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.
The Eleventh Doctor is here, running across time and space, being daft and fixing things. But the universe is cracked, the Pandorica will open, and Silence will fall. Joined by Amy Pond and Rory Williams, they face sexy fish vampires, Silurians, Weeping Angels, Daleks, and, uhm… old people who aren’t just old people. They’re very old people. All of time and space; anything that every happened or every will… Where do you want to start?
Philip Bates: The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang
I’m making no secret of this: to me, Series 5 is the best series of Doctor Who ever. You’d think that would make ‘favourite story of your favourite series’ extremely difficult. Not so. Fortunately, my favourite Doctor Who of all time occupies a vital place at the end of this run.
The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang was the sum of the whole series, making it the ideal finale and a thrilling reminder of past glories. There’s a magic underpinning the show, and even in the darkest hour, an optimism that perfectly captures who the Doctor should always be. And there are so many wonderful ideas, and joyous surprises that put the audience on the back foot: the alliance shoving the Doctor in the Pandorica; Amy being shot; Amy turning up in the Pandorica in The Big Bang; and that wonderful feeling of having Rory back – terribly heightened by the realisation that Amy doesn’t know who he is. The dialogue and plot are superb. So is the direction. And of course all the performances.
Frankly, an explanation of why it’s so fantastic doesn’t do it justice at all.
But that’s not what I want to talk about. Instead, I’m spotlighting the three moments that never fail to make all the hairs on my arms stand on end, something very few serials can do. First is the speech. You know it. We all know it. Matt Smith never ceases to amaze; how he infuses each line with something new, something refreshing, something unexpected. “Now my Doctor,” River promised in Silence in the Library, “I’ve seen whole armies turn and run away.” This could apply to The Pandorica Opens just as much as A Good Man Goes To War. My Doctor is that good.
Then the final scenes of The Pandorica Opens: the Doctor is dragged into the Pandorica, Rory has just shot Amy, unable to stop his programming kicking in, and River is inside the TARDIS as it erupts into flame. Murray Gold gives us The Life and Death of Amy Pond, genuinely one of the most beautiful and affecting pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It brings tears to the eye. The Doctor screaming for them all to listen to him, while the universe around him ends, sends chills down my spine.
Finally, to saying goodbye. This was the first time the whole TARDIS team stayed on for a series end, and it remains exciting. River saunters off into the sunset, promising mystery and endless adventure, while the Doctor, Amy Pond, and Rory Williams disappear from 26th June 2010. Vworp! Vworp! Next stop: everywhere.
Katie Gribble: The Time of Angels/ Flesh and Stone
This story has been a favourite of mine since it aired and is, I think, one of Matt’s best performances as the Eleventh Doctor. By this point in the series, we’re over the regeneration with the new Doctor finding his feet and now the Doctor has a sure footing and is starting to run.
It is the Eleventh Doctor’s first interaction with the terrifying Weeping Angels which makes this episode so memorable. I remember there being a lot of hype at the time for what was to be only the second time out for the Angels. However, I still think that this is the best story to include the stone clad sprites. Don’t get me wrong, Blink is a cracking episode but I think people put too much on it. For one thing the Doctor isn’t really in it, so this two part epic is the first time we have him actually come up against the Weeping Angels on screen.
As the Angels became more and more popular and used so frequently, I found that their use actually made them less terrifying. In this story, little is known about the Angels and the possibilities for Moffat to play with viewer uncertainty are at their peak. The Angels are still malicious with the tempting of Christian, Angelo and Bob into the darkness showing their cunning and delight in toying with the inquisitive humans. However, when Angel Bob reveals that the Angels want the Doctor and company to know that he died in pain and fear, that the Doctor made him trust and then let him down, the tables turn and the story places the Doctor on a war path.
This war path, fighting the Angels and refusing to let another man die, is rudely called to an end in Flesh and Stone. The death of Father Octavian is one of the most moving of Series 5. As soon as the Angel has its arm around Octavian’s neck, we all know his fate. It’s seeing the Doctors reaction and the tears welling in his eyes as he knows that by averting his gaze, Octavian will die. Responsibility weighs on the Doctor’s shoulders throughout but it is this scene which shows the impact on a man who has still only just started running. This scene holds so much in balance not just for the rest of the series, or even of Matt’s tenure as the Doctor, but it shows the burden which the Doctor hides most of the time. We get to glimpse, just for a moment, the reality of what life gallivanting through time and space has on the Doctor.
