We’re back! For you, it’s been 7 days, for Ethan and Justin, a mere few seconds. That’s the beauty of time travel. We hope you enjoyed last week’s recommendations. This week we’ll be closing out our beginner’s guide to Doctor Who by giving you a look at adventures from Doctors 9 through 13. These stories will encompass what is considered the modern era of the show. After a hiatus of 16 years, barring one exception as mentioned last week, the show returned in 2005 and has since taken the world by storm.
We’ll give you two stories from each Doctor’s era. One chosen by Ethan, one by Justin. These will be a look at the kind of stories that encompass the era they’re from. We want to give you a distilled experience of what each Doctor is like so you can decide what best fits your tastes. So here we go. Let’s take a trip into the Vortex!
The 9th Doctor – Christopher Eccelston (2005)
“Well, you can stay there if you want. But right now, there’s this plasma storm brewing in the Horsehead Nebula. Fires are burning ten million miles wide. I could fly the TARDIS right into the heart of it, then ride the shock wave all the way out, hurtle right across the sky and end up… anywhere. Your choice.” – The 9th Doctor (World War Three)
- Dalek (Ethan’s Pick) – When Doctor Who returned in 2005, showrunner Russel T. Davies spent the first 5 episodes establishing the characters, both Christopher Eccelston’s war-ravaged Doctor, and Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler. But then, in the sixth episode, Davies, and scriptwriter Robert Shearman, introduced a whole new generation to the Doctor’s greatest enemies, the Daleks. What makes this episode so effective in bringing the terror of the Daleks to the screen is that there’s just one, just one Dalek, in an underground bunker, rampaging through dozens of helpless people. We also get an incredible scene between the Doctor and this lone Dalek in which he unleashes a diatribe of built-up rage that shows just how well-cast Eccelston was as the Lonely God.
- The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances (Justin’s Pick) – When people tell you that Steven Moffat is a big deal, this episode is usually the reason why. Tracking a mysterious object through the vacuum of space, the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler are transported to London at the height of the Blitz. But the city is under siege by more than just bombs as a creepy “gas mask plague” has swept through the war wards and bombed-out neighborhoods, freezing the populace in terror. While plenty creepy and packed with scares, this two-parter also displays Moffat’s cunning wordplay, dynamic characters (like Captain Jack Harkness, making his debut here), and tremendous episode hooks positioning it as the first real “standout” episode of the reborn franchise. Just this once, dear readers, everybody lived and it’s just as powerful today as it was then.
The 10th Doctor – David Tennant (2005-2010)
“I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I’m 903 years old, and I’m the man who’s gonna save your lives and all six billion people on the planet below.” – The 10th Doctor (Voyage of the Damned)
- The Girl in the Fireplace (Ethan’s Pick) – Possibly the most emotional episode in the show’s history. We see David Tennant’s 10th Doctor at his most romantic, before being utterly devastated come episode’s end. A ship in the 51st Century lies deserted, only its robotic attendants remain. They believe that to repair the ship, a brain must be acquired. To achieve this, they open a window into the past, specifically the life of one Madame de Pompadour. The Doctor must save her. From here, the episode only gets better. To get the full effect of the episode’s magic, it must be experienced. Prepare to cry.
- Human Nature/The Family of Blood (Justin’s Pick) – Though the Doctor loves humans, he rarely gets a chance to live as one. That was until Paul Cornell’s seminal Seventh Doctor novel Human Nature, which he later adapted into one of the best episodes of David Tennant’s tenure. Doggedly pursued by an interstellar blood cult, the Doctor and Martha Jones (a tremendously underrated modern companion) are forced to go “undercover” in pre-WWI England, moonlighting as staff of a boy’s school. For Martha, that means just getting a new job, but for the Doctor, that means changing everything about himself. Down to his very DNA. What follows is an emotionally charged, immensely creepy, and thunderously sad exploration of the Doctor as a heroic archetype and the chaos that touches the towns and peoples he comes into contact with. Basically, you come for the bloodthirsty scarecrows, but you stay for the bravura performances of Tennant, Freema Agyeman, and guest star Jessica Hynes (she of Spaced fame).
