After the 10th season of Doctor Who airs in 2017, Steven Moffat will step down as showrunner for the series. Since the show began in 2005, Moffat has been involved with modern Who, first as a writer and then taking the reins from Russell T Davies with the show’s fifth season. His episodes as a writer under Davies were often some of the best in the series, but once he became head writer and executive producer of the show Moffat’s work was often not up to the same quality, and issues with him being in charge were all too clear.
Now that we have to wait until Christmas for more Doctor Who and know we soon have to say goodbye to Moffat, it seems like the perfect time to look back at all the episodes he wrote for the show. From episodes that, to me, are easily some of the best ever written for Doctor Who to those that left me shaking my head, here’s my ranking of the full-length episodes written by Moffat.
Which episodes written by Moffat are your least and most favorite? Tell us in the comments!
“Let’s Kill Hitler” (Season 6)
Following the events of “A Good Man goes to War,” in which we learned River Song is in fact Amy and Rory’s daughter, Melody, this episode quickly complicates the situation. It introduces a never before mentioned childhood friend of the couple named Mels who steals the Doctor’s TARDIS with the result that everyone ends up meeting Hitler. The whole killing Hitler part is quickly passed over, however, to get to this episode’s reveal that Mels is Melody—which was probably pretty obvious to some—and she regenerates into River who has been brought up to be a weapon to kill the Doctor. Add to that the Teselecta and that, eventually, as expected, River doesn’t kill the Doctor.
While the episode has some great moments, like Rory punching Hitler in the face and shoving him in a closet, it brings up as many new questions as answers to old ones as it makes the situation quite complicated. Also, for me, at least, I liked the fact that River was Amy and Rory’s daughter, but hate how it turns out her whole life has just been about the Doctor. Even becoming an archaeologist was all about the Doctor. It takes away some of the magic from the relationship that was hinted at during her first appearance in “Silence in the Library.”
“Flesh and Stone” (Season 5)
This conclusion to the story begun in “The Time of Angels” continues to make the Weeping Angels a less unique and scary villain. Angel Bob acting as a voice for them contributes to this as he communicates with the Doctor, who is trying to help everyone escape, as does the weird idea that an Angel can be trying to kill Amy from the inside and is only delayed by Amy closing her eyes. It’s more ridiculous than scary, frankly.
The episode contains some information that will be important in later episodes, like River being in prison for killing a man, and it once again addresses the crack that was originally seen in Amy’s bedroom wall as the Doctor discovers it was caused by an explosion. That can’t save it, however, as it even ends with a horrible scene in which Amy tries to seduce the Doctor before her wedding. “Flesh and Stone” is really just a disappointing episode not just in its role as a conclusion to the first part, but also in where it takes the story, overall.
“The Beast Below” (Season 5)
The second episode featuring the Eleventh Doctor saw him and Amy in the future on a spaceship containing the population of the United Kingdom. They discover that the ship is actually being flown through space by a star whale, which arrived on Earth as the people were in danger from solar flares. However the whale is basically being tortured in the process, which is so horrible that people choose to forget that this is how the ship is run. The Doctor finds himself with a terrible choice of saving the whale, dooming all the people, or killing the whale. Amy, however, saves the day when she realizes the whale wanted to help them in the first place and won’t go anywhere when they stop inflicting pain on it.
“The Beast Below” is an OK episode. The situation with the whale is sad and in a way frightening, since it seems all too plausible that humans would do such a thing. It also gives the Eleventh Doctor an interesting dilemma to face and forces him into a position to do something horrible, as he can see no other way out, but all of this comes at the end. Otherwise, it’s hard to feel much of anything for the new characters and it’s just a bit bland until you reach the climax.
“The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” (Christmas Special 2011)
In this special, Madge Arwell helps the Doctor find his way back to the TARDIS one Christmas after he falls to the planet from a spaceship. Jump ahead three years, and he appears again as the caretaker of a house to which Madge has taken her children after learning about the death of her husband. As the title would suggest, the episode shares some similarities to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and soon one of the kids goes through a dimensional portal that was hidden in a present by the Doctor. His sister and the Doctor quickly follow, along with Madge when she discovers them gone. It turns out the trees on this planet are trying to escape their impending destruction by traveling away in a living being. The trees succeed in this and live, as does Madge’s husband, leading to a happy Christmas.
This is a sweet Christmas episode, though I didn’t find it the most interesting of the modern specials. The focus on the family was nice, but the trees just weren’t very intriguing and so it felt like the story was lacking an important element to really draw you in.
“The Bells of Saint John” (Season 7)
After meeting two versions of Clara Oswald in two different episodes, the Doctor finally meets the Clara that will be his companion here. After receiving the number for the TARDIS from a woman in a shop, Clara calls the Doctor for computer help and after realizing it’s Clara he rushes off to meet her. The two get swept up in an adventure about the Internet becoming a weapon as people have their minds uploaded and fed to the Great Intelligence. Ultimately Clara gets uploaded, but not for long, as the Doctor is able to get everyone released.
