September 3, 2019
Ranking the Best Doctor Who Episodes by Season

After the cancellation of the long-running Doctor Who series in December 1989, a wormhole-sized gap took shape in the lives of many sci-fi fans. It would be a 16-year wait for the series to return in full. And did it ever return! Join me as I rank the best Doctor Who episodes from 2005 onwards, giving my personal opinion and views on each “NewWho” episode.

I only included main episodes, no specials or one-offs. There will also be no best classic Doctor Who episodes here today!

So, join me as we enter the time vortex, fly through all that wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff, and begin our journey to discover the best episodes of Doctor Who.

GERONIMO!

Heads up, this article includes spoilers, so proceed with caution!

11. Rose – Season 11 Episode 3

As the 13th Doctor, Jodie Whittaker is superb. She has all of 11’s (Matt Smith’s) quirks, 10’s (David Tennant’s) quick-wittedness, and a healthy dose of her own personality that perfectly fits the Timelord, or more appropriately, Timelady.

Rose is a real stand out. It’s series 11’s best Doctor Who episode. The episode beautifully recreates Montgomery, Alabama as the Doctor and her companions are flung here in 1955, at the epicenter of the civil rights movement.

Krasko, a racist serial killer from the future wants to disrupt the time by changing the past. Any episode that has the Doctor placed in a significant moment in time (like, The Fires of Pompeii, The Unicorn and the Wasp, and The Shakespeare Code) is a winner for me.

What I like most about this episode is that it shows what 13 is all about as a Doctor. She is unrelenting, caring, witty, and above all, honorable and honest.

10. Mummy On The Orient Express – Season 8 Episode 8

One of Peter Capaldi’s 8th Doctor’s best episodes is a classic monster puzzle.

The Doctor and Clara, aboard the world-famous Orient Express, have only 66 seconds to stop the evil, which manifests as a mummy, from killing again. And it will, without regret. As soon as you see it, you die.

Capaldi portrays his energetic desperation and anger in this one, next to Clara’s calmer demeanor. Both contrast each other brilliantly, with Frank Skinner providing a decent cameo performance as Perkins.

It plays out like an Agatha Christie murder mystery, as you would expect from the title. Capaldi comes alive and into his own in one of Doctor Who’s best episodes.

9. A Good Man Goes To War – Season 6 Episode 7

Matt Smith displays the Doctor’s famous vengeful anger in one of the best Doctor Who episodes you’ll wish to see.

This episode is a turning point in the Doctor’s character, as pointed out by River:

“You make them so afraid. When you began all those years ago, sailing off to see the universe, did you ever think’ you’d become this? The man who can turn an army around at the mention of his name: Doctor…And all this, my love, in fear of you.”

Doctor Who Season 6 Episode 7, A Good Man Goes to War

Matt Smith’s Doctor becomes the most un-Doctor like of all Doctors, and it takes his wife (spoilers!) to bring him back down to Earth (end spoilers). I love how far the character has developed, from the lonely brooding 9 to the cheeky happy-go-lucky 10, to the angry and hate-filled one that is 11.

I like seeing this more human side of The Doctor, displaying all the angry traits of a general at war.

8. The Name of the Doctor – Season 7 Episode 14

One of Doctor Who’s best episodes brings 11 to the place of his future demise, the fields of Trenzalore. Matt Smith gives an excellent performance here as the Doctor who forgot what happened over 300 years ago.

Here is where we finally find out the mystery of Clara Oswald (portrayed by Jenna Coleman). I loved Clara’s story arc, yet at times, I felt her character became more important than the titular hero. I feel companions are supposed to compliment The Doctor, not vie for intellectual superiority.

The closing moments are some of my favorite moments of the entire run, as Clara spies a man just standing there, to which the Doctor becomes agitated. He is revealed to be the War Doctor, played brilliantly (in the 50th-anniversary special) by John Hurt.

7. The Doctor Falls – Season 10 Episode 12

I feel series 10 was the perfect time for Peter Capaldi to end his reign as the 12th Doctor.

This series had its moments (“Extremis” being one of them, “Nardole” being the other), but it ended on the high of all highs with this crackerjack of an episode, which also featured John Simms’ Master, Michelle Gomez’s Missy, and the Mondasian Cybermen, who return to the show after an absence of 50 years.

