Some Modern Doctor Who Episodes are Better Than Others
Choosing a favorite Modern Doctor Who episode is like choosing your favorite Doctor. Everyone has one, and it’s very hard to come to an agreement. But we’ve done our best to do so by watching every modern episode again (okay, okay…we would have done this for fun, even if it hadn’t been for this article), and picked out our very favorites. With that in mind, please be our companion for this extensive list.
A warning, sweetie. Beyond this point there are spoilers. So know that before you go. That behind us — Allons-y!
This is the only Twelfth Doctor episode to make the list and with good reason. Unfortunately, Moffit really didn’t make the best use of Capaldi in his role as he could have. There was so much potential and unfortunately, a lot of it went to waste. Moffitt himself said he was running out of ideas (which is one of the many reasons we are so excited for a new showrunner). But this episode stood apart — it stood out from the others. This episode was bold and daring. It featured no one but The Doctor and the unspeaking Veil.
After Clara’s death (hey, we did warn you there were LOTS of spoilers in this article), The Doctor finds himself in a castle that keeps rearranging itself (like Hogwarts, but less fun) pursued by a mysterious creature named the Veil that seeks confessions. Time after time it chases him as he tries to unravel the mystery of the castle and escape. It never sleeps, it never stops, it just stalks him silently through the halls. With a mental image of Clara to help him puzzle it out, he eventually frees himself from the confessional and onto Gallifrey.
The constant fear of capture and the presence of only the Twelfth Doctor really makes Capaldi’s skill shine. He captivates, even though (or maybe because) he is largely alone. You feel his fear and his plight as he struggles against insurmountable odds. You root for him to escape, and feel his despair when he falters in the task. This really was an exceptional episode and deserves its spot on this list.
The End of Time
This episode holds a very special spot in our hearts — as all regeneration episodes do. They represent an ending, but also a new beginning. This change is always hard on fans. Will the new Doctor be up to the challenge? How much will their parting hurt? The answers are usually yes, and a lot.
“End of Time” follows the resurrection of the Master. The Master torments The Doctor as he romps through the world, causing destruction to the tune of drum beats in his mind. The Doctor thinks the four-count beat is the four knocks that the Ood predicted would signal his death and the beginning of his next resurrection. It turns out, however, that Gallifrey is behind the assault, and with the help of the Master, bring the planet into near-Earth orbit, pulling it beyond the Time War. The Doctor manages to destroy the item connecting the worlds and sends Gallifrey back to its own time, taking the Master with it.
Thinking he has escaped death, The Tenth Doctor readies himself to return to his TARDIS when he hears four knocks behind him. He turns to find Wilfred sealed inside one of the control rooms which is flooding with radiation. The only way to save him is to enter the other control room and seal himself in to release the door. He survives the radiation, but it does enough damage to necessitate regeneration. His last words still leave a sorrowful place in our hearts — “I don’t want to go” — we didn’t want you to go either, Ten.
This pair of episodes leaves us feeling sad, but that’s okay. Eventually all things must come to an end, and Matt Smith went on to be a great Doctor. Ten’s exit was such a powerful moment, it had to make the list. It will be a long while until we get a regeneration that leaves us quite this melancholy.
Day of the Doctor
Any chance we get to see the Doctor interact with himself is pretty much our favorite thing ever. The Tenth, Eleventh, and the newly introduced War Doctor come together to shape the future. The War Doctor is tasked with stopping the Time War before it wipes out the entirety of existence in the galaxy (you know, no pressure or anything).
He decides to use a device called The Moment to wipe out both sides before everything ends, but The Moment is sentient. It takes the form of Rose Tyler and questions his choice. It muses on whether it truly is best to commit mass genocide of two species and what will come of being the only Time Lord in the universe. The Moment casts him into the future to meet what he will become if he uses the device.
He finds both Doctors in the future trying to stop a Zygon invasion (a race of creatures that become doppelgangers of others in order to take over a planet). The Zygon have nowhere else to go and need to inhabit Earth to survive, but humans really don’t want to be conquered — go figure. The Doctors see things from both sides and use mind-wipe technology to make everyone forget who is Human and who is Zygon, forcing them to negotiate fairly, so UNIT and the Zygons come to an agreement that benefits both parties.
