rothwell.im

by Jonathan Rothwell

Doctor Who Viewing Guide: Episode List

For a quicker way in, go back to the Doctor Who viewing guide main page

This page contains lists, ratings and short reviews for all episodes of Doctor Who aired since the programme was revived in 2005, and also contains points of interest about the production process. In the future I might prepare a list of classic Who episodes that are worth watching; for now, though, Who has been pretty self-contained since the revival with no particular need to read up on the show’s complex backstory.

I define an episode of Doctor Who as a story, broadcast on TV or available online, starring a canonical Doctor and featuring the Doctor Who theme music in its opening titles. For example, The Night of the Doctor counts because it stars a canonical Doctor; the other mini-episode released around the same time, The Last Day, does not, because it doesn’t feature the Doctor, nor does it start with the Doctor Who theme music. DVD extras also don’t count: I simply don’t have the time nor the money to document all of them.

Key: an exclamation mark ! indicates an episode that, regardless of its quality, adds important information to the overall story arc of the series in general. Each episode is marked W (Watch), S (Skip), or A (Avoid.)

The Russell T Davies Era (2005—2010)

The original run of Doctor Who had been cancelled in 1989 following declining viewing figures, a general dislike amongst high-level BBC executives, and the fact that many of the stories and production aspects were suffering from a lack of imagination and a strained budget.

The show continued to enjoy a degree of cachet amongst cult television followers, and a moderately good 1996 British/American TV movie had been intended as a back-door pilot for a new series. The story, however, proved impenetrable to many viewers unfamiliar with the series’ past, and this, combined with lacklustre marketing from Fox and some very dodgy production decisions, led to no additional stories being commissioned.

Attempts to make further films got in the way of attempts by BBC1 controller Peter Salmon to set about creating a new series, tentatively titled Doctor Who 2000, with Queer as Folk creator Russell T Davies. Eventually, by 2003, Salmon’s successor as controller of BBC1, Lorraine Heggessey, had convinced BBC Worldwide that a new TV series would be a better success than another Doctor Who movie.

Doctor Who returned to BBC1 in March 2005 with Rose, with Russell T Davies as executive producer. The Davies (RTD or Rusty) era was marked by unashamedly large-scale plots, often with the fate of an entire planet, race or the whole Universe in the Doctor’s hands. Davies’s stories were also unashamedly character-driven, sometimes arguably at the expense of a plot that made sense. On the plus side, the stories were highly populist, and the production design, aided by advances in computer-generated imagery, showered the audience with an orgy of realistic worlds, warm colours and distinctly less laughable monsters. Davies’s era also introduced Murray Gold as the composer who would provide incidental music and the arrangement of the Doctor Who theme for the titles, and this is a position Gold holds to this day.

Christopher Eccleston, the Ninth Doctor

Christopher Eccleston was the first actor to play the Doctor in the revived show. Jumping into the life of department store worker Rose Tyler (former kiddie-pop star Billie Piper), Eccleston’s Doctor was a damaged and guilty ex-soldier, the last survivor of the Last Great Time War. With a steadfast moral compass and prone to fits of anger and arrogance, the Doctor softened after taking Rose under his wing, ultimately giving his life to save her.

Eccleston left the show after one series, having not enjoyed the high-pressure production environment in which the cast and crew had to work. Although a shame he left so soon, his series should not be ignored: while regularly cheesy and with too much silliness, Eccleston’s Doctor was still critical in the character’s development, especially in later series. (He also played the role with his native Northern accent, which makes him automatically amazing.)

# Title One-sentence review Score V
Series 1 (Ninth Doctor, Billie Piper as Rose Tyler)
1! Rose
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Keith Boak
Lightweight, imperfect, but a great intro to the series, especially if watching with kids. 6 W
2! The End of the World
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Euros Lyn
Stronger 'classic' science-fiction fling to the end of the world. 8 W
3 The Unquiet Dead
Written by Mark Gatiss
Directed by Euros Lyn
Creepy and well-acted gas-lit ghost story, set in Cardiff with Charles Dickens. (Also see if you can spot Eve Myles, a.k.a. Gwen from Torchwood!) 7 W
4! Aliens of London,
World War Three
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Keith Boak
First two-parter; again, imperfect and has weak spots, but a passable Who story nonetheless, even including the constant fart jokes and the ruined cliffhanger. 5 W
5!
6! Dalek
Written by Robert Shearman
Directed by Joe Ahearne
Chilling, directed with real urgency and baring more of the darkness in the Doctor's recent history, this is not just the best episode of Eccleston's run, it is one of the best Dalek stories and best Who episodes ever. Don't miss this. 10 W
7! The Long Game
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Brian Grant
Lacklustre turning point in series 1's story arc. Not even Simon Pegg can stop it feeling ever so slightly off. 5 S
8! Father's Day
Written by Paul Cornell
Directed by Joe Ahearne
Another gem here: a variation on the Grandfather Paradox and the car crash where Rose lost her father. 8 W
9! The Empty Child,
The Doctor Dances
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by James Hawes
Introducing John Barrowman as Captain Jack
First genuinely atmospheric, supremely-plotted and genuinely creepy two parter, the other jewel in the crown of Eccleston's run. Are you my mummy? 9 W
10!
11! Boom Town
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Joe Ahearne
Deceptively superficial romp through Cardiff with the Slitheen. 4 S
12! Bad Wolf,
The Parting of the Ways
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Joe Ahearne
With Jo Joyner as Lynda,
and introducing David Tennant as the Doctor
Classic Russell T Davies, this is a flawed but wonderful conclusion Christopher Eccleston's run, with a sinister satire on game shows and reality TV, a brutal sacrifice, and an absolute corker of a cliffhanger. 9 W
13!

