Quickie review: The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances

I’ve mentioned before that watching this story when it first aired, aged 10, is my most vivid memory of Doctor Who as a child. It was my childhood “hiding-behind-the-sofa” moment, those terrifying gasmask-wearing zombie people having seriously frightened 10-year-old me, although, unsurprisingly, I could barely tear my eyes away from the screen. I was terrified then, but I’m glad now that I got to experience the sensation of being terrified by Doctor Who as a child — the way Doctor Who is supposed to be experienced. This story did exceptionally and perfectly what Doctor Who has traditionally done best — scaring children. It was claustrophobic, and suspenseful, and skin-crawling, and apprehensive and… how many ways can I say really effing scary?

It’s less scary for mature viewers than for a 10 year old, of course, but many elements of the production are still highly effective to induce fright and uneasiness even in an adult: the creepy, nagging “mummy…” motif, the gasmask people themselves, with their zombie-like animation (and those vacant, ghoulish eye-sockets, which I remember particularly vividly from when I was a child), and those freaky “pop-up” moments such as when we get our first look at Jamie, an eerie, gasmask-clad figure in the distance atop a rooftop, when the gasmask people in the hospital suddenly spring up at Dr Constantine’s beckon, and the scene in Jamie’s “room”. Also, do I need to mention the absolutely horrifying moment when Dr Constantine morphs into one of the creatures? I think it was that particular moment that scarred me as a 10 year-old, both scaring me off Doctor Who for years (yes, I know, but it’s true) and causing me to contract an irrational phobia of gas masks from that day forth (I’m still not totally okay around them). What can I say? Moffat really knows how to scare kids.

This was an exceptionally well-written script. The scare factor alone propels this story into the company of the greats, but the sheer incomparable quality of the writing entrenches it there. Nancy was a really well-constructed character, played admirably by Florence Hoath, who truly endeared herself to us as her character. Nancy is ample evidence that Steven Moffat can write female characters, and write them superbly. The story was also interspersed with a couple of wonderful little scenes, like Rose and Jack atop his spaceship, dancing while the bombs fell all around, and the Doctor and Rose together in the hospital storage room. The latter, in particular, represented well-written character insight for the Doctor, an adorable little scene where the Doctor shows his vulnerability re Rose and “dancing”. These moments really show the strengths of the two-part format — you wouldn’t get that in a single episode story.

The script also shone in the emotive sequences, its addressing the mother-and-child relationship. “There isn’t a little boy born who wouldn’t tear the world apart to save his mummy,” was wonderful. In particular, the resolution scene where Nancy reveals to Jamie that she is his mother was perfect: “I am your mummy. I will always be your mummy. I’m so sorry. I am so, so sorry… *hug*” was just beautiful. I’ll happily admit to tearing up slightly at that point, even upon a rewatch. The Doctor’s triumphant, jubilant reaction to the nanogenes’ curing everybody — “Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once, everybody lives!” — was truly joyous to watch, and was an absolute stroke of screenwriting genius, the soaring coda resolving the rousing final movement. Perfect.  I also think I should mention that “Go to your room!” is possibly the most awesome thing Nine ever did.

This story is, without question, a masterpiece. In my opinion, it is easily the best story New Who has ever done, and undoubtedly deserves its place amongst the most esteemed annals of the Doctor Who corpus.

Rating: 10/10.

Quickie Review: Father’s Day

This was a really dark, emotive episode, and certainly one of the most beautiful stories Doctor Who has done. Rose and the Doctor travel back in time for Rose to see her father. They go to the day he died so Rose can be with him as he dies. She can’t stop herself from saving his life. Who, put in her position, wouldn’t? Father’s Day explores the implications of changing the past, and tells a very sad, beautiful tale of Rose’s meeting her dead father. The first time I saw this I was quite affected by the story, of Rose’s saving her father only to be faced with the prospect of the world being destroyed as the price, and it was heartbreaking to watch both Rose and Pete come to terms with Pete’s having to sacrifice himself to save them all. I think it was a good decision to put the emotive aspects of the story at its centre, leaving the threat of the reapers (as the manifestation of the “wound in time”) secondary to the interaction between Rose and Pete. To make the threat caused by the time wound the main focus of the episode would have cheapened it to another run-of-the-mill story about messing with the past. Rather, this was an intensely beautiful story about one girl’s longing to see her lost father. In this respect, both Billie Piper and Shaun Dingwall delivered amazing, admirable performances.

