The 9 Best Cliffhangers in Doctor Who

Doctor Who is a show that has told all kinds of stories over its modern lifespan. I, along with many other fans, would argue that many of the best stories are ones that span two, or sometimes even three episodes. The extended amount of runtime allows for so much more to be achieved than is ordinarily possible. The secondary characters get ample time to shine, the plot can swing to-and-frow a bit more often than usual, and this usually creates a much more compelling story.

They also provide us with the most exciting and hype-inducing trope in narrative history. Cliffhangers.

A cliffhanger cuts the story off at a crucial point. If done well, these cliffhangers will immediately get the audience excited and ready for the next instalment. When done perfectly, they can create some of the greatest moments in the history of the show. If anything is going to have you come away from an episode of Doctor Who still buzzing over what transpired, and what might transpire the following week, it’s a properly well-written cliffhanger.

I want to make it clear that, in this list, the quality of the episode following the cliffhanger is entirely irrelevant. I could point to a handful of the cliffhangers on this list that had disappointing payoffs, but that isn’t important. All that matters is that the cliffhanger itself left a lasting impact on me.

Now, let’s look at some of the best, from modern Doctor Who.

9 – The Sphere Opens – Army of Ghosts

Army of Ghosts is a bit of a flawed episode, but one of it’s best elements is the mystery surrounding the sphere. The way it’s introduced to us as this thing that needs to be observed and researched 24/7, the massive looming presence it has over the room, and even the way it doesn’t quite seem to fit in visually with its surroundings. The Doctor explains that it’s a void ship, designed to travel between parallel universes, and your mind immediately jumps back to earlier in the season, where the Cybermen overran that parallel universe. At that point, it seems like the episode has accidentally tipped its hand, but really, it’s just luring you into a false assumption.

They revisit it enough to keep it regularly in the back of your mind, wondering what on Earth it could be. Could John Lumic have survived his factory exploding? Could it be some incredible new type of Cyberman we’ve never seen before? As the episode ramps up to its climax and the Cybermen reveal themselves as the ghosts around the world, it seems like it’s a done deal. Then episode decides it’s going to totally blindside you.

First of all, the Cybermen deny having anything to do with the sphere. Our reaction is the same as The Doctor’s. Totally unexpected and immediately throws you through a loop. Then, while you’re still scrambling for any semblance of an idea of what it could be, BAM, DALEKS. It’s such an exciting moment, made all the more brilliant with how the episode goes to such great lengths to lure you into the false assumption about what it can be.

Even once the excitement of the reveal subsides, you suddenly come to the realisation that the Daleks and the Cybermen are in the same place at the same time. Will they team up? Will they fight? How will The Doctor possibly cope?

It does precisely what a great cliffhanger should do. It doesn’t just put the characters in danger that you know they’re going to get out of within 30 seconds of part 2. It poses you a whole bunch of exciting questions as to where the story is going to go, not to mention hitting you with a huge reveal.

8 – O – Spyfall Part 1

Having The Master as a recurring villain consistently makes for such great reveals, purely because they can change their appearance without our knowledge. You’d think I’d have stopped falling for it by this point, but every time a new human-looking mysterious villain comes along, I always fall for it.

The difference here is that O was presented as an ally of The Doctor’s that they already had a history with. Immediately there’s a bunch of intrigue surrounding the character, which was only magnified during O’s conversation with Graham earlier in the episode. There, we saw a hint of menace appear in the character, especially when discussing the topic of The Doctor. We get these very subtle hints that he’s hiding something, but nothing so overt to give it away. Even something like O seeing the inside of The Doctor’s TARDIS becomes a very weighty scene once we know the twist.

I understand why many people aren’t as big on this cliffhanger as I am. It was done in a way that went over a bunch of people’s head at first, and to be fair, I didn’t realise that the house flying alongside the plane was supposed to be The Master’s TARDIS either. However, I very vividly the remember the moment when it hit me that he was The Master. It was a revelation that almost left me winded when I connected the dots. It took me a few seconds after he claimed to be “the spy…master” to work it out, but once everything clicked, I felt blown away by it.

This was backed up by Sacha Dhawan acting circles around everyone in the scene for another minute following the reveal. It kept things building right up until the climactic plane crash. It hit me in a way that I don’t think any other cliffhanger has hit me on this show before, which is why I rate it quite highly.

7 – A Trap – The Time of Angels

Ok, this one is a bit of an exception to my rules of good cliffhangers.

This was a cliffhanger that really extends out about 5 minutes before the episode actually ended. It held a tremendous sense of rising tension, as things very slowly, then very quickly, got dire for our heroes. The fact of the Aplans having two heads is one of those facts that totally passes you by when you don’t know it’s important. It even doesn’t twig for The Doctor, that’s how insignificant it was, but I can’t describe the level of “Oh shit!” that went off in my head when The Doctor asked why the statues don’t have two heads.

From that moment on, it’s a remarkable moment for Smith’s Doctor. The way they immediately take control of the situation and gives out orders is The Doctor at his peak. Then, we have his speech about the flaw in the angel’s trap. The Doctor looks like such a badass hero as they talk circles around the angels and even though it doesn’t really raise any plot-related questions or have any significant revelations. I always feel so pumped when The Doctor finishes his speech, declaring “Me…” and firing the gun.

The Time of Angels is a blast of an episode outside of this, but this ending put the topper on things. It always leaves me pumped and always makes me want to rush right into the next part to keep the excitement rolling.

