My fifteen favorite episodes

Today is the Eve of the Day of the Doctor! I pretty much have to stay off the Internet for the next three days to avoid being spoiled before the theatrical release. I actually considered having cable installed just for this month so that we could see “The Day of the Doctor” with everyone else, but I couldn’t quite justify that expense.

Everyone has been posting their lists of the best Doctor Who episodes, so I’m doing my list, though mine are my favorite episodes, not necessarily the best episodes. For example, I think “The Ark in Space” is one of the best episodes I’ve seen, but I wouldn’t rate it in my favorites. This list is very much entrenched in the new series, because I haven’t seen a whole bunch of the old series yet.

These are the episodes that I like to re-watch the most. I couldn’t pare it down to ten.

15. The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang

This episode has three great things about it. First, Rory and his incredible devotion. Second, the time travel loops in the second half that end up saving the day. Third, the Pandorica speech. It’s one of the greatest monologues in the entire show. It’s too bad that the aliens leaving was just a bluff.

Favorite scene: The Pandorica speech. “Let someone else try first.”

14. The Eleventh Hour

I love regeneration episodes. Well, ok, “Time and the Rani” was terrible. But still. This one  introduces the Eleventh Doctor, in all his quirky, chaotic glory. It’s a fun romp, and ends with him walking through a montage of the ten previous Doctors.

Favorite scene: Um, the Doctor walking through the montage of the ten previous Doctors.  “Hello. I’m the Doctor. Basically, run.”

13. The End of Time

I also love direct references to the history of Doctor Who. This show has an incredibly intricate universe, so let’s see more of it! This episode has the Master, the Time Lords, Gallifrey, and Rassilon, maddened by the Time War. Oh, Rassilon, how far you have fallen!

I tried to be honest about how much I rewatch these episodes, so this one is rated low on the list simply because it makes me cry every time and I often refuse to watch it because I’ll be crying for the rest of the day.

Favorite scene: The showdown between the Doctor, the Master, and Rassilon. “The link is broken. Back into the Time War, Rassilon. Back into hell.

12. Vincent and the Doctor

And I love historical episodes. Poor Vincent. Amy and the Doctor really changed his life, even if they couldn’t change his destiny.

Favorite scene: Anything that references Van Gogh’s life and paintings. The re-creation of the bedroom at Arles was fantastic. (This is much like the insertion of Agatha Christie novel titles into the dialogue of “The Unicorn and the Wasp.”)

11. Rose

Christopher Eccleston introducing himself as the Ninth Doctor in a spectacular way.

Favorite scene: Rose enters the TARDIS for the first time and finds out about the Doctor. Rose: “Are you an alien?” The Doctor: “Yes.”

10. The Five Doctors

“The Five Doctors” is not a great episode; the plot is actually pretty terrible. But seeing the four Doctors (First, Second, Third, and Fifth – Tom Baker chose to not participate in this special) interact with each other is priceless, and makes this episode a whole lot of fun.

Favorite scene: The first three Doctors examine the inscription and try to show up each other. Second Doctor: “It’s Old High Gallifreyan, the ancient language of the Time Lords. Not many people understand it these days.” All three of the Doctors: “Fortunately, I do.”

9. Voyage of the Damned

A great adventure episode, and the look on Ten’s face when he sees where the Titanic is going to land is priceless.

Favorite scene: The Doctor promises to save everyone. “I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I’m nine hundred and three years old and I’m the man who’s going to save your lives and all six billion people on the planet below.”

8. The Lodger

Ever imagined what life would be like if Eleven moved into your house? This is it. Hold onto your hat.

Favorite scene: While there are tons of great Eleven scenes here, I love watching him play football.

7. The Doctor’s Wife

Written by Neil Gaiman, this episode has a great plot and sparkling dialogue, which is what Neil Gaiman always delivers. And it cements the relationship between the Doctor and the companion he’s been with the longest.

Favorite scene: The Doctor finds out who Idris really is. “Ah, it’s my thief.”

6. The Girl in the Fireplace

This episode touched me so much that I actually wrote a fanfic about it – my one and only fanfic ever, probably. The development of Ten’s relationship with Reinette is beautiful, and so sad.

Favorite scene: The Doctor returns to the bedroom to find that Reinette has grown up. “It is customary, I think, to have an imaginary friend only during one’s childhood. You are to be congratulated on your persistence.”

5. School Reunion

I could watch the scenes of John Smith’s introduction to Sarah Jane and Sarah Jane’s finding the TARDIS and the Doctor over and over again.

Favorite scene: Sarah identifies John Smith as the Doctor. “It’s you!”

