As the iconic sci-fi series Doctor Who celebrates six decades of time-traveling adventures, it’s only fitting to embark on a nostalgic journey through its rich history. From the eerie corridors of the TARDIS to the far reaches of the universe, Doctor Who has captured the hearts of fans worldwide. In this exploration of the show’s illustrious past, we delve into 10 unforgettable episodes that have left an indelible mark on the Whovian community. Join us as we revisit the moments, characters, and stories that have defined and elevated Doctor Who to legendary status, showcasing the brilliance that has kept audiences enthralled for 60 years.
1 An Unearthly Child (1963) – S01, E01
In the inaugural episode of Doctor Who, An Unearthly Child, the timeless journey starts in 1963 London, where a mysterious blue Police Call Box sits in a junkyard, unnoticed. When history teachers Barbara and Ian grow curious about one of their students, Susan, whose knowledge surpasses their own, they start investigating her peculiarities but stumble upon the TARDIS. As the unsuspecting teachers are thrust into a vast control room, they learn the shocking truth about the Doctor’s alien origins and the TARDIS’s ability to travel through time and space. As the episode unfolds, the trio embarks on an unexpected journey, which marks the beginning of an unparalleled sci-fi saga.
The Birth of the Doctor
This episode is pivotal as it sets the stage for an iconic franchise spanning decades. The brilliance of this episode lies in its innovative storytelling, introducing the concept of time traveling captivatingly. William Hartnell’s portrayal of the First Doctor is exceptional, capturing the character’s mysterious and irritable essence. The episode explores the TARDIS and its unique capabilities, adding a layer of technical expertise to the narrative. This episode not only laid the foundation for Doctor Who, but also demonstrated the show’s potential for deep themes, character development, and widespread appeal. With a blend of mystery, science fiction, and timeless characters, this episode marks the genesis of a franchise that continues to captivate audiences to this day.
2 Heaven Sent (2015) – S09, E11
In this gripping episode of Doctor Who, the Doctor grapples with loneliness and despair, finding himself trapped in a nightmarish castle designed to evoke terror. As he’s navigating this unsettling environment, the Doctor finds that nothing is as it seems. The castle holds secrets, and the Doctor must unravel its mysteries to understand his purpose within its dreary walls. In a solitary quest for answers, he must confront challenges that push the limits of his ingenuity and resilience, revealing an unexpected narrative that defies audience expectations.
The Solitary Symphony
“Heaven Sent” is a triumph in the Doctor’s illustrious history. With an atmosphere of psychological suspense and a narrative that challenges the Doctor and the audience, Peter Capaldi delivers a tour de force performance. The audience can see his emotional depth and resilience in the face of unforeseen challenges and profound solitude. With innovative storytelling that feels like a puzzle-box narrative with a nightmarish castle setting, the themes of existence, isolation, and perseverance add a layer of complexity, elevating the episode beyond its typical sci-fi fare.
3 Dalek (2006) – S01 (Nu Who), E06
In the thrilling episode, “Dalek”, the TARDIS whisks the Doctor and Rose to the year 2012, where they find themselves in the middle of a museum of a wealthy collector, Henry van Statten. As they start to explore the museum’s alien artifacts on the 53rd underground floor, they find his unethical use of alien technology to develop weapons. Among the prized possessions is a mysterious and dormant device that sends chills down the Doctor’s spine when he figures out what it’s for. To their horror, it turns out to be a Dalek, a deadly foe from his past.
The Dalek Revelation
This episode is a great example of how Doctor Who can blend suspense with emotion and high stakes. With director Joe Ahearne at the helm of “Dalek”, he chose framing and pacing that heightened the suspense, which made the Dalek’s reveal that much more impactful. His ability to capture the intensity of the Doctor’s confrontation with the Dalek contributes to the lasting resonance of the episode and series. This episode also gave us more of the history behind the Daleks, redefining them as more than an enemy; we suddenly see a tragic figure with a tortured history.
