Series 7 of Doctor Who is only days away, but as the fame of the show increases here in the United States (and elsewhere in the world, too!), I’m increasingly coming across new fans who have either just discovered the show, or are curious in checking it out.
Doctor Who might have originated in 1963, but for a while it was absent from the television screen. In 2005, Russell T. Davies spearheaded the return of Doctor Who, with Christopher Eccleston playing the Ninth Doctor.
Although there is some continuity, the coolest thing about Doctor Who is that you don’t necessarily have to cling to it and follow it from first episode to last. I’m paraphrasing Neil Gaiman here, but you can pretty much take a seat to watch any episode and enjoy it as a standalone adventure – essentially, it’s the story of a time traveler, who spins through space and time in a big blue box.
He materializes in places where something is screwy and wicked, but manages to fix everything and save the universe in the most eccentric and/or ridiculous, yet clever, manner imaginable.
So, are you new to Who? If so, check out a few of our recommended episodes below.
One advantageous starting point is the first episode to return to the air in 2005. Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), the namesake of the episode, becomes the new companion for the new Doctor in the series, and this is where they cross paths for the first time. However for the longtime fans, this episode is significant in that it introduces to us a new, darker Doctor, tormented by the after-effects of The Last Great Time War, and haunted by the loss of his alien race known as the Time Lords of Gallifrey.
Likewise from the first series marking the return of the Doctor is this adventure told as a two-parter. The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances is also the first story in the revived series to be written by Steven Moffat, who would later carry on as showrunner and producer after the departure of Russell T. Davies. We are also introduced to a new companion who would figure prominently in many other Doctor Who episodes and in the spin-off series Torchwood, Captain Jack Harkness portrayed by John Barrowman.
This two-part adventure is definitely worth checking out, though I’ve mainly included this in the list because this story is a heavy metal fan’s dream come true. The episodes explore the possibility of a galactic origin for the “devil”, and while the concept may sound like a cheesy horror flick, it actually pays off and comes across convincingly in the Doctor Who format. The image of “The Beast” appears like something torn from the cover of a Dio or Iron Maiden album and personified. Additionally, this two-parter introduces the alien race known as the Ood, who would move on to become fan favorites.
These two chapters form one story that close off and conclude the second series of Doctor Who. While the departure of companion Rose Tyler was an important aspect of this adventure, the main significance of the tale is the showdown between two of the longest running antagonists in Doctor Who history: the Daleks versus the Cybermen. As hard as it is to believe, the two armies of enemies never faced off against each other until this two-parter, and makes it worth the view alone. Also worth citing is the revelation of what Torchwood actually is in these episodes – the legacy of which would spin off into its own series.
Written by Chris Chibnall, and directed by Classic Doctor Who alumnus Graeme Harper, 42 is quite literally a tribute to another TV show you might know of called 24. In this episode however, the number represents the minutes, and like 24, is depicted in “real time”. David Tennant’s performance in this episode is nothing short of brilliant, providing us another little taste of the darker side of the Doctor, coupled with some top notch writing that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Repeatedly pointed to by fans as one of the best episodes of all-time in Doctor Who history, Blink is one of writer Steven Moffat’s finest hours. The episode introduces the aliens known as the Weeping Angels – creatures camouflaged as stone angel statues. While they remain in sight, they cannot move, but do not blink, because the moment you take your eyes off them, they move quicker than you can imagine – and the results can be disastrous. Conceivably the most interesting element of Blink is that the main character in it isn’t even the Doctor – it’s a character called Sally Sparrow played in an incredibly captivating performance by the wonderful Carey Mulligan. Similar to 42, this one will have you on the edge of your seat; but will also send chills down your spine, and inspire you to watch it all over again when you’re finished.
This article may seem very Steven Moffat heavy, as this two-parter is also written by him, but it needs to be included because of one major point of significance: it introduces the character of River Song (Alex Kingston). River Song is perplexing in this episode, being introduced way before her true importance is known to the audience, but it keeps you on your toes guessing as to who she may be. This episode also showcases Moffat’s brilliant ability to take rudimentary mundane objects and turn them into monsters – the Vashta Nerada are shadows, but shadows that feed and kill…
Written by Russell T. Davies, The End Of Time brings to close his and David Tennant’s epoch of Doctor Who. It brings to a conclusion many of the running arcs through the first four seasons, including a nice wrap up to the ever mysterious Time War, with the highlight of the episode being the return of the Time Lords, with Timothy Dalton acting as Lord Rassillon. There’s some amusing moments throughout the episode, but the key highlight are the final concluding moments in which we bid farewell to the Tennant Doctor, as he regenerates into the new Matt Smith Eleventh Doctor… Tennant’s execution in the scene is incredibly emotional and memorable.
A further two parter by Steven Moffat, The Time of Angels and Flesh and Stone brings together two elements from some above-mentioned episodes: River Song and the Weeping Angels. In this adventure, we discover and understand a little more about River Song, with some teases as to her connection(s) to both the Doctor and his new companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillan). More importantly though is the excellent pace of this adventure, with the first chapter ending with the most impressive cliffhanger ever in Doctor Who.
In the same way as Blink, this episode (although one of the most recent) is pointed to as one of the greatest in the history of the series. Written by fan favorite Neil Gaiman, the episode explores perhaps the most important and touching connection for the Doctor. Coupled with an incredible performance by Suranne Jones as Idris, and some top-class direction from Richard Clark, The Doctor’s Wife will not only have you laughing at the lighthearted moments, and on the edge of your seat during the energetic moments, but will have you in tears with its heart-wrenching and emotional conclusion.
Honorable Mention: The Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann)
I incorporated this in my list for Classic Doctor Who episodes (part one here and part two here), but it deserves a spot in this list as an honorable mention as well. I often feel Paul McGann got a raw deal as the Doctor, having only been seen on-screen in a single adventure. However, during the years in which Doctor Who was not on the air, McGann’s Doctor provided a transitional bridge from the Classic Doctor Who series to the New Doctor Who. His contribution should not be ignored in my opinion. There have been rumors for many years we may see him return, perhaps in a cross-over with current Doctor, Matt Smith – or perhaps even for the 50th anniversary. This remains to be realized, but McGann’s effort as the Eighth Doctor is worth a look at, even if it is to just see this one episode that bridges the gap between old and new.