 

David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor

David Tennant, of Casanova fame, was cast as Christopher Eccleston’s replacement. The influence of his travels with Rose was apparent here: the new Doctor spoke with the voice of a Londoner (like Rose), he was regularly too compassionate for his own good (like Rose), and became very attached to his companions.

With Tennant’s Shakespearean acting, an ever-stronger array of scripts and an increasing fan base, Doctor Who, having already attained a massive level of popularity with old and new fans alike, went from strength to strength. It even began to make a dent on the American sci-fi market.

In 2009, to ease the transition to a new production crew for series 5, Doctor Who’s usual thirteen-episode series was replaced by a “miniseries” of four specials. These were the first time Doctor Who was filmed in HD, and all took the Doctor to darker territory than before: in the final two-parter, Tennant’s Doctor left in explosive fashion (along with Russell T Davies, who handed over the reins of the show to the competent hands of his friend Steven Moffat.)

# Title One-sentence review Score V
Series 2 (Tenth Doctor, Rose, Noel Clarke as Mickey Smith)
X! The Christmas Invasion
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by James Hawes
It's a shaky and regularly cheesy but bearable start for David Tennant's Doctor. 5 W
1! New Earth
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by James Hawes
Rose and the Doctor set out among the stars again, running into a moral quandary, and an old adversary, in New New York. 7 W
2! Tooth and Claw
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Euros Lyn
Queen Victoria, Scotland, werewolf. She is not amused. 7 W
3! School Reunion
Written by Toby Whithouse
Directed by James Hawes
Introducing Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith,
and the voice of John Leeson as K-9
Welcome return of late Lis Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, with the Doctor, Rose and Mickey undercover investigating weird goings-on at a school. 7 W
4 The Girl in the Fireplace
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Euros Lyn
Time catches up with the Doctor and Madame de Pompadour. 9 W
5! Rise of the Cybermen,
Age of Steel
Written by Tom McRae
Directed by Graeme Harper
Extremely well-set re-imagining of a classic Who villain with a new emphasis on mortality, alternate universes and cybernetic horror. 8 W
6!
7 The Idiot's Lantern
Written by Mark Gatiss
Directed by Euros Lyn
Somewhat poor attempt at domestic drama in 50s Britain with mediocre monster and wasted potential. 3 S
8! The Impossible Planet,
The Satan Pit
Written by Matt Jones
Directed by James Strong
The Devil appears in this densely-scripted, atmospheric, tense story which introduces the Ood for the first time. Superb. 9 W
9!
10 Love & Monsters
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Dan Zeff
With Marc Warren as Elton
Very poor "Doctor-lite" story which starts off with a great premise, but nosedives quickly with a totally unnecessary sex joke at the end. Avoid like bubonic plague. 1 A
11! Fear Her
Written by Matthew Graham
Directed by Euros Lyn
Mediocre glurge set during the 2012 Olympic Games. This REALLY shows its age now the 2012 Olympics have actually happened, and could've done with better focus. 4 S
12! Army of Ghosts,
Doomsday
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Graeme Harper
Mawkish, goofy, but exceptionally tense and unusually tightly-woven farewell to Rose, featuring explosive action. 8 W
13!
Series 3 (Freema Agyeman as Martha Jones)
X! The Runaway Bride
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Euros Lyn
Introducing Catherine Tate as Donna Noble
Odd and entertaining Christmassy adventure, with a jilted bride and a spider queen below London. Also introduces Donna Noble, arguably the best of the post-2005 companions to date. 7 W
1! Smith and Jones
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Charles Palmer
A comic character intro for the immediately likeable Martha Jones. 7 W
2 The Shakespeare Code
Written by Gareth Roberts
Directed by Euros Lyn
Playful and intelligent historical tale with Shakespeare and witches. 7 W
3! Gridlock
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Richard Clark
Dystopian return to the events of New Earth. 8 W
4! Daleks In Manhattan,
Evolution of the Daleks
Written by Helen Raynor
Directed by James Strong
It's hard to put my finger on why this feels 'off,' because the script is strong and the concept of human-Daleks is suitably sickening. Maybe it's the acting on the periphery, which is occasionally excruciating. 5 S
5!
6! The Lazarus Experiment
Written by Stephen Greenhorn
Directed by Richard Clark
Another mad-scientist commentary on death and decay, with regular writer Mark Gatiss. 6 W
7! 42
Written by Chris Chibnall
Directed by Graeme Harper
Tense sci-fi thriller on a starship with dense moralism. 8 W
8! Human Nature,
The Family of Blood
Written by Paul Cornell
Directed by Charles Palmer
One of the highlights of David Tennant's tenure as Doctor, a period story in which the Doctor 'hides' inside a Time Lord device and disguises himself as a human. 10 W
9!
10! Blink
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Hettie MacDonald
With Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrow
Terrifying thriller enjoying well-deserved universal cachet, with a deft script and genuinely beautiful direction and cinematography. DO. NOT. BLINK. 10 W
11! Utopia,