I think it’s unfortunate that this is the episode that introduces the permanent Clara. Her other two appearances were much more exciting stories in which I found her character more interesting. Also, even though Moffat was once again trying to “grab hold of whatever has a omnipresence in your life and turn into a monster” as he said in a roundtable interview at the time, there was no point where it felt particularly monstrous or terrifying to me.
“The Time of the Doctor” (Christmas Special 2013)
The Doctor and his enemies all respond to a message coming from Trenzalore that they don’t understand in this Christmas special. Clara and the Doctor go down to the planet to investigate, discover a town called Christmas, and find a crack like the one from when the TARDIS exploded. It turns out the Time Lords are trying to communicate through it with a question, “Doctor who?” in order to know if it’s safe to bring Gallifrey back. Unfortunately, if the Doctor answers with his name and they return, it might spark another Time War. Everyone who is surrounding the planet starts a siege of the town for years, but the Doctor triumphs and is able to defeat the last remaining attackers, the Daleks, when he regenerates.
There are quite a few standout moments in this episode, like Handles the Cyberman head, the Doctor’s triumphant victory, and his emotional regeneration. Peter Capaldi makes a memorable entrance as the new Doctor here. It’s also nice to learn more about the whole Silence and Trenzalore story points that have been brought up before, and get the answer to how the Doctor was going to get over the regeneration limit. However it’s all a bit too complicated which takes away somewhat from Matt Smith’s goodbye. There’s a lot shoved in with weird alliances and a lot of cameos from various villains, and it makes for strange pacing in the episode.
“The Angels Take Manhattan” (Season 7)
The poor Weeping Angels had lost most of what made them exciting by the time this episode aired and “The Angels Take Manhattan” didn’t do much to redeem them, but there are some things to enjoy in the final appearance of Amy and Rory. A picnic in Central Park goes bad when the book the Doctor is reading reveals that a Weeping Angel has sent Rory back to 1938, where (when?) he runs into River. After having some trouble landing in the time period, the Doctor and Amy arrive, but it’s not that easy to find Rory and the book seems to know how everything is going to end, which doesn’t make the Doctor very happy. There’s nothing that can stop Rory being sent back in time by the Weeping Angels and Amy risks everything for the chance to be with him for a bittersweet ending for the pair.
There are definitely problems with this episode, such as the ridiculousness of the Statue of Liberty being a Weeping Angel and certain complicated time things that don’t quite make sense. However, the pluses of this episode include some brilliant scenes between River and the Doctor, the Weeping Angels at certain points regaining their scariness, and a rather fitting end to two good companions!
“Time Heist” (Season 8)
Moffat co-wrote this episode with Steve Thompson, and while it’s not the best heist story that they could have written for the Doctor, it gets pretty close. After someone calls the TARDIS, the Doctor and Clara suddenly find themselves in a room with two other people and all their memories wiped. It turns out they’ve been recruited by someone called The Architect to steal items from the most secure bank in the galaxy which is protected in part by a telepathic alien called the Teller. The Teller is supposedly the last of its kind and is working there against its will. After a series of exciting events, the team ends up in the living quarters of the director, Madame Karabraxos, where we learn the Doctor was The Architect and the whole time this has been a rescue mission!
“Time Heist” is a fun twist on the idea of pulling off a heist complete with a satisfying and somewhat surprise ending. It does a good job as a standalone episode even if it feels like there were some missed opportunities along the way that could have made it even better.
"The Time of Angels” (Season 5)
River Song makes her first return since the fourth season in this episode. As a big fan of the character, I was thrilled to see her come back in a story that would deal with a reference she made to the Tenth Doctor: the crash of the Byzantium. It begins with the Doctor getting a message from River and rescuing her before the ship crashes. Then, they go down to the planet in order to capture an Angel that is in the ship’s hold. This doesn’t lead to anything good, of course, and it turns out there are many more Angels around feeding off the ship and now turning their attention to the new arrivals!
I found the first part of this storyline better than the second, “Flesh and Stone,” because while it starts to introduce some ridiculous things, most of them aren’t expanded on until the second half. It’s great to see River meet the Eleventh Doctor and it succeeds in having a good cliffhanger. The Angels also are not quite as ridiculous here, yet, as they make their first appearance since “Blink.” The episode starts to introduce some unnecessary ideas about them, though, including being able to use a dead soldier to communicate, which ruins part of what made them so frightening by giving them a voice.
”Into the Dalek” (Season 8)
In this episode co-written with Phil Ford, the Doctor discovers what appears to be a good Dalek with a sense of morality. Intrigued by why it wants to destroy the rest of the Daleks, our gang shrinks down and, as the title suggests, go inside the Dalek that they nickname Rusty. While the Dalek tells them it changed when seeing the birth of a star, the Doctor actually finds a breach that caused everything. Fixing it makes the Dalek go back to its evil ways until the Doctor succeeds in making it remember what it saw and showing it how he sees the universe. The Dalek becomes an ally, though, only because of the Doctor’s own hatred of the Daleks.
