I have chosen to divide this by Doctor, not companion, as I did for Russel T. Davies. I think the change in Doctor was a bigger break in tone than the change in companion. whereas Rose or not Rose defined so much of the RTD era. As such, this post will deal with series 5 up until the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration.
1) The Day of the Doctor was beautiful. Steven Moffat managed to take the 50th anniversary of something huge and make it even better than expected. Upon rewatching it, we found even more complexity than the previous several times we watched it. I hadn’t realized that the screwdriver being the same software, different case was a foreshadowing of the plan they came up with or that the Tenth Doctor only understood the plan as the War Doctor got it after the Eleventh Doctor indicating to the War Doctor how it worked. It was a beautiful use of time lines. The three Doctors were all superb. John Hurt was, unsurprisingly, as amazing an actor as he always is. Matt Smith and David Tennant had great chemistry and were very funny together. I loved the introduction of Osgood. The opening sequence was also just gorgeous. The sequences with the Daleks in the Time War at the fall of Arcadia were excellent. This is exactly what I wanted and more. Extremely well done, Mr. Moffat.
2) Vincent and the Doctor is easily one of the best Doctor Who episodes they’ve ever made. It is certainly the best a historical figure has worked and such a lovely story. If they can ever get Richard Curtis back to write for them again, I’d love to see it. He normally writes pretty much any other genre of thing as he ha written for The Vicar of Dibley, Blackadder, Mr. Bean, Love Actually, Bridget Jones’s Diary and so on. This is both a beautiful sci and a beautiful story though. It also does the thing anyone into time travel sci fi has probably imagined doing, bringing a historical figure to your era and showing them the impact of their work. It manages to do it in a way that is lovely rather than than cheesy or forced though. An excellent episode.
3) The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang is also one of the best Doctor Who stories ever made. It probably ranks as high as Vincent and the Doctor for me, but they are also completely different types of stories. This was big and epic and tied lots of things together, while Vincent’s story was intimate and touching. As a result, they were hard to position in the list. This was one of the most successful series story arcs. It also happened to play in beautifully with Moffat’s larger story arc. Everyone’s acting was spot on. The dialogue was great. The story was beautifully sci fi, but still made sense.
4) The Time of the Angels / Flesh and Stone is one of my favourite Doctor Who stories. It brought back River Song and solidified her role in the Doctor’s life. It also brought back one of my favourite villains, the weeping angels, and used them to great effect. I also really enjoyed Iain Glenn as Octavian. The whole story was very clever and well scripted. It was actually the first one Matt Smith filmed. I think he, Karen Gillan and Alex Kingston really nailed it from day one.
5) The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon s another epic two parter. The primary location looks epic. We really need to go there at some point. We had a strong feeling when we were in Arizona when we were travelling that we would move here, so we didn’t want to blow through all the local (well, fairly local) tourism. Obviously, we didn’t just like this episode for the good taste in scenery though. It is also a compelling story with lots of messing about with timelines. Amy, Rory, and River receive a mysterious summons to the bottom of Utah where they witness the Doctor’s apparent death only to meet a much younger version of him at a diner later that day. The multi-series plot with the Silents starts to thicken as the Ponds and the younger version of the Doctor attempt to learn more about them. A really good episode and a great contribution to what ended up being a story that stretched across several years. Canton Everett Delaware III as played by Mark Sheppard also deserves a mention as a great character and Nixon is always fun to play with in sci fi for some reason.
6) The Wedding of River Song is absolutely bonkers, but I love it. It had very mixed reception, but I think it worked. I liked seeing the consequences of messing with the concept of a ‘fixed point in time’. It was also just fun seeing all of human history jumbled up in one time period. It was also a good way to bringing the Ponds back. Somehow, at the time when this all first aired, I didn’t really feel the full impact of them actually leaving and no longer travelling with the Doctor. Watching series 6 again, the story made more complete sense to me. It wasn’t quite as tight as that of series 5, but still highly enjoyable and well crafted.