6 – The Pit Opens- The Impossible Planet

One of the best stories of the RTD era, The Impossible Planet is entirely based on the slow and creeping build of tension and mystery. Most Doctor Who episodes have some level of that, of course, but this episode makes it the central focus of the plot. It’s an episode that refuses to let you in on any of its secrets in part 1 and then hits you with everything it’s got in part 2.

This approach had the potential to cause part 1 to be boring, but it was built so brilliantly that it actually makes for some of the best edge-of-your-seat viewing from that era of the show. The way the episode starts to give you little hints and pile on the intrigue, slowly but carefully, makes the whole thing feel ludicrously tense in its delivery. The Doctor doesn’t even discover the pit until about 2/3rds of the way into the episode. However, it didn’t need to come in sooner because of how much it eats at you. It’s the most straightforward kind of mystery, there’s a locked door, and you want to know what’s on the other side. That alone could be enough to carry it, but then you throw on top of that the idea that The Devil himself could be in the pit? Now that’s excitement. That’s not all though, as I haven’t even mentioned about the mystery surrounding the Ood yet.

After spending the whole episode very slowly feeding you hints as to what might be going on and how it’s all going to fall apart, the writer suddenly slams their foot down and hits you with everything at once. First, the Ood start killing people, and Rose is trapped in a room with them. Next, the whole planet starts falling into a black hole, throwing everything into chaos. All of this is topped off by the pit being opened and some demonic voice declaring that they’re free.

While I did say that I don’t like it when a cliffhanger just throws a petty threat at the characters, here it works in tandem with the game-changing revelation of the pit opening up. It works because it accelerates the pace of the episode to a fever pitch, which after a very slow episode is incredibly effective. More importantly, it raises more questions than it answers. What’s free? What’s it going to do? How can The Doctor stop it? Why has the planet chosen now to fall into the black hole after orbiting it for so long? All these questions are the kind of thing that will float around in your head for the next week and ensure you come back for part 2.

5 – The Long Way Round – Heaven Sent

Let’s get this out of the way first, the payoff to this cliffhanger (i.e., the entirety of Hell Bent) is utter shit, but as I said, that has no bearing on how awesome this cliffhanger was.

I’ll talk about it more when I eventually rank Series 9, but Heaven Sent is an absolute masterpiece. The story it tells & the way it tells it are beautiful, while Capaldi put on arguably the best performance of his entire career, carrying a 45-minute monologue about grief. The emotional stakes by the end of Heaven Sent are insanely high. We’ve just watched The Doctor kill and revive himself several trillion times so that they could punch his way through a solid wall of the toughed substance in the universe. When it comes to a character journey, they don’t get much more emotional than that.

Then, you have the series-wide stakes. After 10 years since the revival of Doctor Who revealed that Gallifrey had been destroyed. After The Doctor spent all this time with the guilt of its destruction weighing on their mind; they have finally step foot on their home planet once again. That in itself is a massive moment, but when you pair that up with ordeal that the Time Lords had just put him through…it’s such a powerful moment.

As I said, Hell Bent would absolutely shit it all up the wall, but I refuse to let it take away from the genuine work of art that is Heaven Sent. This cliffhanger was easily the perfect way to cap off such an episode. It fills you with this desire for The Doctor to march into Gallifrey’s parliamentary rooms and show them who’s boss.

It’s an incredible combination of a historical moment for the show, with a meaningful and heartfelt character moment for The Doctor and that’s such a wondrous achievement.

4 – The Doctor Regenerates – The Stolen Earth

Is it a bit goofy? Yes. Does it mess with the laws of regeneration a bit? Definitely. Did it blow my God-damned mind when I watched it for the first time? Hell. Yeah.

I’m not entirely sure there’s much to say about this one, because what makes it so good is incredibly simple. The Doctor, without any form of indication or announcement, suddenly starts regenerating, with seemingly no way for stopping it. It’s entirely based on shock factor, which you could argue is cheap, but I say balls to that, I loved it.

It’s one of those Doctor Who moments where, when I think back to it, the first thing that comes to mind is the raw feeling of “WHAT?!” that I experienced at the time. Sure, as an adult, it would be reasonably apparent that this was a fake-out, but as a kid, it threw everything I was expecting into the bin. I was convinced that we were saying goodbye to Tennant and that we’d have some new Doctor for the finale. I can only chalk this up to the fact that children are stupid, but sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

Quite simply, remembering this cliffhanger makes me really happy. It’s very rare that any show or film can truly shock me or blow my mind anymore, so I genuinely treasure the times where a show like this properly blindsided me with something incredible.

3 – “Listen to me!” – The Pandorica Opens

Honestly, this could’ve made the list just for that final shot alone.

The Pandorica Opens is such a wild ride of an episode. We race through The Doctor’s adventures of Series 5 to get a message to them, then we mess around with the Romans; then we get a giant box of mystery; then Rory turns up after being erased from existence; then The Doctor gives an epic speech; then the Pandorica Opens…

This may be the greatest twist in Doctor Who history. The way it was built up with the most fearsome warrior in the universe, and how all of The Doctor’s old foes show up to get a piece of it. It builds so wonderfully to the climax, and you’re so very ready to see what’s really inside the Pandorica. The moment where it finally opens to reveal an empty chair is SO GOOD. The sinking look on The Doctor’s face as he starts to get dragged towards the box pulls in so many emotions, even to the way he starts to break down as he pleads with the monsters that they’ve got it all wrong.

