NuWho 10th Anniversary: What Is Your Most Underrated Series 3 Story?

This year, Doctor Who has been back on our screen ten whole years. It feels like yesterday that the TARDIS materialised once more; suitably, it also feels like forever.

So join us as we celebrate a decade with the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctors. Let’s find out which serials are our favourites, and shine a light on the underrated ones too. Watch us run.

And then vote on your favourites. At the end of the year, we’ll find out which serials showcase our beloved show at the height of its game.

Martha Jones’ life on the TARDIS started on the moon. She met Daleks, a living sun, the Family of Blood, and the Master. We’ve looked at our favourite stories, but what’s the most underrated serial of Series 3?

James Whittington: Utopia

Utopia Master Chantho Martha YANA

Forget John Simm and Michelle Gomez and their way over-the-top portrayals of the Master: the only one who has grabbed the real essence of the character was given a few short minutes to shine. Sir Derek Jacobi.

Utopia is your bog-standard new Series 3 episode with the Tenth Doctor being all moody and shouty and Martha doing her best to grab his attention. Even good old Captain Jack seems tired of it all, but up steps Professor Yana and it all becomes so much fun. Jacobi takes the script and teases the audience with a fully fleshed out character who seems to be missing a few brain cells but is looked upon with respect. When he opens up his fob watch (it’s a long story), the realisation of who he truly is is quite superb. Add to this that one of his first tasks is to kill his faithful assistant, Chantho (Chipo Chung) we all know the Master is back to his purely evil best. This scene sums up the character instantly; he cares not for a soul but himself and it’s such a shame he had to regenerate and that the rest of this story became a bit of a damp squib.

Alex Skerratt: Gridlock

Gridlock Martha 10th Tenth Doctor

Nobody ever seems to talk about Gridlock – and yet, having just Googled it, I see that it appears high up in many people’s episode polls. Although maybe not as high up as Blink, which seems to eclipse everything! And maybe that’s the issue…? With Series 3, there is a tendency to either praise the Weeping Angels, or throw tomatoes at the Daleks, and solid episodes like Gridlock are overlooked. It’s a shame, because the concept is intelligent and fun, and there’s a healthy balance of humour and terror, and some suitably ‘crabby’ villains lurking in the exhaust fumes. And let’s face it, seeing those classic creatures return after a 40 year absence was truly awesome. So if you’re one of those people who feels that Gridlock never gets the attention it deserves, trust me – You Are Not Alone!

Becky Crockett: 42

10th Tenth Doctor David Tennant 42

Because it precedes three amazing episodes, and then what is essentially a three-part series finale, it tends to be forgotten and seen almost as filler before getting to the good stuff at the end of the series. It does, however, give Martha a chance to do something, which is nice, and even manages to advance the series-long Saxon/Master/Martha’s family plotline, and it will be the last time that plot is even mentioned in the series till we get to The Sound Of Drums. Add to that the use of real time in the episode makes the danger they face more compelling.

Plus it’s titled 42, a nod to the Answer to The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything…

Joe Siegler: Smith and Jones

Smith and Jones 10th Tenth Doctor Martha

Underrated Series 3 serial? Smith and Jones. Coming off of Series 2, I was quite glad to see Rose’s backside (no piggish remark intended). I never liked Rose once she got to Doctor 10, so a new companion was needed. I loved Martha, as while they did play off the “Doctor getting over Rose” most of the season, she as a character wasn’t defined by her relationship with the Doctor. She travelled with the Doctor, yes, but to me didn’t seem defined by what she wanted. Having said that, they did in the end cheapen Martha a bit by having her long for the Doctor, but that’s a different story.

I thought Smith and Jones was a great introduction to a companion. The first time you saw the Doctor, it was a time jump trick. The kind of thing you don’t see very often in Doctor Who, and something I wish they did more. We saw the Doctor from a point where he came back from the end of the story to prove a point. I loved that. The comedy of him being in a hospital bed worked for me, as did his and Martha’s interactions when she examined his hearts. Seemed really light and fresh after the dirge that was the Rose “relationship”. Good stuff. As was the Doctor’s “Judoon platoon upon the Moon” line later on.

The Judoon were an interesting character visually. I always had a thing for characters that we as the viewer can’t understand, but everyone else can (cue R2D2). Martha and the Doctor sneaking around once the hospital was taken to the moon was cool. Speaking of that, the concept of picking up a building to move it to the Judoon’s “legal jurisdiction” was a pretty hilarious concept. The visual of the Judoon marching across the moon’s surface gave me some flashbacks to the Cybermen in Troughton’s The Moonbase. We also got an example of the Doctor’s like for gift shops, an odd character quirk that I thought should have been followed up on more. Lots of comedy in that.

