Doctor Who is one of TV's longest-running and most beloved sci-fi shows. And with good reason too. Throughout the years, it has given us many, many heart-rending, awe-inspiring, gritty, and glorious arcs and episodes. Moments have left us gasping, crying, gigging, and hungry for more.
Of course, the show has had its ups and downs. One may go so far as to say that we get one good one for every 20 average or unabashedly bad episodes. But that one good episode is always a joy and honor to witness, making the hours spent watching the painfully mediocre episodes seem pretty worth it.
Most proud Whovians know which arcs I am talking about here, perhaps. However, I prefer a few that aren't usually mentioned in the best episode lists that litter the interwebs. So, while some of the entries mentioned in the list below may come as a bit of a surprise, I still think they are worth a watch if not a few dozen rewatches.
1. Silence in The Library/Forest of The Dead
This first entry itself is perhaps a bit of a dark horse. This arc spans two episodes: “Silence in the Library” and the “Forest of the Dead.” The arc is well known for introducing us to the tale of River Song, who we will later learn is the Doctor's wife. Their story is more fully explored during Capaldi's run.
But, even without the mystery surrounding the Doctor's romance, the main storyline works. It is appropriately goosebump-inducing and showcases the Doctor at his best. The storyline follows the 10th Doctor and his companion, Donna, visiting a library that spans an entire planet.
They discover that the entire planet is devoid of life and that something rather sinister lurks in the shadows.
The episodes cleverly use darkness, silence, and echoes to intensify the library's eeriness. Aside from the rather interesting revelation regarding the whereabouts of the planet's original inhabitants, what I especially loved about this episode is the reminder that the Doctor does not need a weapon.
His mere presence is enough to strike fear in the hearts of the creatures that plot and lie in the heart of darkness.
2. Vincent and The Doctor
Doctor Who is a show that, unless one is an avid part of its fandom, not many seem to know much about. Non-Whovians usually just hear fleeting mentions of the Doctor, particular companions, the ever-beloved Tardis, and certain plot elements. This episode is a definite exception, considering its nearly unrivaled popularity among Whovians and non-Whovians alike. And with good reason too.
In this episode, the Doctor takes us on an adventure to meet an artist who is nothing less than a legend now but was criminally undervalued in his time. We, thus, meet Vincent Van Gogh as a tortured artist as he battles his many demons and insecurities. The result is a tear-jerker, a heart-render of a tale that may leave you reaching for the tissues more than once.
Honestly, I was a tad afraid to watch this one since so many of my friends had hyped it up so much for me. But I daresay that it deserves all the heartache, devastation, and adoration that people pile upon it, making it worth at least 115 rewatches, especially when you are in the mood for a good cry.
3. Heaven Sent
Doctor Who has forever been known for experimenting with genres, and “Heaven Sent” is a prime example. The episode is designed much like a one-person show — with Capaldi and his brilliant acting taking center stage and focus throughout. The monologues he so eloquently delivers are nothing short of Shakespearean in their elegance and drama.
The feeling of an existential crisis pervades throughout every scene as the 12th Doctor, trapped in a gothic-style castle by the Timelords, tries to evade capture by a phantom-like figure called The Veil. The castle is littered with odd relics left behind by old inhabitants of the castle, and they serve as hints as he tries to break through a wall of Azbantium — a material much harder than stone — by slowly, painstakingly chipping away at it with his fingernails.
Ultimately, calling this episode brilliant in all its drama, despair, and air of mystery would be an understatement.
4. Day of The Doctor
The 50th-anniversary special episode is very appropriately titled “The Day of the Doctor.” This love letter of a story is about the Doctor, in all his grandeur, goofiness, and genius — nothing more and nothing less. In this special, we witness the meeting of three beloved Doctors — 10, 11, and the War Doctor (played by David Tennant, Matt Smith, and John Hurt, respectively) — as they take on the Zygons and team up to save the day once again.
The story itself is average, but that's alright because the Doctor himself is sensational. But perhaps the most iconic moment — one that fans are sure to remember for a long, long time to come — arrived when our screens lit up with footage of the Doctor through the years and eras as they teamed up to do what they always do best — save the world and look awesome while at it.
5. Human Nature/Family of Blood
The “Human Nature” and “Family of Blood” story arc is one of the more criminally underrated ones in NuWho. For me, it marked the beginning of the slow heartbreak that characterized David Tennant's Doctor's run as the Lonely God. The plot takes us on a journey through 1913 England, with the Doctor having taken on the identity of John Smith, a dorky, lovable English teacher, to escape the Family of Blood.