A major theme in this episode was the importance and extraordinariness of ordinary lives. The un-death of Pete Tyler would bring about the end of the universe. The Doctor insists that the very ordinary bride and groom were of tantamount importance. Moreover, Pete Tyler, an ordinary man, a self-described failure, becomes a hero, the most wonderful man in the world, as he selflessly and bravely sacrifices himself for the sake of the universe. The unsurpassed heroism of an ordinary man. This is a touching and heartwarming theme, but, of course, it can be overdone. The scene where the Doctor tells the bride and groom how important and amazing their lives are sets the precedent for subsequent instances where the Doctor gushes soppily over other singularly unremarkable people in later series.

This episode deals with the implications of changing the past. In one respect it makes a highly relevant point in that changing even the smallest thing in the past could potentially have far-reaching and significant implications in the future — going back and saving an ordinary man who would otherwise have died, for example. But the episode didn’t do a very good job of explaining how Rose’s saving Pete created a “wound” in time that would bring about the end of the universe, while the Doctor’s incessant interfering creates no problems at all. This is something Doctor Who in general is not very good at explaining — it’s usually brushed off with something along the lines of “I’m a Time Lord, I know what can and can’t be changed”, which is an authorial cop-out if there ever was one. Not that it matters, I suppose, it’s just a fairly large continuity hole.

I think, above, all, this is very much a New Who story. It’s not afraid to be emotive or character-driven, and, in that regard, succeeds wonderfully.

Rating: 8/10.

Quickie review: The Long Game

I didn’t mind The Long Game. It was exciting and had intrigue, plot and creepiness. It wasn’t a wonderful episode by any means, but it was an enjoyable and gripping tale nonetheless. I found the plot generally well-conceived and interesting. It was obviously an allusion to dystopian 1984-type scenarios, a subjugated and manipulated population in thrall to a nefarious, shadowy power of whose inner workings and true purpose they have no idea. The way in which this was presented, i.e. the way the people were shown to be controlled via the manipulation of news and media, is a very pertinent comment upon the very real capacity for populations to be controlled through their media and their access to information. When a totalitarian power is establishing itself, of course, one of the first things to go is the freedom of the press and free access to information. Thus the population of unthinking, unquestioning drones that had been created in Satellite 5. That the population of Satellite 5 are enslaved to keep alive a great, writhing beast is a good sci-fi twist on the standard “dystopian totalitarian society” genre. However, I was less impressed by the revelation that the Editor represented a “consortium of banks” colluding with the Jagrafess as some kind of financial investment. The tired and lazy “evil, scheming, malignant bankers are behind it all” trope is rarely, if ever, used well, and here is no exception, mainly because, as here, it is invariably employed by writers with warped left-wing assumptions about the motivations of business people.

Although the Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxaroedenfoe is possibly the most brilliant name for a Doctor Who monster ever, the Jagrafess (“Max”) was actually a bit of a rubbish monster. They could at least have designed it better — a giant, shapeless, snarling creature of sentient sludge is just slightly comical. The Editor, on the other hand, was an excellent character, brilliantly played by Simon Pegg. Pegg looked like he was having great, rollicking fun playing the Editor, making for a performance that was a genuine pleasure to watch. Christie Adams and Ann Maxwell-Martin were also both good as Cathica and Suki, respectively. Christopher Eccleston keeps reminding me of how fantastic his Doctor was, in particular here when he and Rose had confronted the Editor:

“Is a slave a slave if he doesn’t know he’s enslaved?”
“Oh. I was hoping for a philosophical debate. Is that all I’m going to get? Yes?”
“You’re no fun.”
“Let me out of these manacles. You’ll find out how much fun I am.”

Overall, not the best story of Series 1, but not bad by any means. I enjoyed it.

