There may still be five months until Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who swansong, but for all intents and purposes, The Twelfth Doctor’s era is over. All three of his series have now finished airing, each with their own set of hits and misses. But, if I could pick and choose my favourite episodes to make up the ‘definitive’ Twelfth Doctor season, what would it look like?
For this list, I’ve ranked each episode from Series 8-10 (comparing each season’s Episode 1, then Episode 2, and so on…) to come up with the ultimate Capaldi marathon. Some choices were harder to make than others, but I’m quite pleased with what I’ve settled on. So, buckle up and prepare for some controversy… it’s time to unpack my personal best Twelfth Doctor series!
Episode 1: The Magician’s Apprentice (Series 9)
2nd: Deep Breath (Series 8) / 3rd: The Pilot (Series 10)
All of the season openers since Doctor Who’s revival have been fairly serviceable, but The Twelfth Doctor has definitely had some of my favourites. Most recently, The Pilot was a back-to-basics and simple story that reinvented The Doctor as a university lecturer, as well as introduced new companion Bill Potts in a way that made her grounded and easy to relate to. It’s just a shame about the tacked-on Dalek cameo and puddle monster, which watered down (ahem) my enjoyment of the episode. But between Series 8 and 9, it was quite a close call. In fact, I very nearly picked Deep Breath as my top pick here. It’s my favourite post-regeneration story (even if The Eleventh Hour is objectively ‘better’) and I’m a sucker for anything set in Victorian London, let alone the steampunk clockwork droids. It’s a fantastic introduction for Peter Capaldi and he gets plenty of opportunities to shine, from “pudding brains”, to the restaurant scene, to the ambiguous “did he or didn’t he?” moment at the end. Unfortunately, the needless Matt Smith cameo in the final minutes slightly rubbed me up the wrong way, and there’s just something about that very last scene that doesn’t quite connect for me. So the crown deservedly goes to The Magician’s Apprentice instead. Again, it’s not perfect, but it’s fast-paced fun and full of great moments. I loved the new ‘Rocktor Who’ direction for Capaldi’s Doctor, and there’s plenty of fun with Missy and Clara along the way. But the real reason this gets top spot is because of a certain villain, who just so happens to be my favourite from the Doctor Who pantheton. That opening sequence with the young Davros… wowzer. Best shock of the Capaldi era by far. Then we also get Julian Bleach reprising his role as the dying adult version after a seven year absence. To celebrate 40 years on from the best classic Who story, Genesis of the Daleks, we get this semi-sequel. Davros made the Daleks… but who made Davros?
Episode 2: The Witch’s Familiar (Series 9)
2nd: Smile (Series 10) / 3rd: Into the Dalek (Series 8)
Another fairly close call here, with each series boasting a pretty solid follow-up to its already pretty solid first episode. Upon initial viewing, I was a huge fan of Phil Ford’s Into the Dalek. I thought it was one of the best Dalek stories we’d ever had in new Who (second only to Dalek and Asylum of the Daleks), giving us some great moments (“don’t be lasagne!”) and a great new character in Rusty, the Dalek-turned-good. I still think it’s a very good episode, though my overwhelming positivity has waned a little as time’s gone by. In second place comes Smile, probably the biggest and most pleasant surprise from Series 10. Frank Cottrell-Boyce previously penned the infamously controversial In the Forest of the Night, and the very concept of emoji in Doctor Who got many fans anxious about how this one would turn out. The answer, as it happens, is brilliantly. It essentially boils down to a two-hander between The Doctor and Bill, really giving them time to interact and a chance to properly cement their developing relationship. The Emojibots, too, are much better than expected, with the linguistic elements of the story handled particularly cleverly. The only real criticism is that the resolution comes a bit too easily, and the supporting cast (including Ralf Little) are criminally underused. But the winner here is undoubtedly The Witch’s Familiar, the second part of The Magician’s Apprentice and one of the finest bits of television I saw in 2015. The Doctor and Davros are electric in their scenes together, with phenomenal performances from both Peter Capaldi and Julian Bleach. Meanwhile, Jenna Coleman and Michelle Gomez make a brilliant team as Clara and Missy weave their way through the Dalek sewers. Plus, for once in a Doctor Who two-parter, the way it wraps up doesn’t at all feel like a cop-out. The “your sewers are revolting!” line pretty much sums it up, with The Doctor and Davros trying to outsmart each other to the bitter end. Clever, clever stuff, and a more than worthy way to conclude such a fantastic first half.