It’s interesting to get a more in-depth look at what happens inside one of the series’ greatest villains. The conversation the Doctor has with Rusty and what the Dalek learns from getting a glimpse into his mind is really interesting. You can’t help but get a chill when Rusty tells the Doctor he’s a good Dalek! This is also the first episode in whichh we meet Danny Pink, who, from the start, is a likeable character. The episode stumbles in how it still feels like Capaldi is trying to find his way as the Doctor some times, which seems especially clear when his judgment of soldiers comes up and doesn't seem to work in the way the writers wanted it to.
“The Caretaker” (Season 8)
In “The Caretaker,” the Doctor goes undercover at Clara’s school to deal with a deadly robot. At the start of the episode, we see how Clara’s been having a rather exciting time trying to balance dating Danny and traveling with the Doctor, so it’s rather predictable that, eventually, with the Doctor at the school, Clara’s two lives finally meet. As they deal with the robot, the Doctor meets Danny and they also predictably clash. Danny helps save the day and the two develop an understanding of sorts by the end.
This episode was co-written by Gareth Roberts, and there are a lot of fun elements in this story, from the Doctor making a number of great references to things like fighting with River to student Courtney Woods meeting the Doctor. The interactions between Clara and the Doctor shine in this episode and her conversation with Danny at the end starts to make us think about her relationship with the Doctor in a different way as it points out her growing confidence and fearlessness. Still, the villain of the story isn’t all that interesting and the Doctor referring to Danny as a PE teacher so much is quite annoying in the episode.
“The Magician’s Apprentice” (Season 9)
The first episode of the two-part beginning to the season begins with a meeting between a young Davros and the Doctor. The next thing we’re shown is someone trying to find the Doctor to give him a message from a dying Davros as Missy freezes and controls all the planes in the sky around the world. A meeting with Clara reveals Missy has received the Doctor’s last will, a confession dial, and they find him spending his final day in the Middle Ages playing electric guitar on a tank. Eventually, they end up on Skaro, with the Doctor confronting Davros and Missy, Clara, and the TARDIS supposedly destroyed by the Daleks.
At the first meeting between the boy and the Doctor it’s clear Twelve will be dealing with a dilemma similar to that presented in the classic episode “Genesis of the Daleks,” and even though you kind of know what’s going to happen as a result, this didn’t take away from my interest in seeing it! It’s fun to see Clara and Missy banter, and Capaldi really shines as the Doctor here. It feels like he’s finally found what he wants his Doctor to be and it’s a Doctor full of electric guitar awesomeness. Plus, we get some great callbacks to other Doctors’ confrontations with Davros to tie their past together, including that famous “Genesis of the Daleks” moment. Still, the episode does feel like it’s all basically just setting the stage for the second part and doesn’t stand on its own all that well.
“Dark Water” (Season 8)
The first part of the season’s finale has one of the most emotional and shocking beginnings of any of the modern finales. You immediately get a punch to the gut as Danny is killed and Clara attempts to force the Doctor into going back in time to save him. Ultimately, instead, they try to locate the afterlife where Danny may have gone. From there, we start to learn more about the Promised Land we’ve seen all season and what’s happened to everyone who died. We learn that everyone who passed away has had their minds transported to a Nethersphere where they are encouraged to get rid of their emotions so they can become Cybermen, and to top it off, it reveals that Missy is the latest regeneration of the Master!
The episode cleverly brings back two classic foes while taking the idea of death in an interesting direction. As viewers are left with a great cliffhanger setting up part two, this is another episode that has a good ending but the rest feels like set up for a better episode to come.
“The Impossible Astronaut” (Season 6)
The sixth season kicks off with a bang as the Doctor invites Amy, Rory, and River to Utah. A picnic leads to an astronaut coming out of the water and seemingly killing the Doctor only for his companions to then realize he invited his younger self, too. It’s an amusing twist that sets up the season’s arc as they travel back to 1969 to find agent Canton Delaware and discover the president has been receiving calls from a little girl. As they set out to find her, Amy and the others start to see the Silence, who they forget about as soon as they look away from them. Then, Amy tells the Doctor she is pregnant right before the girl in the astronaut suit shows up and Amy shoots her!
The episode is a great introduction to the Silence and provides a stunning twist for kicking off the season. It’s also fun to see the Doctor and companions in the United States, working with talented guest star Mark Sheppard. While this is a good episode at setting things up it doesn’t pack much of a bunch on it’s own. That’s all left to the exciting second part, “Day of the Moon.”
“Death in Heaven” (Season 8)
The conclusion to “Dark Water” begins with UNIT’s arrival on the scene. Missy eventually shares her plan that the Cybermen are going to explode and release pollen to transform all the dead into Cybermen. UNIT takes the Doctor and Missy while Danny in the Nethersphere is released to become a Cyberman and rescues Clara. Missy escapes and kills Osgood as the Doctor is declared the President of Earth. It turns out Missy wants to give the army of Cybermen to the Doctor as a birthday present, and it all leads to the Doctor having to think about the season’s theme of whether he’s a good man or a good Dalek. It’s neither, really, and Danny saves the day, ultimately.
