Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Best of Doctor Who

Because my latent OCD compels me to make lists and because I just finished all four seasons of Doctor Who, scarfing ‘em down like 50-some delicious butter-coated, crack-laced cupcakes, I’ve been obsessed with choosing my ten most favorite “Who” episodes. And here they are:

10. Father's Day

What It's About (In 20 Words or Less): Dear Rose, please don't mess with the space-time continuum to save your father. No, really. Cut it out.
Why I Love It: Making this list helped me realize that I'm sucker for the sad episodes. "Father's Day" is a stand-out from Season 1, showing just how devoted The Doctor has become to Rose when he takes her back in time to the day her father was killed. The Doctor warns her, emphatically, not to interfere because quite literally, all hell will break loose. Except, Rose being Rose, she saves her dad and all hell breaks loose. This episode really gives Rose some depth beyond the whole chip-eating, Mickey-dumping damsel in distress thing. And it establishes her character as someone who really has no regard for the rules of time travel -- something which comes into play many times later on. Eccleston is wonderful as we watch him alternately want to comfort Rose or club her like a baby seal.

9. Blink

What It's About: Menacing stone angels attack. The only way to stop them? Don't blink. Ever.
Why I Love It: For some reason, it's difficult for me to describe exactly what I love most about this episode. It's Doctor-lite, focusing instead on a young woman named Sally Sparrow who's trying to figure out why people in her life keep disappearing into the past and why someone named The Doctor is trying to protect her. The story is so tight and well-written. The whole episode just flies by, going from one jaw-dropping moment to another. The monsters are wonderfully creepy, sneaking up on people in one frozen, horrifying pose after another. All I can say is, "Blink" is one perfect package of an episode.

8. School Reunion

What It's About: Giant alien bats use brainy kids to take over the universe. Doctor's former companion returns. Many awkward moments ensue.
Why I Love It: The head bat is played by Anthony Stewart Head which alone is enough to catapult this one into the top ten. But more importantly, this episode gets to the heart of what it's like to be the Doctor's companion...and more importantly, what it's like when he casts you off. As the Doctor's former companion Sarah Jane Smith, Elizabeth Sladen is wonderful, portraying her character's equal measures of happiness at again seeing the man who gave her so much and her anger at the fact that he took it all away...and left her in Croydon. And to watch Rose slowly realize she's seeing her own future is all kinds of crushing. Also, we're reminded once again that the Doctor, as wonderful as he can be, is also kind of a selfish jerk.

7. The Stolen Earth/Journey's End

What It's About: Daleks again. Yawn. The good news? The Doctor and all his companions join forces to -- shockingly -- save the universe.
Why I Love It: People either love or hate this episode, but I'm a sucker for neatly tied-up endings even if they are completely devastating and wrong. Which these endings are. Rose gets her man -- sort of. (But really, what woman is going to complain about having a Ten doppelganger hanging around her house?) Donna, after becoming the most important person in the universe, is forced to go back to her old, sad life without even memories to comfort her. The Doctor is left with no one and nothing yet again. The whole end of this episode is just misery, but the absolute joy of seeing Jack, Rose, Martha, Sarah Jane, Harriet Jones (former prime minister), Mickey, Jackie, Donna and the Doctor all working together, quipping together, fighting wacky evil together more than makes up for those last harsh minutes.

6. Turn Left

What It's About: Donna Noble does "It's A Wonderful Life"...except it's not so wonderful without the Doctor.
Why I Love It: I'm saying it loud and proud -- Donna Noble is my favorite companion. She's smart, she's funny, she's compassionate, she's tough and she knows how to cut the Doctor down to size. And she's not at all romantically interested in her "space man," which is something of a welcome relief after Rose and Martha and her unrequited love. Donna just wants to be the Doctor's best buddy and see the universe. "Turn Left" is a great look at what Donna -- and the world -- would be like without the Doctor. The scenes between her and a time-travelling Rose as Rose tries to explain to her what life could be are wonderful. Catherine Tate does a great job riding the edge of desperation and despair as her already sad life gets a whole lot sadder.

5. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances

What It's About: A creepy little kid in a gas mask torments orphaned children during the London Blitz. And then there's Captain Jack.
Why I Love It: First of all, this episode is really quite unnerving. It shows just how much can go right with a low-budget monster that basically involves giving a child actor a gas mask. (So please kill off the Slitheen. Please.) Even better, these episodes introduce us to the inimitable ladies' man (and mans' man) Captain Jack, who quickly becomes indispensable to the Who/Torchwood mythos. Ultimately, though, these episodes are a terrific showcase for Christopher Eccleston's Doctor. His utter desperation at the end as he pleads with the universe to have things go right just this once is heartbreaking and cuts to the core of his Doctor's loneliness and his burning desire to move past the rage that's always bubbling so close to the surface. When he finally dances with Rose, breaking down that wall between them, his happiness is contagious.

