Originally I had considered making the Russell T Davies era three posts as he was show runner from 2005 from 2010 and that was divided up into 4 full series and then 2 years of specials. That said, there are only actually 4 stories total from his 2 years of specials. I didn’t think they warranted their own post, so they have been incorporated into this one.
1) Blink is one of the best Doctor Who episodes ever made. Chris and I both love it as do many, many Doctor Who fans. It is a Doctor-lite episode, as well as companion-lite, but still manages to embody many things I love about Doctor Who. The female protagonist, Sally Sparrow, played beautifully by Carey Mulligan, is the clever, strong, perceptive young woman the Doctor tends to like to travel with even though he spends no more than about a minute with this one. Many people have said she would have made a great companion over the years, and she probably would have, though I can see why she wasn’t as it wouldn’t have worked with the excellent ending. The villains in this, the weeping angels, are one of my favorites and probably the best new villain of the revived series. The whole story is very satisfying and I quite enjoyed the excuse to watch it for the millionth time. 🙂
2) Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead is a superb Doctor Who story and one I kept nearly swapping with Blink above. I think they are probably nearly tied for best story of this portion of the RTD era. Once again, this is a Steven Moffat story with a great original monster and a strong female lead. This time, she wasn’t a one off, but instead he was gutsy enough and clever enough to introduce a recurring character with her death story. I really like River as a character and I like that time travel is essential to her story. More than that, I liked the world created in the library for Cal. This one also has multiple compelling tragedies with the Doctor losing the one person who has known his real name in centuries as soon as he meets her. Equally tragic was Donna’s loss of Lee, the person she had come to believe was her husband, and of course, the tragedy that whole world in which she believed she had a family and a life that she liked was a lie. That little stutter that kept him from finding her at the end was also just amazingly sad. It is an absolutely beautiful story and one of the best of New Who.
3) Turn Left is probably the best piece of acting Catherine Tate has ever done. By this point, her character development was near completion. This is one of the best pieces of writing by RTD and the least annoying use of Rose after the second series. I generally enjoy pieces on alternate realities and this was an excellent one. Also, very sad, as the world where Donna never travelled with the Doctor was a horrible one, but very well executed. I always enjoy this one.
4) The Fires of Pompeii is beautiful. I’m not sure why the writer hasn’t been invited back. His aliens are believable within the context of the DW world and they slot beautifully into the story arc for the fourth series. Donna shines and fully earns her place on the TARDIS. I also really enjoyed a story set this far back in human history. They need to do more of those. Peter Capaldi, of course, was amazing in what would be the first of many appearances. The other guest actors are also great. Phil Davis was a great baddie as Lucius Petrus Dextrus. He had that much more gravitas in this viewing as we had just finished Being Human in which he plays the Devil the day before watching this. Metella as played by Tracey Childs and Evelina as played by Francesca Fowler were also fantastic.
5) Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords is a rare 3 parter. It is my favourite Martha Jones appearance, was which is a bit sad as it was her last as a full-time companion. It also reintroduces a very popular baddie from the original series, the Master. I absolutely loved Derek Jacobi as the Master. John Simm wasn’t bad either, though I do wish we could have seen a bit more of Jacobi’s take on the Master. I also quite liked Alexandra Moen as the Master’s human companion of sorts, Lucy Saxon, and that he did the opposite of what the Doctor does for his companions for Lucy. The Doctor tends to increase his companions’ sense of wonder in the universe, while the Master brought his despair and made her think that nothing really mattered as a way of getting her to agree to help him with his twisted plan for destroying contemporary humanity with future humanity. Generally a good story and it did actually need to be that long I think.
6) Partners in Crime is very sweet. The adipose are the most adorable alien problem imaginable. I’m not sure I’m not sure why Miss Foster didn’t just ask the human population to help her other than the obvious that it wouldn’t have been much of a plot for Doctor Who. A diet without any effort where you get to be a surrogate without the pain of giving birth? I’m in! 🙂 It also started to sell me on the merits of Catherine Tate. A very solid episode. I know some of the ones that come after this on the list are probably more this, that or the other thing to many people, but I always really enjoy watching this, so it gets a high position.
7) Human Nature / The Family of Blood is one of David Tennant’s strongest performances on the show. He actually doesn’t play the Doctor most of the time, but rather, has become human, (mostly) forgets he had been the Doctor and identifies as a man called John Smith in 1913 England. There is also an excellent performance by Jessica Hynes as Joan Redfern. This story actually started its life as a Seventh Doctor novel written by a very solid Doctor Who novel writer who reworked it into both a script and a Tenth Doctor story. I have not read that in particular, but can recommend a novel he wrote ages ago, Love and War and a comic he wrote very recently, Four Doctors.