Episode 3: Under the Lake (Series 9)
2nd: Thin Ice (Series 10) / 3rd: Robot of Sherwood (Series 8)
Not quite as clear-cut a winner here. Episode 3 seems to be The Twelfth Doctor’s first stumbling block across all three seasons, with some more forgettable – if still perfectly enjoyable – stories taking up this position. For what it’s worth, Robot of Sherwood is one of my favourite Mark Gatiss episodes. It’s unashamedly light-hearted and silly, and all the better for it. There’s no denying it’s a bit of a shift from the darker tones of Deep Breath and Into the Dalek, but the scenes between The Doctor and Robin Hood (be it the spoon fight or verbal sparring) are utterly hilarious. Ben Miller even makes for a relatively sinister Sheriff of Nottingham. Sadly it’s all let down by a rather naff ending, but overall it’s an easy-going watch. Thin Ice is only just pipped to the top spot, containing some truly standout moments that define Capaldi’s Doctor in Series 10. It’s a triumphant return for Sarah Dollard, and while this isn’t quite as good as her debut script Face the Raven, she writes effortlessly for both The Doctor and Bill, building even more on their dynamic from The Pilot and Smile. It’s the plot itself where Thin Ice falters, with an anti-climactic resolution and a pantomime (if decidedly despicable) baddie. Good thing The Doctor gets to wallop him round the face. So, that leaves Under the Lake at number one, making it three for three for Series 9 so far. It’s not an amazing episode – personally I prefer its second half, Before the Flood – but it’s very atmospheric and a perfect example of the base-under-siege formula that Doctor Who does so well. The set design is excellent and everything feels suitably claustrophobic, especially once the creepy ghosts start haunting the narrow corridors. The supporting cast are some of the best we’ve had in a while too, with particular kudos to deaf actress Sophie Stone as crew leader Cass. It’s a great ensemble piece, with a striking if somewhat predictable cliffhanger: Clara is trapped in the present, while The Doctor’s seemingly dead in the past… and there’s a new ghost on the loose! Who ya gonna call?!
Episode 4: Listen (Series 8)
2nd: Before the Flood (Series 9) / 3rd: Knock Knock (Series 10)
Another strong set here, although ranking them was surprisingly easy. At one point Knock Knock was one of my favourites from Series 10, with a spooky atmosphere and a great guest turn from David Suchet as the Landord. But in hindsight the episode did creak a little, and could have done with some more explanation about what the Dryads were and how they operated. Coming in next is Before the Flood, the second (and in my opinion superior) half of Toby Whithouse’s Under the Lake story. This one’s a lot more timey-wimey as we’re introduced to bootstap paradoxes, as well as seeing the locations and characters from the past. It’s almost as if we’re witnessing the story in reverse, with events in this episode setting up some of what happens previously. We also get the towering Fisher King, who is a thrilling monster that’s sadly defeated all too easily. But we get Peter Capaldi playing the Doctor Who theme tune on the guitar, so it’s all good. Had it not been for Listen, it’d be taking home the gold – but the instant classic from Series 8 easily romps to victory. The undeniable highlight from The Twelfth Doctor’s first season, it’s an intelligent adventure that truly defines Capaldi’s Doctor by taking a closer look at him in his downtime. He’s on this mission just because he’s curious, and it all intertwines wonderfully with Clara’s dramatic date with Danny Pink. Listen is positively overflowing with trademark Steven Moffat tropes, but it turns out more like a greatest hits album rather than a lazy rehash. Which is good, because when Moffat is firing on all cylinders, he really delivers. Cleverly, we never get to see the monster (if there ever was a monster at all!) and Clara’s final speech about fear is poignant perfection. Add Douglas Mackinnon’s masterful direction and you’ve got yourself a real gem in Capaldi’s crown.
