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 4 (2008 & 2009) Ranked

Series 4 is a bit of a strange one when it comes to grouping all the episodes in for a list like this, for the sole reason of the 2009 specials which some people group in with the rest of series 4 and others don’t. For the purpose of this list, I am because I don’t think ranking 4 episodes on their own would be very interesting and also because it brings us neatly to the close of David Tennant’s time as The Doctor and Russel T Davies’ time as head writer for the show.

I will probably write an article where I compare the head writer’s styles and what I do and don’t like about them at some point in the future, but in short I always thought Davies delivered a lot more consistent quality with his writing (I know there were many writers but Davies would often have a large hand in episodes written by others). Similarly, I think Tennant was one of the best at immersing himself in the role of The Doctor on screen, it’s no coincidence that when you mention Doctor Who, Tennant is often the first image in people’s minds.

NOTE: These Doctor Who posts are going become slightly less frequent from now on, I’m still aiming for one a month but I will likely miss that target as I’m getting busier as university starts up again this month and I don’t have as much time to rewatch all the episodes.

So let’s take a dive into the final series of this era of the show as I rank every episode from Doctor Who series 4.

15 – The Next Doctor

This is a tricky one to explain because like most Doctor Who episodes I quite like the ideas it puts forth, but the execution completely falls flat for me.

First things first, David Morrissey does a great job in this episode, the role he was given was quite complex, starting off as The Doctor and moving into a more human and vulnerable character as the episode moved on, but I think he did a great job here. He had the posture and booming voice to bring back memories of some of the classic era Doctors while maintaining that hint of fun that’s necessary for The Doctor in the modern era, I don’t think he could’ve carried a series as The Doctor, but in this one-off role, I think it was great.

Where this episode falls down for me is the story. For one thing, the Cybermen were completely unnecessary outside of drawing in the viewers because they served almost no purpose to the story that any other generic villain could’ve done (which is quite representative of the Cybermen as a whole during the modern era, but that’s neither here nor there). The Cybershades were a nice twist on the idea but awfully implemented given that they served absolutely no purpose to the plot at all, their presence was never given a second thought and we’ve never seen them since.

Finally, there’s Miss Hartigan, who is a really great villain in completely the wrong story to actually leave an impact. If she was in an episode in the middle of a series with real stakes outside of a lighthearted Christmas episode then I honestly think she could’ve gone down as one of the best one-off villains of the modern era, but she just felt out of place in this story more than anything. It didn’t make a great deal of sense as to why the Cybermen needed her for their plan in the first place, but then come the end of the episode she’s suddenly able to overcome the Cybermen’s emotionless programming which is something that happens way too much and makes the Cybermen look extraordinarily weak.

Ultimately this was an episode that didn’t play to any of Davies’ strength as a writer and it didn’t even have the usual level of fun that redeems the Christmas episodes from being total trash.

14 – The Doctor’s Daughter

In this instance, I don’t actually think the ideas were all that good.

I will say it was very clever to bring in The Doctor’s “daughter” on a technicality, not to mention a technicality that actually made sense and I’m willing to accept is a reasonable explanation. My main problem with this episode is that the characters get no development that’s worthwhile. One of the things that is endlessly entertaining in this episode is the banter between Donna and The Doctor, you can put those two characters in almost any situation, leave them to chat and it will be endlessly entertaining to listen to them go back and forth, but there’s almost none of that in this episode.

Secondly, I don’t think Georgia Moffett did a very convincing job in the role. Her performance always falls flat for me when I rewatch this episode, none of her dialogue is said with any conviction and most of her movements feel more awkward than like a soldier. If it felt like she was trying to play up the idea of a being that had only existed a couple hours was learning how to live, but instead it felt like someone trying to replicate natural human dialogue and failing.

In addition to this, Martha’s presence was completely pointless, she gave us a reason to see the Hath’s perspective through the tunnels but that was pretty pointless in the grand scheme of things. After a short while, we abandoned the main group of Hath anyway and the one that did stick with Martha was killed off fairly unceremoniously regardless so her being in the episode ended up being quite superfluous.

