There seem to be a lot of television anniversaries recently and today marks another milestone – it is 10 years since Doctor Who returned to our screens with Rose in 2005. As someone who grew up in the wilderness years of Doctor Who my only real contact with the series had been watching the occasional rerun of Sylvester McCoy’s era on UK Gold, which didn’t grab me at all and then the 1996 TV movie with Doctor number 8. I’d enjoyed Paul McGann’s only outing as the Doctor and so on hearing the series was being revived I was curious to see what it would be like in the 21st century. I was also a huge admirer of Christopher Eccleston’s work (particularly the stunning and hard-hitting Hillsborough).
So, on Saturday 26th March 2005, I joined 9.9 million other viewers to see the TARDIS land back on Earth (and hear that crazy cross over with Graham Norton!), which rose to a final total of 10.81 million. The verdict at the time – enjoyable, although I thought the episode was incredibly cheesy. I did however love Chris and Billie and that was enough to draw me back the following week. It’s been a mixed 10 years. I loved Chris’s series (with barely a dud episode), adored David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, which cemented my appreciation and loyalty to keep watching the show and thought Matt was great but had far too many dreadful stories. Now, ten years later, we are awaiting the second series of stories for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor (I thoroughly enjoyed his first series, which I discussed last year) and it’s great to still have the Doctor going strong on the BBC. To celebrate this 10th anniversary, below are my favourite ten episodes of “New Who.” I’d be interested to hear what episodes make your list.
This two-parter remains my favourite story of modern Doctor Who, which is ironic seeing as it was originally a novel for the Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor! Paul Cornell’s story is so brilliant on so many different levels – it is beautifully written, has a chilling villain (particularly Harry Lloyd as Baines), highlights the country before the war, while commemorating those who fought in its ending and is also superbly acted. Freema Agyeman really has space to develop the character of Martha, who has to do the Doctor’s work for him when he can’t, Jessica Hynes is wonderful as Joan, the woman who captures John’s heart and there’s some lovely acting from young Thomas Brodie-Sangster (now popping up in Game of Thrones and Wolf Hall). Above all of that though is David Tennant’s incredible performance as two very different people. His portrayal of John Smith as he struggles to cope with his real identity is heartbreaking and his darker Doctor at the end is also chilling. It’ll take a lot to beat this one for me.
Coming second is Richard Curtis’s story from Matt’s first year in the role. Many people were horrified at the thought of him writing an episode, but his story was in fact the most emotionally strong and moving episode of Matt’s whole time on the show. By travelling back to meet Amy’s favourite painter, it enabled the story to tackle the delicate subject of mental health and depression, as most of those watching know the reason for Van Gogh’s death. The scene in which he is crying in his room is incredibly powerful and superbly acted, while the episode also still maintains some beautiful visual moments too – Amy among the sunflowers and the three of them looking up at the Starry Night. Above all though, for me, it’s the ending which truly makes this episode one of the best of New Who – watching Tony Curran as Van Gogh see his work and how much it is loved always brings a tear to my eye, as does the sad truth that Amy didn’t get her wish of there being more paintings when they return. It’s delicate, emotional, powerful and beautiful.
As David Tennant’s time as the Doctor neared its end, there had been talk that we’d see a darker Doctor and that certainly happened in The Waters of Mars. Faced with the crew of Bowie Base 1 and knowing their ultimate fates yet again placed the Doctor in a difficult moral situation. The difference this time being that we got to see what he’d be like if he decided to try and change the future and intervene when he shouldn’t. Tennant’s scenes with Lindsay Duncan were wonderful, from the one telling her the future of her family, right through to their final conversation on a snowy London street. Seeing this angry, arrogant, Master-like version of the Tenth Doctor was very exciting and it’s almost a shame he didn’t have a bit longer to delve in to it.
4. The Day of the Doctor (50th Anniversary, 2013)
The highly anticipated 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who must have been a huge pressure for Steven Moffat. There was so much to try and include in order to honour the past, while moving the story forward for the next 50 years and I admit I was worried it would turn out like one of the worst Christmas specials. I’m so pleased I was wrong and that instead we had a fun, entertaining, exciting episode. I’ll always be sad that Christopher Eccleston didn’t agree to return, not even for a few moments, but we at least had the wonderful partnership of Matt and David, which was only strengthened by the dynamic they had together with John Hurt. His War Doctor was a brilliant addition and one that allowed us to revisit the Time War in a new way. Not to mention the unexpected inclusion of both Peter Capaldi and Tom Baker, whose scene with Matt is so moving, whether you’ve watched the Fourth Doctor’s episodes or not.
Steven Moffat’s first story for the Tenth Doctor became an instant fan favourite and I think will always be a classic. Ten years on, we are used to Moffat’s trick of jumping between time periods, or having the resolution be one that you only see how clever it is at the end of the episode, requiring you to rewatch it immediately. This was the first time we saw how multi-layered and clever his writing could be and in my view, some of his more recent stories have lost this, thinking they are cleverer than they actually are. The story of Madame Du Pompadour and her love for the Doctor across her life is a lovely one and Sophia Myles was able to convey her fear and also strength, something the Doctor clearly admired in her. His realisation that she has died and the letter she has left for him is such a tragic ending, but one which is necessary to make the episode as wonderful as it is. More like this please Mr Moffat!
