As Doctor Who returns tonight, it marks the start of a new era. The last time we had a transition like this was 2010, when Smith and Moffat took over from Tennant and Davies. But even that had some continuity, with numerous returning writers, the same composer, a few of the same directors etc. Not so this time. Aside from Chibnall himself, pretty much everyone on the senior part of the production team is new to Who. So I thought I’d kick off the new era by celebrating the last one. So without further ado, here’s my take on the highs the show has reached since 2005. They’re in chronological order, as sorting them in a top 25 would take forever and be a bit arbitrary.
Obviously, this includes spoilers for Series 1 – 10.
- “You Would Make a Good Dalek” (Dalek, Series 1) Eccleston was always at his best when facing off with the Daleks, and his initial encounter with a lone Dalek in a bunker in Utah is an absolute classic. The Dalek is almost a character in its own right, and after slaughtering Van Statten’s guards with ease, the Dalek hits the Doctor with this zinger, visibly shaking him.
- “Just This Once, Everybody Lives!” (The Doctor Dances, Series 1) The gas mask zombies two-parter is a masterpiece from start to finish, but its this feel-good scene at the end that always stands out for me, as Nine finally gets a win without losing anyone. The elation the Doctor feels is perfectly portrayed by Eccleston.
- “I Think You Need a Doctor” (The Parting of the Ways, Series 1) The Parting of the Ways is still one of the best finales we’ve had, and whatever you think of the whole Bad Wolf thing, the Doctor saving Rose by sacrificing his own life made for great television. Eccleston and Piper have never been better.
- “The Missus and the Ex, Welcome to Every Man’s Worst Nightmare” (School Reunion, Series 2) Watching Mickey taunt the Doctor as Rose and Sarah Jane get in a right spat with each other was downright hilarious. Who has given us some comedy gold over the years, particularly with Bill in Series 10, but for me, Rose and Sarah’s sparky banter is the highlight humour-wise.
- “I Believe in Her” (The Satan Pit, Series 2) One of my favourite two-parters, Matt Jones’ horror-fantasy introduced the Ood, but its the Satanic Beast itself that makes this stand out. Ten comes face to face with something he can’t explain and which rocks his own beliefs, but in the end, his faith in Rose gives him the confidence to beat the Beast at its own game and send it plunging into a black hole. An episode so good, it could have easily worked as a season finale.
- “Wait, That’s Not Cybermen!” (Army of Ghosts, Series 2) Most of the time, you see the show’s major cliffhangers coming. Either they’re teased so obviously in trailers or so heavily foreshadowed that you can guess what’s coming. Not so in season, where the appearance of the Daleks in a Cybermen-led finale caught everyone off-guard. One of the best twists Who has ever pulled off.
- “Rose, Hold On!” (Doomsday, Series 2) We knew Rose was leaving, and the show was hinting pretty heavily she would die, so this scene really put everyone on edge. With the Doctor stuck on the other side of the room, Rose desperately hangs on to a lever as the Daleks and Cybermen are sucked into the void. Pete’s last second rescue may be convenient, but Rose’s separation from the Doctor is no less tragic for it.
- “YANA” (Utopia, Series 3) The first of several Master reveal moments on this list, Professor Yana’s transformation into the malevolent master is pulled off with great panache, and Derek Jacobi owns the role better in 3 minutes than some actors have in several series. Russell T Davies sure knows how to write cliffhangers!
- “Why Don’t You Ask Her Yourself?” (The Stolen Earth, Series 4) I still think Rose’s return was a mistake, but this scene was so good it was almost worthwhile. Ten’s reaction to seeing her again is spot on, and the Dalek ruining proceedings leads to one of the series’ most memorable cliffhangers. Pity Journey’s End didn’t match up to this.
- “Gadget Gadget” (The Waters of Mars) The Whole Time Lord Victorious sequence is glorious, but this special’s standout moment has to be the Doctor rescuing the survivors of Bowie Base One using nothing but a funny robot and his TARDIS. Murray Gold’s bombastic score really gets the pulse racing too.
- “It’s My Honour” (The End of Time, Part 2) This was just tragic. The Doctor survives the Master and the Timelords, only to be undone by Wilfred Mott. Tennant is on his best form as he rages against the injustice of it all, but in the end, he saves Wilfred at the cost of his own life. Ten at his heroic and tragic best.
- “I Don’t Want to Go” (The End of Time, Part 2) Heart-breaking. Whatever the flaws of the End of Time, the last 30 mins of the two-parter is perfect, and Tennant knocks it out of the park with this last line. An Unforgettable Exit.
