Tomorrow’s Doctor Who Christmas special will mark the departure of star Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor after three seasons of timey-wimey adventures with Clara, and then Nardole and Bill. As you guys know, the beloved character is set to regenerate into his 13th incarnation and become a Time Lady for the first time ever in the show’s 54-year history when Jodie Whittaker steps into the iconic role.
“Twice Upon a Time” will also be a multi-Doctor extravaganza that will feature David Bradley in the role of the First Doctor and see the return of Pearl Mackie as companion Bill Potts. Mackie recently teased that Bill is “100% back with the full Bill energy, but she’s not quite all she seems ...”
Before we get to witness the momentous occasion of the passing of the Sonic Screwdriver that will no doubt lead to buckets of tears being shed during the yuletide special, we’ve decided to look back at the 12 best Doctor Who episodes of the Capaldi era, because, ya know, he's the 12th Doctor.
Side note: The episodes below are not listed by rank but are rather presented in chronological order. So, without further ado, here are Capaldi’s best Doctor Who episodes, and if some of your personal favorites are not there, let us know which episodes you think are best. And to put you in a more festive mood, here is our list of Doctor Who Christmas specials, ranked.
DEEP BREATH: Season 8 Episode 1
Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor was introduced in his very first episode (penned by showrunner Steven Moffat) in a big way by kicking things off with a Tyrannosaurus roaming around Victorian London and featuring the return of the Paternoster Gang.
Instead of introducing a new companion, Jenna Coleman stuck around as Clara, who spends part of “Deep Breath” angry at the fact that the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) would choose THAT face as his new incarnation and wants to get the old Doctor back. On the other hand, we have the Doctor wondering about his new face since he feels he’s seen it before (he has: it’s that of Caecilius from the David Tennant episode "The Fires of Pompeii").
Despite spending part of the episode confused as a result of his regeneration, the Doctor manages to untangle the mystery of the automatons using human parts to rebuild their ship (they want to go to the promised land, you see) and stop them by being, as always, the cleverest person in the room and was the perfect story to showcase what Capaldi was capable of as the Doctor.
The episode ended with a surprise emotional cameo by Matt Smith, and introduced viewers to Michelle Gomez as The Master/Missy, although we don’t find out about her identity until much later in the season.
LISTEN: Season 8 Episode 4
“Listen. Question: Why do we talk out loud when we know we’re alone? Conjecture: Because we know we’re not.” Another strong episode written by Moffat, “Listen” is at heart a story about the monsters under the bed that terrify kids the world over.
We’re also introduced to three versions of Danny Pink. The fellow teacher with whom Clara goes on a disastrous first date; the version of him as a kid Clara meets who’s afraid of the monster in the room which leads to the Doctor giving another of his fantastic speeches as how being scared is actually power; and Col. Orson Pink, a descendant from 100 years into the future.
The best part was Clara finding herself in the barn on Gallifrey (the one from “Day of the Doctor”) where the Doctor used to sleep as a child. As Clara hides under the Doctor’s bed she suddenly grabs his ankle when he rises thus being responsible for the Doctor’s fear in the first place. However, as she puts him back to sleep and tells him to listen to a story, she tells him it’s OK to be afraid because fear is a superpower, a speech that ultimately puts into motion the War Doctor’s return to that barn in the 50th anniversary special.
FLATLINE: Season 8 Episode 9
The ninth episode of Peter Capaldi’s first season as the Doctor, “Flatline” gave us a hilariously shrinking TARDIS where the Doctor ended up being stuck inside when something unknown starts to leech the TARDIS’s external dimensions. The powers-that-be literally “leeched” the gag for all it’s worth by giving us a brilliant Addams Family moment when the Doctor’s hand emerges from the tiny TARDIS to move it out of the way of an oncoming train.
The episode introduced viewers to a great "temporary companion" in Rigsby and featured some pretty terrifying 2-dimensional monsters (which were rendered by some very nifty visual effects) who quickly learn to become 3-dimensionals beings the Doctor ends up calling the Boneless. Oh, and what’s a Doctor Who episode without our beloved Time Lord giving another one of his awesome speeches about the Earth being protected?
