Series 1-7 Face-Off: Episode 4

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Doctor Who TV is running new series pitting all the revival episodes against each other to decide your dream run. This will be done on an episode by episode basis. Today we continue with the 4th episode of each of the seven series so far.

Note: Splits are not counted and specials will have their own categories at the end.


Introduction by Michael Coats.

Today’s Candidates

  1. Aliens of London (2005)
  2. The Girl in the Fireplace (2006)
  3. Daleks in Manhattan (2007)
  4. The Sontaran Stratagem (2008)
  5. The Time of Angels (2010)
  6. The Doctor’s Wife (2011)
  7. The Power of Three (2012)

What makes a good Episode Four?

With the audience now hopefully settled into the series, the show can afford to take slightly more risks and still expect the audience to remain stable, which has resulted in some of the more unusual or challenging episodes of the modern era. This is generally a good time to explore the Doctor or the companion’s psyche and relationships in a little bit more depth. Whether by coincidence or design, a lot of Episode 4s seem to have a strong romantic element. This is most obvious within The Girl in the Fireplace and The Doctor’s Wife, but you also have the Doctor and River’s budding romance in The Time of Angels, Tallulah and Lazlo (yick, to quote Tallulah herself) in Daleks in Manhattan and Amy and Rory’s wedding anniversary in The Power of Three. It can also be a good time to have the companion go back and visit their family, as in Aliens of London or The Sontaran Stratagem.

Predicted Winner

While there has been a limited amount of hype backlash towards it, this episode is still more or less revered within the fandom, having placed 4th in the recent Best of Matt Smith poll. I am of course, talking about 2011’s The Doctor’s Wife. It really shows off Matt Smith’s abundant skill as an actor; as writer Neil Gaiman says; he makes all of the right choices. Equally good though, is guest star Suranne Jones as Idris, a woman who ends up with the TARDIS matrix inside her. The episode really explores the depths of the relationship between the TARDIS and the Doctor, how the Doctor sees her as the only constant in his life, how the TARDIS feels about him bringing home ‘strays’. It also looks at how the guilt over the Time War continues to affect him, wanting to be forgiven foreshadowing what’s to come later. Though out of focus a bit, Amy and Rory are part of some of the most unnerving moments I have ever seen on the show, where House (a sentient asteroid voiced by an unrecognisable Michael Sheen) subjects them to psychological torture in the TARDIS corridors. And then there’s that beautiful ending. “Alive. I’m alive.”

The Dark Horse

Series 5 is definitely my favourite series of the revival, and The Time of Angels happens to be one of my favourite episodes.  It happens to be the first episode Matt Smith and Karen Gillan filmed, but you’d never know it, both are at the top of their game here, as is Alex Kingston in her second appearance as River Song and guest star Iain Glen, perfectly understated as Father Octavian. It presents and brilliantly realises some chilling concepts for the Weeping Angels, most notably ‘the image of an angel becomes itself an Angel’. The tone of the episode is utterly faultless; it’s creepy, it’s unnerving, it evokes a feeling of being trapped and that anyone can die (a feeling that is quite justified); which is a great credit to director Adam Smith. Moffat’s script is especially clever thematically, especially with how it deals with religion, the repeated ‘come and see’ the Angels use being a reference to the Angel of Death from the Book of Revelation. What I love most though, is the twist hidden in plain sight that sets up, in my mind, one of the best cliff-hangers of all time (provided Graham Norton doesn’t pop up in the middle of it).

Writer’s Pick

This was very easy for me, to be honest. When you look at a list of episodes and you see an episode that is possibly your favourite of all time, it does make for a fairly easy decision. I’m referring to 2006’s The Girl in the Fireplace, an absolute masterpiece. You’ve got Murray Gold contributing perhaps his best single episode in terms of compositions (all but one of which has been released so far, cheers Silva Screen). There’s some absolutely gorgeous and ingenious set design, I only learned yesterday that the sets of the spaceship and Reinette’s bedroom were built alongside each other, so instead of green screen, the magical moment where we first see Reinette in the fireplace was the same for the cast. The central premise of the Doctor and Madame de Pompadour was incredibly well handled, with David Tennant and guest star Sophia Myles at their very best, particularly during the mind melding scene. I think the use of time in this episode is perhaps one of the most interesting we’ve seen in Doctor Who, before or since, it’s an inspired script from Steven Moffat that ends up being both very emotional and very profound. Speaking of which, the ending has never failed to make me cry.


You’ve heard Michael’s thoughts, but what about your own? Which one tops your list? Vote below.