Doctor Who has remained a popular franchise for decades, and a large part of its continued longevity is thanks to the 2005 reboot. Fans continue to keep up with the series as it airs on television, and anyone with an HBO Max Subscription is able to revisit any episode of the reboot era whenever they please. As such, there are a lot of opinions out there on what the best episodes of the franchise are, and a lot of factors when fans decide their favorites. Doctors, companions, and villains all play a big part in deciding, so it’s hard to find a definitive guide to which episodes are the best.
I believe it’s highly up to the individual as to which Doctor Who episodes are definitively the best, though I do believe there are some that, for one reason or another, will often pop up as a pick because they’re just that good. With that in mind, here are the top choices for the modern era of the series, and the episodes that many fans will enjoy watching again and again, any time there’s a lull between new episodes.
10. "Fugitive Of The Judoon" Season 12, Episode 5
Some may say it's far too early to consider any of Jodie Whittaker's run as top ten material, but how can any Doctor Who fan not love "Fugitive of the Judoon"? Jo Martin's surprise character reveal was a shock I never saw coming, and arrived at a time when it was questionable if the franchise could do anything to shock me anymore.
With that reveal, everything in Doctor Who changed. It's a moment that set the tone for the rest of Season 12, which also teased some stories that will fundamentally alter the world of the show as viewers know it. While Doctor Who: Flux didn’t necessarily follow up on some of those ideas, there’s certainly hope that future works will revisit Martin’s Doctor and the new rules concerning the character.
9. "The Day Of The Doctor" 50th Anniversary Special
In "The Day Of The Doctor," a.k.a. the 50th anniversary special, David Tennant and Matt Smith's incarnations of the Doctor teamed up with John Hurt's recently-introduced War Doctor and took on the Zygons in a love letter to the franchise's entire history.
Stars from Doctor Who's past both distant and recent reprised their roles, or like former Doctor actor Tom Baker, played other roles entirely. All of that plus a collaborative effort between the Doctors' across all eras by using footage really make this an iconic episode, and one any fan should revisit at least once in their life. My one gripe would be that the series could've done a better job at the time of incorporating the anniversary within the main story, but I can deal given how big a celebration this was for the show.
8. "Vincent And The Doctor" Season 5, Episode 10
Doctor Who has its fair share of emotional episodes, though I'd say a vast majority of them work tears out of viewers by creating stories for its fictional characters. "Vincent And The Doctor" does something different, as The Doctor and Amy Pond went to visit a tortured and under-valued artist of his time, Vincent Van Gogh. The episode featured a great cameo from actor Bill Nighy, and an ending that was both heartwarming and devastating for the audience.
I'm of the personal opinion that if you don't get teary-eyed by the end of this one, there's nothing that will make you cry. This is an especially good episode for addressing that even though it seems Doctor Who very clearly changes the future, sometimes the future doesn't become the future we're familiar with until the adventure is over.
7. "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End" Season 4, Episodes 12 and 13
This two-parter was the original mega crossover of Doctor Who, and featured characters from the show's past, the Captain Jack spinoff Torchwood, and The Sarah Jane Adventures. It's all the greatest heroes of the franchise (including Doctor Donna) going head to head with Daleks in an adventure that finally resolved the tragedy of Rose and The Doctor.
It also had a real heartbreaking ending for Donna Noble, which I'm personally still not over to this day. If there is any legitimate gripe to have with this series, it's that it essentially wrote the companion out of ever appearing in future adventures going forward, though the character’s upcoming return for the 60th anniversary might change that.
6. "Dalek" Season 1, Episode 6
The Daleks are the most feared enemy of The Doctor, but that was relatively new information to anyone who started Doctor Who at the reboot. "Dalek" did a great job of selling that point by turning the jovial Doctor into an unforgiving monster. He even tried to kill the Dalek at one point, which was pretty extreme for his character.
It's effective because it showed the audience just how evil the Dalek species is historically, even if the end does put that into question. In retrospect, this episode proved that while The Doctor does like to prioritize his message of peace, he is not above taking a villain down if it means he can protect the lives of many more by doing so.
5. "Listen" Season 8, Episode 4
Doctor Who doesn't do many horror episodes, but when it does it tends to get it right. Peter Capaldi's Doctor was left alone on Clara's date night with Danny, and in the process becomes convinced of a creature with the perfect ability to hide. For all the suspense and tension of the episode, the ending is actually really smart and surprising considering where one may expect a Doctor Who plot to go – which may be why it's so universally celebrated.
"Listen" actually became the first Doctor Who adventure to be nominated for the Bram Stoker Award, which is given to works that have been written to a superior horror standard. Past award recipients include Stephen King and Clive Barker, so I think that speaks enough to this episode's spook factor and its overall quality in comparison to the rest of the franchise.
4. "The Eleventh Hour" Season 5, Episode 1
The premiere of Matt Smith's Doctor was a memorable one, as he meets a young girl, and finds a mystery, but due to a time error doesn't revisit either until over a decade later. That girl is Karen Gillan's Amy Pond, who one could make a strong argument for as one of the best companions (with Gillan willing to return to play her companion at some point) of the modern Doctor Who era.
This is honestly one of the best debut episodes of any Doctor, and immediately showed audiences what Smith's Doctor would bring to the table. Mainly the general kookiness and supposed care-free attitude, and ability to go with the flow in the face of an unexpected situation. Smith's Doctor could often face a situation he was unprepared to much better than past incarnations, which is good because he seemed to have that happen quite often.
3. "The Impossible Planet"/"The Satan Pit" Season 2, Episodes 8 and 9
One can count on one hand the times that modern Doctor Who gave fans a story involving religion, and on one finger the amount of times Satan (or specifically a creature that might be Satan) has appeared. Though even The Doctor is never quite sure if he's in some form of hell, "The Impossible Planet" and "The Satan Pit" two-parter remains a weird twist on everything Doctor Who has done before and ever since.
Perhaps it's that legacy that has made it a classic, or its use of the criminally underrated Ood species. The Ood have a somewhat aggressive role in this story, and it was effective enough that I regretted they weren't used for villainous means more often. I guess the fact that they were mainly docile is a nice subversion of expectation given their appearance, but it's hard to see them as anything but threatening after this episode.
2. "Silence In The Library"/"Forest Of The Dead" Season 4, Episode 8 and 9
It may seem controversial to some, but I believe that "Silence In The Library" and "Forest Of The Dead" represent the start of one of the best arcs Doctor Who has ever had: the story of The Doctor and River Song. All credit to Steven Moffat for the idea of introducing a love story that starts at the end for one character, and ends for the other character at the start.
This story only got better the longer it went, and is certainly worth a rewatch after Peter Capaldi's run. As much as I'd love to see River Song again (actress Alex Kingston would love to return, as well), I can't help but think that adding additional episodes beyond her last appearance as the character would soil the arc created.
1. "Blink" Season 3, Episode 10
Some choices on this top 10 list could be controversial, but I'm fairly certain this one isn't. "Blink" was a fantastic episode told in a unique way, and was an introduction to one of Doctor Who's most bizarre but frightening villains: the Weeping Angels. This was another instance where the series used horror to tremendous effect, and in the process, created the best episode in the franchise.
What's also great about this fan favorite is that it is another subversion of the classic Doctor Who episode structure. The Doctor's appearance comes mainly in the form of DVDs he recorded to be used specifically for this event, and while it seems bizarre and a bit silly, his banter and commentary on events he was only predicting at the time is so perfect.
Doctor Who is always available to stream over on HBO Max. Fans can check out these episodes, as well as their own favorites as many times as they want.
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