Jeremy Remy: Vincent and the Doctor
There are moments in Doctor Who, where the series becomes something greater than itself. Vincent and the Doctor is an episode which is more than a science fiction story—it is an examination of the invisible monster that is depression, with commentary on the importance and virtue of each individual’s life.
Tony Curran is brilliant as Vincent van Gogh, embodying the intensity and pain that defined the artist’s life. Bill Nighy frames the legacy of van Gogh with an impassioned adoration that steals the show whenever he appears on screen. And (in a rare occurrence) the Doctor and Amy don’t save everyone. The crack in time is briefly placed aside, and the heroes are shown during a moment of failure. Yet, through their inability to change history, while still embracing the fleeting joy of one life, a narrative on suicide and mourning is allowed to surface.
Vincent and the Doctor is a consistently re-watchable episode, that carries with it beauty and sorrow in equal measure. Not just my favorite episode of Series 5, it is one of my favourite episodes of any television series.
Connor Farley: The Vampires of Venice
I don’t consider Series 5 of Doctor Who to be anywhere near my favourite. In fact I’m not sure it’s close. However, it is, in my opinion, Smith’s most solid series as the Eleventh Doctor. One of the reasons of this was of the inclusion of my favourite episode, The Vampires of Venice.
Firstly, I find The Vampires of Venice to be an intriguing story because of the name attached to it, Toby Whithouse. Whithouse is a writer that so far in Doctor Who has never let me down. (He is looking to continue that trend in Series 9, hopefully!) Right from his first contribution into the Whoniverse with School Reunion, which saw the return of classic companion Sarah-Jane Smith in a beautifully articulated episode, Whithouse has managed to consistently write solid episodes that are fun for the viewers at home, with some very Who-like plots.
The Vampires of Venice was Whithouse’s second contribution after four years into the world of Doctor Who, and he delivers us a unique sort of historical, with a small subplot involving Amy and Rory. Throughout much of the episode, Rory is trying to come to terms with the admittance from the Doctor himself in the first five minutes that he shared a passionate kiss with Amy at the end Flesh and Stone. The added domestic elements made the episode a little more grounded. I mean, vampires in 1580 aren’t very emotionally driven on their own now, are they? This being the episode to start a love triangle that would span the next two series, it is incredibly significant.
Away from the subplot, the main plot itself was straightforward and well pieced together. The Doctor, Amy, and Rory travel to Venice in 1580 and discover that Venice has been quarantined in fear of a plague arising. On top of that, Rosanna Calvierri and her son Francisco are running a school with a difference. They are taking innocent unsuspecting girls, who are even given away by their equally unsuspecting parents in the hope of having a better life and being transformed into vampires, never to be seen by their loved ones again.
The monsters turn out to be a race known as the Saturnynes, amphibious predatory fish who use perception filters to fool their prey. A pretty good idea for a monster, as it seems to effortlessly combine the cunningness of a fish onto its prey with the use of the perception filter and well known characteristics of vampires, such as sensitivity to light. It’s a great mix of two forms of life and while I wouldn’t call them scary, they look fresh and different to what we have seen before.
I am a self confessed fan of historical episodes of Doctor Who. And while this is not a pure historical like those of the Hartnell era, it still provides us with references and strong glimpses into life in those times, which is what an historical with strong sci-fi elements needs to include. Having references of the plague adds to the atmosphere and makes you believe they are in Venice nearly 500 years ago. It’s all a lot of fun and very light hearted, something which historicals in modern Who seem to take on with relative ease.
The episode is a little bit of filler, and I know it isn’t for everyone. But I believe that Whithouse writes something that is fun, and something that can be watched on a Saturday night at home with the family that isn’t going to have people complaining afterwards, because it’s so splendidly simple and enjoyable. The episode also serves the purpose of further pushing other storylines that will last throughout Smith’s entire era, notably the crack and the Silence right at the end.
Alasdair Shaw: Amy’s Choice
When it comes to this season, there’s so many noteworthy episodes: the opening The Eleventh Hour starts things rolling and the roller coaster never stops until The Pandorica Opens and leads us into The Big Bang. The Doctor takes on Silurians, Daleks, James Corden, and mental health issues without the ride letting up at all.
Except right there in the middle lies Amy’s Choice and I never get tired of watching it.
