Still, the little cubes were curious enough to keep me guessing, and we got a lot of great material, including Kate Stewart with her UNIT force, Eleven bunking with the Ponds, and great side bits with Rory’s dad. In fact, we could just pull the cubes right out of the story, and I would find it just grand.
74. “Knock, Knock” (season 10, episode 4)
Who’s there? Wood woman. Wood woman who? Wood woman in a bug-infested house whose son is a serial killer. There is a problem with this episode, in that it feels really wedged in to the Twelve/Bill relationship and the flow of the season. I love a good horror-themed episode more than the next bloke, but it’s a little weird that Bill would just leave her home to live in a giant haunted mansion with a bunch of strangers, while no one around seems to be aware that this is the house where college students go to die. It’s like Pennywise the Dancing Clown meets Pinocchio. If it wasn’t so weird and out of place, this might have been a sweet and creepy tale worth re-watching. Instead it seems like a dream sequence. Pass.
73. “The Voyage of the Damned” (2007 Christmas Special)
Fresh off of giving the boot to Martha (hey, the writers were kind in making it seem like she wanted to leave), we have a fairly hopeful Ten facing a fender-bender with the space Titanic and Kylie Minogue. As far as Christmas Specials go, this one is pretty un-Christmasy, and much more like a decent Poseidon Adventure knock-off. I wept no tears for Kylie–I mean, Astrid–as she seemed like a pretty unidimensional character and it seemed all-too-obvious that she was figurative worm food as soon as she accepted the Doctor’s offer to travel with him. Nope, she was never gonna last. Sweet, but shallow. And that pretty much sums up this episode.
72. “Aliens of London” / “World War Three” (season 1, episodes 4 & 5)
I have trouble loving or hating the family Slitheen. The farting noises are fairly obnoxious and the joke wears thin during repeated viewings. But how can I really turn away from the episodes that bring us “Harriet Jones, Flydale North”? I am also one of the few people that adores the interaction between Jackie and Nine. Had this been a single episode, it would have farted its way a little higher in the list. Fart.
71. “The Sontaran Strategem” / “The Poison Sky” (season 4, episodes 4 / 5)
Introducing, The Sontarans! Oh, I love me some Sontarans. Yes, they were overshadowed by that grating little twerp “genius” in this episode, but I pretty much don’t care because, Sontarans! Oh yeah, and Martha returns…just long enough to get kidnapped. Seriously, she obviously is intelligent and capable in her non-Doctor life, but look what happens the moment the TARDIS comes near. Boom. Kidnapped. And then we have to deal with a Martha clone. I mean, com’on, Sontarans. That’s just a new low of evil. Plus, we do have more hammy social commentary (this time, kiddies, we learn that we are poisoning the sky with our cars!). Oh well, I’ll take my after-school-special message, and even the Martha clone rescue just to watch Wilf and the Sontarans.
70. “Let’s Kill Hitler” (season 6, episode 8)
I think we can all agree that River Song is a fun addition to the show. She’s big, bold, fun, and has great catchphrases. But you have to stop explaining her backstory, because you do a really terrible job at it. You’re the worst. Truly. But thanks for addressing the “Hitler in the cupboard” issue that exists with every modern time travel tale. That was cool of you.
Sincerely, Haunted Coconut
69. “Under the Lake” / “Before the Flood” (season 9, episodes 3 / 4)
Check it out! We’re trapped on a base/ship again! And everyone’s in mortal danger! Oh well, if we’re going to run down dim, damp corridors and slam metal doors, at least the what-the-hell-is-going-on-here-mystery is a crossover with the horror genre. Ghosts! Okay, so even with the ghosts, “Under the Lake” is a little snoozy, and entirely too dependent on a lip reader. Con-veeeeeen-ient. I mean, what are the odds, writers? What are the odds? A lip reader. Trapped on a ship. Where a lip reader is needed to save the day. Sigh. Part 2 does its bit as a moving and mostly captivating tale of time travel and paradoxes–but is it enough to pull this story out of the boring underwater base? No. Sadly, it just was too heavy in the front to ever recover. Bonus Points Awarded For: The Doctors “reaction” cards. Huge Points Lost For: The cringe-inducing moments at the start of the episode when Capaldi breaks the fourth wall to explain bootstrap paradox (in a rather insultingly elementary and insipid way) while playing that damned guitar again. Knock it off, Capaldi!
68. “Time Heist” (season 8, episode 5)
Thank goodness Clara decided to dress in a funky suit for her date right before the Doctor sweeps her away to a sci-fi Ocean’s Twelve. Get it? Twelve? I should love the Doctor robbing a bank, but from the start it was hard to buy because it’s the Doctor. He doesn’t rob banks. He’s too selfless and wouldn’t risk his companions that way. In the end, the expected, but sweet payoff was nice. Another lovesick baddy. And I always love the memory worms. Nice, neutral, slightly bland fun.
67. “The Unicorn and the Wasp” (season 4, episode 7)
I absolutely should be enchanted with a Doctor Who murder mystery episode, right? I mean, it’s Agatha Christie! But it all ends up a little dull, and the giant wasp is a little silly and cartoonish. I started having flashbacks of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and all of a sudden it was tough to take this episode seriously. Where is Rick Moranis when you need him? I will give an affectionate shout-out for some winking literary jokes/references, and the Doctor’s entertaining, over-the-top prescription for curing himself of poison. But mostly, this episode was dull and out of place.
66. “Cold War” (season 7, episode 8)
Back we are, in another entry in the trapped-on-a-ship genre. Meh. Not my favorite. Not a lot of magic and fun to be found in a 1980s Soviet submarine. But nevertheless, there is a lot of poignant commentary about mutual destruction and the perception of aggression. Clara’s scene where she parlays with Skaldak is reminiscent of Rose approaching the chained Dalek in season 1. Thoughtful material here, and some good mediocre suspense. But there’s nothing shiny and special. Points Awarded For: Special guest star appearances by The Onion Knight and Blackjack Randall
65. “Victory of the Daleks” (season 5, episode 3)
Once again, I find the Daleks just a little adorable, especially the clunky WWII-era “Ironsides”. This is a perfectly charming little episode that gives us some time with an overly jovial Winston Churchill and a Jammie Dodger cookie. Some might see the whole thing as a missed opportunity for a more epic Daleks-take-on-WWII saga, but overall I thought the episode was as pleasant as a quick Jammie Dodger snack.
64. “The Snowmen” (2012 Christmas Special)
Here is another darker portrayal of Christmas, which is somewhat unsurprising since the Doctor never manages the loss of his companions well. The sulking Eleven lands himself in a big mess, and fortunately is joined by an amazing Scooby gang, including Madame Vestra, Jenny, Strax, and…re-introducing, Clara! The downfall of the episode was the baddie. You can put all the teeth in a snowmen you like, and they still just don’t look scary, especially since they can’t get the fake snow to look quite right. The Santas in the plastic masks were completely creepier. Points for good humor and the fairytale mood. But points lost for spending so much time setting up the coming season that they forgot to enjoy Christmas.