“Flatline” also notably put Clara in the driver’s seat (so to speak) for basically the whole of the 2D adventure where girl proved she actually makes for a pretty good Doctor. Foreshadowing much?
DARK WATER: Season 8 Episode 11
Written by showrunner Steven Moffat, the first episode of a two-parter concluding with “Death in Heaven” killed off Danny Pink, sending Clara into a tailspin where she betrays the Doctor by stealing all of the TARDIS keys and threatening to destroy them in lava if the Doctor doesn’t fix Danny’s death. Despite Clara’s betrayal, the Doctor takes them to hell, aka the Nethersphere, to try to get Danny back.
It's in this episode that the mysterious Missy (played by the wonderful Michelle Gomez) is finally revealed to both the audience and the Doctor that she is his archenemy: The Mistress, aka The Master. But not before Missy takes the opportunity to kiss the Doctor where tongues may or may not have been involved (best not talk about that).
“Dark Water” also hammered home our collective fear of whether or not there is life after death, and what can possibly happen after one dies — Doctor Who-style — and featured the return of the Cybermen.
THE MAGICIAN'S APPRENTICE: Season 9 Episode 1
The first part of a gripping two-parter penned by Steven Moffat that ends with “The Witch’s Familiar,” the Season 9 premiere gives us a dramatic back story to Davros at a time when this one was only a kid.
See, the Doctor showed up right when young Davros’ life was in danger. Throwing him his screwdriver, the Doctor is about to save him until the child reveals himself (to the Doctor’s horror) to be the future creator of the Daleks. What do you do when you’re faced with a child who will grow up to be the monster responsible for billions of deaths? That’s the impossible conundrum the Doctor finds himself in.
The episode also saw the return of some familiar locations and organizations: The Maldovarium bar, The Shadow Proclamation, The Sisterhood of Karn and Skarro. Michelle Gomez’s Missy returned as did UNIT’s Kate Stewart and a dying Davros. It also introduced the Sonic sunglasses and the Doctor’s last will and testament, the Confession Dial, which will have an important role to play later in the season.
THE WITCHE'S FAMILIAR: Season 9 Episode 2
The conclusion to the Davros storyline kicked off by “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” was a treasure-trove of masterful performances by all involved. The Missy-Clara dynamic was a complete riot to watch (these two should have had their own spinoff series) with the two actresses boasting some undeniable chemistry. Also, Clara inside a Dalek? Priceless. Plus, it's a nice little throwback to “Asylum of the Daleks.”
But it’s the Doctor’s interactions with Davros that makes the episode so effective as the 12th Doctor shows a huge amount of compassion for his dying archenemy despite having witnessed Missy and Clara being “exterminated” by the Daleks. It's a compassion Davros warns will be the Doctor’s undoing. And while Davros thought he was playing the Doctor like a fiddle the whole time and fooling him into receiving some regeneration energy, the 12th Doctor was actually one step ahead. Despite everything, the Doctor ends up going back in time to save young Davros while teaching him a little something about mercy which will ultimately save Clara.
THE ZYGON INVERSION: Season 9 Episode 8
The episode is the second of a two-parter kicked off with “The Zygon Invasion” which sees the Doctor try to stop a Zygon splinter group from going to war with the whole human race after having lived peacefully among them since “The Day of the Doctor.” Fan fave Osgood is back (although there are two of them: one human and one Zygon but neither one wants to reveal which is which) and so is Kate Stewart and UNIT.
However, one of the biggest takeaways from “The Zygon Inversion” is the Doctor’s memorable speech about war which is made all the more poignant by Capaldi’s delivery and the fact that he, too, at one time, almost "pushed the button" on the last day of the Time War during the 50th anniversary special. Have a listen:
FACE THE RAVEN: Season 9 Episode 10
“Let me be brave, let me be brave, let me be brave.” Being the final worlds of Clara Oswald (well, not really because of a bit of a cop out later in the season) as her recklessness gets her killed in an episode that had tattoos that count down to zero, a “murder” mystery, a Doctor Who version of Harry Potter's Diagon Alley that serves as a sanctuary for aliens, and ends up with the dramatic death of the Doctor’s beloved companion. Something rarely seen on Doctor Who.