The Doctor has begun his regeneration cycle, but staying true to 11, is stubborn and refuses to settle. What follows is an episode in which Capaldi exhibits everything his Doctor encapsulated: steadfastness, stubbornness, frustration, anger, heroicness. He reels off a fantastic speech, something else for which 11 is remembered.

The whole episode is somewhat bittersweet, and I found myself not wanting it to end. The episode ends with Capaldi and his TARDIS being flung back to where it all began, where a familiar face finds them.

6. Forest Of The Dead – Season 4 Episode 9

This episode will be remembered for one thing: it was the beginning of the River Song story arc. One that ran through 3 doctors and ended at the beginning.

In the second part to “The Silence in the Library,” The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (who has been ‘saved’ by the library) must stop the Vashta Nerada from consuming everyone.

When you rewatch this episode, the story, although an entirely fascinating one, is overshadowed (no pun intended) by the introduction of River Song (portrayed by Alex Kingston).

River is the only person to know the Doctor’s name, and who whispers it in his ear. Tennant is on fine form as always, displaying the full range of his acting abilities.

That’s especially true in the final moments when River (spoiler alert:) ultimately sacrifices herself for the Doctor, knowing that she must because of the events of her past and the Doctor’s future (end spoiler). Moffat wrote this episode knowing that River Song would play a big part in his tenure as future showrunner.

5. The Family Of Blood – Season 3 Episode 9

This was probably the hardest choice for me. Season 3 is arguably one of the best seasons of Doctor Who. I could have easily chosen “Blink” or “Human Nature” or “Utopia” as my favorite episode but I chose this episode (the second part of the aforementioned “Human Nature”) instead, because it’s just brilliant.

It has the distinction of featuring some of the best pieces of dialogue in the entire run. Tim’s description of the Doctor to John Smith (“… he’s like fire and ice and rage…”, or Son of Mine at the end,”…he never raised his voice. That was the worst thing…the fury of the Timelord…”)

In the first part, we realize that the Doctor (David Tennant) is on the run from a group of aliens known as The Family. He has used a Galifrean pocket watch to mask his identity and essentially make himself human (nice foreshadowing).

He and Martha are hiding in an English boarding school as the rumblings of WW1 looms. It’s a stark image as the young boys, still in their pre-teenage years, are taught how to operate machine guns, defending their school against The Family’s army of scarecrows. With a school choir singing in the background, this battle is particularly harrowing to watch.

Tim, played by the always great Thomas Brodie-Sangster, has visions of the future, featuring himself and his classmates in the Somme. He is a reluctant hero, as are most of the boys, and as is John Smith, after forging a loving relationship with the matron Joan (played by Spaced co-creator Jessica Hynes).

The parallel between the Doctor wanting to stay human and the boys wanting to stay boys is brilliantly portrayed and heartbreaking to watch being played out. The episode culminates at an Armistice Day memorial, where the Doctor and Martha notice a familiar face sitting in a wheelchair, adorned with medals.

4. The Girl In The Fireplace – Season 2 Episode 4

Four episodes in and 10, most people’s favorite Doctor (David Tennant), hit his stride with a masterpiece written by Steven Moffat, in what’s probably the best Tennant episode of Doctor Who ever.

The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey (probably the most underrated NewWho character) find themselves aboard a spaceship in the 51st century. There’s a doorway that accesses 18th century Versailles, specifically, the bedroom of Reinette, played brilliantly as an adult by Sophia Myles. What follows is the inquisitive 10 turning up at points in her life, always being there to save her from the terrifying clockwork men and women.

This episode shows off 10’s heart (or more appropriately, hearts!), his love for everyone, and his utter despair when it doesn’t turn out right. This is a common theme that runs throughout David’ Tennant’s tenure as the titular hero, as shown in episodes “Doomsday,” “The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords,” and the special “The Water of Mars.”

3. The Doctor Dances – Season 1 Episode 10

Until the 12th Doctor, Christopher Eccleston’s 9th Doctor was my favorite. Fresh from the Time-War, and destroying Gallifrey and his entire race he is broken, lonely, angry, and sad. But he’s The Doctor, and if there’s one thing the Doctor always does, he helps.