63. “Night Terrors” (season 6, episode 9)
Another delightful horror episode! Eeeeee! So much fun. But also, so much like SlimJims meat snacks. It seems tasty and wonderful as long as you don’t think about it too hard or look too closely at it. This is another case of the writers having an awesome concept: “Okay guys, what about this? They get sucked into a dollhouse and get turned into DOLLS?”…and then getting high and forgetting to write a real story. Plus, the plot holes! You could drive a Jackie Tyler-borrowed truck through the plot holes! I mean, gender politics aside, this little boy really has a dollhouse in his closet? And why does the elevator gather people into the dollhouse? Is the elevator in on it? And why does touch convert people into living dolls? Why not just instantly change them when they’re shrunken down? And what was with the old lady being grabbed from the trash pile? Listen, I understand that, this being the Whoverse, pretty much anything can be explained away by the sweeping “psychic repository” excuse. But, I’m looking closely at this SlimJim and making that “mechanically separated chicken” face. However, I’ll admit that the overarching plot was sweet and spooky, and very fitting with the “good dad” theme present throughout the season. Love wins. Again. Good viewing for when you just want to power down the ol’ brain.
62.”Flatline” (season 8, episode 9)
What we have here is a decent creature-feature with one amazing concept: Itty Bitty TARDIS. It’s completely imperfect and a bit slow at times. And its emanation is largely based on Capaldi’s limited shooting schedule. But we got our Commanding Clara back. And again, Itty Bitty TARDIS.
61. “Robot of Sherwood” (season 8, episode 3)
Most of us were still a bit wary of this new Twelve coming in and taking over the TARDIS without the same easy grace as Tennant or Smith. So this episode is exactly what we needed–a light-hearted romp that pokes fun at our stories and legends. Yes, this iteration of Robin is a bit grating, but Clara is endearing and capable here (which as we know, isn’t always the case lately), and this nicely checks off a character/figure with whom I wanted to see the Doctor interact. (Writers, take note, these are also on my list: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry VIII, Edgar Allan Poe, Grendel…you know what? I’ll just send you the list.)
60. “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” (2011 Christmas Special)
Oh it’s just so sickeningly sweet, like drinking honey from the jar (don’t judge, you’ve thought about trying it, too). The war widow tries to save Christmas for her kids and the bumbling Doctor accidentally puts them in danger. Then, of course, mom not only saves kids, but an entire species of trees, AND her dead war hero husband. Okay, my eyes leak quite a bit at the end. So mission accomplished, writers. But it’s all empty calories.
59. “The Girl Who Died” / “The Woman Who Lived” (season 9, episodes 5 / 6)
In a season full of two-parters, this duo is the most uneven, wild, crazy-ass rollercoaster of a story that I have seen from the Whoverse. There’s comedy, heavy-hearted themes of immortality, tragedy, introspection, a talking lion plushy, and Maisie Williams who accidentally almost introduces herself as Maisie Williams at least seven different times. “The Girl Who Died” truly does shine with brilliance and fun. And for this, I am very grateful.
But, the roller coaster kicks off with “The Woman Who Lived” as soon as we meet “Me”. The ancillary story is fairly insipid and a waste of our time. So let’s focus on the real story–Me’s journey through a long-ass life of pain, adventure, and loneliness. First of all, Me is an ass. She is just a huge douchebag. So after a thousand years, enlightenment and compassion aren’t real options? No? Just douchiness? I guess I can maybe buy that. But in order to be touching, it all hinges on Arya’s ability to pull of some solid gold acting. And….to me, Maisie Williams struggles a bit too much. She just can’t quite bring the gravity needed to the role–and this I know because I watch her and can’t separate “Me” from Maisie Williams. I never believe. Points Lost For: Repeated appearance of the sonic sunglasses, plus the name “Me”, which is irritating.
58. “The Hungry Earth” / “Cold Blood” (season 5, episodes 8 / 9)
This is another close-quarters episode that touches on the all-too-familiar theme of resource greed and a race of beings struggling for survival. A lot of sci-fi tropes here. Yep. A lot. What makes this episode shine is the same tension we saw in “Midnight”–the human element of mind games and challenging each character to be “the best” they can be. Naturally, one assface fails miserably, as is completely realistic and unsurprising. And, just as in the “Midnight” story, one or two people step up to be the heroes when the Doctor cannot. The execution is just a little more sloppy this time ’round. Of course, none of this is what you’re remembering right now from this episode. Most of you are recalling the very end of this arc, and how it felt to fall off the couch when you realized Rory was really dead. The crack got him. While he was saving the Doctor. And then he was gone, even from Amy’s memories. Oh man. Listen, Vincent is coming, so just get out the tissues now and keep them close.
57. “A Good Man Goes to War” (season 6, episode 7)
Ol’ Moff really tried to create something really epic here, and largely succeeded. Rory shines as the conquering hero, and the Paternoster Gang is a very welcome, and slightly bawdy addition to the show. But more importantly, it’s another emotionally charged episode with the Doctor wrestling over whether he’s good, bad, angry, benevolent, etc. If that was the whole story, then this could be a Top 20 episode. But then there’s River’s back story. Sigh. YOU TRIED TOO HARD, MOFF. You drove right past clever and off the cliff of not giving two fucks.
56. “Hide” (season 7, episode 9)
Joy of joys, it’s another horror episode. I don’t mean that sarcastically. That came out sarcastic for some reason. Or maybe the reading voice in my head is always set to sarcastic. In any event, I actually really relish the horror plots. One of my favorite Who subgenres. Lately we’ve had creepy dollhouses, damned hotels, and now we get an old-fashioned haunted house. And as is the case with every horror episode, the is an extra-terrestrial or extra-dimensional explanation for the curiosity. That alone is interesting, in that Who generally asks us to believe in a lot that we have never seen, that isn’t rational, but the series never allows for ghosts. I suppose that’s in keeping with its sidestepping of all things religious and spiritual–save, maybe, for “The Satan Pit”, and some afterlife shenanigans with a certain companion’s amour (River: “Spoilers!”). Anyway, big-time points for the frightening set-up. A few points lost for the revelation of the corny-looking Crooked Man and the stranded astronaut plot that only kind of, sort of makes sense. The Crooked Man and Crooked Woman can exist, but not ghosts? (I mean, unless you count River as an upload spirit.) Points Awarded For: Guest appearance of Dougray Scott, whom I remember fondly from my mid-90s obsession with Ever After.
55. “School Reunion” (season 2, episode 3)
It would’ve been enough just to see Anthony Stewart Head working at a school again. Doctor, meet the Hellmouth. Beautiful. The episode could hardly do wrong in my book just for the imaginary crossover factor (com’on, Deffry Vale High School, Sunnydale High School…you see it, too.) Now, admittedly, the actual (non-imaginary) story was a pretty by-the-numbers plot of a desperate alien race trying to mine human/earth resources. But no one will really remember the Krillitanes as anything special–we’ll all just remember the return of Sarah Jane Smith and K-9. I’ll coyly admit that Sarah Jane never got much respect from me: She always seemed a bit too naive and fussy, but there’s no denying that she is a serious part of the Doctor’s history and ours. And the timing couldn’t be more perfect, just as Rose is getting really seriously attached to our Doctor, it’s worthwhile to address all of his past companions and what happens to them. It felt authentic, brutally honest, and very touching. Plus, Mickey’s epiphany about being K-9 also felt like it was due and forces me to stifle a giggle every single time.