Rating: 7/10.

Quickie review: Dalek

“Why don’t you just die!?”

Series 1 couldn’t have recovered from Aliens of London/World War Three any better. This episode was simply brilliant, with much of the credit due to the peerless writer Robert Shearman, who adapted Dalek from his Big Finish story JubileeDalek did an exceptional job of introducing the Daleks to a new audience. It was very much from the Doctor’s reaction as soon as he realised what was in that room with him that it became clear this was something big. The wild succession of emotions that overcame the Doctor really brought home how deadly and heinous this creature was: from stupefied disbelief upon hearing that distinctive growl again, to abject terror at finding himself locked in a room with the hateful creature, to gushing relief when he realised the Dalek’s weapon wasn’t functioning, to terrible, fearsome rage at the despised, helpless thing before him. Christopher Eccleston’s acting in this regard was truly sublime; from memory it’s probably his best sequence in the entire series. He really brought across the Doctor’s sheer hate and fear of this creature, and, indeed, the episode succeeded in inspiring fear of the Dalek in the audience, too. It made emphatically clear that this was something unspeakably evil, and something indescribably dangerous. It would only take one solitary Dalek to wipe out an entire base, an entire region, perhaps even an entire planet, given time—and it would do so gladly. An exceptional first outing for the Daleks in the revived series.

This episode was also about the Doctor. “We are the same” the Dalek suggested to the Doctor, who began to contradict it before changing his mind and agreeing with it, then proceeding to attempt to kill it. The question “could the Doctor kill in cold blood?” was answered then and there. I think that might have been a slap in the face for a lot of those who’d watched the classic series and had become used to a Doctor who would never contemplate killing anything, even the Daleks (see: Genesis of the Daleks). We also learned, for the first time, that it was the Doctor who was responsible for ending the Time War, for the death of all the Daleks and the Time Lords. The man in the cricket whites or the silly scarf would never have done that. Could the Doctor really have committed mass genocide? Wipe out two entire intelligent species, including his own? Kill billions, trillions, of living beings? Apparently he could, and did. “You would make a good Dalek” the Dalek said to the Doctor as the Doctor prepared to kill the last Dalek remaining, finishing his bloody job. It’s really bracing, provocative viewing, and very well done indeed.

Rating: 9/10.

Quickie Review: Aliens of London/World War Three

To me this was the new series’ first major misfire. It’s not a bad story or a bad premise as such, but there’s enough dross and rot in there to make it an eminently forgettable serial. Aliens of London/World War Three typifies what I like to call “Marvel Who”—i.e. over-the-top, mindless nonsense that appeals squarely (and patronisingly) to children. It had comical, ludicrously designed aliens who were uncomplicatedly eeevil trying to destroy the world. And they were flatulent. Don’t get me started on the farting. I can concede that calcium creatures’ releasing air when they compress themselves to hide in their human disguises makes sense, but I’d like to know what was going on in the mind of the writer or producer when he decided that farting aliens was a good idea. I know I overuse this term, but it’s never been more apt: it’s cringe-worthy. I’m afraid this isn’t one of the stories I would watch again voluntarily; it’s a ninety-minute masquerade of overblown camp nonsense and really represents the epitome of the excesses of the “New Who” style. I wouldn’t have blamed old Classic Who fans if they’d given up on New Who at this point.

Perhaps one of the only things holding this story up is the characters. I’ll admit that the writing for the lead characters—the Doctor, Rose, Mickey and Jackie—was strong, and the actors carried the script more than capably. The character drama was really the only thing this story had going for it, and it was sobering to see the effect Rose’s sojourns with the Doctor had had upon the lives of the people she’d unwittingly left behind. It was also interesting to see the effect upon Rose of only a few days’ spent with the Doctor travelling, something that was particularly pronounced in bringing her back to London. Rose has already received quality character development since the beginning of this series, and her series-long character arc is one of the things holding Series 1 together as a memorable and cohesive whole in spite of unfortunate stories like this.

Rating: 4/10.