4 The Satan Pit (2006) – S02 (Nu Who), E09
In this gripping episode of Doctor Who, “The Satan Pit”, the 10th Doctor, and Science Officer Ida find themselves investigating a mysterious pit beneath the surface of the planet Krop Tor. Simultaneously, back at the sanctuary base, Rose and the new crew grapple with the possessed Ood, under the influence of the ancient entity known as the Beast. As the Doctor and Idea delve into the depths of the pit, the Beast is communicating through the possessed Ood, revealing its ancient and malevolent nature. The crew is facing imminent danger as the Beast predicts their demise and a series of challenges unfold, pushing the Doctor and his friends to the brink.
A Perfect Blend of Sci-Fi and Horror Elements
“The Satan Pit” is a fan-favorite and remarkable episode of Doctor Who that excels in various aspects. With David Tennant’s performance as the 10th Doctor in this episode, we can fully see the depth of his character’s intelligence, boundaries, and moral quandaries. With the chemistry between Tennant and Billie Piper as Rose, there’s an added emotional depth that enhances the impact of the story’s high-stakes moments. Along with this, it masterfully blends science fiction with horror elements that create an atmosphere of otherworldly dread. The episode explores existential themes and the consequences of facing ancient, malevolent entities.
5 Human Nature (2007) – S03 (Nu Who), E08
In the captivating Doctor Who episode “Human Nature”, the 10th Doctor, pursued by the Family of Blood, takes drastic measures to hide his Time Lord persona. Transforming into a human named John Smith, he erases his memories and entrusts his Time Lord essence to a fob watch guarded by Martha. Landing in 1913 England, the Doctor takes the role of a schoolteacher, and Martha becomes a maid, both needing to conceal their true identities. As John Smith, the Doctor grapples with suppressed memories that manifest in dreams, chronicled in a journal. The story unfolds as the Family of Blood, seeking the Doctor’s life force, closes in, forcing the Doctor to confront the consequences of his chosen human existence.
“Human Nature” stands as a brilliant and emotionally resonant Doctor Who episode. It explores themes of sacrifice, love, and identity as the Doctor has to deal with the consequences of being a human. This choice to shed his Time Lord status to become human creates a rich canvas to explore the essence of the Doctor’s character and the fundamental conflict between his alien heritage and his affinity for humanity. Through the eyes of John, the viewers can see his struggle to reconcile his vast, timeless knowledge with the limitations and emotions of being human. With this internal conflict, audiences are invited to contemplate the essence of identity and what it means to truly be human.
6 The End Of Time (2009) – Christmas Special #5
“The End of Time” unfolds as the 10th Doctor faces a dire warning from the Ood about the return of the Master, heralding the end of time. The Doctor encounters a resurrected Master, plagued by hunger and degeneration, manipulated by a billionaire with plans to reshape humanity. As the Doctor discovers the origins in the Master’s head and finds a prophecy foretelling his death, a complex narrative ensues. The Time Lords, led by Rassilon, attempt to escape the Time War’s “Time Lock,” with Earth becoming a focal point for their schemes. The Doctor must navigate treacherous alliances, face moral quandaries, and ultimately confront the specter of his mortality.
This episode stands as a poignant and epic finale for our beloved 10th Doctor. At the helm of the episode, Russell T Davies, the architect of the modern Doctor Who revival, crafts a beautiful and grand farewell for the Doctor. His writing direction charges the story with emotional depth, tackling hard themes of loss, sacrifice, and the cyclical nature of time. Davies was able to skillfully weave together multiple plot threads, offering the audience a satisfying conclusion to the 10th Doctor’s era.
7 Frontier in Space (1973) – S10,E09
“Frontier in Space” thrusts the Third Doctor and Jo Grant into an interstellar conflict between Earth and Draconia, orchestrated by a mysterious third party. As tensions escalate and diplomatic relations break down, the Doctor and Jo become entangled in a web of political intrigue, false accusations, and intergalactic machinations. Their journey takes them from the confines of a cargo ship to Draconia and Earth, unraveling a conspiracy that could plunge the galaxy into war.
