The Very Best and the Very Worst of Every Doctor’s Run on Doctor Who

by thethreepennyguignol

You know, my deliciously brilliant co-writer has been doing a series on this blog about the very best and the very worst of Monster of the Week episodes of his beloved The X-Files. And it’s gotten me thinking about my own favourite shows, especially those with a similar format – science-fiction, horror, one-off monsters….

And then it hit me! Doctor Who. While Kevin has been indulging himself with two articles a season, I’m going to keep things short and snappy – I’m breaking down each one of the NuWho Doctors runs, with the best and the worst of their monster of the week (by which to say: not mythology-based) episodes right here. I’m going to link my reviews where relevant, so check out the links if you’d like to see an in-depth dive into what I Despise or Adore about the episodes at hand. Okay, without further ado – let’s make this happen!

Christopher Eccleston

For one thing, there are no bad episodes if Christopher Eccleston is in them, so jot that down. More literally, there are some genuinely brilliant one-shot stories in his single season – The Empty Child/Doctor Dances are probably my most-watched of the entire show’s run, and something like the second Slitheen episodes offers an interesting morality tale that I have a soft spot for despite the rest of the fandom seeming to hate it. I don’t think there are any outright stinkers this season, but The Long Game is the one that does the least for me – it’s cluttered, features a boring side-character meant to make a point about how we really don’t need one in the first place and succeeding, and features some painfully rough CGI monster snot at the climax. The best, though, is probably Father’s Day – even when I think I’m not going to cry and call my dad at the end of this one, I’m always wrong. Great villains, a story packed with pathos, and a fabulous Billie Piper performance to boot.

David Tennant

Look, let’s get the obvious out of the way: the worst episode of Tennant’s run is Love and Monsters. Am I just saying that because the monster came from a Blue Peter competition that I entered and didn’t win? Maybe. But it’s also ass, in all senses of the word, and I won’t apologize for that. There’s a few poor-to-average episodes – 42, The Shakespeare Code, Planet of the Ood – but nothing is just as embarrassing as this one is.

The best, though, might be a little more controversial. Why not go for a classic, like Blink, Family of Blood, something like that? Because, bitch, I’m going straight to Tooth and Claw, second episode of Tennant’s run and never bettered for Monster of the Weeks. Karate Scottish monks, dunking on the British royal family, and a brilliant wrapping-around of history into mythology with a big fucking werewolf thrown in to boot. It’s B-movie pulp magic and I cannot get enough.

Matt Smith

And now we’re into the…rest. I think Smith’s run is immensely patchy, but there are some outstanding episodes here. My favourite is always going to be The God Complex – I just love everything about how it’s shot, where it’s set, the story, the monster, the character work, the performances, the concept; The God Complex feels like a lost season of Channel Zero crammed into forty brilliantly unsettling and inventive minutes, and I’m always surprised I don’t see this getting more hype than it does.

When it comes to bad, it’s honestly hard to choose, because so many of the episodes that looked like Monsters of the Week turned out to have some grand connection to the (very silly, very overwritten) arc for this Doctor’s run. If I had to put a pin in it, I would probably have to say that Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS is my least favourite – it’s not utterly dreadful, but it feels like such a let-down compared to what I wanted from this episode. This could have been a season arc in its own right, and it feels rushed and unfinished as a result of being shoved into less than an hour. Also, Clara is there. Boke.

Peter Capaldi

Love Peter Capaldi, hate this run. If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you’ve probably seen me flapping my arms around angrily about Capaldi’s tenure on Doctor Who – if you haven’t, and you’d like to, be my guest.

Picking the best isn’t hard for me, because there is so little to choose from: it’s Mummy on the Orient Express, the daft and horror-driven kind of fun that this bitch loves to see, also featuring a surprisingly great guest turn from Frank Skinner – he’s a die-hard fan of the show, and I feel like you can tell.

The worst, though? Where to start? There’s so fucking much to choose from. But I would be remiss not to mention my own personal Doctor Who beating post, Thin Ice, which just serves to undercut so much (read: literally all) of the characterization of the Doctor through the entire show’s run, and also features Steven Moffat trying to do his Big Racism Episode, which goes about as well as you would think. Pearl Mackie deserved better, dammit!

Jodie Whittaker

With the long-awaited arrival of the elusive Lady Doctor, I am inherently biased towards loving a lot of Jodie’s season. But in all fairness, a lot of it is great! Rosa, Kerblam!, Can You Hear Me? – there are more than enough really solid episodes to choose from here. Of course, there are some major wobbles, mostly over-written episodes that try to fit too much in without the subtlety to handle it – Orphan-55 is the bottom of this list for me, a tactless attempt at climate commentary that falls flat amongst the big ideas and limited runtime.

But the best? Oh, my friends, let me talk to you about It Takes You Away. I still think about this episode all the time – a meditative, inventive, and surreal take on grief and loss, it’s heart-breakingly sad and a totally ambitious addition to the big, ballsy canon of Whittaker’s first season. I think it’s one of the best episodes the show has ever done, and I want to leave you on that good note to close things out right here!

If you liked this article and want to read more pop culture nonsense from me, I also write about movies with my brilliant co-editor over at No But Listen. If you’d like to support my work, please consider supporting me on Patreon, or buying my books!

(header image via Planet Claire TV)