During our most recent recording of The Lonely Tardis, we asked our hosts to help us put together an “essential” episode list for the most recent seasons of Doctor Who (2005 and beyond). The resulting conversation (and at times debate) made for not only a great show, but a terrific resulting list. As a team, we narrowed it down to 10 episodes that convey not only what the Doctor is all about, but also those that best help to catch up to the current season with Matt Smith as the Eleventh incarnation.
Boy, was it tough. Just hitting key plot points sent us into territory that included the first sightings of staple foes, friends, loves, and losses, and would have easily topped 20+ shows. Many of our personal favorite episodes needed to be dropped, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t still recommend them in the future. Think of those that made the cut as great big appetizers: enough for a meal, but leaving us hungry for more. They also look more into the Doctor’s character rather than the overall timeline, allowing us to become familiar with him regardless of where we begin watching afterwards.
Special thanks to co-hosts Steven Strom, Shaun Norton, and Mike Bahmann for compiling this list on the air.
And on we go!
Rose – Ep 01.01 – Russell T. Davies reignites Doctor Who in the rebirth (reincarnation?) of the show in 2005, starring Christopher Eccleston as the 9th Doctor. In this episode we meet Rose Tyler, the companion that would play a huge role in the Doctor’s life over the next 4 seasons. It’s a little campy at times, but important in introducing us to the Doctor.
Christmas Invasion – Ep 02.x – Another classic written by Davies, this episode introduces us to the newly regenerated Doctor as David Tennant takes the Tardis wheel… err, levers. It’s also the episode where Torchwood becomes a more important factor in the series, and where the Doctor first “threatens” humanity — in this case, the British government — with his Timelord power.
Girl in the Fireplace – Ep 02.04 – Steven Moffat’s second major story for the Doctor sees the character falling in love, rather quickly, with the Madame de Pompadour, mistress of King Louis the XV. This episode shows us how meaningless time is to the Doctor, yet how much it means to those he encounters. A few hours in the Doctor’s travels can equate to years in the lives of those he meets, sometimes to heart-breaking circumstances.
Army of Ghosts/Doomsday– Ep 02.12/13 – The second episode, Doomsday, is perhaps the more important one, showing us that for the first time the Daleks and the Cybermen appear at the same time on the screen to battle the Doctor. This episode shows what the effects of the Doctor’s travels leave on time and space, as well as on those closest to him. We say goodbye to Rose in this episode, in which the Doctor realizes and essentially professes his feelings for her, leaving the him without a love interest for many seasons to come. Oh, also: Daleks and Cybermen!
Human Nature/Family of Blood – Ep 03.08/09 – Another two-parter, the episodes see the Doctor giving up his life as a Time Lord to live a “normal” human life. That is, until, the Family hunts him. The arc shows us that at times the Doctor would rather not have the burden placed on him as the last Time Lord. The story is known for being a much darker, more serious take on the modern series, as the Doctor lets out a merciless revenge on the Family in the end.
Blink – Ep 03.10 – This episode is best known for one thing: the first appearance of the Weeping Angels, possibly the most terrifying enemy that the Doctor has ever come across… and he doesn’t even really face them. In this episode, the modern series shows us that it can still be quirky and campy at times, and yet maintain the high-level of quality as its more dramatic offerings, even with very little screen time for the Doctor himself. It’s one of the most entertaining episodes yet.
Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead – Ep 04.09/10 – This is where the wheels for seasons 5 & 6, and the Doctor’s future, really begin turning. We meet River Song for the first time, who’ll come to play an increasingly pivotal role in the Doctor’s life. We also come across the Vashta Nerada, a terrifying new enemy.
End of Time Part 1 /Part 2 – Ep 04.17/18 – The end of David Tennant’s tenure as the Doctor comes at the hands of an all-out Time Lord war between himself and the Master, the only other surviving Time Lord… or so we thought. It is revealed that the Time Lords survive, and the Lord President — their leader — wants to claim time and space for their rule. A final sacrifice on the Doctor’s part tells us that he is greatly saddened by the events that he has brought on the lives of those he cares for.
Vincent and the Doctor – Ep 05.10 – The Doctor and new companion Amy Pond travel to meet Vincent van Gogh, only to discover that an alien beast that only the artist can see is wrecking havoc on the town. The most intriguing part of the plot deals with van Gogh’s growing dementia, and the revelation that not all is as it seems in Amy’s life.
The Doctor’s Wife – Ep 06.04 – In The Doctor’s Wife, we finally understand the link that the Doc and his TARDIS have, discovering that they had in fact selected each other more than 700 years prior. The episode also ties in some history from the Doctor’s previous incarnations, well before those of the 2005 series reboot, before finally dropping what would end up being a major hint as to River Song’s true character with a sentence that Idris, the TARDIS’ human form, leaves with the Doctor in the end.