Quickie Review: The Unquiet Dead

The main thing I took away from this episode was the effect the Doctor has on the people he encounters in his travels. There was, of course, Charles Dickens, played convincingly by Simon Callow, who, an incorrigible sceptic amd rationalist—the quintessential Victorian—had opened his mind to the possibility of a world greater than that he thought he understood after his experience with the Doctor. But there was also Gwyneth, the poor servant girl, who died because of her encounter with the Doctor. This was scarcely touched upon in the episode itself—that, if it weren’t for the Doctor’s meddling, Gwyneth would not have had to sacrifice herself. The Doctor’s interfering was responsible for Gwyneth’s death and was almost responsible for the death of all humanity. In later series, particularly during the Matt Smith era, this unfortunate phenomenon, the tendency for the Doctor to leave ruin and death in his wake as he passes through, is more directly addressed, but here it was almost skirted over, and the Doctor didn’t seem to have been affected at all by the fact that his injudicious meddling indirectly brought about the death of an innocent girl and was almost responsible for the premature extinction of humanity.

Nevertheless, this episode was enjoyable enough, although nothing special necessarily. The highlights of this episode were in its commentary on various matters. The episode used Charles Dickens’ intellectual “conversion” to comment upon the inanity of refusing to open one’s mind to the possibility that reality could exist beyond what one’s senses can comprehend. The bond formed between Rose and Gwyneth was also an effective reminder that, while Cardiff the past may seem a different world, there really isn’t that much difference between our ancestors and us. We’re the same, no matter how much some might want to glorify supposedly more upstanding and virtuous generations past.

Overall this was a good story, unambitious but effective. Also, the Doctor fanboying over Charles Dickens was awesome. He’s doing what we would all do (if we weren’t absolutely starstruck) if we could go back and meet our historical heroes.

Rating: 7/10.

Quickie review: The End of the World

Upon this rewatch, to my pleasant surprise, I found myself enjoying The End of the World more than I remember. I recall this episode being fairly nondescript in terms of plot, and, admittedly, the plot isn’t this episode’s best aspect. But, just as with Rose, I found myself not concerned with the simplistic plot so much; the plot isn’t necessarily the main focus of this episode, but a device through which to develop other aspects of the story: expounding upon the Doctor’s mysterious backstory, developing the relationship between the Doctor and Rose, and developing the character of Rose herself. All these respective aspects are given satisfying and effective treatment in The End of the World. It is—remarkably, I know—only upon this rewatch that I came to the epiphany, which perhaps explains my prior indifference to this episode, that this episode, and indeed all of Series 1, is best watched in chronological order, as part of a series-long run. Together they form a 13-episode long narrative tracing the respective character arcs of Rose and the Doctor, and follows the development of their relationship. Watching episodes from Series 1 detached from this “context” doesn’t necessarily detract from their watchability, but doing so diminishes the quality of stories like this one when one unduly focusses on the plot rather than the character aspects, when one takes an episode out of its context in the character arc.

The End of the World is my earliest (vague) memory of Doctor Who, aged 10. I distinctly remember Christopher Eccleston and Yasmin Bannerman in a dark, cramped corridor, the Doctor looking sombre as he fussed over some piece of futuristic machinery on the wall. I wasn’t paying much attention at the time, but I now realise that I was witnessing one of the first moments of genuine personal pain for the Doctor of the new series. It was, of course, the moment Jabe was revealing to the Doctor that she knew what he was, and was expressing her sorrow for the fate of his people. We saw the Doctor shed a tear—something, I think I can say with confidence, we never saw in the classic series. New Who was making a stark departure in regards to the character of the Doctor: not only is he the last of the Time Lords, but between then and the last time we saw him, something has had the effect of fundamentally changing him. This was conveyed emphatically when the Doctor looked on mercilessly as Cassandra died, begging for mercy. “Everything has its time and everything dies,” he growls.

Rating: 7/10.