After watching the Doctors save two races from themselves, the War Doctor decides to save this future, and his future selves by enacting the Moment, and the modern Doctors follow him back to help him shoulder the burden. Together, they find another way to save the Time Lords instead of destroying them (perhaps for the better, but then again, maybe not). In the end, everyone returns to their own times and the War Doctor, no longer needed, regenerates.
The 50th Anniversary special asked hard questions about prejudice, equality, and the difference of perspective. The power to save others and the power to destroy is only a difference of degrees. This episode is wonderful because the Doctors walk that thin line with care. We love the difficulty of the choice laid before the War Doctor, and how the Tenth and the Eleventh Doctors show him the good that comes from making a hard decision.
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End
This episode is the incredible culmination of all four seasons in the Russell T. Davies era. It features the Tenth Doctor and pretty much every companion and friend the Doctor made along the way. It’s basically all of our fan hopes and dreams rolled up into two awesome episodes — and we couldn’t be happier with the result.
The Daleks steal Earth (and many other planets) in an effort to power a reality bomb which will destroy this and all other realities with it. Lofty goals, as per usual, but we wouldn’t expect anything less from Davros. With the Doctor unsure as to where the planet is hidden, his past companions (still on Earth) band together to resist the Daleks. They work to find a way to contact him so he can swoop in and save the day — like he always does (he’s a professional).
The companions manage to get a signal to the Doctor and bring him to Earth (though he nearly dies/regenerates in doing so). Eventually, the episode culminates with a Doctor clone, the Doctor himself, and the Doctor Donna. They manage to stop the Daleks, save the planets and “tow” earth back to its original orbit.
There are so many good moments in this episode pair, we don’t even know where to start. From all the companions taking a front row seat to save their planet stands out as momentous. Then there everyone steering the TARDIS together — even if watching the tiny little TARDIS tow the Earth is almost comical and a little over the top. But what is Doctor Who if not a little campy? If it weren’t for that heartbreaking ending when we must say goodbye to Donna, this might be one of our very favorite episodes.
The Waters of Mars
This special is an intense ride from start to finish. It leaves you wondering about the effects of fate and if sometimes our choices don’t matter. It is also one of the few episodes where the Doctor is just as much a villain as the creatures he’s fighting. Let’s set the scene. The Doctor lands on Mars, at the first human base ever built there.
The Tenth Doctor realizes once he is inside that this moment is a fixed point in time — he can do nothing to change it or risk altering all of history forever. He tries to remain apart from it, but he is pulled in when there is an emergency in the Bio-dome. Eventually, Adelaide, the head of the crew, convinces the Doctor to tell her why he can’t help, and she finally lets him leave, understanding that his aid would prevent humanity from progressing into the future.
The future demands that everyone on the base must die. Yet, in a moment of great compassion (or is it rebellion?) The Doctor saves the three uninfected crew members. He brings them back to Earth, sparing them from the deaths that fate had laid out for them. The Doctor and Adelaide are left alone, where she questions why he would change the course of history. He declares himself the “Time Lord Victorious.” She denies his right, enters her home, and kills herself. The Doctor is forced to confront his hubris and for once, realizes he has gone too far.
We crave these moments of weakness in the Doctor. His mistakes make him more like us, more relatable, and more “human.” Even the Doctor in his blue box sometimes falls prey to the worst parts of himself. Sometimes having all that power is too much — even for him. It’s a reminder that sometimes we have to accept the things we can’t change. We should be better than The Doctor and should never give in to the worst of ourselves.
The Doctor finds himself on a sealed bus (bottle episode, anyone?), with several interesting characters who are displaying varying levels of excitement about the trip they are taking to see a Sapphire Waterfall. Due to the high levels of radiation that the sun this planet revolves around releases, the bus must be shielded until they arrive at their destination. We don’t know who decided that a highly radioactive planet was a good place for a leisure resort, but we’re pretty sure that they didn’t think this through quite as much as they should have.
In a catastrophic failure, or perhaps sabotage (definitely sabotage), the bus breaks down hours from anywhere. Forced to wait for rescue, something sneaks aboard the ship and takes over one of the passengers. It begins to repeat everything said and slowly the passengers begin to panic. The Doctor does his best to keep everyone calm, but in the words of Men in Black “People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.” Eventually the thing, possessing the body of a passenger, focuses on The Doctor.