The villain of the episode was a bit cartoonish with sucking people’s blood out with a straw, but I didn’t have a problem with that. There was plenty of cool stuff to counterbalance it. I guess I’ll be repeating myself that Martha was such a breath of fresh air after Rose, but I was bummed she left after just a single series.

To finish off, I should mention there is an oft forgotten line from this episode where the Doctor briefly mentions he used to have a brother…

Drew Boynton: Gridlock

Gridlock 2

It seems like Gridlock isn’t super-underrated, as it seems to have its fans, but I’m going to make a tough choice and pick it as my Most Underrated of Series 3. Simply put, this is an episode that should not be as good as it is.

The crazy mix of events and characters in this episode make it seem as though Russell T. Davies put a bunch of little slips of paper into a hat, drew one or two out as he needed them, and then completed the script that way. I mean, we have a traffic jam of floating cars that has been going on for decades (which I’m not sure makes sense, but anyway…), cat people (I love you, Brannigan!), a desolate future, Martha kidnapped by a good-looking couple, an unheralded return of the Macra, the heralded return of both Novice Hame and the Face of Boe (Hi, Jack!), and all topped off by an emotional showdown between the Doctor and Martha where he finally tells her of Gallifrey’s destruction.

Oh yeah, and also comments on drugs, pollution, modern society, and religion. Whew! Taken separately, almost any of the above could have been the basis of a whole episode on ITS OWN. Jumbled together and run through RTD’s magical word processor, it somehow all gels together to make the Most Underrated Episode of Series 3!

Philip Bates: The Lazarus Experiment

The Lazarus Experiment 2

Oh, why do people overlook The Lazarus Experiment? Everything about it is great. Apart from the monster not actually looking like Mark Gatiss. Otherwise, it’s a good, solid design. As a failed evolutionary possibility, it works. As a memorable creature to genuinely threaten the Doctor and co., it works too.

The chase scenes are terrifically acted, nicely thought-out, and beautifully directed. And just look at the design work! Lazarus’ labs are silky smooth, corporate, blingy, stylised, and utterly creepy. That’s what I look for in a Bad Guy’s HQ. Except I’m not sure Lazarus is a baddie.

What I like most about The Lazarus Experiment is its humanity. From Richard, from Martha, from Tish, from everyone concerned. Even the Doctor shows glimmering traces of humanity. Because this story shines when it’s focused on the plight of the human race: our dreams, aspirations, fears, insecurities, nastiness, and our rage, rage, against the dying of the night. Doctor Who doesn’t examine death too much. The series is drenched in blood, of course, but this episode hints at a fear of death. More often than not, death can seem trivial, pointless, both in Doctor Who and in reality. Here, the weight of the terrible notion hangs over proceedings. The Doctor is positive about everything, he knows so much – but we’re not aware of what he knows of death. Does the veil momentarily slip over him during regeneration? Does he cheat it at every opportunity? Or is it all guess work? Either way, the man who is essentially immortal seems so idealistic. But what right does he have decrying someone else’s work to extend their years?

Retroactively, perhaps, the Doctor is concerned over his own death too. He must know he only has a couple of regenerations left (unaware as he is of the events in The Stolen Earth/ Journey’s End, and then of course, of The Time of the Doctor), so is he just putting on this jovial spirit?

Nonetheless, at the end, we find further questions about religion. I’m not sure Lazarus is particularly a Christian, but that doesn’t matter; he seeks solace in the church because he did when he was young. That parallel is truly affecting. I also love how at the end, he’s essentially just one guy struggling against the inevitable – alone. Meanwhile, Martha has her family there. She gives Tish a glimpse of what she’s experiencing – then she’s off again, once the Time Lord decides he wants to get over himself, that he doesn’t want to be on his own.

Those final scenes in the church are among my favourites from Series 3. The Lazarus Experiment deserves to have a life beyond its 40-odd minutes on screen.

Tony Jones: 42

42 Martha Jones Freema Agyeman

If there is a problem with 42 it’s the fact it was immediately overshadowed by the following run of episodes (Human Nature / Family of Blood and Blink). This is a shame as there is a lot about 42 that stands out.

Re-watching the story makes it easier to compare with Chris Chibnall’s later Who titles and, in some way I have yet to think through, it has similarities with The Power of Three though in many ways is a far more satisfactory story.

As a Douglas Adams fan I choose to care more about the Hitchhiker’s Guide reference in the title than the fact this is the running time of the episode. It is, however, this tight running time that gives the episode much of its feel, and the simple fact of a looming deadline as the ship falls into a star. Both Martha and the Doctor get a set of challenges to complete and both come together before the ship can be saved and the Doctor has to be as heroic as any character as he saves Martha when her escape pod gets flung from the ship.

