Top Ten: New Doctor Who Series (2005-2015)

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Doctor Who Series 10 is just a few months away now – but how do I think the revived version of the show has fared so far?

Let’s find out, as I rank the first nine (and a bit) seasons of new Doctor Who to date…

 

10. Series 6 (2011)

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Man oh man, what a disappointment this was. After a very strong first series in 2010, Matt Smith returns for his second run as The Eleventh Doctor – but instead of fun-filled frolics through time and space, we’re instead presented with the most head-scratching and bamboozling story arc to ever grace Doctor Who.

It’s important to say that Series 6 isn’t all bad. In fact, it’s home to a couple of genuine classics like The Doctor’s Wife and The Girl Who Waited. Surely not coincidentally though, they’re almost completely removed from the ongoing plot of the series. The rest sort of started well: The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon was ambitious in scale for an opener, but it was a bit too overblown – and the (eventual) resolution to The Doctor’s death in The Wedding of River Song was nothing short of abysmal. To be honest, the fact that more or less everything in Series 6 revolved around River Song (Amy and Rory’s daughter! The Doctor’s bespoke psychopath! Part Time Lord! ) was just terrible. And even when it wasn’t (barring the previous exceptions), it didn’t end well. The Curse of the Black Spot? Night Terrors? The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People? All of them deserve only one reaction: “ugh”.

 

9. Series 2 (2006)

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It may be only one rank up from Series 6, but Series 2 is miles ahead in quality overall. The problem with it is, when it does occasionally stink, boy does it stink. New Earth is hardly the best opener ever, and the series is peppered with duds throughout – Fear Her and The Idiot’s Lantern to name a couple. It manages to make up for them with a semi-decent Cyberman two-parter (and a semi-decent two-part Cyberman v Dalek finale), but for every Doomsday there’s a Love and Monsters. And if I’m brutally honest, in hindsight, I don’t even think I really like the end of Doomsday that much. It’s a powerful scene, but… sorry shippers, I just wasn’t invested in the whole Doctor/Rose romance.

On the plus side, Series 2 does give us The Girl in the Fireplace and The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, which are easily amongst the best Tenth Doctor episodes, if not the best modern Doctor Who episodes. So that’s something.

 

8. Series 3 (2007)

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I’m really not a fan of Martha Jones as a companion, but I must admit Series 3 fares ever so slightly better than Series 2 in terms of consistent quality. Or rather, half of it does. The initial string of episodes is almost painful at times: Smith and Jones, The Shakespeare Code, Gridlock, Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks, The Lazarus Experiment, 42… yikes. Thankfully, things pick up considerably as the series nears its climax. This is the series that gave us Blink. This is the series that gave us Human Nature/The Family of Blood. And, even if the ending is a bit flawed, this is the series that gave us the epic three-part finale Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords. With John Simm as The Master!

On balance, Series 3 probably had just as many lows as Series 2, if not a couple more. The difference is, its highs were just that little bit higher…

 

7. Series 1 (2005)

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I feel like I’m going to start sounding like a broken record, but… yeah, same sort of scenario with Series 1. Plenty of hits, plenty of misses. I’m willing to excuse a few misfires in this instance though, as the show was still finding its feet in the modern era. That and, even when Series 1 does lose a bit of luster, I don’t think it sinks quite as low as Series 2 or 3. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch The Long Game or Boom Town, or Aliens of London/World War Three… or even Rose. But I do have fond memories of Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways. And Dalek. And The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances.

I also think the Doctor/Rose dynamic is a bit stronger than with The Ninth Doctor than it is with the Tenth. Plus, Captain Jack Harkness! What’s not to love?

 

6. Series 7 (2012-2013)

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It just falls short of the top half of this list, but there’s really a lot to love about Series 7. Or, more specifically, Series 7 Part 2. Three out of the five episodes in Part 1 are a bit forgettable, with only Asylum of the Daleks and The Angels Take Manhattan really leaving an impression – the first because of Jenna Coleman’s surprise debut, and the second because of Amy and Rory’s departure. It’s when Clara joins the TARDIS in The Snowmen (or rather, The Bells of Saint John) that things properly kick up a gear. Okay, The Rings of Akhaten is a bit naff and Cold War is average at best, but there’s some underrated gems like Hide in there too. Not everyone likes it, but I do, and it’s my list dammit!

It all then culminates in The Name of the Doctor, a jam-packed and enjoyable finale that is the perfect lead in to the incredible 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor. Need I say more?

 

5. The Specials (2009-2010)

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Maybe it’s not quite fair to judge this as an entire series, but it’s all we got for 2009-2010 so I’m going to count it (though I suppose by the logic I should also judge The Return of Doctor Mysterio separately for 2016…?).  Anyway! The Next Doctor and Planet of the Dead are a bit pants, but everything (by which I mean three episodes) after that is truly spectacular stuff.