Series profile: Jeopardy

Here’s a blast from my past. Jeopardy was my favourite TV series when I was a kid, when it was broadcast on Tuesday (I think) afternoons on the ABC. For some reason memories of this series came back to me a week ago, and I did a search on YouTube to see if I could find it there. To my delight, some wonderful person had uploaded the entire series, and out of curiosity I watched the first episode again, to revisit those old childhood memories. Before I knew it, things had got out of hand, and here I am, seven days later, having binge-watched all 40 episodes, approximately 16 hours in total, in record time. I interrupted several marathons to get through this series, and I feel compelled to write a plug here for what I feel is an unjustly underrated show.

Jeopardy was produced by the CBBC and originally broadcast in 2002-2004. In a nutshell, it follows the story of a group of Scottish teenagers from Falkirk, members of their school’s UFO club, who travel with their teacher to the Australian bush to investigate purported UFO activity. In short: they find it. I don’t think I’m giving away any spoilers by revealing that; the series is all about the group’s interactions with aliens, and the consequences in their increasingly surreal lives that their encounters have. Yes, this series is directed at children, but the plotting, the character drama, the sci-fi mystery, is all surprisingly mature and its appeal is clearly to adults as well as children. It is more mature than almost anything (televised) Doctor Who has produced, at any rate. In any case, the story is engaging and absorbing enough to compel me, at age 20, to binge-watch it in its entirety in the space of week — for what it’s worth.

And the plot is seriously absorbing. For just about the entire 16 hours I spent watching the series, I was sitting rapt with attention, hanging onto every word and every development. The story moves exhilaratingly quickly, which is perhaps why it is so wonderfully binge-able. The group’s encounters with the extra-terrestrial become increasingly intimate, seeing their lives upended as they become more closely involved with alien intervention, and the aliens with them. The series can be seen almost as a tragedy that follows the consequences of the group’s reluctant association with the shadowy “aliens” upon their own lives: what starts as a seemingly fun, innocent school camping trip to the Australian bush (in which few in the group actually expected to find any evidence of extra-terrestrial activity), what was supposed to be “a laugh”, as Chrissie put it, turns progressively into a freakish nightmare from which they can’t escape. The secret of this series is that it is not only creepy science fiction — the elements of which in the story, i.e. the constant mystery of their alien associates, were conveyed masterfully — but also an engaging character drama. The effect of the group’s involvement with the extra-terrestrial on their own lives is just as absorbing an element of the plot as the alien mystery that surrounds them, increasingly so as the series progresses in Series 2 and 3.

Of course, part of the wonderful character drama is that the series involves a cast of endearing characters in whom the audience becomes intensely emotionally invested. All of the main cast of the teenage group are flawed but relatable characters. They start out, appropriately enough, as a naive and not altogether agreeable bunch — typical Western teenagers, in short. There’s a prissy, self-centred blonde; a conceited, arrogant jock; a geek with his head in the clouds; a shy and introspective one; an insecure one; a tomboy… you get the picture. Often enough they’re at each other’s throats, and a number of members of the group aren’t able to get along with each other for a long time. The wonderful thing is that they all develop in their own ways to overcome, to varying extents, their flaws, as a result of their extraordinary and challenging experiences. They spend a lot of time fending for themselves, all the while attempting to address the challenges they are dealt, leading to their growth as individuals and as a group, an endearing thing to watch. Simon’s development is probably most significant — from arrogant, egotistic and macho to more humble and co-operative. Also significant was Chrissie’s and Harry’s development.

Unfortunately, the acting cannot be said to be among the best things about this series. The teenage actors performed competently, especially for the challenging parts they were given, for which they deserve to be applauded, but none of them stood out particularly — except for Shelley O’Neill, who played Shona. O’Neill’s performance already stood out from the rest at the beginning of the series, but by Series 3 she’s superb. O’Neill pulls off phenomenally what, in my opinion, is the creepiest moment of the entire series at the end of episode 5 of Series 3 (that’s all I can say without giving too much away). It’s a shame O’Neill hasn’t been involved in any subsequent screen productions, from what I can divine, because she shows genuine talent as Shona. Also worthy of note is Kari Corbett, who played Sarah — she, at least, received recognition for her talent as she has since been involved in a number of television roles, notably in Shameless and The Royal.

