The Top 10 Modern Doctor Who Episodes

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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.

Begin reading on the next page…

Comments (17)

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  1. Morregansays:

    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)

    1. Jonathan Lacksays:

      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!

  2. Garrett Williamsays:

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

    1. Jonathan Lacksays:

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

  3. Chris Shortsays:

    Excellent choices. Enjoyed them all.

  4. Matt Zimmermannsays:

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

  5. who?says:

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

  6. liz almightysays:

    *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! 😉

    1. zxcqwesays:

      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.

    2. Knicsays:

      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.

    3. Two years later : you’re not alone ! “Midnight” is n°2 in my personal list. For the same reasons as you. This shot of Tennant silently screaming gave me the shivers. It still does.

      1. Joanne Markssays:

        Midnight is definitely my favorite episode by far. Just take a look at the unseen villain, who just makes the episode THAT much better. Also, exceptional acting, in an overall perfect episode filled with complete terror. Blink is a great episode, no denying it, but weeping angels don’t really give me the creeps, and I’m a fan of an episode’s protagonist being the doctor himself. Imo, slightly overhyped, and doesn’t deserve the top spot, when there are better episodes like The Girl in the Fireplace, and Empty Child/Doctor Dances.

  7. FightTheRealEnemysays:

    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

  8. Joneseysays:

    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.

  9. Texsays:

    I’m just glad Let’s Kill Hitler didn’t make it. How can you forgive the Master who killed billions and billions, and remain pissed at Hitler.

  10. Nadia Reysays:

    I have to say, this is a list I can back up. The author of this knows what he (she?) is talking about. I especially agree the 5th season is the most round-up, well-through season of all. I can recommend all of the episodes there, with the rare exception (The Vampire of Venice is too forgetable), and I have to mention the Christmas Special “Time of the Doctor” (Matt Smith’s last performance) referring back the first season “Silence will fall…” was the proof of brilliance on the writer’s part.

    I don’t agree so much in the choice of the Doctor’s Wife. And I’d like to see the updated list, now including the 12th doctor (honestly, a lot of mindfarts there but boy I loved Heaven Sent…)

    Now, there was this episode about temporal echos, I think it was Journey to the Center of the Tardis… I wouldn’t mention it amongst the best episodes except for the fact that it left such a strong impression in me, I still reemember the goosebumps it gave me after that final revelation… That one deserves more love. For Tennant’s era, I’d also mention Gridlock and it’s follow-up Utopia (through the rest of the trilogy is disappointing). Maybe Journey’s End as a stand alone… Possibly the Empty Child too.
    But really, there are so many episodes, and so many BRILLIANT Doctor Who episodes, a chunk of them are relegated to a second position unfairly because you can’t keep up with so much brilliance stuck in just one awesome show…

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