New Who 15: My Favourite Episodes from Each Year
Guest feature by Mark Goodwin.
March 2020 marked 15 years since “Rose” aired, reinventing and reintroducing the world of Doctor Who. To celebrate, I am going to talk about my favourite episodes for each year of Doctor Who since it was revived. Let’s get started, shall we?
2005: Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways
While compiling this list, turns out it’s the hardest the earlier on in the series you have to choose. I am not sure whether that is indicative of quality, or merely my own personal nostalgia for the earlier series. In a very close second place is “Father’s Day”, because it truly puts the focus on Rose’s character. “Bad Wolf” just feels epic. The Doctor, Captain Jack and Rose start the episode separated and in different killer games. And then, at the end of the whole episode…turns out the Daleks are behind the whole thing! I also really like “The Parting of the Ways” where Rose is abandoned and has to get herself back independently, absorbs the heart of the TARDIS and saves the Doctor. Her scene in the café with Mickey and her mother will always be brilliant to me, not to mention this absolutely beautiful quote:
“It was a better life. And I don’t mean all the travelling and seeing aliens and spaceships and things. That don’t matter. The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life. You know he showed you too. That you don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand. You say no. You have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else just runs away, and I just can’t.”
– Rose Tyler, “The Parting of the Ways.”
2006: The Girl in the Fireplace
Turns out that I love series 2! So many wonderful episodes to choose from. “School Reunion” is another highlight: good old Sarah Jane. Plus, “Doomsday” will always make me cry. However, it’s “The Girl in the Fireplace” that steals my heart. The clockwork droids are so delightfully creepy and Reinette is superbly played by Sophia Myles. She is truly an exceptional character. Witty, intelligent and incredibly brave, she shines throughout. Plus, I love the exchange where she manages to read the Doctor’s mind while he’s entering hers. “A door once opened can be stepped through in either direction”. Brilliant.
2007: Human Nature / The Family of Blood
I didn’t choose two, I promise! It’s just really hard to single out just one part of a two-parter story. “Human Nature”/”The Family of Blood” really shines the spotlight on Martha. As a character who is obviously in unrequited love with the Doctor, she really showed her own grit and independence throughout this story, despite her heartbreak at the Doctor falling in love with a human. We also get great acting from David Tennant as John Smith and the Doctor. It’s always nice to give your leading actor a challenge, and you can really see him rise to it here. The turmoil of John Smith is really tricky and well played, as the audience sympathises with him and having to die, though he was never truly “real” in the first place.
2008: Turn Left / The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End
Yes, perhaps I could have narrowed this down more. Oopsie. Sorry. “Turn Left” is a star turn for Catherine Tate as Donna Noble. Her scenes with Rose blew my mind as a child. You really see into Donna’s psyche of viewing herself as nothing special, even though Rose clearly knows better. In the end, she foreshadows her own unfortunate fate by sacrificing herself to ensure that she meets the Doctor. I then had to include “The Stolen Earth” because of just how filmic it feels. Every companion crops up in an epic mashup that the Who-niverse has never seen before or since. It really added to the stakes to include The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood into the mix. The most incredible showdown at the end of a series ever, and Donna’s memory wipe always makes me cry. Who knew that Catherine Tate could act that well?
Also – sidenote – have you noticed how all of my favourite episodes so far involve badass women and the focus being on the companions? Just saying.
2009: The Waters of Mars
There were only three episodes in this year, so it’s not much of a competition. I picked this one because it really highlighted how damaged the Doctor had become at the end of this regeneration, becoming the “Time Lord Victorious” and attempting to meddle with time. It was an important turning point for him before his final story.
2010: The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone
Matt Smith is here! Hooray! We got to see Amy in this episode, all by herself, walking through a forest with her eyes shut and absolutely terrified. It was great to see this depth to her character, which sort of became lost as she got older. She definitely started the series more vulnerable than how feisty she later became. Plus, this episode used the Angels effectively in their return episode, as well as River Song being spectacular in our first viewed interactions with the Eleventh Doctor and (spoiler) her own mother.
2011: The Doctor’s Wife
The TARDIS as a human? Sign me up. Also hit me in the feels. An absolutely gorgeous episode that successfully and emotionally explores the relationship at the heart of the show that nobody had really devoted much time to before. Matt Smith acts his socks off, in one of his best performances, alongside Suranne Jones, who just perfectly captures the chaotic and warm nature of the TARDIS. You immediately get the sense of an ethereal all-knowing being, in just the short amount of time we spend with her as a human.
2012: The Snowmen
Mary Poppins as a companion? Check. The Snowmen did a brilliant job of introducing a new companion in the form of Clara Oswald, even if she was a Victorian maid at that point. A huge amount of focus was placed into how fierce, independent and intelligent she was. Sure, the rest of the episode is quite middling, but it’s worth watching for Clara alone. The fact that she ultimately died and then we had the modern-day Clara for the rest of the series was a massive disappointment.
