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.
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 wins...by 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.