The Top 10 Modern Doctor Who Episodes

original16 The Top 10 Modern Doctor Who Episodes

Today is the eve of the historic 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, one of my favorite television shows of all time, and while we will have plenty of celebratory coverage – including a special all-Doctor Who podcast posting tomorrow, and my own review of the 50th Anniversary Special after it airs – I wanted to kick things off with a retrospective piece, commemorating what I consider to be the best episodes of the series.

Now, I have limited this list only to the modern series – which began in 2005 with Russell T Davies as showrunner and Christopher Eccleston as Doctor – not because I have any disregard for the classic, 26-season run of the show that began in 1963, but because I simply have not watched enough classic Who to make such determinations. I have seen my fair share of classic serials, and certainly regard stories like “The Time Warrior” or “The Caves of Androzani” among some of my all-time favorite TV viewing experiences, but like many younger viewers, I came to the show with Eccleston and Davies, and my primary nostalgia for the series comes from the last seven seasons of television. And even if I had seen all 798 episodes of Doctor Who, stratifying them out into separate lists for ‘classic’ and ‘modern’ episodes would still probably be the best course of action, given how different the two eras are in terms of narrative and visual style.

In any case, these are my 10 favorite episodes – or ‘stories,’ since two-part installments must of course be included – of modern Doctor Who. It was no easy task to whittle them down, but I am satisfied with how it all shook out. There is a balance here between the different Doctors, Seasons, styles, and genres the modern show has explored, and for those who have yet to sample modern Who, many of these episodes would be great places to start.

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10. The Girl in the Fireplace

Written by Steven Moffat 

The Girl in the Fireplace The Top 10 Modern Doctor Who Episodes

“Who the hell are you?”

“I’m the Doctor. And I just snogged Madame de Pompadour!”

The first of many Steven Moffat episodes on this list – whatever issues I and other fans have had with some of his recent output, Moffat is undeniably the revived show’s best and most significant writer – “The Girl in the Fireplace” is one of those episodes that solidified and defined my Doctor Who fandom. Years later, the hour still holds up, even if the central narrative conceit – the Doctor forms a deep relationship with a young woman over the course of her entire life, which only takes an hour or two for him as he keeps returning to her at inadvertently long time intervals – would be repurposed and reimagined as the origin story for Eleventh Doctor companion Amy Pond (with scenes from the episode readapted wholesale in Amy’s introduction, “The Eleventh Hour”). You can look at it as Moffat plagiarizing himself if you like, or you can simply recognize, as Moffat likely did, that since “The Girl in the Fireplace” is such a wonderful encapsulated entity, its foundations practically beg to be extended and reapplied in a new and different context. The fact that Moffat built the show’s single best run to date – Series 5 – from a concept introduced here does not suggest creative lethargy, but merely reinforces what a great, if occasionally messy, episode “The Girl in the Fireplace” really is.

To me, it is the ultimate Tenth Doctor story, and the one I always think back to when personally defining David Tennant’s run on the show. The Tenth Doctor was, after all, a hopeless romantic at heart, a horribly lonely, deeply damaged man who longed for emotional connection, and inevitably found himself doomed to isolation in the end. Russell T. Davies and company did not always manifest these ideas in the most graceful contexts – the Doctor/Rose romance never worked for me – but in this episode, Moffat really understood how to fuse the history of the Doctor with the romantic particulars of his tenth incarnation, and combined with Tennant’s spectacular performance, this is the hour where the character truly, definitively clicked into place.

Watching Tennant go through a wide gauntlet of emotional reactions during his short time with Madame du Pompadour – joy, melancholy, fear, humility, and intensely self-aware heroism – speaks not only to the character’s deep and abiding love of culture and history (something that really distinguishes the Tenth Doctor from his modern counterparts), but also his intense desire to be with someone who understands him, who is worldly and damaged and outcast in at least some of the same ways he is. I don’t know if we can call what he and Reinette have a ‘romance,’ but the encounter touches him deeply, and for a Doctor that so often seemed to be bursting with youth (in contrast to Matt Smith, who intentionally underlines the age of the character), the pained longing Tennant displays in his exchanges with Reinette powerfully reinforces how long this extraordinary man has lived.