2013: The Day of the Doctor
I mean, how could I not mention the “The Day of the Doctor”? This 50th anniversary special threw everything it had at the screen. Not only did we have a returning David Tennant, but also an expansion upon the role the Doctor played in the Time War, after years of it being teased on screen. The entire episode felt cinematic and epic, and ultimately it brought a resolution to the Doctor’s inner turmoil over his actions in the Time War since the series was revived in 2005.
2014: Time Heist
I mean, it was slim pickings this year – let’s be honest. I picked this episode purely because of how tonally distinct it is from the rest of the series. It genuinely feels like an actual heist film. It is delightfully fun, and a nice breather from some of the more intense storylines with Capaldi’s Doctor and Clara, who demonstrated themselves here as a brilliant team.
2015: Face the Raven
Again, reflecting back on Series 9, I realise that I enjoyed all of them, but I never really loved any of the others. I like “Face the Raven” as it’s such a fitting end for Clara. One thing that I enjoyed about Clara as a character is that they were never apologetic for her flaws. They embraced them as part of her personhood, and didn’t feel the need to shy away from them.
It was also the first time the show has really explored how damaging a relationship with the Doctor can be, not only in the ways that it constantly puts you in danger, but also the ways that it can change you as a person if you let it. Ultimately, it was the Doctor’s influence upon Clara, her lust for danger and the lessons that she had learned from him that led to her down fall.
2016: The Return of Doctor Mysterio
Full disclosure, I do not like this episode. Even vaguely…
…But it was, unfortunately, the only episode in 2016, and by default has to be my favourite.
2017: World Enough and Time
A very well paced and creepy episode. The reveal of poor unfortunate Bill being part robot was heartbreaking, as well as the different time zones at the front and rear of the ship allowing the pacing of this episode to really thrive. Bill was so isolated from her safety net of the Doctor and, ultimately, the reveal that Bill had been turned into the first Cyberman was spine-chilling. Plus, a two Master story? With a horrendously well disguised John Simm? Yes please. Plus plus, a Cybermen origin story of sorts? With the original Cyberman who were actually people? A wonderful reintroduction and return to force for these villains, who had been trotted out as “evil robots” for far too many years before this.
Rosa is a tremendous demonstration of what Doctor Who was originally intended for: to educate. It very deftly shows us the importance of Rosa Parks and is incredibly emotional. I really fell in love with the current TARDIS team from this episode.
Series 11 was really great, in my view, but I felt that none of the episodes really had that “the world is ending and there’s a countdown clock” feel. Resolution definitely had that. It was nice to see a new sort of Dalek story, as well as Whittaker having some heavier material to deal with. Admittedly, this being my favourite episode of 2019 considering it is, in fact, the only episode that we had in 2019 is besides the point. It would still rank highly regardless.
2020: Fugitive of the Judoon
An episode that affected me in much more of a profound way was “Fugitive of the Judoon”. Seemingly an ordinary episode, it came as a complete surprise when the fugitive who the Judoon were seeking was, in fact, Ruth the human. That was a plot twist within the episode in itself; and indeed it would have been tremendously fascinating and an incredible episode if that had been the only twist. However, the further realisation that Ruth was, in fact, an incarnation of the Doctor was absolutely massive. The entire section, in the way that it is shot, with the small clues and dramatic underscoring really make this a hugely dramatic reveal. The further twists, that Ruth’s incarnation of the Doctor precedes Jodie Whittaker’s is further mystifying and intriguing, and definitely piqued the interest of fans who wished to know how this could be possible. I feel like this episode was much more successful than “The Timeless Children” in revealing information to the audience without it being a monologue or telling the audience. It showed the audience what was happening through the interactions with Ruth’s incarnation of the Doctor and the Thirteenth Doctor. It gave us enough information, but kept us wanting more. Not to mention the fact that the episode also featured the return of Captain Jack Harkness!
The episode is not without its flaws: the appearance of Captain Jack was little more than fan service. His warnings regarding the Lone Cyberman is still vastly confusing having watched the rest of the series (as, ultimately, the Lone Cyberman was merely destroyed by the Master), and he mainly served to get the companions out of the way to allow for the Doctor and Ruth to have some alone time, which also begs the question why the companions were all written into the episode, if they were only going to be written out again. I digress. Despite these small problems, “Fugitive of the Judoon” is still an immensely thrilling instalment of Who.
So there we have it: highlights of the 15 years of Who we have enjoyed so far. Ultimately, I have realised throughout this list that I love the early series of Doctor Who in a much more visceral way than the latter series. Even though I continue to enjoy it, and continue to watch it, the tone of the earlier series and the concept of just the joy and love of adventure, as well as the heavy investment into the character of the companions really helped me to fall in love with certain episodes and want to watch them on repeat. While I continue to watch and to appreciate the show, there are far fewer episodes that have this rewatchability factor for me.