This is a ranking of modern Doctor Who, from 2005 (or NEW WHO). I’ll get around do ranking the seasons of Classic Who, but that’s for a different post. I’m looking at the seasons as a whole, so while that mostly means, “were the episodes in it better or worse?”, the structure of the season as a whole and any season long arcs are also factors. I am counting 14 seasons. So FLUX counts as a season, and the four Specials after season 4 also count as a season. I normally group any other specials with the nearest season, with the exception of two during Matt Smith’s time since, when I evaluated the nearest seasons, the BBC insisted that those were separate, and the fandom agreed, so I’ve just ignored 2 eps.
And for more info on which episodes brought a season up or pulled it down, check out my ranking of every modern Doctor Who episode:
The Lowest 3rd
The Middle 3rd
The Top 3rd
Now, starting in last place:
#14 Season 13 (FLUX)
Oh dear god, does Chibnall have no concept of story structure? FLUX is a single adventure split among 6 episodes. Two of those, War of the Sontarans and Village of the Angels, feel like stand alone eps that were rewritten to fit the longer work, but the other four eps cannot stand alone. And as a single, season long story, it is a mess. OK, the good first. The cinematography is very good, probably the best Doctor Who has ever been shot. And Yaz is much more of a character now, even with a bit of agency and less petulant. And while new companion Dan doesn’t do much, he is amiable and a pleasant addition. Semi-companion Jericho is also reasonably well developed. And I like the makeup and performance of the two villains, Swarm and Azure. And that’s it. The rest is junk.
OK, what went wrong: Two many story threads, many left dangling or missing parts. Far too many characters. Extra villains who are irrelevant and underdeveloped (Sontarans, Daleks, Cybermen, The Grand Serpent). Extra allies who were irrelevant and underdeveloped (Vinder, Bel, Kate). No emotions on events that deserve big emotions (trillions upon trillions have died and the universe is in ruins and no one shows any sign of caring). Lots of emotion shown when there’s no explanation of why they deserve any concern (why does the Doctor care about her past?). Vague motivations (what exactly did the Doctor do that so upset The Division? Bringing “hope” is not an answer). Really distracting concepts of the size of the universe (apparently it is very small) and of physics (matter “slows” antimatter…). Everything ended way to quickly.
Word is that the season was supposed to be 10 episodes long and got cut. OK, then there needed to be some re-writes before they started filming that removed things that didn’t matter to the story so that important things still had room.
Best “individual” ep: Village of the Angels
Worst “individual” ep: The Vanquishers
#13 Season 11
In comes a new Doctor and a new showrunner, creating a season of consistency. Unfortunately, it’s consistently not very good. It doesn’t have the worst episode, but it is close, and it never shines. A majority of the eps sit in the middle of the lower third of all modern Who. It’s easy to blame the generally drab writing, but the problem is larger, with the structure of the show. Perhaps three companions were too many. None of them develop personalities, or enough agency to do anything other than meekly obey The Doctor. And none of them have any kind of relationship with The Doctor. They are non-entities that hardly react, and when two of them are motivated by a recent death, not reacting is a huge problem. This is one of the worst depictions of widowhood I’ve ever seen.
Jodie Whittaker’s general take on The Doctor has potential, but that consistency becomes a problem again. She doesn’t change. Not only does she lack an arc (most Doctors don’t have one), she doesn’t behave any differently in different situations. She’s always the same. She’s a little breathless and rattles off exposition with a single tone. The playful childlike Doctor could work, but she needs to respond to her environment.
Chris Chibnall brings with him a dark, ugly aesthetic. He’s trying to make the show look more cinematic, but he lacks the skill and the money. The blocking is flat, the lighting is dim, and the colors are off. Oddly, to go with that, he makes the show more juvenile, with non-stop messaging to kids to “be the best you can be” and “gosh, you can overcome your disadvantages.” It’s both off-putting and twee.
Best ep: Demons of the Punjab
Worst ep: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos
#11 Season 12
It’s like Season 11, with all its flaws, but a little better. Not much, but a little. The Doctor is still too unchanging, the companions are still drab and have no relationship with The Doctor (but do become petulant once, which is not an improvement), the production is still weak, and the message is still only suited to pre-teens, but individual eps are a step up. The big change was more references to older seasons, with a lot of returning villains, which isn’t in itself good, but the writers seemed to have a better idea of what to do with those.
