DOCTOR WHO (2005 – PRESENT) – MY FAVOURITE EPISODES by PAUL LAIGHT
With SEASON NINE upon us and in appreciation of Doctor Who, from circa 2005, I look back in admiration at the last 10 years of the Doctor in his new inceptions. I’ve picked some of my favourite episodes incorporating TWO episodes from each of the eight prior seasons! So here goes: GERONIMO!
EPISODE 1.6 – DALEK – Writer: Robert Shearman
This episode found the Doctor and Rose going underground in Utah, 2012. There, a megalomaniac collector, Van Statten, has all manner of alien artefacts including a Dalek that is being experimented on. This was a very gripping episode and one where Eccleston’s dramatic muscles were really flexed. I loved the fact the Dalek was defeated having been ‘infected’ with humanity. It also had a great bit of dialogue when the Doctor is told: “You would have made a good Dalek!”
EPISODE 1.9 – THE DOCTOR DANCES – Writer: Steven Moffat
This episode concluded what began with The Empty Child. I loved the wartime setting and the gas-masked creatures really sent chills down the spine. The subtext of war children hung heavy over the episode and in their own way both Rose and the Doctor are orphans. In this thrilling episode the emotional barriers come down between Rose and the Doctor as they dance together amidst the horrors of World War II.
EPISODE 2.4 – THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE – Writer – Steven Moffat
What if the Doctor fell in love? This incredible episode asks that question and others with a mind-bending yet romantic intertwining of the Timelord and Madame De Pompadour. 3000 years in the future Rose, Mickey and the Doctor finding a floating space vessel with temporal windows to the past. Yes there’s a horse on a spaceship in this one too plus: humour, romance, action and under-the-bed-frights. The pace zings along and the chemistry between Sophia Myles and David Tennant is electric.
EPISODE 2.13 – DOOMSDAY – Writer: Russell T. Davies
And so it came to pass Rose and the Doctor part in the most spectacular of ways, amidst a war on Earth between Cybermen and Daleks. Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) was a brilliant companion both sparky and brave and loyal until the end sacrificing herself to save the Doctor. It’s full of action and emotion as the Doctor and Rose bid a sad goodbye. Russell T. Davies’ strength as a writer was making the science fiction seem very real and imbue the fantastical with real emotional kick.
EPISODE 3.8 – HUMAN NATURE – Writer: Paul Cornell
In this stunning episode we get Tennant’s Doctor BUT he isn’t the Doctor; he’s actually a teacher called John Smith hiding from aliens. It’s a wonderful concept and brims with dramatic irony as Mr Smith has weird Deja vu of a life he believes he has lived only in his dreams. Martha (Freema Agyeman) excels here and the story – set in 1913 on the eve of war – doesn’t shy away from critiquing the racial and class politics of the day. There’s a lovely Remains of the Day subplot as the Mr Smith/Doctor falls for Jessica Hynes’ matron just as the Family of Blood come to call.
EPISODE 3.10 – BLINK – Writer Steven Moffat
What makes a classic Doctor Who episode? Is it the story and the action and the science fiction and the laughs? Yes, of course! But what REALLY makes is a great monster: a seemingly undefeatable foe that tests the Doctor and his companion to the limit of their powers. Blink introduced the terrifying Weeping Angels so don’t BLINK or they’re on you like the taxman and they’ll drain your life just as quick. The episode is Doctor-light with Carey Mulligan playing haunted Sally Sparrow, and while the writing and structure are tricky, Moffat really pulls all the strings together on this one.
EPISODE 4.7 – THE UNICORN AND THE WASP – Writer: Gareth Roberts
There are probably way better episodes but I chose this light and fluffy one because I’m a sucker for Agatha Christie murder mysteries. It skilfully throws Christie’s actual 3-day disappearance in with a monstrous wasp, a cunning jewel thief and a wicked murder plot. The Doctor and Donna play detective in a ripping yarn which features an early appearance from Oscar nominee Felicity Jones.