The Doctor, to keep his immortality from getting into the hands of the monsters, locks his memories and life force away in a timepiece. However, when the Family of Blood still tracks him down and upends the simple, very human life he had created for himself, he is forced to pick up the mantle again.
The arc is creepy, well-written, and treats its characters and monsters with finesse. But perhaps what it does best is remind us just how powerful the Doctor is and how lucky the universe is that he chose a path of healing, of mercy, and not one of vengeance.
This is an episode nominated for the Bram Stoker award, usually reserved for the cream of the crop supernatural tales, and it's honestly easy to see why. “Listen” boasts of a subtle terror that slowly creeps up your spine, leaving you checking behind every door, distrusting every odd shadow.
Doctor Who is usually known for its more emotional arcs, but god, does it do horror well. This episode reminds us that you don't need ghastly monsters, no horrid creatures, to tell a horror story well. The human mind is more obsessed with the things in the dark, the ones that dance on the edges of our vision made ever more terrifying by our own imagination.
It tells the story of such creatures, the ones we know to fear when darkness sets in, ones we do not understand, never see but feel the undeniable creeping presence of.
The episode's ending comes as a surprise. There are no monsters to fight this time. Instead, everything is explained with logic. But, logical resolutions or not, the creepiness stays with us long after the episode ends, making us see shapes and shadows and wonder what exactly lies within the heart of darkness.
7. The Girl in The Fireplace
The “Girl in the Fireplace” is primarily set in France in the 18th century. It follows the adventures of the Doctor as he comes across a spaceship in the 51st century, one whose crew had been taken apart and used as parts to fix the damaged ship. And, as if things were not already macabre enough, he discovers that the androids that were “fixing” the vessel had also set up time portals monitoring the life of Madame de Pompadour. They believed that the mistress of King Louis XV was the missing puzzle piece that could restore the ship.
Most of the story is told as a fun little adventure, with the Doctor at his goofiest, flirting, dunking wine on androids, and teaming up with Arthur, the horse. Still, I find the ending quite solemn. As I watched the Doctor miss his chance at finding love again, dismay set in.
The Doctor, after all, is a Lonely God, and his story is one of missed chances and heartbreak.
A near-universal favorite, “Blink,” introduces me to my own nightmare, i.e., the Weeping Angels. Another excellent example of the show's experimentation with horror, this episode builds up the scare factor rather smartly. Interestingly, the Doctor's involvement in this episode is minimal since he is stuck in a different time after the Weeping Angels whisk him away.
He resorts to communicating with the characters in present London through pre-recorded DVDs. Such use of other mediums made for a fascinating episode in itself.
As a horror episode, “Blink” lacks “Listen” ‘s subtlety as it uses jump scares and creepy, gritty settings to up the ante. Perhaps this lack of subtlety is what makes the experience even more unforgettable. After all, once you have witnessed the blank, stony faces of the Angels creep up to their victims every time they blink, you will find yourself doomed to a life of looking over your shoulder and distrusting every angel statue you meet on your way.
The Doctor is mainly known for his characteristic goofiness, kindness, and mercy in the face of sheer evil. So, when this episode showed the Doctor fly into a rage on meeting a Dalek, a species that could easily be called his archnemesis, many of us were at least a little surprised. I love this episode for a lot of things, but primarily for showing the power of empathy.
When the Doctor forgets to be merciful, his enemy shows empathy. While it did lead it to self-destruct, some of the dialogues its newfound empathy inspired were moving, to say the least. I also think this episode did a brilliant job of showcasing the Doctor's vengeful side, which would choose to destroy one monster to save many lives.
10. The Empty Child
I know there are a few creepy episodes on this list. But if there is one episode that kept me up every night for several weeks, it would be this one. Ghosts and monsters we do not understand and who dance on the edges of our imagination may be scary, but stories that use humans, altered or not, are my nightmare.
As much a mystery episode as creepy, this episode tells the story of a mysterious object that crashes into earth. It accidentally lets loose a plague that gives a child odd powers and leads others to grow a gas mask and eerily echo the same godforsaken words, i.e., “Are you my mommy?”
The episode also introduced us to the flamboyant, every-flirty Captain Jack Harkness, who became one of the Doctor's most beloved companions in the revival series.
Of course, this list of best New Who / NuWho arcs and episodes is not comprehensive. While I have listed the ones I am partial to, others, like “Midnight,” “The Waters of Mars,” “Turn Left,” and “Hell Bent” definitely deserve a watch.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.