Episode 5: Oxygen (Series 10)
2nd: The Girl Who Died (Series 9) / 3rd: Time Heist (Series 8)
Quite an easy decision, this. Oxygen isn’t really a classic in my opinion, but it easily wins just by virtue that The Girl Who Died and Time Heist weren’t quite up to par. Stephen Thompson’s Series 8 story about The Doctor and Clara robbing a bank is smart stuff on paper, but the execution never feels particularly confident. I loved the look and idea behind the new monster, the Teller, but the two supporting characters aren’t especially well developed and Keeley Hawes isn’t used to her best as Ms Delphox. Meanwhile, Jamie Mathieson drops the ball for the first time in The Girl Who Died after knocking it out of the park twice in Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline. Maybe expectations were just too high, and it’s not terrible by any means, but the Mire (despite a great design) aren’t all that intimidating. Maisie Williams as Ashildr isn’t especially on top form either, considering she’s positioned as one of Series 9’s biggest additions. If you go into this one expecting a comical romp (that just so happens to deal with Capaldi’s recurring face) though, it’s fine. Thankfully Mathieson redeems himself with his next script, Oxygen, the “capitalism in space” story that sees The Doctor’s obsession with the final frontier come back to bite him hard on the backside. In this future, oxygen is sold by the breath, zombie spacesuits are on the attack, and a reckless error puts Bill in danger and ultimately leads to The Doctor going blind. Not quite the grand day out he was hoping for, but very engaging and satirical viewing.
Episode 6: Extremis (Series 10)
2nd: The Caretaker (Series 8) / 3rd: The Woman Who Lived (Series 9)
Yet again, quite an easy win for Series 10. The Woman Who Lived is somehow both an improvement and a step backwards from The Girl Who Died – thematically it’s far stronger and it delves nicely into the themes of immortality, with Maisie Williams playing a much more enigmatic Lady Me. Unfortunately it manages to have an even flimsier villain in Leandro the lion-man, with a random and sudden climax that isn’t particularly satisfying. Contrastingly, I rather enjoyed The Caretaker, which is an example of how to do the ‘obligatory comedy episode’ right. The Doctor is hilariously out of place in Coal Hill School, and it’s fun seeing his reactions to Clara and Danny Pink’s budding romance. I also don’t mind the Skovox Blitzer as a monster, although Danny’s miraculous jump seems a little bit of a stretch. It’s definitely my favourite of Gareth Roberts’ contributions to the show, which have also included The Lodger and Closing Time. But I have to give top marks here to Extremis, the mind-bending mid-season story from Steven Moffat that sets up Series 10’s Monk trilogy. The concept of the Veritas is superb – a book containing a forbidden truth that makes everyone who reads it commit suicide? Of course we’re all going to want to know what it says! The setting of the Vatican library adds a nice layer of atmosphere, and there’s some really unnerving moments like the scene with the countdown in CERN. Some viewers weren’t keen on it all being a simulation, but I thought it was a fitting solution, and served as an intriguing build-up even if later episodes would let it down. I just wish they’d done a little more to play up The Doctor’s blindness after the shock cliffhanger at the end of Oxygen.