There’s a lot of dispute over whether David Tennant’s swansong, The End of Time, is an overstuffed and self-indulgent mess or a fitting finale to five years of new Doctor Who. I personally think it falls into the latter category, but feel free to disagree. The real star of the Specials though is The Waters of Mars, an episode I wasn’t expecting much from but absolutely adored. One of the best hours of television you can ever see, and certainly one of David Tennant’s best performances as The Doctor. All hail the Time Lord Victorious!

 

4. Series 5 (2010)

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Steven Moffat’s first series in charge, and Matt Smith’s first series as The Eleventh Doctor, were undeniably a triumph. Revamping the show after the success of Russell T Davies and David  Tennant was no mean feat, but somehow they pulled it off. Series 5 is hands down the best Eleventh Doctor season, with a strong set of episodes and a genuinely intriguing story arc thanks to the cracks in space and time. The fact that it kicked off with the barnstorming The Eleventh Hour certainly didn’t do it any harm.

Of course, there was the usual mix of good and bad – on the one hand, we had Amy’s Choice and Vincent and The Doctor, whereas on the other we had The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood and Vampires in Venice. On the whole though, the positive outweighed the negative, and it ultimately fares better than the first regeneration in the modern era. Just don’t mention Victory of the Daleks and its Paradigm Power Rangers… *shudder*

 

3. Series 8 (2014)

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Here’s where it really starts getting good. In my opinion, anyway. There’s plenty of fans out there who don’t rate Series 8 too highly, and that’s fair enough. Each to their own. But for me, following the less than stellar Series 6 and 7, it was just nice to have a pretty consistent run of episodes again. That and Peter Capaldi is bloody brilliant as The Twelfth Doctor. To date, he and Jenna Coleman remain my favourite Doctor/companion pairing.

It’s not perfect, but I thoroughly enjoyed Deep Breath as a series opener and a debut for the new Doctor. I’m a sucker for Victorian London and the plot weaves into it beautifully. I could have done without the gratuitous Matt Smith cameo at the end, but whatever. From there, the series is generally up to snuff – Into the Dalek, Robot of Sherwood, Time Heist, The Caretaker, Mummy on the Orient Express… everything’s at least half-decent, or arguably even brilliant in the case of Listen. The only truly bad episode in Series 8 is In the Forest of the Night, but it’s sandwiched in between two greats (Flatline and Dark Water) so I’m willing to look over it.

It didn’t all hit the mark – the Danny/Clara relationship is underdeveloped and Missy could have done with a stronger outing for the finale, but in the grand scheme, I’ll take consistency over unpredictable quality any day. If nothing else, it laid the groundwork for better things to come…

 

2. Series 4 (2008)

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You know what I just said about consistency over quality? Well, forget it (sort of). In an ideal world, I’d much prefer to take both consistency and quality, which is fortunately what we got in David Tennant’s third (and last full) series as The Tenth Doctor. He’s paired up with his best companion, Donna Noble, and every episode is a winner. Well, mainly anyway, with the exception of The Unicorn and the Wasp and Planet of the Ood – which are average, but still perfectly watchable.

So, what of Series 4’s strengths? Partners in Crime. The Fires of Pompeii. Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. Midnight. Turn Left. The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. That’s at least 8 episodes out of the 13 episode run that were sure-fire hits. The last few in particular really, really knocked the ball out of the park and topple even Series 3’s strong second half. Some of the best Doctor Who stories of all time, no doubt about it, and certainly the Russell T Davies era in its prime.

 

1. Series 9 (2015)

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Which leads us to my number one. It was a close-run race between this and Series 4, but Series 9 just about edges it in the end. Side by side, they’re both about as consistent – only Sleep No More is truly terrible, while The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived is an underwhelming pair of episodes. The rest, meanwhile, is fantastic: The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar is possibly my favourite series opener to date. Under the Lake/Before the Flood is a solid, traditional Doctor Who adventure with some timey-wimey twists. The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion is powerful, relevant, and bloody clever.

And then there’s yet another (loose) three-part finale. Jenna Coleman’s goodbye in Face the Raven is a twisting, turning, gripping piece of television with arguably the best exit for a companion in all of Who history. Miraculously, this is then followed up by the single greatest Doctor Who episode ever, Heaven Sent. A 55 minute tour-de-force in writing, acting, and directing, it’s simply phenomenal. Admittedly things do stutter a little in the final episode, Hell Bent, but I still consider it to be a worthwhile adventure once you get your head around what it’s trying to achieve – besides, I’d never say no to a bit more Twelve/Clara screen time.

Series 9 was the show at its most experimental, its most risk-taking – and it paid off in spades. The slew of two-parters worked wonders for storytelling, and the unique approaches to each episode made the whole run feel original and memorable. As the series that (off screen, at least) celebrated the revival’s tenth anniversary, I’m happy to say they pulled off their best one yet for it. Even after all this time, Doctor Who hasn’t got old yet!

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