As I mentioned in my latest Sunday Rundown, I’ve been rewatching episodes from Series 4 of Dr Who. I came to the realisation that, whilst Donna is my all time favourite companion, it is probably series 3 that is the season that I love the most. That’s because it contains a large number of the best and most memorable episodes in the series. There are only a few dull moments and even those aren’t dull in the same way that most of the Steven Moffat era Who series have been. I mean even the fairly awful “Smith and Jones” opener is nowhere near as bad as the fucking pirate episode. And no matter how awful the series finale may be in comparison to the previous ones it is way more memorable than the first finale of Matt Smith’s Doctor. I mean who can even remember what happened in “The Pandorica Opens”/”The Big Bang”? Whatever you may think about Russell T’s writing style in comparison to Moffat’s (even I can’t pretend that Moffat doesn’t come out on top), the former clearly has more understanding of how a series should come together as a whole. Now amidst this soul-searching I couldn’t help but start mentally compiling my top 10 list of Modern Day Who episodes. Just in time for April’s post. Wasn’t that convenient?
Ten: “The Girl in the Fireplace” (Series 2 Episode 4)
This episode, more than any of the previous Tennat episodes, showed us who he was as the Doctor. His romance with Rose was dull and got a little annoying but his short connection to Madame de Pompadour. It is sweet, poignant and heartbreaking at its conclusion. This episode shows us the Doctor’s need to be understood by someone else and how difficult that it. It shows us his connection to history and his flair for the dramatic. Both David Tennant and Sophia Myles are fantastic in the episode and the clockwork androids are a fabulous villain. This is an episode that really sums up the early days of modern Who and is a triumph of the Russell T. era. Plus, there’s a fucking horse on a spaceship. Who can ignore that?
Nine: “Amy’s Choice” (Series 5 Episode 7)
If I’m being honest, there aren’t many episodes of series 5 that I would call good. It’s one of my least favourite and least remembered series. The first Matt Smith series and, more importantly in terms of quality, the first that Moffat was running the show. Still there are one or two glimmers of hope within the deluge of shit. It came down to “Vincent and the Doctor” or this one. It was a close call but I felt that “Vincent and the Doctor” worked so well as an appreciation of art and an exploration of depression. However, as a Dr Who episode, “Amy’s Choice” is just astonishing. Not necessarily in terms of direction or production but in terms of storyline. It is one of the most engaging stories of the series as Amy must finally decide who means the most to her: her fiancée or the Doctor. Add that to the superb performance by Tody Jones and you have a winner.
Eight: “The Doctor’s Wife” (Series 6 Episode 4)
With a script written by Neil Gaiman there was no doubt that this was going to be one of the greater episodes of Dr Who. Gaiman wanted to set the episode that centred on the TARDIS itself which was, up to that point, something not done in the show’s history. After many rewrites, he came up with the idea of the TARDIS’ mind being implanted into the body of a woman and being replaced with the consciousness of an evil, sentient asteroid played by Michael Sheen. This means Rory and Amy have to find their way around a TARDIS that’s trying to kill them whilst the Doctor comes face-to-face with the only companion that has survived his every regeneration. It is a great episode that is both frightening and lovely. Matt Smith and Suranne Jones, playing the TARDIS, are both fantastic and the interaction between the Doctor and his ship is just wonderful. It’s certainly not a perfect episode but it is one you can’t help but love.
Seven: “The Fires of Pompeii” (Series 4 Episode 2)
After the, frankly, kind of ridiculous opener for Tate’s first series as fully fledged companion, “The Fires of Pompeii” shows us what she will really be like during her time in the TARDIS. It is an emotional story and watching Donna have to accept that she can’t save the people of Pompeii from their inevitable fate. This episode really sets out the kind of relationship the pair will have. Donna is more than willing to argue with him about morality and, at the dramatic conclusion of this story, she stands by him as he makes the most difficult decision one could ever make. She is there for him but also reminds him that not everybody needs to die. She shows him that saving one person is sometimes enough. Yes, the writing is pretty shitty but this episode has me in tears every single time.
