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!