Jeopardy is one of those shows which are an enduring object of affection for those who watched it in their childhood, but which age extraordinarily well and can still be highly accessible, years after they are broadcast, to those discovering them for the first time. Jeopardy, in my opinion, is a scandalously underrated and unrecognised show, because it is truly excellent science fiction and drama. It has a dedicated cult following both in Australia and the United Kingdom, and justifiably so. I cannot rate this series highly enough, and would encourage anyone (especially those not from Australia or Britain) to find this series on YouTube and watch from beginning to end. I promise it will be one of the wildest, most thrilling, most emotional rides you’ll ever experience.

My New Who Top 20

Here’s a celebratory photo of Matt Smith

Readers of Doctor Who TV have, over the past several weeks, engaged in a torturous exercise in determining the best stories of the Doctor Who revival to mark the revival’s 10-year anniversary. The results, aggregated from tens of thousands of votes, can be found here, with The Day of the Doctor claiming first place. The thing is, they’re wrong. I’ve taken the liberty of compiling the correct top 20 stories of the last ten years for the fandom’s benefit, since Doctor Who TV readers obviously can’t be trusted to get it right.

20. The Girl in the Fireplace — A commentary on the nature of time travel, this historical about the Madame de Pompadour with a creepy sci-fi twist is an emotional roller coaster, to be sure. 18th Century France is magnificently brought to life, while the repair droids were genuinely frightening. It is a perfectly-constructed story with one of the most poignant, heartstring-tugging endings Doctor Who has ever done. I’m disappointed I can’t rank it higher, but Doctor Who has me spoilt for choice!

19. Dalek — A brilliant introduction to the Daleks for a whole new audience. The complex and highly-charged relationship between the Doctor and the Daleks is explored in a compelling way, as is the effect on the Doctor of the mysterious Time War.

18. Planet of the Ood — Disturbing at times, but with a great, uplifting ending. The Ood are a really well-conceived alien species, and this episode is just a genuinely good story. This is one of my personal favourites from the revival, a dark and poetic exposition on weighty themes.

17. The Day of the Doctor — The 50th Anniversary special was a great, enjoyable romp saturated with fanservice (which is all much appreciated), but in many ways doesn’t make it to the status of a genuinely great story. There were certain problems with plotting and continuity issues, which can be overlooked in taking DOTD for what it was (a celebratory anniversary special), but which ultimately prevent it from rising to the level of the out-and-out greats, in my estimation. Which, of course, do not detract from the fact that DOTD is immensely enjoyable in its own right.

16. The Doctor’s Wife — I’ve always thought this was an excellent episode, but yet somewhat overrated, as I don’t gush over this one the way others do. The concept of the Doctor meeting the TARDIS in human form is nothing short of inspired, but I think the episode was perhaps a bit light on the actual interaction between the Doctor and the TARDIS/Sexy. The conflict with House was interesting, but I think it detracted from the screentime which ought to have been given to the Doctor and TARDIS. Nevertheless, a greatly enjoyable, top quality episode.

15. The Eleventh Hour — This is probably the best introductory episode the show has done in its 50-year history. This is an episode focussed on introducing the new leads, the Eleventh Doctor and Amy, and, to a lesser extent, Rory, with the alien threat playing something a subordinate role. Matt Smith and Karen Gillan cemented themselves in their new roles exceptionally; they certainly won me over completely. The story itself is gripping and brilliantly-paced, with the Doctor luminous in his new body.

14. The God Complex — One of the best stories from Series 6, and unjustifiably underrated. It’s creepy, claustrophobic, and has suspense in buckets. In addition, it boasts a cast of wonderful characters, including one of the notable could-have-been companions, Rita. I just love this episode for the way has me on the edge of my seat, wanting to look away but unable to tear my eyes away from the screen. It’s one of the best times Doctor Who has delved into the horror genre.

