Already ten years have passed since the revival of ‘Doctor Who’ and in that time we’ve seen five Doctors (six if you count the double Ten’s) who have embarked on a score of adventures. This list will attempt to narrow that trove of content down to the essential ten. Episodes will be ordered in the date they aired.
Written by Robert Shearman, Directed by Joe Ahearne
As the ‘Doctor Who’ universe isn’t complete without the Daleks, neither is a top ten list of the show without at least one episode centering on his eternal nemeses. While the Twelfth era tale ‘Into the Dalek’ nearly took this spot, I found the earlier re-origin story more resonating.
The focus on one single unit, and the psychological effect this has on the Doctor, feels more powerful than an entire legion of Daleks. The episodes showed that the strength of fear is not always in numbers but in the impact it has. ‘Dalek’ also remains a great showcase of Eccleston’s skill during his short tenure. His sneering, frantic tone kept the dark core of the show active during a season of flatulent aliens and carnivorous trash cans.
‘The Parting of the Ways’
Written by Russell T. Davies, Directed by Joe Ahearne
Change is always hard, yet an integral part of what has kept ‘Doctor Who’ fresh over its long history. Regeneration episodes can be a tricky business, yet ‘The Parting of the Ways’ handles the Nine-to-Ten switch aptly by shifting the focus from the Doctor to his companion, Rose.
While her role in the canon remains a hotly debated topic amongst fans, it ushered in a new era of increasing the impact the companions and their decisions have on our favorite Time Lord’s life. This trend has carried forwarded throughout the seasons, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that it began so strongly here.
‘The Girl in the Fireplace’
Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Euros Lyn
This is the second episode Moffat wrote for the show, but the first in which his ‘outer space fairy tale’ vibe becomes evident. It sets the stage for his turn as showrunner at the beginning of Smith’s run as the Doctor, which continues today.
Despite the ranging feelings for Moffat, ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ remains a brilliant showcase of emotion, spectacle, and story. Truly, the hallmarks of any great program.
‘Human Nature/The Family of Blood’
Written by Paul Cornell, Directed by Charles Palmer
Despite taking place smack dab in the middle of a season, this two-parter remains a prime jumping in point for those eager to give the series a shot. This is primarily the case as it summarizes decades of lore in so short a time by having a mind-wiped Doctor discover who he is right along with the viewers. It remains among the few moments the Doctor is most approachable and more human while still maintaining all that makes him such an intriguing character.
Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Hettie MacDonald
Another Moffat spun tale, ‘Blink’, remains unique for two reasons. The most recognized is the introduction of the now iconic Weeping Angels, who remain terrifying and innovative, but perhaps never more so than in this origin story. The second reason is how the Doctor has precious few moments of screen-time in the entire episode, instead focusing on a one-off ‘companion’ by the name of Sally Sparrow (played brilliantly by Carey Mulligan), who must rescue herself and this man she doesn’t even know by following a cryptic trail of clues.
Love it, hate it, or remain somewhere inbetweeen, one thing remains constant after watching ‘Blink’: you’ll never look at statues the same way again.
‘Partners in Crime’
Written by Russell T. Davies, Directed by James Strong
A joyous romp from open to close, this episode marked the start of one of the few periods of ‘New Who’ completely free of romantic angst. The reintroduction of Donna Noble and her elevation to true companion brought a more easygoing dynamic to the Doctor-companion relationship by having them be total ‘mates’ instead of her crushing on him.
While the story trappings around them remain a bit light, the comedic tones and breezy air perfectly showcase the very different kind of chemistry between David Tennant and Catherine Tate, and for the show itself.
‘Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead’
Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Euros Lyn
While technically two episodes, this two-parter tells one complete story and puts an entirely new spin on ‘Who Lore’ by introducing a companion the Doctor himself has not yet met. River Song’s role in the series in another hotly debated subject – but this unique beginning, and the ramifications it has for both the Doctor and Donna, remains as striking now as when it first aired.
‘The Eleventh Hour’
Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Adam Smith
Matt Smith’s entrance as the Eleventh Doctor.
Fish fingers and custard.
The start of Moffat’s reign of whimsy.
So much is wrapped up and centered on this one episode it remains a testament to its own strength that ‘The Eleventh Hour’ stands apart as a fantastic debut for a new Doctor, as well as a just plain fun episode in its own right. It is also known for beginning an overarching saga with the ‘crack in the universe’ storyline that, despite mixed reception, furthered the medium and breathed new life into a show which has always innovated.
‘A Christmas Carol’
Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Toby HaynesWith the revitalization of the series, a new tradition was born in the form of the annual Christmas Special. This fantastical spin on the classic Dickens story stays centered around a grumpy miser, but ups the ante with flying sharks and the danger of a crashing interstellar cruise liner, while still maintaining a strong emotional center to the proceedings. This episode remains a prime example of what great things Matt Smith’s centric energy brought to the role and is simply a joy to watch, regardless of the season.
Written by Stephen Thomas & Steven Moffat, Directed by Douglas Mackinnon
Capaldi’s inaugural season as the Doctor had its ups and downs in terms of plot, despite being anchored by his incredibly captivating performance. It is in ‘Time Heist’ that we potentially see the best of the season in an episode which could not be more aptly summarized by its title. While it may spin its wheels around a few too many times, it remains an enjoyable romp with a few supporting characters I’m sure many would be pleased to see return in future episodes.
There you have it; my list of the ten most influential and fun episodes for this past decade. As we all look forward to the many adventures, Doctors, companions, and monsters to come, please share your own favorite episodes in the comments and be sure to say why they hold a special place in your thoughts.