The one saving grace of this episode is the twist of how long the war between the humans and the Hath had actually been going on for. The idea that so many generations had been created and died in such a short time that a war that’s only been happening for a week can be misconstrued as years is absolutely genius and was telegraphed in just the right way to stop it feeling obvious while still drawing attention to it throughout.

Unfortunately, that one twist is not able to save the rest of this episode from being thoroughly unentertaining to watch, with actors that didn’t fit their roles, others that did fit but were pointless to the episode and a central plot that couldn’t carry the sheer volume of characters it had to deal with.

13 – Planet of the Dead

If you keep talking about how great a team The Doctor and a one-off companion would be, the more obvious it is that they have no chemistry at all.

I know there are some fans that have a soft spot for Lady Christina but I was not feeling her at all in this episode and I think the main reason for that is her complete lack of chemistry with Tennant. I quite like the idea of a companion that is fundamentally at odds with what The Doctor stands for – which is what makes Missy such a great character in later seasons – but it’s a kind of character that needs a whole season to grow and change, not 45 minutes.

In addition to Christina there was a cast of secondary characters that were entirely pointless because aside from the fact that the performances made them come across more annoying than anything else, they didn’t add any stakes. While I’m a big fan of The Doctor having a cast of secondary characters to save, once the big threat of the…stingray things were revealed, the small personal stakes of getting home to friends and family no longer mattered because their lives were on the line.

As far as I’m concerned, Tennant is the thing that saves this episode from being a total write off. While there isn’t much of a dynamic between himself and Michelle Ryan’s Christina, Tennant fills out his side of it as well as he possibly can, in particular being a great comedic foil when it came to Christina’s schemes. Unfortunately, that is pretty much it as I didn’t find much else to enjoy when watching this one back.

12 – Planet of the Ood

Since their first appearance in Series 2, the Ood have become quite a strange race in the Doctor Who universe because they just keep popping up everywhere, despite never actually being the focus of the episode, with this being the lone exception; and if I’m being honest, it proves why they shouldn’t bother.

I think the Ood would’ve benefitted from being a race that we never knew much about, it would create a better aura around them every time they showed up in the background of another episode. As always there are still some elements about this that I liked, such as all of the emotions of the Ood mind coming out in different and strange Ood behaviours, I just don’t think that the Ood as we know them were a very convincing race for this kind of story.

As we saw in The Impossible Planet/Satan Pit, the Ood are at their scariest when they’re slow and menacing, their expressionless faces make for a terrifying monster that just walks right at you and kills you if you get too close. So it wasn’t all that effective when some of them went rabid, partly because it’s to opposite of what we’ve seen of them up until now, but also their mode of attack seemed so stupid, it looked like they tried to maul people, but their mouth is full of tentacles, so how does that hurt anyone?

There were a handful of things to enjoy in this episode though, The Doctor and Donna have as good banter as they always do and although the characters in the corporation aren’t anything different from what we see in any story of this ilk, they were well performed and added as much as they could to the plot.

Ultimately, I can’t say that I dislike Planet of the Ood too much because the good points do shine through fairly consistently, but as a story about the Ood, it didn’t land for me.

11 – Voyage of the Damned

It’s another Christmas episode that’s perfectly fine, but nothing special as most of them are.

I’ve never understood this, how did the Titanic crash into the TARDIS? How did The Doctor fix it instantly and why does NO-ONE ever bring it up? I know it was just designed as the teaser for the Christmas episode, but it’s never addressed and I find it very weird.

Nitpicks like that aside, I don’t have a great deal to pick apart with this episode, as I’ve said before the Christmas episodes are almost always inoffensive fun and this isn’t much different. I liked the disaster movie style setup since it made for a nice and steady pace throughout and as always gave us a chance to get to grips with each of the characters in our party of survivors, which is one of the biggest strengths of the format.