EPISODE 4.10 – THE FOREST OF THE DEAD – Writer: Steven Moffatt
This two-parter began with the episode equally brilliant Silence in the Library which set up a thrilling plot and enigmatic ‘companion’ that is River Song (Alex Kingston). It also established the nasty microscopic dust-mite Vashta Nerada i.e. “the shadows that melt the flesh”. Moffat once again conjures up a mind-bending plot which jumps from a 51st Century and a strange dream world which Donna gets sucked into. It was this surreal Bunuelian nightmare place which stayed with me as Donna gets married, has children and then loses them all in a matter of moments.
EPISODE 4.15 – THE PLANET OF THE DEAD – Writers: Russell T. Davies and Gareth Roberts
Okay, so I’ve had to cheat here. I’ve added another episode because Season 4 was extended by a series of specials. The Planet of the Dead as it was another fun episode full of verve, pace and great images including a bus stranded in the space desert. I love episodes when they’re in the far flung netherworlds of space and this was a lovely light bit of sci-fi fluffery before the imperious pathos of Stolen Earth/Journey’s End.
EPISODE 5.10 – VINCENT AND THE DOCTOR – Writer: Richard Curtis
The 5th season of the rebooted genesis veered from Davies’ strong science fictional, yet plausible, arcs to something more akin to science fantasy under Steven Moffat. However, my favourite episode of the whole season was one, which while rewriting history in a most memorable way, had at its heart a very warm, tragic and human story. Vincent and The Doctor was about depression, art, failure, creative perception and did what we all would hope to do with time-travel: right the injustices of the past. At the heart of the story is Vincent Van Gogh and the artist’s battle with his demons, both literally and symbolically. The monster of course is depression and the writer Richard Curtis handles the subject deftly and gives Vincent an incredibly emotional denouement.
EPISODE 5.11 – THE LODGER – Writer: Gareth Roberts
Season 5 was brimming with imagination and great science fiction involving the “cracks in the Universe” which worked paradoxically but still created SO many questions. Thus, The Lodger was a welcome moment in the season when The Doctor – with Amy ‘chilling’ on the TARDIS – came into the lives of Craig (James Corden) and Sophie (Daisy Haggard). The Doctor had a big impact on Craig’s life playing accidental matchmaker while utilising Matt Smith’s great comedy timing. Throw in a nefarious alien presence to deal with and you have a wonderful episode that is a lot of fun.
EPISODE 6.3 – THE DOCTOR’S WIFE – Writer: Neil Gaiman
This is the season where Steven Moffat really made things VERY with paradox upon paradox as the Doctor faced an existential crisis being given the knowledge of his own death and also knowing his mysterious assassin. Standing alone from the big story arc was the episode The Doctor’s Wife. It was an immediate hit for me with a wonderful concept, beautiful effects and stunning cast including Suranne Jones as a physical incarnation of the TARDIS. The whole show is about the lovely relationship between Idris (TARDIS personified) and Matt Smith’s frantic Doctor as they exchange banter while constructing a makeshift TARDIS from the scraps lying around. Jones is amazing as Idris and there is great chemistry between her and Smith as they race to save Amy and Rory from the murderous computer ‘House’.
EPISODE 6.10 – THE GIRL WHO WAITED – Writer: Tom McCrae
In The Girl Who Waited Amy Pond becomes trapped on Chen7 in a timeline that splits her character into younger and older versions of herself. So, when the Doctor and Rory attempt to save her trapped soul they overshoot by 36 years and find a bitter, rabid Amy now characterized as an ass-kicking-Sarah-Connor-survivalist-type who refuses to save her younger self. It’s a heart-wrenching episode which Karen Gillen owns; giving two great performances. The relationship between Rory and Amy hangs heavy in the air as there is papable sense of loss to the core of The Girl Who Waited.
