Since Doctor Who returned to our screens in 2005, it’s had something of a mixed bag. Four great Doctors have all had their high moments, sprinkled in with some of the shows absolute worst episodes. Whether it involves awful celebrity cameos, bastardising much-loved characters or just throwing its arms up and losing all connection with the real world – Doctor Who has its fair share of bangers in the bunch.
So I figured I’d flesh out my reasons for why I dislike these 10 episodes, and offer a bit more depth to my critique. If you’re interested to see how I rank ALL the episodes, check out my 161 episode rundown list.
Let’s Kill Hitler
(Season 7, Episode 8)
I feel like at this stage, someone from the BBC should have sat Steven Moffat down and reminded him that he’s making a show intended for a mass audience – because I don’t think he remembered that in this episode.
Plot threads get thrown up, then get thrown out the window, then re-emerge, then get forgotten as the script goes full on fan-service. The Doctor almost dies and Moffat handwaves away his enormous revelation in the previous episode by having River give up all of her regenerations. The road to this is laden with furiously fast plot movements that sees River regenerate, try to kill Hitler then move to murder the Doctor – before falling in love with him and transforming instantly into the character we know from previous episodes.
Oh and we get three hilariously poor cutout promo shots of Rose, Martha and Donna, as if to remind us of the disappointment we’re experiencing.
9. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
(Season 7, Episode 2)
Things I liked: Rory’s dad.
Things I didn’t like: Everything else.
90% of this episode feels like padding to the extreme, with dinosaurs and some awkward effects thrown in to boot. The concept is never really explored, nor are we given reason to care much. It’s just Matt Smith being silly and throwing himself into many different shapes and screaming like an idiot – right up until The Doctor outright murders the villain.
Can we pretend this didn’t happen?
8. The Rings of Akhaten
(Season 7, Episode 7)
I feel like this episode was entirely constructed to get that one big moment out of it. That moment where Matt Smith’s Doctor talks to the murderous sun and tells it that he’s not scared of it. It’s a powerful moment in the series, but everything leading up to it feels like a let down.
The concept of items holding emotional weight is a great one, but it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. As for the 40 or so minutes building up to the climax, it’s hard to remember much about what happens. Forgettable and cringeworthy for the most part.
7. The Beast Below
(Season 5, Episode 2)
The problem with The Beast Below is that it feels like a let down. After Smith’s impressive debut episode, landing him in a mystery thriller set aboard an English starship sounded like a good idea. But there’s a lot of stop-starting in the episode that really brings the entire thing down.
Perhaps the thing that really annoyed me was just how forced the entire emotional core of this episode was. The Doctor rages at Amy for choosing to forget the central plot thread, and holds that decision against the ships passengers. It’s mean-spirited and really jams a crowbar into the momentum of the episode – with fans questioning of Smith’s Doctor was even that likeable.
Oh and the ending is another Moffat cop-out. The stakes get gently raised until the conclusion, building to a life and death decision. Yet again though, Moffat’s writing allows The Doctor to pick a third option that we knew was coming but didn’t really want. The emotional consequences of the episode are shattered in an instant and the episode is left feeling hallow.
6. The Curse of the Black Spot
(Season 6, Episode 3)
It baffles me how Doctor Who has never had a great pirate episode. You’d think the two would mix amazingly well, but instead we get dross like this dropped on us from a great height.
The writings all over the show, with the episode demanding emotional investment one minute then throwing slapstick comedy in our faces the next. Rory dies for the millionth time before coming back, while the episodes conclusion feels ripped from the cliché handbook. There’s some nice scenery here (The pirate ship is rather impressive as a centre piece) so there’s that. I guess if you’re into the sillier side of Doctor Who, this may be your bag. But for me – this episode just doesn’t cut the mustard.
5. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
(Christmas 2011 Special)
I’m not a huge fan of Moffat’s Christmas Specials. They all feel slightly too on the nose to be enjoyable, which makes their whimsical tales about Christmas spirit all the more jarring. It’s this one though that really stands out as a good example of why Doctor Who should stay away from mimicking other movies and films.
The jarring jump from emotional war story to tree fantasy frustrates the plot, which struggles to handle all the baggage it brings along. Not a high moment for the show and arguably the worst of the Christmas episodes.
4. Forest of the Night
(Season 8, Episode 10)
An episode so dull you could actually skip it entirely and wouldn’t miss a damn thing. The plot has no stakes, the overuse of child actors is cringe worthy while the concept of a forest taking over the world is tragically under explored.
The worst thing about this episode is that nothing happens. The Doctor, Clara and some kids run around for half an hour, before the plot wraps itself up without The Doctors input. Everyone learns an environmental message (Which is never mentioned again) and the audience have to be woken up by concerned family members.
3. Sleep No More
(Season 9, Episode 9)
Even Peter Capaldi isn’t immune from the stench of a bad script. One of the problems new Doctor Who seemingly has is its obsession with experimentation – almost to the point of detriment.
Sleep No More is a found footage episode that stumbles into many of the pitfalls that plague movies in the genre. The attempts to frame the story as a mystery fall down when the story stops being interesting. Not helped of course by a roster of the side characters with all the interest of a corn flakes box. It particularly hurts the plot when big moments seemingly occur – only for the audience to shrug our shoulders in quiet boredom.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment though is that the story just kind of ends on one of the biggest middle fingers ever thrown up in Doctor Who. The villain rather amazingly gets one up on The Doctor, who flees into his Tardis…. and the credits roll. I don’t care if it was expanded on elsewhere, when 95% of the audience are being ripped off by cheap writing – that’s just bad.
2. Fear Her
(Season 2, Episode 11)
The story of Fear Her’s production is arguably more interesting that the episode itself. Originally another writer was intended to fill the gap, but that dropped at the last-minute – leading to a hasty script that was thrown together at the last-minute. Add in the fact that the series budget had been largely spent elsewhere – and you can begin to understand why this episode had everything going against it.
The concept see’s a little girls terrifying drawings coming to life – with alarmingly little stakes at hand. The plot itself tries to increase the stakes up by putting Rose in the firing line – but this only serves to highlight how lightweight the villain is.
Perhaps the biggest head scratcher though is reserved for the episodes ending. This sees The Doctor saving the 2012 Olympics by carrying the Olympic Torch to the stand and lighting it. Designed as a feel good moment before the big 2-part finale, it only makes the audience reach for the sick bag instead. One of those episodes that’s so bad, it’s not even funny.
1. Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks
(Season 3, Episode 4/5)
What makes a truly “bad” Doctor Who episode? Is it incoherent story? Is it iconic characters being used in laughably poor ways? Could it even be when the show goes all out on trying to trash its own lore and back story? Well good news here, this Season 3 double-header smacks all the branches on the way down the awful tree.
The story follows The Doctor and Martha as they arrive in Great Depression era New York. The potential is huge but within minutes the show ejects all that into the sun for what seems like incredibly poor fan fiction. The Doctor quickly gets tangled up in a conspiracy involving pig-men, Daleks and perhaps the worst thing the New Doctor Who brought to the canon – goddamn human Daleks. When a concept almost completely destroys one of television’s most iconic villains and has fans begging for them to go away – you know you’ve messed up.
Even the minute-to-minute elements of the story smack the audience with all the excitement of a rotting fish. Dialogue feels cliché. The set pieces are bogglingly silly and even David Tennant’s usual charm fails to stick the landing. I can’t stress just how tragic this episode is and how terribly conceived it is.