Six: “Human Nature”/”The Family of Blood” (Series 3 Episodes 8 and 9)
This two-parter is one of the greatest things about series 3 and gives David Tennant another chance to show how great he is in the role. There are some great moments in the first episode and the scarecrow warriors are memorable. I also have to say that Harry Lloyd is magnificent as one of the Family of Blood. He’s amazing and terrifying in the role. Although, what makes this double episode so good is the final moments of John Smith’s life. When he starts to realise that he has to give up everything he has in order to save the world. When he has to face the fact that he isn’t an ordinary man and must sacrifice his happiness for a life of death and loneliness. It’s devastating and Tennant is just sublime.
Five: “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances” (Series 1 Episodes 9 and 10)
“Are you my mummy?” Even more than 10 years on, this question can still strike fear into most fans of Dr Who. This was the first Steven Moffat episode and it made us all realise just how great he could be for the series. Up until this point there had been a lot of silliness in the new series of Who. It was being pushed towards families so was family friendly. There were fart jokes a plenty and the monsters weren’t that scary. Then there was the kid with a gas mask face. The central storyline was amazing and the end result was as satisfyingly emotionally fraught as it needed to be. Although, there was enough light-heartedness to ensure we still have fun along the way. And lest we forget, it is the episode that introduced us to the astounding Captain Jack Harkness. I’ll be forever grateful.
Four: “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End” (Series 4 Episodes 12 and 13)
How could I not include this double parter on the list? The finale of series 4 is the episode of Dr Who
that has emotionally scarred me the most. Even reading the title can manage to bring tears to my eyes. As we should all be aware by now, Donna Noble is my number 1 companion and her departure from the series was the most devastating
in the modern series’ history. It is for that reason that this episode is the greatest. Without giving us a moment to celebrate the culmination of Donna’s journey allowing her to successfully stop Davros and saving the universe the writers take all that development away. Add to that the fantastic acting from David Tennant and Bernard Cribbins and I’m in bits every time I think about it. This is still one of the most powerful episodes of modern Who
in my opinion. Plus, there’s some shit with Doctor and Rose that kind of happens. Oh and Mickey and Jack come back. It’s quite fun up until the awful final moments.
Three: “The Day of the Doctor” (50th Anniversary Special)
I could bang on about how great this episode is but I already have once. We all know how great this is. It’s a celebration of everything we love and have always loved about Dr Who with an amazing cast and a great story.
Two: “Blink” (Series 3 Episode 10)
“Blink” is one of those episodes that has become synonymous with the quality of Dr Who. It is an episode that is beloved by all fans and is appreciated by people who don’t always get the show. With the way I’ve been feeling about Steven Moffat lately it’s always good to revisit an episode like “Blink”; this is Moffat at his best. The writing is fantastic and the it is there is so much going on in a single episode. Even the fact that the Weeping Angels have been overused to the point that they don’t really register any more, this episode is genuinely terrifying. Carey Mulligan is amazing and there is so much emotion and fear on offer that you can’t help but love it. Just take the tiny but incredibly powerful failed romance of Sally Sparrow and Billy Shipton. Argh, so many feels. It so often appears on the top of all best episodes lists and, I have to admit, “Blink” was certainly my favourite episode of modern Who until exactly one series later…
One: “Midnight” (Series 4 Episode 10)
“Midnight” is one of those overlooked episodes of Who because it is so self-contained and unremarkable. The entire run takes place in a small space and the villain remains unseen and unnamed. I can see why people forget about it but I think it’s an incredible episode of television. Whilst Catherine Tate was off filing “Turn Left” David Tennant was left to his own devices and given the chance to take a trip to the planet Midnight. Along the way the ship is boarded by an invisible foe who takes over the body of one of the passengers. The tension in the episode builds slowly but leads to an incredibly dramatic showdown. This single episode of Dr Who is more exciting, frightening and tells us more about humanity than the majority of the following seasons combined.