Series 11 is coming. A new Doctor, a new era. Now is the time to look back on the brilliance of the past 13 years, which has encompassed four Doctors and ten seasons. Whilst I could discuss the best episodes, that would be harder than this list, so let’s look at the best moments of the revived show. With over a hundred episodes to choose from, picking 50 was hard. I’ve decided to limit the list to one moment per story, and to leave the quality of the episode aside to focus on the moment in question. There’s too much to go through, so I’ve split the list up-
50) Burn with me- 42
What an underrated, nail biting experience 42 is. Chris Chibnall made a brilliant first impression with this great base under siege story, and it’s the climax where the story becomes edge of your seat stuff. All the Strange, Strange Creatures blares out, the direction by Graeme Harper becomes taught and cinematic and the real time premise becomes a brilliant way of building tension. The Doctor’s vulnerability is one of the best aspects of this episode and this is played with brilliantly in this sequence. A great scene to kick off the countdown. If this is the kind of episode we’re getting in this upcoming era, then we’re in luck.
49) “Elisa, he’s your son!”- Knock Knock
This comes from an episode I feel like has become quite underrated. I’ve heard criticisms that the story isn’t scary enough, but the implications of this brilliant scene is terrifying. A son who is so preoccupied with saving his mother that he wastes his life murdering random teenagers, with her being trapped in a wooden body unable to go outside. This twist is perfectly executed, as we see Bill figure it out before even the Doctor does. The episode turns lyrical and thought provoking, giving it a macabre and sombre feel. This is the kind of scene that turns what could have been a forgettable episode into something memorable.
48) Rory dies- Amy’s Choice
One of the best and most important episodes of Matt Smith’s era, Amy’s Choice is made by Toby Jones’s delightfully evil Dream Lord. The best scene however comes from the first of Rory’s many deaths. In this scene, we see Amy make her choice and be willing to die, not even caring if it’s reality. The hilarious meta commentary of the episode turns into a deeply intense character analysis of just who the Doctor is. The performances from Matt Smith, Karen Gillian and Arthur Darvill are brilliant and this scene shows why they are my favourite TARDIS team. One of many standout scenes from this outstanding episode.
47) Reinette‘s letter- The Girl in the Fireplace
I’m going to be “that guy” and say that I find parts of this episode problematic, and find it Moffat’s weakest RTD era script. It’s still really good though. The ending however is perfection. After saving her from robots and offering her the stars, the Doctor goes to fetch Reinette, only to have ended up jumping too far to her early death. Unable to do anything, all he can do is read her final letter and return to the TARDIS in silence, realising that he was too late. David Tennant gives a wonderfully subtle performance in this scene and the episode ends gloriously. One of the best scenes Moffat ever wrote for Doctor Who.
46) Lazarus in the church- The Lazarus Experiment
A fantastic scene from a flawed but fun episode. One of the key themes of the story (and indeed all of Series 3) is the Doctor’s age and the longing for longer life. This is captured beautifully in this simple exchange between a sympathetic villain, played by a brilliant Mark Gatiss, and the Doctor, who has seen too much in his long life. As Lazarus remembers his childhood in the Blitz, we see the Doctor connect with him in a way that the previous rivals have not. By the end of the episode, the Doctor truly regrets what happened to Lazarus and the way his ambitions turned evil.
45) “Look at me!”- Oxygen
Who would have thought Nardole would be a great companion? I certainly didn’t, and this brilliant scene in an already outstanding story gives him real depth as a character. Matt Lucas excels in this scene, as we see Nardole finally drop the sarcasm and straight into the anger at the Doctor’s irresponsibility. The Doctor being blind already raised the stakes for one episode, but for it to continue was a fantastic move. Peter Capaldi sends chills down my spine with the revelation that he is blind and it leaves the audience wondering what happens next. Truly superb writing, and I won’t let the resolution to this arc ruin this.
44) Turn of the Earth- Rose
The scene that showed the world Doctor Who was back. A simple yet amazing scene that recaptures the alien from Gallifrey. The first episode has admittedly aged pretty poorly (although I must emphasise it’s still a great episode), but this speech will never age. Rose finally sees this stranger for who he really is, and the audience comes to realise that this isn’t the Doctor of the Classic Series. We have a broken figure who feels the turn of the Earth beneath his feet and feels alone for the first time. Great writing from Russel T Davies and a fantastic performance from Christopher Eccleston.
43) Song of the Ood- Planet of the Ood
A dark, underrated gem from a series full of classics. Seeing Donna Noble, a character who had seen so much in such a short amount of time, break down at the harsh realities of slavery is hard to watch but very compelling. All doubts about Catherine Tate dissipated with this scene as she does a magnificent job with some difficult material. She came to see the wonders of the universe, but was given a world not too dissimilar to the one she is trying to leave. Murray Gold hit his peak with the Ood Song, a haunting piece that was triumphantly reprised in the series finale. I don’t hear too many people discuss this episode, which is a shame.