Beyond all that, “The Girl in the Fireplace” is just a cracking good story, undercooked at times – too many big ideas to comfortably fit in one episode – but obscenely entertaining for the most part, with creative villains, an expert sense of pace, a remarkable guest turn from Sophia Myles, and most importantly, Tennant in absolute top form, touching upon every last strength, tic, or bit of comedic prowess he is remembered for. I don’t believe this is the best Tenth Doctor episode overall, but it is the first one I jump to when thinking about the character; the work Tennant and Moffat do here defines this incarnation for me, and that speaks volumes about what a powerful, lasting impact this episode leaves.

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9. Human Nature and The Family of Blood

Written by Paul Cornell

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“I’m John Smith, that’s all I want to be, John Smith. With his life… and his job… and his love. Why can’t I be John Smith? Isn’t he a good man? Why can’t I stay?”

The notion of the Doctor having a dark streak, a destructive quality that is the inherent flipside of his many wonderful qualities, is something modern Who has explored in great detail – especially during Matt Smith’s tenure in the three most recent Moffat-run series – but none have done so quite as elegantly or powerfully as Paul Cornell did in this two-part adaptation of his own 1995 Doctor Who novel. The entire two-parter – in which the Doctor, to avoid capture at the hands of the villainous ‘Family of Blood,’ transforms himself into a human man, John Smith, in 1913 Britain – is excellent, featuring series-best work from companion Freema Angyeman (burdened with carrying and selling long stretches of the story on her own), some of David Tennant’s all-time best material, terrific direction and production design, and a smart, insightful subtext about honor, comradeship, and the British noble spirit on the eve of war.

But what really puts the episode on this list is the last 25 minutes or so, in which John Smith – who has, at this point, been well established as an individual character separate from the Doctor – has to choose whether or not to let the Doctor reclaim his body in order to save the day. Doing so will literally ‘kill’ Smith and the life he has built – including a tender, well-realized romance between him and a local nurse – and as we come to realize what intense, unendurable inner-pain the Doctor has put this man (or himself, depending on your philosophical point-of-view) through, it becomes increasingly difficult, if not downright impossible, to know exactly what to feel.

Combined with the extreme stress companion Martha is forced to endure throughout, and the horror that the Family of Blood inflicts upon the local village due to the Doctor’s presence, we are ultimately forced to question how ‘good’ the Doctor really is. Is he truly doing what needs to be done, or are his actions here selfish, needlessly destructive and fundamentally self-serving? There is a whole life that John Smith never gets to live, a life Ms. Redfern is prevented from experiencing, children who are never created, all because of the Doctor’s need for self-perpetuation. In the end, the Doctor is not the one who displays bravery throughout the story – Martha, Redfern, and especially John Smith (who the Doctor insists is part of him, even though he scarcely seems to believe his own assertions) all have much tougher choices to make, and pay a good deal more for their heroism than the Doctor is ever asked to (at least in this particular story).

That last half of the second episode really is as perfect a stretch of television as Doctor Who has ever created, flawlessly paying off on everything that came before in a wild emotional roller-coaster of a finale. It is a real shame that Steven Moffat has chosen to do away with two-part stories in recent years, because while the format produced occasional clunkers – series 3 also played host to the unbearable “Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks,” for instance – I suspect that stories like this one could not have been told in any less time. Smart, moody, and hauntingly beautiful, “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood” easily serve as one of the modern series’ greatest accomplishments.

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8. Vincent and the Doctor

Written by Richard Curtis

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“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things.”

“Vincent and the Doctor” is so much more than just a great episode of Doctor Who. In exploring the psychology of one of history’s greatest painters – my favorite painter, personally – with a deft, loving, and powerfully empathetic hand, Richard Curtis’ script is also one of the best and most poignant dramatic love letters to artistry I have ever had the pleasure of encountering.