6. Doomsday (David Tennant, series 2, 2006)
I will always remember watching Doomsday for the first time, aware that Billie was leaving but unsure how it would happen and being totally unprepared for the emotionally charged final few scenes. Doomsday was such a great finale, as it had a perfect mix of adventure and action, as the Daleks and Cybermen do battle, while balancing this with a very real emotional heart, through both the resolution of Jackie and Pete back together and the Doctor and Rose torn apart. Russell T Davies’s era on the show may be seen as too driven by emotions for some, but I loved this aspect of the series and question whether I would have become such a loyal, regular viewer without it. I cared about the characters and the heartbreaking events always felt real (something I’ve felt to be lacking, certainly in Matt’s era) and none more so that seeing the Doctor and Rose say goodbye. It has gorgeous music from Murray Gold and is beautifully acted by David and Billie, whose chemistry was very special and I’d challenge anyone not to shed a tear.
As a huge admirer of Christopher Eccleston as an actor I was very sad to discover he was leaving the series so soon. I still strongly believe that the series may not have taken off had it not had such a respected actor of his calibre in it from the start, forcing people to take the sci-fi show seriously. He was a wonderful Doctor, funny, kind and yet serious and detached when necessary. This finale is still one of the best of New Who. It was the first time we got to see the huge army of Daleks and the threat they posed, it had light hearted humour courtesy of John Barrowman’s brilliant Captain Jack (bring him back Steven!) and then there were the lovely scenes between the Doctor and Rose. His hologram telling her to have a fantastic life is still one of my favourite scenes and Billie really showed what a strong actress she was, as she fought to get back to his side. Although sad, Chris’s final scene did justice to his time on the show, before welcoming David Tennant aboard.
The Runaway Bride has always been my favourite Christmas special and is one I return to often. It has the perfect balance of light hearted silliness and comedy, sadness and excitement and wasn’t confusing for those who weren’t regular viewers of the series. I’d never been a fan of Catherine Tate’s comedy shows and so was relieved to see what a brilliant actress she was. Donna was so different from Rose, which was exactly right for the first episode without the partnership of David and Billie and yet there were enough references to Rose to acknowledge how important she’d been to the Doctor. I remember being sad at the end of the story that we’d never see Donna again and it’s wonderful she came back for series four, to have such a superb partnership with David’s Doctor. Plus David’s final line in this story is still one the best scenes of his on the entire show – “Her name was Rose.”
9. Blink (David Tennant, series 3, 2007)
Blink is almost certain to make any Doctor Who fan’s list of favourite episodes and not just of modern Who either. Series two’s “Doctor-lite” story had been fairly weak and yet Steven Moffat managed to make this one a series highlight! It also introduced us to one of the most chilling monsters on television as we watched the Weeping Angels creep up on people. I remain frustrated that such a frightening monster was then ruined by later stories (breaking necks just wasn’t as frightening as sucking the future years out of someone!) but at least Blink stands as a reminder as to how scary they can be in the right story. It was also a brilliant role for Carey Mulligan (now so famous I sadly think we’ll never see the return of Sally Sparrow) and has forever made statues just that little bit more disturbing! Remember – don’t blink!
10. Mummy on the Orient Express (Peter Capaldi, series 8, 2014) / The Stolen Earth & Journey’s End (David Tennant, series 4, 2008)
Okay, so I’m cheating a little here as I’ve agonised over which of these two stories to include and couldn’t decide! It felt wrong not to include a story from the Twelfth Doctor and Mummy on the Orient Express was by far my favourite of his first series. It had everything right – scary story and monster, which felt fresh and original, fun location, excellent supporting performances (particularly Frank Skinner) and a lovely Doctor/Clara dynamic, as she struggles to leave, while feeling it’s the only choice. Above all though Peter Capaldi is fantastic – he really is the Doctor here, with witty dialogue, break neck speed cleverness, authority and a convincing relationship with Clara. I’ve no doubt this will remain a highlight of his years on the show.
I couldn’t have a top ten list without The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End, as there is so much I love about it. Bringing all of the Tenth Doctor’s companions together in one story was a brave and ambitious move and yet it really did work and it made the ending all the more tragic, when the Doctor is once again alone. It was lovely to have John Barrowman and Billie Piper back, although I still don’t like the final beach scene. It still grates with me that the Doctor was fine with the idea of The Master travelling with him, but not 10.5 and Rose seemed to put up far too little a fight about not staying with the person she’d waited years to be with again. That aside though, their reunion at the end of Stolen Earth is another favourite scene of New Who for me – it’s the look on his face as he sees her and runs towards her, before that pesky Dalek ruins it! Then there is Catherine Tate, who is utterly spectacular here as we say goodbye to Donna. Her final TARDIS scene is heartbreaking to watch. If that scene wasn’t beautiful enough, it’s then capped off by Bernard Cribbins’s emotional doorstep vow to look up at the sky each night and think of the Doctor. Incredible acting all round.
So those are my choices, some of which I’ll watch to celebrate this anniversary. Narrowly missing out were The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (“Are You my mummy?” will stay with me forever!), The Eleventh Hour (such a brilliant entrance for Matt), Flatline (it was just so original, scary and also funny), the entire end of series four, with its superb run of The Silence In The Library/Forest of the Dead/ Midnight and Turn Left, The Angels Take Manhattan (Amy and Rory’s exit was very well handled) and Boom Town (bonkers, but Chris proving just how comedic he could be in that restaurant scene).
I may not like all the stories, but Doctor Who remains a highlight of British television today and something the BBC can truly be proud of. It’s one of those rare shows that can be enjoyed by all the family together and that is something that should be cherished. I certainly hope we’re all here in another ten years time to celebrate another decade of stories!
In the meantime, here’s a brilliant fan made video, celebrating a decade of New Who! Watching me has made me want to get my box sets out and start all over again!