It makes sure to show you just how dire the situation is too, with it continually cutting back to River trying to prevent the TARDIS from exploding but utterly failing. Then, just as one final kick in the nuts, Rory shoots Amy and kills her against his own will. That final shot of the camera zooming out from Amy’s body to the sight of the whole universe collapsing in on itself was pure genius. In a single ten-second shot, you’ve encapsulated everything at stake, the personal drama of the characters and the universe-wide threat of the crack in the skin of the universe.

What’s even more amazing is that it’s willing to end on a downbeat note. It doesn’t build with a bombastic soundtrack to a climax. It quite literally peters out into silence, leaving you with nothing but your own thoughts as to what on Earth just happened and how it could possibly be solved. It leaves you with a feeling of total hopelessness, which is perfect for reeling you back in for the emotional highs of the series finale.

2 – “I’m coming to get you” – Bad Wolf

(From my Best Doctor Who Speeches article)

I’ve talked a lot about The Doctor having his “hero moments” so far in this list, but I believe that The Doctor has never seemed like more of a hero than he has at this moment, even if he’s being motivated by hatred and rage.

You’ve got to take a look into The Doctor’s mindset during this speech, earlier in the series they thought the Time War was finally over, the last Dalek in existence killed itself and all of the sufferings they’ve gone through, and all of the horrible things they did seemed like maybe they might’ve been worth it to finally rid the universe of the terror of the Daleks. Now, they’ve just discovered that not only did more escape the Time War, but they’ve multiplied and now there are hundreds of thousands of them. This is a person who very recently wiped out his entire race just to get rid of the Daleks and now they’ve learnt it was all for nothing, how would you feel in that situation?

Ecclestone’s acting during this scene is top-notch, the minute movements in his facial expressions put forth this feeling of someone who is having to suppress so much rage, guilt and fear all at once. In the moments before this speech, they flick between mild joking and serious threats, their head is not in the right space and it shows. I almost get this feeling like they’re going to explode in a fit of rage and totally lose their mind – I know I would – but they don’t. Instead, what they do is channel it all and use it to fuel their drive and desire to do the right thing, as Rose would later say “To stand up and say no”, quite literally in this case.

The way the music swells as The Doctor decides to defy the Daleks’ demand, the way they don’t even raise their voice on the first “No”, it’s just a cold statement of intent, a statement that they’ve had enough of dealing with the Daleks’ shit and they’re not going to tolerate one iota of it this time around. They call the Daleks’ bluff and they tell them exactly what they’re going to do, only to totally ignore the Daleks in the end and simply tell Rose “I’m coming to get you” like they’re just picking her up from karate class, no big deal.

Every time I watch it, it gets me PUMPED and it created one of my favourite cliffhangers I’ve ever seen this show pull off.

To add to what I said there, there is no cliffhanger in history that gets my adrenaline pumping quite like this one. The revelation of the gigantic fleet of Daleks, just a handful of episodes away from seeing just one Dalek murder countless people; the look of fire in The Doctors eyes & the fury in his voice. It ends the episode letting us know that The Doctor is in for the fight of his life, and you’ll have to come back next week to see how it goes. Thrilling stuff.

1 – “Bye-bye!” – Utopia

Ok, I might’ve told a hyperbolic fib earlier. THIS is the greatest twist in Doctor Who history.

What’s brilliant about this cliffhanger is that you don’t actually need to know who The Master is to feel the gravity of the revelation. I definitely didn’t when I watched this episode for the first time, but the episode makes sure to hit you with all the big notes so that you understand what an unbelievable reveal this is. The use of the fob-watch was a great touch because you immediately think back to its use earlier in the series. It keeps piling it on too, you get the callback to the Face of Boe’s final words. Then, just to top it off, we see him regenerate to absolutely solidify the monumental threat this guy really is.

The turn in Derek Jacobi’s performance when he becomes The Master is an incredible piece of acting, only for the whole situation to be turned on its head when John Simm enters the scene. The work of the music that undercuts the whole thing cannot be understated either. It’s loud, brash and bombastic when the reveal first occurs, before moving into a more brassy affair, that’s slightly slower, but still carries the weight of the threat and despair that The Master imposes.

This is a cliffhanger that turns everything we were told since the start of the modern series on its head. The Doctor is no longer the last Time Lord, but this new Time Lord turns out to be one of The Doctor’s most powerful foes. Then, to throw several more spanners in the works, The Master steals The Doctor’s only constant companion in the form of the TARDIS and leaves him stranded at the end of the universe, with monsters bearing down on him, Martha & Jack. Also, Jack is there, which makes any scene better.

That shot of The Doctor staring at the space where the TARDIS used to be, with a mixture of shock, desperation & rage on his face is all that’s needed to up this from one of the best to the very best. It honestly has absolutely everything you could possibly want from a great cliffhanger.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know of any Doctor Who cliffhangers you love, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back here this time on Wednesday for the next instalment in my 100 Favourite Games series!

Every Episode of Doctor Who Series 7 (2012 & 2013) Ranked (Part 2)

If they could split the whole series into two parts, why can’t I split this article into two parts? Anyway, welcome back to my review of Doctor Who Series 7! After looking through the worst of what this series had to offer (mostly Clara), we now get to have a healthy dose of positivity as I just cover the best.

If you haven’t read part 1, then I suggest you check it out here. Now, let’s get on with the review!