13. Midnight — For such a simple premise, this episode works exceptionally well. Actually, it works so well because of its simplicity. The episode consists of a group of people talking to each other inside a room for 40 minutes, a setting that facilitates focussing intensely upon those people and their psychology. What happens when you lock a group of people in a room with a monster they can’t see? That is the positively inspired premise of this episode, an idea that is explored mercilessly as a discussion of human psychology and behaviour. Who was the real monster in this story? This episode improves every time I watch it, and I can’t rate it high enough.

12. The Waters of Mars — This thrilling episode from the specials year starts off as a creepy but otherwise undistinguished monster story, but soon becomes something much more exciting as it is revealed that the Doctor has come to a group of people he knows to be doomed, and whom he knows he cannot save. The commentary on the nature of time, the burden of the time traveller, and of the Time Lord, is intelligent and wonderfully played out onscreen, especially due to the superlative acting on the part of David Tennant. Tennant’s “Time Lord Victorious” moment is one of the most arresting moments in Doctor Who history, perhaps the single moment in 51 years’ of Who (and counting…) in which we truly question the Doctor. We have always known there is more to this man than it seems, and here he is, in all his glory, Time Lord Victorious. It is an absolute triumph of writing.

11. The End of Time — David Tennant’s two-part swan song has its faults, but it is nonetheless a hugely enjoyable epic. It is full to the brim with great, memorable scenes (I love “I don’t want to go”, by the way), with great acting from all involved. John Simm as the Master is as much the star of this feature as David Tennant is. I love John Simm’s incarnation of the Master, and he is at his manic, deranged best in The End of Time. David Tennant truly digs deep to give his all here, one last hurrah before he departs the role for good, and, indeed, The End of Time is a fitting superb farewell to the Tenth Doctor (the beautiful Vale Decem sequence always gets me).

10. Vincent and the DoctorVincent has grown on me enormously since I first saw it. I was 15 or 16 when I first saw this episode and didn’t pick up on the underlying theme of depression, and “Vincent van Gogh versus the Giant Invisible Chicken” seemed like a bit of a lame story. I see now the genius behind Vincent, a bold discussion of the topic of mental illness. Vincent truly is perhaps the most beautiful story Doctor Who has ever done, although I agree with those who say that it might have worked better as a pure historical, without the big alien chicken.

9. Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead — This is another one that has grown on me after repeated rewatches. Another Moffat triumph, I think this two-parter is a masterpiece entirely deserving of the praise it gets. Beautifully composed, superbly acted from a cast of memorable, endearing characters, it’s another contribution of Moffat to the legacy of Who classics. The only thing wrong with this story were the props of the corpses in the space suits, which, rather than looking menacing, actually looked slightly comical. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mar the fact that this is an outstanding, highly-rewatchable story, especially given that much worse crimes were committed in Classic Who.

8. The Girl Who Waited — For a long time I wasn’t sure if I liked this one or not. There are others where have I come away with the same impression, like Vincent. I’ve come to realise that, whenever this happens, it’s usually a good indication that I’ve just witnessed a genuinely great story. Stories that are an emotional rollercoaster, like this one and Vincent, are difficult to digest, and hard to rewatch without having put plenty of space between the last watch. The Girl Who Waited, for someone really emotionally invested in the characters of Amy and Rory, like I had become by then, is an emotional rollercoaster, difficult to rewatch. It’s a really beautiful, tragic story that pushes all the right emotional buttons. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

7. The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang — Through much of the nonsense in the Series 5 finale, we have a series finale remarkably different, and in many ways much more ambitious, than anything Russell T. Davies had done before in his finales. Although I rate the Series 1 finale higher, Pandorica is my favourite finale of the revival. It employs the utterly ludicrous (yet utterly awesome) timey-wimey plot devices that Steven Moffat revels in to create an amazing, gripping finale that clearly distinguishes the Moffat style from Russell T. Davies’ more predictable formula. I loved the way the Doctor brought about his own salvation through Amy; that scene in which the Doctor sits by sleeping little Amy’s bedside is beautiful, and the scene in which Amy brings back the Doctor at her wedding wonderfully ebullient. Very Moffat.

