NuWho 10th Anniversary: What Is Your Favourite Specials 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.
A song is ending. The Doctor is struggling against the inevitable as he lands in Victorian London, gets on a bus that’s transported to a far-off desert planet, takes on time itself on Mars – and then meets his demise. He will knock four times…
Meredith Burdett: The End of Time
It’s like the ultimate piece of fan fiction isn’t it? Written for the fans, by a celebrity super fan. Sometimes, watching The End of Time can be a bit too much because there’s just so much going on that ticks all the over indulgent boxes that the re-launched Doctor Who had taken great lengths to avoid.
The Doctor and the Master duking it out on screen, the Master’s botched resurrection and the fabled utterance of ‘you will obey me!’ a catchphrase which finally makes a welcome return after 25 years. Along with that you have the Master’s grandest and most ambitious scheme yet, which he successfully carries out, and just at the end, when all is lost, the Time Lords return – the TIME LORDS! Governed by the one and only Timothy Dalton no less. James Bond is now and forever a Time Lord. What follows in Part Two is almost too exciting to bear, with quiet and subtle moments thrown in for good measure to really pluck at the old heart strings. And then, with Gallifrey in the sky, Rassilon in full psycho momentum and the Master finally fulfilling his destiny he was meant to by sacrificing himself to save the Doctor and the world (something he was meant to do way back in the Third Doctor’s era), we have the four knocks conundrum tied up, a heart-breaking speech by David Tennant (‘It’s my honour’ – don’t try not to well up at that line. It’s impossible) and one of the greatest regenerations/ new Doctor introductions in the history of Doctor Who’s long life.
The most wonderful aspect of this story is the sheer scale of it, the ambition and the finished product, all of which are a labour of intensive love both in front and behind the camera. In the early 1990s, a book was published which contained several synopsise and scripts for unmade Doctor Who movies; these seemed at the time like simple pipe dreams that would never see the light of day. The End of Time seems like one of those dream projects that we were lucky enough to see on screen. Seriously, read the synopsis and then consider the scale of what the production team was looking to make before it was filmed. It’s breath-taking and wonderful.
The 2009 specials offered bigger and bolder Doctor Who over the space of a year but The End of Time topped the bill as one of the biggest and most ambitious stories the series had ever seen and for all of these reasons and more it is simply the best of the final stories ever told by Russell T Davies.
Katie Gribble: The Waters of Mars
After several quiet months, The Waters of Mars flooded onto our television screens and washed away the cobwebs from our Doctor-deprived minds. Yet what makes the episode stand out is its indulgence and exploration of isolation. The sense of being alone and without help is what makes so many Doctor Who episodes scary and unnerving with episodes such as The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, 42, and Midnight all manipulating the fear of being alone.
The setting on Mars, so close to Earth but out of contact due to solar flare activity, makes the events of the episode all the more tragic. The main characters have to make terrible decisions alone and when the Doctor turns up, he only makes the situation worse. The nature of the fixed point radically changes this episode with the Doctor’s foreknowledge, how what happens on Mars must always happen, condemning the decisions of the rest of the characters every step of the way.
In this way, it can be said that the episode is almost without hope. There are faint glimmers in the episode, the growth of plants and vegetables on Mars and the moment when the crew learns that the water infection is something new meaning they can go home. There are short bursts of this kind of energy and optimism, as the Doctor watches them all scramble around the base packing the rocket for the trip home, but this episode soon deprives the characters of a positive outcome when the food packs are doused in the infected water.
When times like this occur, in any other episode the audience can turn to the Doctor to come and save the day. As he says, he can normally change a few things or save some people. Even the pretence of a plan is more reassuring than no plan at all. But this time even the Doctor is left at a disadvantage with the fixed point in time, 21st November 2059, keeping him from getting involved. When he eventually gives in to being a part of events, he can’t help alter what is happening except by overstepping his own boundaries and becoming the Time Lord Victorious. For some, myself included, a step too far for the normally lovable, approachable Tenth Doctor.
Along with this, there is a constant feeling of the futility of the crew’s actions throughout, emphasised at the end of the episode with the death of Adelaide showing that, despite the Doctor’s actions, everything turns out more or less as it would have been had the Doctor never intervened. It throws a shade over the Doctor showing that he cannot stop the inevitable which, in the preceding story to Tennant’s swansong, places so much more pressure and sadness on what the Tenth incarnation of the Doctor is heading towards. His death at this point is inevitable and the idea that he cannot stop what is coming to him begins in this story.
Alex Skerratt: The Waters of Mars
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that The Waters of Mars is not only my favourite of the Specials, but also my favourite NuWho episode of all time, and my favourite Who story ever (after City of Death!).
I was expecting so little from it… Being the ‘calm before the storm’ in the run-up to Tennant’s regeneration story, I was bracing myself for something lacklustre, following the trend of most Doctors’ penultimates: The Space Pirates, The Monster of Peladon and Planet of Fire immediately spring to mind! But – The Waters of Mars is, quite simply, sublime and awesome.