This episode packs a lot in, which can feel overwhelming, but makes for an emotional ride. We learn that Missy gave Clara the Doctor’s number and even though we apparently loose Osgood, here, she’s always a fantastic character to have return on the show. The Brigadier even plays an important role. The scenes between Danny and Clara, the Doctor and Missy, and the four of them are great, though nothing beats the final moments with Capaldi and Jenna Coleman. There, we see Clara and the Doctor lie to each other in an effort to not mess with what they think is the happiness of the other. Clara lies about Danny, the Doctor lies about Gallifrey, and when they part ways we know they’ll both be alone.
“Last Christmas” (Christmas Special 2014)
Clara meets a Santa Claus, played by Nick Frost, right before the Doctor arrives and takes her away in the TARDIS in this Christmas episode following “Death in Heaven.” They arrive at a base at the North Pole and discover dream crabs. In the chaos, Clara and the Doctor reveal they both lied during their last encounter. Then, it’s a race to try to escape the aliens who have trapped them within dreams leading to emotional scenes between the two as they decide to travel together once again.
While it’s a bit predictable that every time the characters think they’re awake they’re, of course, not, it’s still a fun episode. Frost is great as Santa and the story succeeds in making the idea of being trapped in dreams forever scary. It especially pays off in the end when we see the Doctor and his companion reunited.
“Deep Breath” (Season 8)
This is the first episode for Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor and starts in spectacular fashion with a dinosaur! Helping the Doctor and Clara adjust to his regeneration are Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, who always make an episode better by being in it. A message put out by someone in the newspaper draws Clara and the Doctor into trouble and introduces the Promised Land story arc for the season while giving us a glimpse of Missy.
Throughout the episode, there are a lot of great moments. The Doctor talking to a dinosaur is fantastic, and Capaldi plays the Doctor trying to adjust to his new form amazingly well. It also reiterates a lot about how even though the Doctor may have changed his face, he’s still the same man. The audience is invited to feel somewhat unnerved by the change, just like Clara, and go through the journey with her of getting used to the new Doctor. My only real problem with the episode is how the call from the Eleventh Doctor feels unnecessary, though it’s funny for the new Doctor to remind Clara that of course he knows what was said on the call, since he said it.
“Asylum of the Daleks” (Season 7)
Here, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory are kidnapped by the Daleks, who are confused by a signal being broadcast from the planet where their asylum is located. Turns out Oswin Oswald, a.k.a. soufflé girl, is down there, and the Doctor and his companions are sent down to deal with things as Oswin guides them. When Amy starts to be converted into a Dalek, it gets her and Rory to talk at last and the Doctor goes to rescue Oswin, only to discover she’s a Dalek. This doesn’t stop her from helping him by deleting all knowledge of the Doctor from the Daleks (who ask "Doctor who?") and helping them escape.
It’s great to see the Doctor and the Daleks as always, though I’m not a fan of the Dalek’s ability to convert people. I love this first introduction to Clara as soufflé girl and a Dalek, though. The Doctor wondering how she gets the milk makes complete sense, and yet I still wasn’t entirely expecting the reveal. It’s an entertaining standalone episode that doesn’t do anything too revolutionary other than introduce Clara, but is an enjoyable ride nonetheless.
“The Big Bang” (Season 5)
“The Big Bang” concludes the storyline about the crack from Amy’s bedroom. Following the first part “The Pandorica Opens,” a young Amy goes to a museum and finds the Pandorica, which opens and contains her older self. It turns out Rory freed the Doctor and placed a dying Amy inside to save her. Rory stands guard over the Pandorica for about 2,000 years, becoming the Last Centurion. Once Amy, Rory, River, and the Doctor are reunited he develops a plan to reboot the universe by creating a second big bang. The Doctor is able to do this by flying the Pandorica into the exploding TARDIS. Things are reset, Amy gets her parents back, and the Doctor is stuck on the other side until Amy remembers him at her wedding and brings him back.
This episode introduced the Eleventh Doctor wearing his iconic fez and gave Rory more time to shine as a loyal, brave companion. If you didn’t pay close attention though, it is too easy to get lost during this episode with all the time jumping that occurs. It’s a bit of an overcomplicated way to wrap up the story, even if the wedding at the end is quite fantastic.
“The Witch’s Familiar” (Season 9)
The continuation of “The Magician’s Apprentice” shows that Clara and Missy are in fact alive, though the Doctor doesn’t know that and he doesn’t deal with Clara’s apparent death very well. As the two women cook up a scheme, which includes putting Clara in a Dalek, the Doctor and Davros have an intriguing conversation. It’s one that uses the Doctor’s compassion against him and even makes the viewer for a moment consider if what Davros is saying is genuine. Luckily, the Doctor has it all under control and is able to escape with Clara once he realizes Missy is lying about her death.
This is a slower episode, but one that benefits from taking the time to let the characters talk to each other. The moments between the Doctor and Davros are especially great, and Clara and Missy as a team are hilarious. I also love how the little bit of mercy the Daleks know about turns out to be from the Doctor saving Davros as a child.