The threat of the episode is really good right up until the end. The Heavenly Host are good in their role and while they would’ve been crap as the main danger, they are a great fit in the role of “temporary roadblock” for our main party. Where the episode, unfortunately, falls down is in that the big bad guy of the whole thing is extremely underwhelming and incredibly boring. Nevermind the fact that the whole thing was essentially one big insurance scam, which just isn’t interesting to talk about, but the performance is really over the top and way too cheesy, even for a Christmas episode.

Astrid was far and away the best part of the episode though, Kylie Minogue does a great job in the role and is the best character for grounding everything emotionally between The Doctor’s epic speeches and all the explosions. I think we all knew going in that Astrid wasn’t going to be travelling with The Doctor anytime soon, but I certainly didn’t expect her to die like she did and even though there’s only so much emotional attachment you can have to a character that was introduced an hour ago, the sense of sadness definitely lands like it was supposed to.

As I’ve said, this episode is perfectly fine, the plot isn’t anything overly clever but it’s enjoyable enough for a re-watch and my main complaint with the episode isn’t even a factor in it for the majority of the running time, so I think it’s a good effort.

10 – The Unicorn and the Wasp

It can be argued with this episode that the plot and characters could be quite weak at times throughout and while I agree with some of those criticisms, I think this episode is so much fun that I don’t care.

This episode does suffer a few of the problems that many of the other historical figure episodes do such as The Doctor fawning over Agatha Christie a bit too much and the villain is a bit contrived in order to have significance to Christie’s books. However, when it comes to a Doctor Who murder mystery, I certainly can’t say I’d have done it much differently.

All of the characters had enough personality and backstory to carry the out the mystery and although the culprit was fairly obvious if you were paying attention at the start, a decent effort was made of obscuring it throughout the episode. What carried this episode though is the dynamic between The Doctor, Donna and Agatha, watching these two run around the house chasing the wasp while bouncing off each other in the best way as they solve the mystery is so much fun to watch that I don’t care the plot isn’t all that robust.

Agatha herself is great in this episode, which is quite crucial when the episode tends to live and die on how much we like her. She has this raw scepticism about everything that grounds The Doctor as he bounces off the walls talking about space wasps, I get the feeling from her that she wants to believe what The Doctor says and can’t see any real reason to distrust him, but at the same time, she just can’t accept it.

On top of all that, this episode has some of the funniest moments in Tennant’s era as The Doctor, mostly thanks to his rapport with Donna. The highlights for me was Donna attempting to speak high-class 1920s English and the entire sequence where The Doctor is trying to expel the cyanide from his body. That second scene in particular always cracks me up, it had the potential to be way too cheesy but listening to The Doctor and Donna yelling at each other is hilarious and I always lose it at the line “HOW IS HARVEY WALLBANGER ONE WORD?!” Something about his face and delivery cracks me up every time.

This is an episode that’s never going to be considered among the best, but for light entertainment to occupy you for 45 minutes, I think it’s a good time.

9 – The End of Time

I really want to like this one more, I really do but there are so many problems I have with it.

Let’s talk about the good first. As a goodbye for both Tennant and Davies, I think it was fitting. The plot was big and mad which is what Davies has always loved doing and the pacing of the episode meant we got to see every side of Tennant’s personality in his role as The Doctor, so while I have my complaints, I think it was a fitting episode to go out on.

The biggest highlight of the episode, however – and honestly the main reason this episode landed this high – is Wilfred Mott because that man is easily my favourite companion The Doctor’s ever had. Bernard Cribbins is such a wonderful actor and he completely understood this part through and through. He’d had some stand out moments in other episodes this series, but here id where he does his best work and creates some of the most emotional scenes in show history.

I can’t help but choke up when I think about the scene on the Vinvocci spaceship as he switches so seamlessly between laughing with joy about being in space and seeing the Earth, to sitting down and talking about his late wife and wondering whether The Master had changed her in her grave. Then that scene comes to one of the most touching moments I’ve ever seen as Wilf begs The Doctor to take the gun; it’s impossible for me not to cry a little as Wilf breaks down mid-way through that last line about how wonderful he thinks The Doctor is.

