In honor of the tenth anniversary of its revival, I am sharing my Top 10 Favorite Episodes of Doctor Who (from the revival). Yesterday I looked at number 10 through 7, plus an honorary mention that didn’t quite make the cut. Today, I’ll through my top six favorite episodes.
Here we go:
Blink is an immensely popular and critically acclaimed episode that frequently tops polls for the greatest episodes of Doctor Who of all time – and if it doesn’t top them, it’s usually a close second. There’s a very good reason for that – it introduces one of the most creative, and arguably the scariest of Doctor Who monsters, the Weeping Angels; its status as a standalone, Doctor-lite story makes it easily accessible even to people who don’t know anything about the show; hell, it’s just one of the most well-written episodes in the show’s long history and bolstered by some exceptional performances. It’s just a brilliant episode whatever way you look at it. So why is it only number 6 in my list? Well, as much as I love Blink, it’s still a Doctor-lite story. It just doesn’t have enough of The Doctor (or Martha) in it for me.
Sally Sparrow’s encounter with the Weeping Angels is a thrilling one to be sure, but she’s still just a one-off character, who hasn’t appeared since and probably won’t. I knew even before I started making this list that Blink wouldn’t be my Number 1, and probably wouldn’t even be in the top 3. It’s a “top” episode, but personally, there’s only so much credit I can give to a standalone, even if it did bring us the Angels and “timey-wimey”.
5. A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol for me is the definitive Doctor Who Christmas special and the one I almost certainly watch every year around the winter holidays. As I’ve mentioned before, the Davies era Christmas specials that preceeded this one were basically “Die Hard with a TARDIS” – they were set at Christmas and had various props and references, but they weren’t exactly aiming for holiday cheer (in fact I’m pretty sure Voyage of the Damned was going for the exact opposite), while the subsequent Moffat specials devolved into being overly corny and melodramatic, because it’s Christmas and Moffat thinks he can get away with it. A Christmas Carol was the one time he actually did, because it strikes a fine balance.
It’s a bit more sentimental and certainly has its corny moments and some plot and continuity hiccups, but it never goes too far off the rails – the solid framework of the classic Dickens tale keeps it grounded for the most part. Also, flying sharks and Michael Gambon as the Scrooge of the story. What’s not to love about that?
4. The Girl Who Waited
The Girl Who Waited is also a Doctor-lite story, but unlike Blink, it’s focused on developing characters we already know and have followed closely for years, which makes the emotional payoff so much more meaningful. It also explores just how dangerous travelling around time and space with The Doctor can be. When Rory angrily asks The Doctor why he didn’t scan the planet before landing, he replies that doing that would make things less fun. In other episodes, this would actually work as a quirky, lighthearted Doctor line – but here, it chills you to the bone. Nothing about Amy being trapped alone for thirty six years is fun. Nothing about her absolute hatred for The Doctor is fun. The Girl Who Waited is one of the most heartbreaking episodes since the revival and probably the only time I really hated The Doctor – which really means something, when you consider that Eleventh is my absolute favorite. It’s also Karen Gillan’s best performance on the show.
The old-age make-up is great, but it’s Gillan herself that really sells the thirty six years of solitude. For me, this is the essential Doctor-lite episode, the one that fully takes advantage of making the companions the focus, while also exploring a fundamental aspect of The Doctor himself.
I actually started following Doctor around the summer of 2009 and the fifth season had run its course by the time I had caught on everything – which meant The Impossible Astronaut was the first episode I actually had to wait for. My excitement and adoration for the show at the time was at its absolute peak. I couldn’t wait to see this episode. I watched every preview, every trailer, read every article and every rumour that promised even the slightest hint of information – and it managed to live up to all my ridiculously high expectations. It’s just a magnificent episode all around. Exceptional production values, gorgeous sets and locations, a special appearance by Mark Sheppard, the firts appearance of The Silence and an explosive twist that set up a massive, season long story arc. Sure, I still have problems with how that arc was ultimately resolved, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that The Impossible Astronaut is still absolutely brilliant. It’s funny, scary, clever, creative, heartbreaking, gorgeous to look at and full of wonderful actors giving amazing performances. What could possibly top that?
2. The Eleventh Hour
Unlike The Impossible Astronaut, I had my fair share of reservations going into The Eleventh Hour. Honestly, I expected it to suck. Yes, I was a Matt Smith sceptic – but you have to understand, Tennant was THE Doctor for me. He was the reason I started watching the show in the first place and I couldn’t imagine anyone filling his shoes. Then along came Matt Smith and… well, I already mentioned Eleventh is my favorite Doctor, so you can probably guess what happened next. What’s extraordinary is how quickly he won me over. I was completely in love with his Doctor in the first five minutes, and by the end I couldn’t even imagine myself ever doubting him. Now, The Eleventh Hour is not without its problems – the special effects for Prisoner Zero were very hard to take in any way seriously, and you certainly start to feel its length by the time it ends.
It’s nevertheless an amazing episode that brought us so many memorable moments and lines – that final speech on the rooftop that introduces Eleven’s signature look and firmly cements him in our minds as THE Doctor is to this day one of the most awesome things to ever happen in Doctor Who. The Eleventh Hour it also taught me a very important lesson about the show. It taught me that regeneration is not the end. Well it is, but it’s not JUST that. It’s also a glorious new beggining for a show that easily go on for another hundred years.
You only need to know two things about The Doctor’s Wife – the premise and the writer. It’s the episode that asks “What if the TARDIS was a person and could talk to The Doctor?” and it’s written by Neil Gaiman. How could this episode have been anything less than perfect? It’s an emotional rollercoaster of epic proportions. It has a great, menacing and memorable villain, even though he’s just a disembodied voice. It features a makeshift TARDIS console designed by a young fan. It’s a tremendously well crafted love letter to the show’s mythology, charactes and themes that can be fully appreciated by both old and new fans. I’m actually at a loss for words here in trying to find ways to sing its praise. There’s not a single moment, not a single frame, not a single line of dialogue from this episode that I don’t love. For me, The Doctor’s Wife is the absolute best episode of Doctor Who since the revival and possibly of all-time as well.