With over 50 years of history behind it, BBC‘s Doctor Who continues to be one of televisions more enduring characters. In the last 10 years the show has found new relevancy with an audience that’s grown with the show. Given that we’re not getting any new episodes until Christmas this year, we decided to take a look back at the show’s more recent history, the “New Who” period. This incorporates everything from the 2005 relaunch of the series, beginning with “Rose” all the way through to the Christmas 2015 special “The Husbands of River Song”.
To keep things fairly orderly, the decision was made to bundle two/three-parters together. The reason for this is because Doctor Who tends to tell its stories with both episodes in mind and, while they can be judged as single parts, we feel there it’s better to judge them as a whole.
What are your best episodes? What was your worst episode?
Updated: End of Season 10 (Yes I am aware 3-4 episodes are missing. I will edit these in at some stage!)
111. Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks (Season 3, Episode 4/5) – The moment Doctor Who almost irreparably damaged its Dalek villains. The plot is flimsy at best, throwing in half-baked ideas to create a mess of threads that never come together satisfyingly. It’s hard to decide which of this episodes moments ranks as the worst. The sight of Hoover-citizens fighting off a Dalek attack, the pig-people dredging through New York’s sewers or the introduction of the human-Dalek – an idea so terrifyingly poor that we’re convinced to this day someone in the back office was having a laugh with the production team. Honestly there’s very little in these two episodes that redeem proceedings and represent some of the worst elements in modern Doctor Who’s writing.
110. Fear Her (Season 2, Episode 11) – Many Who fans consider this the single worst episode of the New Who run; I’d be hard pressed to disagree. It only avoids dropping to the bottom by virtue of the fact it didn’t stretch its concept to 2-episodes. But Fear Her is a laughably poor episode that falls apart pretty much from the off. Watch as a little girls creepy drawings come to life and shifty editing hides the awful execution of the idea. If that doesn’t kill your interest, watching The Doctor save the Olympic opening ceremony in one of the series most ham-fisted moments will surely send you over the edge. There’s very little to redeem this episode.
109. Sleep No More (Season 9, Episode 9) – Oh lordy. This was Doctor Who’s attempt at found footage in an episode. A novel concept for sure but one that’s instantly devalued by the poor story thrown in the anchor it down. It’s something about eye dust and monsters taking over or something? It’s an incredibly dumb concept and when the big baddie reveals himself towards the episodes end, it’s more eye rolling than eye candy for the audience. But perhaps the biggest sin this episode throws up, more than any other episode in New Doctor Who, is that it’s ending is such a complete car crash. The closing shot of this episode see’s the villain winning – The Doctor and company retreating and apparently no way of stopping it. Cut to end credits, next weeks episode is another story entirely. Worst. Ending. Ever.
108. Forest of the Night (Season 8, Episode 10) – Awful, awful, awful, awful, awful. Did I mention this episode is awful? It’s a maelstrom of bad ideas that come together to create one of the dullest 45 minutes of TV you can enjoy in any Doctor Who episode. The premise is dumb. The child actors annoying. The plot non-existent. The characters do naff all. Perhaps most embarrassingly of all, the ending serves as a big environmental message which comes across with all the grace and subtlety of being slapped in the face with a sledgehammer. Skip entirely.
107. Love & Monsters (Season 2 Episode 10) – A lot of people despise this episode purely for Peter Kay’s performance – which makes a serious play for being the worst villain in NewWho. But I give the episode props for expanding and fleshing out the world away from The Doctor – even if it’s done in a cliché way. The story is warm and endearing, if slightly absurd. The episode’s first half is easily its finest moment with lots of character building. It’s in the second half where things barrel down the cliff uncontrollably. Here we get campy jokes, crude humour and an ending so nauseatingly poor you’ll wonder if the writers were actively taking the piss.
106. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe (Christmas 2011 Special) – The episode wants you to take it seriously, framing itself as a war story. Then it ejects this entirely as it introduces a horribly realised tree story arc that’s…. dumb. Seriously it’s incredibly silly and pretty much squashes everything around it with the kind of faffing around that even Doctor Who fans will tire of quickly. A good shout for the worst Christmas episode, and one of Matt Smith’s least endearing entries.