EPISODE 7.1 – ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS – Writer: Steven Moffat
Season 7 opener Asylum of the Daleks is an absolute cracker as the Doctor, Amy and Rory are “summoned” by the Daleks to venture into the Dalek “nut-house” and save them from a bunch of crazy rogue Daleks threatening their very existence. Oooh, what a switcheroo; the Doctor SAVING the Daleks! Jenna Coleman’s appearance was a fine touch and her lightness in performance was a fine counter-point to the heavy nature of the insane Dalek asylum. The subplot of Rory and Amy’s marriage difficulties, the crazy Daleks and the sadness in the final reveal really added to the drama and pulled at the heartstrings. This episode breathed further life into the Daleks as one, if not the greatest, of the Doctor’s greatest foes.
EPISODE 7.5 – ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN – Writer: Steven Moffat
Angels Take Manhattan was so heart-wrenching as Matt Smith excels in a very dramatic show against old foes the Weeping Angels! The opening of the episode begins in a film noir style story and is framed like a detective novel as Moffat delivers a meta-fictional structure combined with a spooky haunted hotel story. It’s full of grand twists and turns which pull the viewer from past to present and back again. Moffat ratchets up the scares by introducing us to new version of the ‘Angels’ like little buggers the Weeping Cherubs. And get this: the STATUE OF LIBERTY is a WEEPING ANGEL! Incredible! Saying goodbye to a companion is always tough but Amy and Rory went out in great style and are still out there somewhere.
EPISODE 8.8 – MUMMY ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS – Writer: Jamie Mathieson
Capaldi was brilliant as I thought he would be and I loved one of his opening gambits to Clara: “Am I a good man?” Moffat developed this character subtext very well notably in the episode Listen, where not much occurred on the page yet in the murky margins and shadows there was impressive suspense and terror. However, I loved the awesomely titled Mummy on the Orient Express as it crammed so many great things into the 45 minutes running time. The Doctor and Clara are on one last voyage before going their separate ways yet a vicious Mummy (AKA The Foretold) is killing passengers who only have 66 seconds to live once he targets his victim. It’s great fun and kind of scary and as the Doctor cracks the case he shares some fine one-liners and banter with a terrific cast including Frank Skinner and David Bamber.
EPISODE 8.11 – DARK WATER – Writer: Steven Moffat
This episode is pitch black darkness personified as the Doctor and Clara end up in the Nethersphere, where they finally get to meet the enigmatic Missy who had popped up throughout the season. Death casts a looming shadow and even I had my pillow over my face when I heard the screams of the dead cry: “Don’t cremate me!” in one harrowing scene. By the time the Cybermen are marching down St Paul’s (in tribute to The Invasion from 1968) steps I was gripped. The performances are superb from Jenna Coleman, Peter Capaldi and the Mistress herself Michelle Gomez, who demonstrates a gleeful mania to great effect. A superb episode with no kids in to ruin it and thankfully the Hollyoaks style romance is replaced by a morbid bleakness.
SPECIAL MENTION: THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR – 50TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL
I’ll round up this run through with a special mention of The Day of the Doctor, which was the closest we’d get to a new Doctor Who movie. It was a spectacular piece of writing by Steven Moffat and a brilliant story which rewrote the whole Doctor Who narrative. It brought THREE Doctors (Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt’s War Doctor) into a mixture of high concept sci-fi and operatic drama which soared in tribute to fifty years of the Timelord. The chemistry between the Doctors was a joy (and Tom Baker popped in at the end too) as they go back to the Time War era and review the decision to destroy Gallifrey and the end the war with the nefarious Daleks. This was a Doctor Who production of the highest order and it demonstrates the power and prowess of the show that it was shown simultaneously in 94 countries hitting the Guinness Book of Records for largest ever live simulcast!
I have realised Doctor Who is MORE than a TV show. It’s a huge cult with fans all over the world who are as passionate about the show as people are about religion or their chosen football team. If I’m honest the old show I watched as a child holds so many great memories but nostalgia can be a cruel guide so it could be easy to dismiss the new show “because it’s not as good as when I was a kid!” But, “new” DOCTOR WHO has on the whole has been brilliant too. I may not like everything about it but it still retains that magical quality I experienced as an earthly child growing up on a high-rise estate in South London.