Episode 7: The Zygon Invasion (Series 9)
2nd: The Pyramid at the End of the World (Series 10) / 3rd: Kill the Moon (Series 8)
Onto Episode 7, also known as ‘the Peter Harness slot’. I knew he’d written for all three of Capaldi’s seasons, but I never clocked until now that it had always been for the same episode. Crazy! So, either way, he’s a winner (and loser) on this occasion. Kill the Moon was a story with a brilliant title and some cool concepts at its core, but it failed to properly hit the mark. The Doctor comes across as particularly unlikable here, and Clara is right to call him out on it at the end (even if we all know her exit will be short-lived). As for “the moon’s an egg”… well, that kind of speaks for itself really, so we’ll move swiftly on. The Pyramid at the End of the World is a decent middle episode for the Monk trilogy with another interesting premise. A five-thousand year old pyramid pops up overnight on the intersection of three huge armies and the Monks need Earth’s consent in order to invade. It’s a neat diversion in every sense, ultimately flipping the tired-old ‘power of love’ trope on its head when Bill submits to save The Doctor’s life. But it’s Harness’ Series 9 episode, The Zygon Invasion, which comes out on top. The start of a barnstorming two-parter, it’s a globe-trotting adventure laced with political overtones that cements the Zygons as a classic Doctor Who monster. It serves as a great follow-up to the Zygon subplot in The Day of the Doctor and even boasts a brilliant cliffhanger: Clara’s a Zygon! And she’s just shot The Doctor’s plane down with a bazooka…!
Episode 8: The Zygon Inversion (Series 9)
2nd: Mummy on the Orient Express (Series 8) / 3rd: The Lie of the Land (Series 10)
This one is a close call between two classics, propped up by a bit of a dud. Toby Whithouse’s conclusion to the Series 10 Monk trilogy was half great and half rubbish, giving us a delightfully dystopian setting and the idea that The Doctor is working for the baddies. Then, halfway through, after a tense confrontation between the Time Lord and Bill, he fakes a regeneration for no discernible reason and everything falls flat from there. After three episodes in the spotlight, the Monks are ultimately defeated by the memory of Bill’s mum and simply run away. Talk about a let-down. Still, it made choosing the top two here a lot easier. By all accounts, Mummy on the Orient Express – Jamie Mathieson’s first Series 8 story, although the second he actually scripted – is deserving of the top position. It utterly nails who The Twelfth Doctor is, set against the backdrop of an invisible mummy killing passengers a runaway space train. Couple that with a fun Frank Skinner guest role and Foxes’ rendition of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” and you’re onto a winner. However, I’ve simply got to choose The Zygon Inversion as the definitive Episode 8. Partly because I already ranked The Zygon Invasion as the ultimate Episode 7, and I personally prefer its second half. But it’s just simply incredible – a slower and more character-driven piece, there’s some ingenious scenes between Clara and Bonnie (Jenna Coleman getting to play evil is really quite marvellous) and of course there’s that iconic Twelfth Doctor anti-war speech at the end. It’s totally engrossing from start to finish and a strong reminder of just why Peter Capaldi has made such a great Doctor.
Episode 9: Flatline (Series 8)
2nd: Empress of Mars (Series 10) / 3rd: Sleep No More (Series 9)
Wow, Flatline doesn’t have an awful lot standing in its way here, does it? Sleep No More was Mark Gatiss’ contribution to Series 9 but, in stark contrast to the fun and accessible Robot of Sherwood, it’s dark in tone and dire in quality. I have a lot of respect for the found-footage style they were going for, making Doctor Who seem more like an episode of Peep Show than anything else. But the story was just awful, with terrible Sandmen monsters (come on, evil sleep dust?!) and a crew that is difficult to care about. I’m sorry, but I just can’t bring myself to like this one at all. At least Gatiss’ Series 10 script, featuring the return of the Ice Warriors, was a marked improvement. The Doctor and Bill meet some Victorian soldiers in the catacombs of Mars, which inevitably ends up sparking a human versus Ice Warrior war, with a brand new Ice Queen at the helm. Exciting as that sounds, it’s pretty by-the-numbers and generic in practice. Flatline, however, is anything but. Originally I thought Jamie Mathieson’s episode about an incredible shrinking TARDIS would be the stinker of Series 8. Turns out it’s actually the most original, with dimension-shifting monsters realised by incredible special effects. The Doctor may be trapped for most of the story but he still gets to play his part, while Clara successfully steps up to take on the Time Lord’s role in proceedings. Jenna Coleman shines as we get our first real taste of Clara acting like The Doctor, a character arc that would reach a logical conclusion in…