Every scene serves a purpose though the dialogue finds time for in-jokes, romance, secrets, sacrifice, and connections to the show’s recent past and the season conclusion. Martha gets a phone upgrade not only to confirm her status, but also to act as the solution to an Elvis/ Beatles puzzle and in turn link Martha to Saxon via her mother.

This story oozes polish, drama and quality. Michelle Collins gives a great performance as the ship’s captain, still fatally attracted to her possessed husband, and there is far more to this story than many episodes that simply pad out the season.

It may not be very best episode in the season, but it is very far from the worst. Very far.

That’s what we think. Now it’s your turn! Vote below for the most underrated serial of Series 3, and we’ll find out the overall winner later this year…

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  1. Peter Webb says:

    Probably my favourite series out of the new series (seconded by Series 1.)

  2. TimeChaser says:

    42 is the clear choice for me. A great use of the post-Alien grimey space ship and a cracking story with a ticking clock delimma. I like the concept of the sentient sun, something explored by the great scifi authors but not as far as I know in Doctor Who until now. Admittedly we dont get to know most of the characters before they get bumped off, but unlike with Kil the Moon, I can look past that here.

  3. Dr. Moo says:

    Dalek two-parter. Easy choice. I think it’s better than reputation has it to be. The last four Daleks in the universe and they have to find a way to survive. It’s a little weird in places (pig men???) but there’s a good story there.
    The story arc was great though, how it unfolded perfectly during the second half of the series. John Simm was good as the Master so the finale is underrated too.

    For me this series is weak. Only HN/TFOB and Blink (and Utopia if we wrongly count it separately) have stood the test of time.

    • TimeChaser says:

      Not withstanding a few minor irritants in some stories, I think Season 3 and 4 are both the strogest seasons of the new series. David had settled in fully, we freefrom Rose (barring the odd annoying shoutouts and references) and the stories had greatly improved.

      • Dr. Moo says:

        Series three? No. Gridlock, 42, Lazarus, Shakespeare.., Just no. I don’t think there’s much to like in those. David’s good but Martha’s only good when the writers give her something to do which happens not nearly enough. The arc is a good one though, so I’ll give you that. But series 3 isn’t even close to the quality of 1, 4, 5, 6 or 8. It’s on par with 7. It’s miles better than 2 admittedly. Well that’s how I see it anyway!

      • McJohnson says:

        Series three is not the best. Sorry but it’s not even close.

        • TimeChaser says:

          I never said it was the best. I try not to qualify things that way. What I said and meant was that, lookting at all of the new series, I find 3 and 4 to be the strongest seasons overall, compared to all the rest.

  4. McJohnson says:

    Tough call. Utopia is overlooked because the rest of the three-part finale was relatively terrible. On its own it works. It is part 1/3 whether you like it or not but this poll (stupidly) ignores that. But I’ll give my vote to it anyway.

  5. Individual of Doom says:

    Human Nature/ The Family of Blood. Because some people inexplicably think that there’s a better Doctor Who than it.

    • Dr. Moo says:

      Sorry but when you get a story like that one there’s no way it’s underrated!

    • TimeChaser says:

      Sorry, but it is possible to have a great story like Human Nature/Family of Blood and have fans who think other stories are better. That’s the nature of fandom and millions of individual opinions. You should direct your feelings toward fan fiction writers who re-wrote the story replacing Martha with Rose.

      • Dr. Moo says:


        • TimeChaser says:

          You’d have to ask them. I’ve never understood these people who seem to put Rose up on a pedestal. Its bizarre. It also robs a lot of drama from the story without Martha and everyone’s reaction to her not just because she’s a servant but because of her race. I don’t think those authors were being intentionally racist, but they weren’t treating the story with the sensitivity it deserves.

          • Dr. Moo says:

            It was one of the best parts of the story. It made it more believable and enhanced it overall. As for Rose, she is just so awful in series two and I was glad to be rid of her. She was good in series one and even in series four but her series two self… UGH!!!

      • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

        Totally agree about people liking different stories.However, regarding your comment about re-writing the story: are you forgetting that Human Nature/Family Of Blood is itself a re-write from an original novel featuring a different Doctor and companion altogether? And what is wrong with fans making up there own stories or versions anyway? At least the story in general is popular enough to breed creativity. If you don’t like them then don’t read them (and I’m saying this as someone who generally doesn’t read any fan fiction)

  6. Mrs Fingerbottom says:

    If we’re talking season 3 it’s either Mission to the Unknown, The Celestial Toymaker or The Gunfighters.