7) The Time of the Doctor never got quite as much praise as I thought it deserved, I think in part, having to come on the heels of the truly superb 50th anniversary special. I thought Matt Smith was incredible in it. Murray Gold also outdid himself on the music. It was absolutely gorgeous. I am also quite glad it was Steven Moffat who got to deal with the issue of giving the Doctor more regenerations. He also absolutely wins in terms of ‘best use of the name of a show in the show’, having written a multiseries story arc about it that actually ended up making a lot of sense and even resulted in bringing Gallifrey back in a way that worked. I also very much enjoyed the Church of the Papal Mainframe and their mad leader, the Mother Superious, Tasha Lem. Jenna Coleman also gave a very strong performance. I also felt it fitting that the Eleventh Doctor, a playful incarnation with sad, old eyes, ended up in a place called Christmas. It also felt fitting that before getting the surprise of a whole new regeneration cycle, he had actually done the very un-Doctor-y thing of settle in a place for centuries and accept his mortality. I felt it worked very well in narrative terms. I also loved his regeneration speech. It’s a really beautiful way to look at life:
“We all change, when you think about it, we’re all different people; all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you’ve gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, not one day, I swear. I will always remember when The Doctor was me.”
8) The Lodger is another excellent series 5 episode. James Corden and Daisy Haggard are adorable as Craig and Sophie. It was also great fun seeing the Doctor try to live a normal life for a while, but to do it in the context of a genuine alien threat that was also a great foreshadowing of some of what was to come with the Silents. I always really enjoy this one.
9) Amy’s Choice was a beautiful episode with a nemesis that was as clever as it was weird. The writer, Simon Nye, has only penned this one Doctor Who. If he has any more cool ideas up his sleeve, I’d love to hear them. This worked well very within the story arch of the series as well. Believing she’d lost Rory made Amy finally realize just how much he meant to her and that was very well done. I think that it played out well over the course of the series.
10) The Eleventh Hour is my favourite of any of the introductions to a new Doctor we’ve had. It is also a massive change of gear for the show. Having just watched all of the RTD era, this feels like a different show. It is more low key in a few ways. Of course, with a new showrunner, Doctor and companion, it was bound to feel fairly different. Fortunately, it was not only good, but different in a way I prefer. Matt Smith is my favourite Doctor and it didn’t take him long to get there. Amy are Rory are two of my favourite companions as well. This was a great introduction to all of them. Prisoner zero was a great villain and had some truly creepy scenes. All and all, a great episode.
11) The Snowmen is a strong second introduction to Clara, a companion so complex, she had to be introduced three times as different people. The Great Intelligence were delightfully sinister and well played by Sir Ian McKellen. Richard E. Grant was also excellent as the tortured Dr. Simeon. This is one of the best Christmas episodes they’ve done.
12 ) A Christmas Carol is also one of the strongest Christmas specials in that it manages to be properly Christmas-y but also properly sci fi. It is also one of the better DW takes on a classic from human history, of course, Charles Dickens’ classic story, which has been done and redone in many formats. This was one of the good ones though. It used time travel beautifully to re-write an angry old man’s life with the Doctor as both the ghost of Christmas past and present and a hologram of Amy, Rory and several people on a crashing ship as the ghost of Christmas present. The love story between Kazran and Abigail was the tragic, sweet stuff Moffat does brilliantly. A really lovely story. Chris didn’t remember liking it much but enjoyed it much more on the rewatch. Matt Smith was also hilarious in it. He has really great comedic timing.
13) The Night of the Doctor is actually a prequel to the Day of the Doctor, but it deserves mentioning as it was by far the most worth while prequel every made for anything ever. Even being under 8 minutes long, it was excellent. It features the Eighth Doctor’s long awaited return to the screen. Paul McGann has been the Doctor for a long, long time. He was in a mediocre tv movie (though the script was the problem, he was fabulous), many Big Finish audios and dozens of books. We finally got to see him back on TV along with the fabulous Clare Higgins as Ohila on Karn. Nearly all the dots were also finally connected as the Eight Doctor finally got a regeneration story, turning him into the War Doctor.
14) Let’s Kill Hitler is fairly hilarious (in a good way) for a Doctor Who episode. Moffat writes comedy well. I enjoyed River’s regeneration and the havoc she wreaked in Berlin. The Teselecta was an interesting concept. Alex Kingston does an excellent job playing a younger River. A solid episode. I always enjoy it.
15) Hide is most likely the best use of ‘mythical earth creature as something else’ in the history of Doctor Who. When I first saw the promos for this and saw it was meant to be a ghost story, I thought it would be a bit crap. This was actually very clever though. The thing that appeared to be a ghost but wasn’t was just not what I guessed it would be in a million years. I also like that there wasn’t really a villain so much as a problem and none of it was even alien. Jessica Raine did a great job as Emma Grayling. All of the characters were very believable and relatable. A good episode.