42) Missy’s scene- The Lie of the Land
There is a reason why I did a best moments and not episodes list. This episode is the only weak link in an otherwise phenomenal series but for a few minutes the story turns into the best thing ever. I’ve made it no secret that Missy is my favourite Master and this is my favourite scene with her. She critiques the Doctor’s weaknesses and berates him for emotions that she has no understanding of. Michelle Gomez is outstanding, This Is Gallifrey gets reprised beautifully, the flaws of the Doctor are exposed and the stage is set for the finale’s emotional core. An outstanding scene in an otherwise disappointing episode.
41) The Ghost of Christmas Future- A Christmas Carol
This flawless Christmas special gives the classic Charles Dickens tale a truly unique science fiction twist. After turning Kazran Sardick into the jaded individual he was trying to change, the Doctor tries to make him realise what a monster he is to himself by turning Sardick himself into the Ghost of Christmas Future. The execution of this scene is amazing, and it gives me chills every time. What this episode is about is how the past cannot define the present, and this is shown literally through two versions of the same person. Young Kazran is horrified by his future, whilst old Kazran realises he has become the man his father was. Absolute perfection.
40) “Harvey Wallbanger”- The Unicorn and the Wasp
Nothing serious here, just one of the greatest comedy scenes in the show. Not since City of Death had such a funny episode been made, and this scene is the icing on the cake. David Tennant and Catherine Tate are hilarious in this scene, as the Doctor is poisoned and desperately trying to detox himself, whilst a clueless Donna tries to interpret his… interesting… instructions. This is the perfect blend of laugh out loud humour mixed with slight tension- you are laughing, but desperate to know how the Doctor survives. The cherry on top comes with the kiss, which you can tell is not a pleasant experience for either participant! Gold.
39) Toby walks on the planet- The Impossible Planet
This classic two parter recaptured the Hinchcliffe era horror perfectly, and no scene captures this more than this simple dose of nightmare fuel. Walking on a planet is not that scary, yet in the context of the episode it’s horrifying. Makeup does wonders for the horrifying transformation and it’s all capped off with a totally unique, Firefly-esque violin piece. It all ends with Sootie being sucked into space, which starts the high body count of the story. This two parter is peak Tennant, and this simple scene is the stuff the space behind the sofa is made for.
38) Bill confronts the Doctor- Thin Ice
The scene that made me fall in love with Series 10 and Bill Potts. This kind of simple back and forth was missing from the Capaldi era until this scene, which does a far better job of exploring the Twelfth Doctor’s character than Series 8 did. This story is fantastic, being all about character, examining who the Doctor is and why he does what he does. Like Donna, Bill is seemingly unprepared for the harsh realities of travelling with the Doctor, yet she is able to question him and gain a better understanding of this seemingly impossible figure. A great episode that kicked off a spectacular four episode run with a quality not seen since Series 5.
37) This plane is protected- Flatline
Flatline is one of Series 8’s only true classics, and this scene is just gold. After an episode following Clara and seeing how much travelling with the Doctor has changed her, we see the Doctor himself unleash the fury of a Time Lord onto the Boneless. This is the moment that initially warmed me to Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, as the character assassination of Kill the Moon had seemingly passed. Turns out I was wrong to prejudge on the Doctor being consistently written, but context aside this scene- and episode- is brilliant. I really want the Boneless to return.
36) Labour camps- Turn Left
Turn Left is dark, almost unrelentingly so. Just when the darkness of a world without a Doctor hits a peak with the destruction of London and the death of Torchwood at the hands of the Sontarans, the government of a new British regime starts sending minorities away to “labour camps”. Catherine Tate and Bernard Cribbens are outstanding in this scene, as Wilf is seeing this happen again, whilst Donna is oblivious until it’s too late. By the time this scene ends, you are begging for the world to be returned to normal. A masterpiece from the pen of Russel T Davies.
35) Everybody lives- The Doctor Dances
And now for something completly different. This two parter needs no introduction, and the climax is exhilarating and satisfying in all possible ways. After nearly a whole series of hopelessness, the Ninth Doctor finally gets a happy ending and loosens up. Whilst Moffat’s insistence on this trope in his era became increasingly frustrating, the first time this happens is magnificent. The music soars, Nancy accepts her responsibilities as a mother, the Doctor beams and the nightmares of the past 90 minutes are over. Steven Moffat made the greatest debut here, and this was the first of many classics to come.