“The Zygon Inversion” (Season 9)
This last part of the two parter that began with “The Zygon Invasion” was co-written by Peter Harness. A small group of Zygons who have risen up from the hidden population on the planet are still trying to end the ceasefire which results in their leader, Bonnie, and Kate Stewart from UNIT in the black archive. They are faced with two boxes that can either kill or expose the Zygon, forcing both sides to address the realities of war. With some help from the Doctor, the ceasefire resumes and Bonnie helps keep the peace.
There are a lot of amazing things in this episode, but the best part is when they are finally in the room with those boxes. The idea, first of all, is fantastic, and it’s good to see Osgood back in action, even if we’re left to wonder if either of the two Osgoods are human or if they are both Zygon at this point. The Doctor gives one of his best speeches ever here and there are some great references to “The Day of the Doctor.”
“Hell Bent” (Season 9)
This is a great episode bogged down by some clunky parts and a bunch of non-answers about the Hybrid, but it starts off with a fun scene in what looks like the diner from “The Impossible Astronaut.” It then picks up with the Doctor on Gallifrey basically taking over from a regenerated Rassilon thanks to his reputation as a war hero. The Doctor uses the Time Lord’s fear of the Hybrid to bring Clara back by removing her from a moment before she dies and we learn all of this was so he could save her. As they escape and realize how they’re risking time and space to keep her alive, we get some of the best scenes from both Capaldi and Coleman.
We never get a solid answer about the Hybrid, here. All of the Hybrid talk seems unnecessary in what is otherwise a great episode about the relationship between Clara and the Doctor. So many of their conversations are charged with emotion and I like how the beginning makes you wonder if she might be a version of Clara like the ones we met that died previously until we get to the fantastic ending. The idea of Clara and Me flying off in a diner TARDIS is just begging for a spinoff and I’m sure I’m not the only one who loved Capaldi playing Clara’s theme on the guitar, completing the beautiful touching moment.
“Day of the Moon” (Season 6)
“Day of the Moon” picks up a few months after “The Impossible Astronaut” with our heroes hunted down and reunited with the Doctor, who is supposedly being held captive. They start their revolution against the Silence, who they discovered are all over the Earth, planting suggestions in humans, and being forgotten once someone looks away. Finally, the Doctor uses their own powers against them by transmitting a message recorded from a captured Silence during the moon landing, which is being watched by everyone and will continue to be watched for years. This instructs humanity to kill the Silence on sight.
The episode does a great job of continuing to make the Silence an interesting villain. They’re scary and mysterious, and the idea that they have been running things for so long without anyone knowing is fantastic. I also enjoy the hints we're given about the little girl seen in the first episode, especially the major one we're given when she regenerates at the end.
“The Snowmen” (Christmas Special 2012)
Set in England 1842, this special shows the Doctor is trying not to get involved in things after losing Amy and Rory last season as he hangs around Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. There’s a lot of snow in this Christmas special, but this time, it’s alien and dangerous. The Doctor still doesn’t want to take a look even when he encounters Clara, but through one word she eventually encourages him to help and he discovers the Great Intelligence. They all join forces to fight the snow, but just as the Doctor is ready to accept a companion again, Clara is hurt. He defeats the Intelligence for now, but Clara dies. It’s only when she says her last words and he sees her full name that he realizes it was the same woman from “Asylum of the Daleks.”
This episode has it all: Humor, action, and heart. It’s once again great to see Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, and Clara shines. It helps that this storyline is much more interesting than “The Bells of St. John” and she’s also just more captivating in her curiosity and even her different view of the TARDIS (smaller on the outside!) I also love how the episode makes you think this is where the Doctor is going to get his new companion, only for her to die leaving the mystery of when and where he’ll meet soufflé girl again wide open. Plus, it’s great having Ian McKellen voicing the Intelligence in the episode!
“The Husbands of River Song” (Christmas Special 2015)
River Song has become a complicated character since her first appearance and her story with the Doctor has lost some of its appeal through the seasons. However, I can’t help but feel it was somewhat recaptured in the latest Christmas special, probably because she has great chemistry with Capaldi’s Doctor. The two are brought back together as River enlists the Doctor’s help in removing a diamond she wants to sell that is currently stuck in her “husband’s” head. River doesn’t recognize the Doctor even though she knows he’s in the area, since she doesn’t know he has more regenerations, now. Their adventures take them to a ship where, finally, when their lives are in danger, the truth is revealed. It all leads to an amazing and emotional sequence between the Doctor and River that finally sees them spending their final night together on Darillium with the Singing Towers.
From the first appearance of the Doctor when the TARDIS is trying to cheer him up after everything at the end of the ninth season to the last reveal that a night on Darillium is 24 years, there is a lot to love in this episode. The Doctor finally gets to pretend to be amazed that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside and we see him give River the screwdriver she’ll use in “Forest of the Dead.” I love that River has photos of all the Doctor’s faces, that her codename for him is Damsel, and that she occasionally steals the TARDIS, which the Doctor had no idea about until now! You get a sense of River having adventures on her own not all about the Doctor again and with the way the two interact, actually finally feel like they love each other though it’s interesting to see that River has doubted that her feelings were returned. The look the Doctor gives her when he says “hello, sweetie” and then the way they talk to each other at the end is fantastic. The chemistry between the two makes me want much more of Alex Kingston and Capaldi together.