54. “Rise of the Cybermen” / “Age of Steel” (season 2, episodes 5 / 6)
Mostly, this two-parter served to set up the big season finale ahead, but for my money, the Cybermen don’t get much better than this…unless they’re smack-talking Daleks (Spoilers!). I loved the unexpected return of Pete Tyler, and find it a little heart-melting to see Rose continue to pine for what could have been. Plus, props to this episode for seeing serious growth in Mickey and turning him into a substantial character.
53. “The Shakespeare Code” (season 3, episode 2)
After a generally bright start in her debut, we get bewildered, helpless Martha in her multi-thousand-dollar over-stylized leather coat (you’re supposed to be a poor med school student!). Aside from my brooding disdain for the new companion, I’ll admit that this episode is chockfull of great Shakespeare references and cheeky nods to history. The witchcraft baddie plot is decently and effectively captivating, and I’m entirely grateful for both the Harry Potter references and the brief and teasing appearance of Good Queen Bess. There is something just delightfully mediocre about this episode. Nothing special. Just good.
52. “Amy’s Choice” (season 5, episode 7)
I am ever so grateful that the Doctor-Amy-Rory love triangle was smothered before it really ever took off. It was already threatening to become tiresome and uncharacteristic of the Doctor and the show. Then this episode makes all of the gaggy tension completely worthwhile. I love every single inch of this episode–from Rory’s ponytail and the jokes about Amy swallowing a planet, to the completely different and exciting menaces threatening the trio in both worlds. This was a beautiful blend of comedy, action, cleverness, character development, and heart. Plus, this is the first time I actually believed the Amy-Rory relationship as something really great. Sure, in a handful of later episodes the doubts emerge again as thoughtless Amy drags Rory through the mud. But for this episode, I got to see Amy take out an army of old people with a van just for a chance to be with her love. And thank goodness, because at this point I want to like Amy. And this episode made it a whole lot easier.
51. “Face the Raven” (season 9, episode 10)
So basically, what you’re telling me is that Clara, Rigsy, and the Doctor go to Diagon Alley to find Me acting like a dictatorial douchebag, and because of that miniature prick’s machinations, Clara dies. And as a fan of Clara’s, I found myself uttering her words after Pink’s death: It was just so ordinary. No spectacular explosions, volcanoes, or arenas of hostile lifeforms. It was just a girl, standing in a Dickensian alley, with a smoke raven flying toward her. Moreover, it was also pointless. No species saved, no planets saved, no Doctor in peril. Just a girl who made a well-intentioned mistake. And yet, I’m mostly okay with that–on a few levels. On a meta level, it really was time for Clara to go. Jenna Coleman really should’ve quit (as originally planned) last Christmas. On a real level, Clara had been set up as a reckless risk-taker ever since Danny died. And this is the end result of being very human. Her death scene was moving and fitting a brave companion. Overall, this episode was hard to rank, and I realized that’s because it mirrored Clara’s death: Enchantingly sad, touching, but a little pointless (save for those final few minutes).
Side Note: Okay, now I really have to know–who the hell is Orson Pink?? The mystery remains unsolved. Thanks, Moff.
50. “The Caretaker” (season 8 episode 6)
Calling on our fond memories of “The Lodger” (see below) and “School Reunion”, the Doctor completely invades someone’s personal space and becomes a Muggle, of sorts. This time he’s Caretaker at the Coal Hill School. And it lives up to every promise of the Doctor trying to pass for normal: Perfect interaction with students, calling Danny Pink “P.E.”, and denying Clara’s relationship with “P.E.” (of course he wants her to date the science geek with a bowtie!). Twelve has really hit his stride here, and I could watch him be a jerk all day long. Points lost for Danny starting to be the bad kind of jerk. Soldier Jerk. Because remember he’s a soldier. Did you forget? Yeah, he’s a soldier. Soldier.
49. “The Girl in the Fireplace” (season 2, episode 4)
Oh, this sacred beloved episode that so many Whovians adore, including my spouse! But for my money, I always found it over-hyped. The Clockwork Droids are beautiful and creepy, and there’s no denying the fairytale sweetness of the story. But…there is a certain lack of gravity to the episode, if you’ll try to ignore the accidental pun. The mission is to save one sweet girl/woman from these clockwork monsters! And, oh yeah, she happens to be a famous historical figure (even if her vagina is what gave her fame, sort of like a Kardashian). I get the feeling we’re supposed to fall in love with Reinette, but I simply don’t. Her adoration for the Doctor is limited to her vision of his loneliness and his occasional sporadic appearance and disappearance from her life (girrrl, I’d be ready to punch him in the face for ditching me so often!). And at the end of the day, this whole terribly dangerous mission really is just to save one girl. Not the world. Not the cosmos. Just one girl. A girl that the Doctor is willing to sacrifice himself for, even though there is so much good he good do elsewhere beyond this moment in time. Is that endearing or foolish? It leaves the whole thing feeling charmless.
48. “A Christmas Carol” (2010 Christmas Special)
It’s really hard to take a dusty, over-processed story like Dickens’s master work and make it fresh again. But somehow, between a cloud shark pulling a sleigh and some great bowtie quips, this actually really works. The special feels quite Christmasy, and pulls in a big name star, Sir Michael Gambon. Although, really, can I just confess now that I’m not a fan of his? He’s the same angry guy in every. single. movie. And, I’ll just admit here and now that I hated him as Dumbledore. Boom. Pow. There it is. He made Dumbledore too cross and drained him of his effortless magical appeal. And here again, we have angry Dumbledore yelling at people. Sigh. But, this is one case where he can get away with it. Now, I do have to address one last issue that prevents this from being higher on the list: It’s another “We’ll sing you out of danger!” episode. I mean, at least they’re doing it at Christmas, a la Brady. But COM’ON! This episode tried to do it TWICE! First, the passengers, and then our blonde ingenue. The operatic vocals were even pretty cheesy and still make me cringe. Still the spirit of the Christmas shark moves me, so I’ll give the Doctor a free pass on this one.
47. “The Pilot” (season 10, episode 1)
It’s a new series and a new companion! So exciting. And Bill Potts is sublime in her introductory turn as a college student sneaking into the Doctor’s lectures. Little side note: Pearl Mackie, who stars as Bill, oddly reminds me of actress Daisy Haggard, who played Sophie (see “Closing Time” and “The Lodger”) and I know well from BBC’s recent take on Sense and Sensibility (she played Anne Steele). Trust me, that’s a compliment. Anyway, the episode is sweet and mostly endearing, even if the writing was really sloppy. The main villain didn’t even get a name, aside from “oil puddle” and it’s unclear (at least at this point) why Heather has a very distinct star in her eye, as it is quite unnecessary for the plot. Overall the plot didn’t form well (okay, that was almost a puddle pun) and just laid there. But this episode is delightful just for the character development alone. I already adore Bill, and I’m happy to have a companion who doesn’t love him, who isn’t a puzzle to be solved, but just wants something–anything–more.