The possessed woman stops repeating and begins to force him to repeat instead. It is the sacrifice of the hostess dragging the possessed passenger into the radioactive sunlight which saves all of them. Haunted silence follows as they wait for rescue, all of them realizing that no one ever asked the name of the hostess that saved them.
This episode haunts us as much as it haunted the passengers of that ill-fated bus. You are never given the satisfaction of an answer, and that is why we love it. You’re instead left wondering what that thing might have been, and what it might have done if it succeeded in taking over The Doctor and making it back to civilization. Not even The Doctor, who seems to know everything, had an answer for what it was, or if it survived. There is one thing that haunts us more than the creature though: how quickly people, when frightened, turn on each other. That alone is more terrifying than never knowing what the thing on the bus might have been.
Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
This split episode has one of the scariest enemies the Tenth Doctor ever faced. It is also the first introduction to the “archaeologist” River Song. The Doctor takes Donna to The Library — not a library, The Library. The biggest in the universe.
The pair meet River Song and her expedition (financed by Lux, the grandson of the founder of The Library). She clearly knows The Doctor, but he has no idea who she is, not to mention why she has a notebook which looks like the Tardis. It is revealed she sent the message that brought him here, but when she realizes this is the youngest version of The Doctor she’s ever met, she refuses to reveal anything else. “Spoiler alert” (but we’re going to reveal more because that’s what we do).
One by one the expedition party begins to fall victim to the monsters in The Library when they stumble into the shadows. The Doctor reveals they’re creatures that appear in small numbers on almost every world, usually in forests, and hunt in shadow. They are called the Vashta Nerada, and they certainly scare the crap out of us. Imagine a darkened patch in a forest that is actually a swarm of incredibly hungry monsters that will tear the flesh from your bones faster than a piranha. Now, remember the millions of life signs the computer found. Yeah — it’s not good.
As the group flees deeper into The Library, Lux reveals that it was constructed for Charlotte, his late aunt who was diagnosed with an incurable disease. His Grandfather built The Library with a supercomputer that could store her consciousness so she could live on with all the knowledge she could ever want. As they descend, The Doctor realizes that when the information nodes say saved, they mean that they literally saved their consciousness to the computer, like Charlotte herself. He realizes he can save them all (and not save like the computer, but like actually save them).
The Doctor discovers a way to communicate with the Vashta Nerada swarm and they tell him that this is their home. The Library is their forest. He convinces the swarm to give them one day to save everyone and slowly the swarm agrees, parting so the group can progress. The only problem is how much power it would take to do so — and by power we mean energy. River Song, promising to meet The Doctor in her past and his Future (wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey), sacrifices herself to bring them all back.
All the people who were “saved” are freed from what we’re going to call “protective custody” and escape. The Doctor finds a way to upload River into the computer so she doesn’t die, not really. He lets her live on for eternity with her lost crew within The Library. He leaves her journal behind, as part of The Library, and to keep the future a mystery. No spoilers (except, you know, this entire article).
The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances
Another incredibly eerie villain that still gives us the shivers. There is nothing that instills fear faster than a child not behaving like a child. This episode gives us the quintessential horror scenario, being chased by a child who isn’t really a child. It is a story of love, loss, and fear during the London Blitz — and we’re here for it.
The first half of the episode introduces Jack Harkness, a fan favorite time traveler, who tries to woo Rose into buying his cargo when she is separated from The Doctor. Meanwhile, The Doctor receives a haunting phone call echoing the message of the child on the phone asking “Are you my Mummy?” A young girl named Nancy leads him away from the call and to a group of orphans who are stealing food from a nice house during an air raid. The child appears at the door and Nancy warns The Doctor not to touch the child as she runs out the back with the orphan flock. Nancy tells him that all of this started when something crashed outside the local hospital.
Eventually, the Doctor learns that the child was patient zero. He eventually discovers that Nancy is its mother, and convinces her to accept the child. The nanites contained in the cylinder determined that her genes are what humans should probably look like. It turns out that finding a dead boy as their first experience with human DNA made them think humans were supposed to have gas masks for faces (clearly they can’t differentiate between organic and inorganic matter, but we digress). In a miracle moment, he is able to save everyone, even the little boy.