There were multiple big reveals, that really didn’t mean much. The Doctor is the Timeless Child… So? How does that effect anything? Why would that effect anything? Big emotional arcs need to be emotional. This one isn’t, and, based on 50 years of the show, shouldn’t be. This is the one time the Doctor is emotional, but we’re given no reason why she’s emotional. Considering how often the Doctor has tossed off past personalities (and sometimes shown distain for past selves), why is this past important? The show needs to show us, not just assume that it is.
Best ep: The Haunting of Villa Diodati
Worst ep: Revolution of the Daleks
#12 Season 10
This was the season of unfulfilled potential. Peter Capaldi had perfected his Doctor in season 9 and then was given nothing to do with him. Bill was an interesting new companion, on paper, but never developed a rapport with the Doctor and was made into an idiot by the second ep, and truly annoying by the third. The Doctor was a professor (for 50 years) and that was ignored. The great mystery of the vault was no mystery at all and Missy’s arc promised to be the best part of the season but did nothing and petered out—that might be the season’s greatest flaw as it brings a memorable character to nothing after repeatedly building her up.
The individual episodes were surprisingly close in quality, with a majority ending up in the lowest third. Season 10 doesn’t sink to the abysmal lows of Season 8, but it has eight episodes in my lowest third. I count the Christmas episode Twice Upon a Time as part of season 10 instead of part of season 11 as is usually the case as it has The Doctor, companion, writer, and showrunner from season 10, all of which would change for season 11. And season 10 could use the help.
Best ep: Twice Upon a Time
Worst ep: The Pyramid at the End of the World / The Lie of the Land
#10 Season 8
If I gave equal weight to the bad episodes in a season, S8 would end up worse than S12, as this season has some truly awful eps. It has both the very worst and the third-worst. But it also has multiple mediocre eps, which isn’t something to be proud of, but is more than S11 or 12 can say.
Clara was weak and distracted. The Doctor was grumpy and miserable; in theory that could make a fine story, but in practice, it was simply unpleasant to watch. Past grumpy Doctors took some pleasure in it. Then there is the arc. Missy/Heaven turned out not to be the arc, as the little glimpses along the way were only preludes to a single two-part episode. The true arc was the Clara/Danny relationship, which was mishandled, starting with the lack of chemistry between the actors, and then going into the poor writing and underdevelopment of the two. It needed warmth, but we never saw that.
Best ep: Dark Water / Death in Heaven
Worst ep: Kill the Moon
#9 Season 7
Matt Smith’s final year was sloppy: Starting with a Xmas ep (the Narnia take-off Mother’s story) that didn’t require The Doctor, passing through some family Pond and overly moralistic eps, and then slipping into the whole “Clara is a Mystery” arc. That arc not only ended with a whimper and a cheat, but also was designed to strip Clara of all agency and strength. She was great in her two pre-companion appearances but then had all her personality stolen and she didn’t get it back till season 9. This season has only one ep in my top 3rd and four in my bottom 3rd.
Note: The 50th Anniversary and Eleven’s regeneration eps are not considered parts of season 7, belonging to no season, though they wouldn’t change 7’s placement if I included them.
Best ep: The Angels Take Manhattan
Worst ep: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
#8 Season 6
This is a strange season. With the exception of A Christmas Carol and The Doctor’s Wife, all the best episodes are part of the arc, but the arc completely falls apart into meaningless pudding and a huge cheat in the end. Still, I can’t recall having more fun with pudding and a cheat. Amy & Rory are the heart of it all and are engaging and funny. River is the icing. Those three together are a riot, producing some of the funniest episodes of the show, while also pulling at heartstrings.
The non-arc eps were a tangle of repeats, giving us another stupid healing machine, another horror story based on a kid needing love, another thick morality tale on identity, and another joke ep that included defeating cybermen with love.
Best Ep: A Christmas Carol
Worst Ep: Night Terrors
#7 Season 9
A huge improvement over S8, S9 avoided the depths of S8 & S7, but rarely reached the top tier of episodes. It managed to break into my top 3rd, but only with the solid and emotional final eps, Heaven Sent and Hell Bent, and with the wonderful Christmas episode, The Husbands of River Song. Most of S9’s eps hovered a bit below the mid-point. What worked was the improved Doctor. They’ve never shifted the personality of a Doctor so noticeably before, and only Sylvester McCoy’s and William Hartnell’s come close. Gone is the man who hates everything. In comes the old rocker, and him I want to watch. Clara returned to a character worth watching by finally reverting to the person we first saw as Soufflé Girl.
The arc was a non-starter, since Moffat’s main concern seemed to be setting up red herrings. The hybrid, Missy, and “Me” came to very little and the Time Lords should have been left out of the season.
