I began counting down the best finales since 2005 here. Here’s my final four.
4. The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords (Series 3)
I suppose your opinion of the two-part Series 3 finale depends to a large extent on your opinion of John Simm’s interpretation of the Master. Those who dislike Simm’s Master see the character as over-the-top, manic, comical and pantomime. But that’s just why I love him. There are a number of things in this finale that make me cringe, but I think it all pales in comparison to John Simm’s mesmerising performance as the Master. Truly, it’s genuinely impressive that Simm managed to make the character at the same time hilarious and freaking awesome, but also intensely menacing and unsettling—something, by the way, I feel Michelle Gomez has emphatically succeeded in replicating.
Apart from my view that the Toclafane, while a disturbing and gruesome concept, were far too comical (those voices… ugh) to constitute a convincing threat, I thought the script itself was very well crafted. It was thrilling to see the Doctor defeated for once, and to be defeated so completely. I think that doesn’t happen often enough, and in this finale it made the Doctor’s eventual victory all the more satisfying and emotionally powerful. Moreover, the Doctor’s defeat at the hands of the Master shifted the onus onto Martha, who, in her last adventure with the Doctor, proved what a truly extraordinary person she is by essentially single-handedly saving the world. She proved that she’s made of very stern stuff indeed, and how much, to be honest, the Doctor didn’t deserve her. I’ve always had a soft spot for Martha, and slightly resented the Doctor for the way he treated her during her time, and thought her departure, while understated, was fitting for her character, leaving on her own terms after saving the world.
3. The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End (Series 4)
There’s a great deal of nonsense in the Series 4 finale, but somehow, through the impressive writing abilities of Russell T Davies, the finale managed to bring together all that nonsense to form an epic, absorbing, breathtaking coup de grâce to Series 4 and, to an extent, to the Russell T Davies era as a whole. It feels like everything, kitchen sink and all, was thrown into this finale—every companion of the preceding four years, Rose, the Torchwood and Sarah-Jane Adventures crews, bazillions of Daleks, Davros, and two (three?) Doctors—the scale of the thing was epic, and understandably so: this was a big, extravagant celebration of everything Russell T Davies had created. At the same time, it never feels like it’s overblown or over-the-top or over-saturated. It’s a commensurate, dazzling script, and a fantastic way to finish the last regular series of Doctor Who under that team.
The Series 4 finale gave us so many amazing, memorable moments. I’ll pick out a few of my favourites. Some malign the DoctorDonna deus ex machina resolution, but I totally adore it. To be honest, it gives me the chills every time, and Catherine Tate, essentially just doing what she’s loved for—being gobby and witty—is a captivating presence in that scene. Exemplary instance of playing to your actors’ strengths. The dialogue between the Doctor and Davros was electric, goosebump-inducing stuff. The scene where the Doctor and all his friends pilot the Tardis together, towing the Earth home was just wonderfully ecstatic and jubilant, an ode to friendship and companionship. Finally, Donna’s exit, in my opinion, was the most heartwrenching of all the companion exits. It was pure, piercing tragedy, one of the most genuinely uplifting character developments the show has carried out completely, horrifyingly reversed—it never fails to move me.
2. Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways (Series 1)
The phenomenal two-part finale to the first series of Doctor Who, back from the grave, still stands as the archetype of how a modern Doctor Who series finale should be done: big, expansive, high-stakes, emotional and featuring some iconic enemy at their fearsome best. Ten years on, I still think only one subsequent series finale has bested Series 1, and even then it’s a close call. Although the Daleks (a Dalek) first returned earlier in the series in Dalek, Bad Wolf was our first story featuring the Daleks as they’ve traditionally appeared — en masse. To me it’s still the Daleks’ best appearance in modern Doctor Who, which is in no small part due to the script’s understanding that the Daleks, always in danger of verging on the comical, are most effectively menacing when they’re shown to be lurking in the shadows, manipulating events behind the scenes. Moreover, I think you’d be hard-pressed to point to a story, apart from Dalek, which has more chillingly portrayed the Daleks’ cold ruthlessness.
But more than the superb use of the Daleks, it was just an exceptional script altogether. The way it moved from its fairly innocuous initial setting in a futuristic Big Brother House, revealing more and more of the threat and the stakes until the malignant presence of the Daleks was uncovered, duly building up the suspense, was an ingenious device, echoing the frequent use of the same narrative device in many early 1960s serials. No less part of the success of this story was the foregrounding of the emotional plot in the second half, exploring how far Rose’s and the Doctor’s respective character developments have brought them both, culminating in Rose’s returning to the Game Station, possessed with the time vortex, disintegrating the Dalek fleet and saving the world. And of course, this was the finale that gave us the first regeneration of the revival—the most understated, to be sure, but still just as memorable, emotional and effective as Ten’s and Eleven’s.
1. The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang (Series 5)
And the winner is… the sensational Series 5 finale, The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang. It was the first finale of the fresh, brand new era of Doctor Who under a new showrunner and a new Doctor and remains, in my opinion, not only the best finale penned by Steven Moffat, but also the best finale since the show returned in 2005. Maybe sentiment has a lot to do with my choice, as I’m an unabashed Moffat and Matt Smith (and Amy Pond) partisan, but I think few would dispute that Pandorica is a superlative finale.
I think part of the genius of this finale is that, for its first half, it pretends to be one thing, throwing a giant red herring our way about a a big scary monster escaping from its box, but at the halfway point, in an agonising cliffhanger, turns the story on its head and morphs into something entirely different, and so much bigger. Steven Moffat really lets his penchant for the timey-wimey run wild with a riveting story about all of time and space imploding because of an exploding Tardis. I mean, this finale could be described as “Steven Moffat with the stabilisers off” — which is no criticism, by any means.
It also carries a profound emotional quality, and manages to be unusually character-centred for a narrative of such scale and intricacy. It’s punctuated by touching moments like Amy finally remembering her fiancé, Rory pledging himself to stand guard over Amy for 2,000 years, the Doctor’s pathetic goodbye to little Amelia in her bedroom, and, of course, Amy, at her wedding, conjuring the Doctor back into reality in the thrilling coda to the finale. That last scene always gives me goosebumps, surely ranking up there as one of the more chilling, powerful Doctor Who moments.
How else can I explain my choice? I guess, to me, it’s a masterpiece. It’ll be a while before Moffat, or, indeed, anyone, matches the quality of Pandorica in a series finale again.
So to recap…
My choices were:
- The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang
- Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways
- The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End
- The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords
- The Wedding of River Song
- Hell Bent
- Dark Water/Death in Heaven
- Army of Ghosts/Doomsday
- The Name of the Doctor
What do you think of my choices? What’s your favourite finale? Am I raving mad to think The Wedding of River Song worth watching? Share your thoughts below.
I totally agree with your top pick since it is one of the best episode(s) in Doctor Who history.
My least favorite fanale is Stolen Earth/Journeys End don’t ask me why it just gets on my nerves ,totally fine if others like it since it has so many characters return…This post has inspired me to go and do a little binge on DW tho 😉
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I think you have a good list there, personally I would put the series 1 finale top of the list, mostly for its incredible portrayal of the Daleks (my fave monster) and Ecclestone’s performance. I would also put ‘The Name of the Doctor’ bottom of the list – it just doesn’t have that re-watchability the others have and the villain is weak.
It was a really close call between series 1 and series 5, they’re both phenomenal finales. Part of what tipped it for me would have been that Pandorica features my favourite Doctor and companion, Eleven and Amy, at their best, too.
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