9 – Asylum of the Daleks

This is an episode that people often point to when insulting Moffat’s representation of the Daleks, and I can’t say I entirely disagree. Having the Daleks call on The Doctor to solve a problem because they’re too scared to do it themselves seems incredibly counter-productive. That said, I think the justification given for it would’ve made some level of sense…had the “mad” Daleks actually been represented in a way that made them seem any different to regular Daleks. That was my biggest issue with this episode, a lot of time was put into telling us that these were “insane” Daleks that are so much worse than regular ones, but when the time came to show us that, they didn’t seem very different to anything we’ve already seen. Oswin being the lone exception, which is a great jumping-off point to talk about that.

Personally, I think this was a brilliant idea. Given that Jenna Coleman had already been announced as the new companion at the time this episode first aired, it was a genius idea to get a buzz going surrounding her character. The episode sticks to its guns as well, it plays off of what the audience already knows and makes us believe that she actually might join the TARDIS team in that episode right up until it’s ready to reveal the twist. Unlike a companion such as Astrid, who we knew was never going to stick around for more than one episode, the way the story surrounding Oswin is told leans all the way into what we’ve come to expect from the show.

Everything else surrounding the episode is quite enjoyable too. While I’m not a fan of the Pond’s divorce, it technically happened in a web series, not this episode, so I’m going to let it go. Plus, their reunion here actually makes for some sweet moments, including one of my favourite subtle moments ever in the show. That being when Amy tells The Doctor “You can’t fix this like you fix your bowtie”, then later on in the episode when The Doctor fixes Amy & Rory’s relationship, there’s a brief shot of him fixing his bowtie. That’s some Edgar Wright level stuff right there.

It does lean into the humour a bit heavily, but unlike in other comedic episodes this series, most of the jokes are actually funny, so it works to this episode’s benefit, rather than its downfall. The line “Don’t be fair to the Daleks when they’re firing me at a planet” always gets a chuckle out of me and I love that Rory – who has never encountered the Daleks before – thinks the ball things in their lower-half are eggs, that’s prime Rory right there.

The only major issue I have with the episode is that the plot is quite weak. The goal of the episode is pretty vaguely defined and most of the time is spent just standing around discussing other plot-threads that aren’t related to the task at hand. There also isn’t much of a sense of danger throughout, I know they’re surrounded by Daleks the whole time, but every encounter is dealt with so quickly, that it may as well have not even happened. The final twist of Oswin wiping The Doctor from the Dalek’s database would be an interesting one if it was ever actually used for anything noteworthy. Instead, it gets reversed quickly after barely being mentioned it may as well have just bin an out-right retcon.

Asylum of the Daleks doesn’t really do much in terms of treating The Doctor’s greatest villains like any real threat. Still, the majority of the other factors in the episode hit the mark to create something that I had a decent amount of fun with and is quite rewatchable.

8 – Cold War

When bringing a monster from the classic series of Doctor Who back, it’s always hard to tell whether it will actually be a worthwhile endeavour. While looking back on old Doctor Who episodes and seeing the abysmal costumes & special effects is fun from a modern perspective. It’s when those same effects appear in a modern episode, surrounded by all the high(ish) quality looking stuff, it can fall a bit flat. The Ice Warriors are one that suffers from that problem, I think. Their costumes are incredibly clunky and clearly made out of a very cheap plastic that seems to have patterns carved into it with about the same quality as you’d expect from a mid-range action figure.

So, when faced with bringing them into a modern setting, the team at Doctor Who had to figure out a way around it and I think they did a surprisingly decent job. The team working on the episode seemed to be very careful with any shot that involved the suit of armour, making sure that it didn’t show too much detail at once, to avoid that cheap look. IN addition to this, the relatively dark lighting of the setting allowed for plenty of opportunities to obscure specific details when necessary, to ensure that the new Ice Warrior looks more imposing than dumb.

They also worked to include new aspects of the monster’s lore. Something which doesn’t always work, but went ok in this example. Once the Ice Warrior leaves his armour, the whole tone of the episode shifts to one of a creeping panic, and I think it really nails the feeling of tension amongst it all. The entire episode up until this point, The Doctor has been talking at length about how honour-based the Ice Warriors are. Meaning that when he describes the desperation of the Warrior leaving their armour, it has a lot more weight than if it hadn’t been brought up until then like so many other episodes do with twists like this.

The process and eventual resolution of the episode is very well-executed and tense too. The Doctor finds himself in yet another situation of being surrounded by people who want to fight, but he has to find a way to convince them otherwise. It’s these moments of diving into another being’s nature and finding the best way to convince them of his own perspective that is when The Doctor is arguably at their best. This episode sees Smith’s performance abandon many of the more goofy-traits he’s adopted and focus on being serious.

It’s not a perfect episode though, hence why it’s not higher up on the list. A lot of the reasoning behind the Ice Warrior’s actions aren’t entirely clear to me, especially towards the end where he suddenly does a 180 and decides not to blow up the world. The episode was slowly building towards that point, but I feel like it only got about halfway there before jumping forward a bunch of steps to the end. Also, Clara is once again quite the non-factor. She has a tense scene where she’s forced to come face-to-face with the alien, but it doesn’t really do much for her character. It’s a scene that does wonders for the tension of the overall episode, but when it comes to giving Clara a landmark experience in her adventures with The Doctor, it doesn’t really hit that point.

Ultimately, Cold War is a good episode, but not an especially memorable one. It did a fair job of bringing back the Ice Warriors and was scattered with several cool or exciting scenes. Just for whatever reason, it failed to make any kind of lasting impact on me.