I think that’s why Wilf is such a brilliant character. Not just because of how joyous and wonderful of a person he is, but because we see his elation at finally being shown the world. He’s an old man who believes he’s seen and done it all, that’s why he star gazes and looks for aliens because he wants to see something new and when The Doctor comes along and shows him a whole new world he never even dreamt of, you get the sense that he’s eternally grateful to The Doctor, forming such a strong bond in such a short length of time.

…ok so that was a lot longer talking about Wilf than I’d intended, but I don’t regret it.

A couple of minor points in this episodes favour are, The scene between The Master and The Doctor in the scrapyard; “I don’t wanna go” because it was delivered to perfection; The payoff to the “four knocks” prophesy was heartbreakingly brilliant and Timothy Dalton…just…Timothy Dalton.

Moving onto my problems with the episode, most of them come at the hands of how The Master was treated here. I don’t mind the way in which he came back or even the lightning powers, I just don’t feel like he acted like The Master for most of it. Outside of that one scrapyard scene, it didn’t feel like the villain role in this episode could only be filled by The Master, I think it could’ve been someone newly introduced in that episode and it would’ve worked just the same.

Although I’m never the biggest fan of involving Galifrey in modern Doctor Who stories, I think this is the best it’s been done in the modern era of the show. As I mentioned above Dalton played Rassilon to perfection and it was presented more as this intangible threat rather than an actual place to get involved heavily in the story.

My biggest issue though is that The Doctor becomes more of an action hero towards the end, which isn’t what The Doctor’s about. I don’t want to see him dramatically steering a spaceship away from missiles or dropping hundreds of feet through a glass ceiling with a gun, that’s not The Doctor. It’s pretty brief admittedly, but it takes so much away from the climax of the episode for me that The Doctor doesn’t even try to come up with another way until he sees the face of a mysterious woman (who has been unofficially confirmed by Davies as the Doctor’s mother).

The goodbye tour was something that is generally controversial, but I didn’t have a problem with it, it was the end of an era for the show and I liked giving everyone a little sendoff (although I’m not big of Martha & Mickey getting married, I liked Tom Milligan).

When push comes to shove, I thought this episode worked for Tennant’s finale, but when I break it down from the perspective with which I break down every other episode, there are a lot of things that just miss the mark for me.

8 – The Waters of Mars

This one gets a slightly different treatment to the rest of the episodes because I’m writing this straight after rewatching it. This was the first time I’ve watched this episode since about 2010, so I was never able to see what it was going for on the deeper level here, and more importantly whether or not it worked.

The Waters of Mars presents us with an idea that at its core is brilliant, it was explored in the Fires of Pompeii a little bit, but it took a different angle to it than this episode. The idea of The Doctor messing with fixed points in time is something that at the face of it sounds terrible, a sci-fi show breaking its own rules is usually a recipe for disaster, but this takes such a great angle to look at it.

Pompeii is easy, it’s hundreds of faceless people, who we don’t know and have never known, sure they go down in history, but as a collective, not independently. Here we have a base of just a handful of people, who all have names and lives that we know about, it faces the audience with that deep moral battle to which there is perhaps no right answer. The Doctor can’t stand to let people die, but he has to because the event is fixed.

But what would happen if he did save them?

This episode shows us, what happens when The Doctor breaks his own rules and changes a fixed point in time. Ignoring the inconsistencies with how that was treated in later series because it wouldn’t be fair, ultimately nothing of consequence actually happens. The history of the human race doesn’t change, just a couple of the minor details, so is the episode instead telling us The Doctor was right?

This brings me to my exact problem with this episode, and what I think ruined this idea that could’ve been absolute gold. It was simply contained to a single 45-minute story, and even then only the last 15 minutes or so are actually about this. The idea of The Doctor’s grief over losing absolutely everyone is something that never gets explored to its full potential, and that moment when he finally snaps and decides to save them doesn’t feel earned because of it.

