This week marks the premiere of the new season of Doctor Who. It also marks the last season for the 13th Doctor, Peter Capaldi. Now, for you purists out there, I realize he’s technically the 12th Doctor, but I like to count Sir John Hurt’s “War Doctor” in that number because “he was the Doctor on the day when he couldn’t be.” In any case, I will concede to the correct numbering for the remainder of this post. To that end, the new season will mean a whole new regeneration and that means its time for a Top 5.
Before I hit my Top 5 Doctor Who episodes, I’d like to make a prediction about the new Doctor. I think, in this age of diversity, we will get either our first female Doctor or our first black actor as the Doctor. My money’s on Haley Atwell. I think she’d be a great choice as her gig as Agent Carter has ended. There’s been other names bounced around, like Idris Alba, but I think he’s too mainstream with large scale production commitments to be the Doctor.
So as we approach the Saturday premiere, I would like to give you my Top 5 Doctor Who episodes. These are my Top 5, as many Whovians have their own, so please don’t take it personally if I leave one of your favorites out.
#5. Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead (May 2008) – These episodes made my list because it introduced us to River Song, played by the wonderful Alex Kingston. Here’s a character that knows the Doctor and his many faces. I was hanging on her every word trying to find some clue as to who the Doctor really is, but “spoilers!” She has been one of my favorite characters/companions of the series. This episode makes you sad at how many people died needlessly, but it also gave me a sigh of relief as they were all “saved” by CAL (you have to watch the episode to understand that reference). Let’s not forget that this was a great story, in itself, especially for an author like me. An entire planet is the world’s biggest library. I love to think that my books are sitting on a shelf there, stored for all eternity. The best part, though, is the end when David Tenant figured out the reason why, his future self, gave River a sonic screwdriver and then to watch him run “one last time” together. Plus, to see that come full circle and played out in last year’s Christmas episode with Peter Capaldi just brought the entire story to a wonderful finish.
#4. The Day of the Doctor (November 2013) – This special commemorated the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. It not only introduced us to John Hurt as the War Doctor, but it also gave us the best online video tie-in (“Night of the Doctor” with Paul McGann, who finally got his regeneration) and the best on-screen surprise guest. First off, I loved the late John Hurt as the War Doctor. He gave us the solemn attitude and vulnerability of the Doctor on the day when “he couldn’t be the Doctor.” In that one episode, John Hurt endeared himself to me, and to all of us Whovians I think. We all knew David Tenant and Matt Smith were going to be in the special, and they brilliantly shot one-liners back and forth off each other, as expected. The surprise was in the final battle, where they were assisted by all 13 Doctors, including our first look at the “angry eyebrows” in Peter Capaldi. Lastly, the end of the episode where Matt Smith met up with the curator, aka Tom Baker, the 4th Doctor (MY DOCTOR). It was a shock and surprise that I still enjoy watching, over-and-over again. His brilliant performance showed that once you play the Doctor, you never stop being the Doctor.
#3. The Girl Who Waited (September 2011) – This is one of my favorite episodes because it gave us to the woman who is Amy Pond. We got to see all her vulnerabilities, all the pain and tragedy she has experienced as a companion. Amy gets trapped on a planet that has been quarantined due to a deadly disease that affects people with two hearts (like the Doctor). On top of that, those infected by the plague are placed in one of several thousand accelerated time streams, allowing them to live out their lives. This means the Doctor and Rory are out of sync with Amy and they try to rescue her after she spends more than 36 years there, alone. All this time alone made her rethink her relationship with the Doctor and not to trust him. The entire episode is an emotional roller coaster and, as a fan, it touched on the deep and meaningful relationship the Doctor has with each of his companions and how it both hurts and helps them. It reminded me of a quote from another great episode, Love & Monsters, where Elton goes on about “salvation and damnation” and if you touch or are touched, by the Doctor, it could destroy you. It was heartbreaking at the end when older Amy had to be left behind, in a sense justifying her concerns and fears about the Doctor; but then again, it’s these hard decisions that he must make, as a Timelord, that weighs heavy on his hearts.
#2. The Genesis of the Daleks (March/April 1975) – Although the Daleks were introduced in the first season of Doctor Who, this episode gave us an in depth look at their creation and introduced us to their creator, the villainous Davros. First and foremost, Tom Baker is “my Doctor” and this where we saw the Doctor at his best. He is sent to Skarro by the Timelords to interfere in the creation of the Daleks and hopefully prevent the future death and destruction they wreak across the universe. In this episode, we learn why the Daleks were created without compassion or pity, turning them into ruthless war machines. In one of his best scenes as the Doctor, Tom Baker holds two wires in his hands, connecting them would detonate explosives and wipe out the Dalek’s incubation room. He holds those wires and asks “Have I the right?” to commit genocide of an entire race. That scene makes the entire six episode run one of the best in the history of Doctor Who. The impact these episodes had on the series reverberates in the future, from Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor (Remembrance of the Daleks, October 1988), Christopher Eccleston’s 9th Doctor (The Parting of Ways, June 2005), David Tenant’s 10th Doctor (Stolen Earth/A Journey’s End, June/July 2008), Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor (Asylum of the Daleks, September 2012), and finally, with Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor (The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, September 2015). That’s what makes this episode one of the most important episodes in the history of Doctor Who.
Before I reach number 1, you have to realize that there are so many different opinions on favorite episodes. There are so many I want to pick that whittling them down to these five are difficult. I want to make these “honorary selections” for favorite episodes, including The End of the World from the 9th Doctor, School Reunion, Doomsday and Blink from the 10th Doctor, The Doctor’s Wife, The Angels Take Manhattan and A Good Man Goes to War from the 11th Doctor, and Time Heist and Face the Raven from the 12th Doctor. Plus, Matt Smith’s Christmas Specials were the best of all the Christmas Specials to date.
So, onto my number one episode …
#1. The Girl in the Fireplace (May 2006) – I know that my number one pick resonates with many Whovians. It was one of the most critically acclaimed episodes of Doctor Who, nominated for a Nebula Award and winning a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. This episode made you laugh, made you cry, and sometimes, scared you to death. A ship in the far distant future opens a hole in time and space to France in the 1700s to keep an eye on a little girl and wait until she grows up into a woman. Why? To cannibalize her for parts for the ship. Weird as it sounds, it’s fun to watch the Doctor go through time with Madam de Pompadour. Like “The Girl Who Waited” this episode jumps through time as the Doctor tries to protect her from the clockwork soldiers who are after her. It has one of the most touching scenes as the two look at the stars in completely different light. It also has some of the funniest scenes with a horse, a banana daiquiri, and “snogging” Madam de Pompadour. There are also some of the best lines ever in Doctor Who like, “One may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel;” “There is a vessel in your world where the days of my life are pressed together like the chapters of a book so that he may step from one to the other without increase of age, while I, weary traveler, must always take the slower path;” and “This is my lover, the King of France … Yeah, well I’m the Lord of Time.” It’s such a beautiful episode that will go down as one of, if not the best, in the history of Doctor Who.
So, there’s my list of the best of the best. Please feel free to comment on your top episodes and include ones I may have left off. In any case, the new season Doctor Who premieres this Saturday, so get ready!
Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverse. The Outlander War can be previewed at Inkitt.