34) Hello, I’m the Doctor- The Eleventh Hour
What a start to my favourite era. The Eleventh Hour is the standard to which all Doctor debuts must be judged by. If anyone had doubts about Matt Smith, they were likely swayed by this magnificent scene. The Atraxi scan the Doctor’s mind and see all his victories, before the triumphant new Doctor steps out from the hologram of his predecessor and tells them to run. Simple and brilliant. I am the Doctor plays, the Atraxi flees and the Doctor is dressed, ready for new adventures and new perspectives. No pressure Chibnall, but there has to be a scene like this in the first episode of Series 11.
33) Idris dies- The Doctor’s Wife
From the genius mind of Neil Gaiman comes this outstanding slice of Who. For the first (and please, last) time, the TARDIS speaks to the Doctor and we understand the oldest relationship in the show from the two oldest characters in the show. After defeating House, Idris fades away, and the TARDIS returns to where she belongs. But the Doctor isn’t ready to say goodbye, and he is desperate for more time with his longest companion. The TARDIS has been given a unique slice of life, and she embraces the end. It’s a sublime, quiet scene to end a bonkers, scary and brilliant episode.
32) River’s run- Forest of the Dead
Say what you will about River Song, but no one can deny the strength of this two parter. Steven Moffat juggles so many ideas into this 90 minute epic, and the scene that caps it all off is perfection. This scene is improved by future knowledge of River, but even in the context of the story the scene is amazing. Seeing David Tennant run through the Library, running to save a woman he doesn’t even know, is perhaps the best statement of this character and why he is the greatest. Everybody lives, but again, this time it’s justified. A story about stories ends with the greatest story of all- the Doctor.
31) Old Amy dies- The Girl Who Waited
I have found this episode… problematic… in the past, but this ending scene is devastatingly strong. In a McCoy-esque level of manipulation, Eleven has tricked Rory and the Amys. The older Amy cannot go with them, but Rory is having none of it. As the Handbots close in, old Amy lets herself go for the good of her younger self. Karen Gillian and Arthur Darvill sell the hell out this scene, which works due to the unbreakable bond between the characters. In Rory’s greatest moment, he accepts the situation quietly and moves on, leaving old Amy to die in the facility. It’s a brilliant end to this story, and makes the whole experience worth it.
30) Pete dies- Father’s Day
I don’t hear this episode discussed too much, which is a shame as it’s one of the highlights of Nine’s short but sweet run. The Doctor is dead, time is fracturing and the Reapers are closing in, forcing Pete Tyler to do the right thing and put time back on track. In a simple moment of self sacrifice, he repairs the paradox and has the time with his daughter he never had. It’s sad, but hopeful, as Pete has died a better man than he was before. Rose’s memories of her father are intact, with the knowledge that he died for the good of time itself. The emotions speak for themselves here.
29) “What was her name?”- Midnight
Midnight is a downright traumatic experience, with the simple premise turning into a nightmare. After the mysterious creature is ejected, silence falls on the Crusader shuttle, with the characters unable to talk to each other after what they’ve done. The Doctor wonders who the woman who saved them was, and Donna is there for him at the end. The Doctor’s usual sunny demeanour is gone, and the episode ends with the image of a man who has lost. The episode gives us no answers as to what really happened, and it’s all the better for it. A classic episode that will be remembered for years to come.
28) Call the Doctor- Extremis
No, this isn’t the same story as Lie of the Land. Extremis is a phenomenal experience, with one of the most daring reveals in the entire show. The episode ends with the Doctor losing everything, as he realises he is not real. He questions what the point of everything is, before realising that the real world needs saving. In a triumphant victory, the virtual Doctor sends a message to the real Doctor, ending the episode with hope being restored and the stage set for an epic showdown with the Monks. This episode is all about overcoming terrible odds and the idea that heroism always exists, even in the darkest times.
27) One thing you never put in a trap- The Time of Angels
The Series 5 Angels two parter is a textbook example of how to do a great story without needing too much depth. As the catacombs of Angels surround them, the Doctor puts a plan in his head to save everyone. He grabs a gun, ignores Angel Bob’s taunts and gives the Angels the ultimate statement. This is a classic cliffhanger, as the episode ends with an adrenaline filled speech that leaves you yearning for what happens next. There is a reason why Matt Smith is my favourite Doctor, and this is one of them. The Eleventh Doctor came into his own for this story, and all he needed was a good speech.
26) At the Doctor’s mercy- A Town Called Mercy
An insanely underrated episode from Series 7. The Doctor has reached breaking point, tired of seeing Kahler Tech be seen as a hero and being ready to hand him over to the Gunslinger. This is not the optimistic figure from Series 5, this is a post-God Complex broken hero desperately trying to do what he believes is justified. Fortunately, Amy is there to talk him out of the situation, and the Doctor realises what he has done. The episode raises questions as to whether or not anyone is truly good, and here we see the Doctor be portrayed as someone who has spent too long being alone. A Town Called Mercy is the Eleventh Doctor at his best.
And that ends Part One of the countdown. Next week, it’s the top 25…