Episode 10: Face the Raven (Series 9)
2nd: The Eaters of Light (Series 10) / 3rd: In the Forest of the Night (Series 8)
…Sarah Dollard’s debut Doctor Who script, Face the Raven! But we’ll come to that in a moment. Looking at its competition, this is a clean sweep of a victory. In the Forest of the Night was the lowest point of Series 8, an inconsequential and overly mushy fairy tale. The premise of the Earth being overrun with trees is a good one, visually and conceptually, but it doesn’t really go anywhere and The Doctor’s involvement in events is entirely pointless. The less said about the child actors and the ‘magical’ ending, the better. Series 10’s The Eaters of Light, by returning classic writer Rona Munro, was actually quite similar – albeit infinitely better. It’s a mystical, lyrical story which has music at its heart and a young(ish) cast at the forefront. There’s a greater sense of threat here though, even if the CGI monsters are barely seen and everything yet again amounts to two opposing armies settling their differences to fight a common cause. But neither of these episodes can compare to Face the Raven, arguably the strongest first-time outing for any new Who writer. Not only is it a wonderfully gripping whodunit using the idea of trap streets as a clever conceit, it’s also a dramatic and deeply heart-wrenching exit for Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald. Reunited with her Flatline companion Rigsy, she dares to play The Doctor to save her friend’s life – but this time gets it very, very wrong. Her final moments with The Doctor are emotionally charged and her death-by-raven is about as grim as you could get for a Saturday teatime. Maisie Williams also puts in her best performance here as Mayor Me, who quite rightly feels the wrath of The Doctor’s grief before she swiftly teleports him away to…
Episode 11: Heaven Sent (Series 9)
2nd: World Enough and Time (Series 10) / 3rd: Dark Water (Series 8)
…Heaven Sent, the single greatest Twelfth Doctor story ever written! Come on, it was always going to be this one. Although, having said that, any one of the three options here would be more than worthy winners. If there’s one thing that’s been consistently excellent about Peter Capaldi’s run, it’s that the penultimate episode of every season has been stunningly good. By a country mile, this is the strongest category across the board, and definitely the part of the season where the quality is at its highest. The Peter Capaldi/Steven Moffat/Rachel Talalay triangle clearly works wonders! Dark Water very much lives up to the ‘dark’ in its name, starting with Danny Pink being knocked down by a car and ending up with dead bodies being turned into Cybermen. The Doctor/Clara volcano face-off is a fantastic scene, as is its resolution: “do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”. It’s also the most complained about episode of new Who ever, with the “don’t cremate me” scene making more than a few viewers uncomfortable. But that’s not the only reason it’s made its mark on Doctor Who history, as it also gave us Missy, aka The Mistress, aka The Master! Michelle Gomez is an absolutely bonkers delight, and her reveal leaves us on one of the biggest cliffhangers in recent memory. She returns in World Enough and Time, having now undergone rehab in the Vault to try and make her turn good. After playing up her new role as “Doctor Who” in an opening few minutes bursting with meta-humour, things quickly shift gears as Bill gets unexpectedly shot dead. Set on a spaceship reversing away from a black hole, where time dilation causes minutes to pass at one end and years at the other, Bill slowly becomes the first ever Mondasian Cyberman in shocking sequences of body horror and total discomfort. The “pain… pain… pain…” scene is an especially gruesome highlight. And on top of it all we’ve got the return of John Simm’s Master, not-so-cleverly-disguised as Mr Razor. It’s a great performance, even if we did see it coming thanks to pre-season publicity. But when talking about great performances, surely none come much better than Peter Capaldi’s in Heaven Sent. This (almost) one-man show is a tour de force. A masterpiece. Series 9’s pièce de résistance. A superb script with flawless direction that gifts The Twelfth Doctor his definitive episode. I’ve gushed and gushed about Heaven Sent before (and no doubt will again) so I’ll try not to repeat myself here. But, needless to say, it’s a puzzle box of perfection that’s as captivating the second (or third, or fourth, or fifth…) time round as it is the very first. It’s the story that just keeps on giving. Infinitely clever, infinitely artistic, and infinitely watchable, this is the one Twelfth Doctor episode that simply everybody needs to see.