Tony Curran’s Vincent van Gogh is a revelation, a character so fully realized so immediately that he instantly enters the ranks of all-time great Doctor Who episodes, and the interplay between him, Matt Smith’s Doctor, and Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond is astoundingly heartfelt and natural. Building a credible science-fiction story around van Gogh’s artistic gifts is no small feat, but Curtis accomplishes it here, tying every element of the story back to a few central ideas about van Gogh’s utterly unique way of seeing the world, and his utterly crippling depression. While new research since the episode’s debut actually indicates that van Gogh did not commit suicide, but was shot accidentally by a passing hunter while painting, the episode still packs an enormous wallop in its honest and thoughtful portrayal of clinical depression and the connection between mental anguish and artistic talent. It is a tremendous script, increasingly bold as it reaches is emotional roller-coaster of a climax, and perhaps the single best ‘Doctor interacts with history’ episode in the show’s long lifespan.

Perhaps the greatest praise I can lend the episode is that whenever I watch it – hell, whenever I think about it – I am inspired to go learn more about the life and works of Vincent van Gogh. And when I now look at a van Gogh painting, or read a van Gogh biography, I cannot help but think of Curran’s performance and the dramatic portrayal of van Gogh in this episode. If that doesn’t make this an absolutely masterful hour of television, I don’t know what does.

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7. A Christmas Carol

Written by Steven Moffat

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We’re boys! And what do boys say in the face of danger? … Mummy!” 

Coming off the modern show’s very best season, Steven Moffat was on a rather absurd hot streak when he wrote “A Christmas Carol,” the 2010 Christmas special, and to say this hour continued that hot streak would be an understatement. The central premise – to save Amy, Rory, and the passengers of a crashing starship, the Doctor takes a Dickensian approach to swaying the mind of the wicked Kazran Sardick – should by all rights play as a gimmick, but Moffat instead delivered one of the all-time great retellings of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. 

Honing in on one of the book’s core thematic ideas about how a person’s past shapes their future, and how painful and difficult but ultimately rewarding it can be to take a critical look at where we came from and who we can become, Moffat weaves a stupendously emotional time-travel narrative, fueled by the foundations of the Dickens book, but positively bursting with delightful quirks and original ideas of its own. Michael Gambon delivers a tremendous performance as Kazran, while opera singer Katherine Jenkins is surprisingly effective as his doomed love interest. And under Toby Haynes’ impressive direction, “A Christmas Carol” is one of the most visually striking episodes of the entire series. I remember watching this special on Christmas day, back in 2011, and thinking what a magical, powerful experience it was. The Doctor Who Christmas special tradition has always been a fun one, but here, it was transcendent. 

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6. Dalek

Written by Robert Shearman 

Dalek The Top 10 Modern Doctor Who Episodes

This is the episode that got me hooked on Doctor Who, and I am sure the same can be said for countless fans around the world. In fact, when I recommend the modern series to people, I always tell them to try watching at least through “Dalek,” because if this episode doesn’t work for you, Doctor Who, by extension, will not. It is as simple as that. This was the first great hour of the modern series, the one where everything clicked into place and the show found a higher, darker, and more intellectually and emotionally complex gear to operate within.

The episode finds the Doctor confronted by the last surviving Dalek (well, for now) in a strange, near-future underground base, forcing his pent-up emotions about the Time War – an invention of the modern series that had not been greatly explored until now – to boil over into uncontrollable rage. Christopher Eccleston was a great Doctor, and he was never better than he was here, vengeful and confused and terrified at the sight of his old enemy’s return, and I think the same can be said of Billie Piper’s Rose, perfectly employed here as the Doctor’s sole touchstone to his remaining humanity. The episode is also a great character study for the Dalek itself, as the lone survivor not only functions as a terrific antagonist – the action sequences the episode constructs around a single Dalek’s reign of terror are some of the modern show’s best – but also a surprisingly complex and intriguing figure in its own right. The modern series has never told a better Dalek story than this – not even close – and only a handful of subsequent episodes surpass the sheer, absolute effectiveness of this one.

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5. The End of Time: Part 2

Written by Russell T Davies

doctor who end of time 2 The Top 10 Modern Doctor Who Episodes

“Look at you. Not remotely important! But me? I could do so much more! So much more! But this is what I get. My reward. Well it’s not fair! … Oh, I’ve lived too long.”