8) Water of Mars is a very intense and well acted episode. Lindsay Duncan does a wonderful job as a one off companion in the form of Adelaide Brooke. She is tough as nails and strong enough to value the future of humanity more than her own life. I also quite enjoyed Gemma Chan as Mia. She would go on to play another memorable Mia in AMC’s Humans, which I really recommend if you haven’t seen it and like sci fi. This was a fitting penultimate story for the Tenth Doctor.
9) Gridlock is a fairly strong Martha/10 story. We return to the New New York, New Earth that the Doctor visited with Rose. Things have gone quite wrong for their society in a way that was interesting and made for a good first outing in the future for Martha. There were several small roles played by actors I quite like from some of my other favorite shows, for instance, Ardal O’Hanlon, famous for playing Father Dougal McGuire in Father Ted, plays a cat named Thomas Kincade Brannigan, and Lenora Crichlow, who has been in lots of great things including starring as Annie in Being Human, plays Cheen, the pregnant kidnapper. The ending is touching and beautiful.
10) Midnight is a strong episode, and quite unusually, companion-lite. There had been a few Doctor-like shows that happened to also be companion-lite, but I can’t think of any others with mainly just the Doctor while there was a serving companion. The villain and location here are excellent. Another well written episode from the end of the RTD era. I feel he had wobbled for a while, but really pulled out all the stops for the end of series 4.
11) The Stole Earth / Journey’s End is an episode that in between viewings, I always remember as being cheesy. It is cheesy and it was probably over the top that RTD felt the need to bring back virtually every major character he had created, both from DW itself and his two spin offs. That said, I always actually enjoy watching it when I do, so I can’t really complain too much. Even if on paper it sounds mad, it did mostly work on an emotional level. It was compelling. That said, I am glad that as a show runner, Steven Moffat has done less of this ‘big alien thing happens to the whole planet’ than RTD. It was something that even when it worked as a story, it made it start to feel like the DW universe was an alternate reality, that it didn’t take place in our universe. It also must be said that the ending with Rose did quite a lot to diminish her original ending and it robs the series 2 closer of some of (well, really, most of) its sting. The tragedy of what happened to Donna did make up for this some though as it was properly heartbreaking to see her back at square one, the character that annoyed me in Runaway Bride, rather than the amazing person she’d become.
12) The Unicorn and the Wasp was written by an author whose work has been a proper mixed bag. He wrote a brilliant Ninth Doctor novel, several pleasant episodes of spin off series (The Sarah Jane Adventures), 2 Doctor Who episodes I really like, 3 that aren’t bad and one that is complete crap. This is one of the ‘not bad’ ones. There is something very silly about a giant wasp even though in theory it should be really scary as I am actually very freaked out by wasps in real life. I did really enjoy Fenella Woolgar as Agatha Christie though and the time period was quite fun, as was getting Agatha involved in a mystery in the style of one of her books. Catherine Tate shines again as a brilliant companion in that she is both funny and clever.
13) Planet of the Dead is generally a fun episode and I always quite enjoy the rapport between David Tennant and Michelle Ryan as Christina de Souza, the delightful jewel thief. Despite always enjoying this episode, I can see in a year with so little DW that this was probably a bit of a let down. It is enjoyable, but still mainly an average episode. I think RTD was running out of ideas by this point.
14) The Doctor’s Daughter is a much better offering than Stephen Greenhorn’s first episode, which finds itself much further down on this list. It was nice getting a TARDIS team, even if quite . briefly, with Martha, Donna and 10. This episode felt more poignant now that the Time War has been more fully explored in later series. I quite enjoyed the twist and that Donna was the one to figure it out. This is a very solid episode all around. I rarely think to re-watch it, but whenever I have, I’ve quite enjoyed it.
15) The End of Time was quite average, which was a pity given it was David Tennant’s swan song. I enjoyed the bit with the Time Lord’s returning and the Wilf was great, but it had two big downsides. The Master taking over the world in a frankly silly manner was far from stellar. More than that though, bringing Donna back was clunky and it felt like a cop out that her brain did not, in fact, fry as promised when she started to remember. I would have preferred there be a Wilf heavy episode before she had to forget so it didn’t need to be quite so over orchestrated and unlikely. I have also never been a bit fan of just what a song and dance RTD had to make of 10’s regeneration. I much, much prefer the regenerations of 9 and 11. This did not need to take anywhere near as long as it did. I suspect it also just made things harder for incoming Matt Smith as it made him seem positively unwelcome rather than treating regeneration as the glorious miracle it would be if it were real. Honestly, this episode made me glad it was the end of RTD’s time at Doctor Who. I think he went on a bit longer than he had good ideas.