The Sound of Drums,
Last of the Time Lords
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Graeme Harper (Part One)
and Colin Teague (Parts Two and Three)
With Derek Jacobi as Professor Yana,
John Barrowman as Captain Jack,
and introducing John Simm as the Master.
Sprawling, meticulously-filmed, shocking thriller that moves quickly from humble beginnings to an apocalyptic cliffhanger to part one, and shocking revelations in part three, effortlessly spanning trillions of years. The climax, however, will be love-it-or-hate-it, because it shows that Russell T Davies hurriedly wrote it in four days. 7 W
12!
13!
CIN Time Crash
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Graeme Harper
With Peter Davison as the Doctor
Children in Need comedy special. Catch online if you can.
Series 4 (Catherine Tate as Donna Noble, Freema Agyeman as Martha.)
X! Voyage of the Damned
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by James Strong
With Kylie Minogue as Astrid,
Russell Tovey as Midshipman Frame,
and introducing Bernard Cribbins as Wilfred Mott
Melancholic Poseidon Adventure remake with superb performances from all. Surprisingly dark and grim for a Christmas special, but I think it works really well. (Others disagree.) 9 W
1! Partners in Crime
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by James Strong
Very goofy welcome back to Donna Noble... and Wilf, from the previous special. 8 W
2 The Fires of Pompeii
Written by James Moran
Directed by Colin Teague
Visceral yet clumsily-written story about changing the past on Volcano Day. (Guest-starring Peter Capaldi, who goes on to play the twelfth Doctor... but also see if you can spot Karen Gillan, a.k.a. Amy Pond!) 6 W
3! Planet of the Ood
Written by Keith Temple
Directed by Graeme Harper
A highly unexpected story exploring the Ood, how they came to be a service race, with a suitable carnival of corporate bastards, and themes of slavery. 9 W
4 The Sontaran Stratagem,
The Poison Sky
Written by Helen Raynor
Directed by Douglas Mackinnon
With Freema Agyeman as Martha
Somewhat lacking action-themed story re-introducing the Sontarans to the programme. 6 S
5!
6! The Doctor's Daughter
Written by Stephen Greenhorn
Directed by Alice Troughton
Occasionally mawkish but very clever tale set on a distant colony. 7 W
7 The Unicorn and the Wasp
Written by Gareth Roberts
Directed by Graeme Harper
Definite "romp" status for this Agatha Christie-themed episode. It's a great shame that the 'frame story,' with an elderly Agatha, were cut completely. 5 S
8! Silence in the Library,
Forest of the Dead
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Euros Lyn
Introducing Alex Kingston as River Song
Another tremendously atmospheric and scary two-parter from Moffat. A library planet, deadly shadows, malfunctioning AI, simulated reality, a little girl's dreams, and a mysterious woman from the Doctor's future. Idea-driven science fiction at its best. 10 W
9!
10 Midnight
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Alice Troughton
With Lesley Sharp as Sky.
Extremely well-conceived psycho-thriller set on a bus, with claustrophobia, the worst of the human condition and terrific acting and directing. 10 W
11 Turn Left
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Graeme Harper
With Billie Piper as Rose Tyler
Excellent acting from Tate bolsters this alternate-history story with a brilliant cliffhanger leading into the finale. 9 W
12! The Stolen Earth,
Journey's End
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Graeme Harper
With Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane,
Freema Agyeman as Martha,
John Barrowman as Captain Jack,
Billie Piper as Rose,
and Julian Bleach as Davros.
Unashamed fanwank made a hundred times better than it deserves to be by a heartbreaking dénouement and a suitably menacing arch-nemesis. Although the budget problems show at times, the presence of Davros, creator of the Daleks and one of the Doctor's oldest foes, is simply magical. 7 W
13!
2009 Specials
1 The Next Doctor
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Andy Goddard
With David Morrissey as the Other Doctor.
Well-acted but ho-hum Victorian-themed hour-long cliché with Cybermen. 6 S
2! Planet of the Dead
Written by Russell T Davies & Gareth Roberts
Directed by James Strong
With Michelle Ryan as Catwoman Lady Christina.
A wormhole, a flying bus, giant stingray-monsters, and Lee Evans. Enough said. 6 W
3! The Waters of Mars
Written by Russell T Davies & Phil Ford
Directed by Graeme Harper
With Lindsay Duncan as Adelaide Brooke.
Immediately launched the Specials, and Tennant's Doctor, into darker territory. This story boldly retreads the changing-the-past storyline in a frightening and bleak sci-fi horror environment. The result feels like a flawed yet brilliant cross between Alien and Blake's Seven. 9 W
4! The End of Time
(2 part story)
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Euros Lyn
With Bernard Cribbins as Wilf,
Catherine Tate as Donna,
John Simm as the Master,
Timothy Dalton as Rassilon,
and introducing Matt Smith as the Doctor.
Manic, emotionally-charged and with a signature prolonged farewell, this adventure features one of the Doctor' most ancient nemeses and the fulfilment of the prophecy of the Doctor's death. 8 W
5!

 

The Steven Moffat Era (2010—date)

Steven Moffat took over the role of head writer from Russell T Davies with the first episode of Series 5, The Eleventh Hour. Moffat’s era has, so far, been dominated by a heavy reliance on “puzzle-box” style stories.