7 – Journey to the Center of the TARDIS

The TARDIS has always been an interesting and mysterious subject in Doctor Who, and I like that. Much like The Doctor’s real name, I don’t think we should ever know too much about the TARDIS. Partly because if you establish too many rules, then a lot of things in the show will stop making sense, but also because it should be a device beyond our understanding. This is a machine that can exist at every point in space and time simultaneously, there shouldn’t be any possible explanation for how it works that a human could understand.

So, with that said, you’d think that I’d dislike this episode for shedding away some of that mystery right? Well, actually no.

The thing is, as much as this is an episode where we literally explore the TARDIS, we don’t actually learn anything new about it that hadn’t already been referenced in previous episodes. There had been several jokes about the library and the swimming pool running through the past couple of series, and although we’ve never seen things like the Eye of Harmony before, we’ve known they exist. Instead, this episode more serves to get a better idea of the character of the TARDIS.

I know that was done last season too in The Doctor’s Wife, but with that, it was deliberately given a human personality, when that isn’t realistic. The TARDIS that we fly with every episode isn’t a human and given that there has been some sort of conflict between Clara and the TARDIS brewing in this series, I think it’s important to understand a bit about how it feels. We get a decent chunk of that here, as it does things like getting rid of doors to prevent people from stealing its stuff, or merely looping the corridors when people threaten to blow the walls down. Even something as simple as a “snarl” to scare people off of its damaged engine room fills this machine with a greater sense of character and life than it ever had before.

As for the plot, it’s not overly compelling. The whole idea that the TARDIS would have its defences lowered just because it’s in a mode that makes it easier for humans to fly seems like a bizarre design choice. Then again, if that’s what’s needed to make the episode happen, then alright, I’ll bite. The secondary characters aren’t overly appealing. One has your classic ‘jerk for the sake of a jerk’ attitude that I couldn’t care less for, regardless of what dramatic redemption arc the episode tries to throw at him towards the end. The other two secondary characters are just plot devices for the main secondary character’s story, and as such, they don’t get anything noteworthy to them.

I’m also not a big fan of the solution to the episode. The “it actually never happened because time travel” solution isn’t a clever or interesting one at the best of times, but this episode is determined to have it both ways. It wants to have the original timeline aborted, so everyone involved forgets the events of the episode. However, it also wants all of the character development it did to have still happened. This means we get a scene where the two brothers have apparently reforged their relationship…except the events that caused them to do that never happened. It’s not a situation where you can be selective about what your characters do and don’t remember, either all of it happened, or none of it did.

Like most episodes in this series, it’s flawed, but I still found a decent amount of stuff to enjoy about it.

6 – The Power of Three

Ok, first thing’s first, let’s all agree that the episode should’ve been called “Cubed”. Yes, I know the whole point is “the power of three” referring to The Doctor, Amy and Rory, but I think it would’ve been better as a nice little twist at the end, instead of being blasted right out in front of you from the start.

If there was ever an episode that was crying out for two parts it was this one because I think it absolutely could’ve done with a bunch of extra time, even an additional 10-15 minutes would’ve helped boost this episode to the top spots on this list. Instead, it had several points that felt very rushed.

First thing’s first, the mystery in this episode is absolutely brilliant. As we’ve seen with Chibnall’s writing since taking over had head-writer, he knows how to set up a good mystery, and that is on full display here. The idea that millions of these cubes could just appear out of nowhere and no-one on Earth would’ve seen the moment they did so is a bit unbelievable, but I’m willing to roll with it. Immediately, the episode gives us this tangible thing that we know is going to somehow be vital to the episode, except we have absolutely no idea how or even what that is.

Watching the TARDIS team try to solve the mystery opens the door for so many different possibilities, and the episode does a good job of playing on all of them. First of all, there’s The Doctor trying to live a normal life. This whole sequence was a bit silly, but I think it was a good idea to break up the relatively slow pace of the episode with a nice bit of fast-paced humour. I found it quite amusing to see The Doctor doing tonnes of household chores, including doing a mathematically impossible number of kick-ups, in just an hour. After his abysmal outing in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, this is where Brian finally gets a chance to shine as a character. He’s got this complete and total dedication to his task of watching the cubes that I can’t help but root for him as he adorably takes it SUPER seriously; documenting the complete lack of anything the cubes are doing, on the hour, every hour.

The episode also does an excellent job of transitioning in and out of the comedy, injecting a few serious scenes of the cubes doing stuff in between the comedic moments, before transitioning out of it entirely as we head into the scenes at UNIT. I loved the sequence were the cubes suddenly started doing just about any random thing you can think of, it only served to add to the mystery surrounding them, and it led to some pretty funny moments in there too.

The other big point this episode touches on is the impact on the Ponds’ lives that travelling with The Doctor has on them. This is a big part of why I think this episode needed more time because it was squashed in between all of the cube stuff that it very rarely had any time to breathe and ended up feeling quite forced since this was the final episode before the Ponds’ departure.

Speaking of rushed, once the cubes open, the episode falls apart a little bit. There are some genuinely exciting scenes, like The Doctor having one of his hearts fail and also the way the team go to the hospital to discover where Brian had been taken. Then, they get onto the spaceship and confront the Shakri, and the whole thing falls apart. There’s a conversation where absolutely everything gets explained, then The Doctor quite literally just waves his magic wand (sonic screwdriver), and everything’s fine. There’s not even anything in the way to try and stop him from doing so, the ship just has an AI that gets deactivated, and that’s it, suddenly everything’s fine again.