46. “The God Complex” (season 6, episode 11)
Redrum! Redrum! Oh I love a good horror episode, and this one drops us right in a circa-1985 Overlook Hotel where all of your nightmares come true. This was genuinely creepy, and just a little bit of fun. Sure the themed thread of faith was a little loose and questionable, but I had so much fun, I’m not going to question any of it too hard. Just like a good devotee.
45. “Smith and Jones” (season season 3, episode 1)
Hey! Look at this, a Martha episode that I enjoy. And it isn’t in spite of Martha, but actually sort of because of her. This, obviously, is her debut after we had Runaway Donna as our post-Rose transition companion. And based on what I saw here, I was pretty psyched for Martha. Sad, huh? She was clever, powerful, and charismatic as she stormed around the hospital managing the unimaginable crisis that had taken her and other travelers to the moon. The Judoon came off as menacing, but also a little likable, and I instantly hoped we’d be seeing more of them as well. Why don’t I just leave it there? +1, Marthites.
44. “The Crimson Horror” (season 7, episode 11)
Have you had enough Victoriana yet? Because the Paternoster Gang is back and Clara’s back in her 19th century garb and hair (is there a hair salon in that TARDIS?). There is no question that Diana Rigg is spectacular in her turn as a harsh Victorian taskmaster who blends religious/social fervor and corrupt ambition. We get a measured dose of social commentary and historical perspective, along with some really comical moments. This is an even, enjoyable offering. Oh, and does anyone else think Mr. Sweet is entirely adorable and wants him to come live in their shirts? Anyone?
43. “The Impossible Planet” / “The Satan Pit” (season 2, episode 8 / 9)
Wow, Satan, what a mighty special effects budget you have there! This two-parter is another trapped-on-a-ship style story, which I’ll admit is not one of my favorites Whovian subgenres. But, to give full credit, this is a really well-executed trapped-on-a-ship story that introduces us to the Ood, and that addresses some really freaky mythology–a subject that the Doctor veers away from as often as possible (or dismisses out of hand (see: “Vampires of Venice”). I loved the tension of the Doctor facing down the beast and feeling more mortal–dare I say, even a bit human?–than ever. And most of all, I love that a main theme of this story was faith, in all sorts of contexts. Faith in ourselves, faith in those we love. And maybe faith in a scary-ass beast that can make us doodle all over ourselves. Plus, one can draw a lot of commentary from the fact that the writers never brought in the idea of the beast’s fabled rival to aid the travelers. But herein lies the problem! I’m more than happy to write about this episode and analyze it. But watching it? This well-acted, tense, powerfully dark story is a little depressing and dry. The story drags and points and never truly entertains. It’s like a Tolstoy novel in that sense. So I rank it with respect and admiration, and absolutely no excitement to watch it repeatedly.
42. “Boom Town” (season 1, episode 11)
Okay, this is much improved. This is more what the Slitheen deserved instead of the fart-fest they received earlier. Here we get a real tete-a-tete between the Doctor and Blon as they debate the ethics of capital punishment (more or less), redemption, and fresh starts. Blon’s interactions are much more engaging than we ever saw from her family, and yet the episode seemed fairly light and rompy. It seems completely appropriate that this episode is the Slitheen’s meta redemption and gives the family a fresh start in our eyes, all without nearly so much flatulence. I’ll always be watching to see if he new Blon ever pops up again.
41. “Extremis” (season 10, episode 6)
I’m constantly suspicious that my entire life is a sinister version of The Truman Show. So Who writers (“Whooters”?) are really messing with me in this episode that challenges us to question the nature of reality. The initial premise of investigating The Veritas (which most of us know translates into The Truth) had me hooked from the start. Balk, if you will, over the idea that the whole episode (save for flashbacks) mostly never really happened. I did something similar over the episode with the eye crusty monsters. But in this case, it works. It makes sense. And it scares me in a new and delightful way. Especially when The Doctor suggests that our video game characters might feel what we do to them. On that note, I would really, really like to apologize to all of those Minecraft sheep I beat to death with a stick. I needed wool to sleep! I didn’t know!
40. “The Girl Who Waited” (season 6, episode 10)
Poor Amy, she picks the wrong button, and has to go all Mad Max on a bunch of nurse robots for decades. There is some great acting work, decent make-up and effects, and a lot to ponder about what it means to lose somebody. And what is life? Plenty of good material here. But from a character-development point of view, this is, for me, where Amy Pond really starts to unravel and become just plain unlikable. I mean, she’s forced to wait a tiny fraction of the time Rory waited for her, and she becomes so grumpy and jaded that she loses all faith and can’t remember happiness anymore. Yes, her waiting was more difficult and solitary, more hopeless. So while shorter in duration, her prison sentence was more torturous. No matter her plight, though, it shows that Amy has a dark streak that would’ve caused me to jump and slam the TARDIS door in her face, too. She’s always been petulant and self-centered, but this also paints her as nasty to boot. And this episode isn’t the last to do it. It makes me miss the girl who whipped up beans and fish fingers for a kindly stranger. Oh well, Amy. At least Rory and some really stellar writing saved this episode.
39. “The Angels Take Manhattan” (season 7, episode 5)
Well, yowsa! After all of the many, many terrible America episodes, including the worst modern Who episode of all, this was exquisite. The angels are back! And much better than their last appearance in “The Time of the Angels” / “Flesh and Stone”. I thusly restore them to official 100% creepy status! And even better, this episode restores Amy and Rory to official true love status, and makes River’s marriage to the Doctor magnificent again. It undid all of the horrors of late. Amy and Rory got a very worthy send-off and a perfect happily ever after. (We’ll just ignore some of the plot loopholes…the couple staying in New York until their dying days, the idea that angels can’t be smashed to teeny pieces by a sledgehammer. Details, details.) Way to rally, season 7!
38. “Dalek” (season 1, episode 6)
A chained up Dalek acts as a mirror of sorts, reflecting back how mad and conflicted the Doctor is, how caring Rose is, and how cruel some of the red shirts could be. This is the episode where brand-new Nine really started to reveal some depth, and the neophytes learn just how rich, long, and sad the Doctor’s story really is. Simple, classic. This is the LBD of Who episodes.
37. “The Runaway Bride” (2006 Christmas Special)
I had every reason to not like Donna Noble. I was still pretty raw from losing Rose in the previous episode, and the idea of a bride just appearing in the TARDIS seemed cheap and shallow compared to the emotional crater Rose left in my heart. But then, Donna was loud. She was obnoxious and completely irreverent of her position as a TARDIS traveler. She made my cold heart smile, after I swore I’d never be happy again (oh, Rose! “I lo-“). In this one-off outing, she was the perfect rebound companion that reminded us it was okay to laugh. I know the haters call her shrill and cartoonish, and while I get that it could be grating on one level, on another, it is the one-eighty we all needed. This wasn’t a time for subtlety. Plus, we got to see a TARDIS car chase, and the Christmas theme held up fairly well. Overall, this was a great diversion from all the feels of the previous episode.