Episode 12: The Doctor Falls (Series 10)
2nd: Hell Bent (Series 9) / 3rd: Death in Heaven (Series 8)
While Episode 11 has always been a strong position in the Twelfth Doctor era, its finales have been slightly… less so. Death in Heaven is the worst offender in my eyes. After such a strong build-up to Missy’s reveal in Dark Water, she becomes little more than a madcap Mary Poppins in the conclusion. She does have a ruthless side, killing Osgood without batting an eyelid, but apart from that she’s pretty underdeveloped. The same goes for the Cybermen, who become little more than faceless drones with the exception of Danny Pink – who, thanks to the power of love (that old chestnut!) manages to save the day. It’s not bad, it’s just very underwhelming and not quite how I hoped the series arc would pan out. Plenty of others though would argue that Hell Bent is worse, if not the worst finale (or episode) of the show in recent years. Personally, I disagree, and have a rather large soft spot for Series 9’s last episode. On first watch, yes, I was disappointed that it wasn’t an all-out Gallifreyan war, but as an enthusiastic fan of The Twelfth Doctor and Clara, I very much enjoyed getting to see them together one last time for an emotional and intimate send-off. I still preferred Clara’s death in Face the Raven, but I don’t mind her ultimate departure here. It gives me some hope we’ll see her pop up in the 2017 Christmas special for Capaldi’s farewell, if nothing else! I can definitely still see the flaws in Hell Bent though, as it does exemplify a lot of missed potential and gets slightly muddled the further on it gets. So, if only for that reason alone, the finest finale award goes to The Doctor Falls from Series 10. Yet again I think it’s a step down from Episode 11, but as it’s the beginning of the end for The Twelfth Doctor, the stakes are allowed to be a little higher. There’s a lot of fun with the Missy/Master dynamic, and everyone gets some well-earned resolution. The only ending that doesn’t sit right with me is Bill’s, because Heather’s return feels so sudden and so random. It just feels like such a carbon copy of Clara’s Hell Bent exit, but without any of the lead-up. Thankfully, Peter Capaldi himself gets the most opportunity to shine. He’s given another memorable Doctor speech (“where I stand is where I fall”) and an iconic moment as he takes down Cybermen through the trees, before being gunned down by a Mondasian. It’s the way he would have wanted to go!
I’d look at the Christmas specials too, but as there’s still one more yet to come, it doesn’t seem right to rank them all just yet (though, for the record, Last Christmas is still my current favourite). So, which is my favourite Twelfth Doctor series overall? I already know the answer to that, but thanks to the power of mathematics, I can now scientifically prove it! By awarding each series a set number of points for each episode (3 points for coming 1st, 2 points for 2nd, 1 point for 3rd) I have tallied up the scores and the results are as follows…
Based on Episodes 1-12, Series 9 was my favourite season with 29 points in total. Series 10 came in second with 25 points, while Series 8 came in last with a surprisingly low 19 points. Still, pretty close all round! A more simple count gives a clearer outcome: 7 episodes from Series 9 appear in this list, compared to just 3 from Series 10 and 2 from Series 8. But even without the maths, I can safely say that the Peter Capaldi era has been one of my favourites, and these three seasons – whichever order they stack up in – have been some of the most consistent, as well as some of the best that new Who has to offer. The Twelfth Doctor will be sorely missed after he regenerates this Christmas… I can only hope his final episode sends his tenure out on a high!