The hollow child is haunting as he stalks endlessly through the city hunting for his mother. The image of a child in a gas mask paired with that phrase is chilling enough — but throw in other people being transformed into mommy-wanting horrors and this reaches spine-tingling. The uplifting ending really sells this for us. It’s so rare that The Doctor gets to save everyone, and it’s such a kind and tender moment. Even in the darkest of times, in the middle of a worldwide war, there can be hope, and people can be saved. Just this once, everybody lives.
Vincent and the Doctor
This episode stands apart from any other within the Eleventh Doctor’s canon. The Eleventh Doctor is always lighter and more carefree than his counterparts. He is filled with excitement and childlike wonder which did not echo in past incarnations. When The Doctor became interested in Van Gogh we didn’t think too much of it — we’ve seen The Doctor meet historical figures in the past (Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, we could go on but that’s probably enough), so we didn’t expect more from this episode than others. We were wrong.
When The Doctor and Amy Pond step off the Tardis, they are met with a world so well constructed it seems real to us. Vincent is portrayed by Tony Curran, who gives the amazing performance of a man possessed. As the only one who can see the massive, invisible creature careening through the streets, it’s up to him to help The Doctor deal with the creature. Amy is awestruck by Van Gogh but knows he will one day commit suicide and wishes desperately to help him change his fate.
The episode dug deeper than many from the season and explored deep, complex emotions, and the healing power of art. This may, in part, be because it was written by Richard Curtis, and this was the only episode he ever contributed. However, the scene where The Doctor takes Van Gogh forward in time to see an exhibit dedicated to him, and how people love him in the far distant future, is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
In the end, they did not change his fate, he still passes away by his own hand, but Amy finds her way into the room with Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and the way the camera lingers on “For Amy”, is breathtaking. Truly this episode is a work of art (and for once that’s not just a pun — not an intentional one, anyways).
Here we are at the best modern Doctor Who episode currently released (we will have to see once we get the 13th Doctor — but for now this is it, folks). This episode is interesting because it hardly features The Doctor at all. The Tenth Doctor only really appears through DVD extras — an easter egg to be exact. There was a reason for this. Tennant was filming another episode and Moffitt was tasked with making this episode Doctor Lite (like a diet soda. Diet Doctor, if you will).
Sally Sparrow isn’t a companion, she’s just a person who gets caught up in extraordinary things. Her life changes forever when she sneaks into an abandoned house to look for subjects to photograph (which is the plot of like seventy horror movies, so you know this is a terrible idea, but we digress). Seeing writing behind some peeling wallpaper, she pulls it back to find a warning directed at her from The Doctor.
From there everything goes downhill. Each time she goes back she learns a little more of the mystery, and each time the Angels steal someone or something from her. She discovers the Doctor on a DVD extra thanks to her friend Kathy’s (who had been zapped away) brother. The warning only appears on the 12 DVDs she owns, no others. She takes Larry (Kathy’s bro) back to the manor, where they watch one of the easter eggs in order to find out what she needs to do. Sally has a conversation with The Doctor from the past, in the present, and finds out he has a transcript of what was said (wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff).
The Doctor reveals the house is full of Weeping Angels and that they need to get to the TARDIS to save themselves. Then he speaks one of the most haunting lines in the whole canon: “Don’t blink. Blink and you’re dead. They are fast. Faster than you can believe. Don’t turn your back. Don’t look away. And don’t blink. Good Luck.” With escape near impossible, they are chased through the house by the Angels on their hunt to find the TARDIS.
This episode perfectly builds suspense and teases out little details about the horrific statues at such a fantastically slow pace that you are left with the creeping knowledge that Sally could at any moment fail. The Angels chase her through the episode, appearing on buildings, and in windows, leaving you with a deep-seated feeling of foreboding and hopelessness.
The reveal of the fang-toothed, empty-eyed angels is spine-chilling and sticks with you. Despite hardly having any time with The Doctor, this episode stands out as both terrifying and incredibly well written. It deserves to top our list for its creativity, horror, and for introducing one of the most feared enemies in Doctor Who history.