Sure it’s got shades of Perception and other reality warping examples of the genre, but it also has something that is quite often overlooked: heart. And at that heart is the dynamic between the Doctor and his travelling companions. No, actually that’s not entirely true; it’s mostly about Rory and Amy’s relationship. This is the first time that we get an idea of just how Amy really feels about Rory and it’s as much of a revelation to her as it is to us and Rory himself.
The threats to multiple realities, the cold burning stars and Mrs Poggett are all thoroughly entertaining, but are ultimately window dressing in what is a lovely little character piece. Why hasn’t Simon Nye written more Who?
Drew Boynton: The Lodger
It’s absolutely one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes of all time. In fact, I would probably be embarrassed to find out how many times I have actually watched it, although I’d guess less than 5000 times. The plot of The Lodger, written by Gareth Roberts, is pretty irrelevant: a camouflaged sentient spaceship (a TARDIS?) searches for possible prospective pilots… in the least effective way possible.
The real magic of the story is the chemistry between Matt Smith and James Corden, and their Odd Couple-like pairing. The Doctor tries to act as a normal roommate (if it’s even possible for anyone to have a “normal” roommate) to Corden’s Craig Owens, but mostly fails in his attempts at being a regular guy. Corden and Daisy Haggard (as Craig’s, er, friend Sophie) are instantly so likeable and charming that I found myself wishing that they would replace Amy and Rory, who I always found to be a bit bland. We also see the Doctor get a job, make dinner, play football, and take a shower–things that people do every day but he doesn’t have much experience with at all (hopefully the TARDIS is equipped with a shower). The Lodger excels when it showcases the Doctor being “a bit weird”, and it’s all the better for it. Who needs normal when weirdness is so much fun?
Joe Siegler: The Eleventh Hour
This was a tough call, there’s a lot of good stuff in this series, and to be honest, I almost went with Vincent and the Doctor. But The Eleventh Hour gets the nod for me, because it has the job of setting up a new companion (not to mention Rory), and a new Doctor at the same time. It pulls it off beautifully. With most Doctors’ “first story” you usually leave still needing to see another tale or two before you totally get into it. Not this one. By the time Matt Smith walked through the special effect showing a montage of the old Doctors (which I’m a sucker for), he had nailed it. When he said “Hello. I’m the Doctor”, I bought it. That was it – Eleven was sold to me at that moment.
It wasn’t just that. I loved the concept of meeting a companion at an earlier point in their life before they became the companion. I loved that angle. The whole thing with “Amelia” was very well done. The scene with the food (“You’re Scottish, fry something”) worked well for both a funny scene and for the usual “Doctor is mentally frazzled right after regeneration” bit. Plus, of course, Karen Gillan in that outfit. Can’t go wrong there.
Prisoner Zero itself wasn’t that big a deal really, despite the concept of it taking different forms. But this is one of those stories I can rewatch again and love it just the same. Are you not going to turn your back? Nope…
Also, what the heck was with that small duck pond? Always hoped it would be followed up on.
Alex Skerratt: Amy’s Choice
Series Five isn’t a great one for me. I found many of the stories hard to sit through and sleep-inducing. As such, it is ironic that my number one episode is, in fact, about sleep! Well, dreams to be precise. I find the whole premise of Amy’s Choice really captivating, as the characters struggle to make sense of what is real and what isn’t. Then there’s the mystery of the Dream Lord, who sadly didn’t turn out to be the Valeyard, but (spoilers!) he actually sort-of-was, if you think about it. So yeah, that’s pretty cool!
Plus it’s got menacing old ladies, so there are some mildly comedic / horrifying chase sequences, as one would expect from a seasoned sitcom writer such as Simon Nye. All in all, it’s a bit of an odd-ball episode, but it’s definitely a highlight for me (in an otherwise ‘soporific’ season…!).
Richard Forbes: The Beast Below
When even Steven Moffat calls the episode one of his weaker efforts, I’ve got my work cut out for me to defend Series 5’s The Beast Below. The episode, in my mind, captures the ‘science fiction fantasy’ theme of Series 5 beautifully – Amy Pond absconding on her wedding night to outer space in her nightie, not far from another British classic, Peter Pan and its sweet Wendy; both plucked from bed and brought to a strange yet oddly familiar world. Starship UK, however, is no Neverland. It’s the UK (sans Scotland)’s booth from Epcot shot into space; an emergency lifeboat for future Britons facing the end of the world.
