Ok, yes, it’s no longer 2014, but good enough. As I’ve done a year ago and six months ago, here is the list of my fifteen favorite episodes. Note that this is not necessarily my ranking of best episodes. It’s a ranking of ones that I like the most. It’s interesting comparing this back to my old lists (here and here), because you can see that not only have my tastes changed, but my definition of “favorite” has changed as well.
This isn’t a popular choice, but I do love this episode. The time limit keeps the pressure on, and action keeps moving back and forth around the ship, but meanwhile, the characters get to explore their relationships and histories. And the Doctor fights a losing psychic battle against a solar entity, something that I always enjoy. The psychic part, not the losing part, though the fact that Doctor does succumb makes it even better.
14. The Eleventh Hour
A spectacular Doctor-introduction episode, it shows us all of this Doctor’s defining traits and sets up the Doctor’s and Amy’s relationship during a fun and interesting adventure.
13. Turn Left
Due to a tiny, ordinary decision, Donna never meets the Doctor and the world is thrown into chaos. It’s a fantastic exploration of a divergent timeline, showing what would happen if the Doctor wasn’t around to protect the universe.
12. The Waters of Mars
The downfall of the Tenth Doctor, when his need to help the people right in front of him overwhelms his greater responsibility to the universe and he convinces himself that he is above the rules. The situation was bad enough, with the creepy Flood, but the conclusion of the episode is chilling.
11. Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
This episode combines a fantastic story, a very creepy monster, and the introduction of River Song, back when she was actually intriguing.
10. The Caves of Androzani
The Doctor and Peri, poisoned from the outset, find themselves bounced back and forth between political factions trying to control a lucrative mine on the planet Androzani Minor. Throughout all of the intriguing conflict, which occurs on many levels, all the Doctor tries to do the entire episode is find the antidote to save Peri. This is one of the greatest episodes of classic Doctor Who, with the Doctor at his most heroic.
9. Remembrance of the Daleks
When two different factions of Dalek appear on Earth to retrieve an artifact, the Doctor and Ace seem caught in the middle without any way to stop or deflect the war between them. However, it turns out that the Doctor had the upper hand all along, and this episode shows just how cunning this incarnation of the Doctor can be.
8. The Fires of Pompeii
This episode cemented Donna as the best of the modern companions, as she starts out as making a stand against the Doctor for what she believes is right, but through the episode learns that the Doctor has more to consider when making a difficult decision than just who might die. And yet, she is still willing to stand up to him and make him see when he’s wrong when she needs to. Behind all this was a great adventure as well as a story of a family who learn what’s important in life through their contact with the Doctor and the events of that befall them.
7. The Lodger
This episode is lots of fun, as a normal guy has the Doctor move in with him for a number of days.
6. School Reunion
Ah, the return of Sarah Jane! Even if you’re not a classic show fan, this episode communicates just how important she is to the Doctor, and their reunion is bittersweet. The background story, of the Krillitanes and their quest to become gods, tests the Doctor’s moral firmness, and he almost loses.
5. The Doctor’s Wife
This one is all about the TARDIS made flesh and her interactions with the Doctor. The rest of the story is great, but it’s Idris and the Doctor that makes this episode brilliant.
This intense episode, set entirely in a tiny bus, is absolutely chilling, with an invisible enemy that controls first one person and then the Doctor, and a panicking group of humans who latch onto the one different person in the group – the Doctor – and brand him as the enemy instead, attempting to destroy him despite evidence to the contrary. This is Doctor Who at its rawest and most real.
3. The Day of the Doctor
Despite the numerous flaws in its plot and its disappointing handling of the Time War, this episode is great fun, with lots of banter between Doctors, adventure, and thirteen Doctors descending on Gallifrey.
2. The Runaway Bride
This episode has a fun, action-y plot, but its real strength is the development of Donna, from an angry and shallow bride at the outset to a far more sober and understanding woman at the end; the Doctor brings out the best in her.
1. Human Nature/The Family of Blood
I really can’t see a time when any other story will take my #1 spot. This episode builds up the story and life of John Smith, then tears it from him as he discovers the truth about himself. It explores how the Doctor’s presence can destroy the lives of the people around him, and, at the end, highlights his alien nature and reveals just how cruel he can be when he’s angered.
Time Crash: If this could be called an episode, it would be #1 or #2. Beautifully written and produced.
The Night of the Doctor: This webisode was brilliant in and of itself, but also connected the Eighth Doctor to the beginning of the Doctor’s involvement in the Time War.
Dalek: The Doctor’s rage and what it does to him.
The End of Time: The Doctor, the Master, and the Time Lords. ‘Nuff said.
Father’s Day: This is a great exploration into Rose’s background.
The Ark in Space: I didn’t expect this episode, with its larvae made of actors wrapped in green bubblewrap squirming on the ground, to be any good, but halfway through, I was just riveted.
Arc of Infinity: Omega is one of my favorite characters in the Doctor Who universe. This was a fantastic episode, except for the last twenty minutes, which was just terrible.
The Christmas Invasion: The first part of this episode drags a bit, but it establishes its point very well: the human race isn’t well-equipped yet to deal with aliens. Then the Doctor wakes up and it’s an incredible ride from that point to the end, establishing every detail of his character so well, even foreshadowing his eventual downfall.
The Five Doctors: While the “getting to the tower” parts of this episode are boring, having so many Doctors and companions in one show was brilliant, and for the most part, this is one of the most fun episodes ever made.