If this episode were a two-parter, I would’ve had part one end with the opening of the cubes and then spend all of part two attempting to take down the threat that they posed. Having The Doctor just waltz into the thing and immediately solve it without having to overcome any kind of obstacle was extraordinarily disappointing and left me feels deflated at the end of what had been a really good episode up until that point. (Also, making it two parts meant you could’ve called part one “Cubed” and part two “The Power of Three” and I wouldn’t have had to have that ramble at the start of this piece.)

5 – The Rings of Akhaten

Giving a companion their first outing in the TARDIS can often be quite a daunting task because there are a few ways that you could go with it. You could make it character-based, like The Fires of Pompeii or The Beast Below. That allows us to get a much better sense of this new character than in the series opener. You could make it absolutely nothing like The Shakespear Code. Or finally, you could roll out all of the costumes you happened to have in the studio, build a weirdly convoluted set and blast us with everything weird and wonderful about Doctor Who. The Rings of Akhaten does the last one.

Much like The End of the World from, Series 1 (I’m pretty sure it even reuses a couple of those costumes), this episode is entirely focused on seeing the broader universe from Clara’s Earthly perspective. It’s one of those episodes that I’ll recommend to people who want a good idea of what the show is all about because it really has a bit of everything. There’s humour, there are aliens, there’s character, and there’s even an epic speech. The only real problem is that shoving all this stuff in means that some elements don’t play out quite as good as they could’ve. Although that’s not a massive issue in this episode.

One of the concepts I wish got played up a bit more is the idea of an economy based on sentimental value. I know it features pretty heavily when taking down the monster, but how would an economy based on that actually work day-to-day? Surely if you’re continually having to pay for goods and giving up sentimental items, you’ll pretty quickly run out of things you’re sentimental about. Even the people who take the items aren’t gaining anything. They can’t use those items to pay for stuff because to them, it has no sentimental value. Right? I don’t know, it’s a nice idea and fits thematically with the episode, but it also feels dumb. So take your pick, I guess.

I liked the way the episode used The Doctor investigating Clara’s life as a way to give us some context that we’ll need later on in the episode. In hindsight, it feels a little forced, but I still think it works. Speaking of, we may as well discuss the climax of the episode, because it’s a bit weirdly paced.

First thing’s first, The Doctor’s speech is fantastic. One of the all-time great speeches in Doctor Who without a shadow of a doubt. It’s brought down a peg only by the fact that it somehow doesn’t win the day. Seriously, how was it NOT the resolution to the episode? Everything about it from the music, to the pacing to the words themselves, said it should absolutely be what saves the day. Yet somehow it doesn’t. This isn’t the only time Doctor Who uses this twist, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. This was one of the times where it didn’t. I understand that this allowed Clara to get her heroic moment, but it felt so unnecessary and totally sucked the air out of the episode. Not to mention, Clara is going to get PLENTY (I’d go as far as to say too many) hero moments during her time in the TARDIS. However, as a standalone scene, it is a very well-written moment and is one of the few times during her time on the show where I actually thought Clara felt like a person.

The pacing of the finale aside, this was a solid episode. It gave me hope for Clara’s direction as a character (more on how that turned out next time), and it told a solid, self-contained story. Plus the speech.

4 – A Town Called Mercy

HOW did it take this long for Doctor Who to do a western? It would’ve been one of the first ideas on my list. Sci-fi and Western are two genres that just feel so perfect together, and this episode is proof of that.

A trope that I’ve noticed a lot of throughout Moffat’s reign is there will be some sort of narration or story that we’re told at the beginning of the episode. It’s designed to sound like the story is describing The Doctor, only for it to turn out that they were actually describing the main villain of the episode. It’s a bit of a weird trope, but the way it keeps coming up makes me feel like Moffat’s trying to make a point about something…or he’s just not all that great at establishing villains and needs the audience to be told what a badass they are, rather than just showing us…you take your pick.

One of the big things I love about this episode is how light on action it is. I know that doesn’t sound like a compliment, but stay with me. For one thing, Doctor Who is a show that’s always thrived on its conversations rather than it’s fight scenes. Secondly, it plays perfectly into how westerns work. If you watch most of the classic westerns, they’re a lot of people standing around and discussing the plot. There’s the occasional shoot-out to break things up (which we also get here), but the driving force of things is the interactions of the characters. It leads to scenarios where, when guns are finally drawn, there’s so much more weight to the scene because of everything that went into it. There’s a reason Mexican Standoffs are a staple of the genre, minutes of slow build for a quick and satisfying payoff.

This episode does the exact same thing. We get a small chase sequence in the middle, and the climax has a mix of the two, but what carries the episode is the main characters talking and trying to understand one another. This isn’t just to solve the mystery either, we get some proper understanding of the characters involved here. We feel that anger that The Doctor feels when he realised Jex has lied because we’d spent such a huge chunk of the episode investing in the lies he presented us. These conversations peak and trough in intensity, giving us charged scenes where The Doctor puts Jex on blast for lying, all the way down to a prolonged and tense scene on the boundary, as The Doctor decides whether or not to throw Jex out.

The resolution to the episode plays well off of these established characters too. Someone who’s done horrible things like we’re told Jex has can never truly be redeemed, but I certainly felt sympathetic for him when he made the sacrifice play. I also liked the Gunslinger becoming a person to protect the town once The Doctor leaves, although I think it would’ve hit home a bit better if we had a deeper understanding of his mentality.

To put it simply, I thought this one was a lot of fun. It blended the classic moments of westerns with Doctor Who’s identity well. It played a slower pace that absolutely worked gave us substantial investment in the key characters. This investment meant that they could carry the episode, allowing characters like Amy and Rory (who are usually the protagonists) to take a back seat to the action for a change.