Frontier In Space stands out for being a captivating space opera, combining intricate storytelling with political drama across space and time. It introduces some innovative storytelling elements, like the use of a hypnosound device that plays a huge role in the story. This technology becomes a catalyst, driving the plot forward by inducing some hallucinations and manipulating perceptions. The hypnotic twist adds a layer of psychological intrigue, leaving characters and viewers alike questioning the authenticity of their experiences. Playing with the audience’s perceptions leads them down unexpected paths and challenges the character’s motives.
8 Blink (2007) – S03 (Nu Who), E10
“Blink” takes viewers on a thrilling journey through time and space, centered around Sally Sparrow’s discovery of cryptic messages related to the Weeping Angels. These quantum-locking aliens can transport people into the past by touching them. As Sally unravels the mystery, she becomes entwined in a time-bending adventure involving a message from the Doctor, an Easter egg on DVDs, and a race against the Weeping Angels to save the TARDIS and prevent temporal chaos.
An Angelic Conundrum
In this Doctor Who installment, the concept of time becomes a central character, steering the plot into thrilling and unpredictable directions. Moffat’s intricate exploration of temporal mechanics and the Doctor’s inventive use of prerecorded messages create a suspenseful atmosphere, making “Blink” a standout example of temporal storytelling in science fiction. The Weeping Angels themselves stand out as one of the most iconic and terrifying creatures and enemies in Doctor Who history. Moffat’s creation of these quantum-locked monsters, combined with the impeccable work of the special effects team, elevates the episode’s technical excellence. The Angels’ ability to move only when unobserved adds a unique and suspenseful dimension to the storytelling, keeping audiences on the edge of their seats.
9 The Caves of Androzani: Part One (1984) – S21, E17
“The Caves of Androzani” takes place on the desert planet of Androzani Minor, the sole source of the life-extending spectrox drug. The Doctor and Peri become entangled in the conflict between Morgus’s corporate control, General Chellak’s military campaign against the disfigured Sharaz Jek, and the machinations of gunrunners Stotz and Krelper. Amidst battles, android replacements, and the lethal spectrox poisoning, the Doctor faces complex moral dilemmas and fights against time to save Peri and himself.
One of the episode’s strengths lies in its exploration of sacrifice and moral complexity. The characters, driven by their self-interest and survival instincts, make choices that blur the lines between right and wrong. The Doctor’s willingness to sacrifice himself for Peri adds emotional weight to the narrative, showcasing the profound impact of his moral compass. This episode is also iconic for its regeneration moment, which marks the transition from Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor to Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor. The scene is masterfully done, with Davison’s Doctor reflecting on past companions and facing his impending change.
10 The Eleventh Hour (2010) – S05 (Nu Who), E01
In “The Eleventh Hour”, the newly regenerated Eleventh Doctor crash-lands in the English village of Leadworth, where he encounters a young Scottish girl named Amelia Pond. The Doctor discovers a tear in space-time, leading to the escape of Prisoner Zero, an Atraxi prisoner. He promises to return in five minutes but reappears twelve years later. With the help of Amy and her boyfriend Rory, the Doctor confronts Prisoner Zero and deals with the Atraxi, establishing himself as Earth’s protector.
A Fresh Start
The Eleventh Hour is a remarkable Doctor Who episode for a few reasons. It marks the beginning of Matt Smith’s tenure as the Eleventh Doctor, and his performance delivers. Smith brings a unique energy and quirkiness to the character, making him unpredictable and captivating. The episode is also known for its innovative storytelling, introducing new complex concepts like perception filters, Atraxi prisons, and a crack in space-time. The crack in the wall becomes a recurring motif, hinting at a larger narrative arc underneath it. The themes of responsibility and protection resonate throughout the episode, emphasizing the Doctor’s role as a guardian of Earth.