105. The Curse of the Black Spot (Season 6, Episode 3) – It’s clear from the behind-the-scenes videos that this episode was intended to be a right hoot – sadly this doesn’t translate to the screen. The tone is all over the place, shifting from tense horror to slapstick comedy in the space of seconds as the episode struggles to grapple with the wafer thin plot. In the end it’s something about medical software doing it’s job or something. Rory dies, then doesn’t die and there’s some slapstick sword fighting in between. What a mess.
104. The Beast Below (Season 5, Episode 2) – The wheels threaten to come off Matt Smith’s Doctor run in its second episode, with an awful episode that serves as a reminder that Moffat didn’t always write gold. The episode was ludicrously silly – trying to tie deeper themes into a darker show; something that didn’t work at all. Add in a heap of plot holes, some faux terror aspects that felt out-of-place and just a general lack of fun; and you have what I consider to be the worst of Season 5.
103. The Rings of Akhaten (Season 7, Episode 7) – Bar that ending speech, this episode never really comes together. The idea of items holding sentimental currency is intriguing, but the episode doesn’t really play with it enough for us to be truly invested in the concept. The side-characters are hugely forgettable while the plot kind of sits on its hands until it needs The Doctor to confront the big baddie. Thanks to the power of prayer and songs, we get a feel-good ending that comes off with all the warmth of a neutron star. Cringe-worthy doesn’t cover it.
102. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (Season 7, Episode 2) – The title of this episode should give away how silly the execution is. The introduction of Rory’s dad was arguably the best part of this episode, in which a spaceship packed with dinosaurs is hurtling towards Earth. Cue the slapstick as our time-travelers run, squeal and basically do anything but forward the plot for 90% of the episode. By the time we reach the episodes conclusion, the audience is beyond caring as the Doctor murder the villain – very bad episode.
101. Let’s Kill Hitler (Season 6, Episode 8) – It wants to be fun, it wants to be silly. Sadly in the rush to have his cake and eat it; Moffat overplays the number of twists and plot threads he piles into this episode; creating the mother of all messes in the process. Hitler does make a brief appearance but seeing River as a villain should be a high moment for the series. Sadly it only serves to frustrate at the plot twists and meanders round expectations, trying desperately to justify everything it’s doing in the process. Luckily River saves The Doctor with a kiss, but it doesn’t save this episode from being a mess.
100. Rise of the Cybermen/ The Age of Steel (Season 2, Episode 5/6) – Commits audacious levels of retconning by re-inventing the classic Cybermen as a the brainchild of an evil Rupert Murdoch clone. It doesn’t work as the plot tries to desperately convince us that evil bluetooth headsets are worth fearing. The alternative Earth idea is a cheap cop-out – giving the writers chance to murder millions en masse then wipe the slate clean (Something Davies would come back to down the line). Mickey’s sub-plot is arguably the most interesting thing to happen in this whole two-parter, which speaks volumes about how meandering the main story is. Elsewhere the main plot gets re-tangled in Rose’s daddy issues, leading to a bunch of silly ideas and awkward character breaks from Rose. Tennant should have just left her behind….
99. The Lazarus Experiment (Season 3, Episode 6) – An episode that promises much delivers very little. Season 3’s obsession with Martha’s family comes to its first head, with lots Jones-family squabbling. Elsewhere we’re treated to Mark Gatiss meandering through proceedings as an eccentric billionaire – a waste of his abilities. Things fall apart right around the time he emerges from the Lazarus Chamber as a giant scorpion. From here the action takes over and, oh boy, does that awful CGI smack you in the face hard. I know TV budgets are small, but this episode doesn’t half scream that in your face. Not the shows finest hour.