“The Name of the Doctor” (Season 7)
Here the whole impossible girl story with Clara reaches its conclusion. Vastra, Jenny, Strax, Clara, and River meet for a conference call in which they discuss Trenzalore only to be interrupted by the Whisper Men. The Great Intelligence says to tell the Doctor his friends are lost unless he goes to Trenzalore, where he is buried. Of course, the Doctor goes after them despite the warnings to stay away. Once there, they eventually discover a column of light that represents the Doctor’s path through time and space, and when he points his sonic screwdriver at it the voices of all the previous Doctors can be heard. The Intelligence enters it to destroy him, but Clara saves him by jumping after the Intelligence and being scattered across the Doctor’s life, where she helps him. He is able to bring her back, but not before we glimpse the face the Doctor has apparently been trying to forget.
The episode not only does a good job of setting things up for the 50th anniversary show, but is also an excellent finale with a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat! We finally go to Trenzalore and we get more Vastra, Jenny, and Strax complete with emotional moments as they lose and regain each other throughout the episode. It’s also fun to get a glimpse of River after she’s been uploaded to the library.
“A Good Man goes to War” (Season 6)
The episode begins with Rory and the Doctor searching for Amy, who is being held on Demon’s Run with her daughter, Melody. Rory and the Doctor gather their allies, including Vastra, Jenny, and Strax who we meet for the first time here, for a rescue mission. With their help, they take over the base and free Amy and Melody, also discovering that, since the baby was conceived in the TARDIS, it has some Time Lord DNA. Unfortunately, despite the allies' best efforts, it turns out the baby they thought they had wasn’t real. It all leads to the moment in which River appears and reveals who she is.
The episode is one of the best finales. The stakes are high and stay that way through the episode. The new characters were engaging and we get a real sense of what the Doctor’s actions have resulted in. Plus for the most part, at least for me, I didn’t see the surprises coming. I liked this revelation about River (before it got too complicated) and how it changed the dynamic between the characters.
“The Girl Who Died” (Season 9)
Maisie Williams entered the series as Ashildr in this stellar episode co-written by Jamie Mathieson. Vikings capture the Doctor and Clara, who soon discover the alien Mire are posing as Odin and taking the strongest of the Viking’s warriors. Taken by the Mire along with Clara, Ashildr declares war on the aliens. They are sent back to the village to prepare, but now that all their warriors have been taken, winning looks hopeless. They refuse to leave when the Doctor tells them to, so he comes up with a plan to help them defeat the Mire. It succeeds, but unfortunately, Ashildr dies. This leads to the Doctor remembering why he has a familiar face and saving the day by using a Mire chip to save Ashildr.
Williams shines in this episode, as do Capaldi and Coleman. The moment the Doctor remembers why he chose his face is fantastic, as is his training of the villagers and translation of what the baby is saying when she cries. Plus, in the end, him wondering if he made a mistake making Ashildr immortal and referring to her as a hybrid is great. The story is one of the best of the new series, able to stand on its own as a great episode while setting up potential for future stories.
“The Pandorica Opens” (Season 5)
The first part of the season finale begins with River stealing a van Gogh and buying a Vortex Manipulator. She shows the Doctor the exploding TARDIS painting, which leads them to the Pandorica and the signal it’s giving off draws the Doctor’s enemies to Earth, as well. As the Doctor examines the Pandorica, Amy asks him about a ring she found in his pocket. He says it belonged to a friend he lost, referring to Rory. He, of course ,shows up, to the Doctor’s confusion as a Roman and Amy doesn’t remember him. Sadly, it turns out he’s an Auton and all of this has been part of a plan to put the Doctor in the Pandorica. In the end, the Doctor is put inside, River is stuck in the exploding TARDIS, and Rory shoots Amy.
Talk about a cliffhanger! This episode is exciting and interesting from the start, and then tops it all off with an impressive cliffhanger. It’s much easier to follow than part two, but doesn’t sacrifice an interesting story by being straightforward. It has all the good qualities of “The Big Bang” without the bad.
“Listen” (Season 8)
This episode is so different it could have been a disaster, but luckily that doesn’t happen. Clara does have a disastrous date with Danny, however, before leaving with the Doctor at the beginning. The Doctor explains that he has a theory that we’re never really alone, and everyone in fact, has the same nightmare about a hand reaching from under the bed to grab them. Clara links with the TARDIS as the Doctor tries to go back to the moment she had the dream but, instead, she was thinking of Danny. They meet him as a child and encounter something frightening, though they don’t know what it is. Eventually, they end up meeting one of Danny’s descendants, Orson Pink, and go to the end of the universe, where more questionably scary things happen that could be normal, or not. It all leads to Clara ending up in the Doctor’s past when he’s a child, being the thing under the bed the Doctor remembers grabbing his ankle, and giving him some parting advice.
