Top 5 Doctor Who Episodes of the Modern Era
Top 5 Doctor Who Episodes of the Modern Era

There’s been over 100 new episodes of Doctor Who since the show’s revival in 2005. If you’ve not been following the series, it’s a pretty daunting proposition to get into. 

But maybe you’ve heard good things and want to check out a few episodes to see what all the fuss is about. With nine seasons to choose from, where on earth do you start?

If that’s the dilemma you’re in, this is the article for you. Note that this isn’t a list of the best jumping-on points or even a list of the best stories. This is a list of the episodes that stand out as original, unique, and absolute must-sees from the past decade. All of these entries are television drama at its finest. If you only ever watch 5 episodes of modern Doctor Who, make sure it’s these ones…

Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrow in Doctor Who's 'Blink' (c) BBC
Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrow in Doctor Who’s ‘Blink’ (c) BBC

5. Blink

It’s the obvious choice, so let’s get it out of the way early. Blink has become synonymous with modern Doctor Who and has been lavished with critical acclaim since its original broadcast in 2007. This was a stripped back episode that put concept and storytelling before anything else. However, it doesn’t actually feature an awful lot of The Doctor at all. Fortunately, Sally Sparrow is a compelling and convincing alternative, but even she isn’t the star of the show. What everyone remembers most about Blink are the Weeping Angels. Steven Moffat’s creations are the only original monster from the past decade that has had the same staying power as the Daleks or the Cybermen. Thanks to their ingenious execution, Steven Moffat ensured that none of us will ever look at a statue the same way again.

If you come across one, you’d better hope that it isn’t looking back at you. And whatever you do… don’t blink!

Rose Tyler (BIllie Piper) & Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) - Doctor Who Blink (c) BBC
Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) & Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) – Doctor Who Turn Left (c) BBC

4. Turn Left

Turn Left is another of the many Doctor-lite episodes the show has seen since its revival. Unlike Blink, here it is not just a practical necessity, but one of its greatest strengths. Turn Left is all about The Doctor being gone and the terrible consequences of his absence. It’s one big “what if?” story showing us a parallel world where The Doctor wasn’t there to save the day. And what a sorry state it is.

There’s an awful lot going on in this episode. Billie Piper’s eagerly awaited return as Rose Tyler, the stars going out, the space Titanic crashing into London. But at its heart, this is a very simple and poignant tale that’s all about the acting. Were it not for Catherine Tate’s mesmerising portrayal of Donna Noble, then this episode would fall apart entirely. It’s the first time we’ve seen a companion go (effectively) a whole episode without The Doctor, and it’s up there with the finest stories that Doctor Who has ever produced. Not bad for an actress who rose to fame as a comedienne! Oh, and of course there’s that cliffhanger. Of course, it would then be beaten by that other cliffhanger in The Stolen Earth, but regardless, it was a non-stop rollercoaster ride of emotions.

Turn Left is a masterclass in powerful performance and writing, and an important part of what makes Series 4 one of the best runs since the revival.

Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Sky Silvestry (Leslie Sharp) - Doctor Who Midnight (c) BBC
Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Sky Silvestry (Leslie Sharp) – Doctor Who Midnight (c) BBC

3. Midnight

In stark contrast to Turn Left, we go from a Doctor-lite story to a companion-lite adventure. Midnight is Doctor Who at its most creative, brilliant best. As enjoyable as the epic, bombastic stories are, it’s these smaller and more thought-provoking episodes that really stick out as the classics. If there’s one word that can be used to describe Midnight, it’s “brave”. Compared to the events of the Series 4 finale (which threw everything but the kitchen sink at us), this is incredibly intimate. For more or less the entire story it’s just one set, one enclosed space, and one monster we never, ever see.

The Doctor doesn’t brandish a gun (well, except for in The End of Time and Hell Bent). His weapons are his words. What Midnight does, and fantastically so, is take The Doctor’s words away from him. And not just that, oh no. The monster takes his words away from him and throws them right back in his face. The Doctor goes from being the most trustworthy person in the room to being the most suspicious and the most disturbing. Seeing the passengers fall for the monster’s trick and try to hurl The Doctor out of the air lock is absolutely horrifying. It’s only thanks to the stewardess, who sees through the monster’s plan, that he lives to fight another day. Not that anyone remembers her name, of course.