The episode also saw the return of Rigsy, whom we met in “Flatline,” as well as Maisie Williams as Me/Ashildr who sells out the Doctor to safeguard her sanctuary. The Doctor’s last will and testament, the Confession Dial, also makes a return and Capaldi gets to rip into Me/Ashildr in another awesome speech.
HEAVEN SENT: Season 9 Episode 11
Directly following “Face the Raven,” the 55-minute episode written by Steven Moffat and directed by Rachel Talalay is a real acting tour-de-force by Peter Capaldi who spends most of the time talking to himself (and to an absent Clara), running around the corridors of a mysterious castle with moving walls and rooms, and trying to solve the mystery of where he is and how to get out in this glorious Doctor-centric episode.
The Doctor slowly peels away the layers of the castle and is enabled to move a bit further by confessing to several things: including the real reason why he left Gallifrey (he wasn’t bored, he was scared). We see him go through a Groundhog Day-type of situation for over 2 billion years while being chased by a terrifying creature called The Veil and slowly chipping away at a wall made of something harder than diamond by punching it with his bare fists for those billion years.
The kicker of “Heaven Sent” is that once free, he realizes he’s been imprisoned in his own Confession Dial by the Time Lords and that he's actually on Gallifrey. And now that he’s out? Yep, he’s mad as hell. This episode is so good, it made our list of seven essential Doctor Who episodes.
EXTREMIS: Season 10 Episode 6
This episode written by — surprise, surprise — Steven Moffat is basically divided into two parts. One includes a flashback of the Doctor being called upon to execute Missy. Which, in typical Doctor fashion, he refuses to do because he considers Missy to be his friend (and also, she promised to be good). Instead, he locks her in the famous Vault because he did promise to watch over her body for a thousand years.
The second part of the episode is a mystery/horror tale that features a still-blind Doctor (something that happened during the events of “Oxygen”) who must figure out the mystery of the Veritas, a forbidden Vatican text that leads to the suicide of those who have translated it. What we believe to be real turns out instead to be a simulation from The Monks, a group of aliens hell-bent on conquering the Earth. Discovering that he’s only a simulation, the Doctor manages to send an email (via Sonic sunglasses) to the real Doctor so that he can save the world.
WORLD ENOUGH AND TIME: Season 10 Episode 11
Opening with the Doctor leaving the TARDIS to step into a snowy landscape as he starts to regenerate while screaming “No!” the penultimate episode of Season 10 provided shocking moments galore.
Landing on a colony ship where time moves differently whether you’re closest of farthest away from a Black Hole, the episode saw Missy on a test run trying to act like the Doctor and calling herself Doctor Who (that’s his real name, or so she claims), giving hilarious monikers to the Doctor’s companions (Bill and Nardole) in the process. However things quickly go horribly wrong when Bill Potts is shot and killed.
What’s great about “World Enough and Time” is that the episode not only served as the genesis of the Mondasian Cybermen (who were last seen on TV in the 1966 story “The Tenth Planet”) themselves but also turned Bill into a Cyberman while Missy came face-to-face with her previous incarnation: John Simm's Master, in what was the first ever multi-Masters episode in Doctor Who history.
THE DOCTOR FALLS: Season 10 Episode 12
Peter Capaldi’s next-to-last episode as the 12th Doctor packed an emotional punch during the conclusion of the dramatic two-parter that sees the Doctor fight to the death to save the last humans on the ship from the Cybermen, even though he doesn’t think he’ll win. That's the Doctor for you.
From his impassioned speech to Missy and The Master as to why he does what he does, trying to sway them to fight by his side, and the Doctor fighting the Cybermen alone and sacrificing himself to try and save as many people as he could was one of the highlights of the episode.
As was the interaction between Missy and the Master who ended up stabbing each other in the back when Missy ultimately decided it was finally time to stand by the Doctor. While we know The Master is about to become Missy, it seems it’s the end of the road for Missy herself.
That, coupled with the return of the Pilot who saves Bill from her Cyberman fate and the Doctor finally waking up in his TARDIS and refusing to regenerate ever again because he can’t stand being somebody else, and seeing David Bradley appear as the First Doctor in the final moments of “The Doctor Falls” makes this one of the best of the Capaldi era.