    • Doc7 says:

      Haha, very funny. But this isn’t about Season Three it’s about Series Three. Not the same thing.

      My series 3 underrated has to be Runaway Bride because Donna.

      • Dr. Moo says:

        Come on Doc7, recognise a joke when you see one!

        • Mrs Fingerbottom says:

          Thank you! You got what I was doing.

          My series 3 underrated is Lazarus, by the way.

          • Doc7 says:

            I got what you were going for as well but this isn’t about the classics. I’m all for discussing them but that’s not what we’re here to do.

          • TheLazyWomble says:

            There’s a fine and honourable tradition on Kasterborous of not sticking to the point. I don’t have a NuWho series 3 underrated. They were all accurately rated in my opinion.

          • Dr. Moo says:

            Sticking to the point? Why would I do that?

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            Since we are sticking to the point of this article, why do you hate Love And Monsters so much Dr Moo? 🙂

            Seriously though, I opted for Gridlock in the end. Absolutely love it! Father Dougal, Cat Nuns, the Face of Boe and his message, the Doctor’s strangely familiar description of Gallifrey to Martha at the end and THE MACRA!!! Why this is not a classic in some people’s eyes is a mystery to me. I remember watching it at the time and actually having a fangasm when the Macra popped up 🙂

          • Dr. Moo says:

            For me the only things about Gridlock that worked were the death of the FOB, the Doctor reminiscing about Gallifrey and that Dougal off Father Ted was in it. The Macra are good to see but are woefully under-utilised. I could go on quite happily if I never saw a Cat Nun again — and I say this as a “cat person”. The biggest problem I have is that it can’t seem to decide what sort of story it wants to be. Is it comedy, drama, thriller, action adventure…? It never really seems to know.

            Well that’s what I think. As for L&M… Nice reference to our “Best of Series Two” discussion!

          • Individual of Doom says:

            I just like to imagine how Dougal auditioned for his Who character…

            “Can I be on Dr Who now Ted?”

  7. Christian Hanneman says:

    42 is good, but the title isn’t a reference to the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. “42” not only refers to the running time of the episode but is also a subtle homage to another television show which was made in real time, “24.”

  8. One_Two_Three_Four says:

    If Jacobi managed to capture the “essence” of the Master, then your concept of the character is a total yawn. Nothing special or unique, just your generic mustache-twirler. Thank the gods he regenerated into John Simm so quickly.

  9. nparkern says:

    A hard one. I don’t think The Shakespeare Code is underrated, I believe it has a good reputation already (and its my personal favourite!). I would probably say 42, because it gets forgotten but is one I find to be quite a good episode. My other choice for most underrated may by the last two parter- I literally cannot for the life of me understand how people do not like it, for me it’s a great thrill ride with very interesting concepts and a great Master.

  10. Ranger says:

    Hmm, difficult. Because there are great stories in this series – Blink, Human Nature/Family of Blood and the 3 parts of the finale, which garner all the attention, I think all the other stories are under-rated to a certain extent. I’ve gone for Lazarus Experiment, because I think in another season (such as 2) it would stand out and get the accolades it deserves.

  11. Edward Delingford says:

    Following on from what is without dispute the very worst series in new Who, series 3 at least gets some bump from having ‘úp’ as the only way to go. I think David Tennant finally got to grips with the character of the Doctor during series 3 after the inconsistent and heightened way he played the Doctor in his first series. On the negative side, though, is that we start to see some of David’s acting tics coming into play with the beginning of the shouting, teeth gritting and face pulling which he seemed to fall back on when the writing didn’t back him up.
    I’m a big fan of Martha after the way Rose was transformed from likeable and relatable in series 1 to being a big wet whiney and clingy girlfriend in series 2.
    Series 3 does have a couple of good episodes unlike series 2 (with maybe only Girl in the Fireplace worth every revisiting because of the clever writing). I think only Blink, Utopia and Human Nature remain rewatchable now though. It’s such a shame that when they got some steam up with the first good run of episodes since series 1 that it was all undermined immediately by the finale with its Gollum Jesus fairy Doctor nonsense and John Simm taking huge bites out of the scenery .
    Out of the rest of the run, I’d say Gridlock is an underrated one. Although the plot is a typical RTD mish-mash of ridiculous concepts which don’t stand scrutiny, there are some fun bits such as the cat-nun chasing the Doctor through the space cars and the strangely moving coda of Abide with Me. The shot tacking from the underground to the free sky was also nicely done. Martha in this one is also good and I liked all of the guest stars from the spunky cat nun to the actual catman and the couple on the run. I haven’t rewatched much of series 3 (didn’t bother buying the DVD) but if Gridlock does come on tele, it is one I’d happily rewatch.

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