98. Kill The Moon (Season 8, Episode 7) – The reality is that Doctor Who is a series that requires some leaps of faith. Sadly in this episode, we’re asked to leap to the moon using just a trampoline. Ultimately this episode just feels flat, the moon segments don’t feel that interesting to watch. Then we get the episodes finale which, even by Doctor Who’s lofty standards, is incredibly dumb. The moon being an egg containing a bird that flies away will surely qualify as one of the silliest flights of fancy the show ever puts forward. It never gets mentioned again in the series, and The Doctor’s bizarre moral ramblings over why humans are wrong is frankly wrong given that he’s amassed quite the body count over the years. Terribly thought out episode.
97. The Next Doctor (Christmas 2008 Special) – The stars never aligned for this one, with the much teased fake out of the Doctor character proving to be a bit disappointing. In fact this whole episode feels like one giant disappointment – everything from David Morrissey’s bemused Not-Doctor through to the 100-foot Cyberman which comes off as an excuse to have the classic villains feature. How on earth do you make a 50-story-tall Cyberman dull?
96. The Unicorn and the Wasp (Season 4, Episode 7) – Complete filler episode that takes Agatha Christie and wrings dry the well of tropes around her novels. It’s harrowingly dull and largely forgettable – with an incredibly laughable CGI wasp proving to be the big baddie of the entire thing. Thanks guys.
95. Empress of Mars (Season 10, Episode 9) – The Doctor returns to Mars, but ultimately forgets to bring along a decent plot with him. The Ice Warriors make another appearance, but they do little of interest. Instead it’s the Victorian age explorers that raise the biggest eyebrows – written so horribly – you’ll actually wonder if this was a bad joke on the writers part. Somehow they manage to make an episode about Victorian age explorers on Mars boring. Congratulations.
94. The Wedding of River Song (Season 6, Episode 13) – By this point it was getting very clear that Moffat was a master of setting up stories, but utterly naff at paying them off. The Wedding of River Song is the amalgamation of a seasons worth of build up to a story that didn’t need such outlandish things to happen. Dinosaurs in London? Trains driving into the Pyramids? It’s all so silly and while we get the wedding of River Song and the Doctor – the fact that the show casually discards the season villain of Kovarian in a throwaway event is disgustingly poor. By the end we get what we wanted – The Doctor is alive and River is married. But oh lord did we have to suffer through this mess to get there?
93. Aliens of London/ World War Three (Season 1, Episode 4/5) – Things start out well, as we discover Rose has been MIA for over a year. The introduction of the aliens crashing into the Thames is well executed and the tension rises. Then about 2/3 of the way through the first part of this story we meet the Slitheen – a farting, glompy race of green snot that utterly crushes the momentum this story had. The remainder of the story is filled with slapstick, awkward comedy that throws out any sense of tension in the name of bland action. If only….
92. The Bells of Saint John (Season 7, Episode 6) – Makes a strong play for being the worst season opener in Doctor Who (Because of the new companion and the Season 7 split, let’s consider it as such). The episode tries to make clever use of WiFi as a plot device. Stealing peoples essence is a clever idea but the episode goes about delivering it in an underwhelming way. Clara comes off as too quirky while Matt Smith is all over the place in his portrayal as the Doctor. Nowhere is this more evident than the episode beginning with The Doctor being a hideaway monk to him riding up The Shard in a motorcycle. Not a terribly fun outing.
91. A Christmas Carol (Christmas 2011 Special) – As you can probably guess by now, I’m not a huge lover of Moffat’s Christmas episodes. All of them feel incredibly hack-handed compared to his usually subtle writing nuances and this one doesn’t change that. Here we get a re-telling of Scrooge with some very forced emotional veiling throughout. This is wrapped around a romance that takes place across a great number of time periods – interesting in moments but ultimately fluff. Also don’t even ask what the hell Amy and Rory’s purpose in this episode was.
90. New Earth (Season 2, Episode 1) – Tasked with taking the new Tennant/Piper dynamic out for a spin, this episode lodges itself firmly into the safe zone of Doctor Who. We get an episode set in the far distant future, with cat women as nurses and a horde of dangerously infectious test subjects. The episode prods at some fairly deep ethical issues, mainly those of testing on the few for the betterment of the rest, but then ejects this so the episode can have its happy ending. It’s a huge letdown and marks the beginning of Davies’s obsession with undoing the great damage his plots did to the world they took place in. So-so outing.
