See? I promised you I wasn’t going to be serious ALL the time. How better to kick off the new, more productive, more fun-loving Hand of Ananke than to share a Top Ten List? (because everyone loves those!) Today I am going to share with you my ten favorite episodes of Doctor Who. I am only including the rebooted series, not because I didn’t love the old (Ark In Space would be on here otherwise,) but because my memory is not what it once was. Also, younger audiences will click with this more (gotta go after that all important 18-24 demographic!) Some of these are two-parters, so really, it is my ten favorite stories, not episodes, but whatever.
10. The God Complex
This easily overlooked episode came towards the end of series six (I haven’t seen 7 yet, so sorry if your favorite from there is overlooked btw.) It shows The Doctor at his most vulnerable, watching helplessly as victim after victim is claimed by the Minotaur, who is also, in a way a victim.
The best/worst aspect of the episode is the character Rita. She is the worst because you fall in love with her and then she is taken away. Even in that you get to see this women bravely face her fate. She holds her own against The Doctor even better than Amy or River (which is saying something) and in many ways is the best example of a companion we ever have throughout the series, even though she never technically is one. She is wide-eyed with wonder at this new world she is introduced to yet maintains her composure. A special shout out is also deserved for introducing her as a positive, Muslim woman role model.
We also are treated to a discussion of faith that is neither dismissive of any angle of the of it. Not many people can pull that off. Usually a subject like that cannot help but force writers to take some kind of side, but Toby Whitehouse deserves special kudos for not doing so.
9. The End of Time
How can you not love the episode that returns, if only briefly, The Doctor’s homeworld of Gallifrey? It does not hurt that it involves his most dangerous foe, the rogue Time Lord known as The Master. We get to see Timothy Dalton hamming it up as the Time Lord’s now mad with fear and arrogance leader and another wonderfully touching performance by Bernard Cribbins as the always endearing Wilfred Mott.
This is also David Tennant’s last time out as our time travelling hero. They pulled the whole thing off very well. Even jaded as I am, I was surprised by the resolution of the prophecy of his demise. “He will knock four times” indeed. We are treated to several touching farewells at the end (I dare you to try not crying at his wedding gift for Donna Noble) yet all throughout we get treated to his wonderful whimsy. In almost any other program this episode would take top spot, alas it is up against some stiff competition…
Well, if you are a Whovian, you had to know this one would show up. It is the first episode of the reboot. The BBC brought back my beloved Doctor and though I was skeptical they did not disappoint.
One of the best things they did in rebooting the series was casting Christopher Eccleston as The Doctor. Obviously the writing had a lot to do with this, but what made this new Doctor so wonderful was his ability to come off as an outsider without being overly odd. In the old series the only Doctor to pull that off was the fourth, played by Tom Baker.
The new series has done a better job of getting us involved with the lives of the Doctor’s companions. This is important because really, they are us. Rose, Martha, Donna and the rest are the PoV characters providing context for the viewers. In giving us a glimpse of Rose’s family and daily life we feel more connected than ever before.
7. A Good Man Goes to War
There is so much to love about this episode. You finally find out who River Song is. They introduce several new, interesting characters. The Doctor in many ways finally meets his match, but really, this episode comes down to its coolness factor.
With pirates, space marines, sword fights, and interspecies lesbians how can you not love this episode? We see Rory face down the cybermen (not just one, but the leaders of an entire legion of that dangerous race.) High adventure abounds in this series seven gem, but it all comes down to this exchange:
Madame Kovarian: The anger of a good man doesn’t frighten me. Good men have too many rules.
The Doctor: Good men don’t need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many.
There are a few lines in the history of literature, movies, television and comic books that can give me a frisson every time I read or hear them. The Doctor’s above comment is one of them.
6. Girl in the Fireplace
So, in the last episode I said the Doctor finally meets his match, and that is certainly true in respect to meeting his match in an enemy. However in this earlier episode he meets his match in a friend.