S9 just barely edges out S6, not due to overall quality, but by its best being a step up from S6’s best. There’s a good argument for moving it above the Specials, but its four eps in my lowest 3rd drag it down.
Best ep: The Husbands of River Song
Worst ep: Sleep No More
#6 The Specials “Season”
Not exactly a season, but with five oversized episodes, it manages a half-season. It’s a mixture of fluff, the ridiculous, and the brilliant. Both Planet of the Dead and The Next Doctor get a lot of undeserved hate in Who Fandom, mostly due to expectations (did they really think that the Next Doctor in The Next Doctor was going to be the Doctor?). They are both pleasant upper mid-tier eps.
After the buildup in The Waters of Mars, I’d have liked to have seen a final for Tennant dealing more with his slip into godhood, but the long, wandering goodbye was satisfying. If I could chop off the last 25 minutes of that rambling two-parter and make it into its own episode, it would be the best of the season and one of the greats.
Best ep: The Waters of Mars
Worst ep: The End of Time
#5 Season 5
Matt Smith takes over, switching The Doctor from a brilliant, dangerous, romantic figure to a cocaine-fueled, slapstick comedian. It’s a move toward the series’ roots as a kid’s show. Luckily kids shows can be fun, and this one is. Eleven works well in the light eps, but doesn’t pull off the serious ones, and never appears dangerous, though he is supposed to.
Amy is everything I’d want in a companion: strong, sexy, a bit wild, and smart. More than The Doctor, it is Amy who caries the season. Rory, the man who dies, starts off uninteresting, but improves greatly, though some of that shows more in later seasons. River is wonderful, but Alex Kingston has no chemistry with Matt Smith. This is more of a problem in season 6.
Both the plot arc and character arc are unusually heavy, with the crack in time not only mentioned in all the episodes but actually playing a part in many. Luckily, it was an arc that worked. The new Matt Smith music is excellent if overused.
Best ep: The Eleventh Hour
Worst ep: The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood
#4 Season 3
S3 was all over the place. No other season had such extreme quality changes, with eps in both my top and bottom 10. In the end, I rank it above S5 due to awarding more points for great episodes than the number I take away for terrible ones.
The arc is a complete failure for multiple reasons, but none more so than its ending, with mini-troll Doctor becoming Jesus due to the old Tinkerbell “kids wish really hard” shtick, the Master going for bad comedy, and the whole thing being undone.
Freema Agyeman could have made a good companion, but her Martha Jones was given nothing to do, and her failed love story was a bust.
On the other hand, don’t blink.
Best ep: Blink
Worst ep: The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords
#3 Season 2
A new Doctor, and for my money, the best, along with a continuation of one of the great companions makes this a solid season. This was the most emotional season and the two leads had fantastic chemistry. The Torchwood/Alternate World/Cyberman arc is well done as it isn’t overly intrusive while telling a story and not cheating in the end. But S2 ends up in 3rd place because it can’t beat the writing for individual episodes in several of the other seasons. A majority of the season is in my top 3rd, but only one ep is in the top 10 and two episodes (Fear Her, The Idiots Lantern) are in my bottom 3rd.
Best ep: The Girl in the Fireplace
Worst ep: Fear Her
#2 Season 4
So much good: The Doctor is fantastic; Companion Donna starts overly shrill but ends up golden; The return of Martha, better than she was in her own season and of Rose, and both get better endings than they had previously. The Dalek/Doctor Donna arc is one of the best, finishing with a fan service episode that delivers exactly what this fan wanted while avoiding being embarrassing. And we get the introduction of River. There’s real emotion in these tales while also telling good stories and delving into the characters. Even the weaker episodes aren’t that weak, not compared to other seasons.
Season 4 has twelve episodes in my top 3rd, including multiple in the top 10.
Best ep: Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead
Worst ep: Midnight
#1 Season 1
It started with the best. With 12 eps in my top third, including #1, and none in the bottom 3rd, S1 easily ranks as the best season. The plot of the arc is wobbly, but the real arc is the change in The Doctor, from broken, angry warrior to a Time Lord with a future, and the growth of Rose, and those both work beautifully. Add in Captain Jack, meaning, emotion, and a lot of fun, and S1 sings. The only flaw is that there isn’t more of it as Christopher Eccleston was a great Doctor and there was a lot more that he could have done. But perhaps his arc wouldn’t have had quite the power if he’d stuck around, but I’d have been willing to chance that.
Best ep: The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances
Worst ep: BoomTown