The storytelling style has evolved from Davies’s loose story arcs to a tightly-woven “master plan” with critical details being spread over multiple episodes, and, in many cases, multiple series: a style that has, to all intents and purposes, succeeded thanks to the availability of the iPlayer, making it easier for casual viewers to catch up on missed episodes. From series 6, the series were divided into two parts, creating a mid-series “hiatus” and to ensure that the tail end of the series was not broadcast during high summer when most people wouldn’t be spending their evenings inside, watching TV.

Matt Smith’s Doctor is at first joined by Amy Pond, and her boyfriend (later husband) Rory Williams. The mysterious River Song, who first appeared in Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, becomes a recurring character.

Although Moffat’s stories superficially seem more whimsical than Davies’s, there are darker themes in his episodes that match his idea of Doctor Who as a fairy story: for instance, the Doctor’s dislike of endings, and his friends’ ageing and death, is repeatedly emphasised. Amy Pond’s arc features grim aspects of a girl who has trouble growing up, and a woman whose reproductive choices are perpetually stifled by third parties. River Song is a character raised by evil forces, damaged and bred as a tool, a means to an end.

Series 7 marked a change in the show’s direction: apart from being primarily aired in the Autumn and early Spring (with darker nights that Moffat felt were better suited to showing the programme) the focus was on “compressed storytelling.” There were no two-parters, and Moffat instructed the writers to “slut it up” and write each episode as if it were a blockbuster movie. This has been matched with themed titles for each episode and “movie posters” issued on the Doctor Who website for each story.

Amy and Rory left in astonishing fashion in The Angels Take Manhattan. In the following episode, The Snowmen, a more melancholy Doctor met the mysterious Clara Oswald, played by Jenna Coleman.

Series 7/2 features Clara as its full-time companion. The filmic style continued, with ever-grander settings, episode titles that could have come from a hall of fame of great movie posters, and a frankly astonishing finale that played with and altered the very fabric of the show.

Doctor Who celebrated its fiftieth anniversary on 23rd November 2013. To mark this event, a special episode aired, The Day of the Doctor. In addition to Clara and Matt Smith’s Doctor, it also saw David Tennant (the Tenth Doctor) and Billie Piper returning, co-starring with John Hurt (of Alien fame.) The special became the biggest drama simulcast in history, being shown simultaneously on six separate continents and also shown in many cinemas.

In June 2013, it was announced that Matt Smith would be leaving the show in the Christmas Special of this year—as good a time as any, on the tail end of the anniversary celebrations. His departure after four years in the role marked the end of Doctor Who’s 50th year on TV, in The Time of the Doctor.

Matt Smith, the Eleventh Doctor

Matt Smith was the youngest actor ever to play the role of the Doctor, but this is not in any way an impediment: indeed, the performance Smith gives is frankly astonishing. Smith’s Doctor is old, and he knows it: whilst quixotic and bewitching, he is also clearly damaged and weary of his own past.

Prone to mood swings, the Eleventh Doctor is perhaps the most clearly fleshed-out incarnation of the character to date. Beginning his life crashing into the garden of a young Scottish girl with the universe pouring through a crack in her bedroom wall, he spends at least two hundred years chasing a mysterious archaeologist from his own future, fighting mysterious forces who want him dead, and still somehow finding time to don novelty hats in between. Smith genuinely shines in nearly every episode: for a great example, see this scene from The Bells of Saint John, in which the Doctor transitions from whimsical ebullience to a cold, forceful rage in an effortless glide from slapstick caricature to grisly humour.