“Listen” is a fascinating episode that manages to be scary without showing anything. It plays with the idea brilliantly that maybe the little things we see and hear around us at night and when we’re alone are some creature, or maybe nothing at all. It doesn’t matter, though, as the episode and Clara reiterates at the end there’s nothing wrong with fear. As an added bonus, it also shows us how time travel can mess with normal life a lot, through Clara and Danny’s messed up date and potentially seeing her future descendant! I like the connections not just to the Doctor’s past with Clara’s visit and the barn, but also with her saying what the First Doctor said in “An Unearthly Child”: fear makes companions of us all.
“The Empty Child” (Season 1)
This first part of this two-part story was the first episode Moffat wrote for the new Doctor Who. The Doctor and Rose end up on Earth during World War II chasing something that’s fallen to the planet. Rose sees a boy wearing a gas mask on a roof and tries to reach him, but ends up floating away. We hear “are you my mommy?” when Rose goes towards the boy and when the Doctor answers the TARDIS’ phone. Rose is saved by Captain Jack Harkness, who we meet for the first time here and, meanwhile, the Doctor follows Nancy, who eventually reveals that, if the boy touches you, it will make you like him: empty. The Doctor ends up seeing others like the boy with the same injuries and wearing a gas mask. Turns out that first victim was Nancy’s brother, and Jack has been running a con. The cliffhanger leaves our heroes trapped with people in gas masks approaching them.
Moffat’s first episode is one of his best. It succeeds in making a child in a gas mask (and people in gas masks just lying down) scary and the phrase “are you my mommy” frightening so that you’ll never be able to hear it the same way again! It also introduces Jack, who will be a brilliant character not just in this series, but also in the Torchwood spinoff.
“The Eleventh Hour” (Season 5)
Crashing on Earth after regenerating, the Eleventh Doctor encounters a young Amelia Pond and a crack in time in her bedroom wall. When the Doctor promises to return in five minutes after taking the TARDIS away, he actually takes 12 years. He meets the older Amy, who ended up making cartoons about him as her imaginary friend, and tells her Prisoner Zero is loose. They meet up with Rory and are able to save the planet from being incinerated by the Atraxi, who are looking for the prisoner. Before the end, the Doctor disappears again for two years before inviting Amy to come along with him in the TARDIS.
Matt Smith’s debut episode as the Eleventh Doctor is fantastic. It’s a great stand-alone story that introduces the new Doctor and also sets up the continuing arc for the season with the crack in the wall. It’s fun to see the Doctor adjusting to his new form through trying different foods and ending up with what would become the Eleventh’s signature fish fingers and custard. Amy and Rory are also introduced well and the new Doctor is connected to his past through his speech towards the end where we also see flashes of his previous lives.
“The Girl in the Fireplace” (Season 2)
While investigating a starship in the 51st century with Rose and Mickey, the Doctor finds an 18th century French fireplace. This leads to the Doctor meeting Madame de Pompadour, who is being watched by clockwork creatures during the course of her life. It turns out the clockworks are trying to repair the spaceship and using human parts to do it. The Doctor is able to save everyone and offers to take her away in the TARDIS but, thanks to the fireplace, she's dead by the time he returns.
The clockwork repairers make interesting creatures in this story and the idea of the time windows on the future ship is a cool one. Where this episode really stands above others, though, is in the interactions of Madame de Pompadour and the Doctor through the years. They can never quite meet at the right time, leading to a truly heartbreaking ending.
“A Christmas Carol” (Christmas Special 2010)
This Christmas special starts with the ship Amy and Rory are honeymooning on beginning to crash because of a signal emanating from a planet. Unfortunately, the old and grumpy Kazran Sardic,k who controls it, won’t turn it off when the Doctor asks. After observing some fish flying in the fog and speaking with Amy, he develops a plan to make Kazdan change his mind inspired by A Christmas Carol. He goes to the man's past and meets him as a child, changing his memories. They end up having adventures with a woman named Abigail, who they visit every Christmas, and eventually Kazran falls in love with her. It leads to heartbreak, however, so Kazran in the future still doesn’t change his mind. It’s only when the Doctor brings a young Kazran to see his future self that it works and he agrees to help.
Michael Gambon excels in his role as the Scrooge-type character here, and the episode is a fun twist on the Christmas Carol idea. While the fish could have been quite ridiculous, it somehow works in this world with everything else. It has a bittersweet ending, but is still rather fitting as a Christmas special.
“The Day of the Doctor” (50th Anniversary Special)
The long awaited 50th anniversary special did not disappoint! It starts with UNIT airlifting the TARDIS to the National Gallery, while a Time Lord painting of the day the Doctor ended the Time War leads to a glimpse of the war, itself, and the War Doctor stealing the Moment. The Moment takes the appearance of Rose and brings together the War Doctor with the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, who all end up in the Tower of London as the Zygons cause trouble for everyone. The Doctors discuss the Time War and the War Doctor sees what happened to him as a result. The Doctors deal with the Zygons before they all head to the barn to help with the Moment, but instead come up with a new plan to save Gallifrey using the help of all the Doctors.