I’ve read A Writer’s Tale and I understand that Davies wasn’t thinking about anything like this very far ahead of actually writing it, but if we’d have had an entire series where we saw The Doctor’s pain and despair build up slowly over episode after episode, then seeing him suddenly mentally snap like this in The Waters of Mars would’ve felt like the natural climax of the story, and I think it would’ve been absolutely incredible. Instead, we had him suddenly completely change his mind on what he believed (although I must say, that long drawn out scene, where he is walking away while listening to everyone die, was wonderful in an absolutely dark way), only for him to do a 180 back 10 minutes later when something about his plan goes wrong.

What frustrates me so much more though is that his actions have almost no consequences, The Master comes back sure, but that would’ve happened regardless of whether he’d changed the fixed point or not. Imagine how amazing The End of Time could’ve been if it was about the consequences of The Doctor making this massive blunder, with the Time Lords coming back, not only to escape the Time War but to punish The Doctor for his actions.

With no build, and no real pay off the entire thing just seems so pointless, which is so immensely frustrating to me because like I said at the start, the core of the idea is utterly amazing. Just imagine how iconic that very last moment of The Waters of Mars – where The Doctor simply proclaims “No” before it smash-cuts to the credits – could’ve been if it had been built to over a whole year of storytelling, leading into the biggest cliffhanger in show history up until that point.

Right in the middle of the list feels like the only place I can put this episode because its ideas are without equal, but the execution left me so frustrated at what could’ve been.

7 – The Sontaran Strategem/The Poison Sky

In all honesty, I didn’t expect this one to land this high when I was originally putting this list together, but actually, there’s a lot of stuff to like here.

Starting off with what I didn’t like though, Martha’s inclusion in this episode seemed a little pointless. Much like the Doctor’s Daughter, it didn’t really seem like she served any real purpose to the story other than bringing The Doctor to the situation in the first place followed by a quick exposition dump, which is probably why she got taken out of action for such a large chunk of it.

That’s more or less it when it comes to my major complaints though, all of the secondary characters are well written, with the UNIT officers being largely unlikable, which is generally their point while we also got to touch base with one of the soldiers on the ground in the form of Ross, which I think was a nice perspective to get and show the human side of big armies like this.

The concept of evil Satnav is also something great, it’s one of those ideas that just work both on paper and when put into action; the idea that something could just take control of your car and drive you into a river is genuinely scary because of how close to home it is. While I’ve never been a great lover of the Sontarans as villains, they’re handled about as well as they could be here. Unlike so many villains in Doctor Who they feel like they have a real personality behind them beyond a gimmick and it makes them fun to watch on screen.

There honestly isn’t much to complain about here, the only reason it’s not higher is that as much as it’s mostly good stuff, nothing blew me away or took the episode to that next level it was just a solid episode.

6 – The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End

As where the previous entry was solid the whole way through, this one is much more on the binaries, there are some things that I absolutely love and others that I can’t stand, although it averages out to an above-average episode.

In a weird twist, my biggest complaint in the episode is Tennant himself. He’s his usual self for most of The Stolen Earth but in the final act he just loses something in his performance for me and that carries over into Journey’s End. He still sits in the role well, but a lot of his dialogue comes out more unconvincing than usual and his chemistry with Billie Piper is absolutely gone. On top of that, he has to play the meta-crisis Doctor too who is easily the worst written character in this whole episode.

The meta-crisis Doctor as a concept is fine, I know many people see it as contrived and simply a way for Rose to have her own Doctor, but I disagree with that sentiment; it’s a crucial point in Donna’s story as well and served as a brief spot of introspection for The Doctor himself towards the end of the episode (although that was a thread that wasn’t pulled very far). My problem is that as a personality there was absolutely no spark which made him unenjoyable to watch. I got the impression that he supposed to be this weird in-between of Tennant’s Doctor and Donna, but instead, he just seemed to flip widely between the two with no rhyme or reason and Tennant utterly failed at convincingly performing the “Donna” side of the character.