6. The Impossible Astronaut/The Day of the Moon — This one is, I think, my favourite Doctor Who story of the revival, if not of all. The setting is wonderful, the cinematography is outstanding, the plot is captivating, the villains (the Silence) are terrifying, the cliffhanger was torturous (in a good way), the genre aspects were well-executed and effective. Matt Smith continues in top form as the Doctor. I particularly love the scene in which the Doctor and River Song confront the Silence in their hideout thingy — another one of those fist-pumping “Doctor moments” that make the spine shiver. Just awesome in every way, this story is an ambitious, wonderfully enjoyable epic opener to Series 6 which set up the rest of that excellent series perfectly.

5. Mummy on the Orient Express — Easily the best story from Series 8, it is, unfortunately, the only Capaldi story to make it into my top 20 (although Flatline came close). You’ll notice the top end of this list disproportionately features two-part stories; that’s because I generally think the two-part format works much better than 45 minute single episodes, with a few exceptions. However, Mummy is a superb self-contained episode that works perfectly in the 45 minute time frame. It bears many similarities to The Chimes of Midnight — both involve the Doctor having to solve a deadly mystery in a race against the clock, where there is clearly some supernatural force at work. Both are amazingly effective in executing their concepts, and the production brings Mummy to life spectacularly. Needless to say, Jamie Mathieson is shaping up to be Moffat’s Moffat with gems like Mummy and Flatline.

4. Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways — Although Pandorica is my favourite finale of the revival, I rate Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways highest. Bad Wolf is so well composed; it does something no finale since has arguably been able to do, which is to execute a plot of epic magnitude (as suitable for a series finale) without losing something along the way — the Series 1 finale is basically flawless without being formulaic and predictable. It’s a perfect finale. It pulls the trick favoured in a lot of the early Classic serials in Hartnell’s, Troughton’s and, to an extent, Pertwee’s eras of putting the characters in a seemingly unremarkable setting before gradually revealing more and more, until all becomes clear, and the stakes are truly revealed. Eccleston’s regeneration was brilliant, if a bit awkwardly shoehorned on.

3. Human Nature/The Family of Blood — This two-parter is a masterpiece of storytelling and production. The best Doctor Who stories are the ones that can be appreciated as spectacular drama in their own right and beyond the confines of the Doctor Who franchise. This story is certainly one such story, as are the other two stories in my top 3. Human Nature is not just magnificent Doctor Who, it’s magnificent drama, and magnificent television, even. Apart from being a great piece of drama, it’s also a great work of art, one of the few times New Who has been as experimental and creative as the Hartnell and McCoy eras — and did so excellently.

2. Blink — Could anyone who doesn’t think Blink is amazing please stand up? No? No one? Okay, Blink has an exalted reputation, something that generally tends to lead to the subject of said reputation becoming overrated (see The Caves of Androzani) — but not in this case. Blink really is an outstanding, perfectly-crafted piece of television. I’ll admit it isn’t as good after several dozen rewatches, but, even then, it’s far and away better than the vast majority of the entire run of Doctor Who, from An Unearthly Child to Last Christmas. The secret of its success is its brilliantly-conceived monsters, the Weeping Angels, but the story and the characters that are built around the Angels are what raise it above the common run of Doctor Who stories and into the ether of classicdom.

1. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances — Perhaps a controversial choice, but I know I’m right. My earliest memory of Doctor Who, at age 10, was of shaking in terror at those frightening gasmask-wearing zombies, but yet unable to tear my eyes away from the screen. I didn’t sleep that night, and I contracted a lifelong fear of gas masks. That was exactly the effect the producers were going for in creating this terrifying two-parter, and I’m living proof that they succeeded with billowing colours (as were a generation of similarly scarred pre-adolescents). Everything about this story is perfectly carried out, from the cinematography, to the plot, to the pacing, to the villain, to the characterisation (this story also gave us Captain Jack Harkness, after all). It was New Who’s first and finest contribution to the halls of Doctor Who classics, proof to the sceptical devotees of the original series that these new kids with their new-fangled CGI and their proper budget could create genuinely good Doctor Who on par with Genesis of the Daleks, The Caves of Androzani, City of Death, or anything from the plinths of the Classic Who pantheon. Justly revered.