3 – The Time of The Doctor

I’ll harp on about this until the day I die, but this episode should’ve been called ‘The Twelfth Night’ to have some nice symmetry between this and The Eleventh Hour.

I’m aware that this an episode regarded mainly by the fanbase as not being all that great, but I’m going to, yet again, be a contrarian and say I really like it. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but to be fair, there are only two episodes of Doctor Who that I would say are perfect.

Right out of the gate, this is a funny episode. I don’t care what you say, Matt Smith suddenly and unexpectedly pulling his hair off to Clara’s horror will always get a laugh out of me, and nothing you say will change that. The bit with the telepathic clothes is a bit weird, the joke runs out of steam pretty quick, but it’s still a silly concept that I can get behind. I also think we get the opportunity to see all sides of Smith’s Doctor in this episode. I’ve spoken before about how I never liked how cartoonish of a character he became. There is a bit of that scattered in here, what dominates the episode is the more calm, collected and just straight-up badass version of Smith’s Doctor we saw early on in his run.

We saw a return of the weird Dalek conversion thing that we got in Assylum, which wasn’t great, but apart from that, I enjoyed the return of all the villains. I know many of them had become pretty overused by this point, but this is a regeneration episode, I don’t mind an extended trip down memory lane. The thread between Clara and The Doctor is a bit weird, and the fact that he keeps sending her away feels more like an excuse for us to follow The Doctor through 900 years of his life without actually having to live it out. I’m not suggesting we should’ve actually followed The Doctor for all that time, of course, I just think it could’ve been achieved a lot nicer through a method other than The Doctor constantly breaking Clara’s heart.

Then there’s the element of The Doctor’s regeneration itself. I think it was quite nicely done. Firstly, the fact that they actually addressed the things that they could’ve easily ignored (namely the War Doctor and Tennant regenerating twice) is appreciated, and the way they got The Doctor new lives was quite graceful and made sense. Even if Chibnall did later cause it to make no sense whatsoever, but that’s not the fault of this episode. The scene in which it happened was slightly over the top and rather manic, but MAN I loved it. I know it was cheesy and kind of dumb, but the way it’s built up to with the music and the growing intensity of The Doctor’s speech makes it work for me.

The one criticism I’ve seen levelled at this episode which I absolutely do not understand is that his regeneration speech was too long-winded and self-aggrandising. I don’t understand this for two reasons, one is that Tennant’s regeneration sequence went on for WAY longer and everyone loves that. Two is that it’s an awesome speech. Yes, some of the things he said didn’t quite make sense in the context of the show, but overall Moffat just knows how to write a good speech and how to make it feel amazing visually. The build-up of the music is just perfect, the line “I will always remember when The Doctor was me” works so well for Smith’s sentimental character and Amy giving us one last goodbye to top it all off was just plain beautiful. Then once it was over, the regeneration happened quick as a flash and we’re on to new adventures. I love it.

2 – The Angels Take Manhattan

I watched this episode when it first aired in 2012, and part of my soul is still crying about the ending.

This was far from the best outing the Weeping Angels have ever seen, and I think a lot of the aura surrounding them had disappeared by this point, but I still found them to be compelling villains. What carried this episode was the mystery surrounding what’s going on in New York and the character drama between the protagonists, so all was needed was a monster who could stand around and be threatening; not talk. The angels fit perfectly into that role.

Speaking of the mystery, it’s played in quite an interesting way. The thing is, from the very first scene, we know the angels are behind everything (the title of the episode gives it away). This meant that instead of the ‘who’ the mystery aspect of the episode focuses entirely on the ‘how’. It’s a trick that doesn’t always work, but this episode manages it. There were a few moments where the characters were working out stuff the audience had already been told, and I did want them to just ‘get on with it’ at a couple of points, but they were few and far between.

The character drama varies in how much it hits its mark. On one side of things, you have the melodrama between The Doctor and River, which doesn’t work at all. The Doctor isn’t a character that lends himself to relationship drama, and any attempt at it comes off as dull. The justification given as to why everyone’s suddenly annoyed at The Doctor makes no sense to me at all, and it’s totally forgotten about 5 minutes later, so what was the point in having it?

Speaking of things that don’t land. The concept of ‘time can’t be rewritten once you’ve read about it’, which just doesn’t make any sense to me. I know it was only introduced so that the grave at the end would carry much more weight (which it absolutely did), but what aspect of a future event being read about make it destined to always happen? We’ve seen plenty of pieces of writing being changed to align with the new future in this show. If this was a brand new show that hadn’t already had its laws fleshed out over and over again, then maybe it would work, but this is an aspect that goes against just about everything previous writers (including Moffat himself) have created.

Alas…now we must get to the heartbreak that makes this episode so amazing. Amy and Rory’s exit from the show. Amy & Rory had been The Doctor’s main companions for two and a half by this point, not to mention the only companions The Eleventh Doctor had ever had until then. I loved them both as characters, so they deserved the best of exits, and that’s precisely what they got. The best part is, they even got to dangle the fake-out in front of us before snatching it away.

The leap off of the roof was an excellent scene. We snapped from the fast pace of the chase around the hotel to this quiet and cold scene, where Rory has to make the choice to throw himself to his inevitable doom. Then Amy comes and joins him. It’s all done in such a way that it feels so unbelievably tense, it plays it up like something is about to come along and magically save them, but it doesn’t. They sacrifice themselves to stop the paradox, which gives them one final moment heroism before everything turns out to be ok, and they survive.