There were plenty of positives with this story though, so let’s discuss those.

The biggest one is just about every other character in the episode performed their roles to perfection. Donna’s character leaned much more heavily on the soft emotional side of her character for this episode and it played so well, especially following a whole series of seeing her joking about. Praising everyone else individually would take too many words but all of the returning companions did a fantastic job and yes, their presence didn’t largely affect the story, but that wasn’t the point this time around this was the last chance we had to get all of these characters together for one big celebration of the era of Doctor Who and that’s exactly what it ended up being.

Although The Dalek army wasn’t very threatening as a villain they were exactly what the episode needed as they brought that grand scale a finale like this requires and  Julian Bleach’s performance as the returning Davros was absolutely perfect.

Finally, there’s the absolutely iconic moment of Donna’s goodbye because that whole sequence is utterly heartbreaking in the best possible way. The conversation where Donna’s mind began to fail her, Tennant’s tragic expression as he went against the wishes of Donna who was literally begging him not to erase her memory and poor Wilf’s expression as he saw The Doctor cradling Donna is his arms (seriously, Cribbins’ delivery of the “Donna?” line makes me cry every time I watch it).

Ultimately, this was a fantastic episode dragged down in some key areas. If it wasn’t for those problems this could easily be a top 3-level episode but as it stands it’s an enjoyable episode with some fantastic moments and a couple of problems.

5 – The Fires of Pompeii

You know, that Peter Capaldi guy was really good in this episode…I wonder if they’ll ever get him back on the show for something?

This is one of those episodes that mostly remembered for one key scene and while that admittedly is mostly why I like it so much too, there’s a whole bunch of other great stuff in here too.

Watching Donna’s first real trip in the TARDIS is great because she bucks so many of the trends that most other companions went through. Donna is easily the most fully-formed companion when it comes to her character and in this episode, every aspect of her personality shines through in the best light. We see her fun-loving side at the start as she tries to speak actual Latin to see what would happen with the TARDIS translation matrix, which is a question I never knew I wanted the answer to until I got it. We also get a good sense of the dynamic between The Doctor and Donna as she constantly refuses to bend to The Doctor’s authority because she refuses to be seen as The Doctor’s subordinate, she’s his equal and she’ll make sure he knows it.

What really brings this episode to life though his her caring side. She has this almost maternal instinct with almost everyone she meets, especially Evelina who she immediately gravitates towards. Then, of course, there’s her determination to save the people who live in Pompeii as the volcano erupts and her sheer horror as The Doctor refuses to do anything about it. This leads us to the scene in the TARDIS where Donna pleads with The Doctor to just save someone, as she reminds him of what makes him better than his enemies, that he saves people; not everyone and not all the time, but always someone.

This angle could’ve been quite the big step so early on in Donna’s time in the TARDIS, but James Moran really stuck the landing when it came to the writing in this one to give us a perfect view of every aspect of Donna’s character going forward, managing to flesh her personality out almost entirely in a single episode.

4 – Partners in Crime

Fires of Pompeii was an episode that focused on Donna as a person, but as the series opener, the main focus on this episode was re-establishing the rapport between The Doctor and Donna.

The entirety of the first act is great stuff and watching both Donna and The Doctor independently investigating the Adipose Industries and doing pretty much the exact same things is really fun to watch and also immediately shows us how big of an impact The Doctor had on Donna’s life. On top of that, the fact that they constantly miss each other by literal inches at times is absolutely hilarious and you can call it cheesy all you want, but the scene where they’re miming to each other while Miss Foster is interrogating Penny Carter never ceases to entertain me.

Miss Foster herself is quite a good villain, especially for the first episode in the series. Her general demeanour is very domineering and she has this way of talking that’s surprisingly threatening. The Adipose themselves are a perfect fit for a one-off monster and there’s this sense of tragedy to them since they’re just children who have no say over what’s going on, but their very birth is killing people and that fact is seen in people’s reaction to seeing thousands of them walking the streets, people aren’t running away scared they’re just staring, not entirely sure what to make of them.