Riennette (played by the so-stunning-it’s-just-not-fair Sophia Myles) is awed but not overwhelmed by this strange man who never ages throughout her life. She does not fear him. While she is amazed by what he can do and later when she finds out what he is, she is never overly impressed. In many ways she pities him. The Doctor finally meets a human woman who is in many ways his equal, and he loses her in the end. For this, and the next episode on the list, I recommend having a crate of Kleenex handy.
5) Vincent and the Doctor
Another trip into our past, we see Amy and The Doctor meet the man who many (certainly the writes of this episode) argue is the finest painter of all time: Vincent Van Gogh. As mentioned above, have plenty of Kleenex handy, because this one will take you on an emotional roller-coaster ride, especially at the end.
The best bit about this, throughout all the fun, is its handling of mental illness, especially depression. We get a fairly accurate depiction both of what it is like for the sufferer, and those around them. The good Doctor is flummoxed by his inability to cope with Vincent’s moods. They never demean, demonize or even particularly pity in their depiction of that tortured artist. So few programs featuring this issue ever get it right, even when it is the crux of the plot, much less so when it is a sidebar.
4) Eleventh Hour
Matt Smith had huuuuge shoes to fill. After three series of David Tennant, fans were not quite sure what to expect of this youngster. Comparisons were made in their appearances (sorry Matt, you’re a handsome enough guy, but you’re “kid brother” cute, while David is “put a leash and collar on me and throw me in your harem” cute) and people were wondering if someone so young could pull off playing the Doctor.
This first episode with the new Doctor put it all to rest. We get an interesting new companion, introduced in a very interesting way (Amelia Pond, the girl who waited.) We get the hero left without his usual bag of tricks with only twenty minutes to save the world. Finally we get the best show of just how revered/feared he is since Forest of the Dead (which only just didn’t make the cut here, that was hard for me.) The Doctor is legendary with his fans, but he is also legendary in the context of the ongoing story.
3. School Reunion
While an extraordinary story all on its own, this one gets mentioned for one simple reason: nostalgia.
The ever lovely, late, Elisabeth Sladen is reintroduced as Sarah Jane Smith, reprising her role from the original run of the series. She was a favorite of mine as a kid, and one of the earliest women I can remember wishing I could be like (kind of a big deal for a trans* woman.)
The crew does an awesome job dealing with The Doctor’s long absence from Sara Jane’s life, and it is resolved beautifully at the end of the episode: “good-bye, my Sarah Jane!” (OK, getting weepy just thinking about it.)
Without mercy, without empathy, without any desire beyond to conquer and kill (“exterminate!”) the Daleks were never intended to be sympathized with at all, and yet this is exactly what the creators get you to do in this series one episode.
They show us just how little Rose knows about her beloved Doctor and just how scarred he has been left by the events between iterations of the program hinted at throughout the new run. This, and our empathy for the Dalek, are both driven home by the look on the Doctor’s face when it tells him he would have made a good Dalek. The ultimate compliment by that killing machine is the ultimate insult to The Doctor, and each understands the others translation of the remark.
1. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances
So, it may not be obvious yet, but Nine is my favorite Doctor. I got into a bit of why above, but this episode really hits it home for me. We see him in all his kindness, in all his helplessness in the face of a seemingly unsolvable problem. We get to see his joy at getting to save life.
It also introduces the creepiest “villain” of any show I have ever seen. Good luck trying to sleep after seeing that little, unrelenting, dangerous boy in the gas mask asking “are you my mummy?” Nightmares galore.
Oh and let us not forget we get our first treatment of Captain Jack Harkness (ummmm, did I say something about wanting to be in David Tennant’s harem? Can he and John Barrowman share?) That rogue time agent would be one of the Doctor’s most reliable companions and would go on to get his own series. Not bad for a ne’er-do-well con-man turned immortal guardian of Earth.
Well, there you have it folks, my top ten Doctor Who episodes and why. Tell me, what are your favorites?