36. “Closing Time” (season 6, episode 12)
What if the Doctor needed to get a job to go deep undercover? Party at the toy store! This was the perfect showcase for Eleven’s goofy childlike personality. Winner, winner, Cyberman dinner. Shine on, Matt Smith. And shine on, Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All.
35. Last Christmas (2014 Christmas special)
I’m almost a little surprised to find myself ranking this episode so highly. But here is my simple justification: This was a fun, witty, suspenseful thriller that had a heaping dose of holiday joviality. Sometimes episodes can be great without taking themselves too seriously, and this is exactly the type of Whovian Christmas special that I adore. Santa and his elves were cheeky perfection, and I found the crew of “scientists” really engaging–especially the sexy one. PS – Moff, I humbly request you bring back Shona as a future companion, and keep up the dancing!
34. “Father’s Day” (season 1, episode 8)
I wish I could say that Rose is perfection embodied, but this is the episode that reveals just how flawed she is. So human. She can’t resist saving her dad, even if it rips a hole in the fabric of time. This episode is worth the price of admission just for the back story and the sentimentality. We see where Rose really gets her cleverness and heart, even though the attitude clearly comes from Jackie.
33. “The Unquiet Dead” (season 1, episode 3)
Literary episode! Score! Dickens. Victorian zombies. A mousey maid as a medium. This is yet another chilling episode that is perfect to watch in the dark, curled up with a good blanket and a glass of wine. Great dark fun with a touch of sadness and a pinch of historical brilliance.
32. “Midnight” (season 4, episode 10)
“Midnight” has a serious following among Whovians, but much like “The Girl in the Fireplace” and “The Doctor’s Daughter”, the charm is somewhat lost on me. Granted, the mysterious unnamed, faceless villain that hijacks brains and thought patterns is fairly creepy. And granted that much of the acting is spot-on. But for all the elegance of an enclosed space and minimalist concept, there is nothing to really root for here. It’s a fine single-serving episode that is worth watching, but overall leaves me chilled in the wrong way. Still, the performances give it a leg up over some of the simpler, shallower episodes. (Bonus points to my eight year-old, however, for entering the room after the most recent re-watching, and unknowingly beginning the repeat game with me until I ran out of the room.)
31. “The Magician’s Apprentice” / “The Witch’s Familiar” (season 9, episodes 1 / 2)
Hey Missy, you’re so fine. And every last bit of this episode duo was absolutely delicious. I love the Missy / Clara pairing and the former’s bizarre devotion for The Doctor, while still able to be absolutely evil. Throw in some really quality Dalek action, and I am in Whovian heaven. Points Awarded For: Addressing the “would you kill baby Hitler?” conundrum of time travel tales. Points Lost For: The Doctor committing two obnoxious (recurring) season 9 sins of vanity: Playing his guitar and wearing those really obnoxious sunglasses. It was cute at first, and then it wasn’t anymore.
30. “The Waters of Mars” (2009, special 2)
Poor Ten is still in his dark period after losing Donna Noble (and fending off wannabe companion Lady Christina de I-Don’t-Care just last episode). This episode shows him growing more reckless, arrogant, and just a little more furious at his circumstances. We’ll set aside the run-of-the-mill infection-style baddie for now, as it was an adequate trapped-on-a-ship episode. More important is the Doctor’s knowledge of his own impending doom (thanks to last episode’s prophecy), and his defiance of time and nature. Most heartbreaking, though, is that we have to revisit the lesson that the Doctor can’t fix everything. In fact, sometimes he can make it worse. This is a hard one to watch because we want to reach out and help him, to send someone to be with him. Instead we see our beloved Ten completely unraveling. Gripping television, but more than a little crushing to those who watch him from afar.
29. “Dark Water” / “Death in Heaven” (season 8, episodes 11 / 12)
If I wasn’t sure of Jenna Coleman’s acting prowess before this episode two-parter, I am now convinced. Losing Danny Pink seemed as senseless and sudden to us as it did to Clara (well, nearly, anyway). And had Danny not been a giant jealous soldier douchebag through his brief run, I might have been crying right alongside her. But aside from Clara’s wrenching betrayal at the mouth of a volcano (The Doctor is much more forgiving than I am, I would’ve booted the backstabber!), the real takeaway from this episode duo is how AMAZING Missy is–I simply adore her shenanigans and quirky dialog! Eeeee! Rest in peace, Danny, Oswin, and Col. Lethbridge-Stewart.
28. “The Lodger” (season 5, episode 11)
A still-Roryless Doctor and Amy meet Craig. Wonderful, sweet, pudgy Craig. This is one of those rare episodes that steps outside of the TARDIS-shaped box for a unique new point of view on the world and adventure. Sometimes these can be grand successes (see: “Blink”) and other times, terrible disasters (see: “Love and Monsters”). Luckily for us, the Doctor, with his bag of money, surprising football skills, and predilection for psychic head butts, has found an amazing and lovable temporary companion. Comedy gold!
27. “The End of the World” (season 1, episode 2)
Oh, sweet sentimentality! I give you the episode that introduced The Face of Boe and Cassandra. While keeping a light, jovial quality to most of the early interactions, the show managed to touch on themes of what it means to be human (quite literally) and what it means to be so far from home. It’s also an amazing primer on the vastness of time, space, and life. Tense action and a beautifully evolving relationship between Doctor and companion really makes this feel, to me, like the John Hughes of Who episodes: I learned a little, I laughed a little, I grew a little, I loved a little. This may not be brilliance, but it’s just plain nice. Also, nice choice for a first date, Doctor!
26. “Partners in Crime” (season 4, episode 1)
There is a whole lot to love in this episode–Donna is still mildly obnoxious, but this time in a very sweet way, and the writers / special effects team have given us what must be the most adorable wittle viwwains evew. (Okay, I promise, no more baby talk. I apologize.) Really, though, the Adipose are instant Whovian classics. Plus, there is a lot of material that feeds into the running Doctor Donna thread and works very well. And if you didn’t crack up the first time you saw Donna’s pantomime upon finding the Doctor, then sir, you don’t have a funny bone in your body. And I mean that platonically.
25. “The Christmas Invasion” (2005 Christmas Special)
At the outset, this was a tough episode to watch the first time through. I had just lost my first Doctor, and the next one just lay there in Howard’s pajamas (we know who undressed him, Rose. Wink, wink), all unmoving and not yet adorable. So I (sort of) patiently watched as the completely disturbing maniacal Santas and trees began attacking, and it fell just to Rose, Mickey, and Jackie to save themselves and the world. With full hindsight, I love this twist. I love that Rose had the tough job of filling the Doctor’s sandshoes and protecting him at the same time, all while dealing with the emotional upheaval of seeing her beloved Nine turn into someone new. This Christmas special made me love Rose all the more, and was beautifully tense and spirited. The holiday theme held up well, and once our Tigger finally bounced out of the TARDIS (It was tea, damnit, Jackie!), the episode had become pure bliss and adventure. He was worth the wait, and made this episode an instant Christmas classic–along with a very dark running gag about a lack of real snow.