16) Asylum of the Daleks is a very enjoyable episode, but with a significant and distracting flaw: I just do not believe Amy would divorce Rory without telling him why and I am sure that if she had told Rory why, he would have immediately got on lists to adopt. That just did not work at all. That said, it was a smashing introduction to a certain Ms. Oswald. The idea of a Dalek prison world was also compelling and I loved the creepy, cold performance of Anamaria Marinca as Darla von Karlsen, the Dalek’s puppet servant.
17) The Angels Take Manhattan has one thing I don’t quite understand. I never did get how the Doctor couldn’t just land in New Jersey or something to go visit Amy. I don’t quite get why it was a fixed point. That said, even if it didn’t make full sense, it was emotionally satisfying as an exit for the Ponds. It was always going to the Angels for Amy. There was some excellent dialogue between the two couples and Amy and Rory’s together or not at all scene always gets me. This story also fully completes Amy’s story arc, as she definitively picks Rory over the Doctor, a repeating theme of her time with the Doctor.
18) The Name of the Doctor finally explained who Clara was. It was a satisfying enough conclusion and absolutely not what I thought it would be. As always, Jenny, Vastra and Strax were put to good use. The bits with River were sad, but well done. I liked the idea that time travel has always been possible in dreams. The idea of a dying TARDIS, bloating out due to the ‘bigger on the inside’ coming out was also compelling. I am also glad Moffat had the good sense not to actually invent a name for the Doctor.
19) The Beast Below is not generally that highly regarded online, but I have always really enjoyed it. Liz 10 was a great character. I liked the concept of the slowed body clock and repeating the same 10 years over and over again. I also quited liked the Star Whale itself. I also felt that Karen Gillan did a good job of playing Amy on what was basically her ‘test mission’ that all new companions seems to have.
20) Closing Time is also not as highly rated by most people, but even with the Cybermen not working 100% as, unfortunately, seems normal for them in the revived series, Craig and Matt Smith are just excellent together. I loved Stormageddon and the sad Doctor, accepting his fate, but not quite, with the people of the shopping center of Colchester. It’s a really sweet episode in many ways and transitions smoothly into the final episode of the series, the Wedding of River Song.
21) The Bells of Saint John is always a fun episode. It’s not a bad third introduction to Clara, the definitive one, finally getting her in the form she would be as companion. I was a little disappointed she ended up being contemporary when we had the possibility of a companion from the Victorian era dangled before us in the previous episode, only to have it snatched away. I wasn’t 100% sure about the wi fi storyline, but I liked the Great Intelligence. Celia Imrie was great as Miss Kizlet. It was so sad at the end when she forgot her whole life. That always gets me. I also always enjoy Matt Smith driving up the shard on an anti-grav motorbike.
22) The God Complex is one I rarely think it watch again, but I always enjoy it. Rita is a good character and the creepy 80s hotel worked very well. The idea of people’s faith turning on them was also compelling and sinister. It did a good job at examining the Doctor’s role in his companions’ lives and in the universe. It was very sad, but in a good way.
23) Journey to the Center of the TARDIS is a fun episode. I enjoyed getting to see more of the TARDIS iself. The story was solid enough, though it has a lower ranking than some because I wasn’t that keen on the team of brothers. They didn’t seem that well developed, so I had trouble caring about them. That said, it was a properly creepy idea with the time zombies.
24) The Rings of Akhaten is a story that works emotionally, even though I always feel that something wasn’t quite right with the plot itself. Clara proved herself an able companion in what is basically the companion test episodet. Emilia Jones is also a compelling one off character as Merry. This line had some stellar lines and speeches, which is why I rate is reasonably high even though the plot felt a bit oddly executed. I enjoyed the Lewis Carroll reference and Matt Smith’s speech in front of the old god was beautiful. He is so good at epic speeches.
25) The Doctor’s Wife is an episode I rarely think to re-watch. I always enjoy it by the end, but the beginning was a bit wobbly. This episode is often very highly rated in the DW fanbase, but I wonder if they are more familiar with the other works of the writer, the famous Neil Geiman, than I am. I have only seen his two DW episodes and read his one DW short story. This is probably his best DW. I did like the idea of the Doctor getting to ‘meet’ and talk to the TARDIS and the villain was properly scary. It also did a good job of exploring the Doctor’s issues with his people and the Time War.