The one thing I’m not a fan of is the solution to the episode and the character’s reaction to it. They stopped the people transforming pretty quickly (so quickly it barely seemed like a threat in the first place), but several people still died and no-one seems to care. Moreover,  as much as The Doctor tries to save Miss Foster, when she gets dropped The Doctor doesn’t seem that upset about it, he just gives this look that to me says “oh well” which is not how I’d expect The Doctor to react in that situation, he should’ve been furious at the Adipose parents for murdering her like that.

However, that issue isn’t a major one in the grand scheme of things because it’s not the point of the episode. The point of this episode was to get us into the groove of The Doctor and Donna being best friends and having adventures together and that is something it absolutely succeeded at.

3 – Turn Left

What’s most impressive about this episode is that it takes a wholey unoriginal concept and manages to work wonders with it.

Davies did a great job here of looking through and seeing what actually would’ve happened over the events of the previous two series without The Doctor’s involvement and is able to use previous allies of The Doctor offscreen effectively to add emotional impact to their deaths and to explain away the times when the world would’ve ended because of the lack of The Doctor’s presence.

Most of the episode focused on Donna and this was absolute to its benefit because as I’ve mentioned Catherine Tate is brilliant in the role and Donna herself is a great character. It’s clear she hasn’t gone through the same development that her adventures with The Doctor would have given her, but all of the aspects we expect to make up Donna are still there, just the emphasis is slightly shifted to be a bit less caring and a bit sassier.

The episode also does a great job of showing us a very believable version of modern Britain as a dystopia after London was destroyed. The way there are so many people crowded into a single house and the sheer humanness of it all really brings the idea of it close to home, followed up by the foreign family that Donna and her family have been living with being taken away to what’s implied to be internment camps is absolutely heartbreaking, a moment made by Wilf’s reactions to the scene and Donna’s breakdown as she chases the truck demanding to know where they’re being taken.

The last act of the episode also serves as a good context for The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End as that episode could’ve been bogged down with a lot os exposition if it wasn’t cleverly weaved into this one. Billie Piper is just as good in this episode as she always was as Rose, although she does suffer a little from not having Tennant to bounce off of. Finally, there’s the solution to the episode which is another great moment as Donna realises the only way to change her mind is to throw herself in front of a truck and cause a traffic jam.

It would be easy to write off Turn Left as just setting up the finale that came right after it, but there’s so much squeezed into this one that makes it a brilliant episode in its own right.

2 – Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead

Don’t get me wrong I’m going to be making plenty of complaints about Steven Moffat’s writing in future lists, but every episode he wrote in the Davies era made the top two of their respective lists, so there’s a reason he took over as head writer.

There’s so much to unpack in this story since there a number of factors from following seasons that this episode is partly responsible for, not to mention both of the episodes in this two-parter feel very different from one another. One of the things Moffat is best at is setting up mysteries, maybe not always paying them off (although he is in this story) but the set up is almost always brilliant and there’s plenty of examples across this entire episode.

Silence in the Library is more or less entirely dedicated to setting up these mysteries as we get fed so much information that puts all of the pieces in place to be revealed in Forest of the Dead. The “4022 People saved, no survivors” is such a brilliant paradox that I didn’t see the solution to until it came out and it didn’t feel like a cop-out either; but the big mystery that gets set up here is River Song.

The idea of The Doctor meeting someone from his future was always ripe for the picking, but somewhat impractical to execute with how TV is produced – that’s why we never see episodes like Day of The Doctor from the younger Doctor’s perspective – however this was a brilliant way to set it up because I always felt very heavily that River was someone extremely important to The Doctor’s life and her heartbreak, when she realizes that he’s never met her before, is so real. Not only that but the whole thing becomes even more hard-hitting and emotional when you rewatch it already knowing how her story plays out, especially her death scene and The Doctor saving her which always gets a tear or two out of me.

