I could say that Doctor Who is literally about a mad person in a box traveling through all of time and space and I would technically be correct, but at the same time I’d be oh so wrong. Airing its first episode on November 23rd, 1963, Doctor Who is nothing short of a phenomenon, first catching the love and admiration of the British public then going on to attract Sci-Fi lovers everywhere.
The show in a nutshell is an emotional journey and a tale about love, contradiction, aliens, and adventure. It must be doing something right since it’s been around for nearly 60 years. Although 15 of those years were due to a hiatus, there was so much love surrounding the show that it was brought back in 2005 and has been going ever since. There is no denying that the series has produced some of the best moments in sci-fi television history.
Brought back by Russell T Davies in 2005, Who has remained a constant fixture in the genre even though there as been contention as to the direction of the recent seasons. There’s been some downs over the the years, but trust me when I say the ups have been nothing short of spectacular.
Whovians around the world are now preparing for a highly anticipated 14th season that will see the return of David Tennant, Catherine Tate, showrunner Russell T. Davies, and the newest actor to play the Time Lord, Ncuti Gatwa. While we await the new season planned to air in 2023, let’s take a look at the top 10 episodes of Doctor Who. This list will be focused on New Who, so anything before 2005 won’t be here.
10. The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon
This was a perfect opener to a season that would leave us tearful, amazed, and downright gobsmacked as to how this was teed up since Silence in the Library. The first episode of series 6 gave us Eleven, River, Rory, and Amy summoned to Utah, where they bore witness to the death of the Doctor. Every second was glorious. In this two-part season premiere, we were taken on a rare trip to America where we were introduced to “The Silence.” We only had them for a brief moment, but they cemented their place as one of the most terrifying creatures in Doctor Who history.
Peter Capaldi’s Doctor was definitely a grower. His episodes drew some of the lowest ratings, but when asked about today, there is a certain fondness that he evokes. That’s often due to episodes like “Listen.” Despite being a show about aliens, Doctor Who doesn’t tend to veer into the horror category as much, but “Listen” is an example that shows they have no bounds to the type of story they can tell.
Listen is suspenseful from beginning to the end. The episode is unsettling because we have no clue if the “Listener” is real or not, and it preys on some very real sentiments that can be found in the real world about the Boogeyman—a creature hiding under the bed. It’s no surprise that the episode was the first of Doctor Who to be nominated for the Bram Stoker Prize, an award granted for works of horror that have been amazingly written.
8. The Fugitive of the Judoon
At this point it’s common knowledge that Jodie Whittaker hasn’t had the best run as the Doctor. This has nothing to do with her performance, but just the lackluster stories and scripts that she’s been given. That said, “Fugitive of the Judoon” is not only Thirteen’s best work, but it’s one of the best of the series as a whole.
The episode is a precursor to the two-part season 12 finale and focuses on Jo Martin, who is revealed to be a never-before-seen incarnation of the Doctor who had her memories locked away. The episode had us hooked from beginning to end and offered a jaw-dropping moment after a season of episodes that bore no real impact. Added to the cherry on top of an already perfectly frosted cake, we got Jack Harkness back.
7. The Day of the Doctor
As we are nearing what is expected to be a fabulous 60th anniversary, I would be remiss not to include the show’s spectacular 50th anniversary special. What do you get when you put Matt Smith, David Tennant, Tom Baker, and Billie Piper all in the same episode of Doctor Who? Excellence, that’s what. It was also our first full introduction to the War Doctor, and it was a marvel to see the Doctor interact with a part of himself that he held a large amount of contempt for and come to peace with his actions. This episode is one for the history books.
6. Human Nature/The Family of Blood
This is everything Doctor Who was meant to be, while at the same time never having attempted anything like it before. This episode focuses on Ten rewriting his biological code in order to appear human (harkening back to the fugitive Doctor) and taking on the alias “John Smith.”
The Family of Blood were a family of hunters intent on finding the Doctor to take his immortality. In the end, the Doctor was hiding from them not because of what they could do to him, but because he feared what he could do to them. Ten has always been a complex and rather intense Doctor, but the punishment he bestowed upon the Family definitely showed his fury.
5. The Eleventh Hour
We all have our gripes with Stephen Moffat, but you have to admit when he was good … he was fantastic. It was going to be a hard time for whomever piloted the TARDIS after David Tennant, but Smith being a relatively unknown name at the time in addition to being the youngest person to take on the role, had a harder time than most would have. All of those doubts, however, disappeared within the first 5 minutes of “The Eleventh Hour,” and he was cemented as the Doctor by the end.
4. Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
The fact that the first time we see River Song is also the last time we see River Song will never cease to blow me away. As an avid reader, a planet filled with books seems like a dream, but nothing is ever that simple with this show. Cue the Vashta Nerada, and it turns into a nightmare real quick.
This might be a controversial take, but “Silence” and “Forest” kind of set up the entirety of Eleven’s character arc, but it worked because of how good it was. River Song and the Doctor gave us some of the best stories to date, and the fact that it was based upon two people meeting at the opposite ends of their timelines … yeah. Stephen was brilliant for that one. Plus, it holds up till this day.
3. The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End
Anything with Captain Jack in it is going to be a win regardless, but this two-part crossover featuring Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures was excellent. The Daleks have been featured in Doctor Who so many times that certain aspects may seem a bit stale, but that was far from the case here. The episode concluding with Doctor Donna, and a tearful goodbye between Rose and Ten, made this one of the most emotional moments of the series. However, with the return of Catherine Kate for the 60th anniversary special, we could see Donna finally get the ending she deserves.
2. Vincent and the Doctor
This is what television was supposed to be, and I witnessed it firsthand. Doctor Who is known for going back in time and making historical figures part of the narrative. Queen Victoria, Madame de Pompadour, and Agatha Christie have all had their moments, but Vincent van Gogh shined the brightest.
Amy and the Doctor travel to Van Gogh’s time to meet the painter and have to go through the delicate nature of his mind. Written to portray the life and suffering of the man, and a real portrayal of his demons, “Vincent and the Doctor” will go down in history as one of the most poignant and heartfelt moments of the series.
“Don’t blink. Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead.” These are the words that kept me up at night. In addition to being the best episode of Doctor Who, “Blink” is the most popular and for good reason. The weeping angels are the most terrifying creatures in Doctor Who history.
Based on the ingenious premise of statues that are only statues when someone is looking at them, you have something that’s never been done before. The episode that introduces them barely features the Doctor at all. Instead, Sally Sparrow is tasked with rescuing Ten and Martha as they’re trapped in 1969.
(featured image: The BBC)
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