What makes this even more of a triumph? Russell T Davies produced this on the quick and on the cheap. If he can knock out a script like this just to fill up a last-minute episode slot, that’s a true testament to his talents. Unforgettable, unique, and thoroughly chilling.

Neil Gaiman, Suranne Jones and Mat Smith (c) BBC
Neil Gaiman, Suranne Jones and Mat Smith – Doctor Who The Doctor’s Wife (c) BBC

2. The Doctor’s Wife

Neil Gaiman writing Doctor Who sounds like a perfect match. And you know what? It actually was!

It’s no secret that Series 6 was a divisive string of episodes, but The Doctor’s Wife was a story everyone could agree on. Not only was it arguably the sole shining diamond in a huge pile of coal, it was one of the best episodes of Doctor Who to date. This 45-minute fairytale single-handedly justifies the 2011 run, despite being entirely standalone from the ongoing story arc.

This is a story fans had been wanting for years. The Doctor finally gets to meet his TARDIS inanimate form and interact with it! Suranne Jones is a delight as Idris and her chemistry with Matt Smith is as magical as you’d hope. The episode toys with just the right amount of mythology and character development between the Time Lord and his motor. By the tragic end, you’ll be wiping away the tears just as The Doctor does himself. Meanwhile, there’s some clever trickery going on with Amy and Rory trapped inside the TARDIS corridors. Not to mention a healthy dose of fanservice thrown in for good measure.

Simply put, The Doctor’s Wife is a pitch-perfect script with a fascinating study of the two most enduring characters. It’s an episode more than worthy of such an acclaimed writer, too. It’s just a shame Neil Gaiman couldn’t make lightning strike twice with Nightmare in Silver. Oh well.

Doctor Who – HEAVEN SENT (By Steven Moffat) (No. 11) – Doctor Who (PETER CAPALDI) – (C) BBC – Photographer: Simon Ridgway
Doctor Who – HEAVEN SENT (By Steven Moffat) (No. 11) – Doctor Who (PETER CAPALDI) – (C) BBC – Photographer: Simon Ridgway

1. Heaven Sent

Picture the scene: The Doctor alone with his thoughts. No companion to aid him. Now, trap him in a rotating castle. Set a slow-moving monster on his trail. Stretch it out for 55 minutes. Guess what? You’ve got yourself one of the greatest Doctor Who episodes of the past ten years.

Heaven Sent is such a stone-cold classic not only because it’s creative, bold, brave, and different. It dares to go one step further. An episode without any other characters at all? It should have been a flop. But with the spotlight firmly on him, Peter Capaldi excels. The Twelfth Doctor gives a tour-de-force showcase that carries the entire episode from the start to finish. Thankfully, he’s gifted a script that’s Steven Moffat’s magnum opus. Kudos also goes to Rachel Talalay’s directing, working in perfect harmony to create an eerie and claustrophobic atmosphere.

As its title suggests, Heaven Sent is a gift from above. It’s a rare insight into The Doctor’s psyche and gives us a genuinely creepy new monster. It will leave you stunned in awe as the resolution pieces itself together. The episode is a puzzle, much like its story. We experience it as The Doctor experiences it, complete with his thought processes and realisations. When everything suddenly becomes clear, it satisfyingly clicks into place (even more so on repeated viewings). It is a beautiful, poetic tale that belongs at the very top of the Doctor Who pantheon of greats.

The Doctor’s plan to punch his way through the azbantium wall over billions of years is torturous. In the final harrowing moments of the episode, he tells a story about one hell of a bird. Well, Heaven Sent is one hell of an episode, and an experience that’s worth reliving over, and over, and over again…

1 COMMENT

  1. My must see episode of New Who is School Reunion. The return of Sarah Jane Smith brought me 100% into the fold. To see the same actor return to her role some 30 years later is amazing, but much like the late Elisabeth Slade herself.

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