16) Smith and Jones is a strong introduction to Martha Jones, probably RTD’s best companion introduction in that the story is strong enough and Martha comes off worthy of traveling in the TARDIS immediately. Two of RTD’s better alien nemeses are introduced, the Judoon, who are basically intergalactic police who take the rules too literally, and a plasmavore disguised as an old woman.
17) The Sontaran Strategem / The Poison Sky is an average but enjoyable episode. I enjoyed Martha’s reintroduction. I felt it worked better than several others in that it didn’t take away from her original time with the Doctor at all. Seeing her confident and working with U.N.I.T. was enjoyable. I quite enjoyed Wilf’s screen time as well. Donna, 10 and Wilf had great chemistry. It is also a pleasure to see a family member not utterly loath the Doctor like Rose and Martha’s mothers did. This wasn’t a bad reintroduction for a classic villain either. The update on their look worked.
18) Planet of the Ood isn’t bad, but is a little bit over emotional about music for my taste. That said, I quite like Catherine Tate in it, in addition to Tim McInnerny as Klineman Halpen and Ayesha Dharker as Solana Mercurio. The Ood are also quite creepy when possessed or similar. I think this was a better use of them than their first appearance in the Satan Pit. That said, they are another RTD creation that doesn’t quite pop. The writing of this wasn’t bad though. I am a bit surprised the author, Keith Temple, was never asked back.
19) The Runaway Bride is an episode that I enjoy in retrospect, but the first time I saw it, I really disliked Catherine Tate’s portrayal of Donna Noble. Looking back, of course, I now know that Donna is easily my favourite of the Russel T Davies’ era companions, so I suppose I re-watch it more kindly, knowing the development that is to come. The first time I watched it I remember telling Chris that I was glad she didn’t end up being the companion and he looked a bit worried as I first watched it in 2010. He is someone who had already seen series 1-4 at that time and knew that Donna would indeed be back. The Racnoss is hardly my favorite villain, but it’s a solid enough story.
20) The Shakespeare Code was funnier than I remembered it being. Normally I am not into ‘mythical Earth creatures and concepts as alien’ and this isn’t much of an exception really, but does have some great lines. Shakespeare was also better used than I remembered. Using a real historical figure is always fraught with potential difficulties, but this was mostly good and contributed to the humour. Due to thinking it was weak, neither of us had watched it many times, but we both laughed a fair amount and enjoyed it more than we expected to.
21) The Next Doctor is an episode that seems like it should have worked. David Morrissey and Dervla Kirwan are both good actors. The Cybermen have never worked quite as well as the Daleks in the modern series and this was one of the least believable of their episodes. It took place in the near past, which I am generally not that keen on anyway, but I just do not believe that a giant Cyberking destroyer thing was dashing around London ins the 1850s. It was more than that though. This episode very generally didn’t work. I just couldn’t get into it. The writer didn’t manage to make me care about the outcome for any of the characters.
22) The Lazarus Experiment never really popped for me. Poor Martha Jones, so many sub-par episodes. She is actually a solid actress and companion, but I think if some of the books written about her character had been done in place of a few episodes, she would have been more liked. For instance, I can strongly recommend Snow Globe 7, The Last Dodo, Revenge of the Judoon, and Sick Building. Mark Gatiss also manages to not quite work again, this time as an actor. The writer of this only wrote one other Doctor Who episode. I can see why he hasn’t been welcomed back in a while.
23) 42 is an almost worryingly bad episode considering who our new show runner is. I have no idea how the fellow got picked with his episodes often being among my least favourites. I think this might have been the 3rd time I’d ever seen it. It was like watching it for the first time. That said, other than the element of surprise, it didn’t help it much.
I think series 4 is probably tied with series 1 for RTD’s best. Donna is easily my favourite companion with David Tennant. She also had far more quality episodes than either of the other two had with him. I’m not sure about specials during a year with no series. Although one was good and two were ok, I think I’m glad DW is currently just diligently filming series 10 instead of doing any of this specials nonsense. I think for the most part it didn’t work. If he had just done the Waters of Mars to show the Doctor travelling alone and going a bit mad and then the End of Time, that probably would have worked better and allowed him to leave on a bit stronger note.