4. Human Nature/Family of Blood

What It's About: Hunted by a murderous alien family, the Doctor hides by becoming human. Oh, and he falls in love. Bad human!
Why I Love It: If you're a David Tennant fan, you can't not love this episode. He's amazing as John Smith, the Doctor's human self who ultimately must "die" in order to bring the Doctor back and save the world. The best part is that the Doctor's human self is kind of a pompous jerk who is incredibly afraid -- as anyone would be -- of dying and leaving the life he's built for himself. This episode also shows just how cruel the Doctor can be, whether intentionally as he condemns the alien family to eternities of torment, or unintentionally when he asks the woman who loved John to come with him, not realizing how unbearable that would be for any human being. Tennant's performance throughout is absolutely beautiful. Also, on a completely shallow note, this episode is responsible for my favorite Tennant ad-libbing ever:

3. The Christmas Invasion

What It's About: Doctor Nine regenerates into Doctor Ten. There's a glitch just as aliens try to invade Earth on Christmas Eve.
Why I Love It: Oh "Christmas Invasion," I love you so. It's kinda ballsy to introduce your new Doctor by having him sleep through half the episode. That makes the first half drag a bit, but man, when Ten wakes and gets into the act, every second is pure gold. First off, this episode is hilarious with so many classic lines: "Not bad for a man in his jim-jams." There's the Doctor's sword fight with the alien in which he gets his hand lopped off (a hand that makes more cameo in this series than most of the secondary characters) and still using an orange. There's The Doctor's soliloquy about who he is -- "Am I...ginger?" -- and his random quoting of "The Lion King." For his first full episode, Tennant is great channeling elements of previous Doctors while still making this character his own. He's chatty, he's charming, he swashes a few buckles, and he's menacing, bringing down not just foes but friends, ending poor Harriet Jones' days as prime minister with just six little words. And the Doctor sharing Christmas dinner with Rose, Jackie and Micky is one of the sweetest scenes of the whole series. And did I mention there was sword fighting??

2. Army of Ghosts/Doomsday

What It's About: Daleks. Cybermen. Torchwood. Impending destruction of universe. Doctor and Rose get all three of their hearts ripped out.
Why I Love It: For one thing, Daleks and Cybermen trash talk each other, which is what I deeply hope happens when the real-life Alien/Robot war finally ensues. (And you know it will.) This is also the episode that takes us inside Torchwood for the first time. Oh, and Rose's sweet, awkward, sorta blowsy parents get back together, thanks to one undead dad from an alternate universe. And Mickey's actually cool. But most of all, I love this episode because it makes me cry like a small sad child. That moment when the gap between the universes close and all we see are Rose and the Doctor on either side of that wall -- oh man, it does me in every time. And that beach scene! If nothing else, Billie Piper is one hell of a crier. I will admit, though, to questioning the wisdom of her make-up choices every time I watch her meltdown.

1. The Runaway Bride

What It's About: Bride Donna Noble gets transported to the TARDIS and meets a Doctor still mourning Rose. Also, giant evil spiders!
Why I Love It: I feel like this is a weird choice, but I can't help it: "The Runaway Bride" is my favorite episode of Doctor Who. It's funny. It's exciting. It's sad. And honest to God, there's a TARDIS car chase! Catherine Tate and David Tennant are awesome together from the get-go. She's perfect in her irritation at missing her wedding by being transported, you know, to OUTER SPACE. Self-absorbed as she is, she's still concerned about the Doctor's obvious sadness. "What was your friend's name?" "Her name was Rose." Gah. And Tennant, as always, does a great job tempering his enthusiasm at helping Donna while simultaneously dealing with his character's loss. Perfection.

Now it's your turn. Tell me your favorites.


agent57 said...

You got the good ones. I was always a sucker for Tooth and Claw and New Earth, though... when Ten[nant] was still getting into the role. And I think I would have really loved Love & Monsters if the villain/ending hadn't been so ridiculous and disappointing. (Okay, really I just liked LINDA and "You can't beat a bit of ELO.") Also, I liked the isolation-space-creepiness of The Impossible Planet, though I'm not sure how I felt about it's follow-up.