“The End of Time,” when taken as a whole, is a strange Doctor Who story. The first part of this two-part send-off to David Tennant and the Russell T Davies era is one of the single worst episodes in the modern show’s history. It’s awful, presenting an awkward and untenable influx of clunky exposition just as things should be wrapping up, and the convolutions involved with bringing back John Simm’s ‘Master’ and executing his evil, incredibly stupid plan – I want to punch the television every time he says ‘Master Race’ – are nigh unwatchable.

And then, on the flipside, Part 2 turned out to be one of the show’s very best installments, a nearly perfect hour-and-fifteen-minutes of television, and the single best Doctor Who episode Davies ever wrote. Perhaps that is reflective of the Davies era as a whole – the man routinely delivered astonishingly bad episodes next to wondrous masterpieces – but the split between the two halves is so absurdly bipolar that unlike other two-parters, I prefer to judge them separately, and mostly pretend the first half doesn’t exist at all.

In any case, “The End of Time” is simply a great Doctor regeneration story, one that delivers big action – the “Allons-y” spaceship climax and arrival of the Time Lords – and even bigger pathos – the Doctor’s final trip through the lives of his companions, giving one last gift to each of them – all in service of sending out the beloved Tenth Doctor with the biggest bang possible. David Tennant is tremendous throughout, as he always was in this part, but historically, the Tenth Doctor had been a messy characterization (on the writers’ side, not Tennant’s), and his tenure on the show had been marked by erratic storytelling that never quite found a unified center for the character, the way Davies did with Christopher Eccleston and Moffat has done with Matt Smith.

What amazed me most about “The End of Time,” then, is how Davies managed to contextualize so much of this messiness, defining the Tenth Doctor in his final hours by the internal conflict between his selfish and selfless sides, and demonstrating how this constant inner strife made him so many different things – needy, brave, impulsive, brilliant, isolated, romantic – to so many people. The sequence right before the Doctor absorbs the radiation to save Wilfred’s life is one of the single best scenes in the show’s long history, perfectly performed by Tennant as he rages against both fate and his own conflicting instincts, and while the work Davies does here doesn’t necessarily forgive prior dramatic missteps – the stupidity with the Doctor and Rose near the end of her run is inexcusable – “The End of Time” does allow me to view the Tenth Doctor era as a more unified whole than I ever previously could. This is a fantastic episode, and an absurdly high bar for Steven Moffat to reach when he writes Matt Smith’s upcoming regeneration episode.

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4. The Eleventh Hour

Written by Steven Moffat 

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“Hello. I’m the Doctor. Basically…run.” 

The Steven Moffat/Matt Smith era could not have possibly gotten off to a better start than this, the single best Doctor-introduction episode in the show’s long history. “The Eleventh Hour” is a practically magical balancing act, introducing us not only to a new Doctor, but also a new companion in Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond, tying their fates together in the most compelling of ways while it simultaneously weaves a cracking good adventure for the Doctor and his new friend to tackle. Nothing gets the short straw, and everything works in perfect harmony as we are swept up in the crazy fairy-tale story of Amy and the Raggedy Man, with each beat perfectly paced to build to a stupendously satisfying conclusion.

Karen Gillan makes an immediate, lasting impression – that she would stick around for an abnormally long two-and-a-half seasons was solidified by the end of this one hour – but Matt Smith even more so. It takes no time at all for Smith – who faced severe cynicism from fans before his debut – to make clear his interpretation of the part. Perceptive to a fault, projecting an inhumanly old age in a young man’s body, and craving companionship after the isolation his previous incarnation faced, the Eleventh Doctor is immediately established as one of the most compelling regenerations of the character, and by the time Matt Smith walks through the projections of his former self at the end of the episode, in full, bowtie-adorned costume, he owns the role as fully and completely as any actor ever has. That composer Murray Gold wrote a completely new, continually gripping theme for the character introduced in this episode is just icing on the cake. “The Eleventh Hour” is one of the all-time great TV season premieres, Doctor Who or no, and easily one of my very favorite episodes of the modern series.