24. “Thin Ice” (season 10, episode 3)
It’s the 1814 Frost Fair! Truly one of the Doctor’s favorite stops in time and space, this is the first time we, the viewers, get to actually see it. Squee! Everything was breathtaking: The costumes, the elephant on the Thames, the pie man who mysteriously cheats at coin flips. It was all a delight. Sure, this is yet another rehash of something we’ve seen previously. Let’s just call this “The Beast Below 2: Another Beast, Even Belowier”. In fact, I wasn’t totally convinced we wouldn’t see a star whale under that water with a Regency-era scuba helmet on. But I don’t mind, because this was much better done than “The Beast Below”, with much richer visual style and a more touching plot. Both Bill and Twelve shine very brightly here, and I see this as a pure classic. It’s just a good thing they didn’t run into the Doctor’s past incarnations: Somewhere at that same Frost Fair, Eleven and River are listening to Stevie Wonder perform under a bridge. If you follow canon internet written content, Ten was also there ice skating with a girl named Mai Kondo. One is even wandering around with Steven and Vicky. Hell, those thoughts only make this more magical.
23. “Deep Breath” (season 8, episode 1)
Okay, I can tell that the writers really, really wanted us to like Twelve–they put a dinosaur in the Thames, just for us. And I have to say, that kinda worked for me. I wish Clara hadn’t agonized so long (and made us agonize with her) over whether or not this was the same Doctor, but I appreciate that it’s a human struggle. Madame Vestra’s role (along with Jenny and Strax) also really added some depth, color, and much-needed support to the season opener. My only problem is that by the end of the episode I am always testing my own lung capacity to the point of turning blue, which provokes some real anxiety. Can’t fault the episode for that, though. My own hang-ups. Overall, this was a great steampunk adventure that endeared me quite a bit to the Twelve/Clara pairing, and the edgy banter pushes it over the top to the level of a classic.
22. “Planet of the Ood” (season 4, episode 3)
As a card-carrying Friend of the Ood, it was hard not to instantly be captivated by this episode and our heroes’ attempts to free the Ood from enslavement. Doctor Donna brilliantly conveyed the heartbreaking emotion of the Ood’s suffering, and for the whole episode, it was a little shameful to be a human. There I said it. And, oh, the song. The song. Between the emotional gravity of the subject matter and the teasing prophecies and foreshadowing, this episode feels deep and fulfilling.
21. “The Name of the Doctor” (season 7, episode 13)
Clara’s tricky. And in this episode, either you decide that the “impossible girl” is worthwhile, or you’re ready to chuck her in the rubbish bin. Personally, I’ll take her. The explanation of her past lives (or future lives?), jumping through time to save the Doctor repeatedly makes some kind of weird sense–more than River’s backstory ever did. And watching her rise to the state of guardian angel is touching–especially with the clever glimpses of Doctors past, River’s goodbye, and the support of the Paternoster Gang. Satisfying and sweet.
20. “The Husbands of River Song” (2015 Christmas special)
Here we are, still choking on the dust of season 9–the death of Clara, the electric guitar solos, some very heavy and dark themes about life and death, and those infernal sonic sunglasses! And just what we desperately needed was a bit of Christmas cheer and a sassy archaeologist. River is sublime in a story that suits her–she has command and a fair amount of menace, but still lovable and loyal. And finally (FINALLY!) Moff helped us to understand what type of love there is between these two. It’s isn’t Rose love. It isn’t Cleopatra love. It isn’t Sarah Jane love. This episode gives us the satisfying footnote we’ve been waiting for. Bonus points awarded for a satisfactory level of holiday theme, the Doctor’s first “it’s bigger on the inside!”, a wonderfully rude carol singers sign, and Moff’s Christmastide realization that with River stories, less really is more.
19. “The Time of the Doctor” (2013 Christmas special)
A tale of two cracks: The Gallifreyan one, and the Doctor’s.
Bwa! Ha! Just trying to keep it light and Christmasy here, since once again the writers are trying to make us cry on a holiday, this time by taking away our plucky Eleven. Cheers for all of the wonderful answer we get to multi-season mysteries: Who blew up the TARDIS? Why, exactly is River…River? And why do we give two shits about silence falling? But as always, a regeneration episode always boils down to the heart of the goodbye. Though Eleven’s (and Handles’s) loss was somehow less emotional than his most recent two predecessors, I still was pretty choked up when the bowtie hit the floor. Eleven was cool.
18. “The End of Time”, Part 1 & 2 (2009 / 2010 Christmas / New Year specials)
I’m sorry, just let me wipe the salty emotional moisture from my ocular cavity region. There. Sniffle. Now maybe I can write about this two-parter in a thoughtful way. If we set aside, just for a moment, the fan service and emotional upheaval that surface in Part 2, and look at Part 1 as its own episode, then there’s a lot with which to be disappointed. The plot to resurrect The Master felt fumbled, like they really couldn’t explain it in any kind of rational way, so they just threw stuff at us and hoped that in all of the chaos of the rest of the episode, we might not notice the writers’ laziness. And speaking of convenient plot devices, the Immortality Gate with its nuclear booths seems like it was built exclusively as a “confused-old-man trap”. Lots of convolution to swallow here. But if you can choke it all down and appreciate the Doctor’s narcissistic anger peaking at the moment he must choose to save Wilfred, then there is some truly moving material here. Plus, we get mega fan service watching all the parting gifts that Ten passes out to his faithfuls. Overall, there’s no way I could rank an episode with any Doctor’s parting words low on my list. “I don’t want to go” is probably what I’ll have written on my tombstone. Its mechanical flaws and laziness hold this episode duo back from being one of the truly great pairings, but it still makes me snorkle all over a box of tissues. So, as a tribute to Ten, who we didn’t want to go either, I bump this episode a bit up my list and say goodnight to my favorite Doctor of all-time.
17. “New Earth” (season 2, episode 1)
A brand-new, squeaky clean, happy-to-be-alive Ten invites Rose to smell the apple grass, and all of a sudden I would give anything to be standing in the middle of New New York sniffing the lawn. Series two starts with pure joy, and follows it up with a decent plot about sinister cat nuns, The Face of Boe, and (gasp!) Cassandra! All of that would be a delight on its own, but what really elevates this episode is the performance by both Billie Piper and David Tennant when Cassandra overtakes their bodies. Both have some real fun with this plot twist, and for a few moments in there, I forgot that I wasn’t actually getting much Cassandra in the episode. Plus, Cassandra’s ending was touching and appropriate. This is classic, fun, romping Who.
16. “Silence in the Library” / “Forest of the Dead” (season 4, episode 8 / 9)
It’s a good, eerie, fairytale-like story the first time you watch it. River Song is fine. Seems nice. Wonder who she is? Solid plot, nice tension, great setting. I cry a little watching Donna miss out on her one true love. Lee–forget that later marriage to Shaun. Shaun’s a wanker. Why wouldn’t the writers bring Lee back? WHY? But THEN. Then, you see it on repeat viewings after seeing what is to come (Spoilers!). And all of a sudden, this episode becomes treasured and tender. River. Oh, it’s the start of an amazing era to come. I can almost see the shadow of Eleven in the background. This truly is a cornerstone episode. This truly is a cornerstone episode. This truly is a cornerstone episode.