Then it happens for real.

Could I bitch about how it doesn’t make any sense that the angel survive? I could, but I don’t care, because everything else about this scene was perfect. Rory’s disappearance happens so suddenly that you don’t have any time to process it before Amy is faced with doing the same. Usually, I’d say that was a bad thing, but it’s exactly what this scene needed to ramp the emotions from zero to a hundred in seconds. Then, Amy makes her final choice. The choice between continuing to travel with The Doctor or living a life with Rory. What makes it so great is that the scene doesn’t try to push that aspect of it too hard, it gives its audience the credit to realise that for themselves. That’s something I wish Moffat did a lot more often in his writing instead of explaining everything all the time.

The sense of raw tragedy at that moment when Amy looks away from the angel and says goodbye is so overwhelming. Everything from the look on The Doctor’s face, to River’s acceptance that it’s for the best, to the fact that it genuinely wasn’t The Doctor’s fault that it happened this way. The episode isn’t done tugging on your heartstrings though, it still has one more ace up its sleeve in the last page of the book The Doctor was reading at the beginning of the episode. Up until this point, I was a bit teary but was keeping it together, but the scene where The Doctor runs back through the pack to retrieve the last page of the book was the moment that opened the flood gates, and I cried for that whole scene.

It’s without a doubt the best companion exit that the show has ever done, and that aspect alone dragged it up about 3 places on this list to the number 2 slot. I know it has areas that need touching up, but any piece of fiction that can bring that level of emotion out of me deserves all the praise in the world.

1 – The Day of The Doctor

It’s the most feel-good episode of Doctor Who ever and was an absolutely fantastic celebration for the show’s 50th anniversary. I’m going to break this down one thing at a time because there’s SO MUCH in here.

First up, John Hurt, what a performance. While I can’t deny I’ll always be a little bit sad Ecclestone didn’t come back to play this part, I certainly can’t complain about the man they got to take his place. The idea that The Doctor would’ve had a whole extra life during the Time War that he’s kept hidden all these years makes so much sense, I love it. What makes it even better is the characterisation of this Doctor, John Hurt’s look and voice is the perfect fit for a battle-hardened but war-weary old man who is just desperate for a way to end the violence. The scenes where Hurt’s Doctor is discussing what he’s going to do with The Moment feel so weighty and tragic in their own way, it was a masterful performance.

Speaking of The Moment, it was a brilliantly written aspect of the episode. It doesn’t get much explaining, and that’s precisely how it should be, it gives it this aura of being beyond our understanding. We just accept the fact that it can break the time lock of the Time War and show The Doctor his future selves because why wouldn’t it be able to do that? It poses these questions to the audience to make us rethink this event that we’ve already justified in our minds countless times. We’ve always taken The Doctor’s destruction of Gallifrey for granted, believing it was justified because that’s what The Doctor believes. The Moment is there as this unbiased source asking those hard questions. Even something as simple as “how many children are there on Gallifrey?” is enough to turn the whole situation on its head.

Then there’s the fun stuff. Smith and Tennant were an acting duo seemingly made for each other. Their portrayals of The Doctor had a lot of similarities, but this was a scene that did everything it could to show us their key differences with brilliantly comedic results. The jokes they throw at each other are ever so slightly different enough so that they don’t just feel like the exact same person, which encapsulates just about everything great about The Doctor as a character. Even when Hurt’s Doctor shows up, his style of comedy meshes with the other’s to significant effect. The whole scene in the forest is easily one of the funniest, most enjoyable scenes in the show’s history.

Around about the halfway mark of the episode is when things start to get epic. The Doctors’ entrance into the black archive is over-the-top in just the right way. Maybe I’d shout it down under other circumstances, but this is the 50th anniversary, it’s an all-out celebration of the show and – by extension – The Doctor himself, so I say let him have a cheesy, yet epic entrance. The scene following this, where Tennant and Smith sort out the squabble between the humans and the Zygons always gets me pumped with how heroic it makes The Doctor appear.

What’s extra genius about it is how it serves the much greater purpose of getting Hurt’s Doctor to understand the amazing person he’ll become once he’s ended the Time War. It even presents the counter-argument to the ‘but he’ll kill all the children’ argument. Even in the face of Clara directly telling Hurt’s Doctor that he’ll regret it every day for the rest of his life and he’d do anything to change it, Hurt’s Doctor just very calmly says “how many lives has his regret saved?” It makes you imagine a universe where The Doctor never went through that trauma of losing everything he’d ever cared for and didn’t use that motivation to become the incredible hero we just saw avert a war with ease.

THEN we get the ultimate hero moment for The Doctor. It’s big, bombastic and an absolute blast to watch as The Doctor plainly explains how he’s going to end the Time War and save Gallifrey. Without witness and without reward, he calls quite literally all of his experience and knowledge in the form of all his previous selves (and one future-self). He rights the biggest wrong he’s ever committed. It removes the horrible cloud of slaughter that has followed The Doctor through the whole of modern series and presents him as the purest good in all of the universe.

This episode is such a joy to watch over and over. It’s got laughs, it’s got emotion, and it’s got an incredible pay off to long-standing storylines. Even Tom Baker showed up and put on a fantastic performance. I honestly can’t think of a better way they could’ve celebrated the 50th anniversary of what I believe to be the greatest television programme ever produced.

So there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read through all of that. Please let me know what you thought of these episodes, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure you come back here this time next week, as I’ll be covering NXT Takeover: In Your House!