We finally come to the new series, of which I’ve chosen 15 favorites (vs. 35 from the classic series) in observance of the fact that it’s only been on for 7 official seasons (and a few specials), while the classic series lasted 26 seasons. I think there might be more actual stories than this suggests, since classic stories were usually at least 75-100 minutes long, but the counting got too tedious so I just picked a round number. I chose to count multi-parters as single stories.
If you’re checking the math, I’ve spoiled my top 5 for you: yes, they’re all classic stories. I’ve come to really like the new series a lot, and I think as a whole it’s equalled and in many ways exceeded the quality of the classic series, but I do find myself less enchanted with individual stories and more with moments within them and the show as a whole. So there’s no single story here that would crack my top 5 or maybe even my top 10 overall, but the show is so different now that it’s apples and oranges.
I concur with what others have written about this story: it’s a dazzling sequence of one perfect decision after another about how to start the new series (and NOT do it as a reboot) and how to introduce new fans to the concept and old fans to the way things are going to work now. I love the domesticity, the down-to-earth characters, the situation of Doctor Who within the culture at a specific time and place in a way they’d never quite done before. I love Jackie and Mickey as much as I’d ever loved the Brigadier or Benton, and probably more. I love the brilliance of choosing not the Daleks, not the Cybermen, but the wonderful Autons as the monster to kick off a more Earth-centered series with, just as they did back in 1970.
About the only thing I don’t love is the Davies-era “mysticobabble” (the “Shadow Proclamation,” just as lame when we eventually see them as when they were just nonsense words) and the burping dumpster, and in light of all the good surrounding them, I can forgive even those.
The End of the World
Somehow I didn’t expect the second episode of this new, hip-by-comparison show to go balls-out Hitchhiker’s zany, and I couldn’t be happier that it did. This story’s burping dumpster is pop music (Soft Cell and Britney), and again it’s all right because of pretty much everything else.
It’s a stretch to include this one, since I normally don’t rate Dalek stories highly. Ask me tomorrow and I might drop it for “Love and Monsters” or “Silence in the Library” / “Forest of the Dead,” but when I made my list I was remembering how astonished I was at Rob Shearman’s achievement in writing a Dalek story that not only established the threat for new fans but reinvigorated a tired monster for old ones AND made the Ninth Doctor a bit disturbing without making him unloveable.
I enjoy the new show’s takes on the far future of humanity almost every time, and that’s what this gem is for: glimpses of an awful future that’s not too late to redeem. Light on plot, but full of life and humor and people I can’t help but love. Plus: the Macra!
Human Nature / The Family of Blood
For my money New Who has yet to get better than this. It’s as good an adaptation of a Doctor Who novel as we’re likely to see. The pacing and mood are as much like a classic episode as the new series has ever been, and yet the themes and performances are fresh and unforgettable.
Here’s another one I nearly didn’t include — so many other choices. Overrated, but still pretty great.
Utopia / The Sound of Drums / (Last of the Time Lords)
The last installment of this three-part story is kind of a dog’s breakfast, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that living up to the promise of that first left-field shock reveal (“Utopia”) and the generally excellent setup of the Master’s best attempt yet at taking over the world (“The Sound of Drums”) was an almost impossible task.
You would have thought Steven Moffat would be the guy to make an invisible monster terrifying, but you would have been wrong. Not an episode you throw on when you just want some fun cozy Doctor Who, but holy cow is it good. Easily the best, most unsettling episode climax until “The Girl Who Waited.”
The Waters of Mars
Another scary, unpleasant, brilliant story. After the slight but moving “The Next Doctor” and the fluffy but generally pleasant “Planet of the Dead,” we get one of the heaviest stories ever. The very end is a little tough to swallow, but the episode earns it.
The Eleventh Hour
I’m surprised by all the praise this story gets, because I think it’s a little shaky, introducing characters (Mrs. Angelo and Jeff) and gimmicks (the Doctor reviewing his memory) that seem imported from some other show and are never seen again. Prisoner Zero isn’t the most inspiring of monsters and the “human residence” and “silence will fall” stuff are pretty corny. But it starts off with the brand new Doctor and little Amelia Pond so perfectly, and after that it really has nothing it needs to prove to me.
A strong contender for my very favorite New Who episode. It’s no big deal, really, not a heavy story dripping with significance or profundity or angst. Just the introduction of a companion with whom the Eleventh Doctor has more chemistry than he ever does with anyone else; a charming, only very slightly oversweet ending; and funny bit after funny bit jam-packed in between.
The Doctor’s Wife
The twist in our understanding of the Doctor’s relationship to his TARDIS and the entirely reasonable explanation of why he always ends up exactly where he’s needed would be enough to make this a favorite. But it also happens to take a pretty beautiful path getting there.
The God Complex
It’s hard to put my finger on why I love this one and only admire “The Girl Who Waited.” Maybe it’s the fact that “Girl Who Waited” is terrific science fiction with great sets and a killer ending that’s full of earned angst and thorny problems, and this is just a fun creepfest set in a weird hotel with an awesome minotaur. Or maybe it’s just that I arbitrarily limited myself to 15 New Who episodes, and consciously chose to focus on what I personally found to be fun to watch and not just what happened to be excellent TV. Look, they’re both awesome, all right?
Not as good as “The Lodger” by a long shot, but still tons of fun for all the same reasons. I have no opinion on James Corden as a human being but I adore Craig, and especially the Doctor and Craig, and if they could possibly be paired up again for just a moment in this year’s Christmas special I would be content.
Immediately after I watched it, I thought, “nope, THIS is my favorite New Who episode.” The infatuation has worn off but I still love it. A triumph on all sorts of levels, especially art direction, atmosphere, and cinematography. If the “ghost story”/”love story” thing is a little pat, I don’t really care; everything else is working on such a high level it’s hard to remember this is the same show that once featured a man being held prisoner in a “security hallway” and an alien in an opera cape being strangled by a rubber tentacle.