It is hard to figure out what makes Blink so great... I think for me it's the naturalness (okay, not a word) of the characters. They're just normal people thrown into a crazy situation, and it's kind of a nice break. I liked every one of them. It managed to be Doctor-light in a way that wasn't painfully obvious. I'm a fan of the Moffat eps so far... I can't wait to see how it goes when he takes over.

And Rose, and PotW, and... man, it would be easier for me to list the episodes I didn't like. I'm not sure there is one that I didn't like just a little bit.

agent57 said...

I guess it's probably mean to ridicule the L&M villain, since it was designed by a child.

Now I feel bad.

agent57 said...

P.S. thank you for being such a superfan lately. During the breaks between series, I always seem to distance myself from the fandom, and half-convince myself I'm not as into it anymore. Your posts and the resulting discussions remind me of my undisturbed geeky depths.

jess (fushmush) said...

Basically, if Steven Moffat wrote it, I love it. I love Blink and the Empty Child. So happy he's the new head writer.

Michele said...

Actually the Fourth Doctor left Sarah Jane in Aberdeen - he only *thought* he left her in Croydon!!

And I must object, a tiny bit, to you saying Four dumped SJS - she was already threatening to leave him before he got called back to Gallifrey - and at that time Humans weren't allowed to visit Gallifrey. (Check "Hand of Fear" for all the details.)

Cel'eena Cree said...

I like Gridlock. Partly because it's brilliant, and partly because a certain song in it makes me cry.

I also like Partners in Crime. The reunion between the Doctor and Donna is hilarious, and the Adipose are so cute.

Gina said...

No one mentioned Girl in the Fireplace? Did no one like it as much as I did? Blink, Girl in the Fireplace and Empty Child/The Doctor Dances are my favorites. I'd be hard pressed to put them in an order, though.

Anonymous said...

I love Girl in the Fireplace (another great Moff episode!), Smith & Jones (which is just a pitch-perfect series opener), Gridlock, Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lord (JesusDoctor aside, but I can even live with that), and Midnight (which I love with the fire of 1000 living suns).

Jen Anderson said...

Great choices. I agree about Donna. When the new series debuted, Rose was a break from the classic, mostly helpless companions. But Donna beats them all. I don't know how any future companion could even stack up. Who else would wake up tied to a table in Pompeii with a priestess holding a knife and respond by shouting, "Oh, no you don't!"?

And the sad bits of Journey's End are my favorites. Grandpa Wilf's speech at the end makes me cry every time.

Anonymous said...

Wow, great list, Liz. I love all your choices, and all of them except The Runaway Bride would be on my top ten list as well. I think I'd have more from the fourth season, though-- Partners in Crime and Midnight in particular (mine would be a top twenty list LOL!). The Christmas Invasion is still my all-time favorite New Who episode, for all the reasons you describe.

Best thing about your list, though, is that it made me fall in love with David Tennant all over again, which I didn't think was humanly possible. DAMN, I'm going to miss that man.

Anonymous said...

One thing I really liked about Human Nature/Family of Blood was how they explored Martha's race a bit. She gets talked down to because she's black (and a servant) and no one believes she can have the medical knowledge she has. That said, I don't think I can pick a favorite episode. I love them all!

crone51 said...

ooooo.. This is great. That line about trash talking in the upcoming alien robot war made me laugh very loudly..

Top ten. That is hard. How about top five ? For starters?

5) Empty Child/Doctor Dances
4) Silence in the Library Forest Of The Dead ( up for review on Friday however)
3) Midnight.
2) Blink
1) Human Nature/FOB -it makes me cry. Every time- that last scene.....I run for the tissues.

crone51 said...

Oh, and Gina.. I think GITF would be on my top ten...If I ever complete it. I love that episode.

Adri said...

I adore Rose-- sort of in spite of myself. So of course I love her seasons and when she gets to be awesome instead of tissue paper (which she seems to waffle between). I just saw Christmas Invasion on the big screen at our local dinner cinema, so that's up there for sure. Parting of the Ways, Rose, Age of Steel (for Mickey gets to be awesome), and Doomsday (during which I always cry like a baby).

BUT, that having been said, I think Donna is my favorite companion, and Partners in Crime might be my favorite episode ever. The Doctor and Donna are just SO great, and there are so many wonderful moments. Eee, I can't wait to watch Season 4 again!

Also, I know everyone is sad about David Tennant leaving, but isn't' anyone else excited about New New New Doctor? 'cause I totally am!

Liz said...