89. “42” – (Season 3, Episode 7) – The use of real-time story devices adds to the tension of the plot – but it’s delivered in such a way that things grow increasingly silly. Being forced to answer questions to unlock doors is one thing, but having to accept a sentient star demanding its fuel back is another thing entirely. In the end it all comes off as a slightly cheesy nod to old sci-fi movies which doesn’t mesh well with the typical Doctor Who fare.
88. The Return of Doctor Mysterio (Season 10, Episode 0) – Christmas Specials in Doctor Who tend to be awful (Bar the occasional gem). A bizarre mix of sentiment and heavy handed emotions don’t make for enjoyable outings – and this one really embodies that. An attempt to subvert the Superhero genre, this ends up feeling like a fanfic episode. With some laughable stabs at tension and cop outs all the way, this wasn’t the episode fans were hoping to see.
87. Robot of Sherwood (Season 8, Episode 3) – Historical romps in Doctor are fine however when they come off as ham-fisted as this; the writers shouldn’t have bothered. There’s a big writing glut around Capaldi’s Doctor in Season 8 which really makes him come off as insensitive and unlikable – with this episode proving to be a big bearer of that problem. He argues, bemoans and generally sucks the fun out of what should be a fun episode. Outside of this the dialogue comes off too quirkly, the nature of the story silly while it just feels like an excuse to have a period episode. Not recommended.
86. The Idiots Lantern (Season 2, Episode 7) – Somewhere in here was a great idea and at times the episode plays up to the potential. The creepy use of old-fashioned TV’s juxtaposed against the iconic retro-esq imagery of 1950’s television tropes makes for a unique setting. However it all begins to turn into a huge corn-fest as the threads never satisfyingly come together and the plot starts kicking it’s feet about 2/3 of the way into proceedings. But good on Doctor Who for addressing the thorny issue of domestic abuse. The tale of Tommy and his bullying father was incredibly dark and the show didn’t shy away from addressing it.
85. Victory of the Daleks (Season 5, Episode 3) – A great idea, blending the iconic Dalek imagery against the World War 2 British imagery, gets somehow mishandled in a plot that increasingly takes liberties. The introduction of the multi-colored Daleks was a terrible moment for the series – as was the space ending which see’s a Spitfire take to space in order to fight the Daleks head on. The cop-out ending was also a huge letdown, underlining just how poor the second half of this episode really is.
84. The Caretaker (Season 8, Episode 6) – Returning the focus to Coal Hill School, the series kind of stops dead for an episode so we can indulge in hi-jinks and somewhat pointless plot fluff. The main point of this episode was to get Danny and The Doctor to meet; but outside of this there’s really very little to enjoy except a few nostalgic call backs.
83. The Long Game (Season 1, Episode 7) – Simon Pegg makes an appearance as an assistant to a very poorly realized CGI…. worm? It’s a horribly woeful way of utilizing his acting talent and sees him disappear beneath a wave of tedious writing. The episodes about as subtle as a stick in the eye with its satire of big media monopolies; leaving clunky dialogue and some really backwards logic in its wake. Wins extra points for cruelly ejecting Adam in one of the more sadistic fashions the shows ever done to a companion.
82. The Vampires of Venice (Season 5, Episode 6) – It’s hard to not watch this episode and feel that it hasn’t been done to death already. From the aliens being the “last of their kind” through to the show exploring ancient myths through science – the episode feels very much like a retread of much better historically focused episodes. Not bad by any stretch but certainly not memorable.
81. The Eaters of Light (Season 10, Episode 10) – Great looking episode that takes Bill and The Doctor to the misty moors of Scotland. Sadly the story is a bit naff, coming across with all the excitement of a wet Sunday afternoon. It’s a more grounded affair next to the bombastic outings of Season 10 – but it suffers greatly from being the episode that feels most like filler.
80. Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (Season 7) – What a waste. This episode promised so much entering the door but by the end we get a cop-out tale that gleefully pushes the button on the Doctor revealing Clara’s multi-life fate – then instantly retcon it by hitting the reset button. The monsters are hideously underwhelming and while the visuals are striking throughout, it doesn’t make up for the fact that the plot is wafer thin and supported by a completely forgettable band of C-List characters who all end up being killed off anyway.
79. The Rebel Flesh/ The Almost People (Season 5, Episode 5/6) – To the shows credit, this was a nice idea and one that played very much into the mid-season finale. The tension created in the first half is strong and the episode does a good job of ramping up the scary nature of the flesh creatures by introducing a Doctor version. Sadly it gets a bit too bogged down with its big-baddie; undercutting the themes and robbing the episode of a chance to have a proper conclusion. The most notable thing from this episode is the shock twist at the end which nicely sets up the next episode….
78. Planet of the Dead (2009 Specials – Episode 1) – The Good: this episode manages to cram an interesting cast of characters together. Michelle Ryan also makes a strong outing, stealing the show with her intriguing cat burglar. The Bad: Pretty much everything else. Nothing really happens except our characters sit in the desert for 40 minutes. The threat from the CGI monsters never feels complete and while the use of the London Bus provided a unique backdrop – the episode doesn’t do anything with it. Wasted potential.
77. Into The Dalek (Season 8, Episode 2) – An interesting concept for sure, but one that ultimately feels let down by the limitations placed on it by the scope of the story. Lots of new ideas are thrown at the Doctor – some work and some really don’t. It’s a shame that the ending of the episode is such a missed opportunity, with the Dalek inevitably turning on the humans.
76. A Town Called Mercy (Season 7, Episode 3) – The Doctor’s incursion into the Wild West feels more like an excuse for the writers to get over that Western box set they binged on the night before writing. Everything feels bizarrely out-of-place, from the way the Doctor behaves to the way Amy and Rory end up playing such little into the central plot. Perhaps most frustratingly, beyond the occasional western trope; the setting is woefully underutilised and ultimately feels like window dressing. The central moral dilemma is nice but it’s not nearly as invest-able as the writers think it is.
75. The Power of Three (Season 7, Episode 4) – Another episode of Doctor Who where a strong premise is let down by a hackjob ending. The mystery surrounding the cubes is well implemented, the clever use of time to showcase how forgetful humans are underlining the sense of rising tension in the episode. UNIT play a big role in this episode too, which adds to the episodes scope. There’s also a sense throughout this episode that The Doctor is fearful of missing out on his time with Amy and Rory, a well implemented nod to the upcoming mid-Season 7 finale. Sadly the ending a rush job, half-baked attempt that allows the writers to have their cake and eat it. The Doctor saves the day by pushing buttons and the threat disappears. So much, so Doctor Who.
74. Thin Ice (Season 7, Episode 3) – The episode sees Bill and The Doctor take to Victorian London to attend the Thames Fair. Creepy, intriguing and very well executed, the performances from all involved really help to elevate this outing. That being said, the finale to the episode struggles to match the rest, faltering slightly against the insanely silly premise that it sets up. Ultimately a solid, if unremarkable outing.
73. The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky (Season 4, Episode 4/5) – A solid outing, let down by some underwhelming B-story fluff that ultimately gets in the way of the tension. The Sontarans are cleverly used and their plan genuinely intriguing, while making Donna a more central figure in the second half grants the episode some room for character development. It all feels a little let down by the ATMOS kids though. The cult of Luke Rattigan feels slightly too cartoonish and the idea someone who’s that smart could be fooled so easily eats away at the credibility of the plot. But it’s certainly a solid outing for Doctor Who.
72. Time Heist (Season 8, Episode 5) – Moffat pulls out another time loop story in what was becoming something of a frustration for fans. The central amnesia story was fine but given that the far superior “Listen” aired one week before this, it was always a tough ask to ask people to revisit the same concept twice. The heist itself is forgettable but some of the characters involved do what they can to keep things engaging. A so-so episode.