26) Cold War is probably my favourite Mark Gatiss story. David Warner is very warm and likable as Professor Grisenko. I also like the method by which Clara discovers the TARDIS’s gift of translation in the most delightfully awkward way possible. Liam Cunningham does a great job as Captain Zhukov. I think bringing the Ice Warriors back worked well, too.
27) The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People deals with the disturbing theme of ‘the Flesh’, a way of making instant clones with the bodies, hair, clothing and memories of a living person in order to engage in dangerous tasks. The Doctor, fresh from meeting the TARDIS as a woman, knows she will always take him where he needs to go. This is where she decides he needs to go to figure out what’s up with Amy. A recurring event of the first half of series 6 is a worried Doctors scanning Amy to see if she is pregnant without conclusive results. We finally get the reason why. This fits in very well with the series arc, but is also a good story that deals with ethics in an original way.
28) The Vampires of Venice is one I remember not liking as much, but upon rewatching, it wasn’t so much that it was bad as that the other episodes around it were of such a high quality that even a reasonably good one looked poor by comparison. It was still far better than many of the lowest ranked episodes of series 2-4. As usual, I am not super keen on earth myths as Doctor Who aliens. That said, even though the whole ‘sexy fish vampires’ was a bit cheesy, the actual characters were not. I felt for Signora Calvierri in her desire to save her species, and equally so, for Guido and his daughter Isabella who fell for Signnora Calvierri’s trap and then tried to get out of it alive and failed. Not a bad episode at all.
29) Nightmare in Silver in many ways didn’t work. Frankly, the children were irritating, especially the teenage girl. Like most other Cybermen stories, it was lacking something. It did have three excellent elements though: Matt Smith’s Mr. Clever, Warwick Davis as the the imperator of known space in disguise as a nobody and Jason Watkins as Wembley. Jason Watkins is just brilliant in anything and Warwick Davis was excellent as the emperor of the universe. Matt Smith really got to stretch his legs and showed he will probably shine as British baddies in the future.
30) The Girl Who Waited is very, very sad in a way. I think this is why I don’t think to watch it very often. There are several sad Doctor Who episodes, but this one really hits home what Doctor told River was ‘rule one’: the Doctor lies. After being trapped for 36 years, an aged and angry Amy is ultimately abandoned to blink out of existence in order to save ‘their’ Amy. I think it was absolutely the right choice, and not just because the TARDIS couldn’t sustain the paradox, but it is still a bit hard to watch. It is a very good episode though. That it is compelling enough to border on distressing is an indication of how much the writer and actors made the characters matter to the audience. Apalapucia and the Two Streams Facility were a great location and the handbots are pretty creepy. A good episode.
31) Night Terrors is an unusually good Mark Gatiss episode. It is properly creepy with the singing and the giant living dolls. The little boy, awkward and obsessed with monsters, is probably something like Mark Gatiss was as a child. This is the story he has written that felt the most real and it actually had a middle, which I will go into more detail about in a later entry
32) The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood, much like the Vampires of Venice, is another story that I think I judged to harshly the first time around because it was surrounded by such gems. It is actually a very good story. The entire cast were stellar. Meera Syal was fantastic as Nasreen Chaudhry as was Robert Pugh as Tony. Neve McIntosh also shone in her first go as a Silurian, a race she would go on to reprise as Madam Vastra in future episodes. She did well as both Alaya and Restac in this one. The conflict over a shared earth was compelling. This actually gave me a bit more hope for series 11 as it was written by future show runner Chris ChibnalI realized I wouldn’t mind finding out 1000 years later when they wake up. Maybe he will let us know when he takes the reins.
33) A Town Called Mercy was never going to be a favourite of mine for the simple reason that I detest the Old West genre. It is epically overdone. I think the only thing I’ve ever seen where I felt it worked and was worth doing was in Back to the Future 3. That said, this wasn’t poorly written or acted, I just don’t care for the genre. It would have probably ranked higher if I had any desire to watch things about the tiny sliver of human history that is Old West.
34) Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is cute, though a bit on the weak side. Somehow even enjoying the idea of a Silurian ark, Mark Williams’ performance as Rory’s dad, the unexpected presence of a kick ass Egyptian queen, Mitchell and Webb as cranky robots, and, of course, dinosaurs on a spaceship, something just didn’t work. This is worrying as this is another less than amazing episode from our future showrunner. I do always enjoy watching this, but it didn’t quite fit together with the same zing that many other episodes from this era did.
35) The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe is one of the weaker episodes of this era, but still enjoyable. Claire Skinner gave a strong performance as Madge Arwell and Steven Moffat’s take on Narnia and a living forest was sweet. It was Christmas appropriate if not as memorable as many other episodes he’s done. Bill Bailey was very underused. I hope he will do another Doctor Who some day where his hilariousness is given more time to shine.
36) Victory of the Daleks is the second time Mark Gatiss has managed to write a reasonable episode of Doctor Who. It probably is the ‘worst’ of series 5, but not because it was bad. All the other episodes were just that much more amazing. Having watched several of his close together in time, I realize his problem. He can do a beginning and an end, but he’s not very good at the middle of a story. If there is no middle, there is a very low chance you will have been able to make your viewers/readers care about the ending. He cannot seem to flesh something out in the time given for a single TV story. I wonder if he would fare better with a two parter or with just sticking to Sherlock and comedy horror. That said, this had more of a middle than usual. I found the whole normal airplanes in space thing a bit rich with the time frame they had even with their gravity bubble or whatever it was. Bill Paterson does a great job as Edwin Bracewell from an emotional POV despite the silly tech. It was also highly amusing having Daleks running around offering people cups of tea and other equally benign things. It was also enjoyable seeing DW’s take on the Churchill war rooms. Not a bad episode.
37) The Power of Three is another less than stellar story from our future showrunner. Seriously, I have to wonder what this man told the BBC to get them to hire him. This episode, again, had manly interesting ideas, none of which worked that well. The ending felt rushed and unsatisfying. One good thing about this episode was the introduction of Kate Stewart, who has gone on to be an excellent addition to Doctor Who as UNIT’s chief scientific officer.
38) The Crimson Horror had such potential. The things that were good about it were excellent. I always quite enjoy the Paternoster gang. Vastra, Jenny and Strax did not disapppoint. Mark Gatiss was up to his usual though, and as a result, this was also completely lacking a middle. Despite strong performances by Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling, the whole thing was just too underdeveloped for me to really care about Ada’s plight. The ending was also utter cheese ball. I suspect this wasn’t Mr. Gatiss’s fault though as it was a transition to the next episode. I really found it unbelievable though that it would be that easy to find pictures of Clara in the past, that Clara posed for that many pictures in the past and that she would tell the kids so readily.
39) The Curse of the Black Spot was a weaker episode and neither of us remembered liking it much. It has a very overplayed theme from human history: pirates. I just don’t really care for most things with pirates. I think my favourite pirate in all of fiction is Metal Beard from the Lego movie and mainly because it completely takes the piss out of the concept. That said, even being a weaker episode with a silly concept, it was better than I remembered. Amy’s interaction with a drowning Rory was far more compelling than I had remembered and the pirates themselves weren’t too annoying by the usual standards of pop culture pirates.
This has been my favourite over all era of the revived series. There were very few proper duds. Even those I considered duds on first viewing, with fresh eyes and the wider context of this era, were quite good compared to the duds of the previous era. Matt Smith was a wonderful Doctor, bringing playfulness to the role, but also an unexpected depth. He always felt as old as the Doctor is supposed to be, despite being the youngest man to ever play the Time Lord.
I loved the chemistry between the Doctor and the Ponds. Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill and Alex Kingston were fantastic companions. I liked having a team TARDIS on a more regular basis. I liked that Rory brought a little bit of sanity to the TARDIS so it wasn’t just the Doctor and one overexcited young woman bouncing around the universe. I loved that the stern sort of Roman ended up being the Doctor’s father-in-law as well, because who else in the history of time and space could have been. I liked how much time travel was essential for the overall story arc to make any sense. I felt like Steven Moffat really embraced what the how was about – a mad man in a box travelling through time as much as space.
Clara had a bit of a bumpy start, which Moffat has explained as wobbles with series 7 due to the pressure to get the 50th just right. He actually did get the 50th just right, so that is easily forgiven in a show that has given so much joy to so many for so long.