Saturday nights are now a night to stay in, because Doctor Who is back on our screens! Yes, Peter Capaldi is a great iteration of The Doctor, but he’s been served by some poor stories. Steven Moffat writes himself into a corner more often than not. He is mesmerised by his own Whovian lore. However, there are still some episodes that can rank as great television. Since Doctor Who was revived in 2005, there have been more than a few cracking episodes. Here are my Top 10 Modern Doctor Who episodes…(I will cheat for some of them by clumping together a two parter…)
- The Shakespeare Code
I’m a sucker for anything Shakespeare related, and this episode was full of Shakespeare goodness. There’s was speculation on Shakespeare’s sexuality, a story based on the lost play ‘Love’s Labour’s Won,’ villains in the guise of three witches, and more puns than you could shake a spear at, this encapsulated most things that Doctor Who should be. Educational, fun, a little creepy, and a streamlined but effective storyline.
- Army of Ghosts/Doomsday
Yes, the two part finale to Season 2 may suffer from the usual flaws of the RTD era. A rushed climax, ramping everything up to ridiculous levels, and inappropriate silliness. I was only going to include the finale, but the cliffhanger on the penultimate episode stills makes me squeal with delight. RTD may not have been able to string a decent story together, but he knew how to twist the audience’s emotions. And with the departure of Rose, the first modern companion to the Doctor, he had people in floods of tears. I was devastated for weeks afterwards (no exaggeration!). I still sometimes scream ‘Take me back!’ when I’m alone. We may have seen Daleks fight Cybermen for the first time, but Rose’s heartwrenching departure from The Doctor will forever break my heart.
- The Eleventh Hour
Matt Smith had a lot to prove after taking over the mantle of The Doctor from David Tennant. Steven Moffat also had to prove himself as an efficient showrunner after taking over from Russel T. Davies. In one episode they both managed to counter the naysayers with the best season opener of modern Doctor Who. There were no burping bins or silliness in a thrilling storyline that left more questions than answers (that Moffat loves to do), but this was a time before Moffat had let us down. Everything felt different from the RTD era, a change in the right direction. This episode held the promise of change…but unfortunately Moffat became lost in his own lore.
- The Day of the Doctor
Two Doctors on one screen is bound to bring lots of entertainment, but three? Three’s a charm. David Tennant came back for one last rodeo as the Tenth Doctor and John Hurt (RIP) returned as The War Doctor to celebrate Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary. And what a celebration it turned out to be. Moffat veered away from his own lore to plunge into RTD’s Time War with delirious results. The banter between the three Doctors was superb. The interwining stories were even better. And the special guest appearance at the end was the icing on the cake.
- Heaven Sent
I won’t include the second part to this episode because it was terrible. More often than not, the Doctor Who season finale is a letdown. The penultimate episode, however, is a cracker. This one contained merely Capaldi’s Doctor and a conundrum in a castle. The Eternal Return was alive and well as Capaldi died only to start back at the beginning, changing a little thing with every life he had. It’s mind-bending, beautifully directed, and a one man show by Capaldi. Just watch this episode alone to see why he’s the best Doctor of modern times.
- The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances
Eccleston and Billie Piper outdid themselves here. Moffat was strongest when not planning an overall story arc, as shown in many, many of his scripts. Also up for consideration for the Top 10 List was ‘The Silence of the Library/The Forest of The Dead,’ but this is the second finest moment for Moffat. The Doctor takes Rose back to World War II, where they meet Captain Jack Harkness and a haunting child with a gas mask. Moffat was never afraid of scaring people, and this two parter is one of the eeriest of modern Who. It’s also stuffed full with British pride, especially Eccleston’s excellent speech will have you singing ‘Rule Britannia.’ You’ll also be spooked by the simple words “Are you my mummy?”
- The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion
The Zygons were brought back for ‘The Day of The Doctor,’ and that episode laid the foundations for this one. As a two-parter, for once the second part is stronger than the first part. ‘The Zygon Invasion’ is marred by a few awful scenes, but ‘The Zygon Inversion’ is a masterpiece of tension. As a topical narrative, it’s almost unbeatable in modern Who. Instead of the usual over-stuffed second part, this was a pared down story, with a smaller cast and fewer locations. But The Doctor’s anti-war rant alone ranks this as one of Nu-Who’s finest moments. Considering that it was broadcast before Remembrance Sunday made it twice as poignant as it was originally. Capaldi was brilliant, Jenna Coleman as Clara and Bonnie was never better. Instead of a Deus Ex Machina, the climax came as two people talked each other out of war. Probably the best episode of the Capaldi era.
This is the first and possibly only time in modern Doctor Who that the Daleks have been as vicious, intimidating and downright scary as they should be. And there’s only one of them! Later Dalek episodes gave us millions of Daleks at a cost of 90% of the threat and terror. This, the best episode of Series 1, shows a single Dalek as a complete killing machine. It also highlighted the greatness of Christopher Eccleston as The Doctor. He deserved a longer tenure. Watch the scene where he’s alone with the Dalek, interrogating it. You can believe everything he’s saying, even if it’s very un-Doctor like. Another masterpiece of acting from Eccleston. Here, the Dalek was the ultimate killing machine…but The Doctor didn’t look too different.
Ahhhh, Moffat at his most clever. A time-travelling, mind-bending story that features a minimal amount of The Doctor and his companion but a stunning performance by Carey Mulligan. Moffat’s tricks are old now. There’s ‘listen,’ ‘don’t breathe,’ ‘don’t step into the shadows,’ but ‘don’t blink’ is by far his best creation, as are The Weeping Angels. Like the Daleks, they’ve been neutered by time (how ironic), but here they are menacing and scary. It’s timey-wimey, extremely clever and engrossing. But Moffat managed to outdo himself for my Number 1 choice…
- The Beast Below
And here we come to my favourite episode of Nu-Who. It may not be to everyone’s tastes but I enjoy it more every time I watch it. It’s a scathing satire on democracy, and came just before the 2010 General Election (or shortly after, I can’t remember). Starship UK (minus Scotland) is roaming around in space. Smith’s Doctor and Amy Pond land on it and find out that there’s something peculiar about the state of affairs…Pond ends up in a voting booth, and after seeing the truth behind Starship UK, she’s given a choice: Protest or Forget. Isn’t that the choice we have at every election, to protest against the ruling party or forget all the wrongs they have done? The people vote every five years (as we should have done by law…but not anymore, thanks to Mrs. May!), and they always choose to forget. In The Doctor’s words, “…and once every five years, everyone chooses to forget what they’ve learned. Democracy in action.” Like ‘The Zygon Inversion,’ it’s brave and topical and came at just the right time. But what will we do on June 8th…Protest or Forget?
The Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead
Utopia/The Sound of Drums (but definitely not the awful The Last of the Timelords)
Human Nature/Family of Blood
The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon
Agree or disagree? Any you’d take away or add? What is your Top 10?