- “Hello, I’m the Doctor. Basically… Run!” (The Eleventh Hour, Series 5) Smith’s debut is great from start to finish, but his conversation with the Atraxi, in which he scares them off using only his own legend, is the highlight. The way clips of the previous Doctors are used before Smith walks through Tennant’s image is awesome.
- “Guess Who, Ha!” (The Pandorica Opens, Series 5) Matt Smith had some great speeches to get his teeth into during his time on who, but his Pandorica one is arguably the best of the bunch, as the Doctor rails against an entire armada of spaceships despite having practically nothing except himself to take them on with.
- “Listen To Me!” (The Pandorica Opens, Series 5) As cliffhangers go, I don’t think the one from the Pandorica Opens will ever be beaten. The TARDIS explodes with River inside, Auton Rory stabs Amy, the universe implodes and an alliance of Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans and more seals the Doctor in the Pandorica. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, it still makes my hair stand on end.
- “WHERE. IS. MY. WIFE?” (A Good Man Goes to War, Series 6) Rory got more character development than arguably any other companion in the shows history, and this intro to the mid-season finale shows just how far he’s come. Facing down a squadron of cybermen as the Doctor blows up their fleet in the background, this scene is just so much awesomeness.
- “Together, Or Not At All” (The Angels Take Manhattan, Series 7) Rory and Amy were two of the Doctor’s longest serving characters (only Clara and Rose are anywhere near them) and their exit was an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish. This scene, where Amy refuses to risk Rory’s life unless hers is also on the line, was a great final moment for the couple.
- “No Sir, All Thirteen!” (The Day of the Doctor) If this isn’t one of the best moments in Who history, I don’t know what is. It is the jewel in the crown of the 50th Anniversary special, with great dialogue, kick-ass music and a whole load of amazing cameos (including a shock one from Capaldi!). Simply awe-inspiring.
- “I Never Forget a Face” (The Day of the Doctor) Damn it. Just when you thought the 50th had used up it’s lot of shock cameos, it goes and drops Tom Baker in our laps. Baffling yet Brilliant, Confusing yet Charming, Tom’s role as ‘The Curator’ allows him to show one last time why, for many fans (including me) he was the best actor ever to play the role.
- Clara leaves the Doctor (Kill the Moon, Series 8) Whatever you thought of Clara as a companion (I bloody love her), you have to admit Jenna Coleman is a hell of an actress. Her tirade against the Doctor for abandoning her during a real crisis moment was a stunning scene, and its hard not to side with her here. No wonder her career’s taken off post-Who.
- “Couldn’t Keep Calling Myself ‘The Master’ Now Could I?” (Dark Water, Series 8) What is it with the Master and dramatic reveals? The Missy Mystery worked very well in Series 8, and the pay-off here is as good as it gets. Michelle Gomez was unforgettable in the role, and I hope Chibnall can come up with some new villains who will prove as much of a challenge for the Doctor as she did.
- “I Will Be Brave” (Face the Raven, Series 9) Clara’s swansong in Hell Bent may not be perfect, but her initial exit here is heart-breaking and perfectly played by Capaldi and Coleman. I wish Moffat hadn’t messed with this exit.
- “That’s One Hell of a Bird” (Heaven Sent, Series 9) This is up there with the best of them. Capaldi’s marvellous single-hander was one of the boldest, most unique episodes the series has ever come up with, and the Doctor punching his way through an Azbantium Wall was a thrilling conclusion. The combo of Moffat’s writing, Rachel Talalay’s direction and Capaldi’s acting is a definite winner.
- “Hello Missy. I’m the Master” (World Enough and Time, Series 10) We all knew it was coming, but it was done with such gusto we didn’t care. John Simm got better material in 2 minutes than he did in the entirety of the End of Time. A real punch the air moment if there ever was one.
- “Well, Here We Go, the Long Way Round” (Twice Upon a Time) David Bradley captured the spirit of William Hartnell perfectly in this Xmas Special, and his recreation of the first Doctor’s regeneration scene was a really heart-wrenching moment. So much so that it arguably overshadowed Capaldi’s exit a few minutes later. Murray Gold’s score reminds us exactly why he kept the job of composer for so long!
Well that’s my list. The great thing about this show is that I’m sure anyone reading this will be able to come up with plenty of their own favourites – it always has something for everyone. Let’s hope Jodie and Chibnall can add plenty to those lists!