In addition to this, the Vashta Nerada are a brilliant villain because of how inconceivable they are. Not only are they invisible, but the way they act and move is completely unknown to us, then there’s the added fear of “not every shadow, but ANY shadow” which somehow makes it even more terrifying. That’s not even mentioning the fact that it’s a shadow, something which is almost impossible to avoid, especially in a big built-up area.

One of my favourite ideas from this episode is Donna’s life inside the library’s data core,  the weird way in which time jumps forward to skip the boring bits and how it’s clear something feels wrong, but you’re not sure what. We see Donna making a life for herself and as much as we know it’s a good thing that she’s being pulled out by The Doctor that tragedy of her losing her children and husband is still very real.

Outside of that, The Doctor’s side of the adventure is quite the thrill ride as they run from place to place trying to avoid any shadow they come across. It also gave us the first real instance of The Doctor lording himself over the villain in a trope that would eventually become overplayed but here I loved it. The simplicity of the “Look me up” line sends chills down my spine.

The only real complaint I can think of is that the secondary cast, other than River Song, was quite lacklustre as characters, generally just serving as fodder for the monsters to show how threatening they are and the one that survives only does so because he’s needed for exposition.

That’s a relatively minor complaint though because this episode is absolutely great to rewatch, everything Moffat was attempting in this episode really came together to make something I thoroughly enjoy watching.

 1 – Midnight

Perhaps the only episode of Doctor Who I’ve ever seen that I can honestly describe as flawless.

It’s an episode based entirely in a single place, with a bunch of character’s we’ve never met and a monster we never discover anything about, we don’t even see the TARDIS at any point and yet every single element comes together to create an experience that is unlike anything else the show has ever produced.

What carries this whole episode is the secondary characters, of which there are a lot, but they all feel like fully formed people and Davies achieves this in the space of the opening 15 minutes as we see them board the shuttle bus and immediately get to grips with everything we’re going to need to know about them as we get to watch The Doctor go around and talk to each of them and make friends with all of them as The Doctor does.

Knowing these secondary characters so in-depth is crucial for making the episode what it is because after getting time to grow to like every single one of them, we get to see each of them completely break down and fail to be true to themselves as this unknown horror terrifies them to the point of madness. The writing in this episode shows a clear understand of exactly how people react in a crisis, especially those with no experience in those situations and you can easily sympathise with everything they do because you know that you would do the same. If some unknown creature possessed someone in front of me and there was one guy taking complete control and actin like this was normal for him, I’d be very suspicious of him as well, especially with my mind warped by fear of what’s happening.

The monster is also absolutely terrifying for a multitude of reasons. First of all, we never find out anything about it, what it is, what it wants, why it possesses people, any of it; all we’re ever told about it is that it’s living in a place where no living thing should be able to survive. Then there’s the copying thing, which is inherently creepy but it’s even more terrifying for The Doctor, who’s greatest weapon is his words and now they’re being weaponised against him.

The situation gets all the scarier as it possesses The Doctor because again, we have no idea why any of it’s happening. Why did it lock on to The Doctor? How did it lock onto The Doctor? and what is it planning to do now it’s in a body that can freely move? We just don’t know and we’ll never know which puts us in the exact same state as the terrified passengers who completely brake and decide to throw The Doctor out. The hostess feels like such a hero when she finally realizes what’s going on because she was the only person who was able to rise above the fear and primal instincts inside of her to save everyone, especially after being shouted at and branded as useless by many of the other passengers and death made all the more tragic when The Doctor asks simply “What was her name?” only to discover no-one knew.

This episode was a creative risk to take because if any one of the key factors had been any less than perfect it could’ve brought everything else tumbling down with it, but Davies absolutely nailed every single aspect in this episode to make one of my favourite ever episodes of the show.

And that’s it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this, make sure to let me know what you thought of the series in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo! Make sure you drop back here next weekend for my coverage of WWE Clash of Champions 2019!