This episode, the second part of “The Empty Child,” epitomizes not only Eccleston’s beautiful portrayal of the Doctor but 9’s character as a whole.

In this season, children across wartime London are being ‘taken over’ by a mysterious entity that morphs their faces into a gas mask. The Doctor and Rose (and Captain Jack, who makes his debut in this two-parter) are seemingly powerless to stop the spread.

Throughout the episodes, we see a contrast between the happy-go-lucky charm of Jack and the stand-offish attitude of The Doctor. It is probably the first episode we see the Doctor at his most vulnerable, as after the day is inevitably saved, he and Rose share a dance.

I’ll remember this episode for The Doctor uttering this character-defining line:

“Everybody lives Rose, just this once, everybody lives.”

Season 1 Episode 10, The Doctor Dances

2. Vincent and the Doctor – Season 5 Episode 10

Doctor Who tackles mental health in a truly spectacular way in this episode.

We all know the troubled and somewhat despairing life of one of the world’s greatest ever creators, Vincent Van Gogh. However, never before has it been depicted like this.

Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor brought many traits and nuances to the table, one being his incredibly empathetic nature. His companion, Amy Pond (portrayed by Karen Gillan) shares this trait with him. And when you drop them both into Van Gogh’s world, during the height of his mental anguish, and throw in an invisible alien that only Vincent can see, you have the makings of a truly great episode.

Actor Tony Curran, a fiery-haired Scot, who had had a long and varied career up to that point, plays the prolific artist with such majesty and quiet restraint.

Van Gogh sees the world in color and vivid expressionism, and the cinematography and special CGI effects do them justice in this episode.

When the time comes for Amy and the Doctor to leave, knowing what they know about his future, they decide to take him on a trip to the 20th century, to an exhibition displaying his works. Bill Nighy makes a nice cameo here as the curator, speaking about Vincent with such respect and admiration, with the great man listening.

After leaving, Amy is sure his mental health has improved, but on return to the gallery, she learns his fate was always that way. Matt Smith sums up the whole of existence with one of Who’s greatest lines:

“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always spoil the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”

Season 5 Episode 10, Vincent and the Doctor

1. Heaven Sent – Season 9 Episode 11

This, for me, is the perfect and best Doctor Who episode. Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor is at his absolute best here, essentially performing a poetic monologue with an intensity of emotion that only he can produce.

It’s a gripping 45 minutes that turns out to be not just a basic premise, clever writing, and fantastic direction, but also showcases Capaldi’s superb acting and performance.

One episode earlier saw Clara’s demise, and immediately after, the Doctor was transported to a castle on an island, with only the Veil as his company.

The episode is a puzzle devised for the Doctor and one that only he can solve, even if it takes him billions of years.

In my opinion, this episode isn’t just the best of all Doctor Who episodes. It is one of the best, most emotional and gripping, episodes of TV, ever. I would put it up there with “Ozymandias” (Breaking Bad Season 5 Episode 14), “The Rains of Castamere (Game of Thrones Season 3 Episode 9) and “Too Far Gone” (The Walking Dead Season 4 Episode 8).

“How many seconds in an eternity?”

Doctor Who Season 9 Episode 11, Heaven Sent

So those are the best episode of every series, ranked, according to my personal opinion.

It was so difficult to pick just 11 episodes. I love every episode on this list, and you could argue that many of these could claim a case for any of them as the best Doctor Who episode overall.

Personally, Peter Capaldi’s 12 is my favorite Doctor, yet David Tennant’s 10th Doctor has some of my favorite episodes. I hope current Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, gets some decent stories and writing to really excel as the 13th Doctor, as I think she is a brilliant addition to the Doctor Who universe.

Which one do you think is the best Doctor Who episode, or even best Doctor Who series? Do you agree with my opinion? Let me know in the comments below, and look out for more Doctor Who articles on Geek For The Win in the future.

Phil Knopp

Contributor

From Skywalkers to superheroes; from a Gunslinger to Gollum; From a time travelling police box to a time travelling delorean, my obsession with everything fantastical and geeky began when I was around 6, aboard the USS Enterprise, with Captain Jean-Luc Picard at the helm.

Now, being 6 seems like a lifetime ago, and a lot has changed in my life but my love for all things geeky remains a constant.

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