# Title One-sentence review Score V
Series 5 (Eleventh Doctor, Karen Gillan as Amy Pond.)
1! The Eleventh Hour
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Adam Smith
A bombastic, charming welcome for Matt Smith's Doctor, as he crashes into a little girl's garden. 9 W
2! The Beast Below
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Andrew Gunn
Mysterious wibblings aboard Starship UK. 8 W
3 Victory of the Daleks
Written by Mark Gatiss
Directed by Andrew Gunn
Disappointingly, only worth it if you like the idea of iDaleks. 3 S
4! The Time of Angels,
Flesh and Stone
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Adam Smith
With Alex Kingston as River Song.
Atmospheric, terrifying successor to Blink! with a Weeping Angel hiding amongst catacombs filled with statues. 9 W
5!
6! The Vampires of Venice
Written by Toby Whithouse
Directed by Jonny Campbell
A lightweight romp through 16th-century Venice with sinister undertones. 7 W
7 Amy's Choice
Written by Simon Nye
Directed by Catherine Morshead
A bit like Inception, but with more killer old ladies. 7 W
8! The Hungry Earth,
Cold Blood
Written by Chris Chibnall
Directed by Ashley Way
Meat-and-veg Doctor Who with a rather dull space-opera styled plot. Ultimately given a much-needed kick up the arse by the ending. 6 W
9!
10! Vincent and the Doctor
Written by Richard Curtis
Directed by Jonny Campbell
With Bill Nighy as Dr Black,
and Tony Curran as Vincent van Gogh
Biggest and best surprise of the series: funny, poignant and sweet historical drama and insight into the tragic brilliance of Vincent van Gogh, although the monster feels a bit superficial. 9 W
11! The Lodger
Written by Gareth Roberts
Directed by Catherine Morshead
With James Corden as Craig.
Adequate "domestic" story set in Colchester. 6 W
12! The Pandorica Opens,
The Big Bang
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Toby Haynes
Occasionally too clever for its own good, this fast-moving thriller is Moffat's first series finale. An ancient historical artefact, graffiti from the beginning of time, and a love story spanning millennia. 9 W
13!
2010 Christmas special (Sir Michael Gambon as Kazran Sardick, and Katherine Jenkins as Abigail.)
X A Christmas Carol
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Toby Haynes
Beautiful, Christmassy homage to Dickens. A genuinely heartwarming festive fable. Wonderful. 10 W
Series 6/1 (Amy, Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams, Alex Kingston as River Song.)
1! The Impossible Astronaut,
Day of the Moon
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Toby Haynes
With Mark Sheppard as Canton Everett Delaware III.
Shocking from the outset, Steven Moffat's brilliant introduction to Series 6 is exquisitely shot, with a disturbing new villain. 10 W
2!
3! The Curse of the Black Spot
Written by Stephen Thompson
Directed by Jeremy Webb
Pretty but mediocre swashbuckling and sirens. 4 S
4! The Doctor's Wife
Written by Neil Gaiman
Directed by Richard Clark
With Suranne Jones as Idris/Sexy
Simply perfect. High-concept, beautifully written, tight and whimsical joy... the Doctor, and the TARDIS. 10 W
5! The Rebel Flesh,
The Almost People
Written by Matthew Graham
Directed by Julian Simpson
Somewhat wonky in execution, this feels like a waste of an excellent concept and the beautiful environment of an ancient castle fitted out with biotechnology. Has critical importance to future episodes, however, so cannot be missed. 5 W
6!
7! A Good Man Goes to War
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Peter Hoar
With Frances Barber as Madame Kovarian.
Ominous, occasionally clunky mid-season finale, with grand settings, creepy monsters and the big reveal—just who is River Song? 9 W
Series 6/2
8! Let's Kill Hitler
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Richard Senior
Everything about it is outrageous, maddeningly fast-paced, quixotic madness. Regularly too clever and ridiculous for its own good. 7 W
9 Night Terrors
Written by Mark Gatiss
Directed by Richard Clark
Unusually clever and sinister, let down by stupid mawkish resolution. 7 W
10 The Girl Who Waited
Written by Tom McRae
Directed by Nick Hurran
With Imelda Staunton.
Rare, sublime, beautiful, desperately sad timey-wimey drama. 10 W
11! The God Complex
Written by Toby Whithouse
Directed by Nick Hurran
With Amara Karan as Rita.
Creepy, The Shining-inspired psychodrama with religious undertones. 8 W
12! Closing Time
Written by Gareth Roberts
Directed by Steve Hughes
With James Corden as Craig.
The return of Craig (The Lodger) in a mawkish Cybermen story. 6 W
13! The Wedding of River Song
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Jeremy Webb
With Frances Barber as Kovarian,
and Simon Fisher-Becker as Dorium Maldovar.
Trademark Moffat finale: blistering pace, answers hidden in plain sight, and yet more loose ends to bring us in to next series. All backed up by a superb performance from Matt Smith. Something feels a little empty, though: there's so much plot there's little time for meaningful character moments. 8 W
2011 Christmas special (Claire Skinner as Madge, Maurice Cole as Cyril, and Holly Earl as Lily.)
X! The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Farren Blackburn
At any other time of the year I'd be tearing into this for a nonsensical plot, physics faux-pas and mawkish sentimentality. It's Christmas, though, and the last five minutes are simply stunning. 7 W
Series 7/1