John Hurt is amazing as the War Doctor in this special, which finally explores what happened during the Time War. It’s fantastic to see the return of so many, like David Tennant, Billie Piper, and Tom Baker at the end capping the whole thing off. Add to that the amazing interactions between all the versions of the Doctor and nods to all the other Doctors plus an interesting story and opening the door for Gallifrey’s return and it’s an action packed, touching episode that's one of the best of modern Who.
“Silence in the Library” (Season 4)
There's danger in the shadows of this planet-sized library the Doctor and Donna have ended up on thanks to a message the Doctor received on his psychic paper. They're soon met by a group that includes River Song, whose first words are the now iconic “hello, sweetie.” As the Doctor realizes the Vashta Nerada are in the library, River takes out her diary to see where she is with the Doctor only to realize he doesn’t know her, yet, and tells him he can’t look inside her diary due to “spoilers.” The members of the team are attacked and the Doctor tries to save Donna but ends up uploading her to the library instead!
This Moffat episode once again takes something normal like the dark and shadows and turns it into a scary creature successfully. The first appearance of River before things became too complicated adds to this being an excellent episode. You can’t help but be intrigued by River as much as the Doctor thanks to everything from her TARDIS looking diary to her sonic screwdriver.
“Heaven Sent” (Season 9)
After Clara’s death, we find the Doctor transported to some kind of castle, where he is alone except for a creature that he recognizes stalking him. During this time, he talks aloud to himself and the creature, and even imagines explaining what’s happening to Clara in the TARDIS, who doesn’t speak but writes on a chalkboard. As the Doctor works his way through the maze, he works out what he has to do. Chipping away at a wall for billions of years, continually dying and reactivating the teleporter he arrived in to make a new copy of himself, he breaks through the wall and escapes what was the confession dial, arriving on Gallifrey.
It’s amazing how an episode that only features the Doctor along with a creature and companion that don’t speak can be one of the best episodes of the series. If it was anyone else other than Capaldi, it might not have worked, but he is absolutely brilliant, here. Also, I, for one, did not see the twist coming. It's a twist that makes watching the years pass as he chips at the wall extremely powerful.
“The Doctor Dances” (Season 1)
The conclusion to “The Empty Child” is one of the best endings to a two-part Doctor Who episode. Picking up from the cliffhanger, the Doctor continues to investigate and speculates that whatever Jack crashed to Earth altered one of the children that comes out during the raids. The three are able to eventually head to the cylinder where the Doctor discovers it’s a battlefield ambulance and the nanogenes have transformed the people. Nancy saves the day by admitting she is the boy’s mother and the Doctor is able to save everyone for a change!
I’m not sure there’s a better ending to an episode than this one, where the Doctor gets to shout “everybody lives!” It offers a great resolution to the story. There are other pluses to this episode, too, like the sweet moments bwteen the Doctor and Rose, and the additional background we're given on Jack. It’s nice for an episode to have such a happy ending with everyone dancing in the TARDIS!
“Forest of the Dead” (Season 4)
Continuing from “Silence in the Library,” the Doctor and River escape the Vashta Nerada as Donna wakes up in a new world. The Doctor starts to trust River when she whispers something to him and, slowly, Donna begins to understand her world isn’t what it seems. Realizing what happened to all the people at the library, the Doctor ends up making a deal with the Vashta Nerada to save them, but it might result in his death. To keep this from happening, River knocks him out and does it, instead, leading to an emotional scene in which we learn she told him his name. The episode has a bittersweet ending as the Doctor realizes he gave her his screwdriver for a reason and saves her to the library’s computer.
I love everything River says about how she knows the Doctor and what they’ve done together in this episode. The mystery of River is a huge part of what makes the story so fantastic and that last scene between her and the Doctor so memorable. Luckily, the rest of the story is interesting, too, so it's not just River that makes this one of Moffat's greatest episodes.
“Blink” (Season 3)
This episode barely includes the Doctor and yet it manages to be absolutely spectacular. Here, Sally Sparrow encounters the Weeping Angels, losing friends along the way as she tries to piece together what's happening. She discovers a message from the Doctor hidden on DVDs and with her friend's brother is able to get inside the TARDIS and defeat the Angels.
This is the first time we meet the Weeping Angels and it’s their best and greatest appearance. The idea that they can move when you blink and kill you by sending you into the past is extremely creepy. It’s a brilliant idea, the ultimate turning something we see all the time into a clever scary monster. Carey Mulligan, who plays Sally, is able to really carry the whole episode, with just the right doses of the Doctor to remind you this is Doctor Who! We get a lot of great quotes here, too, from “wibbly wobbly, timey wimey” to, of course ,“don’t blink.” It’s the ultimate stand-alone episode with a great story and great characters that you grow to care about. Moffat may not understand why we love “Blink,” but it’s clearly his best work.