4. The Christmas Invasion

This episode is excellent for so many reasons. It demonstrates very clearly how lost planet Earth is if the aliens arrive and the Doctor is not there to help. It deals with Rose realizing that the Doctor is far more alien than she imagined, and helps her accept this new person she thought she knew. And it lets the Doctor be the undisputed hero at the end, demonstrating all of the salient points of his character, so that we know exactly who he is when the season preview starts rolling.

Favorite scene: The Doctor’s monologue, up until challenging the Sycorax leader. “Or are you just a kalak pel gahsa kree salvak?” (Yes, I typed that without having to look it up.)

3. Smith and Jones

This is one of my favorite “sit back and hang out” episodes. It’s full of action, great dialogue, and the type of eccentric comedy that Doctor Who excels at. When I just want a quick injection of insanity, this is my go-to episode.

Favorite scene: The Doctor in bed, being examined by the medical students. “Perhaps a visit from psychiatric.”

2. The Next Doctor

Jackson Lake’s story is so tragic and yet so wonderful, I feel compelled to watch this episode over and over again, at least once a week. David Morrissey would have been a fantastic Doctor. Perhaps he will be, in the future sometime.

Favorite scene: The reveal of the new Doctor’s identity.

1. Human Nature/Family of Blood

There are so many reasons I watch this episode so often.  One is Mr. Tennant’s amazing performance as both the Doctor and the completely human, 1910s teacher John Smith. Another is Harry Lloyd’s performance as creepy Jeremy Baines/Son of Mine. And, of course, the story of John Smith, his beautiful life, and his sacrifice to save his village, his school, and the universe.

Favorite scene: The Doctor returning to ask Nurse Redfern to travel with him. This is the first time Mr. Tennant is playing the Doctor, rather than John Smith, and the Doctor’s alien nature is palpable, almost jarring and repulsive.

Honorable Mention 1. Time Crash

“Time Crash” is easily my most watched episode, though I couldn’t include it in the above list because it’s only a mini-episode. Beyond the fact that Ten and Five are my favorite Doctors, the dialogue and comedy are just fantastic. I’ll pop open YouTube any time and watch this really quick.

Honorable Mention 2. Doctor Who Children in Need (2005)

Another mini-episode, this adds a lot to the story, between Nine’s regeneration into Ten and the beginning of “The Christmas Invasion.” Rose doesn’t just accept that Ten is the Doctor: he has to convince her.

Honorable Mention 3. Midnight

I include this as an honorable mention because I love this episode but don’t watch it often because it is simply too intense. On my list of best episodes, it’s easily in the top three, but I can’t put it on a list of favorites because I can’t make myself watch it very often.

Honorable Mention 4. Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways

I’ve actually not watched these two episodes in their entirety more than a couple of times, but I watch Nine’s farewell to Rose all the time.

Honorable Mention 5. Enlightenment

“Enlightenment” is a very surreal episode from the Fifth Doctor’s period, and while it’s pretty good, it’s not great. However, it has this one scene in it that cracks me up every time. The Fifth Doctor and Tegan are attending a reception held by the Eternals, and one of the Eternals is talking to Tegan while Five is standing nearby. He spots a bowl of celery on the buffet table and spends the rest of the scene in the background, covetously inspecting the stalks of celery and eventually selecting one to replace the one on his lapel. I’ll pop in the DVD just to watch this, and even though I’ve seen this scene multiple times, I still don’t know what the Eternal and Tegan were talking about.


Sarah Jane and Rose

It’s a day less than a month until “The Day of the Doctor” and information about the theater showings in the U.S. has just been released. As is typical in my life, I will not get the chance to see it in the theaters: the nearest simulcast on November 23 will be 4 hours away, and the repeat showing will only be 2 hours away, but it’s on November 25, which is a Monday and therefore a work day. I cannot justify taking the day off to travel up there for the show, and driving two hours, watching the show for probably two hours (there’s going to be a lot of extra content), and then driving back two hours will not be conducive to work the next day. Since we don’t get any TV service at home, we are reduced to begging our friends to let us come over to watch on their TV. Or, hopefully we can use BBC iPlayer to watch it. At the very worst, my understanding is that the BBC will be releasing the episode on DVD within the month.

This horrible tragedy of my life aside, I actually came to write about a happier topic. This morning, I was watching bits from one of my favorite episodes, “School Reunion.” Now, this episode, as a whole, is actually not the greatest. I remember watching it for the first time and not being particularly impressed, though I can’t really put my finger on why.  It just wasn’t great. It was adequate.

So why is “School Reunion” one of my favorite episodes? Because of Sarah Jane Smith and Rose Tyler.

In case you don’t know, Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) was a companion of the Doctor in the classic series. She started traveling with the Third Doctor, was with him when he regenerated into the Fourth Doctor, and traveled with the Fourth Doctor until he was called back by the Time Lords. Since humans weren’t allowed on Gallifrey at the time, the Doctor had to leave Sarah Jane on Earth, in her hometown of Croydon (or so he thought at the time), and that was the last she saw of him.