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3. The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang

Written by Steven Moffat

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Series 5 of Doctor Who is the best season the modern series has ever produced, or is likely to ever produce. A perfectly realized combination of narrative ambition and character development, the series was incredible from start to finish, but it was this two-part finale that really solidified the season’s legacy. Steven Moffat threw a whole lot of balls up in the air over the course of the season, and while a few, like the explosion of the TARDIS, have yet to come back down to earth, the sheer number of plot and character threads he ties together in these two hours is staggering.

But “The Pandorica Opens” and “The Big Bang” are about so much more than satisfying plot resolution. It is what those narrative climaxes mean to the characters that really matters, and these two episodes are so absurdly full of great character moments – Rory chooses to stay with Amy and the Pandorica for 2000 years, the Doctor’s speech to a young, sleeping Amy before he is erased from time, and Amy’s conjuring of the Doctor at her wedding, to name the standouts – that maintaining dry eyes to the end is nearly impossible. Season Finales simply do not come better than these two episodes, so brilliant and beautiful and satisfying they are as a climax. I’ve often said that no matter what Moffat and Smith did from here on out, their legacies would be cemented by the work done here, and nowhere is that more apparent than in this bit of writing, perfectly delivered by Smith, which summarizes better than I ever could the power of these two episodes, and the cumulative impact of the fifth season as a whole:

“It’s funny. I thought, if you could hear me, I could hang on, somehow. Silly me. Silly old Doctor. When you wake up, you’ll have a mum and dad, and you won’t even remember me. Well, you’ll remember me a little. I’ll be a story in your head. But that’s OK: we’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh? Because it was, you know, it was the best. A daft old man, who stole a magic box and ran away. Did I ever tell you I stole it? Well, I borrowed it; I was always going to take it back. Oh, that box, Amy, you’ll dream about that box. It’ll never leave you. Big and little at the same time, brand-new and ancient, and the bluest blue, ever. And the times we had, eh? Would’ve had. Never had. In your dreams, they’ll still be there. The Doctor and Amy Pond… and the days that never came.” 

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2. The Doctor’s Wife

Written by Neil Gaiman

the doctors wife The Top 10 Modern Doctor Who Episodes

“Did you ever wonder why I chose you all those years ago?”

“I chose you. You were unlocked.”

“Of course I was. I wanted to see the universe, so I stole a Time Lord and I ran away. And you were the only one mad enough.”

For the last two slots on this list, I wound up choosing relatively ‘normal’ episodes of Doctor Who, which feels oddly appropriate. It is easy to praise the ‘big’ episodes of the series, like Specials or Premieres or Finales, just as it is easier for the writers to make those episodes stand out. It is far more difficult to create a great and lasting normal-length, mid-season episode, and when they arrive, they can often be the most memorably entries of the series.

Look no further than to Neil Gaiman’s Series 6 contribution, “The Doctor’s Wife,” for proof. The episode may have been produced on a slightly higher budget than the standard Doctor Who hour – and looks every penny of it, too – but otherwise, this is a ‘normal’ episode of the series, and one made legendary by simple virtue of tremendous writing and powerful acting. Gaiman’s core concept – the spirit of the TARDIS becomes encapsulated in the body of a woman, allowing the Doctor to physically interact with his one true love – is so fundamentally brilliant that one wonders why it was never done before, and Gaiman executes upon it perfectly, crafting a story that fully realizes the emotional potential of the idea. And while Matt Smith turns in some of his very best work over the course of the episode, Gaiman’s writing is so good, and so pure in terms of how he understands Doctor Who as a series and the Doctor as a character, that this is one of the few Who stories ever written in which it is easy to imagine any of the eleven actors who played the character inhabiting the part. Truly, this is as universal a Doctor Who story as has ever been created, and one of the great achievements of the modern series.

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1. Blink

Written by Steven Moffat

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“What did you come here for anyway?”

“I love old things. They make me feel sad.”

“What’s good about sad?”

“It’s happy for deep people.”

43 minutes.

Just 43 minutes.

