Top 5 Best Doctor Who Episodes (New Who)
By James Amos
When Doctor Who returned in 2005, there was great concern that the show just wouldn’t work in the modern world. With great pressure and high anticipation, the first series of the revival took the public by storm; sealing itself once again into Britain’s heart. I only started watching the show during Series 2, leaping into it without knowing what the show was and what it was about. It’s safe to say I loved it from the off, there’s something about this show that just pulls the public in. The ones who’d watched the Classics loved it, and the ones who hadn’t the foggiest idea what they were watching loved it. It’s now been running for 8 years and the writers have given us some incredible episodes. The five I’ve chosen as the very best are, for me, monumental and unforgettable pieces of television.
5. The Satan Pit
The Satan Pit, in my humble opinion, is a near perfect Doctor Who episode. It’s excellently directed and plays on a certain theme of claustrophobia, the feeling of being unbearably closed in is blatant in nearly every scene. For instance, the base itself being heavily enclosed, the Doctor and Ida’s oxygen inside the suits slowly running out, the chase through the tight ventilation shafts, even the Devil himself chained up alone forever. This heavily symbolises the Beast’s attempt to become free of his entrapment. One of the best scenes features a few minutes of interaction with the Devil, only his voice reaching the terrified crew and the Doctor. One particular point in which the Devil picks off each persons regret, fear or fate is truly mesmerising. The perfect writing accompanied by excellent acting and perfect music makes it a horrifying sequence.
The Satan Pit not only has the Devil, but also the newly introduced slave creatures named the ‘Ood’. The Ood, although not evil themselves, are prone to being possessed and turning into savage beings. In this case they were possessed by the Beast himself, hunting down the crew members ruthlessly. A genuinely frightening scene takes place in the ventilations shafts, the Ood crawling rapidly towards the crew members and Rose as they desperately try to escape; it remains to this day one of my favourite chase scenes in Doctor Who. This is a great episode, and it does a great job in tackling the difficult subject that religion is.
Utopia is part of a three-part finale in Series 3, and it is quite simply brilliant. Interestingly, I didn’t think much of this episode after first viewing, but its beauty and excellence really shined out to me upon recent watches. It takes place in the far future, and it also sees the return of both Captain Jack and the Master. It’s slow paced, unafraid to take it’s time, and constantly building up to the epic cliffhanger. There’s brilliant acting all round here, Tennant especially putting in a stunning performance. His reaction the moment Martha reveals the similarity between his fobwatch and the Professor’s is mesmerising and actually quite frightening. You can really sense that the script is taking one small step at a time as it heads to the last ten minutes, this allows the tension to build nicely, making the reveal of the Master all the more satisfying.
Utopia takes a simple concept and just runs with it, it really is a classic episode. This is just a subtle and sombre beginning to a finale, the true monster is the one being unleashed within the Professor. The reveal is epic, and although I feel an actor change wasn’t quite necessary, John Simm is definitely a worthy and convincing Master. Overall, this episode is certainly a stroke of genius, and it undeniably deserves a place in my top five.
3. The Impossible Astronaut
The Impossible Astronaut was the episode that kicked off Series 6. It’s visually stunning and contains a new frightening monster; the Silence. The atmosphere of this sunny opener is perfect, and of course it begins with the shocking ‘death’ of the Doctor. One thing I try to do when coming back to this episode is to forget the conclusion to it all, which in my opinion was pretty dreadful. But this episode in itself set up the series amazingly, the reason behind the death of the Doctor becoming a huge mystery for the audience. The Silence also play a big part in the episode, the concept behind them being neatly explained in a ladies rest-room. It also contains a less annoying River Song, which is always a nice bonus.
Visually and musically The Impossible Astronaut is really something to behold. The shot of the astronaut standing in the lake with the backdrop of Utah lying behind it is truly mind-blowing. There are great performances from the four leads, allowing the audience to really believe what’s happening, and the lighting of the story is also rather interesting. We start out with a bright backdrop of Utah, we then enter the White House with a slighter dimmer setting before ending the episode in the dark. I don’t know if this was deliberate, but it certainly grabbed my attention. All in all, The Impossible Astronaut is a perfect opener, and it’s a shame the series went a bit downhill from there (barring the second part of this story, ‘Day of the Moon’).
2. The Waters of Mars
The Waters of Mars is the Tenth Doctor’s penultimate story. Being his last adventure before his regeneration, you would expect they would go for one last romp before heading into the dark stuff. Instead they did the opposite. The Waters of Mars is arguably the darkest episode since the revival. Taking place in the first Mars base, the crew members deaths are set in time, the Doctor unable to save any of them. Not only is this a rather grim prospect, but to pick the crew members off one by one by the ‘Flood’ without any chance of the Doctor saving them is quite uncomfortable to watch. It’s this bold move from the two writers that makes this episode my absolute favourite in the Tenth Doctor’s era. The performances all round are also fantastic, which is always essential in Doctor Who. If you have reason to doubt the actors performance, you have reason to doubt everything around them in the episode itself, and it becomes just a shoddy performance that takes your attention (ahem, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS).
Not only is the story terrific and the performances outstanding, but the monster and the concept behind it has become my favourite in Doctor Who. The writers have taken water, the thing that keeps humans alive, and made it the ultimate killing machine. If anyone drinks or even touches the water they become taken over, a perfect host for the Flood. Not only this, but the image of what the Flood has done to these people is horrifying. Also, is it only me that likes the idea of another episode with the Flood on Earth? I’d quite enjoy seeing what the Doctor would do about that. Although having said this, the episode remains my second favourite because of how perfect it is as a singular adventure; perhaps bringing the Flood back would defeat the boldness behind this unique story. The Waters of Mars is simply a deep, dark and great episode; I highly recommend it.
1. A Christmas Carol
First place has to go to this gem of an episode. A Christmas Carol remains to this day my favourite Doctor Who story ever, it’s an absolute master stroke. It’s such a warm and delightful Christmas tale, and it proves that Doctor Who completely works as Christmas television. Beforehand I’d never really thought much of the Christmas specials, but this episode was just something else. The script itself is perfect, consisting of a simple adventure with the Doctor trying to make a bad man nice in time to save a ship from crash landing. The set design is superb, the music is excellent, and the cast provide a stunning performance. The episode doesn’t actually have a real fearsome monster, Kazran himself is the monster of the piece, much like Scrooge starts out as the monster in the original Dickens story. It’s also exciting to find the Doctor completely knows the story of A Christmas Carol, and he is well aware he is re-enacting it to make Kazran a better person.
The story is full of warmth, it’s a proper triumph of an episode as we witness the Doctor taking Abigail and Kazran on a different adventure every Christmas Eve. The true nature of Abigail’s health is also very saddening, allowing the story to develop itself not just as a massive Christmas romp, but a deep, emotional and fun Christmas tale. This is what all great Christmas and Doctor Who stories are, a lot of fun but with a deep and beautiful core; A Christmas Carol is my favourite Doctor Who story because of this.