The secret to The Beast Below is that it almost completely sheds the ‘Monster of the Week’ format and yet, proving the strength of the new showrunner, it soars despite a departure from form – there are some creatures who pose a ‘threat’ for Amy and the Doctor, the Smilers, but largely they’re nothing more than a face (albeit a two-faced one, har har har) of contemporary British tyranny for the audience. Really, instead of facing off against a ‘Monster of the Week’, The Beast Below is a dystopian story of a post-apocalyptic, police state Britain. While Classic Who often portrayed dystopian societies, The Beast Below is a rarity in those regards for the revived series.
The strength of the episode for me was its depiction and understanding of children, a strong suit of Moffat’s in general – only the Doctor could deduce from one girl crying, a girl who cannot stop crying, that the world around her had turned cruel with the acceptance of their awful fate. The comedy with Liz 10 is a gas. The poetry, a beautiful bookend. But the real payoff for the episode comes with the tragic story of the episode’s starwhale and the moral dilemma faced: a sappy defining moment for both the Doctor and Amy, especially for newer viewers and a couple of twists which had surprised me. After all, there’s nothing wrong with ‘sappy’ if it’s paired with a moment, as The Beast Below demonstrates, that brings us closer to the characters involved.
Becky Crockett: Vincent and the Doctor
Here’s the thing – I knew about the episode even before joining the ranks of the Whovian fandom, because I love Van Gogh. He is my favourite painter, one whose works I’ve studied, and one whose works mean a great deal to me. It’s not for nothing that I wish I could have met the man. Yet I never watched the episode until I became a fan, and I’m glad I didn’t because that made it even more special to me. It’s the point where I knew I had crossed over from thinking the show was good to loving it. I think the episode encapsulated a lot of what Doctor Who is about – not just time travel and history, but the Doctor doing whatever he can to help people, doing his bit to add to the good things in people’s lives, even though he knows the outcome will remain the same. Some might say that doing such a thing is pointless, insane even, but giving people happiness and hope is never pointless. And we all know the Doctor is insane!
James Lomond: The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang
My favourite of Series 5, and of almost ALL of NuWho is The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang. Though The Time of Angels/ Flesh and Stone runs a very close second. But the finale rehabilitated the Cybermen as a plausible scary monster so it wins.
The setting and set-up were perfect and the drama unfolding in front of me was so wonderful.
River Song’s entrance, the inclusion of characters and moments from throughout the series, and a top-notch Moffat mystery surrounding the perfect prison had me hooked. The reveal of the Doctor being the terrible, mythical occupant took me absolutely by surprise. It was all designed, written, and performed so well I didn’t mind the silliness of a mass-alliance of villains, including the Fatleks. Then upstairs we had a Nestene replica that believed it was Rory in the throes of his girlfriend’s Cosmic Amnesia, all done with complete conviction but just the right amount of warmth and humour too. The cliffhanger of River trapped in a dying TARDIS, the universe ending, Amy dying and the Doctor being powerless to help while all of his enemies “win” was both utterly compelling Doctor Who and satisfied all of my childhood fan-fiction daydreams.
Then we get a Moffat U-turn with a fantastic time-farce, mini-base under siege in a slowly evaporating reality with an impromptu fez. Loved it. This is topped with the Doctor doing something so completely preposterous yet utterly glorious and both totally out of the blue but entirely logical within the story’s reality… and it’s a very Doctorly self-sacrifice that he makes. And THEN we get the neatest and most astounding narrative shenanigans where the Doctor we saw in an earlier episode having a conversation we thought we understood was in fact something completely different. Bravo. And *THEN* the TARDIS is brought back into reality with something else borrowed from our cultural subconscious as the “blue” item from the marriage rhyme.
This was a tour de force with top performances from the writer, director, and cast – so much so that, for once, I really wasn’t bothered about any plot holes there may or may not have been.
An imagined production conversation about The Big Bang:
“We messed up a bit with the new Dalek design, didn’t we?”
“Yeah. A bit.”
“How about we make them into stone – that’d be cool…”
“Stone? Ooh. Yeah, stone Daleks. That’d be awesome!”
And it was.
Those are a few of our favourites from Series 5. Now it’s your turn! Vote below for your favourite, and we’ll find out the overall winner later this year…