It always amazes me, whenever I revisit my all-time favorite Doctor Who episode, to realize that while “Blink” is an absolutely extraordinary achievement in every way imaginable, it still exists within the standard temporal confines given to any other episode. We have looked at a lot of fantastic Steven Moffat episodes on this countdown, and the thing that makes him a great writer – especially for Doctor Who – also happens to be his greatest weakness: He is so absurdly overstuffed with imagination that even his best hours can be a tad bit rough around the edges, with an only semi-realized concept or mildly unpolished element here or there, and as his tenure with the show goes on, those messy qualities have only become more and more apparent (I’m looking at you, “The Wedding of River Song”).

But in the scant 43 minutes that comprise the entirety of “Blink,” Moffat packs about as many ideas as he ever has into a single episode, and somehow, miraculously, everything works in perfect, total, harmony. Perhaps the pressure to write a “Doctor-lite” episode, working with a drastically smaller budget and intense limitations on how much he could use David Tennant, reigned in some of Moffat’s more runaway creative instincts (and certainly, Moffat takes to the format much better than Russell T. Davies did in the show’s first “Doctor-lite” episode, the unendurably awful “Love and Monsters,” which still easily stands as the worst episode in the revived show’s history).

Whatever the reason, “Blink” is a truly flawless episode, stuffed to the brim with a wonderful one-off protagonist in Sally Sparrow(*), a great supporting cast, endlessly atmospheric production design, a terrific original score (Murray Gold only recycles previous Who compositions in the last scene), and in the Weeping Angels, the single most terrifying and intriguing new villains in the history of modern Who. It all works in service of a plot that is as elegant as it is dense, packed with a series of increasingly awe-inspiring time travel manipulations that are exactly as mind-boggling as they need to be, without ever encroaching on ‘confusing’ territory. The pacing is perfect, every single beat – be it scary, funny, romantic, sad, exciting, or a combination of all five – lands with maximum impact, and by the time the end credits roll around, it feels as if this single episode has become a world unto itself. That 43 short minutes can play host to this incredibly detailed level of world-building and characterization is the episode’s single most impressive time manipulation.

(*) The stupendous Carey Mulligan, who both I and the majority of the world were first introduced to here, is so compelling and charismatic in “Blink” that I still bemoan we got a Torchwood and Sarah Jane spinoff but not a “Sally Sparrow Casefiles” TV series, in which the character goes around privately investigating strange, inexplicable occurrences. I would watch the hell out of that.

And yes, I know this is more or less the most predictable choice for the number one slot possible. Everybody loves “Blink.” Classic Doctor Who fans love “Blink.” Revived series fans love “Blink.” People who don’t watch Doctor Who love “Blink.” And yes, in the time since its transmission, parts of this episode have been repurposed in ways that are downright annoying. The “wibbly wobbly, timey wimey” one-liner has been re-stated far too many times, in both the fan community and in the show itself, to the point of losing all meaning. The Weeping Angels, who remained scary in their fantastic second appearance in Series 5, felt pretty well played out by the time we got to “The Angels Take Manhattan” in Series 7. And anytime something is as broadly, universally, and incessantly celebrated as “Blink” is, the slightest bit of resentment inevitably starts to set in.

But the thing is, none of that matters when I actually sit down and watch the episode. When I watch “Blink,” I feel as if I am stepping into a time capsule, to that month back in 2009 when I first marathoned my way through all four existing seasons of revived Who, arriving at “Blink” with no preconceived notions whatsoever and finding myself absolutely blown away. Countless re-watches later, and the episode still hits me as hard as it did back then. Every ‘scary’ beat with the Angels continues to frighten or unsettle me. Each musical cue still sends chills down my spine. All of Tennant’s absurd, out-of-context asides – “Wibbly Wobbly” included, but especially the “four things and a lizard” bit in the last scene – make me cackle like a madman, and when Sally meets Officer Shipton as an old man, the scene is so expertly, eloquently pitched that I still find myself tearing up at least a little bit. Every clever bit of plotting, and each gloriously creative use of time travel, still manages to rewire the back of my brain. And absolutely everything Sally Sparrow says and does just makes me smitten with her all over again, every last time I return to the episode.

“Blink” is, simply put, as good as it gets, not only the pinnacle of modern Doctor Who, but one of the new millennium’s single best hours of television to date.