For me, the most impressive part is that I genuinely believe they are cooped-up on the Martian surface; the sense of isolation and claustrophobia contributes significantly to the rising tension, and the ‘location’ work with the Doctor wandering around on Mars is breath-taking. Simply put, I cannot fault this excellent story!
Drew Boynton: The Next Doctor
Ah, the 2009 specials. For me, choosing one of them as my “favourite” is like choosing what vegetables I’m going to have on my breakfast cereal in the morning. In their defence, each of them do have their moments: The “Time Lord Victorious!” of Waters of Mars was an exciting twist that went absolutely nowhere – I mean, what if the Tenth Doctor had gone insane with power and become a pseudo-villain that his former companions would have to defeat and/or save? THAT would have been amazing. The funky fly-inspired aliens of Planet of the Dead were interesting and cool, as was the jaw-dropping desert setting… but I remember almost nothing else. The End of Time gave Wilf (Bernard Cribbins) his own well-deserved companion status and the last ten minutes of Part Two, with its glimpses of past companions, was emotional… but the rest makes me cringe behind the sofa (and not in a good Dalek-ey way).
So, if I had to choose, I’m going with The Next Doctor. That’s right, The Next Doctor. It’s Christmassy, has David Morrissey, and features a Godzilla-sized Cyberman. It also has an intriguing mystery – could Jackson Lake really be a future Doctor?! – that, yes, is COMPLETELY wasted in the first half-hour. So much for suspense.
I still yearn for the heady days of Russell T. Davies and David Tennant, but the 2009 specials proved to be much less than special.
Philip Bates: The Waters of Mars
Uhm, why is there any question over the best 2009 Special? The Waters of Mars was incredible, while the rest were rather naff (with a few good moments).
Seriously, Waters is a masterpiece, in the same vein as The Impossible Planet/ The Satan Pit. I love these seemingly-hopeless situations, and this time, the Doctor had time working against him too. I like that his curiosity kept drawing him back in – that’s the basis of the Doctor, right? Ever since he saw Skaro, at least – but he was also helpless and resigned to their fates. Tennant shines, fully showing the grim consequences of being a Time Lord, having that responsibility and foreknowledge. Just watch his face when he can hear what’s going on over his com system, as he’s trudging away.
And he does what the Doctor always does: interfere. In the past, maybe the Time Lords would drag him back and put him on trial. But he’s here without a safety net. There’s nothing to stop him. Then he’s like a fury: yes, he can improvise, he can stop all this, and so easily too. We really see what the Doctor is capable of – the good and the bad.
But the Time Lord Victorious isn’t why The Waters of Mars is so great. It’s everything. I love base-under-siege tales and the Flood are such sinister, chilling threats. They’re so impossible to defeat. It’s water. I mean, how do you defeat water? Water, as the Doctor says, just waits. It sits in the air and climbs down our windows. It’s everywhere, even inside us, and so it’s the perfect enemy.
Then there’s the utterly brilliant crew – and no, I’m not just saying that because I think Gemma Chan is all kinds of great. They’re real: they’ve all got these secrets and lives and families, miles away. They’re all so desperate and fragile.
The Waters of Mars sits alongside Midnight as the best things Russell T Davies has ever written, and I’m so pleased we got to drown in their brilliance before the showrunner moved on. And Waters gives David Tennant another chance to shine and prove once and for all what an exceptional Doctor he is.
James Lomond: The End of Time
This is tough given that the Specials were, for me, one of the low points of NuWho. So I’m going with the one thing that I am absolutely certain of: The Cribbins.
The End of Time had everything that I don’t really enjoy in Doctor Who – monochrome day-glow aliens with spikes on their faces (why? how does looking like a parody of sci-fi add anything?), evil schemes where the camp drowns out the sinister and all for the sake of a one-liner (“the Master race”) and a mad prophet that we know is a mad prophet because they say the same thing over and over again. Over and over again.
But then there is Wilf. Wilf and the “knock-four-times” arc which RTD carried off with such wonderful warmth, pathos and realism it literally soared over everything and anything that hadn’t hit the mark for me. It acknowledged the Tenth Doctor’s narcissism (sorta) but re-affirmed that he was the Doctor and that he would do anything for the people he cared about. (So long as he got to monologue a bit.) It also easily matches any of the misdirection we’ve had from Moffat with the Master’s four drum beats…
I’m not sure whether Wilf was supposed to be how the “Time Lord Victorious” thread was resolved – that he reminded the Doctor about what was important – but by Jove he was more than enough of a resolution. RTD + The Cribbins = Awesome. End of Time: wins!
Those are a few of our favourites from the 2009 Specials. Now it’s your turn! Vote below for your favourite, and we’ll find out the overall winner later this year…