The reunion of the Doctor and Sarah Jane was very sweet. Headmaster Finch introduces the two of them, and while Sarah Jane does not recognize the Doctor (who is posing as physics teacher John Smith), who has regenerated six time since she last him, the Doctor knows her immediately, and is positively enchanted. As is usual with the tenth incarnation when he is utterly and completely surprised, he is nearly incoherent as he chats with her, at least to her. To us, his babble demonstrates his regard (if not love) for her and his dumbfounded state.

Later that night, Sarah Jane and the Doctor’s “gang” break into the school separately. While fleeing some very scary sounds, Sarah Jane stumbles into a storage room and comes face-to-face with the TARDIS. It’s her turn to be dumbfounded, and she backs out of the room, running into John Smith, who says, very seriously, “Hello, Sarah Jane.” She immediately knows who he is, and the following conversation is very strained. Over the course of the show, they talk about the difficulties the both have with their relationship. Sarah Jane has waited for the Doctor for thirty years, being unable to live a normal life, so boring compared to the wonders of the universe that he has shown her. For his part, the Doctor is unable to return to past companions, because all he sees is that they age and die, leaving him alone yet again.

This part of the story is moving because you get to see the aftereffects of traveling with the Doctor. Sarah Jane never had a normal life after the Doctor, and only after re-encountering him was she able to come to terms with it and move on.  The episode also prepares you for what will happen when Rose must leave. You don’t know at this point what will cause her to leave the Doctor, but you can see that whatever it is, it will be just as traumatic for her as it was for Sarah Jane.

The other half of the episode is the development of Rose’s character. Before I go on, I want to say that I’m not the biggest fan of Rose. She is a reasonable companion – strong-willed, brave, clever (the British use this term a lot, it seems, instead of “smart” or “intelligent,” and I like it, because it has a connotation of “quick-witted”) – but I also found her to be a bit whiny and impetuous, often causing the situation that the Doctor must fix. She helped both Nine and Ten grow, learn, and develop, and Ten (and probably Nine) both loved her deeply, but these aren’t necessarily reasons for me to like her. I cried when she and Ten were trapped in different universes, but I was also happy to see her go.

“School Reunion” provides a great example of one of the things I disliked about her. The Doctor introduces her to Sarah Jane, and she takes an instant dislike to the former companion. Granted, it was sparked by Sarah Jane’s caustic remark about the Doctor’s companions getting younger, but Rose’s first complaint was that there were other companions before her: she wasn’t the Doctor’s first. This isn’t even a reasonable expectation – she’s 19 and already had a steady boyfriend, but she expected the 900-year-old Doctor to have always been traveling alone – until you realize that yes, she is 19 years old and still immature. Of course she’s going to react like this. This is definitely one of the things that I don’t like about her – her selfishness when it comes to the Doctor – but I can also recognize that this was a fantastic characterization of a young girl who is in this extraordinary situation of falling in love with an ancient alien.

As the story continues on, though, Rose learns and grows. Through discussion with Sarah Jane and the Doctor at separate times, she learns that the Doctor has had many, many companions, at different levels of intimacy, and that the one thing that connects them all is that they all eventually leave him, and he continues on alone. The companions, too, are scarred, as she sees that Sarah Jane had an empty life after she left the Doctor, but Sarah Jane teaches her something that everyone has to learn sometime: that the love is worth the eventual heartbreak. At the end of the episode, Rose hasn’t sorted everything out yet, but she’s getting there.

One other thing that I didn’t like, though maybe it again describes Rose’s character even more clearly, was her treatment of Mickey. At the beginning of the episode, Rose is flirting with Mickey on the phone, suggesting that he fabricated a situation just so that she would come back to see him. Mickey seems actually surprised at this, as if he called them without any romantic thought towards Rose, then gets his hopes up when she flirts with him. Then, at the end of the episode, she is upset because Mickey is going to travel with them. It seems to me that she wants both men, so that she can travel with the Doctor while keeping Mickey at home, wrapped around her finger, and now she’s angry because Mickey took her flirting seriously. It’s not the most flattering portrayal of her, and I almost think it was a mistake in the design of the episode. I’m not sure. Unfortunately, this storyline is never really explored, because the next episode, “The Girl in the Fireplace,” was written without knowing that Rose and Mickey were at odds, and the one after that, “Rise of the Cybermen”/”The Age of Steel,” barely deals with them.

And so, “School Reunion” is one of my favorite episodes without being all that great. It marries the nostalgia of a old and favorite companion with the deft development of that companion and the current companion, and that’s really what appeals to me most.