The 11th Doctor – Matt Smith (2010-2013)
“There’s something you better understand about me, ‘cause it’s important and one day your life may depend on it. I am definitely a madman in a box.” – The 11th Doctor (The Eleventh Hour)
- The Doctor’s Wife (Justin’s Pick) – The Doctor has often claimed that the TARDIS was alive, but what happens when that becomes explicit? One of the best episodes of the Matt Smith era that’s what. Scripted by British Invasion icon Neil Gaiman and containing one of the most skin-crawling performances from Micheal Sheen, The Doctor’s Wife just feels instantly special. A message from a long-assumed-dead Time Lord brings the Eleventh Doctor, Amy, and Rory outside of normal space to a junk planet called House, filled to bursting with the wreckage of ships past. But House carries with it the power to steal the TARDIS’ soul, transporting it from its shell into the patchwork body of a woman who lives on the planet, Astrid (an angelic Suranne Jones). From there the Doctor and his companions must learn to trust this woman while learning the true meaning of “being bigger on the inside”. A towering achievement for the show as it starts to hit its peak of popularity, on both sides of the ocean.
- The God Complex (Ethan’s Pick) – A seemingly endless 80’s hotel. Groups of people plucked from space and time. Every room is filled with a person’s fear. One of those rooms is yours. If you find it, you will praise Him. if you praise Him, you will die. This is what the Doctor, Amy, and Rory find when the TARDIS brings them to the hotel. Throughout the history of the show, there have been many so-called “almost-companions”, those characters who the Doctor takes a shine to, who he offers the chance to travel with him, but for one reason or another, they don’t. This episode contains the best of these “almost-companions” in Rita. She’s delightful and you’ll love her. Oh, and the episode also contains perhaps the best examination of faith the show has ever done.
The 12th Doctor – Peter Capaldi (2013-2017)
“Winning? Is that what you think it’s about? I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone – or because I hate someone, or because I want to blame someone… I do what I do because it’s right! Because it’s decent! And above all it’s kind! It’s just that. Just kind.” – The 12th Doctor (The Doctor Falls)
- Listen (Justin’s Pick) – Arguably the Rosetta Stone of Peter Capaldi’s tersely entertaining Twelfth Doctor. Newly regenerated and left to his own devices in the TARDIS, the Doctor has a theory. That a set of creatures can be so silent, so imperceptible by other creatures, that they can evolve to have flawless camouflage, blending into the background of a thousand worlds. And what would they do with their evolutionary superiority? LISTEN, naturally. Pulling the thread from 80s Leeds to ancient Gallifrey, the Doctor and Clara discover that “fear is a superpower” and set up one of this era’s most affecting leitmotifs. One that stretches all the way into both Clara Oswald’s and the 12th Doctor’s final moments.
- Under the Lake / Before the Flood (Ethan’s Pick) – The Doctor and Clara arrive at a deserted base. There they discover strange goings-on and a terrified crew. This is the premise for numerous “Base Under Siege” episodes of Doctor Who. A lot of the episodes we’ve recommended fit into this sub-genre, but they all had other qualities that made them perfect starting points. But what makes this two-parter incredible is it is the perfect distillation of the “Base Under Siege” story. The scares are high. The supporting cast is delightful. It does something unique with the structure of the show. And you get wonderful performances from both Peter Capaldi’s very Scottish Doctor and the ever incredible Jenna Coleman’s Clara. My personal favorite TARDIS team, and one of my favorite episodes ever.
The 13th Doctor – Jodie Whittaker (2017-Present)
“You want the whole universe. Someone who has seen it all, and that’s me. I’ve lived longer, seen more, loved more, and lost more. I can share it all with you, anything you want to know about what you never had.” – The 13th Doctor (It Takes You Away)
- The Woman Who Fell to Earth (Ethan’s Pick) – We’ve strived throughout these beginner’s guides to avoid regeneration stories as best as possible, but this is, on top of being an excellent story, the cleanest fresh start the show has had since it was brought back in 2005. Jodie Whittaker takes over the role of the Doctor, becoming the first woman to play the part, and she is incredible right out of the gate, nailing everything the Doctor should be, no matter what you may hear from idiots on the internet. We’re also introduced to the Doc’s new companions. Ryan and Yaz are fun and well-rounded characters, but you will fall in love with Bradley Walsh’s Graham, the fourth person in this TARDIS quartet. Just wonderful stuff.
- Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror (Justin’s Pick) – Though it doesn’t have quite the personal resonance of Jodie Whittaker’s first “historical” episode Rosa, the Fam’s later dip into history is still one for the record books. Materializing in 1903, the Thirteenth Doctor and her companions connect with the great inventor (played with an understated grace by Goran Višnjić) after rescuing him from stranded alien spider-monsters looking to return to their home planet. Ya know, that old chestnut. My attempt at levity aside, this episode really makes wonderful use of both it’s time period and historical guest star, providing yet another high class drama that only Doctor Who could really provide.
And that’s that! We hope you’ve enjoyed our three-part beginner’s guide to the greatest show on TV. We’ll back in the future with more recommendations from the world of Doctor Who. Or maybe we’ve already given those recommendations. Time travel, it;s a tricky business to get right…