Agent57, it's funny you should say it would be easier to make a list of episodes you don't like. That's how I was feeling trying to whittle this thing down. And I agree completely with what you said about "Blink." I loved that it was just normal people dealing with complete surreality. And I'm happy to fill the superfan role lately -- thanks for listening to my babble. :)

Michelle, I didn't realize the whole situation with Sarah Jane. I've never seen any of the original series, so I was just inferring from the conversations in School Reunion. It's interesting to discover the real situation though. I might have to go back and check those out. I do like Elizabeth Sladen.

As for everyone who said they like Partners in Crime, I totally agree. That reunion scene is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. And those little adipose are the cutest aliens ever. I loved the whole thing.

Liz said...

Adri, I know what you mean about Rose. I feel the same way about her. I sort of can't believe I like her as much as I do. I've just really liked her from day one, but I couldn't really put my finger on why.

As for Donna, I think she's more of a fully fleshed out character. Rose seems to exist best alongside the Doctor, but Donna kind of just shines along on her own just as well.

Michele said...

The thing that annoyed me about PiC was the whole "missing each other by moments" schtick, which just went on too long and stopped being funny as a result. But the mimed conversation through the two windows was gloriously funny - and so very Ten & Donna, I felt.

I think my favourite ever New Who (ie done by RTD) episode is "Smith and Jones" - it's so fast paced, funny, clever and intelligent - and seeing the way Ten seduced Martha into joining him, who can blame her for having a crush on him?

Liz: I adore Sarah Jane. She was my first companion (with Four). She's a lot more feisty and smart than "School Reunion" really shows. In fact, there are parts of SR that make me want to do Team Cardiff violence for the way they portray SJS. I strongly recommend her stories with the ever-so-athletic-and-dashing Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and the bescarfed-bulging-eyed-madman who is the Fouth Doctor (Tom Baker) The run goes from "The Time Warrior" through to "The Hand of Fear". And if you haven't already caught up with it (I'm afraid I can't recall), I also recommend "The Sarah Jane Adventures" - they're aimed at teens and children, but actually work better (in a lot of instances) than the parent show because they can't rely on CGI (Doctor Who) or sex (Torchwood), therefore you get intelligent character development and interesting narratives. (The second season's just finished airing over here and it was very, very good!)

RedCochina said...

My top three are Doomsday (I BAWLED like a schoolgirl at the beach glad I was alone while viewing), Girl in the Fireplace (Sophia Myles was so flirtatious and fun with David) and Blink. I love Blink because it's well written, scary and suspenseful but mostly because of the character Sally Sparrow and the actor who played her.

Nightingale: What's so great about "sad"?
Sparrow: It's happy for deep people.

And is season four finally available? I'm off to add it to my Netflix queue...

Anonymous said...

I agree that a "least favorite" list would almost be easier, because this show has been so amazingly, consistently good. Almost all my least favorites would be from season three, with maybe one or two from season one (Unquiet Dead and Long Game, mostly because they were so boring). Season three felt very rushed, like a term paper written the night before it was due. On the positive side, though, "sweet Tinkerbell Jesus!" is now a permanent item in my lexicon of blasphemy. : )

Liz said...

Wait, wait, how have I not heard "sweet Tinkerbell Jesus?" That's awesome. What episode is it from?

crone51 said...

I just want to state at this juncture that I am very grateful I lived long enough to see David Tennant fencing in his pajamas.

" it is defended"

Yann said...

Blink would be my favorate one

Liz said...

"I just want to state at this juncture that I am very grateful I lived long enough to see David Tennant fencing in his pajamas."

I'm right there with you. :)

SFG said...

Hmmm...let's see...

Doomsday. Strictly for fanboy reasons. "Daleks have no concept of elegance." "That much is obvious."
I memorized that whole speech and used to recite it in the shower. Fine, I'm a geek. I don't think there's ever been a scifi show written by a gay man before, and it's totally brilliant. I don't think any straight man could have come up with that dialogue. :)
"Delete." "EXTERMINATE!"

Love and Monsters. Always wanted to meet a group like that... I thought Ursula was cute (it'd be cute to have a quirky geek goddess as a female Eleven but it's never going to happen), and it was nice the relationship they have, and how she pops out and defends him at the end. Though it did have kind of a weird end...