15. “Tooth and Claw” (season 2, episode 2)
Speaking of cornerstone episodes. This spooky, historical take on werewolf lore is the type you want to snuggle up with on a dark October night with the lights off and a blanket (and some mistletoe) wrapped around you. The early bits of this episode start off light and fanciful, reminding me how buoyant and Tiggerish Ten was in his early days (oh, do times get much darker for him!). I relish Rose’s game, trying to tempt Queen Victoria into saying “We are not amused!”, and the many wardrobe jokes at Rose’s expense. But then, as the plot–and the night–turn darker, it becomes a delightful Scooby Doo romp through a manor house. Every bit of it is scrumptious, and the topper is learning that this episode triggers the inception of Torchwood, and touches on the theme of the Doctor being branded an enemy by human powers on earth (see also: Queen Elizabeth I, Harriet Jones). Plus, ya know, we learn that the entire royal bloodline has become werewolf. Excellent. We are definitely amused.
14. “Rose” (season 1, episode 1)
When I try to lure neophytes to the Whoverse, I preface this episode with the question, “Do you like Buffy?” Rose may be no slayer, but she is instantly charming and relatable, and is, in my humble opinion, the greatest companion the Doctor has ever seen. So I enjoy every cheesy moment of watching poor Mickey turned to plastic and Jackie flirting with Nine. There is a simple beauty and innocence to this regeneration.
13. “The Fires of Pompeii” (season 4, episode 2)
This was an historical visit that the writers had teased us about: Volcano day. And I’ll admit to being mildly thrilled to see a re-creation of the doomed city at the bottom of Mt. Vesuvius. Aside from the giddy meta giggles at seeing Peter Capaldi on Volcano Day, something else very touching and–for me–a bit unexpected happened in Pompeii: the Doctor faced a crushing moral dilemma. Could he summon the courage to activate the very volcano that dooms everyone? Through this trial, Donna was by his side desperately appealing to his conscience. Personally, I’m more of a cold-hearted “but it’s a fixed moment!” type. But Donna’s pleas felt sincere and convincing. That trip changed the Doctor more than a little, and made us all realize that Donna wasn’t just a sightseer.
12. “Heaven Sent” (season 9, episode 11)
There is a lot of brilliance to this episode, not the least of which is the fact that we come into it 7,000 years already in progress. Moffat’s purgatory-esque tale of the Doctor escaping his confessional prison is an epic saga of determination, grief, and strength. In the last ten minutes alone, my mouth was agape, and my heart kept breaking for him over and over. And for Clara. Such catharsis and beauty. No, this did not have a bunch of colorful characters or quotable lines, but this was a character study that finally made me fall for Twelve, and recognize the pure talent that is Capaldi.
11. “The Eleventh Hour” (season 5, episode 1)
First, I’d like to swear that the #11 ranking was completely coincidental. And naturally proves the righteousness of my list here.
To the episode: It’s like something out of a fairytale. A young, scared, lonely girl wishes for someone to save her and a man in a magical box falls out of the sky and raids the kitchen with her for a snack. He promises to sweep her away from what scares her, and probably will be her friend forever and ever. Except that most of us know the Doctor isn’t a fairytale hero. In fact, sometimes he’s the villain. We get nothing less than bubbly and confused with the incarnation of Matt Smith as Eleven. Last we had left off, the extraordinarily popular Ten was bitter, angry, and even frightened. Some of his final episodes were the darkest of the modern series to date. So it was incredibly refreshing and fun to see Eleven come bouncing on the screen, spitting apple bits at us, dipping fish fingers in custard, and poking at cracks in the wall. Oh, the cracks. The cracks that would never end. Even with poor, left-behind Amy all grown up as a Kissogram (don’t get me started on how much I’d like to bitchslap the writers for that choice!), the bouncing kept going as Eleven effortlessly saved the world from extermination. Really, though, forget the last part, as none of us cared a fig about Prisoner Zero. All we wanted to see was the shiny new TARDIS, the Doctor’s new threads, and find out if we could possibly love him the way we loved Ten. Thankfully the answer was (nearly, sort of, almost) yes. And while the fairytale theme never really held up during the rest of Pond’s tenure on the show, for this one episode, it felt like a childhood storybook come to life.
10. “The Day of the Doctor” (50th anniversary special)
So much pressure to produce something epic and touching to celebrate 50 years of the Doctor, and boy did they succeed. We, naturally, got gads of fan service, particularly seeing Ten back in action alongside Eleven and William Hurt’s Eight-Point-Five. And Bad Wolf. My beloved Bad Wolf returned exactly only as she should–as the Doctor’s conscience, as someone that could get through to him, any version of himself. He only saw what he needed to see, remember. Plus, throw in some great jokes about sand shoes, a chucked Dalek, a mention of Harkness and Lethbridge-Stewart, the Good Queen Bess backstory, lots of tension about the Doctor’s true nature, and some romping about, and you have quite the amazing salute to what is, arguably, the best television series in history. Not that I’m biased or anything.
But. Let’s face it. There were just a couple quibbles. A few tiny flaws. If I wanted to nitpick. Personally I’d rather just laugh and cry and leave the nits where they are. But if we’re being honest, there was some pretty rampant cheesiness here. The scarf makes an appearance. I mean, com’on. You could practically see Matt Smith winking at the camera while he ribbed Tennant. And, dare I say it, I really didn’t care for the Portrayal of Queen Elizabeth. The Queen of my imagination and history books isn’t so desperate and obnoxious. Still, what a beautiful gift to fans.
9. “Turn Left” (season 4, episode 11)
If you could preserve only one Donna Noble episode, this is it. This is the Capra-esque tale of how one brassy temp who kept missing everything exciting, was actually an important and strong figure in the story of the universe. Sure the commentary on the devolution of society after a major catastrophe is a bit heavy-handed–if potentially darkly realistic, but just when the bleakness starts overwhelming this episode, Rose appears. Our Rose! Our Bad Wolf! The story, the acting, and the mood of the thing leave me a little haunted, and I absolutely love it.
8. “The Empty Child” / “The Doctor Dances” (season 1, episode 9 / 10)
This episode is pure classic gold. There are amazing quotable lines–“Are you my mummy?”, “Just this once, everybody lives!”, and there is an iconic and truly original villain here, that now has me thoroughly creeped out by both gas masks and little boys the world over. There are amazing moments–the appearance of Capt. Jack Harkness, Rose and Jack dancing in the middle of the blitz, and then Rose and The Doctor dancing. Pure joy and delight.
