The popular British sci-fi series, Doctor Who is about to enter a new era. With both former showrunner Russel T Davies and fan-favorite actor David Tennant returning for a series of television specials, it seems that the series is reaching into the past in order to propel itself forward. Doctor Who first aired in 1963, and has had a long life at the BBC. It reached new heights of popularity in the 2000s and early 2010s and became known for its thrilling sci-fi plots and strong character writing.
There are 60 years worth of Doctor Who episodes, but all the highest-rated ones come from after the show’s revival in 2005. From fascinating one-off episodes to multiple episode story arcs, Doctor Who has captivated fans all over the world.
10 “Journey’s End” (S.4 Ep.13)
IMDb Score: 9.2/10
While it wasn’t the last episode of David Tennant’s run as the Tenth Doctor, “Journey’s End” served as the climax to the storylines Russel T Davies had been building throughout the Tenth Doctor era. The episode features the Doctor teaming up with all of his companions from his previous seasons in order to stop the Daleks from destroying the universe.
Fans lauded the series 4 finale, appreciating how it was able to bring past characters into the fold while keeping the story focused on the Doctor and his current companion, Donna, who is incidentally one of the characters returning for the 60th anniversary specials.
9 “The Family of Blood” (S.3 Ep.9)
IMDb Score: 9.2/10
Adapted from a 1995 Doctor Who tie-in novel by Paul Cornell, “The Family of Blood” concludes a story began in the previous episode, “Human Nature”, in which the Doctor alters his biology and becomes human in order to escape a family of gaseous hunters bent on stealing his life-force. In doing so, the Doctor loses his memories and becomes a teacher by the name of John Smith
The two-parter was acclaimed for its unique twist on the Doctor Who formula and David Tennant’s skillful performance.
8 “Doomsday” (S.2 Ep.13)
IMDb Score: 9.2/10
The finale of series 2, “Doomsday” is often referred to as the most heartbreaking episode of Doctor Who. This episode is the second half of a two-part arc started in “Army of Ghosts”, which began with the “ghosts” of people’s loved ones appearing across the Earth and lead to a conflict between the Daleks and the Cybermen.
The episode expertly wrapped up many plot points from series 2, but is best known as the final episode in which the Doctor’s companion Rose Tyler appeared in a leading role. Her tragic departure from the show was widely praised by fans as one of the strongest emotional gut-punches in Doctor Who history.
7 “The Girl in the Fireplace” (S.2 Ep.4)
IMDb Score: 9.2/10
Doctor Who has delved into many different genres, from sci-fi to fantasy to horror, but “The Girl in the Fireplace” remains the show’s best foray into the genre of romance. The episode finds the Doctor on a 51st century spaceship that is linked to 18th century Versailles. As he uncovers the mystery behind a strange group of clockwork robots, the Doctor finds himself falling in love with notable French courtesan, Madame De Pompadour.
Many fans consider this episode to be the first true classic of the David Tennant era, lauding its creative premise and tender character work.
6 “Day of the Doctor” (Special)
This blockbuster celebration of the show’s 50th anniversary was a love letter to all things Doctor Who. It united the two most popular Doctors of the modern era, David Tennant and Matt Smith and featured a number of other iterations of the iconic character, from a secret regeneration played by John Hurt to a cameo from classic era legend, Tom Baker.
The episode, which features multiple Doctors teaming up to rewrite the tragic history of their home planet, was screened in theaters worldwide and quickly gained its status as the best crossover episode in the show’s history.
5 “Vincent and the Doctor” (S.5 Ep.10)
IMDb Score: 9.3/10
The most popular historical episode of the series and a highlight of Matt Smith’s run as the Eleventh Doctor, “Vincent and the Doctor” sees the Doctor and Amy team up with Vincent Van Gogh in order to find a monster that is invisible to everyone besides the beloved artist.
“Vincent and the Doctor” was praised for the simplicity of its story and its deep exploration of Van Gogh as a person. The painter fits perfectly into the Doctor and Amy’s dynamic in a way that few historical figures have. Tony Curran shines as the struggling artist and the heart-wrenching ending earns this episode its esteemed reputation.
4 “Silence in the Library” (S.4 Ep.8)
IMDb Score: 9.3/10
The start of Doctor Who’s most acclaimed two-part story, Silence in the Library is not only a great David Tennant-era episode, it also sets into motion plot lines and character dynamics that would become instrumental to both Matt Smith’s and Peter Capaldi’s tenures as the Doctor. The episode introduced River Song, a mysterious foil to and eventual love interest of the Doctor who was a major recurring character in the show for years afterward.
The episode itself follows the Doctor and Donna arriving at a planet-sized library only to find it abandoned, with dangerous creatures lurking in the shadows. The episode cultivated an intriguing mystery and a foreboding atmosphere that immediately hooked fans and had them thrilled for the next episode.
3 “Forest of the Dead” (S.4 Ep.9)
IMDb Score: 9.4/10
Speaking of the next episode, “Forest of the Dead” picks up where “Silence in the Library left off and increases the tension and emotion tenfold. The episode dives deep into its lead characters, allowing for some impactful emotional scenes as the plot unfolds.
Like the previous episode, the tightness of its writing and the unraveling of the mystery surrounding the library were highly praised by audiences. Fifteen years after it first aired, this episode remains one of the finest and most significant episodes of Doctor Who.
2 “Heaven Sent” (S.9 Ep.11)
IMDb Score: 9.6/10
The sole entry from Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor to make this list, “Heaven Sent” is essentially a one-man play. The Doctor finds himself trapped in a strange prison and pursued by an unrelenting monster. The mystery of the true nature of his imprisonment is unveiled as the Doctor fights with all his might to escape, no matter how long it may take.
While praise for Capaldi’s era as a whole was somewhat more muted than David Tennant’s or Matt Smith’s, this episode in particular was unanimously praised as one of the show’s best. It features everything fans loved about the Twelfth Doctor. His dark reflective nature and his unwavering persistence are on full display here. Capaldi’s magnetic performance captivated viewers throughout the episode’s 55-minute runtime.
1 “Blink” (S.3 Ep.10)
IMDb Score: 9.8/10
On paper, “Blink” doesn’t seem like it would be a hit. This series 3 episode was made on a tight schedule with a very low budget and had barely any screen-time for the Doctor and Martha, focusing instead on a never-before-seen character named Sally Sparrow. It’s a one-off episode that has no bearing on the arc of the show, but it quickly became a fan favorite thanks to the introduction of one of Doctor Who‘s most horrific villains: the Weeping Angels.
The Steven Moffat-penned episode plays out like a short horror film, playing on the primal fear of something sneaking up on you when you turn your back. The Weeping Angels appear to be ordinary statues when you’re looking at them, but as soon as you look away, they move in to attack. The terrifying concept enthralled viewers who were quick to call it the greatest Doctor Who episode of all time. The Angels returned later in the series, appearing in beloved episodes from both Matt Smith’s and Jodie Whittaker’s eras. But their most frightening incarnation remained their appearance in “Blink”.
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