Utopia. "Then...who are you?" " Master!" I always miss the hints these shows throw out, and I finally figure out who it's going to be before it says it.
And, again, the gay undertones are kind of cute. I never liked Captain Jack 'cause he reminds me too much of standard-issue alpha males, but the portrayal of the Master as an evil self-absorbed queen who dances to Scissor Sisters while humiliating his enemies is simply
too clever. It fuses two archetypes (evil overlord and bitchy gay man) in a way I've never seen before.

Journey's End. Tried a little too hard to bring everyone together, but I thought it was cute and scary at the same time when the Earth disappears, the spaceships start coming, and everyone's really scared...and then they translate the message... "EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!" And now they're really scared.

crone51 said...


So, I was attempting to Tivo Forest Of the Dead today and had it set for the five AM Skiffy feed and the fraking thing didn't work right so I did not get my part two and I am sad and mad. Bad Tivo. Bad Bad Bad.

But if I had to pick the bottom five of my top ten I guess I might go with

10) Doomsday- not a huge Rose fan but I did get all misty at the end...and it's exciting
9) The Xmas Invasion (Fencing. Pajamas. Need I say more?)
8)Girl in the Fireplace
7) 42 (oft neglected -Tennant is fabulous in it )
6)School Reunion- maybe.

It *would* be easier to pick my least favorite episodes. I am kinda going here on the ones I tend to watch a few times or in the case of The Xmas Invasion,a few dozen times (Fencing.Pajamas).

And I would like to wish everyone here, all of whom I enjoy reading a very happy holiday season.

Anonymous said...

"Wait, wait, how have I not heard "sweet Tinkerbell Jesus?" That's awesome. What episode is it from?"

It's not a line. It's a fandom joke from "Last of the Time Lords."

"Tinkerbell Jesus" is a name coined in on-line fandom for Ten when he swoops down on the Master like Christ risen from the cross (arms outstretched and surrounded by a literal halo of light) and forgives him. That's the Jesus part. The Tinkerbell part is when Martha gets everyone on Earth to say "Doctor" at once to restore him to health (a la the audience clapping and saying they belive in fairies to "revive" Tinkerbell during a production of Peter Pan).

Hence "Tinkerbell Jesus": a hero restored to life by the power of people who believe "wishing will make it so" and forgiving his enemy, all in one horribly saccharine, over-acted, cringe-inducing scene. You just know a scene is bad when even the combined might of David Tennant and John Simm cannot prevent it from being anything other than a train wreck.

RTD later said he wrote the episode in four days. It shows. Weakest episode of the entire run, IMO. Fans will grumble about stuff like Love & Monsters, but the season finale? C'mon, that's when a writer simply has to be at the top of his game, and RTD didn't get anywhere close.

Michele said...

I agree with you anon - RTD has tried to outdo himself each year, and instead has simply made a bigger and bigger mess of the whole thing each year. Just look at the horrible, over-populated mess that is "Journey's End". (More like "Show's End"!)

I've said it before and I'll say it again. He really is rubbish at writing action movie style episodes. But he's brilliant at small and discrete episodes (eg "Smith and Jones" and "Midnight")

crone51 said...

I agree about much in Last of The Time Lords but the episode before it ( damn.. I am blanking...Utopia, theonewhosenameIcan'tremember, Last Of The Time Lords...Oh!! Of course! The Sound of the Drums!!) rocked. John Simm was wonderfully hilariously evil. I loved it. I am not a huge fan of Journey's End either but...It's all just silly fun. Episodes like that are when I remember that this is a show that is aimed at kids.

I am very annoyed today...I've never seen "The Christmas Invasion" on TV ( just other medium) and today BBC America showed it but they cut so much out ( including" rude and not ginger") that my daughter and I were yelling at the screen. Bah. Humbug. Must save up pennies to buy box set.

Happy Holidays everyone!

agent57 said...

It's sad that Gollum!Ten and TinkerbellJesus were so... much. I Really dug Utopia/The Sound of Drums, and I thought the Master's final scene was pretty great. "You're just gonna... keep me?"

If only!

Also, it spawned this great quote from Simm: "All I remember from that scene is David Tennent's manly stubble in my eye. He was rubbing his chin up against me, his big Doctor Who manly chin. And so I had eye-stubble from Tennant. Not nice."

Hee, eye stubble...

emily said...

Having just finished Season 4 (after starting with Season 1 a few weeks ago), I have to say, I agree entirely with your list and echo what the others have said: that it'd be easier to pick the ones I don't like. I really loved Smith and Jones - if possible, David Tennant was even more adorable than usual in that episode. And I loved The Shakespeare Code, if only because Shakespeare saves the world by quoting Harry Potter. My fangirl brain just about exploded.