7. “The Pandorica Opens” / “Big Bang” (season 5, episode 12 / 13)
From the first go, this is a non-stop roller coaster of tension, action, and hot Italians…or what Amy imagines hot Italians might look like. This dusts off the classic Twilight Zone-esque trope of “wait, what if I am the ‘bad guy’?” and gives it fantastic new life. And while we never get an entirely satisfactory answer to that question in this episode duo, we get plenty of other payoff. The wedding. The return of Little Pond. River’s brand of justice against a Dalek. A fez that launched a million regrettable fez purchases. Rory as the Lone Centurion. Yes, I shed a tear when they showed illustrations of him dragging the Pandorica from a burning building. And then I was reminded that Rory is waaaaay too good for Amy. She may love her “Stupid Face”, but I never got the sense that she appreciated him a tenth of what he was worth. But I guess, pretty is as pretty does. And any grumpiness that seeped into my Amy viewing was washed away the moment she climbed on the table at her wedding reception. Go, go Amy power! Look at that! Now and then you do something really, really well. And then the Doctor dances. Any time the Doctor dances, you know it’s a pretty magical moment. This episode combo is a pure delight to watch and really handles the tension well. You win this one, Moff.
6. “Army of Ghosts” / “Doomsday” (season 2, episodes 12 / 13)
Sniffle. Both would’ve been solid episodes no matter how it ended. Sniffle. I mean, probably. (Unless, like Martha showed up and ruined everything.) Sniffle. The cybermen-on-dalek action is simply sublime, especially when they trash talk each other. And we get to hear the Doctor sing the Ghostbusters theme. Lots of really great material here, and a beautiful story of sacrifice and moving on once we’ve….lost….someone we love. Oh all the gods! Pass me the tissues! It’s just too hard to even review this episode.
5. “Blink” (season 3, episode 10)
The episode that launched a thousand memes. Wibbly wobbly…we know, we know. Hell, I even have a Weeping Angel topper for my Christmas Tree (so many clueless visiting family members!) And when I want to introduce anyone to the Whoverse, I show them 3 to 6 episodes that started Nine’s run, and then jump to this as the real hook, just to give them a little sip of brilliance. So why isn’t this number one, as so many other lists would place it? Partly, because it has so little Ten. But moreover, it lacks some of the deep emotional tension that boosts other episodes of this magnitude. My eyes don’t sprinkle at this episode. Yeah, Sally and Billy tug a little at the heart strings: “Life is short and you are hot.” But my heart doesn’t break. And I don’t feel any more or less human. I just cheer and clap like a monkey watching Pinterest memes come to life. Intellectually, this is brilliance. Epic, even. Emotionally, it is…fine.
4. “Bad Wolf” / “The Parting of the Ways” (season 1, episodes 12 / 13)
There’s a whole lot to unpack from these two episodes, from brilliance to flaws. While “Bad Wolf” as a stand-alone was a bit heavy-handed with the social commentary about reality television and the numbing of an entire society, each of the games gave us amazing vignettes centering around each of the protagonists: The Doctor and his heart-melting kindness for “Lynda with a Y”, Rose and her nervous trivia giggles in the face of “Anne Droid”, and…how Capt. Jack…always manages to stash a weapon. Plus, we open our eyes to the idea that the Doctor’s actions in time and space sometimes have unintended consequences. Oh, and the look on his face as he re-learns this lesson! By itself, it would have been a good episode, but as it builds to a full Dalek invasion, a meet-and-greet with the Dalek Emperor, and Captain Jack’s ragtag army of volunteers, we start to see greatness unfolding slowly before us. And then it happens, Rose fights–really bloody fights–to get back to the Doctor and save him. She rallies her mom and Mickey, and knowingly sacrifices herself–as the Doctor had attempted to do moments before–just at the shot to get back to him. And then we see Bad Wolf in all her glory. [Pause for reverence.] This, my Whovian friends, is a hauntingly breathtaking sequence. And as Nine says goodbye, there isn’t any complaining or fussing. No whining. He just calmly unburdens Rose, says his goodbyes, and gracefully departs. Or so I think. I mean, with so many tears in my eyes, it’s hard to be precisely sure. All the feeeelss! The further epicness of this episode is that it sets the course for Capt Jack and The Face of Boe, and ushers in my beloved, silly, Tiggerish Ten. But you know what? I can’t dismiss Nine quite so easily, because he really was, in a word, FANTASTIC.
3. “Human Nature” / “The Family of Blood” (season 3, episode 8 / 9)
This episode duo never fails to chill me to the bone, and then launch the waterworks. Oh, the horror! War! Glorification of war! Love! Tennant’s acting range is never more evident in this series than in this two-parter where we see what the human version of the Doctor would think of himself. “Falling in love? That didn’t even occur to him?” our poor Professor Smith asks in horror. This thoughtful commentary on the Doctor’s overarching character, as well as our own human nature is done deftly and delicately. And in the end, I sob for Professor Smith, for Joan, for Tim, for all the boys in the trenches, and, of course, for what might’ve been. This, for me, is truly great television.
2. “Vincent and the Doctor” (season 5, episode 10)
I’ve always been partial to the historical romps, and Vincent stands out as the most touching, clever turn that the Whoverse has taken to date. Our beloved tortured artist is portrayed as broken in all sorts of beautiful and chilling ways, and he breaks our hearts by the end of the episode. The tale connects the themes of small, suffering people serving a bigger, noble purpose for mankind, and empathy–for Vincent and the creature, and the sad lesson that some people, some things, are just beyond saving. The acting and writing are equally sublime, and the guest appearance of Bill Nighy lends real star power to a wrenching scene. This is one of those episodes that I want to pull out of the Whoverse and show to all the…muggles, all the art lovers, everybody. This one is so full of beauty, that it transcends just this show. And I’ll never look at sunflowers the same way again.
1. “The Stolen Earth” / “Journey’s End” (season 4, episodes 12 / 13)
Man, it took two seasons to pull myself together and put the tissues away. Then this story happened. Damn it all! Such exquisite fan service! This whole episode arc is specifically designed to generate a fangasm, and as a proper Whovian, I immediately suspect unseen forces have led to the broadcasting of this episode to harness the collective global fangasm energy for some nefarious purpose. So, we’ve all got to wonder when that shoe will drop. But, back to the episodes!
There isn’t just one epic element in this episode duo, there are several. First, give me leave to stand and salute, Harriet Jones, Prime Minister. All the other elements of the show tend to overshadow her sacrifice and departure at the end of a Dalek eyestalk. That alone made the episode significant. But then we get a TARDIS full of companions who pull off some pretty exciting Scooby gang action. And once they spoiled all of the Dalek hijinx, it’s time for Rose to be returned to her own dimension, with a spare Ten to keep as a parting gift. And then it happens. The kiss. The kiss we’ve been waiting seasons for. The happy ending that Rose always deserved. Closure. Happy endings really happen. Right? Donna?
Yeah, I should’ve known the writers were setting us up to get clobbered. Oh, Doctor Donna! She had grown so much in such a short amount of time. It was downright cruel that she was forced to revert back to her crass, naive former life. “I just want you to know, there are worlds out there, safe in the sky because of her. That there are people living in the light, and singing songs of Donna Noble, a thousand, million light years away. They will never forget her, while she can never remember. And for one moment… one shining moment… she was the most important woman in the whole wide universe.” At least, that’s what I think he said; it was hard to hear over the sound of my sobbing into a throw pillow. This episode doesn’t just work because it smooshes your heart feelings into little teeny pieces, it works because it’s gripping television with great writing, great performances, and a connection with the fanbase like few other shows have ever managed.