1! Asylum of the Daleks
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Nick Hurran
With Jenna Coleman as Oswin.
Fantastic revitalisation for the Daleks who've been floundering in "reliably defeatable" territory. Less impressive is the domestic situation between Amy and Rory, resolved too happily far too quickly. 8 W
2 Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
Written by Chris Chibnall
Directed by Saul Metzstein
With David Bradley as Solomon.
Unexpectedly dark romp through a spaceship—with dinosaurs, Nefertiti, and wonderful character moments. 8 W
3 A Town Called Mercy
Written by Toby Whithouse
Directed by Saul Metzstein
Grim, albeit predictable, Spaghetti Western with an alien cyborg on the loose. 7 W
4 The Power of Three
Written by Chris Chibnall
Directed by Douglas Mackinnon
Introducing Jemma Redgrave as Kate Lethbridge-Stewart.
Big "what-if" drama featuring UNIT, with heavy-hearted and earnest themes, but the lack of a proper resolution kills it. 7 W
5! The Angels Take Manhattan
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Nick Hurran
With Alex Kingston as River Song.
The Angels are back, and this time they've invaded New York. With River Song and a race through time. 7 W
2012 Christmas special (Neve McIntosh as Vastra, Dan Starkey as Strax, Richard E Grant as Simeon, Tom Ward as Latimer, and introducing Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald.)
X! The Snowmen
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Saul Metzstein
A reclusive Doctor is beaten out of retirement by the Paternoster Gang: a lesbian Silurian detective, her wife, and a thick Sontaran medic. The monster is fairly standard fare, but it's thankfully a sideshow in a cracking Christmas adventure. 9 W
Series 7/2 (Jenna Coleman as Clara.)
1! The Bells of Saint John
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Colm McCarthy
A return to creepy form for Steven Moffat's monsters. A story arc is set up with this impressive techno-thriller, with sinister undertones and, at last, a 'proper' debut for Clara. With Celia Imrie. 8 W
2! The Rings of Akhaten
Written by Neil Cross
Directed by Farren Blackburn
A clever, visually beautiful story featuring an adventure to an astronomical religious landmark. Others don't like it as much, but I enjoy it despite the openly mawkish climax. A great Who debut for Neil Cross. 7 W
3 Cold War
Written by Mark Gatiss
Directed by Douglas Mackinnon
A relative improvement for Mark Gatiss—the best he's put out since The Unquiet Dead. The return of the Ice Warriors, on a submarine. 6 W
4! Hide
Written by Neil Cross
Directed by Jamie Payne
Classic, atmospheric ghost story with an unexpected twist and complex emotional undercurrents. Good, creepy character drama: in many ways, what Who is best at. 8 W
5! Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
Written by Stephen Thompson
Directed by Mat King
Over-use of Dutch angles and the feel of a wasted opportunity let down this visceral thriller aboard the Doctor's ship. 7 W
6! The Crimson Horror
Written by Mark Gatiss
Directed by Saul Metzstein
Mark Gatiss provides an odd combination of grisly steampunk horror and pure pantomime: surprisingly, it works very well, save for the points where we see too much forced humour. 8 W
7! Nightmare in Silver
Written by Neil Gaiman
Directed by Stephen Woolfenden
With Warwick Davis as Porridge
More chaotic and rushed than Gaiman's last episode, still a gauche, unconventional take on the Cybermen. Very pretty and makes the Cybermen threatening again, but it feels frustratingly close but far away from perfection. 9 W
8! The Name of the Doctor
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Saul Metzstein
Introducing John Hurt as the War Doctor.
Audacious, thrilling, and toying with the very fabric of the show---Moffat genuinely outdoes himself. 9 W
2013 Specials
The Night of the Doctor
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by John Haynes
With Emma Campbell-Jones as Cass,
John Hurt as the War Doctor, and Paul McGann as the Doctor.
WEB EXCLUSIVE (watch online here): A starship, hurtling towards its inevitable doom; an ancient sisterhood awaiting a long-foretold return to Karn; the Doctor, dying and rejected, must face his fate. Don't spoil yourself! 10 W
The Day of the Doctor
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Nick Hurran
With Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt as the Doctor,
Jenna Coleman as Clara,
Jemma Redgrave as Kate Lethbridge-Stewart,
Ingrid Oliver as Osgood,
Billie Piper as the Bad Wolf,
with Tom Baker as the Curator
and introducing Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.
Here is some exceptional multi-Doctor fun, leaping between the final moments of the Time War, an attack on Queen Elizabeth I by the Zygons, and an invasion plot in present day London. The perfect balance between a love letter to the fandom and mythos and a rip-roaring plot that tears into the fabric of Doctor Who and re-fashions it as something fresh, yet familiar, and exciting. 10 W
The Time of the Doctor
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Jamie Payne
With Orla Brady as Tasha Lem,
the voice of Kayvan Novak as Handles,
Jack Hollington as Barnable,
Sheila Reid as Clara's gran,
and introducing Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.
Maddeningly fast-paced and emotionally draining final adventure for the Eleventh Doctor. Don't watch whilst drunk. 8 W