Other Episodes Considered: Father’s Day, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways, The Christmas Invasion, Smith and Jones, Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, Midnight, The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, Planet of the Dead, The Waters of Mars, A Good Man Goes to War, Let’s Kill Hitler, The God Complex, The Bells of Saint John, The Rings of Akhaten, Nightmare in Silver.

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  • Morregan

    What a wonderfully written, passionate piece this is! Thank you so much.

    I was delighted to find my all-time favorite episode on your list, “Vincent and the Doctor.” Like many American fans, I came late to the party, and I was playing catch-up through the reruns on BBCA. I was lucky that I encountered “Vincent and the Doctor” early on, because that was the episode that suddenly showed me just how truly special Doctor Who could be. That was the episode that turned me into a true fan. There are so many other wonderful episodes that I have seen since, but “Vincent and the Doctor” remains truly beloved for me.

    If I may, I’d like to mount a tiny defense of the much-maligned “Love and Monsters.” That episode certainly has problems, as you pointed out, but it does contain one of my favorite bits of dialog from all of Doctor Who:

    “But what I wanted to say is . . . You know, when you’re a kid, they tell you it’s
    all grow up, get a job, get married, get a house, have a kid, and that’s it. Ahhh
    . . . but the truth is that the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much
    darker. And so much madder. And so much better. . .”

    Marc Warren as ‘Elton Pope’
    Doctor Who, Love and Monsters (last scene)

    • Jonathan Lack

      Thank you very much! I’m not a “Love and Monsters” fan, to put it kindly, but I’m glad to hear other people like it!

  • Garrett William

    Replace the End of Time with The Girl Who Waited and I’m sold.

    • Jonathan Lack

      Girl Who Waited was definitely on my “In Contention” list! I love that episode. But there are so many good ones to choose from.

  • Chris Short

    Excellent choices. Enjoyed them all.

  • Matt Zimmermann

    Are these in order? Because if so, The Girl in the Fireplace should be higher ;)

  • who?

    No Doomsday? That episode is one of favourites to date, brilliant performances from both Tennant and Billie Piper.

  • liz almighty

    *sigh* “midnight.” well, at LEAST it was considered!

    i swear, no one ever talks about the absolute brilliance in the execution of the dialogue in this episode. as an actress, i can’t even begin to fathom looking at that script and being able to pull off what an outstanding ensemble somehow managed to do…. and not only did, but did exceptionally, believably and to horrifying effect. the fear – always of the unknown and unseeable – i feel each time i watch THOSE eyes darting about? *shiver* and the sheer terror felt by the doctor, as he was rendered truly, utterly helpless in the determination of his fate? and tennant’s performance, so powerful in its simplicity, allowing the audience to be just as helpless at his side? just…. wow. i could say so much more in praise of “midnight,” but alas, i’m in the minority on this one.

    but hey…. you gotta love the lost moon of poosh! ;)

    • zxcqwe

      no, i agree with everything you said. it was so good i made my friends, who know nothing about doctor who, watch it and they enjoyed it. i re-watched the episode like 3 times in one day.

    • Knic

      I agree. To each their own I suppose. I don’t know how I would go about ranking episodes in order, but for me Midnight is the finest episode in modern Doctor Who and easily the best of RTD’s list. Everything about that episode is perfect.

  • FightTheRealEnemy

    THE VINCENT VAN GOGH EPISODE SUCKED. I could go on for hours, but I’ll use only one example: He dedicated his Sunflower painting to that season’s random Mary Sue. Yeah…okay. Except Van Gogh actually was friends with Paul Gaughin, the individual responsible for showing up at Vincent’s house with sunflowers and going “OMG LETS PAINT THESE”. Van Gogh was all ‘fine, whatever”. There’s even a painting by Paul Gaugin, of Van Gogh, as he is painting sunflowers. This episode did noting to capture Van Gogh’s depression i.e. crippling loneliness, OR explosive anger. Ugh

  • Jonesey

    I ind the (throughly objective) list, but I wish the writer didn’t emphatically declare outright that season 5 was the hands-down “best” of the whole relaunch. While it certainly had some amazing episodes, IMHO, the sixth season was even better, though I think it is too subjective a notion to declare that the gospel truth.