The top 3rd feels like two groups. About half would fit comfortably with the last section, while the best of the best here really soar. Maybe I should have split this into 5 or 6 posts.
Ten dominates the list, but that is partly due to him being in more episodes than any other Doctor (though it is close with Eleven, and Eleven doesn’t do nearly as well). Nine had only one season and yet has a very good showing in the top, particularly when you look at that soaring section. Evaluating by season, I think season 1 would win, though it’s a tough call, as seasons 2 and 4 both have more episodes in the top 3rd. But then, season 2 also has more in the bottom 3rd.
#46 The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky (S4-E4/E5)
Ten, Donna, Martha
The return of the classic villain, the Sontarans—another SF warrior & honor race that is horrible at war. A solid episode, but while the previous one, Planet of the Ood, felt like it was a two-parter, this one felt like a single-part ep when seen from a distance. Not enough happens. The genius kid was unnecessary, as was Donna remembering her previous episodes.
Funny that Martha didn’t come into her own until after she was done with the TARDIS.
Doctor: Shrill. Companions: Good. Villains: Good. Plot: Good.
#45 Twice Upon a Time (S10-E13)
Twelve, One, Bill
It leans more on nostalgia than I’d like, but new Who has rarely done it so well, and if that’s the plan, going back to the first Doctor is nice. There really isn’t a plot, although for a while the two Doctors think there is one. This is about two dying Doctors thinking about their past and if they want to go forward. The play between the two of them is good, and the nods toward your racist uncle are funny and relevant. It’s very sentimental, but then the Xmas eps usually are, and this one isn’t cloying. I wouldn’t have tossed Bill in (her ending has been mangled enough), but this is her best appearance since her first, so it worked out.
This ep is usually placed in season 11, but I’m putting it in season 10 as it has the season 10 Doctor, companion, writer, and showrunner, all of which would be changed with season 11.
Doctors: Very Good. Companion: Good. Villain: none. Plot: none.
#44 Partners in Crime (S4-E1)
This is a lightweight ep. A good re-introduction to Donna. She is 50% less annoying than as a bride, which still leaves a good deal. Some humor and a desire for adventure counter the annoyance. It leans a bit too far on the juvenile, however, the first meeting between The Doctor and Donna in this ep makes me give a pass to everything else.
Doctor: Excellent. Companion: Good. Villain: OK. Plot: Weak.
#43 Hell Bent (S9-E12)
Twelve goes crazy in an attempt to save Clara. I rather like that he flipped out. I wasn’t so fond of Gallifrey. The great civilization of the Time Lords has never been smaller. They could, and should, have done this ep without the Time Lord politics. It made them tiny and unimportant (well, not the first time that’s happened). Clara, however, got a good sendoff.
Doctor: Very Good. Companion: Very Good. Villain: Weak. Plot: Very Good.
#42 School Reunion (S2-E3)
Ten, Rose, Mickey, Sarah Jane, K9
This one is all about bringing back Sarah Jane Smith, and to a lesser extent (much, much lesser), K9. The story isn’t much, but the character interaction is first-rate. Acted as a pilot for the young kid’s show, The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Doctor: Excellent. Companions: Excellent. Villains: OK. Plot: OK.
#41 The Doctor’s Daughter (S4-E6)
Ten, Donna, Martha
It gets a couple of points for its meta nature (David Tennant married the actress who played his daughter, who is in real life the daughter of Peter Davison, the 5th Doctor). The fish people are not the greatest creation, but more than made up for by Jenny as well as for the point about what it is to be a soldier. Budget limitations show up. This was an odd ep to bring back Martha as she’s stuck in a side plot that could have been cut.
Doctor: Good. Companions: Good. Villains: OK. Plot: Good.
#40 Gridlock (S3-E3)
A surreal episode that works amazingly well for its unreal premise. The people of New New York get on a freeway and just stay on it, forever, moving only yards each day in the dense traffic. It’s also a “save the companion” episode. The many secondary characters are well-drawn and we get the return of a few old ones, giving Whoviens something to dwell on.
Doctor: Excellent. Companion: fair to good. Villain: None. Plot: Good, if slight.
#39 Let’s Kill Hitler (S6-E8)
Eleven, Amy, Rory, River
A combination of a lot of fun and a lot of stupid. So, we have time travelers who just go around and torture people for “justice.” Hmmm. Shouldn’t another group of time travelers be The Doctor’s greatest concern? Ah well, why worry about the problems when you’ve got Rory punching Hitler, River’s numerous assassination attempts, River vs Nazis, and everything with Amy. This may not be the smartest Doctor Who episode, but it is one of the most fun.
Doctor: Good. Companions: Excellent. Villains: Hard to say. Plot: Best not think about it.
#38 The End of the World (S1-E2)
After a first episode that said this show was not going to be like the past, the second episode of modern Who said the opposite. It felt like a kid’s show, a pretty good kid’s show, but a kid’s show. And Rose, who came off as strong and resourceful in the first seems weak, bitchy, and useless here. What’s her problem with aliens? She is the portal character, so who is her attitude supposed to appeal to? However, she does learn, and The Doctor is engaging, the tree woman is a nice addition, there’s a nice mix of humor and tension, there’s plenty of character development, and The Doctor and Rose’s relationship grows.
Doctor: Very Good. Companion: Disappointing. Villain: Comical. Plot: Fair.
#37 Human Nature / The Family of Blood (S3-E8/E9)
This two-parter, with The Doctor giving up his personality to avoid a family of hunters, is a favorite among many Who fans, but it doesn’t make my top quarter. Since Headmaster Smith must live an ordinary life, most of Human Nature is very ordinary. His developing relationship is a story, but not an exciting one. Well-acted and believable? Yes. Just not interesting. All of it drags on far too long—they had a 60-minute story and two 42 minute slots to fill. Perhaps if the focus had been the young boy who found the watch—instead of uncomfortably inserting him in so that something happens—the episode would have worked better. This was a chance for Martha to shine, but she doesn’t. She could have been a strong character. She wasn’t.
The Family of Blood improves greatly over Human Nature, and gives us a real sense that The Doctor can be scary.
Doctor: Mixed. Companion: Disappointing. Villain: Good. Plot: Good but slow.
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