 

Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor

In a live television special in August 2013, Matt Smith’s replacement was announced to be Peter Capaldi, a radical departure in casting from the last three Doctors. Capaldi is most famous in recent years for playing Malcolm Tucker in the superb The Thick of It, and while Malcolm’s language (‘f*ckity-bye!’) or attitude to life may not rub off on this new Doctor, Capaldi does bring a new ferocity and alien aloofness to the role unseen since Christopher Eccleston’s Dalek episodes.

Capaldi is also a life-long Doctor Who fan. The show started when he was five, and he produced mountains of fan work and articles for Doctor Who Magazine. He likes to tell the story that he wrote to the Doctor Who production office so much in the 70s and 80s that they asked him not to contact them again (a producer wished, in a letter to the secretary of the Doctor Who fan club, that a Dalek would come and exterminate him!) Having already appeared twice in the Doctor Who universe and being one of Britain’s greatest working actors, there can be no doubt that the Doctor is in safe hands.

# Title One-sentence review Score V
Series 8 (Twelfth Doctor, Clara, Samuel Anderson as Danny Pink, Ellis George as Courtney Woods.)
1! Deep Breath
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Ben Wheatley
With Neve McIntosh as Vastra,
Catrin Stewart as Jenny,
Dan Starkey as Strax,
and Matt Smith as the Doctor.
A marked change of pace here: the first adventure for the Twelfth Doctor stalks along, like a cat, timing its punches carefully. Beautifully directed and well-written, but with regularly too much humour cribbed from Coupling. 8 W
2! Into the Dalek
Written by Phil Ford and Steven Moffat
Directed by Ben Wheatley
With Zawe Ashton as Journey Blue.
Fast-paced, dark, brutal, and directed like a great sci-fi film with a sense of dread building throughout, this is easily the best Dalek story since Dalek, and quite possibly since Genesis of the Daleks. 10 W
3 Robot of Sherwood
Written by Mark Gatiss
Directed by Paul Murphy
Nice enough for the humour, the Doctor's franticness and Clara's gushing over Robin Hood, but I found it too camp, tonally confused and uncomfortably similar to Silver Nemesis. The plot is also entirely nonsensical. 4 S
4! Listen
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Douglas Mackinnon
With Remi Gooding as Rupert.
While it's certainly got the 'creep factor,' à la Blink or Midnight, this story goes much further in providing a frenetic, time-twisting tale for the Doctor, with a wonderfully-acted sideplot for Clara and Danny Pink. Small-scale, perfectly-formed Doctor Who. Don't miss it! 10 W
5 Time Heist
Written by Stephen Thompson and Steven Moffat
Directed by Douglas Mackinnon
With Keeley Hawes as Delphox.
Tense but slow to start, this story gets much better towards the end. But it suffers from long sequences of running and hiding down identical corridors. 7 S
6! The Caretaker
Written by Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat
Directed by Paul Murphy
Tonally confused, more of a character piece with an unexciting villain. Has a heart underneath, but not that great as a self-contained story. 7 W
7! Kill the Moon
Written by Peter Harness
Directed by Paul Wilmshurst
This one's polarising. An uncomfortable ethical dilemma, a claustrophobic moonbase under siege, and the Doctor's sanctimonious thrill-seeking finally brings Clara to the end of her tether. Fun enough, but the plot doesn't really make much sense when you think about it. 6 W
8! Mummy on the Orient Express
Written by Jamie Mathieson
Directed by Paul Wilmshurst
With Frank Skinner as Perkins.
A creepy monster, stylish direction and some suitably dark twists add to a wonderful character story, with Capaldi and Coleman firing on all cylinders. 9 W
9! Flatline
Written by Jamie Mathieson
Directed by Douglas Mackinnon
With Joivan Wade as Rigsy.
Even better than Mummy, Mathieson really knocks this one out of the park, with a superbly-paced plot, and Clara taking command as the TARDIS (with the Doctor still inside) is shrunk to the size of a jam jar! 10 W
10 In the Forest of the Night
Written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce
Directed by Sheree Folkson
Another polarising one here. Stagey and thematic, this story is paced quite cleverly and has a nice resolution, but the ending is a tad too mawkish for my liking. 6 S
11! Dark Water,
Death in Heaven
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Rachel Talalay
With Michelle Gomez as the Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere,
Chris Addison as Seb,
Sheila Reid as Clara's gran,
Jemma Redgrave as Kate Lethbridge-Stewart,
Ingrid Oliver as Osgood,
and introducing Michelle Gomez as Missy/the Master.
Tense, personal and at times potentially offensive, this is something Doctor Who has never really tried before. Part One is beautifully paced, with a grim story, dialogue to die for and perfectly minimalistic direction—along with the best cliffhanger ending since Army of Ghosts. It loses a little bit of its steam in Part Two, but with a sky-high body count, a show-stealing performance from Michelle Gomez, and all the character arcs drawn to a neat and bittersweet head, I think this is one of Steven Moffat's best Doctor Who stories ever. 9 W
12!
X! Last Christmas
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Paul Wilmshurst
With Nick Frost as Santa Claus,
and Faye Marsay as Shona.
You can tell this is going to be a weird story when Father Christmas appears on Clara's rooftop, and within the first five minutes, Faye Marsay is dancing through a sinister infirmary singing along to Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody. A sort of megamix of Alien, Nightmare on Elm Street and Inception, this is probably the single strangest Christmas special ever. I quite liked it. Others might not. 8 W

 

Doctor Who will return with a ninth series in 2015, beginning with The Magician’s Apprentice. Peter Capaldi will return as the Doctor in the following stories:

# Title One-sentence review Score V
Series 8 (Twelfth Doctor, Clara, Michelle Gomez as Missy/the Master.)
1 The Magician's Apprentice
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Hettie MacDonald
With Claire Higgins as Ohila,
Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart,
and Kelly Hunter as the Shadow Architect.
To be broadcast (?) 19/09/2015
2 The Witch's Familiar
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Hettie MacDonald.
To be broadcast (?) 26/09/2015
3 Under the Lake
Written by Toby Whithouse
Directed by Daniel O'Hara.
To be broadcast (?) 03/10/2015
4 Before the Flood
Written by Toby Whithouse
Directed by Daniel O'Hara.
To be broadcast (?) 10/10/2015
5 The Girl Who Died
Written by Jamie Mathieson and Steven Moffat
Directed by Ed Bazalgette
With Maisie Williams as Ashildr,
and David Schofield as Odin.
To be broadcast (?) 17/10/2015
6 The Woman Who Lived
Written by Catherine Tregenna
Directed by Ed Bazalgette
With Maisie Williams.
To be broadcast (?) 24/10/2015
7 The Zygon Invasion
Written by Peter Harness
Directed by Daniel Nettheim.
To be broadcast (?) 31/10/2015
8 Under the Lake
Written by Peter Harness and Steven Moffat
Directed by Daniel Nettheim.
To be broadcast (?) 07/11/2015
9 Sleep No More
Written by Mark Gatiss
Directed by Justin Molotnikov
With Reece Shearsmith,
Elaine Tan,
and Bethany Black.
To be broadcast (?) 14/11/2015
10 Face the Raven
Written by Sarah Dollard
Directed by Justin Molotnikov.
To be broadcast (?) 21/11/2015
11 Heaven Sent
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Rachel Talalay.
To be broadcast (?) 28/11/2015
12 Hell Bent
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Rachel Talalay.
To be broadcast (?) 05/12/2015

Spin-offs

Who has spawned many spin-off series over the years, some with more success than others. Since the series’ revival, there have been two spin-offs: Torchwood, and The Sarah Jane Adventures. (There is also an Australian spin-off children’s series entitled K9, but this features a K-9 so different to that in the Doctor Who universe that it is impossible to see it as interlinked with its parent show in any way.)

The Sarah Jane Adventures

The Sarah Jane Adventures follows the adventures of Sarah Jane Smith, the much-loved companion played by Elisabeth Sladen from the Third and Fourth Doctor’s tenure in the 1970s, who returned to the show in 2006’s School Reunion.

Unlike Who, which is an unashamed family drama, SJA is an outright children’s programme, created by Russell T Davies, who was also the de facto head writer on the parent show. It was broadcast on CBBC in two-part stories, each episode twenty-five minutes long (much like Doctor Who was, in the original run, before it was cancelled in 1989.)

Alongside Sladen, it also stars Tommy Knight as Luke, Sarah Jane’s genetically-engineered adopted ‘son,’ and local children Clyde (Daniel Anthony), Rani (Anjli Mohindra), Maria (Yasmin Paige), and Sky (Sinead Michael.) SJA also features the voice of Alexander Armstrong as ‘Mr Smith,’ an alien supercomputer in Sarah Jane’s attic. There are also appearances from K-9, Sarah’s robot dog, voiced by John Leeson.

Considering it’s a children’s programme, SJA is surprisingly watchable as an adult. The acting is good (and Lis Sladen’s performance is exceptional), the characters are believable, and the plots, while camp, usually crack along at a fair pace. The Doctor also appears twice: first in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, and second in The Death of the Doctor (which also features the return of another early companion, Jo Grant, played by Katy Manning.) The SJA cast also appear in the final story of series 4 of Doctor Who itself, and also in the Tenth Doctor’s swansong in The End of Time.

Sadly, the programme was brought to an end by the death of its star, Lis Sladen, in April 2011, shortly after she had been diagnosed with cancer. The filming for the fifth series was cut short, and the completed episodes were ultimately screened with a tribute to Sladen, My Sarah Jane.

TL;DR: should I watch it? Probably. It helps to at least have a passing knowledge of the show before attempting Turn Left/The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. If you have children, I recommend SJA without reservation. Even at its worst, SJA is still as good as a moderately good Doctor Who story.

Torchwood

If SJA is Who’s explicitly kid-friendly spin-off, Torchwood is its polar opposite. Starring John Barrowman as the pansexual ex-con Captain Jack Harkness, who originally appeared in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, Torchwood is darker, grittier, swearier, more violent, sexier, and is aimed squarely at adults.

For its first two series, Torchwood was, much like Who, in a 50-minute monster-of-the-week format, with the occasional two- or three-parter. Set mostly in Wales, it follows the Cardiff branch of the Torchwood Institute, the organisation behind Doctor Who’s series 2 story arc. It also ties into its parent show much more regularly: Captain Jack appears after his stint as a companion in Who’s series 1 finale, having been made immortal by Rose Tyler as the Bad Wolf-entity. It also stars Who alumnus Eve Myles (from The Unquiet Dead) as Gwen Cooper, and Naoko Mori as Toshiko Sato (from Aliens of London/World War Three.) Joining them are Kai Owen as Gwen’s boyfriend Rhys, Burn Gorman as Owen Harper, and Gareth David-Lloyd as Ianto Jones.

It was clear from the outset that Torchwood was a very different beast to Who. The second episode featured a monster which killed people by having sex with them, feeding off (I kid you not) “orgasmic energy.” The first series was enjoyable, with some hard-hitting episodes (Small Worlds, Countrycide and Captain Jack Harkness are my personal favourites) although its finale lacked a punch.

As the show matured, its second series (although it lacked any real ‘stand-out’ episodes) had a substantially better story arc, with a significant personal undertow for Jack and rip-roaring consequences for the entire team. The finale, Exit Wounds, is superb. Series 2 also features three episodes with Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) from Who itself. (Torchwood’s first series ties in directly with the events of Utopia; The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End takes place after its second.)

Torchwood easily came into its own with its third series, Children of Earth. Serialised over five one-hour episodes, it follows Torchwood as they deal with a sinister conspiracy involving the British government, and the world’s children. It’s horrifying, high-concept, shocking, operatic science fiction at its best, and I heartily recommend it. (It also features the second appearance of the exceptional Peter Capaldi in the Doctor Who universe—who has now begun his third, as the Twelfth Doctor.)

I have not seen the fourth series, Miracle Day, so I cannot attest to its quality (it is similar to Children of Earth in format, albeit a ten-part as opposed to five-part serial.) The future of Torchwood is currently in limbo: Russell T Davies has placed the show on an indefinite hiatus, due to personal issues.

TL;DR: should I watch it? If you can stomach violence, and sex and sexuality doesn’t offend you, then go right ahead. Much like Who, the first two series in the ‘monster-of-the-week’ format are extremely variable. Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad (and when it’s bad, it’s excruciating.) Children of Earth, on the other hand, is exceptional. It helps to have seen Torchwood series 2 before embarking on Turn Left/The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End.

Thank you for reading